Tuesday, December 30

4 Cool Creativity Websites (for the kids AND you)

In these last days of the year I get in this creative mode. Partly because I don't have to get up and get the boys moving, partly because I know that the break from school will feel like it zoomed by (which it did) when Friday rolls around. In case anyone else feels like doing something creative with what remains of Christmas break, I thought you might enjoy following the links!





Saturday, December 27

January's Plans

I sat down last night to plan our next unit of study and outlined a few things. Then we went to the library today to get our resources to flesh it all out. I came home with 30 books on China. So, if you're going to study China in the next month, the Midland library in Portland is cleaned out. Just a little heads up.

Sunday, December 21

Thursday, December 18


  • More snow -- the kind that sticks.
  • Our last day of school before we break for Christmas.
  • A couple days left to create Christmas gifts.
  • A fire in the stove left by dh before he went to work.
  • Kids who are actively engaged.
  • A singing two-year old.

Tuesday, December 16

Five Things I'm Loving Right Now.

There are some great things happening for us right now and it's hard to focus on school especially with Christmas on the approach. In this last week before we break for Christmas we're just working on finishing things up so we can have two weeks off. I'd be crazy to think the kids are learning anything new right now. So, we're doing some fun review.

5. Love this animated, interactive website. http://edheads.org/
We're working through the simple machines module this week, but you can also learn about the weather and even knee surgery (!).

4. Loved the snow in Portland this week. It amazes me that the city doesn't plow it's streets though! What is up with that? With more snow in the forecast I guess we'll just hang out at home until we completely run out of milk and bananas.

3. Love the Jesse Tree that we're doing in lieu of the advent wreath this year. It entails a short story to read each day and a felt ornament to hang on our "tree" (this thing is full of family history). It does not entail arguing over who gets to light a candle and dealing with the wiggles. Just right before bed or after dinner. We're a couple days behind tho...

We're using this book as our guide and we borrowed a lot of felt ornament ideas from here.

2. Loved our playdate with Anna, Jaden and Jonah Olson yesterday. Our boys had a great time playing together and I just loved talking about life and ministry and kids with Anna. I'm also very impressed that they were willing to venture out on the icy roads! It helped the cabin fever for all of us, I think.

1. Love the potential that lies thick in the air these days. 2009 is going to rock.

Sunday, December 14

Kind of crazy for here

Wind: E at 12 mph
Humidity: 83%

Thursday, December 11

Homeschoolers for Heifer International

I found out about this too late to participate with my boys, but we are going and buying! The event is a chance for homeschoolers from all different locations, styles, and philosophies to come together, share their talents and contribute to a good cause. I have two friends who will be participating and donating their proceeds.

Portland Homeschoolers Children’s Market

A fun festival of child-created, child-run booths offering services, activities, food and wares to other home schoolers and their family and friends!

Friday, December 12th
2pm - 5pm
Liberty Hall, 311 N. Ivy, Portland

With a performance by The Vibrations a local homeschooling family band!

Please come and join us for this fun event. There will be many gifts, edibles, and activities that appeal to guests of all ages and all budgets!

Carnival Games -- Holiday Ornaments -- Baked Goods -- Raffles -- Arts and Crafts -- Jewelry -- Face Painting -- Live Music -- Handmade and Altered Toys -- Gifts for All Ages

Free Admission! Portion of all proceeds go to charity.
Please join us! Bring your friends and family!

Tuesday, December 9

Quote of the Day

"What fun thing are we going to do today, Mom?" B, age 6

So nice to hear in the middle of anti-school season.

Friday, December 5

I Should be Making Cookies Right Now

Subtitle: How This Homeschooler Does Christmas

The short answer -- it's never the same way twice. Inasmuch as I believe in constantly tweaking the educational process, I believe in doing the same to the Christmas season.

1. Advent at home. We have done simple crafts after lighting the candles, read the scriptures for the week and attempted discussion while the kids did a coloring page, completely gave up on the advent wreath altogether one year and this year we are embarking on telling the whole story of Jesus in the Bible through the Jesse Tree.

2. Worship. This is a consistent part of our season, but I love that it's never the same from year to year. Even the time of the Christmas Eve service changes up -- though the kids and I love the midnight time the best.

3. Parties. Some years there have been more than I could handle. Some years there was only one. This year it's just two and they are on the same day. I have to find some white elephant gifts...

4. Presents. We have always just bought the kids three gifts. (There's the stockings too but that tends to be a cumulative effort with at least one set of grandparents.) This year's different in that we're trying to make a few more. Tomorrow I'm hosting "Make Something Day" for the first time and I hope my creative friends inspire me to make some cool things.

4. Service. We've distributed toys with the Salvation Army for about five years now in different locations using several different methods. This year I think we'll be doing some bell-ringing! We do it on a school day and it COUNTS.

5. Schedule. I have had years where I plowed ahead in school with the kids M-F all the way up until Christmas. Some years were not so heavy with school, but were peppered with other activities. This year we're taking off Fridays from Thanksgiving until after New Year's.

6. Celebration. Sometimes it's at our house. Sometimes it's at my parents. Sometimes Chip's mother comes up. Sometimes we hand out hoodies to homeless. Sometimes we eat Rosemary Pork Roast. Sometimes we eat Mema's Ham. Sometimes we have extra guests over. You get the idea.

I know there are families who thrive on tradition. As comforting as that sounds, it's not the way we do things. I simply find too much freedom in flexibility. If something's not working for the family or if the message is getting skewed we can switch things up and not feel like God is some small-minded bookkeeper who is only pleased if his birthday comes off in a certain pattern. He didn't even tell us to celebrate it in the first place. Which is an interesting idea all on it's own.

What are you switching up this year?

Sunday, November 30

Wednesday, November 26

Home Educator Appreciation Day

My mother/teacher deserves to win for many reasons:

1. Her teaching has raised me from my spiritual Babylon.
2. Her gentle touch and soft voice is a great way to start the school day.
3. She’s never strict.
4. She only raises her voice if she has to.
5. Her seven years of teaching has been, I believe, a good experience for her.
6. She works hard, having to teach two of her own children.
7. She has no duplicate.

I now conclude my nomination for Debra Renee Anderson, my loving teacher and mother with this:

I, Jacob Anderson, age 9…

…love her.

Please, encourage other homeschoolers by clicking here to nominate them.

A Perk I'm Thankful For

Non-Traditional Days Off.

It’s finally happening. DH and I haven’t been away by ourselves for 4 ½ years. The kids have been to my parents’ overnight without us, however we have always just stayed at home (and missed seeing them in their beds at night). But next week we get two days AWAY and the kids are staying here. I get two days and nights with my man (and two days and nights without cooking or cleaning or internet or t.v.) and they get two days off school. Everybody wins. Except maybe my parents who are kind enough to come stay with them. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Tuesday, November 25

An Author I'm Thankful For

Carol Barnier.

She wrote How to Get Your Child off the Refrigerator and on to Learning and I picked it up when I was beginning J in first grade. It was just the grace I needed to teach my highly distractible son without feeling like I was doing it wrong. She encouraged me to let him move, cut out the writing, and make a lot of manipulatives -- particularly out of 3x5 cards which I still stock up on every year. While other books like to blame the parents for their child’s inability to focus (not going to name names here) her personal experience gave me grace and encouraged me to see my child for the gift that he is. I’m so very, very grateful for her book and for the occasions I’ve had to be in her workshops. It’s made a huge difference in our journey.

Monday, November 24

A Tool I'm Thankful For

A Whiteboard.

I started homeschooling without one because I thought it was too schoolish. I didn’t want to mimic a classroom per se. But sometime in our sixth year dh brought a free one home from his work remodel and I’ve been so thankful for it ever since then.

I used to spend so much time looking for scratch paper on the spot to check that math problem for J, illustrate a point, or to write out a word for B to copy. J also wanted lists of what to expect for the day and when I printed them out that paper always got lost. I was always looking for something to write on. And as I scoured they would be turning upside down in their chair or wandering off.

Enter the whiteboard. It is always free and in front of us. It keeps our academic to-do list handy and we can wipe each item away after we complete it. J can practice penmanship and math, B can do copywork from it, we can make sketches before we do our actual drawings and when it’s not in use the toddler can “color” on it and clean up after himself when he’s done.

It’s a simple thing but I’m thankful for it.
What are your favorite tools?

Friday, November 21

Identity (This and That)

Sometimes we have days (o.k. weeks) when we think:
“Is this all there is?”
“I’m a homeschooling mom. But I have two degrees and years of ministry experience [insert your own resume here]. Isn’t there something more than this?”
“I think I’d also like to do that.”
These days like to piggy-back on one another until we finally start seeking out other outlets to make us feel fulfilled and useful -- maybe even important -- because that looks so much more appealing than this.

When I hear other people’s stories… “I’m the volunteer coordinator for a major Christian non-profit,” … “I’m a nurse,” … “I’m a stay at home mom, but I work part-time from home.” … I start to think, well maybe I can do more than just this one thing. If I can do this then maybe I can also do that.

I let this little question get the best of me once and I dove into something that I thought would give me increased joy. It turns out that it wasn’t even comparable because while that added to my task list, it didn’t add to my character. After that was revealed to me as an unfortunate mismatch, I found new life in my “this”… more patience for the time that learning can take, more tolerance for the noisy toddler, more peace with why I do what I do, more creative ways to make my this distinctive, customized and infused with the essence of our faith and worldview. This is more about being than doing.

Still, I am a person outside of homeschooling. There are parts of me that are distinctively me, things that my kids don’t easily enter into, core values that I’m continually pushing toward and layers that I’m continually peeling away. Rather than exist in a continuous line I’m finding that I exist in radiating circles… I think Rilke called it “widening rings.” Before we can enlarge our identity we need to be comfortable with the identity we already have.

Thomas Merton said, “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the things I want to live for. Between those two answers you can determine the identity of any person.” (The Man in the Sycamore Tree)

What is your “that?” And has your that ever derailed your ever widening this?

Wednesday, November 19

Homeschooling is Post Modern?

The Rise of Homeschooling is a Post-modern phenomenon.
Postmoderns distrust institutions.
Postmodernity blurs the lines between everything - fact and fiction, on and offline, news and entertainment. = more holistic lifestyle. Living is learning.
Postmoderns often only process information that they can apply immediately. If my kids can't use this in their immediate futures, I stay away from it until it seems more prudent.
Postmoderns revisit their roots. Going back before the days of government schools when young people (okay, boys) were mentored in a trade, given adult responsibilities at twelve, marrying as teenagers (I'm actually not going there)
Postmoderns want spiritual values without constraints, if we preach the radical values of Christ, they will form their own boundaries.
Postmoderns don't want to reconstruct, they want to deconstruct.
Postmoderns live with chaos. Seriously, there isn't a homeschooler alive that can defy this one!
Postmoderns value authenticity, not doctrine or authority.
Postmoderns desire experience, participation, interaction and community.

there is the There is one particular educational "emergent" philosophy that has grabbed my attention lately.

Traditional methods of delivering education and training no longer provide the insight necessary to be effective within the dynamic and interdisciplinary nature of today's highly technical environment.

Monday, November 17

What Emergent Means Here

It's a bit of a double entendre really. Can I coin the phrase "triple entendre" because there's really three things that come to mind? First a definition: Something that emerges comes into view, arises, becomes. That's very descriptive of our homeschooling. Our strengths are discovered and allowed to rise as such. Our style changes, fluxes, emerges. Our methods come about from trial and discovery. Learning happens in different forms with each passing month. And, as a result, I notice that my kids have a more well-rounded point-of-reference than they had before.

Secondly, the word "emergent" has been used in the field of education for quite some time. For instance, emergent literacy is the development of reading skills over time in the life of a young child. (Read to your kids!) Emergent in this field does not refer to a new way of doing things. It's a recognition that within each child lies great potential and purpose that's just waiting to burst forth. Similarly, Reggio Emilia schools have a very appealing emergent philosophy that builds upon the interests of the child and I think that our schooling mimics many facets of this philosophy... painting broad goals but giving freedom for students to determine how to reach them, observing students closely to guide the implementation of those goals, and involving community in their overall development and performance. Therefore, emergent is an educational term indicating that who my children are and who they are becoming will come from them not from me. I get to help shape but not dictate.

Lastly, our family has crept away from some faith practices of modernity and has delved into the world of "messy spirituality." Though still quite Christian, we have re-evaluated many of the practices of our spiritual heritage, kept what seems most like Jesus and have dispensed with a little that just didn't make sense. As the conversation increases about the difference between the two, I'd probably fall more in line with the word "missional" rather than "emergent" but missional simply didn't say all that I wanted it to say here.

I just thought maybe it was time to elaborate a little on this. It's not completely refined, but this is the gist of the blog.

Friday, November 14

Battling Burnout, Part III

Let a book tell you what to do. If you’re a mom that is uninspired to continue writing your own unit studies, get a unit study guide and let it tell you what to do for a few weeks. It may not be your style, but sometimes it will excite your kids with new methods of learning that you may not have touched on your own initiative.

Take an in-service day or two. Classroom teachers do this for very good reason. You need to take time to figure out what to do for the next week or month. If it makes you feel better, put on a quality DVD for your kids to watch while you do this. Hitting the ground with a plan on Monday will build your confidence and push you out of your slump.

Tailor the trends that overwhelm you. I think lapbooking is very cool in concept but, to me, that’s a lot of work to do in a few weeks’ time. At the end of our lapbook study I may have a beautiful display to show to grandparents, but I have no ideas left to try in the next unit. My solution? Choose just one lapbooking fold or booklet, complete it over a week’s time and then glue it to a notebook page. Then, next week if you or your kids don’t feel like continuing in that vein then you don’t have to and it’s not left incomplete.

Reduce the stuff that drains you. Are you involved in an activity that sucks the joy out of your life? Are there people that leave you feeling discouraged whenever you’re around them? Do what you can to reduce exposure to these things. Your energy is precious and everyone notices when mom is trying to pour from an empty vessel.

Reaffirm the truth of your identity in Christ. Sometimes we tell ourselves that being a homeschool mom just isn’t very important in the big scheme of things. Well, we actually tell ourselves this fairly frequently but we get into trouble when we begin believing it. You are God’s teacher/pastor to your children. You are ushering in his kingdom with your good works both in and outside of your home. You are accepted and free to become that person that he created you to be. You are loved and you are purposeful. If you base your identity in your Creator then it’s quite possible that your homeschooling will not just be a daily task but an act of worship.

Let me close by reminding you that you are a person of passion. If nothing else, maybe you can gain encouragement from the fact that you are only burning out because you were following hard after something you are deeply passionate about. At one time you were in motion and you were awesome! Infuse some new gas in your tank so you feel like you’re getting somewhere. Remember, you don’t have to go at top speed to be effective and engaged, and you don’t have to go the same way you were going before, you just have to go.

Thursday, November 13

Battling Burnout, Part II

Busy day yesterday! Here's part 2 of 3. More tomorrow!

Give yourself permission. You’re going to wonder, “Give myself permission to do what?” Well, what do you wish you could do in your homeschooling that you’re holding off on because of some unrealistic expectation, some other voice other than your own, or because of fear that your kids will experience gaps, test badly or fall behind? What do you need permission to do? Stop early for the day? Try something new? Let go of something burdensome? Experiment? Take a day…a week…every Friday off? Examine your expectations to see if they’re serving your child or family well and give yourself permission to do what you think is best as their mother and mentor.

Shake up your patterns. This is especially necessary in those subjects that seem to make everyone drag their feet the most. Every 4th week leave Latin lessons behind and let your child try some online vocabulary activities. Mix penmanship practice with computer typing lessons. Let a video show you England instead of reading about it from a book. Let your older child read aloud to all of you while you give your voice a rest and snuggle your littlest one in your lap. You can even take a week to only focus on a big project and leave the subject studies behind. There are endless possibilities.

Learn together. Sign up for a family class through the Park and Rec. Put yourself next to your kids in a learning environment and let them help you with Taekwon Do, Web Design or Ballroom Dancing. You’ll probably laugh a lot and come away with a greater appreciation for the potential that really lies within your kids.

Establish traditions to anticipate. These may be based on a holiday or a habit. You can have Friday Night dinner and discussion by candlelight, a Valentine making day, Breakfast and Bible, Dad’s the Teacher Day or even create an obscure holiday observation (How about Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21st or Lame Duck Day on February 6th?).

Encourage another homeschooling mom. Sometimes answering the question (outloud and with a little conviction), “So, why do you homeschool?” is just what you need to get your cylinders pumping again. And if you’ve met together over coffee you’ve taken a little time out for yourself so it’s a doubly good idea.

Tuesday, November 11

Battling Burnout, Part I

My husband and I have been involved in church ministry on some level for the full 14 years of our married life. We have planned and prepared many different kinds of programs, hosted innumerable (and delightful!) dinner guests, taught countless small groups, staffed youth programs, trained leaders, presented workshops, sermons and even dramatic productions. I could go on and on. Thinking about it makes me feel tired but satisfied. However, several years ago, when I was in the thick of it, thinking about it made me feel something altogether different.

After trying daily for years to get the point across, provide growth opportunities, teach with creativity, help handle conflict, expect good behavior, model a Christ-like ethic, pose challenges, and praise, praise, praise, it seemed that we were spinning our wheels. I’m talking about youth ministry, but I could also describe my own homeschooling journey in the same terms; stalled, going nowhere and feeling overworked and under appreciated. Yes, I have been burned out in both areas.

Burn out is different from stress. Stress often makes you work harder in order to reach a goal that you feel is worthy of attaining… even if it’s an unhealthy goal. Burn out is characterized by letting that work slip through your fingers. You are burned out when you feel ineffective, lose interest, and disengage. If you feel like the only reason you’re homeschooling this week is because you’re afraid someone might check up on you, you’re there. And you’re not alone.

I most often want to disengage from homeschooling in the dead of winter. I live in the rainy Northwest and I honestly don’t know anyone who loves homeschooling indoors in February. The books aren’t new anymore, the children aren’t listening anymore and you can’t just leave the house and blow off steam at the park. It’s prime time for burn out. It’s also the time when we have to shake things up a bit in order get back into drive.

I have made a list of 10 ideas that I have personally tried (and some I have waiting in my back seat yet) when the winter doldrums hit. I hope that you can find just one idea here that inspires you to get back to a place of delight and productivity in your homeschooling.

Tune in tomorrow to see them!

Monday, November 10

Learning in the Fort

The boys have made forts on their bunks. They were able to get a certain amount of school work done in their forts today, which is fun.

Last night I had to put on a military persona and send them secret messages in order to get them to stop playing with the forts and get ready for bed. "Cease work on the fortress and make ready your men...don't forget to brush." "Retire to your quarters at 19:00" and so forth. We sent several notes back and forth (using their Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator names) in order to get the nightly task done. It worked.

Today, they've continued to play in that vein. A few minutes ago B came to me with a note.

B - "I've come from Clamp Noodle with an urgent message about one of our men."

I read the note and busted up.

Tuesday, November 4

School Without A Watch

I misplaced my watch on Saturday night. I miss it for several reasons:

  • The light feature tells me nightly what time it is when S wakes up cold after kicking his blankets off.
  • The water resistant face lets me shampoo small heads without taking the watch off.
  • It tells me how well our school day is going.

Whoa! Did I say that? Do YOU say that? Is the success of the day determined by how quickly the work gets done? Sadly, this is my success gage more often than I care to admit.

The past couple of days we've worked through our learning activities sans timepiece. We let our stomachs tell us when we were hungry. We let the toddler's behavior tell us it was naptime. We let our inability to focus tell us it was time for a break. The natural rhythms weren't usurped by our anxiety over the time.

Today it worked great (yesterday was a different story entirely). When we felt like it was time for a break we found that we had accomplished more by, what turned out to be, 10:30 than we had accomplished the day before by lunchtime. THAT was nice. Now we have the afternoon to make some Scottish shortbread (still learning about the U.K.) and get ready for our own little election night party.

I just might leave the watch upstairs more often...if I ever find it again that is.

Saturday, October 25

Ditch Your Second Hat

I was talking with my sister-in-law today and she asked, "How do you switch between being Mommy and being teacher to your boys? How do you get the respect a teacher would get when you're also the mother?" She is a former preschool teacher who is homeschooling her 4.5 year old daughter now so I can see why she's asking this question. I think it's something we all struggle with in the beginning. But we don't have to.

My answer was simply that you don't switch back and forth. Just be her mother who is taking time to teach her as you are going. You're not being a teacher sometimes and a mother at other times. You're simply being an intentional mother all the time.

My mother took time to teach me to sew and cook and balance a checkbook. She didn't sit me down at the table and say, "I'm going to transform into your home economics teacher now so you need to relate to me differently." She just showed me how things work and now I can make a shirt and cook a meal and make money come out of a rock just like my mom can.

I think that's how God designed the relationship to be. The world has done a good job of making parents think that they aren't qualified to be their child's teacher, but God says otherwise:
These are the words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
Now this passage is talking about teaching children of God's work in their past and present and not about social studies and economics, but that's not my point. My point is that God sees parents and teachers as the same thing. Parents are teachers from the moment that child is born. You teach them the most important things in life and when you think about it you get to teach them the things that are the hardest to for the children to grasp! The ways of God, speaking a native language, how to make right choices, building good relationships, the importance of sharing and putting yourself last. Oi! If we can do the hard stuff then Algebra should be a piece of cake.

I sit my boys down at times during the day for learning activities and I just am who I am. When they write me notes they say, "I love you because you teach me stuff." And I'm cool with that. You should be too. Take off your other hat and let it go.

Monday, October 20

Next Up

We're going to do a unit on George Muller and the U.K. Here's some of the ideas I have so far:
  • Read the YWAM Biography of George Muller aloud.
  • Make several maps in a variety of ways: labeling the British Isles, flip books of each region of the UK and even the topographical salt dough map that I've never really wanted to do badly enough (and really still don't but it seems like a rite of passage that each student must conquer. How we'll actually do it while S is awake is beyond me).
  • Draw the national symbols of each region (I'm learning that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not actually countries -- correct me if I'm wrong. I've been researching it for a while tonight.)
  • Read "You Wouldn't Want to be a Victorian Servant" because it looks like an interesting way to broach the subject of child labor and "You Wouldn't Want to Be a 19th Century Coal Miner" because it looks like a kid-friendly way to get a feel for some historical reality.
  • Watch a travel DVD of England and Wales.
  • Study a little Wordsworth poetry and write some of our own versions.
  • Read an abridged version of Oliver Twist.
  • Visit/volunteer at a local shelter/mission.
  • Think about some of the inventions that came out of the U.K.
  • Study the Industrial Revolution.
  • Learn some of the vocabulary of the Brits.
  • Traditional Foods.
Are there any other ideas that you can think of? I'm hoping they have fun with it!

Tuesday, October 14

Week 8

We are cruising along in school at a terrific pace. Maybe too terrific.

Yesterday we (they)
  • read aloud from Nate Saint's biography and discussed it briefly,
  • worked on memorizing Psalm 23,
  • colored in and labeled a map of South America,
  • did several pages of math,
  • hand addressed 20 envelopes,
  • played a Latin number game online,
  • analyzed and diagrammed sound transmission,
  • did a keyword outline about South America,
  • looked up facts about Ecuador,
  • drew a rainforest primate,
  • solved a logic puzzle,
  • listened to B read
  • and labeled some nouns.
I would love to find out what the first and fifth graders at the school down the street accomplished yesterday.

Oh -- nothing. It was a holiday. I'm not sure which one of us missed out. Today will be less. And therefore (hopefully) more.

Friday, October 10

How Do You Do It With Three?

I'm not going to lie to you. Homeschooling two and managing a toddler at the same time is NOT a walk in the park. So, when a new friend (with two who is thinking of making it three) asked me today how it works for us I gave her a pretty good look at my reality. And my reality is that we live a very interrupted life.

  • S is LOUD. He just talks at full volume and then he screams the rest of the time. So, you can imagine how many sentences I DON'T finish in a day.
  • S is a boy and he likes to wrestle and push his brothers out of any chair they are (finally) sitting in.
  • S is a complete mess-maker. He can open the fridge and turn the Brita spigot on, splash in the puddle of water, climb up on the counter to get a paper towel to clean up his own mess (he's a smart mess-maker), find his brothers' unfinished cups of milk, walk them into the living room and pour them on the couch, leaving the paper towels unrolled and the refrigerator door open all in about twelve seconds.
  • S likes to do what the other boys are doing even though it goes against my better judgment to give him the markers...
  • S is incredibly cute and when he cracks his highly-distractable brothers up I have to tell myself that it's o.k. to stop and laugh with them.
You get the picture. I am thinking of setting up a video camera to see just how crazy our days can actually be. But I've learned a few things.
  • Highly distractable boys CAN still listen above the fray of a disappointed toddler --it's okay to just press on.
  • A boy can move to the next chair if the toddler wants the one he's sitting in.
  • While mopping up water, blotting milk off the couch, and re-rolling the paper towels I can still give basic math instruction, listen to a prayer recited in Latin, and tell someone how to spell a word.
  • Toddlers are completely washable.
  • Laughing is okay and will not detract from the education of the day.
And perhaps the most important current lessons of my life at this stage are...

There is absolutely no reason to be impatient with the boys because the toddler is being unreasonable.


A first grader is probably better served playing with the toddler than spending three hours completing school work that will not reciprocate the relationship.

Monday, September 29

A Helpful Phrase

Have you ever heard the phrase, "You only have to be a day ahead of them" ?

I'm really milking that one lately.

We started our study of Nate Saint last week. It was a hit-and-miss week of school at home in order to get the co-op ready to begin. I had only planned to do Mr. Saint for 3 weeks... turns out it will take us four weeks to read the biography. So, I'm a little behind there.

So, now I'm inserting more social studies. This means that after Jake does his daily reading he needs to do his daily reporting (which happens in various forms). Because I'm behind a bit in this planning I resorted to an old stand by -- chapter questions. I suppose it won't kill him to answer some basic questions about what he read. But I'm having to read up on Ecuador the night before to find some good questions to ask.

Just a day ahead.

That's all I have to be.


Saturday, September 27

Not Gonna Do It

This goes against my grain.

Today is Free Museum Day for Smithsonian linked institutions. And we're not going to go.

My homeschooling heart says,
"But it's free!"
"It's educational!"
"It counts as a day of school!"

But my body is tired. And even though hanging out in our pajamas also goes against my grain -- we are not one of those homeschool families :-) -- I think I'd much rather do that.

Sunday, September 21

Crash Landing

We just finished our first unit on flight.
  • It was fun doing experiments about the forces of flying (though many of them didn't work).
  • J had a ball editing together some footage to create our own Reading Rainbow episode on the topic (though our computer crashed and we had a hard time converting video files so they were usable).
  • We laughed because the only thing the boys remembered about Louis Bleriot was that his license plate number in the picture book was AD1901. (That's not the only thing, really, but it was the first thing they could tell me).
  • We read the entire biography of Orville Wright (except the last two paragraphs because we got distracted -- crazy!).
And with all the other bumps of life this week we really didn't get to do the great culminating activity I had hoped to do. But, like I said not too long ago, I'm trying to give them more freedom to choose the activity. So, though it seemed like we ended the unit with a crash landing, I think we learned something from it all.

Tuesday, September 16

179 Days

I'm trying to allow myself to do less than 180 days of school. For years I've lived in a state that required homeschoolers to do 18o days of instruction. So, I kept an "attendance" record and logged all our field trips, sick days, Friday School, P.E. and acting classes and made it add up to at least 180 (it usually went a little over).

I think the 180 mark is a good one to shoot for but does that mean 180 days of assignments and projects and progress in their math books or is it 180 days of intentional educational experiences...even some "unintentional" ones?

So, today we accepted an invitation to play, experience a new park, swim in some refreshing water, listen to the kids play Marco Polo and watch them bury each other in the sand. What an awesome day of education...watching the fuzzy caterpillars crawling on the playground, exploring the arc of the watersprayers at the spray ground, and hands-on relational lessons in friend-making. Today I got to experience that freedom that we have as homeschoolers to chuck it all and do something different. Oregon won't hold me accountable for it. So, I'm not going to either. This year it's going to be 179 days (maybe less).

Tuesday, September 9

He Did It!

B has never really cared for reading. Then I posted something at the end of our summer that indicated a bit of a turn around for him.

Today he asked to do his reading station (he's actually been asking every day instead of me telling him it's time to do it).
Today he read an entire book all to himself.
And then he read it to me.
And he was speedy!

Do I dare say that we are over the hump?!?!

Monday, September 8

Bonus Points

We have a new system at home...
...media time has to be earned and there is a whole list of ways they can earn it.

One way is to behave in the grocery store.

So after they whined and complained about going and one of them actually drug his feet into the store (not joking) they perked up a bit. But as we're bagging the groceries they begin to wrestle. Fortunately there was a bench for them to sit on and when I asked them to do so, they did.

The lady bagging groceries opposite me hadn't noticed the wrestling, but did notice the nice sitting and she said,

"They look like such well behaved boys. And you have three?"

"Thank you. Yes."


I tell them, "Compliments in the grocery store earn you instant media credits and you just got one."

As we leave J yells behind us, "THANK YOU, LADY!"

Friday, September 5

I Should Begin a List of Other Things...

...that you can't do in public school. If I were to create such a list this would be at the top of it right now: Uncle Doug sent some new toys to the boys "just because" -- Optimus Prime Voice Changer Helmet and Storm Trooper Voice Changer Helmet. They opened them last night and today they are doing everything with them on.
  • Reading
  • Answering Questions
  • Scanning airplane photos for their books
  • Humming
  • Repeating the funniest words over and over
  • Eating lunch (kind of interesting to watch)

Even Transformers have to be educated. You can't do THAT in public school.

Sunday, August 31

The Incentives

Someone asked me recently about how I keep the boys focused and inspired especially with a cute, distracting baby brother around. I have used an incentive program with my boys every year (for various reasons) that helps us move through the day's projects and activities. It may not be a popular idea since it seems to borrow from the government schools, but it makes engaged learning more fun and on the days when even a great incentive can't make it more fun it, at least, ensures that we don't just give it all up for the year...er, day.

1. The Reward Puzzle

During J's first grade year I wrote a note to him on a sheet of paper like, "Let's walk to the park." "Let's make cookies today." or "Enjoy playing with a friend." Sometimes it was just a note to say that I thought he was good at something or just a note of love. I cut it into six pieces and colored them all a different color that corresponded with our folders of activities for the day. (i.e. his blue folder was for drawing something about our lesson so the front of that folder had a pocket on it with a blue puzzle piece in it). When he finished the activities in his six folders he earned the puzzle piece. When all six were earned he could read the puzzle. If there was ever a power struggle in which he refused to do a particular folder then he simply didn't receive the piece. And if he didn't receive the piece, he couldn't do/have/know what was on the puzzle.

At this point it wasn't about behavior as much as it was about helping him stay focused. He enjoyed "doing school" for the most part but attitude did play into whether or not he received his puzzle pieces.

2. The Punch Card

I spend my summers trying to find ways to fine tune what didn't work by utilizing methods that did. The problem with the puzzle reward was that there were only so many free or low cost things I could think of to write. So, I had about 20 of them that I rotated over and over. By the end of the year he didn't always care about the reward as much as he cared about being able to earn all his puzzle pieces. So, the punch card took over.

I moved from colored folders to five colored wall pockets (Spelling, Writing, Unit study, etc). Same idea as the folders but in a different package. I made up a punch card with a row for each pocket and a column for each day of the unit we were in. When he finished the pocket he punched his card. If he got all of his punches for the whole unit study (usually 2-3 weeks) we ventured to Barnes and Noble where I would buy him any book he chose as long as it was connected to what we had just studied. I gave him a wide berth because it needed to be a reward but I did give him a price limit.

3. The Marble Jar

The problems with the punch card were: J couldn't easily use the hand held hole puncher, shopping for a book took a long time because he didn't know how to search for things and there wasn't any opportunity for instant gratification. He was also bucking the system more and so attitude needed to count for something. Enter the Marble Jar.

This is one I remember my ps teacher using in my sixth grade class. If the class filled up the jar to a certain line, then we got a pizza party or something. So, if he completed Bible, Book time (social studies or science lesson), Math and six stations "cheerfully and cooperatively" he got one or two marbles for each one. He could earn up to about 12 marbles a day. It's pretty gratifying to hear marbles clinking in the jar every 20 minutes or so. When he filled the jar to the line he got some rewards similar to the ones I had used in his reward puzzle two years earlier -- now adjusted for his new age and interests. I just wrote them on slips of paper and put them around the outside of the jar with a rubber band. Nothing was a secret. He needed to know what he was working toward and the choice was his when it came time to earn them.

4. The Marble Jar Revisited

The marble jar worked so well that we did it again next year. By now B was well involved with school. The previous year he didn't require the marble jar to move along because his "schooling" was about 45 minutes with mom a few days a week. That meant that whenever J earned his reward, B got the same thing. Now B was in Kindergarten and he wanted a marble jar too. So we did the same thing only this time I went with a treaure box full of dumb...er, fascinating toys and pencils and packs of candy. When they made it to their lines they got to pick something out of the box. And to alleviate the competition between them the rule was if either of them made it to their lines they both got to pick something.

5. The Race Track

The marble jar was fine but after two years J said he was done with it and he wanted to try something new. It had some downfalls. We would forget to do marbles many days which meant the kids felt like I "owed" them something and I didn't like that. It was also hard to keep S out of the marble jars and marbles would get lost. This year we worked together to come up with a new incentive program. That was the first great idea.

The best part was that it is pretty much the brainchild of my kids. J wanted something like a treaure map, but it would have been a huge undertaking to draw a new map for every unit. I didn't want all that work. DH suggested a racetrack which worked well because I was thinking of a way to do the stoplight idea that is used in a lot of classrooms. Then we took the competition out of it by giving the boys each a racetrack and instituting Racer X as a competitor.

Here's how it works: J drew an oval race track with two lanes and divided it into 18 sections (because our unit will be 18 days long). Then he divided each section into nine smaller sections because we do that many different things each day. Racer X is in one lane and he is the perfect driver. He will go the whole distance each day so the task is to keep up with him. J and B can each move one space for each activity he completes cheerfully and cooperatively. How do we gage this? The boys both have cardstock stoplights. If they blow-up in an unreasonable display of frustration and stubborness I can pull their green light out. This doesn't affect their race track at all, it just serves as a warning to chill. If a similar circumstance arises I can pull their yellow card out. This means their race is stopped for the day. They can only move forward on their race track the number of spaces they accomplished to that point.

What keeps them from just checking-out for the rest of the day then if they've only accomplished two out of nine activites? Grace. They can continue on with the rest of their work, make better choices and pull from a small deck of "Student Driver Cards" in which they get to advance 1 or 2 spaces for "maneuvering out of that turn" or "avoiding a wreck." This makes up some, but probably not all of their missed spaces.

However, if they have a completely green light day then they get to hinder their Racer X by drawing from his deck of cards to see if he has to go back 1, 2 or even 3 spaces. This makes Racer X the competitor and not each other, gives them control of not only their own race but his, and keeps Racer X close enough to still inspire them to move along and not give up.

So who wins? Well, there are pit stops along the way every five or six days in which we revisit the treasure box. This time THEY filled the treasure box with some hot wheels cars they want to earn. At the end of the unit if they have beaten Racer X then we get to do a fun family outing/event AND they get to buy books or food for people who may not have any. If Racer X wins the race then we just get the books or food for other people.

So, those are all my ideas I've tried. You can probably use them for things other than school work, but I thought I'd just put it out there in case you were looking for something similar. I know we had a treasure map in there somewhere too. I think it was in conjuction with the punch card. It was about that time when being "cheerful and cooperative" was just as much of a struggle as getting through each activity. (One of my children really struggles -- he's incredibly smart but can often be dark and dreary.) As they grow and self-motivation takes over these programs will go away. Then again, there is still S...

Saturday, August 30

That Blessed First Day

Things I actually heard and savored.

J - "Mom, can we get started?"
B - "I love school."
J - "How can you stand it being so good to me!?"
B - "Is there anything else we get to do?"

I'm not new at this so I know I'm not likely to hear these phrases again. Maybe I should emblazon them on t-shirts for my kids to wear... that way I can see them often and be reminded.

Tuesday, August 26

The Night Before

  • Set up the station box with the assignments for tomorrow (more on the station box later)
  • Prepare and display the incentive process (a race track this year...more on this in a post-to-come too).
  • Stuff backpacks with some new and some hand-me-down clothes, toothbrushes, a reading book, a favorite puzzle book, and various creating supplies (the backpack fairy comes to our house tonight).
  • Clean up the main learning space so we can focus.
  • Bring the read aloud book upstairs so we can read it snuggled up together in the morning.
  • Figure out what in the world I can do to keep S entertained this year.
  • Choose some theme verses for the unit.
  • Make a to-do list and plan meals for the rest of the week.
  • Plan the family "first day of school celebration outing" to do tomorrow night.
  • Pray. Seriously, on my knees.

God, thank you for this freedom to teach my sons in a safe place with loving motives and with their individuality in mind. Being their mentor is the greatest honor of my life. Being their mother is the greatest challenge. Teach me to be gracious in both of these roles. Teach us to respect one another and live and learn with the best interests of the other in mind. Give us clarity and focus. Help me listen before I instruct. Help them engage and create with risk. And most of all, because you have blessed us with the days and the freedom to live as if life is not all about ourselves, help us move outside these walls and intersect with, inspire and intentionally invite others close. Let us not do school, but in all things be educated.

Monday, August 25

Changing Our Process

In mid to late August we all go through this denial process, "Summer can't be over yet." "I didn't accomplish all the things I had hoped." Most of what I had hoped to accomplish was a great deal of school planning AND preparation. The planning you can do on a hammock somewhere with a calendar, a stack of blank lesson plans and the table of contents from your curriculum. I did accomplish that as far out as Thanksgiving.

The preparation is the thing that takes time: finding pages to use, picking projects, gathering supplies, designing the process for the whole shape of the day, etc.

But then I read Holt's book and when I combine his ideas with echoes of some Charlotte Mason philosophy I read two summers ago I decided to let go. This makes preparation somewhat of a struggle. Which projects will they want to do? What if I spend 20 hours designing some cool incentive process that they hate? What if I'm convinced we should do more art but they hate glue and paint? When we study Nate Saint, what if they don't want to spend a week on the Amazon and would rather learn about short wave radios?

I have some things sketched out. I know what B needs to hit in math and language arts and I have some of his reading books (old Ginn readers that I read). I also have his math curriculum and a critical thinking series to do with him. I have curriculm for J to follow in Math, Latin, Typing, Penmanship, and Writing -- three of them are media based. We'll do more reading aloud, less Bible ("Mom's lecture"), but more study of specific verses/passages. This is an even year so we're skipping formal spelling and vocab, but we're going to try notebooking.

But as far as the actual social studies and science lessons, projects, points and details -- I'm leaving that up to them to take us where they want to go. I have suggestions at the ready but I'm forcing myself to keep them suggestions and not turn them into assignments for this whole first four weeks. Giving them more freedom to learn what they want to learn will hopefully provide them with knowledge and applications that will put them on the path toward transformation.

It feels unsettling and chaotic but I'm excited to see what we all end up learning.

Friday, August 22

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

  • B's love language is spoken in a deck of cards and a willing partner.
  • J is too old for playgrounds and Batman swim trunks. (Sniff!)
  • How to finally lay S down to sleep and peacefully leave the room.
  • That reading three books really is my limit in 10 weeks.
  • If you let the lawn die you don't have to mow it.
  • How skewed I've been about the Resurrection.
  • How to start a homeschool co-op.
  • Just how far Vancouver really DOES seem from Portland.
  • That context is everything.

Thursday, August 21


We had friends over last night to begin a community homegroup and it was so nice to hear some new stories and embark on something new together.

As we were eating dessert and chatting my sons were entertaining themselves in their room. After S was put to bed there was more adult chatting and some praying.

And after the adults went on their way home J & B showed us what they had been working on. They were recording B "reading" a book into a tape player. After every sentence there was a click where it was obvious that J was telling B what the sentence said so he could say it into the microphone himself.

B's voice on that tape is what captured me. He sounded strong and sure. He never stumbled. He sounded older. And it was a bit of a glimpse of B in the future.

I have never seen B so excited about reading than he was last night after we listened to that tape with him. He couldn't wait to get up and do it some more with J this morning. This is the breakthrough I've been waiting all summer to happen. B has finally figured out -- reading is fun.

Wednesday, August 13

Up Late

My head is throbbing. My eyes are blurry. And I feel like I've had about four cups of coffee (when I've had none.)

BUT we have a catalog for our first semester of Friday School -- complete with room assignments, pre-requisites, fees and teacher contact numbers. My fellow board member, Bob, is up late at his place working out some bugs in the database. He's a master at it and he's so great for staying up late with me.

Tomorrow we go to print. This week we added this great stuff to the list below:
Kids Fitness (1-3)
Board Games (1-3)
P.E. (4-6)
Christian Youth Theater (1-3)
Christian Youth Theater (4-6)
and I've moved my Flight class from 4-6 grade to 1-3 grade

Yep, we have CYT and for half the cost of a normal CYT class.
We are so dang excited to have such an awesome first semester. And we just KNOW a preschool teacher will show up before registration day!

Wednesday, August 6

The Rare Political Observation

I'm not saying anything more here other than the fact that I just really appreciate this.

On Responsibility for Education

McCain: If a school will not change, the students should be able to change schools. John McCain believes parents should be empowered with school choice to send their children to the school that can best educate them just as many members of Congress do with their own children. He finds it beyond hypocritical that many of those who would refuse to allow public school parents to choose their child’s school would never agree to force their own children into a school that did not work or was unsafe. They can make another choice. John McCain believes that is a fundamental and essential right we should honor for all parents.

Friday, August 1

How the Co-op is Going

I mentioned a while back that I and a couple families are starting a homeschool co-op in the fall. A co-op is an organized way of pulling together and teaching each other's kids in a group setting. This co-op could get really large and it caters to all ages through high school. To date, we have 28 families and 69 kids registered! I am putting together our catalog for the fall over the next two weeks. Here's what we have so far:

The Wonders of the World (1-3)
Sign Language (1-3)
Introduction to Spanish (1-3)
Biblical Truth Science Experiments (1-6)
Wonders of the World (4-6)
American Revolution History Pockets(4-6)
Flight (4-6)
Letter Writing (4-8)
Ready, Set, Draw (4-8)
Cardmaking (4-12)
Jumping Jacks & Jills (4-12)
The Laws of Cooking (7-12)
Pride & Predjudice (7-12)
Speech (7-12)
Spiritual Transformation (9-12)
Worldviews in Conflict (9-12)

There are a few more in the works and tomorrow is our deadline for class applications. We still need a nursery lead teacher and a Preschool lead teacher and two more classes for 1-3 graders. Other subjects (like sports and music) can be added as well to really round us out.

Tell your homeschooling friends to check us out at First Class Central Portland.

Wednesday, July 30

14 Years

I never thought I’d homeschool my kids. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure that I’d have kids. I wanted to live in a loft in NYC and work in marketing and make life all about me.

But then one Valentine’s Day I went on a first date with this guy I had known for years and, to be honest, never really liked all that much. I was concerned about who he chose as friends, his unpredictability and frankly his direction in life. It turns out that he, in turn, thought I was a snob.

It’s amazing how things change. And that people like us became parents of three little men whom we are trying to teach to be focused, to choose good friends and to know that life isn’t all about them. It’s sooo complex and I can only imagine how much harder it would be to send them away for 6-7 hours a days and still be able to accomplish it.

I could NOT do this without the support of my husband who works at a job he is dispassionate about simply because he is passionate about his family and wants to support us. It’s the ultimate act of love.

I get that.

I could NOT do this without him listening to me ramble about how J needs to do more of this and B is not understanding this and I think that this certain method could work for one but I’m not sure how to integrate the other into it and then there’s always S who seems to complicate things and yet…

He simply says, “You’re doing a great job.”

I could NOT do this without him taking the reigns on the occasional afternoon, cleaning the house because I let it slide until all the other work is done, going to bed without me on Sunday nights because I’m up late prepping for the week, encouraging me to keep on when I absolutely say, “I’m done,” taking the little one out of the room so we can work without him tackling us, and all the other zillion things that he does to support and protect our homeschooling endeavor.

Today we celebrate 14 years of marriage.

And just 14 more years of homeschooling to go.

Tuesday, July 29

The Planning Begins

I’m in the thick of planning and I am letting the boys each pick two topics for us to focus on at some point in our next year. I get to determine the remaining 5 which I’ll pull from our curriculum. Here is what our year looks like so far:

  • 18 days of Flight (J’s pick)
  • 21 days of Biographies
  • 19 days of The Temple/Simple Machines
  • 12 days of China (B’s pick)
  • 19 days of Last Supper and U.S. History 1865-1920 (I’m not sure what the link is either)
  • 12 days of Electricity (J’s pick)
  • 20 days of Resurrection and U.S. History 1920 – present (Again, an odd link)
  • 12 days of Space (B’s pick)
  • 19 days of Art & Music (my pick)

Add to that 16-18 days of Friday School and about 12 field trips or otherwise educational endeavors and you have 180 days to complete the school year IF you live in Washington. However, in Oregon we are not required to do any certain number of days in our school year.


We can kiss those last 12 days good-bye.

  • And every Friday in December and February. Because homeschooling in February bites. (I hear that, “amen.”)
  • And birthdays.
  • And two weeks at Christmas.
  • And two weeks at Easter.
  • And a week to just get away and do something unexpected.

O.K. now that I've planned all the breaks, I'll get back to planning the content.

Friday, July 18

Dead Language

My husband is reading Eldest to J and as a result J is interested in making his own video version of the definitions of some of the words. We've filmed a few words. Now I just need to let him loose on the editing.

I've been wanting to get J working through a foreign language for a while, but I figured I would wait until he seemed interested in one or in the process of learning one in general.

My DH suggested that this might be a good year to begin a language study since he's interested in the "ancient language."

Hmmm. So, I brought it up to J.

Me: Dad and I were wondering if you'd like to begin learning a foreign language this year.

J: {thinks a bit} Sure, as long as it's a dead language.

Me: Oh?

J: Yeah. What are some languages that no one speaks anymore?

Me: {my practical side is mourning} Well, there's Latin or maybe Biblical Greek.

J: No one speaks Greek anymore?

Me: Not Biblical Greek. It'd help you read Scripture. Latin might help you if you go into sciences one day. Or it helps you win spelling bees.

J: {thinks}

Me: You sure you wouldn't rather speak one that you could practice with someone...Spanish. German. French is almost dead.

J: Russian would be good.

Me: {Aha! I'm understanding that it's not about the language, it's just about saying the edgy thing to me} Then again, you don't have to learn one.

J: Yeah, that'd be fine.

Thursday, July 17

You Can’t Force Me, But You Can Make it Appealing.

Every summer I try to stretch my thinking by reading up on a different homeschool approach. “How many are there?” you ask. Several. Trust me.

This summer the approach is unschooling and I’m just about done with John Holt’s, Teach Your Own. I loved the beginning and then it dragged a bit in the middle because it was full of examples of how children learn without being formally “taught” (as in a lesson plan organized by an adult and imposed on a child regardless of his interest or readiness). Included were letters from people who spent the day baking, managing their business, caring for a convalescent father, or playing the violin all with their children nearby and as involved as they wanted to be. Though they took up a lot of book space, I found a lot of merit in the letters and experiences he shared.

Anyone who has ever taught anything knows that you can’t force people to learn. You can force them to perform, to memorize or to regurgitate, but you can’t force them to learn and transform. When we allow children to participate in our work, we help them feel the value of it and the value within themselves. We can give them the opportunity to learn as I do in my unit study approach, or we can seize the opportunities of the day to continue a thought, pursue a question, and be engrossed in discovery as unschooling does.

It’s all very appealing and seems quite free, but then I have to wonder how do you really get to everything…like the basics? It seems that most questions children have would be related to science or history or social studies, but how many times will they say, “Hey Mom, this book contains a really well-written paragraph. Could you show me how to structure one myself?” I think you could incorporate a lot of math into a day, but can you do it without gaps and in a sequence that makes sense like addition before multiplication? I’m not criticizing unschooling, I’m just left wondering how the writing and math happen without imposing an assignment of sorts on the child?

This is a great book to inspire you not only to encourage your children toward learning as they live, but to look into the whole package of what they are getting when they go off to school. According to Holt (and Farenga), school has very little to do with education let alone transformation. We give our kids better opportunities for both by teaching them as we are going. Good stuff to think about.

Monday, July 7

I Don’t Know How You Do It

You know who you are…you year-round homeschoolers. How do you look at these sunny days and squirt guns and even remotely link them to geography and spelling words? I just can’t do it.

Remember that report Jake and I were going to plug away at? Yeah, haven’t even touched it. Which is a bummer for him. He seriously got cheated out of the experience. Ah, well. He did get some experience in researching.

Something about summer screams, “Unstructure your life!” And even though we have things planned, camps and cookouts and camping trips, we have mornings to sleep in and tickle the baby, we have after-dinner time to walk to the playground and we have hours while the little man naps to do nothing. I think we really need to “schedule” more “do-nothing” time.

Turn off the tube and let the kids explore the stuff of the backyard and relationships and creativity. Catch up with friends whose email you’ve neglected. Dream up what comes next in the fall. And if you can do it all on a sunny deck, you’re the better for it.

Sunday, June 29

Teach Your Own

I'm reading John Holt's book this summer and it's so good. I'm trying to write down great passages so as I come across something share-worthy I'll post it here.

The preface contains a lot of thought-provoking insights:
  • Much of what has stayed with us for use in our lives as adults has very little to do with our actual school work.
  • There seems to me a suggestion [in public schools] that in learning about the world, other people's books are more important than observation.
  • "There is no such thing as teaching, only learning." -- Sister Agnes Patricia

This portion is worth 30 seconds to read:
Homeschooling isn't just another instruction delivery system; it shows us alternative ways to teach and learn, and to participate in family and community life; ways to find work or get into higher education without jumping through the standardized hoops of mass-market schooling; ways to use school rather than have school use you. Homeschooling also offers ways to think about "democracy" and "individuality," while, at the same time, avoiding the polarization that places people into lone-survivalist or drone-collectivist camps; and ways for children and adults to reunite living and learning that go far beyong doing homework together." -- Patrick Farenga.
And so I'm thinking...
...about how to make their experience less like my work and more like theirs.
...about how to let them have a greater hand in directing their education.
...about how I can let go enough so that we can really learn how to reunite living and learning.

Saturday, June 28

TFAHC, Day 4

I am a lesson planner. I love the blank lesson plan chart with all the little boxes just waiting to be filled in with ideas. I love the crinkle of them when they are all filled in with tiny pencil print. I love how it charts their abilities and tracks their progress. I love that I have an instant record of what they loved and what they didn't care so much for. And when we happen to have a day when car repairs need to happen, the baby won't nap, ministry needs to happen elsewhere and grandparents want to stop by I need to have some things in my back pocket so that we can still go about the process of learning but in a different way.

Here are some great ideas from Carol Barnier regarding what to do when the day of schooling just can't happen according to plan.

  1. Have the kids make insect creations out of stuff you have at home (or take a field trip to SCRAP for some new goodies). Give them scientific speicifications for their insect and have them give an oral presentation about it when they are done.
  2. Do a big art project that will take all day. You know, those art projects you keep putting off because they take too long? Do one of them.
  3. Have a "Day of FIVE". I love this one for those days when they need to be self-directed. She suggested: read about 5 different animals and draw and label one, look at five things under the microscope and draw and label one, Find out five things about our state (I can see this as an ongoing lapbook project), Find five things out the window and draw and label one, Look up five kinds of clouds and draw and label one. I can even see this being a great road trip activity.
  4. Play a board game, but instead of just rolling and moving have them answer a review question before they move.
  5. Math Fun Day. Lots of great things you can do with this.
  6. Have a historical movie watching and re-enacting day -- requires previewing the movie and prepping activities, but it's a good one to keep in your back pocket.
  7. Nature Walk and Sketch Pad day
  8. Celebrate an Author Day
  9. Sewing Project Day
  10. and my favorite -- Recreate a Reading Rainbow episode on your own topic. Lots of scripting and filming and even a field trip needs to be worked into this one. I can't wait to let my kids have their shot at this idea.

Monday, June 23

TFAHC, Day 3

The OCEANetwork Conference was only two days... but I have a few more days of thoughts to share.

Today's thought is simple because I couldn't connect with the overall perspective of this speaker, but he did say this upon trying to instill in us the desire to reach our children's hearts:
"When you have outstretched arms, you can't control anything." -- Mark Hamby

Fair enough.

Sunday, June 22

TFAHC, Day 2

Books for Boys

If you have boys you may have found that they don't catch on to reading as early as your daughters might. I wouldn't know because I don't have any daughters. However, I do have one son that blasted off with reading when he was four and one son who is six and could really live without it.

Jan Bloom gave some good tips at her workshop for getting your reluctant boys to read. (I won't share all of them because she makes her living doing these workshops and selling books):
  • Choose books that are full of information, action or excitement.
  • Make books accessible and available. Give them their own bookshelf and put the books on it that you want them to look at.
  • Write a story together with him. Let him dictate it to you while you write it down. When he sees his own words in print he can illustrate it and share his work with other people -- which is what reading and writing is all about.
  • Let him choose predictable stories... these are the ones that drive you crazy... because predictability enchants children.
  • Let him label his own books and feel the ownership.
  • Create a family reading journal that you all fill out with the author, title, number of pages, and what you liked best about the books you all are reading. Boys need to see the whole family reading for enjoyment (particularly their dads).
  • When you read aloud to him let him move around: build with Legos, mold with clay, color.... or throw darts like mine like to do.
I do many of these things already. The most important thing is to remember that it's completely normal for a boy to hold off on reading until he's 9, 10 or even 11. Once they get it, they'll catch up very quickly and read with passion. It's been proven over and over again. So, I'm not sweating it.

Friday, June 20

Thoughts from a Homeschool Conference, Day 1

“Jeremiah 29:11 is not a promise for you right here, right now.” Thank you for verbalizing this, Voddie Bauchum. Homeschoolers are NOTORIUS for taking scripture out of context and claiming promises that were never intended for them or for anyone from the 2nd century on. (Case in point: Proverbs 22:6 -- Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it -- is not a promise. Although it is wisdom.)

Consider that scripture not only contains Jeremiah 29:11 --

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
But it also contains Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 --

“Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.”

Either it’s a contradiction or we’re reading something wrong.

So if Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t a promise for me right here right now, where does that leave me?

  1. There’s something wrong with me.
  2. There’s something wrong with God.
  3. God forgot or was hindered.
  4. The text doesn’t mean what we think.

The answer is D. I can’t tell you how many times over the last five years I have had to reconcile all of my former church “quip” teaching with what I have experienced firsthand in a life that gropes to experience and follow God.

  1. “God is never late.” Huh?
  2. “God will always give you his best.” Homelessness is his best?
  3. “Everyday with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” An irritating fantasy.

I’ve had hardship and struggle that I never imagined I would have -- and I'm not done yet. He allowed, and will continue to allow, all of it. And I have learned, much like the people Jeremiah was REALLY talking to, to embrace the struggle, put down roots and live in the midst of oppression, disappointment, fear and the complete silence of God.

So, today a room full of homeschool leaders had a lesson in hermeneutics. And I was glad to hear someone say outloud what I’ve been screaming on the inside.

Stop claiming other people’s promises and get on with seeking out the relationship that the Father wants to have with you. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, June 16

Homeschooling When It's Summer

I saw a friend the other day who schools all summer long and their family takes off all of November and December. I really, really like that idea. I’m sure the holidays are slower and cozier and more family-oriented that way. But all of me wants to be off when the sun is shining. If it’s raining and cold outside, I’d rather be inside doing other things… like learning and creating things.

That’s not to say that summer isn’t a GREAT time for learning because it is. I like to think that we just learn in different ways in the summer. For instance, the library summer reading program just began on Friday. One of my kids has already read for nine hours. The other for four. That reading time is priceless for them in so many ways.

The boys began swim lessons today. Next week they will do a sport/VBS camp at a friend’s church. Other weeks the boys are signed up for basketball, rock climbing and even Tae Kwon Do on Fridays. These are learning opportunities that aren’t offered during the day in a typical school year. So, we soak them up in the summer and they think they are just having fun.

So, perhaps we actually do “school” year-round. But the point of this endeavor is not to compartmentalize our education into seasons, but to learn how to learn every day of the year. For us, home schooling doesn’t really stop in the summer -- it just looks different.

Monday, June 9

Summer Reading

Men and Women in the Church by Sarah Sumner…. This book formed my thinking several years ago. I think it’s time for a re-read to see if I’m still in the same place or if I’ve moved.

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright … I am co-hosting a summer Theology Park group on Friday mornings. Can't wait to dive into this one.

Essays on Learning…. Saw some things at Barnes and Noble I’d like to explore.

The Religious Potential of the Child 6-12 by Sophia Cavaletti… I read the version for preschool age children several years ago and it gave me weeks of chewing material.

Teach Your Own by John Holt… Every summer I try to dive into some different part of the homeschooling world and see what I can glean from it. This is one of the pioneer secular thinkers.

My Antonia by Willa Cather… Sometimes literature just calls to me and I've no idea why. This is the case here. I just think it's time to read this one.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck... I like a little dose of my favorite author every summer. Time for a re-read of this one.

Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott... I asked for (and recieved) this one for Christmas and just haven't had the time until now.

Visual Faith by William Dyerness... I asked for (and recieved) this one for a birthday two years ago. In my attempt to combine art and worship, I think I need to wade through this one.

If I get through three of these, I’ll be good.