Monday, December 20, 2010

The Most Sobering Writing Project…Ever

As we closed out our semester, I found it nearly impossible to focus. I think I was more excited for the break than SJ. While I love many aspects of homeschooling and know this is the right thing for this season, it makes me almost giddy to think of next year when he will go to high school. It became even more of a reality as he took the school entrance exam during our last week. It was a placement test, of sorts, and I will be curious to see if test results reflect anything of our year at home.
            To complicate our final week, I learned that a family friend’s 19-year-old daughter had passed away on Saturday night. This doe-eyed beauty, who had married her sweetheart just this summer, is with the Lord but that makes the loss no less acute to those left behind.
            In my world, that makes three deaths in one month. A 39-year-old worship drummer friend. My cousin’s two-year-old son. And now Laura.
            Mercifully I have been spared this kind of grief for most of my life. The downside is that I am so ill equipped to respond. In most cases, I have probably done less than I should or could for the family, mostly from my lack of confidence in knowing what to do.
            When I heard about Laura, I prayed that God would show me something I could offer. In what tangible way could I redeem my inaction and be a blessing to this family? He answered. I don’t have much, but I can write. I couldn’t help but feel like the little drummer boy. I have no gifts to bring. Shall I play for you? Pa rum pum pum pum.
            Calling the family was the hardest part. Though we were once neighbors and walking buddies, our circles have since followed separate orbits so it has been a few years since we have sat together and talked. What a tragic way to reconnect. Inadequate doesn’t begin to describe the degree of my thoughts toward myself and what I had to offer as Laura’s mom said hello. I stuttered my condolences and offered my humble gift. Mary nodded. Pa rum pum pum pum.
            Over the next days, I met with Laura’s parents, collected messages from her friends, and took notes about her short life. It occurred to me then the gravity of this job. In my hands was a lifetime of memories, told to me by grief-stricken loved ones who would never again have Laura but who will have the words that I write. How does one make sense of such sadness with honor and grace? I held a legacy and I could only pray God would give me the words. I played my drum for Him. Pa rum pum pum pum.
            I wrote. And I cried. I sifted through photos. And I got to gaze upon this lovely girl. Her time seemed so short but in God’s timing, it was perfection. I played my best for Him. Pa rum pum pum pum.
            I can’t tell you what an honor it was to do this for the family, for Laura. Though sobering and difficult, there is something about working in the gifts God has given us. I pray that tonight, at her memorial, the words I wrote will touch those who loved her, not because I wrote them but because she lives in them. I pray that I captured the Laura who lived. I pray that she smiles at me just as Jesus, the baby, smiled at the little drummer boy. Then He smiled at me. Pa rum pum pum pum.

Rest in peace dear Laura.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Who Knew? Editing = Courage

Here is the truth about editing.
It stinks.
At least, editing one’s own work stinks.
Give me your paper and I will happily chop and alter.
Give me my own work and I am paralyzed.

Up until now I thought of editing as simple fixes: checking spelling, cleaning grammar, and adjusting for rhythms. It’s a quick one-two. And really, it’s what I do with my son in his Daily Grams. How could I have known it should be different?

It’s one thing to edit a sentence. Or a paragraph. It’s quite another to edit 100,000 words, the equivalent of about 60 pages.

And it isn’t just sentence structure. It’s structure-structure. As in, change the way the whole thing is presented.

The truth is I have a book proposal “out there.” A well-respected editor even took the time to tell me she is interested. But, she said, I needed to change the way the topic is presented to my readers. 

That was two years ago. (See what I mean about paralysis?)

This summer, the urge to approach the book returned and I wrote madly for a week or so. A complete rewrite. I didn’t even look at the first submission.

A few weeks ago, I read both the original and the rewrite. I have decided that I have lots of material. The first submission is well written but boring. The second writing is c**p but has good bones. It isn’t at all how I wanted to say what I tried to say and certainly wasn’t fit for anyone to read. (In fact, I had a friend review it to provide scripture references and I am pretty sure she thinks less of me as a result.) Cringe.

Thank God for writers who have gone before me and have had the helpful urge to write about their own terror in the process. I’ve been reading Barbara Abercrombie’s Courage & Craft and Anne Lamott’s writing classic, Bird by Bird. Both are encouraging in their advice to write, write, and write. And both are equally as adamant that they are pretty sure what you write first will be awful.

Anne Lamott goes so far as to have an entire chapter devoted to “Sh***y First Drafts.” Thank you Anne. She also tells of the looping “KFKD” (Sound it out.) that plays in her head. Check. I can relate.

Barbara Abercrombie says to be ruthless in chopping your work. But, she warns, be kind. Don’t delete. Save. Says she, “Nothing you write is ever wasted.” Thank you Barbara. I think I needed to hear that.

So. Here I ponder the best way to approach this editing project. These authors helped me realize that I have some good stuff in these “down drafts” (as in, get it down on paper). They also helped me realize that my work has just begun but that I am not alone in the daunting task of it. Every good writer makes MAJOR changes to plot, structure, character, and tone. 

What I lack is courage. Who knew that editing and courage should coexist?

I vow to change this. I vow to approach my work with love and kindness, red pen and open files in tow.  But I will keep quiet about this to my 8th grader who still lives under the happy illusion that editing takes five minutes. This is one life lesson we each must learn on our own.

Writing is such a lonely pursuit. Very few understand just how far we go into the recesses of our minds as we work. In the meantime, I will make a shameless plug to solicit encouragement in the process. Thank you in advance to all of you who will hold my hand and gently walk with me. I will personally sign a copy of this book for you someday!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful Not to Have Missed This

“Mom, I think I would like a bass guitar for Christmas.”

“Sure Honey. Just add that to your list after a new skateboard and Legos and an iPod dock and …”

“Mom, I think I am going to take the Legos off my list.”

We don’t often get warned when the world shifts. Can you remember the last time your son snuggled into your lap or held your hand without reservation? On what day did your daughter cease needing your help with her pigtails? I can’t remember either but I know these shifts happened. And I grieve for moments in time that elude me.

It is why I feel so fortunate to have had open ears for this most recent shift. I glanced over at my 13 year old, sitting calmly in the front passenger seat. “Are you sure about the Legos, Hon?” I asked.

“Yea. I realize I just don’t play with them much anymore. I think I want to play with them but then I get them out and I play for, like, five minutes. I think I might have outgrown them.”

How sad is that? Right before my eyes and within my hearing, my youngest child ushered me gently, and insightfully, to an understanding of his growth and maturity.

I suspect I will forget this moment as time passes forward but for now, I am thankful for the gracious prompt that life will not always be as it is, that I need to cherish the here and now. All too soon it will slip away.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Well, Gosh...

It's an honor to be nominated as one of the Best NEW Homeschool Blog sites by The Homeschool Post.
I am in stellar company, thrilled to note that so many dedicated moms and fantastic writers are sharing their journeys as well. If you would like to vote for my blog, visit the voting page, find The Homeschool Regel, and click. Thanks!
If you are a first time visitor, welcome and thank you for joining me on my journey.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Science Frustration; Econ Surprise

Physical science continues to elude us.

We have been using the Prentice Hall California Physical Science text. I chose to use this classroom text for a few reasons. First, since SJ plans to attend high school, I wanted him to stay close to at least one traditional textbook so he can learn how to maximize his learning through it. Second, I know squat about science and pretty much need to be walked through myself. Thought I could manage an 8th grade text.

As we work through a chapter, we read together. We front load the reading by reviewing headings and subheadings. We look at the illustrations and photos. We review section questions. SJ completes either the supplemental workbook questions or writes two-column notes.

Apparently, that's not enough. After a dismal showing on a (open-book) chapter assessment, I would be lying if I didn't admit to discouragement. That pesky reading comprehension issue reared its ugly head. Or did it? Could it be that I'm just a lousy science teacher? I will admit it is difficult to get excited about Changes in Matter when I really don't care nor understand what that means.

That along with the disappointing Chem1000 experimental kit I blogged about previously have left me feeling frustrated with science in particular and with learning difficulties in specific. It helped to speak with my Handler who has 1) had a similar experience with the Chem500 kit, and 2) offered a few new front loading suggestions to help with word recognition and, hopefully, comprehension. Our school's director also told me that others have struggled with the text we are using and is sending another to try.

Still. I had hoped that all the one-on-one time, the discussions, the heart I've poured out would solve all the learning issues. I thought I could fix it. It seems there is this delicate balance between denial and reality when it comes to LDs. I have absolutely no doubt my son will succeed in life. He will find his place. BUT...he does have to pass tests to get his high school diploma.

We ended the week with what turned out to be a fun economic assignment. His workbook asked him to compare a few particular food items' prices from 1970 to today's prices. We started at Winco where he surveyed the items. He then calculated the percentage change and was surprised to note that the cost for a pound of coffee has increased by 667% in 40 years. Yikes. It got me thinking how else we could use this assigment.

I asked him how much he thought things might cost in another 40 years given the same rate of increase. That lead to a discussion of how we would set up an equation to figure that out, a hunt for a mark-up formula (on Google), and a depressing realization that coffee will cost $53.54 per pound when he is 53 years old. With milk expected to be over $20 per gallon (can you imagine?), SJ mused that he would probably have to go hungry as an adult and felt a little defeated about his future.

To be fair, I suggested we compare salaries from 1970 and 2010, apply the same change formulas and then figure out how much he might make in 2050 to afford said coffee. Would you believe that average salaries have outpaced costs? He cheered up when he noted he might bring in $619,237 per year to afford his golden milk.

We topped off the assignment by graphing the results for a visual. I stumbled upon this CreateAGraph site that allowed us to choose a type of graph and plot our values. It made for a nice ending visual and a positive end to our week.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Four Things I Have Learned

To be fair, I have two other children besides SJ. I would be remiss if I did not wish my oldest a happy 21st birthday today. So, Happy Birthday Oldest Child!

As we put a wrap on the week, I ponder some things we have learned about homeschooling in the past six or seven months.
  1. Homeschooling is/can be flexible. Life happens. Late nights turn to grouchy mornings. Friends lay dying. Relatives move. Businesses fail. All of these affect our children/students. I am thankful we can postpone a lesson to a better day, regardless of the reason we do so. Just yesterday, SJ opted for his free day in math because, as he said, he "tried but just couldn't hold it together." He wasn't kidding. He cranked out that lesson in less than 25 minutes this morning. The take-away for him? Don't start your day with Frosted Flakes. Lookie there--math AND nutrition! Real life is a beautiful teacher.
  2. Life can be the best teacher. See Number one.
  3. My student IS learning. Despite how it looks on some days, stuff is happening to the matter between SJ's ears. As we made cookies yesterday, I wondered aloud whether we were observing a physical or a chemical change. SJ piped in with his opinion and supporting evidence. It made the cookies taste even better and reminded me that all is not naught. 
  4. We will inevitably miss something. Parenting is plate-spinning. Teaching just adds a few more to the circus. Just when we think we have them all spun, a plate crashes to the floor reminding us of our human frailty and shortcomings. I am learning to do the best I can do with the resources I have been given. Life will teach much. Others will add their two cents. And SJ, smart as he is, will figure out the rest. I am best served by prioritizing my goals for him and staying close to those. 
In all, it has been a relaxed week. We are falling into a groove (in a good way); I know the curriculum, know where to push and where to pare. Some days it feels like we aren't doing "enough" but sometimes, less is more. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: A Free Day and Art

  • Free day. I had originally planned to travel to our out-of-town store (we own a retail business) on Tuesday but my DH gave me a pass. Since I had cleared the day of lessons and my own bible study group, we had an open slate. It turned out to be a total blessing. SJ and I loaded our bikes and headed out to our town's lovely river trail where we took our time exploring. Of course, as we neared the Skate Park, SJ's bike veered in that direction where he discovered what he might consider the best homeschool perk yet--not a soul in sight! He zoomed, jumped, hopped, and "manualed"--until he wiped out. (He was fine but his seat bolt snapped.) Next, we headed to Michael's crafts where he looked at options and priced a project he was considering. I think we both needed the break.
  • Art class. After attempting a few lessons in the Artistic Pursuits book, I realized SJ would be better served learning art from someone else. The program promises to be doable, even for the non-art-inclined types. I suppose if we just wanted to say we did art, we could have continued but I thought SJ's efforts kinda reflected my talent--which is nil, and he deserves better. Our homeschool charter offers a few classes so we signed him up and he had his second class on Friday. I see two three distinct benefits: he gets real art instruction, he gets to be with other kids, and I get 1-1/2 hours to myself. It's perfect!
  • Book Completions. This is a milestone. SJ finished Deathly Hallows, the seventh book in the Harry Potter series. At 749 pages, the book is a tome compared to the 100+ page novels he has barely finished in the past. It was a big moment. We also finished our oral reading of The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. SJ practically begged me to read each day. He really loved the story and wrote some thought-provoking response to literature entries as a result. Both of these thrill me in that my reluctant reader is finding that books can be interesting. I think/hope it speaks to the fact that his comprehension is improving as well.
All the rest continues as usual: Easy Grammar Plus, history, science, and typing. (SJ reluctantly admitted that the Mavis Beacon program works.) Next week, we will begin a new historical novel to supplement our Discovering America unit and SJ will start volunteering in a friend's classroom. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unauthorized Review: Chem Kit 1000 Disappointment

If you want to mix some compounds and see some chemical reactions, this Chem 1000 kit by Thames & Kosmos is for you. If you want to understand why you mixed certain compounds and why  they reacted, you might be left a little perplexed, as we have been.

Let me just put this out there: This is my first foray into the world of chemistry.

The kit's marketing material promised the Chem 1000 is great for beginner chemists, ages 10 and up. I figured I fell into that category.

Here is an excerpt of yesterday's experiment. We were "On the Trail of Carbon Dioxide." Well, first, what is carbon dioxide? Am I making it? Will it be a byproduct? No explanation.

We continued, trusting, as good scientists do, that the process will answer our questions. We mixed calcium hydroxide with water to make "limewater." The instructions ask if the calcium hydroxide separated completely and tells us we will find out in the next experiment where we were instructed to prepare a "red, i.e. acid-reacting solution." We did. It was pink.

Next, the instructions told us to add an equal part of the clear limewater. We did. It was pinker.

The manual asks, "What do you see? What do you conclude?" Um. Pink....and...we conclude nothing because we have no idea what we just did. Professor Probenius, the kit's mascot, tells us to label the cup of solution with a Caution label. Okay.

Dud. SJ and I looked at each other, shrugged, and collectively stated, "Wow. That was ... fun." We put the box away and moved back to our textbook where, while flawed, concepts are at least explained.

Call me optimistic, but I was hoping to gain a wee bit more understanding as we worked through the experiments. The kit promises a punch in that it is well-packaged with cool vials and substances. It looks super science-y, but in my book, fails to deliver in any way except making the student feel like a chemist.

I am not going to scrap the kit--the experiments are nice diversions but, in my opinion, that's about all they are.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

TaDa...Our new workspace!

I have been waiting oh so long for this moment.

I have suffered through card tables, garage sale castoffs, and poor substitutes.

I like space. Clean space. Organized space. And now, I have it. Thank you, my DH, for building my dream.

The absolute best part, besides the space is that he tamed the flippin' cord zoo. (I realize you can see a few. Rest assured I will fix that.)

Kids computer on the left, my space on the right. It has enough room that I can leave my sewing machines out if I want. Right now, I am enjoying the nothingness. Just need a few stackers and pencil corrals and I'll be set. Well, an office chair would be nice...

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Much is Enough Progress?

My Man-Son's high school first end-of-quarter period was today. Since SJ and I started homeschooling on his first day, I'm declaring a quarter's worth of work, too. But it got me thinking. And not necessarily in a good way.

What? We're only on Chapter Two of the science text? We're still on the Native American unit of U.S. History? How can that be considering the amount of work we seem to be doing each day? I felt that creeping vine of despair that so many homeschooling parents know all too well tighten its grip. He'll never be ready for high school!

Just last week I blogged about progress. This week determined to check my confidence.

I look at the volume of text and units still to cover and shudder. How in the world? My Handler tells me that she has this same conversation with nearly every homeschool parent. She reminded me, bless her heart, that textbook producers design their curriculum assuming that is the only thing you will choose to do each day, that even in the classroom, she was lucky to get two-thirds through any given textbook. She essentially gave me permission to skip units *gasp* and to offer alternatives (such as a well-done documentary) for others.

Deep breath.

It's time to remind myself of my goals for SJ.

I want him to know how to learn, to look at a text and know how to get what he needs from it.

I want him to remember what is important and know what sources to access for what he doesn't. I am not interested in having him recite memorized blather for the sake of memorizing or to burn through workbook pages for the sake of progress. 

I want him to feel success in a job well done, not satisfaction in a job turned in.

When I put these goals in front of me, I am still not convinced we have made enough progress but I can be positive it is more than he would have gotten in public school, especially if his class had fast-tracked to Chapter Seven by now. I know what I have invested...I just have to wait and trust for the results. It's a long wait.

On a side note: All this concern over progress makes me really understand and be saddened by the plight of teachers measured by progress and student results. I am all for accountability but if I can barely do it for one child (whom I love), how can they do it for 30+ students with wildly varying learning styles? That may be a post for another day.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Progress and Flexibility



As we settle into our routine it is easy to get complacent in the drudgery of daily work. It crossed my mind the other night as I washed dishes that I am supposed to be schooling a struggling learner, that my blog was to be devoted to the unique challenges of reaching one with comprehension deficiencies.

Strange that I hadn’t thought of my son’s struggles in weeks. Sure, he balks at work that interrupts his play, that pushes him beyond easy. He makes mistakes on his assignments. He avoids the harder work. But is that a struggling learner? Or is he simply a learner?

Before homeschooling, I read a number of opinions that noted learning difficulties often disappear with personal instruction.  It is probably too early to make a declaration, but it sure seems that might be the case. We spend the bulk of our time together tearing apart text—examining titles and subheadings, noting structure and key points.

At the start of the year, SJ stared blankly at a page of text and appeared overwhelmed by the volume of characters and graphics. In school, this was called a deficiency in reading comprehension. Now, I see him engage, with help still, diving into the text and recognizing it as blocks of information that could be useful. Could it be that he just didn’t have the tools to comprehend? It can be hard to tell in this one-on-one environment but just as I knew when he was struggling, I think I can trust my instinct that tells me he is beginning to thrive.


It’s always disconcerting to receive a call for immediate help, especially so when you have kids to pick up from school and homework to rearrange.

I had to say a quick ‘thank you’ to our homeschool schedule on Tuesday when my mother-in-law called in the morning to tell me they were moving in two days and could use our help…like now. They live one and a half hours away.

We have fallen into a nice rhythm during the week and I didn’t want to interrupt it, but recognized that some things are more important than others. Grammar can be done on Wednesdays. Science lessons wait.  Grandparents won’t be here forever.

We ditched our lesson plan and trekked up to their home. While I packed up the kitchen, SJ worked alongside his papa in the garage. When I had a chance to peek out at their progress, there was SJ atop a ladder, disassembling racks, or doing some heavy lifting all the while bantering with his grandpa—my fears of him standing idly by put to rest. I’m pretty sure the lessons he learned on Tuesday trumped any schoolwork I could have thrown his way.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When Do You Know Your Boys are Becoming Men?

When do you know your boys are becoming men?
  • When they spontaneously clear your plate from the dinner table.
  • When they head to the pantry and offer you something as well.
  • When they offer to pay for their own Jamba Juice.
  • When they offer to pay for your Jamba Juice.
  • When they clean something that is not theirs...without being asked or expected to do so.
  • When they know more about tools and how to use them than you do.
  • When they offer to carry the load of heavy packages, and do it so much more easily than you.
On their own, these are all small things. In the scope of training up our young men, they are gigantic. My heart is full as I glimpse the men that my boys are becoming. Not just men. Good men. What would you add to the list?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weekly Wrap Up: How Long is This School Year?

Had a moment mid-week where I took my eye off the baby-step in front of me and instead considered the mountain that is 8th grade. I faltered and wondered for a moment if I am certifiably insane for taking this on. It was only a moment. I don't really have a choice and it wasn't lost on me that the thought came moments after I gave glory to God for the strength to make this journey. We have a very real enemy who wants nothing more than to destroy all things good.

Our highlight this week came early as SJ attended his first guitar lesson on Monday. We opted for the group lesson, my prayer being that he could meet up with some like-minded kids. Prayer answered. My first clue that this pursuit would hold SJ's interest was the faux-hawk--the guitar teacher's faux-hawk, that is. The guy emits cool, a hugely important trait to earn my son's respect. Two other boys showed up, all the same age, all homeschooled, and all seemed like great kids. Exhale deeply. I am so glad.

After a few weeks discussing what history is, we delved into our first lesson. I'm giving the People, Places and Principles curriculum a shot. Each unit is in its own magazine-type format and topics are looked at through lenses such as: foods, recreation, government, agriculture, family. After reading, there are workbook questions to answer. I am not a huge workbook fan but I think SJ needs some regurgitation to aid him with comprehension. I haven't yet figured out the pace this curriculum requires but the presentation is understandable. We are supplementing our American Indian unit with literature, reading "The Light in the Forest" by Conrad Richter.

We also started Easy Grammar Plus. It wasn't the curriculum I ordered but after so many blog recommendations, I figured it was worth a shot. It starts simply enough and I saw a little light go on. The program suggests memorizing 50 prepositions which may prove to be a little challenging. SJ isn't big on memorizing and I come up short in devising methods to help him. So far, he has written words in chalk on the driveway and we also bounced a basketball back and forth while rhythmically reciting some of the words. The jury is still out on whether any of this will actually work.

My greatest encouragement this week came as we read through SJ's science text. In the past, he has read aloud with no stops or inflection--a sign to me that nothing is sticking to his brain matter. This week, I heard progress. For those with reading comprehension difficulties, the road is long and laborious. We, as teachers, can't just hand over a text and assume it will be read and understood. We spend a lot of time previewing headings, stopping to consider a sentence, and resaying what we just read. The glimpse of progress this week was especially heartening because it is for this issue that we are homeschooling.

We have much ground to cover this year and I do wonder how we will touch all of it. Our handler dropped off the Art curriculum and I am a little baffled as to how to fit that into our already full days. I fear it may be the thing we just "get to" sometimes when it really needs to balance SJ's harder academic endeavors. Any suggestions?

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How I Do It

A common thread among homeschoolers is how to answer the inevitable question, "Why are you homeschooling?" For many, it elicits a defensive posture, perhaps because they have been challenged enough times or had someone close in their orbit express disapproval over the decision.

I have enough good reasons for homeschooling that I've never paused when asked this question. It doesn't occur to me that others might approve or disapprove. It's not really their business anyway so I don't worry about it. I've done school every which way with my kids and I am confident we have landed on what works best.

The comment that stops me is this: "How do you do it?"

Translated: "I could never..."

The spirit of awe, doubt, trepidation, or sheer disbelief frankly makes me a mite uncomfortable and maybe even a little sad. I get that the comment is often a compliment. But the truth is, you could  do this...if you had to. Which is what I have done.

When your child is suffering in public school, when you can't afford private school, when private school wouldn't solve the problem anyway, when no one "gets" your child like you do, you have to make a choice. I chose to homeschool. Not because I am so smart. Not because I am so capable. Not because I love spending 24/7 with my youngest. Not because I am a martyr. Not because I want to protect him from the outside world.

I just want my son to learn.

There are so many resources available now to help those of us who are new on this journey. I've spent hours combing homeschool help websites and read a daily queue of blogs written by the most amazing moms, telling of their successes and their near misses. I couldn't do this alone. Fortunately, I am not alone.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not give the glory where it really belongs. I do not have the strength, the desire, the discipline, the smarts, or the patience to homeschool. But because it is what needs to be done, I've been given the gifts to make it happen. God alone strengthens this weak vessel. He provides all we need, when we need it, to do the thing we need to do.

Please, do not think more highly of me because I homeschool. Do not think less of yourself because you don't. If anything, be impressed by the power that fuels me. Because that is how I do it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Bless and Be Blessed

The cornerstone of our week centered on the theme of blessings, for both SJ and I.

I've dedicated Fridays as Community Outreach Day so I actively listen for or seek opportunities where SJ and I can serve. Unfortunately for her, but fortunately for us, a friend needed a boost this week as she faced a mountain of crises all at once. She had mentioned that her yard was making her mental in the midst of everything else. I get that because if my home and yard are not in order, as in mostly neat and orderly, my whole world seems off-kilter. It makes everything else even worse. Overwhelming for her. Simple for us.

My son went with a great attitude and just a little coaching. Repeat after me, "Trimming your bushes was no big deal." Sometimes we go into the blessing knowing that it is the right thing to do, but not really thrilled with the doing.

It turned out that my friend had an electric trimmer. Need I say more?

His turn at offering himself reaped a surprisingly enjoyable afternoon in the midst of his work, not to mention a healthy tip. A perfect end to the week.

Our biggest challenge this week came as we lost our Monday to Labor Day (I tried to convince SJ that Labor meant work. He didn't buy it.) and added both my bible study (Tuesday mornings) and his writing lesson (Thursday mornings). I am still learning how to accommodate our together work around our commitments.

Besides the blessing part, my favorite part of the week was starting Chemistry. I'm not sure who was more excited. I think I have mentioned before that I managed to avoid Chemistry and Physics all the way through to my B.S. It petrified me. After being married to my Man-Husband and mothering Man-Son #1, who both dig and understand the sciences, I've come to appreciate that science has much to offer. Today we started making a Lithmus liquid.

Gotta love the safety glasses!
For the weekend, it's off to Folsom, CA where Man-Son #1 gets to test his meddle (see previous post) against his peers. It'll be a nice change of scenery and rhythm.

For now, many blessings. CS

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Competition & Sportsmanship: Mutually Exclusive or Not?

Can she cook AND blog at the same time? Gee whiz. Ever have one of those days? All I wanted was to share a little anecdote and every time I attempted, something interrupted. I could interpret that in a few ways, I guess. Either I have had a bona fide busy day OR God has been trying to protect me from embarrassing myself, writing something I ought not. I will let you decide. Either way, here I am, simultaneously cooking beef stroganoff and blogging.

This true story gave me a good laugh:

My family is into biking, as in cycling, as in bicycling, as in Tour de France road riding and Leadville-style mountain biking. The fact that we own a bike shop might make this obvious. Truly, the bike shop is an effect of the cause.

Anyhow, my boys (meaning my Dear Man-Husband and Man-Son #1) are both pretty good riders. It's genetic as the uncles are also local legends in their respective areas. Until he started riding, Man-Son #1 wasn't competitive in anything. He tried wrestling and got dumped on his head. He played football but paced the sidelines. He just didn't have the eye of the tiger. Contact sports, where he had to be the aggressor and actually attempt to hurt someone, just didn't fit into his psyche.

Apparently, bike riding is different.

He and the Man-Husband set out to ride last night with a group of middle-aged ex-pro racers. Four or five of them have been meeting a few nights a week and having a ball riding hard, but having fun. They have had their day. They aren't out to prove their meddle. Son-Man #1 is competitively ranked in his age group and holds his own with these ex-racers.

Not everyone rides with the fun factor in mind. It must be a testosterone thing, but, my goodness, the posturing. Unbelievable. Rumor had it a new guy would show up to ride with the group, one who made the unfortunate comment that he would probably be lowering his training standards a bit to ride with the "old guys." Poor guy.

So the Man-Husband made a comment to me earlier in the day that he would be packing his can of Woop-A*&. Seems this newcomer needed to be fun, of course.

The ride went as expected with Straggler Man changing his triathletic tune a tad as he limped to the finish. I am told Man-Son #1 felt strong on the climbs and was awarded the evening's Polka Dot jersey (figuratively...the best climber award).

So here is the funny part. When they came home, I asked Son-Man #1, "How was your can of Woop-A*&?" to which my quiet and subdued child replied, "Open."

I about fell on the floor laughing. It's hard not to appreciate a quick wit.

But maybe I shouldn't be so proud? There may be those who argue that winning is mean. I certainly don't like coming in last place. But whose fault is it if I am not conditioned to hang with the big boys?

In this, I checked the attitude with which the victory was won. These guys are all about fun and they really bristle at prima donnas who come in with something to prove.

In teaching our kids about competition, shouldn't we be about sportsmanship and character? But is that concept mutually exclusive to winning?  Should we back off to spare someone's feelings or do what we do well and savor some of the victory? What do you think?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Got All Our Books

This was our first "official" week of school although we began two weeks ago when my older son went back to high school. We've hit a groove and I think it was a good week overall. A few highlights:

  • Art: Infographics. What is it? The New York Times offers this great weeklong lesson plan that explains what it is, offers a great video documentary (short), and gives links to cool examples. There is also a lesson activity for the student to complete. This was a hit for SJ as he is so visual. It was a nice exposure to another "artist" career. 
  • A box of books. Yay. The order we placed at the beginning of summer finally arrived. Well, most of it anyway. Now I have homework as I learn how to teach and plan with all the different curriculum. So far, most of it looks good. My biggest challenge will be chemistry and physics as I somehow managed to avoid both all the way through my Bachelor's Degree. Don't ask me how but the thought of chemistry always petrified me. Have to admit, I'm a little excited and slightly nervous about going through the 8th grade version. The triple balance scale served as a beacon for my older son and husband who both thought it hilarious that I had no idea how to use the thing. You should have seen how giddy they were weighing oranges and water bottles. It could be said we are closet nerds.
  • A new friend. Our homeschool group spent Wednesday afternoon at the local water park for a little back-to-school fun. In public school, SJ had hooked up with some lower common denominator friends and hasn't had many opportunities to cultivate new ones. At the water park, he met a fellow 8th grader and, within 30 seconds, the two had ditched the other mom and I. We didn't see them again til the end of the day. They exchanged phone numbers and will hopefully pursue some time together.
  • A new baby. Thank goodness for the flexibility of homeschool. Our sole employee's wife went into labor on Thursday so SJ and I had to make some quick adjustments to help my husband man our store. Job skills, right?
The not-so-great: 
Mama Bear. Is it just me or is anyone else challenged when confronted by another parent about something your child has or hasn't done? Long story sort-of short: Parent calls to tell me about a deal our boys made back in July. His son told my son he would buy an Airsoft gun and gave SJ money as a downpayment. Since then, the other boy decided he did not want the gun and has been asking for his money back. At first, SJ didn't have it. Now he does but, as the dad says, whenever his boy calls, my boy seems to be gone and so they are frustrated at trying to collect. SJ told me that every time he tries to connect to give the money back, the other boy is at play auditions. What I heard from the exchange was "Your son is not living up to his promise and giving my boy's money back."

Was it wrong to bristle? What do you think? I probably shouldn't have pointed this out but...didn't his son renege on a deal? Not that SJ shouldn't return the money, but to question my son's honor? I guess my approach as a parent (to his child) would have been to say, "Tough luck. You made a bad deal and you lost your $8," so it surprised me that we were playing the heavy collector card.

In the end, SJ rode his bike down to their house at 8:30 p.m. in the dark to settle the debt. I felt bad because, though I agreed neither boy should have been making ANY deal, I probably let my annoyance at the accusation show in my tone of voice. It's hard not to be offended for our kids. Sigh.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Art Lesson Tied to Current Events

Infographics. While I'd never heard that term before, it makes sense after watching this NY Times video.

Infographics reaches beyond mere graphic design and gives our smart and imaginative journal/artists a hope for a wide open future. It was neat to be able to give "use" to art and note that there are interesting career opportunities for our creative kids.

We used the New York Times' Learning Network to first learn about infographics, then viewed lots of great examples of what they are and how they are used, mostly in media. This particular unit of the Learning Network includes a few lesson plans and exercises that SJ will complete by week's end. Looks like they have all sorts of lesson plans in all discipline that use current news as a platform.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Will She Keep it Up?

I'm on to something. I just know it. Super excited. High hopes. question to me: will I keep it up?

How could I not? It's so simple, so helpful, so...organized.

I'm talking, of course, about my newly revised calendar on iCal. There's been lots of discussions on the homeschool blogs regarding organization as we ramp up for the new school year. Seems that time management is an area most of us never master. I've used iCal for years but more as a supplement to my wall calendar. Because we can sync it, I used it to inform my husband of family events, mostly.

Now, I have made it my very own. Check this out:

I made an orange calendar for Independent Work and a green calendar for Together Work (work that requires me). I sync those two calendars and the pink Kids calendar to SJ's computer so he can print it out complete with the notes to the right that tell him exactly what he needs to be doing. He uses it like a checklist. A further benefit is that we can pop these in our Log Binder and hand them over to The Handler and she can easily see exactly what we have done. I can use the URL link to add websites pertinent to the lessons or recipes for my dinner schedule.

You can also view the calendar in weekly or monthly formats although they are a lot less detailed. 

Today I feel very organized. God give me the grace to continue.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Artist in the House

So nice to have big sister home to tackle the first art lesson of the year. Since she is entering her final year of college as an art major, she has a better grip on the subject than I could ever hope to have (and some pretty cool art supplies). Good heavens, what will I do the rest of the year?
 I think that despite himself, SJ cherished the time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Making the World a Better Place

Just had to share this list that SJ threw together in his 15 minute journal-writing time. I thought he would squawk at the exercise but he surprised me by throwing himself into it, even begging for a little more time to add to his list. So here are the worldly reflections of a 13 year old and ideas to make our world a better place:
  1. Solar hover cars to destroy gas.
  2. Eco/green buildings
  3. Hover motorcycles
  4. Air powered spaceships as planes
  5. Giant force fields that make it so peole don't bring in sicknesses
  6. Water color changing pools
  7. No super expensive prices (I love that one!)
  8. Power plants that also run on solar (stores, too)
  9. Free candy and ice cream every day
  10. Super soldiers
  11. Paintball fields in every city
  12. Epic video games (like Call of Duty 12: Future Soldier)
  13. Laser guns (so we don't need bullets)
  14. 24 hour surveillance cameras that shoot lasers at intruders
  15. Secret rooms in houses
  16. Awesome paintball guns and gear
  17. Dreams that become real
  18. Furry cuddly animals and pets
  19. Waterbeds (how funny is that? He really didn't know that such a thing existed!)
  20. Nuclear bunkers for guest rooms.
  21. Giant robot walking suits that can be used for building
I love that his mind wandered from global to individual, identifying bigger ideas such as energy and oil needs, and then reverted to his own world of paintballs and make believe. Such a precious juxtaposition. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

And the Dog Biscuit Business Begins...

Much to my delight, SJ plopped on the couch shortly after his last pronouncement of needing money and said, "Dog biscuits." My daughter uses this term as a polite expletive. He meant it in the truest sense, as in dog biscuits for sale.

Let me note that he isn't one of those kids with a budding entrepreneurial bent. He is generally averse to work which offers the clue that he was highly motivated by something. Whatever works is what I say. In this case, it's an out-of-town paintball event and it gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss "true" costs.

At first glance, this thing was a $15 deal and, of course, that's how he was selling it to me. I had him add in the cost of his paintballs, keeping in mind that this would be an out-of-town trip and that he would probably want more than five minutes worth of paintballs. At this point, he still felt pretty good about the cost. Next I explained that he would require the use of my car for the trip so I had him Google the mileage and figure out the cost for gas. His face fell as he realized his little $15 day would now cost about $80.

Apparently he really wants to go as evidenced by the fact he came up with a solution to the money problem on his very own. It's been a fun process for both of us and he has started to see the possibility of repeat business and expansion into the feline world. Sometimes lessons come in little surprises.

The manufacturing plant.
The packaging plant.
The biscuits.
The customer (and lab tester).

The finished product. Now wouldn't you pay $5 for a bag of organic dog treats presented like this?  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lamenting the Loss of the Paper Route

Whatever happened to job opportunities for junior high boys? That cornerstone job, the newspaper route, went by the wayside why? Crime? Cost? Liability? Not sure, but sure am sad that it went.

Not that I would let my kid ride his bike in the dark, in the cold, wearing a heavy bag loaded with rolled papers, in questionable neighborhoods, going door to door, and maybe even a few miles from home. Gasp. Simply unsafe! Still, don't I wish he had the opportunity?

Yesterday, SJ plopped down on the couch and announced that he would ask his dad for a job at our store when he got home. He has a goal, you see. He needs new paintball stuff. Always the encourager, I laid it out for him. "Sorry Bud. We don't have work for you." I know. It was a soft letdown.

But it made me wonder. Aside from allowances (that come from our pocket) or jobs with parents who own businesses (that comes from our pocket), what is a young man to do for money? Have your kids found some safe and effective ways to market themselves for odd jobs? How do they do it?

I would love to hear your ideas.

On a more successful note, my 16 year old who does work for us, opened his wallet and bought his own Subway sandwich yesterday. "I can buy my own, Mom," he said. I let the guilt of it prick me for just a sec, then realized the greater good in letting him feel the success of a penny earned.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What is Teaching?

Ran across this excerpt, written in the 1940s, about why our kids might not like us all the time:
What is Teaching?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ramping up for 8th grade.

It's August 4th. Homeschool officially starts on August 30th so it is with a smug bit of feeling accomplished that I note my well-laid plans. No worries. Not too tidy. But enough to feel like once we are out of the gates, I have an idea at least how our days should look.

I am still new at this homeschool bit but after detoxing and finding our way for the last few months of last year, I feel like I am ready to go at it with a little more structure and accountability. A good part of my planning was spent focusing on my goals for SJ this year. I have to keep in mind that we are taking this one year at a time, so I might well be preparing him for the rigors of high school next year. That would include not only academics but time management and self-discipline as well.
  • I am not an authoritarian style teacher but I do need to remember who holds the key to our schedule and be a little more insistent (to both of us) that school needs to start at a certain time each day--we should be showered, dressed, fed, and ready to go. 
  • Given the scope and subject range we want to cover, I need to make it clear to SJ that he can expect four hours of work each day. I won't keep a school bell nearby, but without the expectation, my son tends to cut it short (what kid wouldn't?), stopping shy of doing his best work. I don't want him "just gettin' it done." I want him to stretch his own character and integrity by working beyond what he believes he is capable. At least sometimes.
  • We are going to try something different with our Handler (Educational Specialist) this year. In the past, we have met for a quick hand-off of lesson plans and work. SJ pops in to say hello. Noting that I tend to fall short on follow through and accountability for assignments, I am going to ask her to be the Fall Guy and SJ to have the onus of proving that he has learned what he tells me he has. If I have him memorize something, he will need to say it to her. If he writes a paper, he will need to present her with the final draft. I think it will take away the opportunity to scam the softy (that would be me). She will also be responsible for teaching and assigning his writing, although we will work together on choosing topics.
  • Screen time must be curbed. Let's face it, our family likes our evening TV shows (good ones, of course, on Discovery, History, and Versus). Still, this particular child warms to the click of the remote no matter what time of day...even when he knows he shouldn't. Far too much spacing out for him. I don't love imposing jail-like controls in my home, but I am consid, ering blocking channels during daytime hours. I think our service will allow it.
  • My days need to be devoted to school first. I tend to be a morning person so my struggle is with wanting to do everything within a few hour window before noon. That includes my exercise, daily devotion, writing, homeschool, bible study, housework and work for our business, not to mention errands and coffee dates.. It's not possible and I will be making an effort to move parts of my day to the afternoon. I have to remember that homeschooling is a bit of a sacrifice and this may come at the expense of downtime, social time, or nap time (seriously). Can I do that for at least a year?
In all, I am getting excited to begin. I am anxious to get my hands on the books we've chosen as I believe there will be a nice blend of options to intrigue his learning style. He is especially excited about working through a Legos Robotics curriculum and learning how to design a video game.

Aside from the time I will be spending on SJ's education, I will have my hands full helping my high school junior navigate through a pretty tough schedule. We've asked him to step up his level of academics and he is already stressed. He has always been bright and we know he is capable. Somewhere along the way, his bar got lowered and he lost the confidence (or the desire) to work a little harder and be a bit more disciplined.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Define "Child"

When is your child no longer a child? When does he become a visitor more than a member? At what point is it okay to cease parenting the child and expect her to accept adult responsibility—all of it—the good and the bad—free of parental guilt?
These are all questions this summer has forced me to ask. Parenting toddlers challenged me. Parenting teens energized me. Parenting a young adult puzzles me--perhaps because I remember the fear of facing the big scary world alone, or maybe because I barely had confidence in myself to make it at that age. Not sure. I find myself wanting to protect and help my daughter but find that while she wants my help, she does not. And, while I want to help, I don’t have much to give.
It is as it should be, I think, a little tug-of-war before the big break but it is no less disturbing. I think I have done a pretty good job of offering autonomy to my kids. I learned early on that trying to control them wouldn’t work. For so long, though, we were a fivesome. Two parents, three kids. When she left for college it felt as part of us was missing. After three years, though, we have adjusted to living as a foursome. I am a mom in a family with two teen boys…and a daughter away at school. I am thrilled with her school. I believe in her mind and her choices. With few exceptions, she has given us little to worry about as an adult. I guess you could say I have slowly come to the realization that I am done with formal parenting for this one.
What has not been so easy to understand are the boundaries of parent/child roles when she is at home. Of course we are thrilled to host her. Of course we provide a place for her (albeit a corner in the office as her room was converted to a boy room years ago). Of course we share our meals with her. But what is okay to expect from the young adult-child-who-is-not-quite-graduated-but-far-enough-along-to-not-be-a-child? And where should the generosity end, especially when said host parents (that’s us) barely have the resources to give?
Let me clarify this. This is MY issue. She is not asking. This is a child who earned a full tuition scholarship. We have barely paid a dime toward her education. I’m speaking here of the subtle apron strings that aren’t so clear. Is it okay to take a vacation and not invite the adult child? If she happens to be with me when I spend a dollar on something frivolous, am I obligated to do the same for her? I find myself on the edge of wanting to be generous and feeling rude. If I had ample resources, perhaps I would not feel so badly but when money is dear, it’s hard not to feel a tiny bit resentful.
It must be confusing for her, too. As a senior art major, she isn’t rolling in the dough either and for her whole life, we have paid for our kids’ activities. Who would want to willingly give that up? I didn’t! She worries that she no longer “fits” in the family. And she is right. Her life is elsewhere now but it bends both our brains and makes us question what this means to our relationship. I am finding that it is a bit of dance, communicating my love to her while “allowing” her to be an adult guest who happens-to-be-my-child in my home.
As with every parenting challenge, we will walk this out in the best way we know how. Will we make some mistakes? Probably. Did our parents make mistakes that caused us to resent them? Absolutely. Were we able to learn from those mistakes? Did they maybe even make us stronger in some ways? Yes. I need to give my daughter now, my boys in a few years, the freedom to resent me if that is what it takes to help launch them into adult capability.

Friday, June 11, 2010

School's Out For the Summer! Sort of.

In the past the end of a school year marked the beginning of homeschool, only I didn't ever think of it in those terms. Summer vacation offered the freedom to teach my kids skills and explore learning opportunities at our whim, free of the confines of homework and school schedules. Obviously this year is different.

We have already been reading through some great adventure books together. SJ has already been cooking (ok, bbq'ing). We have already visited our local Turtle Bay Museum to study the butterflies. Not that we won't continue doing these things but it makes me appreciate that we have had the freedom through homeschool to accomplish enrichment activities throughout the year, not just during summer vacation.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Please People, Move Over!

It takes just one trip to our local Winco to remind one how essential are lessons of etiquette. Sadly, I am there weekly so the lesson stays current and top of mind. It astounds me how so many people lack others-awareness.

Let's start in the parking lot: Is it too much to ask pedestrians to cross driving paths in a straight across manner (i.e. shortest distance) rather than the meandering diagonal stroll? Or how about reining in the kids who walk abreast of the cart...five people wide?

Speaking of group walkers, Winco must be a field trip for many. That would explain why entire families cruise the aisles en masse, loafing, crawling, wiggling, and clogging. And might I add without offending much of America, it's not the skinny families who do this. And what is with stopping in the exact middle of the aisle?

Certainly we are all entitled to our space on earth but isn't that what our homes our for? At home we can spread out, take as much space as we would like. The rest of the time we must share our space, accomplishing what we must while being mindful of others. It's the mindful of others part that seems to be lacking.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Measuring Success

 Have these last three months been successful? How does a homeschooler measure success? When we began this journey, I worried how we would know if SJ was improving. Every paper eventually reaches "A" status. Every missed math problem gets corrected. Grades are fairly moot in our homeschool.

I have to admit that I occasionally still have a moment of wonder when I hear of what the "school kids" are memorizing. For a moment, I worry that he is missing something until I recall the vast difference between memorizing stuff for tests and learning. Success for me must be measured by what I observe, the changes in SJ's demeanor, the little risks he takes in thinking on his own, in formulating opinions, and the evidence of wisdom and stature.

For one who hates to read, he is practically begging me to read more chapters of Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. For one who, in the past, didn't understand complicated assignments, I watched as he explained longitude and latitude to his 20 year old sister, even going so far as to pull out his paper and plot a few more coordinates. For one who lamented the boring-ness of history, he sure seemed interested in The History of Us, vying for TV time during school hours to watch it. For one who used to think that he needed to do paintball or skateboard to be cool, I watched as he finished a mountain bike race in third place, celebrating his win by proudly wearing his medal for the entire evening. Words are inadequate to describe the subtle progress of this one's spirit. Yes, we've found success here. This is working for my little guy.

Right now I am working on my plan for next year. I have found a few things that make me excited will excite SJ to no end. In fact, he has already asked for one book, Game Design for Teens. Some reviewers even recommended the book for kids as young as ten which tells me that it is probably fairly comprehensible and intuitive. From what I can tell, it teaches basic computer language and culminates in the design of a basic video game--for the not super serious gamers. Perfect.

We are also excited to enter the world of chemistry and physics. This is where this family shines (excluding mom) with hands-on experimentation. For this, I am really hoping my homeschool group will authorize the purchase of a Lego Mindstorm kit. Legos already occupy an ample portion of SJ's room. To teach physics and robotics and engineering through them, well, that would just be heaven. I can already imagine my 16 year old plopped on the floor next to his brother working to create the next best robot.

How about you? How do you measure your homeschool success? What are your favorite methods of teaching history and writing? As you close out your own year, I would love to hear your successes as well.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Learning Trumps Telling

Hopefully, you watched the clip in my last post, Making Math Real. What I loved about Dan Meyer's teaching method is a cornerstone of what I believe about education and learning in general. Until it makes an iota of sense, and I mean in a global sense, to a student, the lesson is akin to Snoopy-talk--a series of meaningless words.

In testing  my theory,  I have to study my own life as it is my best experimental laboratory. How do I learn? What makes the difference between information I deposit and discard? If it isn't important to me or related to something I want to know about, my husband will attest that my eyes practically roll back in my head. He knows this first-hand as he has attempted over the years to fill me with engineering-ish minutia such as bicycle componentry and specifications. All I care about on a bike is that it has two inflated tires, working brakes, and gears that will make it easier for me to climb hills. In other words, I really don't care about the rest. No amount of telling me is going to motivate me to plant that information anywhere but on the cutting room floor.

Our kids are getting this kind of forced telling in school everyday. I'm not saying much of it isn't important but in the memorizing and the writing of it, are they really learning anything? I just watched my sophomore son work through a major project for his history class. He had to choose a current world issue, write a paragraph on his intent to research the topic, make an outline, and write an essay. He chose terrorism. Interesting topic. Lots of great information out there. Great opportunity to learn something about his world. But in the end could he tell me anything about terrorism other than the fact that dudes kill each other? No. He was just cranking out the work. He hasn't been touched (he doesn't think) by terrorism so he had little motivation to make connections between his assignment and his world.

It's a delicate process, searching for the thing that lights our students' fires, and not an easy one. I am fortunate to have just one student. Still it is a daily process of watching, listening, guiding, and taking opportunities when they present themselves while at the same time not squelching the interest in my zeal to take advantage of it.

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D. and an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada has a great piece on this topic in Psychology Today. In his article, "Education is Not the Filling of the Pail, but the Lighting of a Fire", he says this, "Without an emotional response on the part of the student, without sparking the students' interest, it's doubtful there will be a fire for learning."

I'm seeing this is true with SJ, too. I find I can get him to accomplish a whole lot more if I can tie a lesson to something he is excited about. That is why, a week after he mentioned how good he was at writing fantasy stories, he was asked to work on character sketches for three fantasy characters. (Note the week delay between interest and assignment--sneaky, right?) My reluctant writer tackled that project first that day and didn't even stop to think that he was having a lesson.

Are we hitting every standard the state mandates and in the order they propose? I am sure we are not. But is he learning something? I am positive that he is. I am not saying this is easy and there are days when I panic because my son might not be able to name the layers of the earth's core by memory. When this happens, I have to remind myself that I brought him home to learn and what he learns is always going to be far more valuable than what he memorizes.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Making Math Real

Revolutionary math teacher Dan Meyer brings math textbooks to life to engage his students. Now if I can just glean and apply his methods. It makes so much sense.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What have we done to curiosity?

Through this process of homeschooling, I have opened a never-ending discussion in my head regarding the differences between teaching and learning. We often use the terms interchangeably as we discuss our children's schooling. "What are you teaching them?" assumes "What are they learning?" Reality is teaching me (and I am learning) that the two are quite different.

Until a kid wants to learn, I can teach until forever and never connect. We know this. Yet we continue to harbor a school system that teaches its way to The Test each year, losing our kids' interest and curiosity along the way.

Consider the typical discipline issues a science teacher must deal with. Let's say each student has been given a straw, a rubber band, a 1/4 cup of water and a piece of paper. On each desk is a worksheet with clear instructions that will draw the student to an intended conclusion. Instead of following the directions, Charlie snips his straw in half and the battle begins:

"Charlie, why did you snip the straw in half? The directions stated the experiment will  only work with the whole straw."
 "Charlie? Perhaps you should head to the principal's office."
From a teacher's perspective, I get this. In a classroom of thirty plus students, one must maintain a sense of unity and power. But what if Charlie just wanted to know what would happen if he cut the straw in half? What if he were *gasp* curious?  How did Edison discover the light bulb? He had to try a ton of stuff. He had to first be curious. Have we become so intent on the teaching that we have disallowed our kids the opportunity to learn?

I am not dissing teachers. They have an impossible job. How can we move to correct this travesty in public school? What do you think?

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Best Mother's Day Gift Ever!

Given the option of a few bucks with which to choose a card and gift for me or doing something else, SJ chose the something else. His dad warned him then, "It better not be lame."

It wasn't. It was a homemade card, fairly typical of those I have received in year's past. What was different was the inside...a full panel of writing. This may not seem like a big deal to many, but to this mom, and to this child who is known for his writing reluctance, it was huge. And it wasn't just rambling but an attempt at thought and prose. My favorite line might have been the one mentioning that I am a homeschool teacher, "which I am very good at." Big smile, with a tear.

It warms my heart to think we have made progress in the writing arena after trying a few super secret simple techniques. The first I read in The Homeschool Magazine's Winter 09/10 edition. It's a long article but in "Three Keys to Teaching Writing," Danielle Orlander shows how to help a child basically rewrite an existing text using a key word outline, restating ideas from memory, and then reconstructing the paragraph. It might seem like cheating but how often, in college did we have to extrapolate text to use in research papers? This technique showed how to find the main ideas and put them in one's own words without plagiarizing. SJ and I used text from a bicycling handbook one day and from a medieval history book the next. In both instances, SJ's paragraph was twice as long as the original and he was shocked to note how easily he had written nearly half a page.

The other idea I gleaned from a homeschool blog (sorry, I can't remember which one). SJ got a new racing-worthy bike this week, complete with clipless pedals, and I knew he was proud of his first real mountain bike ride. We had taken a few photos along the way, so I copied the photos into a Word document, wrote Who? What? Why? Where? When? How? on his white board, and asked him to narrate the photos. It took him less than ten minutes and as he proudly pointed out, he tried a new point-of-view (He wrote it like a news story in third person) all on his own. We will work on editing this week but wow. No one told me how satisfying it would be to feel moments of success!

Disclaimer: Lest you think I come to these ideas on my own, let me correct the record to note that none comes without copious time in prayer and supplication. I am simply being obedient.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's Working....It's Working

Homeschooling is as much about faith as it is about academics. Faith that the method we choose will eventually lead to learning. Faith that our children will accidentally learn something from us or his world. Faith that we are doing the right thing. Inherent in the faith concept is that we walk without sight most of the time. It's a good day when we see a glimmer of a result.

I love the scene in the movie, What About Bob?, where Bill Murray works at taking "baby steps." It's become almost a mantra in my life when I face hard things. My SJ gave me some hope this week that those "baby steps" might lead to a crawl.

I've taken the gamble to really back off from anything that looks like school and approach learning in an eclectic fashion, using what life presents. With only a month of school left, we've also taken this as an opportunity to try freebie programs and sites I've run across through other homeschoolers.

Yesterday, for instance, was consumer math day. We started by comparison shopping for a washer and dryer. SJ wasn't all that engaged but he did listen in as my friend and I grilled the salespeople as to features, benefits, and costs of the machines. Afterward, when I asked him what he learned, he made the observation that one salesperson seemed to know his product better and therefore gave him (SJ) greater confidence. A valuable insight? Absolutely.

Next was grocery store math. From the first aisle to the last, I saw a distinct click as SJ went from reluctant to engaged. It was the Pizza Rolls that did it. "Hey Mom, these would only cost $.07 each," he proved. "If I eat 20 of them, it would only cost $1.40 for lunch, compared to $2 for a public school lunch." He got the Pizza Rolls simply on the merit of doing the math. (As you might expect, our next lesson looked at the serving size vs. the calories.) It seems that personal interest is a great motivator.

We read our receipts to make sure we didn't get "ripped off" and wondered together why Heinz vinegar cost double the store brand. 

I know it doesn't seem like much, but for me, it's enough. It's a constant urge not to blaze ahead and succumb to the pressures of traditional "school." If I look at others in a full-on sprint, I still wonder if we will ever get there but I have to trust this process. One friend, whose kids share my son's learning challenge, peppers me with dubious questions. "If you aren't using textbooks, how are you teaching him?" Fair question. But how does one begin to explain? I hardly believed it myself.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'll Take That Glimmer of Hope

Two things happened this week. Well, three, if you count SJ's surgery.

Because of the surgery (a minor procedure), we had no choice but to lay low this past week. I purchased an online reading comprehension program, Learning Upgrade. It's what educators are calling "artificially intelligent," where it feeds the student concepts only to the level they can/have mastered. It won't let a student advance until he is at least proficient.  I handed over the laptop and took a shower. Usually, I would expect to find that he has moved on to something much more intellectually stimulating when my back turns, say the Legos site. Imagine my surprise to find him working through his second and third levels of the program. Ping.

Next, I scrapped the paperback reading book and offered him stacks of Popular Science, Breakaway, and various cycling magazines. I told him he needed to read for 1/2 hour, just like if he were reading a book. An hour and a half later, I had to pull him away from the magazines. Ping ping.

I found what I thought was a super cool visual dictionary site called Visuwords. If you have a visual learner (middle school or above), I would recommend checking it out. It uses colors and shapes to make connections to word parts, definitions, synonyms, and more. Thinking we were on a roll, I introduced the site and watched as SJ promptly switched off. Not successful. Move on.

He had fun with a site full of "brain games" also beneficial for we adults who fear losing our acuity. Many of the games are similar to exercises he did in vision therapy. Sometimes we have to redefine our ideas about "play." He may have accidentally sharpened his thought processes on Oh well.

But these weren't the two things I refer to in my title. I lead him to all of the above. He just took the bait. No, what I saw were glimmers of an independent thinker.

First, on Friday night, I caught him with the Direct TV manual in his lap, open to a page of directions. With remote in hand, he was reading and following directions to solve a problem he needed to fix. He didn't ask us to tell him how (ok, he did try his brother but when that didn't work...). I was tempted to jump in and give him the simple answer but, thankfully, recognized the opportunity for what it was. For most, a small thing. For me (and for him), it was a huge breakthrough. Other than Legos instructions, I doubt SJ has ever sought an instruction manual for anything in his life.

Second, and equally mundane for most, he responded to his dad's need desire for cookies and milk. He offered to make cookies knowing that we didn't have any more of the super fast and easy fundraiser cookie dough. Did he realize he had to follow a recipe? Apparently he did! I helped find the recipe and left him to do his work. We had a near miss as he forgot to add the dry ingredients but he got right back on track as soon as we called this to his attention. The cookies were both tasty and beautiful. And to this mom, they were so much more than a treat. Those cookies represented an early and encouraging step in the direction of confidence and independence. Ping. Ping. Ping! Sometimes we need to take what we can get.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Weekend Offers Perspective

After my little meltdown last week, I took a chill pill and had the opportunity for a physically strenuous (as opposed to mentally strenuous) weekend of cleaning out my house and having a giant yard sale with 50 (yes 50!) of my neighbors. So satisfying on so many levels. Exhausted, I fell into bed at 8:00 p.m. and awoke Sunday in time to attend our 9:00 a.m. service. I felt as if I hadn't been as awake and rested in a month.

The thing about our 9:00 a.m. service is that a group of exuberant Celebrate Recovery (former addicts) folks occupy the first two rows of seating, literally right in front of the stage. Always effusive, always smiling broadly, always swaying enthusiastically to our lively worship, always...exuberant. I am all for enthusiastic praise but I have to admit, I've looked at them with dose of accusation, that maybe they were just a little over-the-top.

Here is where I have to say that T.V. is not always a bad thing. I've been watching Addicted on TLC, not so much because I enjoy seeing people in their addictions but because I am fascinated by the intervention techniques. (I am studying for my Counseling degree.) It's a disturbing show, to say the least, but the progression from stupor to lucidity can't help but make a person stand up and cheer. I guess I have only imagined a life of addiction, never really seen it.

I wanted to hug those front row people yesterday. Throw up your hands, dear friends. These are people who know what they have been delivered from and are paying due respect and offering a sacrifice of joy to the One who gave them a new day.

Next, my attention turned toward our drummer, a motley kid I've watched grow from awkward teen to scruffy young man. I know he struggled with school and has spent a few wayward years finding his way to adulthood. But the kid can play. I don't know his school story and why he struggled, but it warmed my heart to see him there, offering the gift he does have.

What if my SJ takes a crooked path? I'm not setting him up for that but consider it for  a moment. Often our greatest suffering, our biggest challenge, our thorn, if you will, leads to the most acute joy and thankfulness. As a parent, I would protect him from ill. But my job above all is to be on my knees, praying for the will of the Father in his life.

On the curriculum front, I had a wonderful conversation with the Grand Pumba Handler who reminded me to relax and know that I cannot teach SJ anything at a level where he isn't. She encouraged me to concentrate on foundational skills and let the science and history and literature work it's way in. It was reassuring and we spent Friday doing "math" and industry as we marked and labeled our treasures for sale. We even threw in an impromptu investment lesson as he purchased a case of Skittles to sell at 100% markup. It was a much better weekend. Thank you all for your comments and encouragement. This week our hand is forced. He is having his adenoids removed on Tuesday so we will not have a choice but to relax. I am looking forward to the week.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Struggling Learner? How About Struggling Mom?

I'll have to admit, it has been a rough week. I had great plans to approach the week with less formal lessons and more "fun" type learning. Is it me or does less to do mean less is done? I mean, MUCH less. More blank stares. Less compliance. More resistance.

While I know intuitively that I need to find SJ's spark, his currency, if you will, I seem lost in finding it and even more lost in convincing myself that he will ever master anything that resembles a school standard if I follow this style. And doesn't he have to meet a few standards to eventually graduate?
In school, a teacher proffers a passing grade and promotes a child to the next grade level. When learning happens in such a different order and on a totally different timeline at home, how does a homeschooler measure progress?

Couple this with the learning disability and it's not hard to see why I am lost. As my friend (who is conveniently also a therapist) noted, SJ is "p-d off" at failing all the time and until he finds something in which he can succeed, he will use all his energy resisting me and my efforts. But what is that thing? 'And how will it be enough to urge him toward independence, adult literacy, and character, for isn't that the ultimate goal?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Ultimate Blog Party 2010

I'm going to take a moment from the usual to do a little blog-elbow rubbing. Akin to schmoozing e-style. Inspired by 5 Minutes for Mom, it's a way for those of us who blog to find each other and for new readers to hopefully find new and interesting blogs to read. So basically, this is an introduction and a few facts about me and my blog:
  • My name is Carrie.
  • I will have been married for 24 years this July to a wonderfully strong, creative, and loyal guy--Garth.
  • I have three children although I only homeschool my youngest. My daughter, 20, is an art major finishing her junior year of college. My middle child, a son, 16, prefers to race his mountain bike over getting a drivers license...which is fine with me (although I might argue it is more expensive). My youngest is a boy, 13, whom you may have read about in my blog. He plans to be a movie star.
  • My husband and I own (and he operates) a retail bike and kayak business.
  • I have only been homeschooling for a month and a half although I homeschooled my daughter when she was in 6th grade (a completely different experience).
  • I live my life with a great dose of faith in God and his son, Jesus Christ, without whom I would be completely and utterly lost and adrift, prone to prideful acts of selfishness and bitter musings. That is not to say I have mastered all of this but have the grace to continue when I fall short.
  • I love all things of the mind and how people think. I'm currently taking some prerequisite courses in order to get into a Masters in Counseling program.
  • I have the best group of live friends a girl could hope for. Some near and some far. All precious and vital to my mental health and being.
  • Oh, and I am a dog person. We have two lapdogs: a 90 pound Lab and a 50 pound mutt.
Things people might say about me:
  • I am honest.
  • I am direct.
  • I am witty (my favorite)
My goals for my blog are to:
  • Chronicle my homeschool journey. 
  • Decompress my thoughts through the written word.
  • Share what I learn, both the good and the not-so-good.
  • Shine a light and give hope.
So there you have it.  That's me in a nutshell. I wish we could hang out and have a cup of coffee. I'd much rather see your eyeballs and grill you with questions about how you do what you do. For now this will suffice but I do hope to connect.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Clean Mind Leads to Projectiles

Thank you Spring Break! Nothing like a week off to reflect and regroup...oh, and spring clean. My cupboards and shelves are nearly organized, door jams primed and ready to be repainted, and many treasures stacked and ready for next week's multi-family garage sale. There is something about purging the house that helps me purge and clear my mind.

As I mentioned in my last post, I felt we had gotten bogged down by our textbooks. I started hearing, "I hate science," which I know is a total lie because Mythbusters and How It's Made top the list of recorded programs on our DVR. What SJ was communicating, in his 13 year old manner, was that he hated what we were studying and how we were doing it.

It occurred to me that he likes anything that shoots, explodes, or destroys so, duh, brainchild, how about studying the weaponry and warfare of the Medieval times (which we are now entering in History)? With a little encouragement from my husband and his friend, I found a book, The Projectile-Throwing Engines of the Ancients, that offers sketches of many types of catapults and their histories. As we read this together, SJ will cover as many learning objectives, if not more, than if we were reading his history, science, and literature textbooks. I am hoping he can build scale models of a few of these catapults (or weapons) and we will (at least, my husband will) test and discuss the differences of trajectory, force, and all those scientific concepts of which I am glaringly lacking in understanding. In reading the history of the weapons, we will surely find terms to add to the vocab list and, in order to understand the concepts, he will be forced to take the time to comprehend his reading. He has already opened the book to peek.

I am also looking at curriculum for next year and, again, it occurred to me that I've been a little too intent on taking up where he left off in school and getting through the book. Well, it's clear he will be doing Pre-Algebra again next year. With every lesson, we tend to back up another chapter. So...why am I trying to move forward? STAR testing? For the rest of the year, I plan to start back at the front of the book and review until I find where he is stuck. I am also having him do some diagnostic tests on a few of the programs I am reviewing. If you have used these, please let me know: Aleks Pre-Algebra and Teaching Textbook.

Lastly, check out this post from another blogger mom where she outlines the lessons learned from, of all things, a Cheez-It box: Who Needs Textbooks?  Great minds think alike. Homeschool offers so many opportunities to learn about life from life itself.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Break Offers Time to Reflect

Easter break came at just the right time. We've been at this for five weeks now and while we are falling into a routine, that's just it--we are falling into a routine.

When we started this venture, I had ideals of helping my son rediscover his interests and love of learning through less structured days and unhurried explorations. I reluctantly accepted textbooks knowing that they would fall short but figured I would use them as my springboard to subject immersion. How quickly one falls into rote academia. The thing is, textbooks (and teacher's manuals) make it easy to deliver a lesson and one can feel that, at the end of the day, each subject has at least been touched. But I'm not sure our homeschool is looking that much different than the middle school classroom, save for the couch and kitchen table.

A weekend of decompression has, for  me, allowed some time to return to blog boards and the infinite wisdom of ones who have gone before me. (Total side note: I've encountered some of the coolest "thinkers" and "writers" among homeschool moms. What an insightful group.) My head is aswim with thoughts of purpose, curriculum, learning styles, and teaching methods. It's enough to overwhelm but one message repeatedly makes its way to the top of the pile: Trust yourself. Know your child and do what you know. Life presents learning opportunities at every turn.

What I am struggling with right now is missing the two-way conversation with someone who can answer some of my questions. Another blogger mom recently expressed frustration at trying to explain the merits of homeschooling. I get what she is saying in that trying to discuss what I am learning with my "school" friends and discussing solutions is difficult because they aren't doing the research I am doing and are not facing the unique journey I am taking. While supportive, they cannot offer the insight I crave in this area. Here are some of my ponderings.

  • I've forgotten my commitment to "deschooling." At A to Z Home's Cool site, several articles reminded me that kids who exit the public school system need time to decompress, nearly a month per year in school. Do the math. For SJ, that would fully seven months! What does that look like? I fear days of endless (and non-educational) computer surfing and I, Carly on Nick if left unchecked. Would he really find his way to rich and educational topics? I'm not so sure, but then, he is still a traditionally trained student and learning still looks like school to him. I love the idea of this concept but struggle with the "how" and truth be told, the worry that nothing will be added to my son's brain (which is exactly what proponents say the deschooling will counter).
  • The Charlotte Mason Method. Again, love the idea of this method that, in a nutshell (and from my limited understanding), suggests using real books to study subjects. By doing so, students will connect with the depth and emotion of a topic instead of simply glossing over the main points. This appeals to me and I totally get how it could work, especially in history and literature, but I wonder how one does math once kids reach pre-algebra. I understand counting pennies by fives, but I don't see myself finding algebraic equations in everyday life.
Finally, I found this review while reviewing the book, Homeschooling: The Teen Years: Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the 13- to 18- Year-Old. I had to check the author to see if I had somehow written it. Nope. It turns out this was from a mom in 2000. It seems the issues we have faced are not new ones:
Two weeks ago I pulled my 12 year old, seventh grade student from public school on basically what was a spur of the moment, desperation move. Long story short, he has... never enjoyed even one day of school (including kindergarten), and [had] writing/processing problems. I was tired of trying to get the teachers to cooperate, my son to do his homework after school, tears, low self-esteem and failing grades. I just knew there had to be a better way to help my son receive the education he deserves.
Again, let me say how grateful I am to have accepted this journey and to have the opportunity to do it. I know I am headed in the right direction but as with anything new, there is a learning curve and if I have learned anything so far, it is that every homeschool journey is unique.