Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Finding friends

A question has come up on one of my groups again. It's an issue often enough that I decided to blog about it.

The question goes something like this: (please,forgive all the slashes)

"My child doesn't have any friends. S/he is quiet/reserved and imaginative/creative and/or active/physical/kinetic. S/he doesn't seem to "click" with others easily."

First of all, why is this an issue? (No. I'm not being facetious.) Does your child want more friends or do you want your child to have more friends? Some kids really would rather not bother with friends, especially when they're very young and/or have siblings they enjoy. Is your child content playing on their own or with siblings? Is your child asking you to be their playmate more often that works for you?

It's important to understand how much of this is your issue and how much is theirs. It's perfectly legitimate for it to be your issue. Something like "My kid is driving me crazy. He has too much energy for me and needs someone else to work it out with" is a perfectly good reason to search out friends, but it may require a different approach than "My child was crying and told me that he wanted more friends." There seems to be certain Right Brained kids that are not extroverts and it's important that we respect that, even if we have compelling reasons for wanting to them make more and deeper connections with others.

My middle child suddenly noticed he didn't have any friends a couple of years ago when he was six. My heart just ached for him. I wanted so much to fix it, but it wasn't something I could "do" for him. It's been a process for both of us.

I noticed much earlier, but since he didn't care I gave up worrying about it. Once he expressed a desire for friends it became something we've worked on together. While he's very empathetic, he's not one for whom friendship has come easily. We've had to talk about what makes a person a friend and how to be a friend.

We've talked about what it means to be a friend, how you know if someone is your friend, the different kinds of friends. There are friendships based around a shared activity, friendships based on physical location, friendships based on a feeling of kindred spirit, etc... It's possible to have many different kinds of friends to meet different needs.

I have boys, and I know their friendships can be different than that of girls, but here's my experience, for what it's worth.

Park days, church, classes and such are a great way to meet people, but not a great way to build a real friendship. When we have the opportunity to meet new friends I look for characteristics I know will be good matches for the child I'm thinking of. I look for similar interests, similar energy level, emotional maturity/awareness (or lack there of :-P ). For instance, my oldest loves books, games, robots, electronics, so it's easy for him to build friendships around these interests. My middle child has more energy than an entire gymnastics team, so he does better w/ someone who also has a lot of physical energy and doesn't mind a bit of tussling. (Also, the child's parent needs to be ok w/ that level of physicality, so if their child is already like that I don't have to explain so much). At different times my kids have done better with kids older or younger than them.

When we really want to make a friend we arrange a one on one play date with someone that we'd like to know better. It's nearly always a "family" play date. In fact, sometimes the other parent and I will not point out that it's a "play date" for the kids at all. We'll just say "we're going to visit my friend" or "my friend and her kids are coming over" and then encourage the kids to get out of our hair by giving them an activity near us while we chat. That takes some of the pressure of playing together off the kids. They're just hanging out because we make them, not because they're trying to be friends. I'm pretty up front w/ the other parent about how we need one on one time for the kids to warm up to a real friendship and most other parents have understood that.

If your child is having problems with friends gravitating towards a sibling rather than him/her, you might try looking for friends that are not likely to be as attracted to, or attractive to, the sibling. Maybe someone younger or older than the sibling, or w/ interests that are unique to your child? We've had that problem with my middle son. He's a bit wild, and wears out even the most energetic kids, isn't really great at using his words... His current two good friends are both also very energetic and creative, one a year older and one a year younger. The older one can gravitate to my oldest boy, which has hurt middle's feelings... We talked it through, and oldest becoming aware of the situation has worked to turn attention back to his brother sometimes, which has helped. Middle is learning to pay attention to body language and spoken language has also helped him realize that he needs to tone it down sometimes. (Room for growth here!) It's amazing what a couple of years of growth and intention have done though.

The final thing I would say is that it's more important to be comfortable in your own skin than to be popular. If a child feels good about himself it's easy to find others whose company he enjoys or to be comfortable without company.

OK, not the final thing. I never shut up, so there will probably be more somewhere later. ;-)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Math Magic

Some folks have asked, how could you possibly unschool math?

Here's the secret. Shhh. Math is fun. Really. Arithmetic? Well, not so much, at least, not always. We learn arithmetic so we can do the fun stuff. In our homeschooling we do the fun stuff, and pick up the arithmetic on the way. What's fun? Statistics and probability. (Ask any gamer!) Geometry is fun. (Ask an artist.) Analytical geometry is one of my favorites. The connection between music and math is fascinating. There's so much in math. Something for everyone at every stage.

I'm not what some would call a strict "unschooler". I call us eclectic. Although to anyone who does "school at home" we probably look pretty unschooly, the radical unschoolers don't want to own us. So my approach might not work at your house, but here it is, for what it's worth.

As with anything, I look at what our goals are. Our goals do not track with public school standards, rather they are linked to what we need to do and what we want to do. We don't have to wait for a certain score on a timed test before we get to the fun stuff. Sometimes we want to know something that will never be covered in school. My oldest wants to program robots, my middlest wants to double a cookie recipe, my youngest wants to help with the bird count. These are all practical reasons to want to learn math and that's a great place to start.

For my youngest (5yo), working on counting is still necessary, yet he can correctly add single digit numbers. What's up with that? Well, I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I'm working on him not skipping 12 when he counts. We play games, count steps, etc. and I know it'll come in time.

My middlest (8yo) is a little scary around math. During a recital last spring he leaned over to ask me a question. I expected something like this:
8yo "Mom, what instrument is that?"
me: "French horn"

What really happened:
8yo "Mom? Is the square root of one hundred ten?"
me: "French horn." "Um. I mean. Yes." "Pay attention."

So I don't worry about where he's at mathematically. We just have fun with it. He's enjoyed the ChildCraft book "Mathemagic" ($.50 at Goodwill). A day after reading the chapter on early number systems he showed me his own made up system. Now that's unschooling!

My oldest (11 yo) has just this year started a math curriculum (Math U See). It's the first curriculum we've ever used for anything. So far it's worked out ok. We started using a curriculum for a couple of reasons. For one, we could both tell he was getting to a point where his lack of rigor in arithmetic was starting to slow him down. Also, he was coming up on his state required 5th grade national standardized tests. Even though I don't put much stock in such things, I knew that if he took it and totally boffed it he'd feel bad, and that there was no reason with just a little work he couldn't do well on it. He's also getting to an age where he's self motivated and able to work semi-independently, so it wouldn't be too hard on me to help him. (Always an important consideration!) One thing that has made this work is that after looking through the materials we agreed he doesn't have to do anything but the tests unless/until he didn't understand the subject matter.

There are many resources available for learning math. I think it's more important to find resources that inspire wanting to learning math. The best one stop "shopping" I've found is the Living Math website. With the reading list and your local library you will find something that inspires your kid. The Math Circle usually has something interesting posted to play with.

What have you found that inspires you to play with math?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Safe hobby

I've been wasting sometime enjoying this comic

Good to know I have a relatively safe hobby.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wanted: Normal Children.... nah

We're having a snow day today.

Yes. Even homeschoolers can have snow days, but they might not look like a school kids snow day. Actually, I don't think anybody's snowday could look like ours.
I'm pretty sure that's a good thing.

Setting the scene:
Me? I'm standing at the sink washing the fingerling potatoes we rescued from the garden a couple of weeks ago.

My 8 yo walks up to me to chat.

8yo: "Mom? What if there are free floating electrons? Are there ever electrons just hanging out but not attached to an atom?"

Me: "Yes, I think that's what electricity is, electrons moving."

8yo: "No, not moving. What if they're just floating around? Do they ever do that?"

Me: "Hey, are you going to build a snowman?"
(Notice how quick I am to get myself out of that one? There's more than one kind of smarts.)

8yo: "What about the electrons?"

11 yo walks up.

11yo: "My bomb just went off in the house. " (he sighs)

Me: "Did you clean it up?"
(I'm not too mad. Did you notice what a great distraction he provided? I'm not up to par with these #@! electrons.)

11yo: "I got it into the bathroom before it exploded. It could have been dangerous, but it was just messy."

Did you notice he didn't mention if he cleaned up?

8yo: "What would happen if there were free floating electrons?"

Me: "Do you need help zipping your coat?"

I still haven't looked at the bathroom.

Friday, October 16, 2009

This is your brain, learning all the time

I know, I have been quite delinquent in my posting, or rather, lack there of. In my defense, I'm BUSY! Coaching an FLL team, doing music with the children for worship on Sundays, rehearsing and performing with two choirs, and oh ya, homeschooling three kids.... Which means while I have a lot I could post about, I don't have any time to post it. :^P

I've been reading some fascinating stuff recently. I can't quite tell where I'm going with the synthesis of it. One area I've been reading about is brain function and plasticity. With books like "The Brain That Changes Itself", "Proust and the Squid, the Story and Science of the Reading Brain", "Predictably Irrational" and then this video series:

It's worth watching the video series, if nothing else just to hear Bobby McFerrin.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

We are on the road, drive across the country, staying with friends and family as we travel to the west coast for a sailing holiday. I am reminded again why it is worth all the effort to travel with kids.

We gain so much from this time. Of course, we get to see people we love, but live far from. My children met family they'd met before, some they remembered, some they didn't remember, and discovered the joys of playing with cousins their own age and being admired by a great-grandfather. We met up with dear friends continuing and strengthening those bonds. We've also met new friends. We've discovered that we have friends we just haven't met yet everywhere we go. It's wonderful to learn that the world is full of interesting and kind people.

We see places that are very different from our own home, yet we see the commonalities that all people share. It's fascinating to see how other people manage their lives. It's enlightening to see how many ways there are of being, to notice that our own way isn't the only way. It seems kind of old hat, these are things we all know to be true in the abstract. To experience it in person drives home the lesson in ways that a lecture or book just can't.

Of course there are things that aren't so great: tired and overwhelmed kids who can't hold it together one more moment, family drama and sorrows, the discovery that some situations/people can't be trusted. I'm learning that these are actually good things too. We learn how to cope with the less than perfect, we build resilience, and the knowledge that we are able to move beyond that and still enjoy what we have at that moment. That's a lesson that I want to remember!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Books for Reluctant and/or Emerging Readers

So far 2/3 of my kids are reading. Both the older two have gone through a stage where they weren't (aren't) interested in reading independently, even though they were (are) capable of it. (This seems to be around age 8/9, but probably varies from kid to kid.)

I've taken a multi-pronged approach to help with this:

I keep reading to them, as long as they'll let me.

I encourage them to listen to books on tape (usually at or above their reading level, but age appropriate and at their interest level).

I have asked them to help me with the younger sibling(s) by helping the next youngest learn their letters, phonetics, and basic spelling. (What will I do with the youngest?!?)

I strew high interest books at or below their reading ability, some of which I actually (gasp!) purchase.

So, for those with kids (I only have boys) who might need a little enticing, here are some books that have gone over well at our house. There is cross over between the boys of course, but here is a general break down.

Eyewitness books by DK publishing in areas of interest
I'll Read to You, You Read to Me series by Mary Ann Hoberman
Geronimo Stilton series by, well, by Geronimo Stilton

With my oldest, into adventure, fantasy, science, and technology:
Bionicle series by Greg Farshtey
Droon series by Tony Abbot
Danny Dunn series by Jay Williams

With my middlest, into humor, animals, biology, and poetry:

Where The Sidewalk Ends, and other books by Shel Silverstein
Alvin Ho series by Leanor Look
Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate
Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey (anything by this guy is silly and fun!)

There are many others, it's finding them that can be challenging.
When I want to find more books that might work for us I ask friends, librarians, book store clerks, and check out some websites. Here's a couple that I've used.
Literature Map - type in the name of an author you like and names of similar authors will be displayed.
Scholastic Book Wizard - use book-a-like to find similar books at appropriate reading levels.

I'd love to hear what others have liked. What are your favorites?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Talking of art, here's another fun thing to play with. let's you modify photos, using existing ditigal files or, as in this photo using a webcam to get the photo. Take a look and see what you can do.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Children need art. People need art.

As we finished some tie-dye this morning I am reminded again why I make time and space in our life for creating art.

There is such value in creating art that I don't even know where to start. Just brainstorming for a minute I got this start on a list:


What I've seen creating art do is nothing short of amazing. Children with perfectionist tendencies learn to appreciate the unplanned and unexpected. Kinetic children focus and settle. Quiet children find their "voice". Strong feelings find a socially acceptable expression.

Being able to create something intentional is a huge gift. There is both a confidence and a humility that comes with the creative process. Confidence, because you can do it. "Look what I've done!" Humility, because, quite honestly, it hardly ever turns out just as we've envisioned it.

Also, the person who knows how to make something original never lacks for the personal touch in gift giving. (I was dyeing baby shirts for a friend expecting twins. :-) )

So, maybe I've managed to convince you to try including a little art to your own life. But where to start? It's really up to you. Art can find expression anywhere.

You could start with making your own cards. It's always a good idea to have a few "Thank You" cards on hand, and being able to make birthday cards can save a trip to the store.

How about what you wear everyday? We've extended the life of many a stained shirt by painting or dyeing it. Try colorful hand prints w/ latex or acrylic paint on T-shirts. You can also make things out of old clothes. I've got a rag-rug knit from cut up T-shirts that feels nice to walk on, and slippers made from an old felted sweater.

Artist Trading Cards
were a bit hit here for a while. Just about anything goes with ATC, but it all has to fit on a card 64 x 98 mm.

Looking for inspiration? There's always the web. Etsy is a site where individuals sell home made items. While I've never bought anything there, I seen lots of great ideas. You can also just do a search on whatever materials you have on hand and see what pops up.

I admit to a preference to old fashioned books. If I had just one book on art/crafting I would have "Making Things the Handbook of Creative Discovery" by Ann Sayre Wiseman. We've also enjoyed "Drawing on the Right side of the Brain" and "Drawing with Children"

Art museums and galleries are great, but there's even more value in being able to create something for yourself. Give it a try!

Friday, July 31, 2009

July's books

* The Best of Friends, by Sara James & Ginger Mauney
* Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling (yes, again!)
* The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan
* Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Saturday, July 11, 2009

When a child despairs - it looks like misbehavior

When a child behaves in a way that is inappropriate, we need to ask ourselves, “Where did that come from?” Often the child just doesn't realize it's not appropriate. Sometimes they're just revealing behaviors they've seen at home or elsewhere. Sometimes they are deliberately doing the wrong thing just to see what you'll do about it, a little psychological experiment. No matter, it's us adults that are being tested. When we think we see a child failing, we need to remember. Children don't fail. It's us adults who are failing the children.

I've recently failed some children. I am "shoulding" myself, thinking of all the things I should have done better. Better, I am also thinking of how I'll manage next time.

Next time I'm going to make room for prayerful meditation. I need to create space and time to remember who I want to be, how I want to be. I need to focus on their unique worth and integrity. I want to help them focus on that too. I need to remember that they hurt others because they've been hurt. I need to remember that children need love first. And second. And last. I need to remember that when their cups are full, they won't knock over other's cups so often. I need to remember that children are resilient, my own included. I want to remember that I have enough love for all the children under my roof even, no, especially, for the ones who challenge me the most.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Last Lecture

It's a thin book, definitely a fast read. That is, until you finish it and realize, "I need to read that again". Here and here are links to video of/with Randy Pausch for those interested.

It's a story that you know the ending of. Most folks in this connected age have seen, or read, or heard about it. Randy Pausch is invited to give an annual lecture at Carnegie Mellon "The Last Lecture", a lecture series with the premise of "if you knew you were going to die, what is important enough that you need to share it now?" The kicker is, Randy Pausch has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given 6 months to live. Randy knows he is going to die, and die very soon.

That he's leaving behind a wife and 3 very young children is enough to bring tears to your eyes, even if you don't read the book. But then, reading the book you come to realize what a vibrant spirit he was. I grieve that his children, and the world, will not have more time to learn from him.

More than the poignancy of this book, I will remember the lessons in it. The "head fake", the "Dutch uncle", "be a communitarian" and so many others, are lessons I can use as a parent, teacher, and coach. His philosophy of hard work, persistence, and optimism is one that makes any situation, even the worst situation, the best it can be.

He talks about the Tiggers and the Eeyores of the world. He's a Tigger, and I'm glad to have come to know him just a bit through this this book. He's not the only Tigger in the world, just one who got famous for a bit. To all the Tiggers I've been blessed to know, thanks for being you!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Et tu?

Today, driving summer camp kids to and from a field trip, I had the privilege of having a 15 year old camp counselor share with me her experiences and interests. She was raised locally until age 10, moved away for 5 yrs and has recently returned. Adjusting to her new school has been a challenge. She's never made friends easily, would rather do art than sports, reads voraciously, and hasn't yet found a friendly peer group or BFF. I found her to be kind, well-spoken, and thoughtful. I don't have teens yet, and I'll never have a daughter, so it was a treat for me to have some time with this young lady.

When she learned that my kids are homeschooled, she told me that I should really send my kids to school by the time they reach high school. She felt strongly enough about this to bring it up more than once.

"I can tell the kids who are homeschooled" she told me. (Although she had been surprised to learn my kids were homeschooled.)

"How?" I asked.
"Well, I don't mean to be rude, but they are so attached to their parents." (In a tone that implied that this is a negative thing.)

I was intrigued by her concern for my children and asked her why she thought attending high school was so very important.

"You learn so much there that you just can't learn at home."

I asked her what she thought she'd learned in school that was most useful.

She answered "How to, you know, make friends."
"Not that I'm good at that" she admitted with a wistful voice.
"Go to class. You learn how to get to class."
"You have to deal with mean and bad people."
"How to get on the right side of a teacher. If you get on their good side you can wear clothes that don't meet the code."
"You learn how to dress."

She was talking about that elusive thing that seems to haunt the thoughts of so many when they think of homeschooling. The word I think she might have been reaching for was "socialization".

The school this teen attends is a well scoring classical school. Yet, according to this student the most important lessons she's learned are how to dress, brown nose, get to class, and deal with bullies.

Sigh.... I don't even know where to start. By trying to articulate what she saw as an important difference between school and homeschool this youth unintentionally highlighted some of the advantages that bring teens and their parents to homeschooling.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Case Against Homeschooling... really?

If you google (loving that new verb) "The Case Against Homeschooling" you will come up with a huge number of hits. I was naively surprised, since the first I'd heard about it was this post. I figured some random teacher had gotten a stick in an unfortunate place, but apparently there has been an on going discussion (campaign?) around this for a while.

I've summarized and then answered the concerns I've seen most frequently.

How can a parent be as qualified as a professional teacher?

Let's talk for a moment about what makes one qualified. Presumably a degree? In what? What does a degree signify? It shows a person was able to make it through so many college courses and achieve a certain minimum score on a series of tests, papers, and projects. It doesn't signify natural aptitude, or how much they learned and then retained. It doesn't signify their investment in and enthusiasm with their students. Nor, in my opinion, are all degrees created equal. I have my own biases, but really, is a BA in English, Music, or Education really as valuable as a BS in Engineering? I've got the later, but can write, teach, and am now a professional musician. Anyone with only the former able to design a dam or water treatment system?

How qualified is a "professional teacher?" After 13 years (and more than 13 teachers) in public school, I had 2 who were truly exceptional. A degree signifies little when it comes to the ability to connect with children.

How can any parent, even if somewhat qualified, cover all the necessary subjects to the degree necessary for both primary and secondary education?

Any parent who can read and write in their native language has the skills needed to facilitate their child's learning. We don't have to know it all. We're don't have to teach "subjects". We just need to support our children in their exploration of all the amazing resources available. Between the public library, the internet, and the many generous adults willing to share their expertise with others, there's no reason any subject is out of bounds of a willing learner.

We've become a society dependent upon "professionals", to the detriment of the individual's ability to function with independence. I'd rather belong to a society filled with enthusiastic amateurs who work together to accomplish their goals.

What about (all together now) SOCIALIZATION?
Won't homeschooled kids turn into geeks and social misfits?

School is no guarantee of social "coolness". Ask any of us who were "geeks" in high school. In fact most of us "geeks" have taken to embracing the term for someone who cares and is enthusiastic enough to share their delight in a subject.

"Geek. Geek. Geek." :-P Name calling isn't going to work to vilify homeschooling.

Besides, if the modern pop culture of highschool can make one a misfit, and fitting in is important, mightn't those kids be better off with other "geeks" where they will fit in?

What about the civic duty to mix with others and develop tolerance for diversity?

While schooled kids are locked in a classroom with the same age classmates they've known since grade school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 40+ weeks a year, homeschooled kids are generally out in the real world on a near daily basis. They are not segregated by age and so are used to interacting with people from 2 to 82. Our kids know their postal carriers, librarians, and store clerks by name. Homeschooled are known to local civic and charitable groups by name themselves. They interact not only with other homeschooled kids at homeschool activities, but with schooled kids at church, in Scouts, on sports teams, and in music/art/theatre groups. Homeschooled kids are socialized to get along in the broader society.

As for civic duty, I don't recall active citizenship requiring giving up ones freedom to associate with whom one chooses.

We need homeschooled kids (who tend to come from upper middle class families and have higher IQ and/or ability, and certainly seem to have higher average test scores) to mix with less advanaged children in order to inspire them and help the schools achieve better.

Wait, aren't these the kids being "taught" by parents who supposedly aren't qualified to teach? So, why are they doing so well that we're depriving the schools by keeping them home?

Seriously, are you saying that we should sacrifice our kids on the alter of public school so that the other kids aren't quite as bad off as they would be otherwise? What does this say about the schools? This is a confused argument if you're arguing that homeschooled kids are better off in schools.

If you're saying the the schools need our kids, I might agree. But I would argue that in this case the choice of the individual is more important than that of the collective. Homeschooling is not a privilege. Homeschooling is a right.

And, by the way, there are plenty of homeschoolers who fall outisde the social strata of "upper-middle class". We're not all rich white folks, people.

Given that the burden of homeschooling falls most often on the mothers, isn't homeschooling is just another way to add to the unpaid labor of mothers? For women to be truly liberated, children must go to school, thus freeing their mother's time for actualization.
Last I checked, homeschooling was still optional. If you believe in a woman's right to choose her own path, then choosing to homeschool her kids is her right.

FYI: I like homeschooling my kids and don't feel unduly burdened. (Well, no more than any other parent. :-) ) Most of the homeschooling dads I know are very involved with their children's education, even though it means a "second shift" when they get home from work. I even know one stay-at-home homeschooling Dad. So, don't get too caught up in the stereo-types.

That said, if you really want to support women, look into supporting families, equal pay, fair access to health care, and other "social" issues. Maybe the "burden" of homeschooling wouldn't fall so much on the mothers if they earned as much as their husbands when they did work. Maybe fathers would be more involved if they they didn't have to work full time just to provide access to medical insurance.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Blue Sweater

Since I posted about "The Life You Can Save" I feel like I need to post about "The Blue Sweater" by Jacqueline Novogratz. I actually found this to be an easier ('tho longer) read, much more positive, useful, and engaging. In telling her story; her work in Africa, the amazing people she met, what she saw working ,and (just as important), not working with regards to the issue of poverty, she imparts the lessons she learned. The story culminates with her retrospective about the Rwandon tragedy and her involvement with the Acumen Fund.

While those lessons pertain directly to reducing poverty and increasing the quality of life of the impoverished in Africa, I found much that applies to parenting, homeschooling and life in general.

Some highlights and ideas I'd like to share follow
(Of course I can't come close to the depth of the book. You'll just have to read it yourself.)

Ideas I found intriguing that apply to so much more than reducing poverty:

Empowering those who are already doing good work. (Remember the old saying "The Lord helps those who help themselves"? Well, there's a practical reason for that!)

The need for using BOTH compassion and intellect (and the damage done when using only one!)

The need for accountability, primarily with regards to use of charitable funds, 'tho I see a larger application of this idea. (Is what you're doing working? No? Then DO SOMETHING ELSE!)

The need for ownership and buy in from charitable recipients (and why loans are better than charity)

The importance of an individual moral compass, as well as governmental integrity, and institutions that are reliable, when creating a society with a good quality of life (I could probably get religious here!)

Sins of omission vs sins of commission

The need for and importance of "Patient Capital", that is, the willingness to make a long term investment that is not likely to "pay off" in the short term but will in the long term. Again, she is mostly referring to monetary investment, but don't you see how it applies to anything that we really care about? (I can see another post about what kind of investment we need to make in ourselves so that we have the resources to invest patient capital in our children and community.)

I would strongly recommend reading "The Blue Sweater" in conjunction with "The Life You Can Save". Peter Singer's book explains WHY you should care and donate to charity. Jacqueline Novogratz's book shows HOW one woman actually did it.

May's Books

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"The Life You Can Save"

I read the book "The Life You Can Save" by Peter Singer. Once I got past the first part ("The Argument") it was a pretty quick read. There's so much in such a little book! I think it would be a wonderful book for a book group, or for a church discussion circle.

He makes a strong case that if you feel a moral obligation to save a child drowning in front of you, you should feel that same obligation to a child you know is dying but isn't in your sight. If you are willing to risk your own life to save the life of a child in front of you, shouldn't you be willing to give of your money up to the point it would risk your own well being?

Then he talks about why people don't give; how giving locally doesn't have an impact on international poverty, why we should care, how/why governmental giving isn't affective, and lots more.

He addresses the concern about where to give, what is affective, and how to evaluate NGOs. One site he mentions to help with that evaluation is Give Well. Another point he makes is that micro-lending, or Grameen lending, has shown itself to be very affective as well as self sustaining.

Using this information he then gets realistic about giving to charity and makes a much more modest suggestion than his first (give 'till it hurts) for charitable giving that if done even by a small fraction of the U.S. population would have a huge impact. His suggestion is in the form of The Pledge, which he suggests be a public document since knowing that others give charitably seems to increase giving.

Following links, the way I do when I should be doing something useful (you know, like fold the 5 baskets of laundry on my couch) I found some more interesting links. Check out Bolder Giving, Art Rising, and More than Money.

All in all lots of food for thought. I'll leave you with one that has stuck with me "The next time you drink bottled water, when you could be drinking tap water for pennies, know that you are living a lifestyle that could easily support charitable giving."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gifted Dyslexic or Right Brained? Hmmm....

I just read a PDF that got me hot and bothered. It was attached to an email. I don't have a link. It was along the lines of this, and by the same authors. I often appreciate what they have to say, but I get weary of the dx approach.

Again, it's the "these kids are underachieving and need remediation". It's "here's what's wrong with them, and here's how to change it." Sheesh! Enough already!

Both of these bloggers say it better than I can.

I still have a fundamental disagreement with the premise of the article. They view these right brained characteristics as a problem, yet I don't think they are. I would argue that school is simply an institution that has been built around left brained traits rather than having room for right brained learners. Yes, in the institution of school RBers look like they have disabilities. In school RBers might need accommodations. In a place designed by RBer's LBer's would look pretty disabled too. It would be like making someone who is excellent at arithmetic, but awful at creative writing, keep pounding away at a novel that they have no interest in writing. It's like trying to make an nonathletic 5' tall 40 something female (me) into a professional basket ball player. It just doesn't make sense.

No one diagnosed me with dyslexia until I was 2 years into my engineering degree. So how much of a disability do I really have? My brain works differently then a lot of folks, but I think that the thing that makes spelling difficult is interlinked with what makes me - me. The music, the stories, the ability to see the way things connect and then bring that to others - I wouldn't trade all that to be a better speller. I tried to fit in. I worked as a payroll accountant. I was a secretary. I earned a living in LB jobs, but I wasn't very good at them and I hated it. How many excellent secretaries and accountants can design a bridge, write creatively, or play multiple instruments? If they can't, or don't want to, it doesn't make them disabled, does it?

The flaw is in the system, not the children. In school these right brained bright and motivated kids are told that there is something wrong with them. They are labeled, diagnosed, singled out, sometimes drugged. Is it a surprised if they become full of shame and self loathing? Why should we wonder that they start to have behavior problems in school? If this is a pattern that is repeated enough that SO many people notice that academic papers and books and diagnosis's are written, why is it we keep blaming the kids? Many of the problems described come AFTER the child has been taught that there is something wrong with him. It's pretty hard to behave well, to trust the system, when someone is asking the impossible of you. It's pretty hard to have good self esteem when you've been told continuously that there's something fundamentally wrong with you. What would it be like to be held to a standard you couldn't possibly meet? Either the child believes in himself and bucks the system, or believes the system, and turn on himself.

It's nearly impossible to make the institution of school work for RBers. It's so easy to shift the perspective and see that when allowed to play to their strengths, rather than continually try to fix weaknesses that are inherent to their strengths, they take off and FLY!

It's a fundamental paradigm shift. Focus on an individual's strengths, not their weaknesses. I mean really! Do we make professional engineers take remedial creative writing? Do professional wrestlers need calculus? In the real world, the adult world, we focus on what we're good at. If we really need to work on something we do. If that doesn't help, we figure out a work around and move on.

I get very nervous when we define a narrow place as "normal" and then work to get everyone there. "Normal" people don't write science fiction, design micro-processors, compose opera, paint masterpieces.... Yes, sometimes these traits can be disabling, but it's important to make sure it's a true disability, and not just a mismatch with an unnecessary system.

There's a reason there are so many different kind of people in the world. We need ALL of them. We need all of us.

Monday, May 4, 2009

April's Books

Language Arts Curriculum- Not!

On one of my groups someone recently posted questions asking "What language arts curriculum do you use? What do you like/not like about it?"

So, with a little editing, here is my response.

Reading /"launguage arts" is one thing I've never doubted with unschooling.  We've never used a curriculum and never felt the need for one.  Early on I did buy "Phonics Pathways" and my oldest liked the word pyramids and my middle thought it was stupid.  (Youngest is still working on the alphabet, so we'll leave him out for a bit)

What we do is READ READ READ. Everything you need is at the library. I've read whatever they wanted when they couldn't read for themselves - even the dreaded Capt. Underpants and the yet worse Sonic the Hedgehog (shudder). When they were able to read on their own I drew the line and said no to the stuff that I really don't enjoy but still read stuff I love or at least can tolerate. (Really, I'm tired of dinos and Eyewitness anything (yes, I know they're great books, I've just read them all so MUCH) but I still read them because the kids love them.) We also listen to lots of books on tapes (my voice gives out reading aloud too much! Plus I'm lazy.) By hearing the written word they've gained vocabulary, a very real sense of sentence structure, the elements of plot, setting, characterization, etc... It's all there just from exposure. I could go on and on, but it's covered better than I can do in other
places. Here's some, I'm sure there's lots more:

She went on to write "My kids think grammar is boring"

Um, ya.  I get that.   :-D 

I haven't bothered much with grammar. I suppose I'm biased because we're more of a techie family, but honestly I don't quite see the point. I learned more grammar learning German than I ever needed in English. (And I actually did better in language than math and science, even if I got my degree in engineering, so it's not sour grapes.)

A friend gave me this link. Maybe playing the audio while driving would be fun?

You might also check out books from the library like "Nearly, Dearly, Insincerely, What is an Adverb?" (there's a whole comical series on parts of speech) or the kid version of "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" about punctuation.

OK, if anybody has actually used diagramming a sentence in real life, now is the time to tell me! Seriously, I'm clueless as to why I'd want to do this.

About spelling:

Just reading a lot will help him "see" if a word is spelled correctly or not.  From there he can decide if it's a word used often enough to memorize, or if he's ok using spell check or a dictionary to figure it out.  My oldest keeps a list of words he wants to know how to spell but doesn't yet.  When he need to know that word he goes there first, and if he doesn't find it, adds it.  Eventually he doesn't need to look up the
word anymore.

Struggles with writing:

So he loathes the physical act of writing?  Plenty of kids (especially techies and artsy ones) don't like this.  I like to draw, but not to "write" long hand.  Learning to type really helped me with that.  Now I just need to use handwriting for lists or short notes, but can use a computer for anything of length.

Or is it the process of coming up with a story or report? I would say that most kids like telling stories, and describing what they know to an appreciative audience. If you can type it out for him as he speaks, he can probably learn a lot just from editing his own work. If he's just not ready to let you know what's on his mind, .... hmmm... I've never experienced that. What's it like?

I was lucky that this friend was able to take my response in the way I intended. Not as an attack for not doing it my way, but as a description and explanation of what we do. As I wrote to her:
I completely respect and support a parent's choice of approach.  I know unschooling
just isn't a comfortable fit for a lot of people, just like a curriculum would be like an itchy sweater to me. I have my own loud opinions, but I don't want others will feel judged when I speak out. :-)

Monday, April 20, 2009

How we spend our time

So how does this eclectic/unschooling style really work? What do we do all day? That depends on the day! It would be easier to give a run down of what an average week looked like. Even an average week varies, but this will give you an idea of what it looks like for us.

Most important, my kids have lots of free time. So many kids today seem to have very little time to discover what moves and inspires them. It's like parents think that bored kids are being abused somehow. Boredom is really an invitation do discover what it is you think is worth spending your time on!

Not that I see bored kids that often. With 3 boys in the family, there's always some one to play with. With shelves and shelves of books, there's always something to read. Art and craft supplies are available for those moments when inspiration strikes. We can access indoor games and outdoor activities whenever we want. Our problem has more often been trying to decide which thing we want to do next.

We go to the library at least once a week. There are so many resources here! I use the on-line catalog to make holds on items I think the kids or I will be interested in. I pick those up and then we cruise the shelves and chat up the librarians in search of the good stuff; movies, books, audio lectures. I don't have a schedule of topics. We seem to manage a wide scope just following our interests. We don't have a set time we sit down and read together (except for bedtime). I do read to/with the kids several times a week, it just isn't scheduled.

If the weather is good we enjoy park day with our local homeschooling support group, even though it means a late nap for the little one. A budding entrepreneur, my oldest has been bringing used books and trading cards to sell to park day. In addition to getting a little math and a business lesson, he's also sharing his excitement about good books.

When the weather is poor, or we are just tired, we might stay in and play games or watch videos. With the kids' ages spread from 4-10, it can be challenging to find something for all of us to watch together. Science documentaries are one thing we all enjoy. We get our videos from the library or netflix. (No cable out here - and I'm too cheap to get sattelite TV!)

Usually one or more of the kids are in a class of some sort. Some things they've chosen are pottery, pinao lessons, archery, pony lessons, or farm classes. I try to limit these to one class at a time. In the summer time I don't let them have classes on the weekend so that we have time for the family outdoor activities we so enjoy.

We tend to have a one-on-one playdate with other homeschool families about once a week. Combined with park day, church, and classes, this gives us our social time. For one of my kids it's not enough. He'd do great living where he could play with friends all day everyday. For one of my other's, it's right at his limit. He'd rather stay home a little more!

The kids have on-going projects they've chosen. Lego and K'Nex creations are perinnial favorites. Creating stop action animation, drawing, and making movies are things they come back to as well. I also ask the kids to do housework, laundry, gardening, etc. We never lack for activity, although some is more ...appreciated, than other. :-)

Then there are the irregular things that pop up pretty regularly; visits from relatives, field trips with the homeschooling group, trips to museums, the zoo, travel, etc. Our flexible schedule gives us the ability to take full advantage when these opportunities come up.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Missing something?

Last night another parent told me that if she homeschooled her kids she'd be worried they might "miss something". From her tone and the context I took that to mean she was afraid that without school there would be topics and skills that her kids would need, but not have. Here's why I don't have that perspective.

First I think that those who view school as the only, or best way, to learn make some assumptions that I don't. Here are some of the unspoken presumptions I've seen.
There is a set body of knowledge that all people/children must know.
This knowledge must be acquired at a certain rate and by a certain age.
If knowledge/skills are not attained by a certain age it is no longer possible to get them.
People (or at least children) can't/won't learn unless someone "teaches" them.

These assumptions do not match my experience, nor those of the people who have taken the time to explore this topic with me. It's just sort of a cultural assumption. You know; girls can't do math, boys don't cry, everyone has to go to school to learn. These cultural assumptions are false, but only when they are challenged to people come to realize that.

There is a set body of knowledge that all people/children must know.
Um, no not really. Plenty of good stuff out there, for sure. My husband finds machine language useful in his line of work. Not a lot of call for that in most circles, eh? What about diagramming a sentence? Know anyone who needs that one everyday? Right. 'Nuff said.

This knowledge must be acquired at a certain rate and by a certain age.
Says who? This is just something that comes from the school model, making it easier for teachers to figure out what to do with kids of x age. Outside the institution of school we learn what we need to when we need to. When something is learned it might be much later (or earlier) than the institutional model, which causes no end of troubles within an institutional situation. Doesn't matter a whit otherwise.

If knowledge/skills are not attained by a certain age it is no longer possible to get them.
Not in my experience. I went from knowing Sesame Street level Spanish to ordering a pizza in Mexico, over the phone, for delivery. When a person is self-motivated there's practically nothing that can stand in her way. John Holt's book "Never Too Late" addresses this if you're interested in further reading.

People (or at least children) can't/won't learn unless someone "teaches" them.
I will grant that a good teacher can help. I won't grant that any teacher, even a bad one, is better than none. I've taught myself plenty of things; cooking, gardening, mandolin. (I did my share of burning, killing, and mangling - food, plants, and music, respectively, but that was learning too!) Getting back to the self-motivated thing, if a person needs a teacher to learn what they want, they will find one. It doesn't need to be thrust upon them.

I'm sure my lack of eloquence doesn't do justice to this topic. Many have done more and better, I'm sure. But, maybe, if enough of us talk about it, we will challenge these cultural assumptions enough to change them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dr. Temple Grandin Talk

I was lucky enough to have a chance to see Dr. Temple Grandin speak in person at our church recently. Dr. Grandin is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She was also diagnosed with autism as a small child. Her parents were encouraged to institutionalize her, but chose a different route. She is well known not only for her professional accomplishments, which are many, but for her work advocating for people with her diagnosis. Her many books have given insight into how her own mind, and those of others with autism, work.

I was very interested to hear what she had to say. I have some very right-brained kids, not quite autistic, but one at least might get an ADHD diagnosis if he had to sit still in school. From "Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World" I understand that ADHD is "on the spectrum" of right-brained to autistic. My experience has been that a good chunk of the population, certainly of the people I know and love, are more right-brained than left-brained, so this is a topic I migh explore some more.

It was eerie how much I recognised as she described herself, not only in my kids, but in me! There was so much she touched on, and the subject isn't one in which I'm well versed, so I'm sure I missed a lot. I want to read her books now, so I can learn more about this from her perpective.

I am jotting down my notes here, mostly so that I have them somewhere where I can't loose them, but also to share them with you. I'd be very interested in what your experiences are and how closely her experience and beliefs match your experience.

I recognised her experience, yet I'm not sure I completely agree with all of her conclusions. She very much credits her "50's upbringing" and mainstreaming in school with her ability to function so well. After the talk I asked her if she had any experience with homeschooled austistic kids. It seemed that she didn't, but supported the idea for high school aged kids. (She hated high school). She then went on to say she would be concerned about elementary aged kids being homeschooled. When I asked why she said (all together now) "socialization". (Head shaking. Sigh. Is there anywhere homeschoolers don't get this?) She was busy with book signing, so that was the end our of brief exchange, but I would have liked to talk with her more about this.

Notes: (remember that I'm RBed too, have awful handwriting, poor short term memory, and am stuck inside w/ 3 active boys due to a blizzard and so have distracted attention. If my notes don't make sense to you, it's me, not her!)

She defines herself as a "completely visual thinker"
Early intervention is important
Keep child engaged
kids often have sensory issues (some can't see and hear at the same time)
attention shifting problems
recommends developing areas of strength (don't dwell on weaknesses)
OK to skip subjects (like algebra) that they just don't get - move on!

Listed 3 kinds of thinkers (all can be on the spectrum)
1-Visual (thinks in pictures, good at/enjoys drawing)
2- Musical/mathematical (pattern oriented)
3 - Verbal (often likes history, poor at drawing)

Tips for supporting kids on the spectrum

Teach in many places, give lots of data/experiences so they can categorize
Teach flexible thinking
find friends via shared interests
"fill their internet"
use manipulatives for math
recognise that their fear is often on overdrive, they are anxious and vigilant
50's upbringing helped her learn social skills - taking turns, use manners, please others, do as asked, consistant expectations (between home and school), bad behavior not tolerated
use fixations to movitvate
address sensory issues

Prepare for employment - find work, mentors, show kids variety of occupations and activities, build portfolio, read various trade journals, sell skills (not personality)

She emphasized that it's important to learn to do and complete an assignment in order to be employable.

She had so much more, a list of famous people who would have been diagnosed in modern times, a long discussion of meds, comparisons of scans of her brain vs. a "normal" brain, funny asides, her insight on animals and her professional work, comments about the HBO special being made about her life....

If any of you have heard her speak, read her books, or have any insight into this, I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If you don't use a curriculum, what do you do?

Just saw a newbie question again this morning. It went something like this:

"What curriculum do you use for math, grammar, and reading? Is it working? What do you like and not like about it?"

LOL! It's not too different than the questions I asked at my first homeschooling support meeting. I honestly didn't know any better. It was inconceivable to me that one could "teach" without a curriculum. Well, I don't know about "teaching", but one can certainly LEARN without a curriculum!

The first thing to ask is "what is worth learning?" Certainly most of us see the value of reading, writing and basic arithmetic, but does it have to be learned in the proscribed way it's done in school? Does it have to be learned by a specific age? Are these the most important things to be learning right now? What else rates attention in your life? An advantage of homeschooling is that we can approach learning on an individual level, working with each child exactly where they are to reach goals that we've created together, at a pace that works best for each child and family.

Most of what is worth learning really does just come up naturally in our lives. Think about what you did yesterday. Did you have to read something? Did you have to write? (Even a grocery list or an email counts!) Did you use arithmetic? (Cooking, sewing, wood working, and budgeting are all activities that require arithmetic.) What else did you do? Did it involve music, art, physical movement, creativity? How do you choose to spend your time?

I love to read, books are my gateway to other times, places and people. Books are my retreat and sanctuary when I need a break. Books, magazines, and the internet are where I go to learn about interesting topics and activities. So of course I'm modeling for my children how reading and books are part of my quality of life. We go to the library together. I read out loud to them. We listen to books and lectures on tape together. They make up stories and I sometimes take dictation for them. When they were little they asked about the letters and we told them the sounds each letter makes. Eventually they start recognizing words and finally take off on their their own private reading adventures.

I could go on like this with other subjects, math, music, history, art, science, etc... We find interesting ways to spend our time, new things we'd like to do or learn about. We do the daily work that comes with family life in our community. We think about what we'd like to do in the future and what we need to do/learn now to reach those goals.

"What do you do if you don't use a curriculum?"
We live.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How do you homeschool? (Where to start.)

This is a question I got again today. You'd think it would be easier to answer than it is.

It's a lot easier to say what we don't do.
We don't use a curriculum. We don't make lesson plans. We don't do unit studies. We don't follow any one book or method. We're not radical unschoolers, nor classical homeschoolers. We don't follow Charlotte Manson, Montessori, or Waldorf methods. Yet we utilize bits and pieces from all of these and other sources.

It's easiest to say we're "eclectic homeschoolers", which can mean anything. It's kinda like saying "agnostic" when talking about religion, or "liberal arts" when asked for a major in college. It tells you more about what we don't do than what we do do. It sounds like maybe we haven't made up our minds, eh? Yet, we have. We've made up our minds to follow our own path. We've taken it upon ourselves to make that path. Sometimes it's right on the same path as others, or at least paraells other paths, but other times we're on our own. Sometimes it feels like we need a machete to find our way.

None of this helps a newbie wanting to know where to start though, does it? So here's my spiel for folks wanting to start, but not knowing where.

I recommend you educatate yourself before you worry about what curriculum to buy or what model to follow. As a parent you are in a unique position to know your child(ren) and family best. This is also a good time to look for local homeschooling groups for both support and fun. Don't be afraid to ask about others' homeschooling journies. Most of us remember being newbies and are only too happy to share our experience. By doing some research and meeting other homeschooling families, you'll start to get a feel for the great variety of options out there and what will work for your situation.

If you've pulled your child from school then you may need to take some time to "deschool". I haven't had much experience with this myself, since the only school we did with the kids was one year of part-time preschool with my oldest. What I have seen with others, is that kids coming out of school have different issues than those who've always been homeschooled. I would recommend treating this time as an enriched summer vacation. Take the pressure off your kid(s). While you learn more about homeschooling be sure to also spend some one-on-one time with your child. While going to the library, pool, parks, natural areas, local museums and galleries, watching movies, reading together, etc... you will strengthen your bonds and learn about each other. When this deschooling period has passes (and don't rush it) you can work with your child to determine what path (or lack there of :-) ) you want to take together.

Here are some resources that have influenced my approach to homeschooling
Home Education Magazine
Apple Stars (Collaborative Learning and right brained learning blog)
The writings of John Holt
The writings of Susan Wise Bauer
The writings of Maria Montessori
The Charlotte Mason method
The Waldorf method

A Thomas Jefferson Education
The Well Trained Mind
Dumbing Us Down
Whole Child Whole Parent
Everyday Blessings
Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Odyssey of the Mind: what I learned, things I wish I'd done

Well, today was it. Our local Odyssey of the Mind tournament. (Also known as OotM, or OM, except we're not supposed to use "OM" since it's copyrighted somewhere.) Whew! We started meeting for practice way back in September. In retrospect that was WAY to early to start a primary team. Sigh. It seems liked a marathon, especially in the fall when I was also assistant coach for an FLL LEGO Robotics team.

I've learned a lot. The training the state OM (so sue me) organization provided was invaluable, both to coaching OM and to coaching Lego. I learned even more from working with the kids. Then we added yet another level of experience by actually going to the tournament and being judged.

I have to admit that there were times where if I hadn't made the commitment to the kids, I'd have quit. They were most often the times my kid wanted to quit and made it miserable to get to practice. He was the reason I got involved, but after about 6 weeks of practice he was done. Being the coach's kid, and me not having alternative child care, he had to keep going. That was hard on him.

The primary groups are kids age 5-7, very young, some very shy and others very .... right brained and active. :-) I'm not sure I'd recommend this for this age group unless each and every kids desperately wanted to do it.

If I had a team of eager kids, and had known then what I know now here's what I'd do different.

Make sure the kids want to be there, and give them an out if they don't. Practice somewhere with few distractions. (We were at a parents home w/ lots of toys, sibs, pets, and exercise equipment around.)

With this age group I'd worry less about OA (outside assistance) and more about improving skills and increasing confidance and courage. We were way too hesitant to make suggestions, give assignments, and explain our opinions.

We had two coaches. I'd work earlier to be very clear about what our roles and goals were. I'd have a project management schedule worked out so that we knew exactly what we needed to have done when. I'd also assign a parent to keeping up with all the paperwork and registration stuff. (It was distracting and took from my energy with the kids)

I should have worked with the kids more on drama stuff, projection of voice, setting up the set, cues, reminding each other of the cues. They needed more practice under pressure. We should have run more spontaneous as if it was being judged. We should have talked more about team work, but also worked more on individual issues.

All in all I think that for 4/6 of the kids it was a great experience. For the other 2 I think is was a good experience, but not one that they'll be wanting to repeat soon.

As for the coaches. Well, it's a little early to know if we'll be doing it again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's important?

It's hard to know what to teach our kids. Technology changes so fast these days. Get just a little behind and you're out of the race. There's so much competition. So much to learn. How can we be sure our kids will succeed? Truthfully, we can't. There are no guarantees, the world can throw a curve ball into our plans at anytime.

Still, I think that there are some fundamentals that will make an individual successful in any time or place.

First you have to define success. Is it accumulating wealth? Knowledge? Achieving fame? While each individual in their own place and time will have their own definition, I think you can generalize to some degree. Real success is having work that you enjoy doing, a healthy family life, living in community with others, growing spiritually, having space for creativity. I would like my children to know how to accumulate wealth, but if they don't, it's ok. I would hope that they have a core base of knowledge, but what's more important is that they love to learn and know how to do it. I would actually hope they don't have great fame, tho' I'm not sure THEY would agree with that :-)

What I really want for them is to live a life worth living. I want them to have an examined life, an endless curiosity, useful work, a loving heart, a generous spirit, a worthy character... Oh, there is so much I want for them. How can I give them all this?

I can't. This is a gift they must give themselves. As a parent I have great influence, but not total control. So, what can I do?

I can lead through example, flawed as I am. Through history and literature, we can explore the lessons of a thousand lives. I can point out the wonders of the natural world and ponder the mysteries of the universe with them. We can share the glorious symmetries of mathematics, the emotional journey of music, the mirror of the human spirit found in art. We can work side by side learning daily skills and discussing philosophy. I will tell them what I hope for them, try to give them the tools I think they'll need in this world, and love them unconditionally. After that, it's all up to them.

How do you define success? What does it mean to live a worthy life?

Friday, March 6, 2009

J's Questions

My recent inspiration for blogging has come from my friend "J". She has used an on-line public school at home for years, but is finding that it's not quite working out for her. Knowing how I enjoy blathering on about homeschooling, she asked me some questions. Here are some of her questions and my very quick replies. I hope to go into more depth with these in the coming weeks.

Would it be more work for me to teach without the public on-line school? (finding curriculum I like and creating lesson plans, and structuring it to accomplish what is needed)

It really depends on what you want to put into it.

I know families where the parents did next to nothing academic with their kids. Of those I know who've had to go to public school for some reason, they've adjusted well. Others already have kids off to college, some in very competitive programs.

I know another unschooling family where the mom never gets out on her own, spends pretty much every minute one on one w/ her kids. Her kids are also fine. (But I'm not sure she is.)

There's a middle ground, but it's in a different place for everyone, and even in a different place for each individual over time.

Think about breastfeeding. Did each of your babies have the same style and schedule, or did they vary? Did they stay the same way throughout breastfeeding? Was your experience just like that of every one else you knew? Did the differences mean that one of you was doing it "wrong"? You'll find something that works for you, it will evolve into something else - probably something you didn't predict!

If I choose to use something else, how could I ensure that my children would be learning everything they need to cover for that age (I know, who says they should learn XYZ at what age). (use the Kirsch books, What Your xxgrader Needs to Know??????)

When I get nervous I look up stuff in "What your x-grader needs to know", (the Kirsch books). Every single time I've done this I've walked away thinking that on the things I think are important my kids are on par or ahead of the curve. They are often behind in some things, things I don't worry about. Examples of ahead are reading comprehension, math, history. Examples of behind are history, arithmetic, spelling and handwriting.

For example, my kids don't always have the textbook history "1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue". Rather they know the stories of history, some dates that have stuck with them (1066 = William the Conquer in England) and a lot of the development of technology. In math they understand concepts, do the math in their heads, but don't always get it right w/ pencil and paper. I have my own priorities, based on my values and understand of their development, which I hope to write more about later

What kind of expense would I expect?

Again, it's what you feel like and have available.

I know of unschooling families that have very little and spend practically nothing. Another has a parent making 6 figures and spends outrageously. With the use of the library, on-line resources, local free resources, trading w/ friends, using the homeschool co-ops, etc., it's not necessary to spend much at all.

Did I mention the library?
I love the library. :-)

Do I just need to spend more time modifying the curriculum to my children's learning styles and be more aggressive about not doing certain things?

That's up to you. Where do you want to spend your time and energy? Is what you're putting into the program worth what you're getting out of it?

(I am really struggling with whether my 5th grader needs to know about diagramming sentences, transitive and intransitive verbs). My gut instinct is that he doesn't need to know these things unless he wants to be an English professor.

I don't know how to diagram a sentence. Nor does my husband. In fact I can count on one hand the people I know who can. (I'm sure I know more than that, but the subject just doesn't come up, ya know? :-D ) I think that you're right that this is specialized knowledge that very few people need. It might be useful if you want to make fun of someone who doesn't know it tho. ;-)

(There is an element of snobbery in education that I think does all of us a disadvantage. I want my kids to appreciate other people as individuals, I don't want them constantly comparing and judging people based on superficial things. )

Having said that, will not knowing these things hinder him in getting good grades to enable him to progress to higher education?????

This is the question isn't it? "How can I be sure my child will have what it takes to succeed in the world" This is every parent's question/fear. Our whole job as parents is to ensure our children's survival and success. Public education has told us that if our kids just jump through their hoops, work hard, and get the grades, success will follow. Yet when we look at the evidence, that isn't happening. That's part of why so many people homeschool. Even those for whom this isn't a primary reason will admit that they still have concerns. There are those who trust "the Universe" or "God" or whatever, but "Luck favors the prepared" and "God helps them who helps themselves". So what do we do?

I argue that the real questions each parent should ask individually is "What does it take to survive?" "What does it mean to succeed?" "How do we get there from here?" No one can really answer these questions for you. We can only give our opinions. You must find your own Truth, and then choose how to live it.

Some places to look to help you answer these questions are:
Your family, values, and religion (do you have a holy book? What is it? What does it tell you? Does it have all the answers?)
friends and community
people who you admire (living or dead)
The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People
A Thomas Jefferson Education

I read this statement recently and it has really got me thinking "What would you teach your children if you weren't concerned with public opinion?"

EXACTLY! What is important to you? What do you use/do in your daily life? What do the people you admire do? How did they get their formal education? How did they learn to do what they do now? Are these the same thing? How do you know what you love to do? What are your passions? How do you help your children find their own passion? If you and/or your child can't think of a passion then there's a place to start! Explore until you find something that lights you up from the inside.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Zen Freedom

In the space between stimulus and response - is choice.

So often we just do the first thing that comes into our minds. In fact, sometimes our response never even registers in our mind. We just react, and then react to the reactions of others.

There is another way. We can choose not to react. We can choose not to act at all. We can accept, experience, think, then choose our response. I'm inspired by that possibility. There is freedom in that space where choice lies.

Ideas for future posts

I've had so many ideas in the last months, but no time. Here's just a few of the things I'd like to blog about.

How to homeschool/unschool math
Our Odyssey of the Mind experiences
Our FLL Lego Robotics experiences
How to start homeschooling
How to unschool
Why each families' homeschooling approach is unique
Growing into ourselves
Ideas for not your average field trip
Where to have cheap fun in CO
Thrifty living
Finding your own style
Identifying your own values and ideals
How to get there from here?
What I've learned from homeschooling
What I've learned from coaching
What I want to learn
Why it's important to always be learning
When Mommy needs a time-out
Time-in - a better alternative
A Thomas Jefferson Education - unchooling classically?
Fostering a love of learning
Family learning
Why character is more important than facts
Educational guarantees - not
Crafting - lots of stuff here!
My "organizational" methods (humorous essay ;-))
Favorite on-line resources
Favorite homeschool shopping
What every child should know by age 12 (that they are loved, valuable, basic modern survival skills)
entrepreneurial kids
Kids, family, and music
living with passion

So, my readers (all two of you :-D ) what would you like me to blather on about first?

How we started homeschooling

Yup, I've been busy and not posted much. I've had so much I wanted to write, but no time to sit down! Finally today I got a question, one I've been asked before, and am inspired to start answering it here. I suspect there are many more blogs to be done on this topic!

I'd be interesting in reading your philosophy and how you came to educate the way you do. If you would share the pros and cons of how you see structured learning, homeschooling and unschooling. Throw it at me. I know you have it all in your head and maybe, just maybe, you have it written down somewhere :)

Nah, I didn't have it written down. Until now. As always, it's subject to change. Take what works for you and ignore what doesn't.

how you came to educate the way you do

We started decided to homeschool when my oldest was not quite 4. He'd been attending a wonderful local Montessori school two mornings a week. Towards the end of the spring semester they informed us that they would no longer offer part time places, but wanted the kids everyday of the week, all day if possible. There were so many reasons this wasn't a good idea for us: money, commute time, philosophical differences with the presentation of the program, etc., but the biggest reason is that I LIKED my kid and wanted to spend that time with him myself! I couldn't imagine that it was a good idea for him to spend most of his waking hours away from his mother and family.

I hunted around for other preschools, but didn't find any that I liked as well as the one he'd been at. Being sailors and loving travel, we'd had in our mind that someday we'd like to live on a boat and travel the world. I knew that would mean homeschooling the children, so the concept wasn't new to me. It seemed like "homeschooling" preschool was pretty do-able, even for me.

Being me, I started reading. I found books like LLL's "Playful Learning, An Alternate Approach to Preschool", "The Preschooler's Busy Book" and the "Mother's Almanac" helpful for the preschool years. I'd already read "Whole Child, Whole Parent" when my oldest was a baby, and that greatly influenced my homeschooling as well as my parenting. Another book that helped sustain me is "Everyday Blessings, the Inner Work of Mindful Parenting" by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Those books (and many similar books) saw me through that first year. While my oldest was a preschooler I was still nursing his baby brother, so this relaxed approach really suited us. Nap-time was my time to read. I added to my recreational reading books about homeschooling, education, and child development. One of the first I read was Nancy Wallace's "Better than School". That led me to the writings of John Holt. At the same time I discovered Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer's "The Well Trained Mind", which seemed at the time to be totally opposite in approach to what John Holt preached. (More recently I've discovered "A Thomas Jefferson Education", and "collaborative learning", which come very close to describing how I melded these two methods.) I discovered many other methods of homeschooling, the Charlotte Manson Method, Montessori, Waldorf, Classical, too many curriculums to list. My head was spinning. What to do?

I found a local homeschooling support group and went to a meeting. Immediately after introducing myself I asked "So, what curriculum and methods do each of you use? Do you like it? Why or why not?" I held my pencil to my notepad expectantly. I looked around the circle and saw many blank, befuddled, and amused faces. Not one had a straight answer for me. Well for heaven's sake. What did they do with their kids all day?

In this series of posts I hope to explore my answers to that.