Friday, February 24, 2012

Homeschool 5.0

Wow. Nearly a year since my last post. Between the busy-ness of life and getting on Facebook, I've been swamped. I've been thinking lately that it is about time that I write up another homeschooling post. We are winding down with our fifth year at homeschooling and I think my views and experiences have evolved some. It's time to do some more thinking out loud to share where we are now.

We started homeschooling officially with the Pillowfight Fairy when she was four and a half and a kindergartner. We also had a two year old Adrenaline Junkie and a baby Happy Boy. When we began, I was about half exhilarated and half desperately researching how to go about teaching our daughter. My own experiences in public schools and both public and private colleges were my baseline and I had a vision in my head of how school at home would work. Tim was very supportive and did a lot of the theory and philosophy research to help us get a good foundation for what we were trying to accomplish. I was more focused on researching curricula and the practical aspects of doing school at home. We complemented each other well in that way.

So far, it has seemed like each and every year has been the most challenging. Each and every year presents new situations and challenges. As a result, I think we have adapted and grown. First, though, let me say what has stayed the same.

We are still committed to homeschooling our kids. The more we do it, the more it feels right. We see more and more benefits all the time. We like having our kids with us. We like having that time together whether work or play. We like being able to answer their questions when they come up. We like being able to address behavior issues right away. We like to be able to explain to them our perspectives on what they are learning and how our opinions have been shaped. We like to incorporate our faith into our school day instead of keeping it "separate and apart."

We still like our choice of educational philosophies: classical/eclectic. Besides the fact that it fits our personalities well, we find that it provides a strong foundation and yet is flexible enough to our family quirks and, yes, weirdness to be beneficial. We like sharing the old traditional stories handed down through the ages. We like teaching history and literature in a complementary way. I once said that I never really learned English grammar until I studied French. Now I can say that I never knew my English grammar so well as when I had to teach it and Latin, too. I am enjoying learning some of the things that I didn't get in school myself, whether from my inattention to lessons or simply because it wasn't taught anymore. I like seeing the change in my kids as they start to gain a good foundation in math, reading, and writing. They become more confident and ambitious. They begin to dream up ideas of what new things they want to do and challenges worthy of conquering.

Another constant is that although our kids are getting older, they have the same personality traits we noticed early on. The Pillowfight Fairy is still a high-strung serious kid in many ways. Right now she is nine going on "teen." She loves poetry and art, sports and space. She is predictably unpredictable. The Adrenaline Junkie has trouble focusing on one thing for very long. She is full of ideas and plans. She is constantly trying to improve whatever she is doing at the moment. She talks constantly, wants to meet everyone and make them her friends, and can not stop in one place for long. For those of you familiar with Bellwether, by Connie Willis, I can describe her by saying that she's got "itch." If anything, they aren't changing so much as deepening their personalities and becoming more defined. We are more familiar now with the Happy Boy's personality. He's our do-it-yourselfer. He is very independent and head-strong to the point of extreme stubbornness. He is still very much a happy kid. He just is less so, since he doesn't get his own way so much. The Chunk is a bit of a charmer. He is more of a people person than his brother. But I see some signs of an independent streak in him too.

We still still care enough about these kids to do what is in our power to give them the best education we can. As I say this, I know that someone will want to take that sentence and twist it into something I do not intend, namely a judgment against someone else. Let me elaborate for clarity. Our caring for our kids is our motivation. This motivation prompts us to act and make decisions in regards to their education. We can only act and decide in the framework of what we have power over. The education that is best in our eyes is the education that suits them and allows them to advance and be challenged in ways that bring out the best in them.

The final thing that stays the same is that I always seem to agonize every year about how much to teach, whether I'm over scheduling, and whether there is a better way to accomplish our goals. I usually make a very ambitious plan. I never complete absolutely everything that I plan, but I do get us through most of it and more of it than people generally expect us to do. I think it is healthy to keep asking myself if there is a better way. It keeps me from getting too complacent.

So, what has changed? We have four kids now and have said goodbye to another who was with us all too briefly. We have even busier lives than five years ago because we have chosen to not put some dreams on hold while we raise our kids. Some of those dreams have been remodeling projects, raising food, Tim's multitude of hobbies (Musical Theater being the currently active one), sewing projects, being hospitable, and keeping ourselves fit. The older our kids get, the more circles of connection intertwine through our lives and provide more and more commitments.

These past years I have also learned that good planning up front pays off each year as I try to get our lessons completed day after day. Life doesn't flow calmly and seamlessly from one thing to the next. There are bumps in the road of life. The best laid plans have to still deal with sicknesses, injuries, special occasions of many types. It is also true that no matter how well I plan, every lesson plan eventually has glitches and a need to switch to "plan B" to get us to our goals. Our most obvious glitch this past year was that our art lessons weren't lining up very well with when Tim was able to work with the girls (he being the best prepared to teach this year's art lessons). We are a few months behind on the planned art lessons. So, instead of giving up or over working ourselves, plan B is that art lessons will pick up again as Tim's schedule frees up and continue as part of our summer light load of work.

This next year, I expect to do some major shifting of methods as our Pillowfight Fairy leaves the grammar stage and enters in on the logic stage. In the logic stage, she will have more responsibility to work on her own. We will be working more on the whys of things rather than merely the whats of things. She will be learning formal logic and real life problem solving to a degree she has not had before. This will be a fundamental shift in our methods. It will be a shift that is both tricky and helpful as I have two younger kids still working at the grammar level (plus one that will be wanting Mommy to read to him all the time). Partially because of our busy lives and partially because of the many changes coming up, I am later than usual in doing my yearly planning. I have only a simple diagram of what I want to accomplish. Normally by this time of year I'm putting the final touches on my lesson plans and have all needed books and supplies purchased. I still have some major decisions to make about what school will be like for the Pillowfight Fairy. Then, once those decisions are made, I need to plan the reality of how three kids will learn their lessons everyday. When we do school together, we all have to adjust as each member of the family has changes to deal with. Even though I have been pleased with how the girls have been progressing in our chosen curricula during the grammar stage, that doesn't mean I can just repeat everything exactly as it was done before. They are each individuals of vastly differing personalities and we have to find a balance that works for us all.

Another thing that has changed over the years is that I have found that when I talk to people about homeschooling, I am less likely to deal with the usual talking points that come up between homeschoolers and institutional schoolers. I am more likely to talk about goals and results. I suppose that plays to my tendency to focus on practical issues. I care about theory. But, I see the goal as coming first, then the theory is what you pull from to choose your actions. The results are important, because they give you feedback on whether your theory is helping you meet your goals. Since every individual has a different set of goals they are starting out with, you really need to back up to that to figure out if you are speaking about the same things or simply talking past each other.

I am also less concerned that my kids don't like the work that I insist that they do. I don't subscribe to the theory that all learning must be happy and fun. It is nice when my kids enjoy their schoolwork, but I want them to learn some of the stuff they don't enjoy too. An example of this is where we have been making our kids learn piano. They hate to learn piano. They grumble every day they practice. Yet, we have noticed that they have learned and made progress. They were once despairing of ever succeeding, and now they know that they can in fact do it. They have gained confidence and enjoy showing people their skills. They goof off on their own time, playing the piano for fun sometimes. We are not completely heartless in our dictates, however. They have expressed a desire to play instruments other than the piano. We happily will comply with their desires (The Pillowfight Fairy wants to learn guitar and the Adrenaline Junkie wants to learn harp). But, we will do so on the condition that they achieve a particular level of skill at the piano first. As they grow older, I expect we will do more of this sort of thing. Once they have a good foundation in an area, we will allow them more say in what they learn. For the upcoming school year for instance, I gave the Pillowfight Fairy a choice about her language studies. She could continue learning Latin or she could switch over to learning a modern language. Since she had expressed interest in the past in learning Spanish, I had expected her to choose that. Instead she surprised me by choosing to continue in Latin.

Earlier I mentioned that I started out on this journey with my own schooling experiences as my baseline. I was trying to guide our homeschool journey based on that and a vision for something different. Now I find that while teaching our kids, that baseline is shifting. My experiences now include public school, private school, and homeschool. My vision is not merely something in my head anymore. It is a reality that we live with daily. That vision is less nebulous and more concrete with every passing year.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Science: What Good Is It?

A friend recently brought up the idea that she didn't find science like physics and chemistry much help in everyday life after she left high school and wasn't recommending them unless someone was planning to further their education in those particular fields. I understand this idea, because I encountered when I was studying history in college. Whenever people would find out that was my major, they would follow up with the question: "What are you going to do with it... teach?" At the time, I had no intention whatsoever to be a teacher, so this bothered me to no end. The purpose of studying history is not to simply teach it to others. There is some benefit to the student other than to pass on the story of our lives to others.

Through the years, I've encountered this same argument for other subjects as well. Another example is theology. Most people don't bother studying theology. Most people think that the study of theology is only for those going into ministry as a career. I've found that a study of theology is helpful to identify what the student really believes (philosophy does this as well for those non-religious folk). I remember an instance when an individual called up our library to find out from someone if the children's curriculum they were about to use at their church could be trusted to have sound doctrine. I realized that if this person couldn't read a children's bible lesson and determine the adequacy of the doctrine presented, they didn't have a good grasp of their own beliefs and had a bigger problem than what are we going to teach this Sunday. They were at risk of following anyone they trust blindly and so be misled.

So, I find that there are a lot of subjects that I think that all of us could benefit from having a good grounding in. This is true whether we intend to follow that as a career or not. So let me address this issue with science. Is science useful in everyday life? What is it good for?

I agree that if you are going into some science based career, then yes a challenging, high level science curriculum is what you need. But what about most of us that do not go that route. Are we right to give science a cursory glance then discount it from there on out? I would say no. I think many of us use science every day but don't realize it because we aren't using the periodical table or doing experiments. We might agree that biology has importance because it helps us understand our bodies and what will keep them healthy. We might find Meteorology important because it helps us predict the weather and understand the change in climate where we live. But how many people realize that they are doing chemistry when they cook? Nutrition is biochemistry. Any mechanic worth his pay not only knows how to fix the machine in front of him, but understands how it works (that is physics). If you are moving furniture in your house but are concerned that you not strain a bad back, you use what you know of physic to minimize the stress to your back by using methods helpful in doing this work (dollies, wheels, sliding sheets, etc.) so your back doesn't take the brunt of the weight or strain while the forces are in action. If you garden or farm, you are engaging in biology, botany, and chemistry.

Even if we eliminate these methods of using science in everyday life, don't many of our other endeavors incorporate science. If you build something, you may actually be doing engineering work, but it helps to understand the properties of the materials you use. That is science. If you are doing artwork, it is similarly helpful to know your materials and what they are capable of. That is science. If you are teaching your children as you take a walk, that involves science (naming animals, explaining clouds and rain, why the leaves fall, new flowers in spring).

Perhaps you say this is too casual a use of science to justify much more than a very simple study in the younger ages. I would still disagree. Whenever we follow a course of study in a particular subject area, there are facts we learn, their are methods of thinking we learn, and their are exercises for the brain that we participate in that all have value.

With science, we learn many, many facts that will show up all throughout our lives. If we have some understanding of them, we won't be lost in a conversation when the facts are brought up. We will have some idea if the facts used are being used in proper context or not. We will not have to rely on another person to be our authority for what we know about it. This comes into play a lot in the political realm these days. We have all sorts of scientific claims being made about climate change and political solutions presented to deal with it. With some understanding of the facts behind the topic, we are better informed when it is time for a vote to determine public policy.

Science also has a way of thinking associated with it. It is called "scientific method." With scientific method, you have a question before you about how something works in our world. A theory is formed. Then the scientific method tests the theory for weaknesses. Does it hold up when we try to prove or disprove it? This type of thinking develops good logic and critical thinking skills. I would suggest that this type of thinking, like anything else that is a discipline, requires practice. Participating in scientific study helps us get the practice we need to think through things clearly.

I suspect this is the part that bothers people the most. First, because none of us really like to practice things that aren't our favorite topic. Secondly, because they are afraid that if they follow this method of thinking too much they might ask unthinkable questions that would undermine their cherished beliefs. Maybe, but sometimes when we ask such questions, we actually free ourselves from our own man-made presumptions. Once upon a time, theologians taught that the earth was the center of the universe. That wasn't in the Bible, but it was considered so true that the scientists who reported discoveries that suggested otherwise were persecuted. Now we see the theologians of that time as wrong, holding us back from understanding the world better. Can a person fall away from their faith by asking some of these science questions, unfortunately yes. But, I have found that many times, the faith lost is one with a faulty foundation where any challenging question is considered heretical doubt. The problem is not with the science so much as the faith foundations. And when the faulty foundation is discovered the choice before us is to either correct the foundation or reject it. As we grow from child to adult, all of us pick up ideas along the way that we are convinced of, but we discover ourselves wrong later. It wasn't anyone's fault. It was just a mis-communication or misunderstanding that didn't get fixed at the time. A silly example I can think of is an old friend confessed at one point that she thought that penguins were 6 feet tall until she was an adult. Now some get pretty good sized (emperor penguins can grow to about 4 feet I understand), but this was a mistaken idea she picked up as a kid. Sometimes these ideas get corrected earlier, sometimes they linger until we are grown. At some point when faced with a disagreement between what we think we know and what evidence we are given, we have to make a choice which way to go on it. Do we flip a coin, follow the crowd, follow someone we consider wise, or do we think it through carefully using a method like the scientific method. Sometimes we simply need to mend our foundational beliefs to more accurately reflect reality instead of rejecting them completely.

I do not believe science is the enemy of religion and religion is not the enemy of science. Too often we put them on opposite sides and make them face off. However, science is simply observing what is around us and trying to make sense of it by using our senses and our ability to use reason. Religion and philosophy is the search for truth, whether by human discovery or divine revelation. Since divine revelation is outside the realm of scientific inquiry, science really can't touch it. I will also say that I have not yet found a question that put my understanding of science or my faith into conflict.

Why do I feel the need to go into a digression about religion? Simply because our culture has been pitting the two off on each other for quite a while now. I would also say that in my own faith tradition there has been a pronounced distrust of "too much" learning and especially of science learning. That is because a lot of young people went off to college unprepared, and lost their faith along the way. Those who loved and lost them blamed the education they received. I suspect there was more of a problem with their faith foundations or a problem with their critical thinking skills.

So I consider a good foundation in science as essential as a good foundation in theology or English grammar. When a person has a "good" foundation that which you build upon it will be stable and more likely to hold together when trouble and tests come. And none of us has control over what those life tests might be.

What else is science useful for if you aren't going into the science field as a career? Should a someone going into missions or religious ministry need science for their life's chosen career? Absolutely. I don't even hesitate on that answer. It is useful. Let me explain my thinking.

Say a person wishes to do mission work or otherwise be in religious ministry (and for many of us we consider this a necessary avocation of all believers and not just a vocation for some). They will be encountering many people whom they wish to persuade that this faith is worthwhile for them to adopt for themselves. We may be successful in persuading some, because they see the benefits of following a higher moral standard than they had before. Some may be attracted by the purposeful service that can be a very fulfilling life. Some are attracted by the good, healthy and helpful relationships they find there. But, there will always be a sizable number of people in our society that reject religion because they see the believers they encounter as ignorant fools. That doesn't mean that religious people are ignorant fools, but they don't often encounter religious people who can discuss some of the issues that are important to them that are based on scientific facts (though sometimes they mistake facts and theories and don't have very good critical thinking skills themselves). If they encounter one of these well-meaning, but scientifically illiterate, religious folk and challenge them about what they believe about X, Y, or Z scientific ideas of the day, and the person responds "I don't know about that, but I know Jesus loves you", they won't take them seriously. Even if they agree that you are a good person, or a loving and philanthropic person, even if they like your friendship and appreciate any help and care you give them in a time of need, they will still discount your faith if it cannot address what they think is important. For many people in our society, science is their god-less belief system. Until you can talk to them where they are, they don't respect you. I know this because I have talked to many such persons. A conversation might start up about some discovery or some pet theory that they are following and somewhere near the end of the conversation religion comes up and they let slip that they are surprised that an intelligent person believes in God. You see in their circles of acquaintance, this doesn't happen. They usually discount the religious people they meet as well-meaning perhaps, but deluded. They have stopped listening to you. The ability to understand a conversation involving scientific principles or the latest theories, provides you a chance to keep a door open with someone (metaphorically speaking), instead of having it slammed in your face.

The ability to understand scientific method and to use good critical thinking skills allows you to be aware of sound or unsound theories, good or faulty logic, which is both useful to you personally and useful when discussing these things with others. The study of science exercises your brain to wrestle with difficult questions, examine evidence, evaluate trustworthiness of theories, and be prepared to use what you know and understand when called upon to act on this information.

So yes, I wholeheartedly recommend science as an essential area of study, even if it is not your chosen career. Just as I recommend a good grounding in language arts, or math, or religion. The facts you learn in them are useful. The ability to understand and ask good questions in them is useful. The ability to apply these areas of study in your life is useful.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Typical Homeschool Day For Us

I don't know that I've ever described in detail what a typical homeschool day looks like for us. So I took the time to take notes along the way today to help me describe the day in detail.

Disclaimer: This was a typical day in that we didn't have anything out of the ordinary planned for the day. Not every day looks like this. Some days have more work, some have less. Different subjects may be covered from day to day. Some days we start earlier, but we rarely start later (today was a late start day). I do not schedule each minute. I keep in mind what is important for me to accomplish for the day and just keep plugging away until we finish. As you will see, it can be rather chaotic and busy. If there is a badly timed appointment or someone comes down sick, It throws everything off. Also, I don't need to do a lot of lesson planning along the way. I do all of my lesson planning for the year before the school year starts (not standard practice, I'm told), so that I just have to pick up on the next day's lessons where we left off in the plan. This rendition does not include all conversations had along the way. I don't tell about all of the bathroom trips or diaper changes. I skipped at least one altercation between kids. This is simply to give a feel for what goes on during the day.

This is not anyone else's typical day homeschooling. Just ours. Every homeschooling family handles things their own way, based on their own priorities, skills, talent, time, resources, etc. I did not have this kind of schedule last year and I probably won't have this kind of schedule next year. As the kids grow older the family dynamics and the school lessons change as they need to to accommodate our changing needs. I am not dictating this type of life for anyone else (make your own decisions please). That said, my disclaimer is over. Hang on it's a wild ride....

6:30 AM: The Chunk starts fussing in his crib in our room. We don't want to be up yet, so we let him fuss a little while longer.

7:00 AM: Tim starts getting ready for the day while I feed the baby and change a diaper. I put the baby on the middle of the bed and lay down again to nap until my turn for the shower.

7:30 AM: I get my clean-up time while Tim takes The Chunk with him to get breakfast. Tim checks news online while he eats breakfast, and The Chunk hangs out in a high chair next to the computer and plays. I join them at some point and then wake up the other kids. The Happy Boy wants a Mommy cuddle and then breakfast soon after.

8:00 AM: Tim is off to work. The Chunk is moved over next to the table and I start making breakfast for myself and the kids. The Happy Boy asks for green eggs this morning and I'm in a good mood and oblige. He and I have green eggs and toast.

8:30 AM: The Chunk starts to fuss since he is seeing us eat. I take a break from breakfast to feed the baby his "second breakfast," rice cereal and mushy bananas. In the meantime the girls wander in. After the baby is finished, I fix the girls breakfast. They are in the mood for toaster waffles this morning with their preferred toppings. Then I get to finish my breakfast. The Happy Boy finishes breakfast first and asks to play a computer game.

9:00 AM: The Happy Boy is on the computer while the girls get dressed. I put dishes in the dishwasher and run it (I forgot to the night before). I bring in two basketfuls of clean laundry that didn't get folded from the day before and dump them on my bed, deliver previously folded clean laundry to various bedrooms, and pay a bill. The girls have gotten dressed and come out to play on the computer, too. The Chunk has been playing on his playmat all this time and is starting to get fussy. After a diaper change and swaddling, he goes down for a nap.

9:30 AM: I help the Happy Boy get dressed. He then gets out some paper and a pencil and starts drawing and writing. He asks me how to spell various words. I check emails and facebook. I do a status comment on facebook. Then I send an email to my doctor with an appointment question. Since my allergies are causing me trouble this week, I do a sinus rinse. The Happy Boy comes over to watch (cheap thrills).

10:00 AM: I start lessons with the Pillowfight Fairy doing a Bible reading and a review of the latest latin lesson. The Adrenaline Junkie decides to make a home-made coloring book in her bedroom and the Happy Boy finishes off one more game on the computer. While the Fairy finishes her Latin lesson on her own, I do a Bible reading with the Adrenaline Junkie. Next, the Happy Boy asks for a snack, cheetos. I fix myself a mug of hot tea and put some chicken in the crock pot for tonight's dinner. I hear a cry over the baby monitor so check on the baby. It was only a phantom baby cry, he's still asleep.

10:30 AM: Back to lessons, I do a narration practice and writing practice with the Pillowfight Fairy. We read a chapter from the Last of the Mohicans (an elementary school level adaptation), while the Happy Boy is building a train track. The Adrenaline Junkie comes asking for help. She accidentally put some of her pages to her home-made coloring book in upside down and wants help to fix it.

11:00 AM: Back to lessons. This time I work with the Adrenaline Junkie while The Pillowfight Fairy plays in her room. We do some reading practice from a book of her choice. Today she chose "Madeline Says Merci." While we read, the Happy Boy climbs into Mommy's lap to listen to the story. Then I have her copy a sentence that I choose from the book. The Happy Boy goes back to his trains. The Adrenaline Junkie next has a spelling lesson and a math page. I hear the baby wake up during the math lesson. I get him up and change his diaper while the Junkie finishes the page on her own.

11:30 AM: The Junkie rushes off to her room to play with her sister. The Happy Boy joins them and all three older kids have play time while I feed The Chunk his next meal "elevensies" which is just a snack of oat cereal. After he's done, he plays in his highchair while I make lunches for everyone else.

12:00 PM: The Pillowfight Fairy gets PB & J, string cheese and a pineapple fruit cup. the Adrenaline Junkie and Happy Boy have other tastes. They each get a hot dog, slice of bread, slice of cheddar, and raisins. The boy likes milk, the girls take water. I reheat some leftovers for my lunch, add an orange and finish off my now cold tea. The Chunk starts to think it isn't fair that we are stuffing our faces in front of him and starts to complain. After I eat, I get desert for the Happy Boy (ice cream and caramel sauce) then feed the Chunk his next bottle. It turns out that the baby wasn't as hungry as he was making himself out to be. I chalk it up to teething. The Adrenaline Junkie skips dessert. The Pillowfight Fairy eats all but half of her sandwich. I save it for later, guessing that she will get hungry before dinner time. Then I clear the table, wipe it down, and hand wash some bottles and other non-dishwasher items. The Pillowfight Fairy reads from a comic book of Calvin and Hobbes while the Adrenaline Junkie and Happy Boy listen.

12:30 PM: After a while the younger two run off to play in the girls' room. The baby still is making not quite content noises so I pick him up and hold him while I check emails and facebook. My doctor responded to my message so I follow up on that. I surf the web while I bounce a baby on my knee.

1:00 PM: Our break is over. I put the baby down on his play mat while I get kids to clean up the bedroom. The Pillowfight Fairy has the job of sweeping under the dining room table. The Adrenaline Junkie and the Happy Boy take turns dusting various rooms of the house. I keep getting the kids focused on their chores until I hear a mad baby yelling from the other room. He has had enough of his mat and just wants to yell. I get him down for another nap.

1:30 PM: Chores are over and we go back to lessons. I start with a science reading with the Pillowfight Fairy. Afterwards I ask her to draw a diagram of something we read about. She asks to do a 3-D craft to illustrate and I agree. While she does that, I read to the other two. Three stories later the Pillowfight Fairy is done and wants a story. I read to her and the Happy Boy while the Adrenaline Junkie starts her piano practice.

2:00 PM: Then the Fairy reads to herself and the Happy Boy while I check the food in the crockpot and shift the loads of laundry. Then I call up Tim to check in with him. I tell him how the day is going and he reminds me to call someone about a babysitting job we need done. After the Adrenaline Junkie finishes piano practice, she celebrates because she's done with schoolwork for the day. The Pillowfight Fairy does her piano practice next while the others play with legos. I call our potential babysitter and leave a message. Then I make a new batch of formula, unload the dishwasher and reload it with the lunch dishes. I bring in the mail and sort it.

2:30 PM: I hear the baby crying over the baby monitor. I go get him up, change a diaper, and give him his "tea time" bottle. I note that the lego play has transformed into quite a production. They are re-enacting the scene where Moses breaks the tablets of the ten commandments because of the Israelites' worship of the golden calf. The Chunk gets some cuddle time with Mommy while we wait for piano practice to end.

3:00 PM: After piano, all three older kids want a snack. The Pillowfight Fairy gets the remainder of her sandwich from lunch and some potato chips. The Adrenaline Junkie wants a handful of cheerios (new in the house again since we are starting to feed solids to the baby). Happy Boy gets a graham cracker and potato chips. I then record what school work was completed thus far while the baby plays on a blanket nearby. I play and sing with the baby and the Fairy comes and joins me. The other two have to pick up the legos they left out.

3:30 PM: Next the Pillowfight Fairy cleans the table to get ready for more school work. The Adrenaline Junkie gets out a flannelgraph to play with. The Happy Boy watches the flannelgraph play for a while and then asks for another computer game. I am carrying around the baby with me at this point. I sort the clothing piles on the bed according to whose they are. I get the Fairy started with her math page. I stay close by to help her stay focused on her work.

4:00 PM: The Chunk is fussy and tired still. His last nap was too short. I put him down for a nap again and deliver the sorted clothes to the proper rooms. I come back to the Fairy and help her remember some parts that are still new for her and we work through them together. The computer game is too distracting, so that gets turned off and the Junkie and Happy Boy clean up the room and then stage a mock battle.

4:30 PM: With the math page done, the Pillowfight Fairy joyfully goes off to play in her room. Her school day is done. The Adrenaline Junkie is allowed to pick a video to watch (the kids have to take turns and this was her turn to pick a video and to say prayers for us before meals).

5:00 PM: While the kids are enjoying themselves, I check the math page and make sure a needed correction gets made. Then I break up the chicken in the crockpot and add BBQ sauce. I make sure the bread rolls for BBQ sandwiches are thawed and cut up some carrot sticks as a side dish. The Pillowfight Fairy wanders out from time to time to watch parts of the video. Then she goes back to her own entertainments in the bedroom. I have a spare moment again so decide to do another sinus rinse, without an audience this time. I finish just in time. I start to hear happy baby sounds over the baby monitor.

5:30 PM: I get The Chunk up from his nap. I give him an afternoon snack of barley cereal. He then gets play time in his chair while I sit nearby getting the next days lesson books in order and finish recording the days schoolwork. The school day is done, and dinner will be ready when Tim gets home.

The evening activities vary quite a bit from day to day. There is usually some clean up in the kitchen. Kids have to clean up toys before bed. Our main accomplishments tonight were having Tim check my calculations on our State Tax Return that I had done on a previous evening and my composing this blog post. The kids played some more. Tim spent some time in the backyard checking on some pepper plants and just enjoying the outdoors.

It was a busy day. I didn't get much time to rest in between one task and another. I do get lots of variety of activities. On some days I make a point of going for a walk with the kids or spend time in the backyard. I actually avoided that today because the allergens are overloading my system lately. When I go to sleep tonight, my rest will be well earned.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Mea culpa

It is my fault.

I was wrong.

I spoke carelessly and hurt people I care about.

I hurt them to the point that they won't let me say I'm sorry.

My intentions however harmless, had results that I never imagined. Now they see me as someone I do not believe I am. But my actions toward them tell them that I am that kind of person.

In tears and sorrow, I am heartily ashamed of myself.

I wish to make it right, but I know I can't.

I wish I could explain myself better... to help them see what I really meant. I am afraid any attempt to do so would result in my digging a bigger hole than I already have.

I was rude and insensitive.

I am too blunt and tactless.

I forgot that computer messages are notoriously bad medium for touchy subjects.

This is the best I can figure out to do. I publicly apologize. I provide the following links so that people can see for themselves how I have behaved badly. This is my public confession. I will do my utmost, with God's help, to change my ways.

The original post to which I made a comment. ( Update: After publishing I realized that since all commenting has been removed, you are no longer able to see my horribly insensitive comment. This is also why I cannot apologize where the damage was done.)

The results and response to my actions.

I am sure that many others of you will be as horrified as I am that such a wonderful blogger is closing his blog because of my actions. I am truly, truly sorry. Those words cannot convey the depths of my sorrow, but they are the only ones I have.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Observations from a week of sunshine

The following are some thoughts that were triggered in the last week. They run the gamut of topics so I won't try to group them. It has just been one of those weeks when all sorts of thoughts are stirred up.

We had our first full week of sunshine in a long long time. It was wonderful. I had started to forget what it was like. Once again we were able to go for walks (the neighbors tell me they think of them more as parades). We managed to get three walks in this week. I would have done two more except for appointments that disarranged the other two days. We did get some time for play in the backyard too... once the ground dried out for a few days. The kids and I always feel more energized and happy when we get some outside time.

through the years I have been thinking more and more that we need time outside among growing things. We need to become familiar with the land and sky. We need to acquaint ourselves with plants and wild life. We need to learn the ways of weather. It is when we learn more about these things that we become more acquainted to the God who made them. When we learn more about God and his creation, we start to understand the ways of God and how the world really works. When we isolate ourselves from nature in man made buildings, grouped into man made cities, doing man made jobs, for man made reasons, we start to lose our grasp on the character of God. We lose our grasp on reality and lose perspective on what is really important. Now I will agree that these man made things are useful and in many ways necessary for our survival. But they are not all there is and they can lead us to destruction if we don't open our eyes to that which was not made by man.

One day this week I took the kids for a playdate with friends while I had a dentist appointment. It was scheduled for our most productive time of day so I just let the kids have the day off from school. They loved that too. In some ways I got some time off too, but I noticed that most of the day was chaotic and the place turned into a big mess. I keep rediscovering that whenever we have a schedule or even a general plan for the day, everything goes much more smoothly and needed things get accomplished. But, every time that I let schedules or plans go out the window, nothing much gets accomplished at all. I even think the kids don't get to have as much fun in some ways. They get caught up in minor issues instead of the things that are more important to them. They end up never getting around to the stuff they said that they wanted to do. This theme keeps recurring enough that I'm tempted to go to a more year-round schedule than what we currently have. The main reason I haven't is because I have a tendency to over-schedule myself. I need the extra time to deal with days lost along the way for appointments, sickness, or other unplanned events. I need the time to consider what worked and what needs to come next. I need a break to get ready for doing it all again, even if the kids tend to get a bit chaotic. I guess I'll just have to give the kids a basic non-school day schedule to give them their needed structure.

Today, we had the Pillowfight Fairy's main evaluation to determine if she has Asperger's Syndrome. The preliminary answer to that is "no." But the evaluation was useful, because it did determine where she is having communication and social issues that can be improved upon. We will probably be investigating how to best integrate some extra training into her school schedule next year. And for those who are always questioning homeschooling's ability to properly socialize individuals, our daughter's issues are not the result of homeschooling. We know this because her siblings do not have these issues even though they are growing up in a homeschooling environment just like their sister. Rather these issues are individual to her and would be there whether she were homeschooled or attended a traditional school. In fact, it is her differences early on that convinced us that public school or even an institutional private school would be inappropriate for her. And it is her differences now, that made us wonder if there was something more specific that needed to be addressed. I like that we have the flexibility to find our way and follow the path that our daughter needs to go along. I like that we as her parents can weigh our options and determine what seems best for her, rather than trying to fit her into someone else's idea of how she should be educated.

I find it interesting that although we started homeschooling to fit the needs of our eldest daughter, we discovered that it fit the needs of the whole family, too. The only drawback I see to our homeschooling is the great effort that is needed to get it done. I don't say this to mean that I regret it. Homeschooling is one of the most challenging and yet rewarding things that I have ever done. I just keep coming back to the feeling that other people would also benefit from homeschooling, but they are afraid of the challenge and the work. Yes it is a lot of work. It requires discipline. It requires sacrifices in time, money, and numberless daily choices. But like the farmer working his land or the musician practicing his instrument or the businessman trying to succeed in his career, good results only come if you put in the work that is needed. I think if you asked any teacher they would probably tell you they wished their students, students' parents and everyone in the education process put in a 100% effort into the lives of their students. It would make a marvelous difference. We are nearing the end of another year of school and I am feeling drained and overworked. But I also can see the progress made and the good work done. It came little by little and day by day, but all of the work was worth it.

I broke down and joined facebook this week. Now that I'm in the inside, I can see how useful it is to help people manage their contacts. After only three days, I'm already starting to see how different people use it in different ways. I can also see how people can abuse it and how some people can have it become an addiction in their lives. I'm finding some of my library training is coming into use. After all, facebook manages information. People have to be wise about how they present their own information and wise about how they use other people's information. There are a lot of people out there who are not wise. By the way, if you want to be my friend on facebook, you will need to be my friend off the computer first.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Few Pictures for Your Entertainment

I've been swamped lately. Therefore, I haven't made time to ponder weighty matters and write my profound conclusions. Tim has been away most evenings for play practice, so I've been feeling a bit overworked. Thankfully, the play performances are coming soon and then I've have him back again. In the meantime, I've selected some recent pictures for you entertainment.

I've mentioned that we have a Wii which I use for exercise, and the kids mostly use it for play. Though, they would sometimes join me in my exercise routines for an impromptu P.E. class as it were. Here are the group of us doing Yoga poses.

The warrior pose:

The chair pose:

And halfway into the palm tree pose:

We also can give you more up to date pictures of the kids....

The Pillowfight Fairy in a serious moment (while planning her next move in Wii bowling):

The Adrenaline Junkie happy that I interrupted her math page for a photo shoot:

The Happy Boy giving a very fake smile:

And a couple of pictures of the Little Chunk doing what he does best, wiggling and smiling:

Our days have been full of school, housework, play, baking, and rain. We are trying to keep from getting too much farther behind in our school year, by only taking a day off here and there as needed. I prefer to take a whole week off at a time, but we have already had so much time off when the Little Chunk was born.

I've had to keep up the housework since we have been having people over once a week and I need to keep the house mostly presentable all the time so that day's clean up isn't too time consuming. I also have to do laundry twice a week to keep the Little Chunk in clothes.

The kids do get a good bit of play, but they have been feeling rather cooped up with all of the rain lately. I have also been baking a lot... cookies, brownies, cake, etc. It is partly because we provide snacks for our guests once a week. But, It is also because I like to do it.

As for rain... we've had a lot. Just within the last week we have had five inches of rain. When I walked across our backyard today I could hear the squishy wet sound like you would expect in marshland. We haven't started our spring garden yet. It hasn't been dry enough to roto-till yet. But the trees and blueberry bushes have been blooming and the bees have been coming out to pollinate them even in the cool cloudy weather in between rains. So, perhaps we will get some fruit before too long.

We are supposed to get a little sun this next week. So perhaps the kids and I can get outside and run around some. I might be able to do a little yard clean-up too. We still have leaves that need raking from our flower beds and tree branches that need trimming. Now if I can only finish up the taxes. Somehow I don't feel very rested lately.

Monday, February 28, 2011

School Progress

I suppose I'm overdue for a progress report about how the schoolwork is going. The girls got a little out of sync with their school work during the month or so we were doing half days. The Adrenaline Junkie, being on a half day schedule anyway, continued at the regular pace. The Pillowfight Fairy, being on full days, is now three weeks behind her sister. We would have been finishing up at the end of April if this were a typical year. Since it is not, we will probably be finishing up near the end of May. Although the Junkie will finish first, I plan to continue her studies with a variety of items to keep her busy and learning as well. The plus side to all of this is that they will have less time to forget what they learned before the next school year begins in July.

So, What is the Pillowfight Fairy doing? In her Bible reading, she is starting II Kings. In her spelling, she is being challenged with 4th grade level work, although I consider her 3rd grade by age. She has daily piano practice, and although she complains, she is doing well and making progress. I'm pleased with her progress in grammar, and she is quite good at sentence diagramming. She likes her Latin lessons enough that she has been spontaneously making sentences with what she knows and trying to teach it to the Junkie and the Happy Boy. She is getting the hang of narration and questions for reading comprehension which I have been concerned about in the past. She still has trouble when we read something she has no interest in. She has also developed a dislike for most of the literature I have chosen for her to read. Right now we are reading the Hunchback of Notre Dame (an adaptation for elementary school level) and she doesn't like it much, but she is starting to identify with Esmerelda. I think she is going to be furious when she finds out the ending. It will confirm her suspicion of all things French. We are also studying about the French revolution in history. She was really worked up about how French society, pre-revolution, was soooo unfair. Tomorrow I get to teach her about the reign of terror and how French society, post-revolution, was soooo unfair too. We are doing chemistry in science. Today we did an experiment that created visible layers of liquids of different densities. It was pretty cool. In math she is starting to learn about remainders when dividing and is getting the beginning steps toward long division. She is doing well. She is learning. Every little bit seems to build on what there was before. I feel like I'm starting to see progress in understanding, that previously, I was only trusting would eventually come.

What is the Adrenaline Junkie doing? She is practicing her reading everyday and getting better steadily. Currently we are using the "Phonics Bible" for this since she likes the stories and it gives good reinforcement of phonics rules. She is also practicing reading with the McGuffey Primer. But with the primer, I am having her do copywork exercises to practice writing. She has daily spelling lessons that help her learn simple words and reinforces the reading. Once a week I have her write out ten dictionary words from her spelling book as writing practice, vocabulary building, and composition practice by making up a sentence using one of the words from her lesson. She has daily math lessons and can add and subtract, understands a little about clocks and coins. She has made good progress with getting her two digit numbers correct and rarely miswrites them anymore. She also has piano practice. She has made good progress, too. She struggles more than her sister, but her sister struggled early on as well.

The Happy Boy mostly just want to play. He will play by himself or with whichever sister is taking a break at the time. He loves to be read to. I try to make sure that he gets some book time with Mommy during the day. He is making progress with his potty training which is a little more important to us at the moment. So far my three oldest kids have all potty trained after age four and it gets old after a while.

Little Chunk is usually a content baby. He has fussy times when he gets overtired or goes through a teething bout, but still is amazingly easy-going most of the time. This is very helpful for our school days. I have to work feeding and diaper changes around everything else we do, so it's nice that he isn't too demanding. He is a hungry child most of the time though. It is not unusual for this child to drink a quart of milk a day. He is supposed to have his four-month check-up tomorrow. I hope all of us are well enough for a well-baby visit to the clinic. However, it was not looking promising this evening. I'll have to figure that out in the morning. I would kind of like to know just how much this huge child has grown. At four months old, his 6-9 month clothes are tight. Either he needs to slow down his growing, the weather needs to warm up or I need to go shopping, because I don't have many long-sleeve/long pant clothes for the 9-12 month size. (Boys can wear pink can't they?) I'm also concerned that he will grow too big, weight-wise, for his car seat carrier. We have another car seat for when he does grow out of it, but I don't have another stroller that can handle a baby that can't sit up yet. This is an example of when my plans don't always match up with what reality throws at me.

Our cat, Misha, has improved some since I last posted. She will come out and visit with us in the evening, but she still doesn't move much beyond that.