Category Archives: Homeschooling

Blog articles about my adventures in homeschooling

The Tenth Circle of Hell

Therapeutic squats.
The tenth circle of hell.
Squeeze the blanket, down slowly
(One, two, three,
four, five, six,
seven, eight, nine, ten.)
And up.
Knees hurt, but we can do this.
Two
(one, two, three
four, five, six,
seven, eight, nine,
ten).
Slowly up.
Three. Four. Five.
Six. Seven.
Fire spreads through
Quads and calves.
Slowly up, feel the coolness
as muscles ease their strain.
Eight. Calves wanting to cramp.
Nine. Burning fire. Blessed cool.
My sore left knee protests,
“What did I do to deserve this?”
Just one more.
Ten. More fire. More cool.
I’m done for now.

Streaming jungle.
Tiger cage. Crouching inside.
Muscles scream, cramp.
Mosquitoes whine and bite,
spreading pain and disease.
Skin splits, festers, oozes.
Fetid water, small break
from the cage.
Bones pop and creak,
Tight muscles scream and stretch.
Tiger cage. Endless crouch.
Muscles scream in protest.
Squats are the tenth circle of hell.
Some have survived the eleventh.

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From the End to the Beginning and Back

It’s the Advent season, and I’m sure many Christian home educating families are sharing stories and lessons about the first Christmas.  We have our own traditions surrounding those lessons, but for school, we stick to our schedule, and our Bible study schedule has us finishing the Gospel of John tomorrow, our last day before break.  It seems strange to be reading and studying about the death and resurrection of Jesus when it’s that time of year to celebrate his birth.  Yet, it feels right somehow.

As my daughters and I have read these familiar words, the circular nature of the story of Christ emerges.  The story starts with a girl named Mary who is willing to be the vessel that carries, nourishes, and bears the Christ-child.  She sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  At the story’s dramatic break, that same teenage girl is grown up and watching her son being crucified.  Another Mary, Mary of Magdala, goes to the tomb to take care of the body of Jesus, only to discover it’s gone.  As the narrative unfolds, the risen Jesus gives her instructions to share this amazing revelation to his disciples:  “I have seen the Lord!”  Yes, the very first witness to the pivotal event in Christian history was a woman.

Mary & Baby Jesus

Mary & Baby Jesus

At the end of the story, the bleeding body of Christ is laid in a tomb, a place of uncleanliness.  At the beginning of the story, the weak and vulnerable newborn Christ is laid in an animal’s feeding trough.

Early in John, Jesus tells Nicodemus during Jesus’s first trip to Jerusalem for Passover after beginning his earthly ministry (of which we have record), “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  After Jesus appears to the disciples the second time, John states that he’s written this whole account so that the reader will believe that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore have real and eternal life.

Jesus’s life ends as a king subjected to the peccadilloes of political maneuverings.  Jesus’s life begins as an infant king threatened by the political maneuverings of a megalomaniacal king.

As we read the resurrection story, we remember that it begins here at Advent.  This Christmas story is the account of God breaking into history in order to send the most perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The story is a new kind of history, one where a deity becomes the very thing deserving of condemnation to take that condemnation upon Itself.  God did that for us.  God did not desire to destroy His own creation, so God became a part of that creation in order to die for it.  In doing so, God saved us from our sins.  Jesus was born to die, and died that we might be born again.

We So Fly (Lady)!

We live in CHAOS – Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.  Yes, it’s true.  Between teaching and canning and running the biz, cleaning happens randomly (grabbing something of mine as I walk out of a room), and it’s so frustrating getting on the troops to clean up while I’m doing something in the kitchen or my workshop.  Those aren’t my Legos or dolls!  Those aren’t my clothes left in a heap on the living room floor.  That stack of mail doesn’t have my name on it.  Ugh!  Then when company wants to come over, there’s the 5-hour, really stressful blitz to get everything picked up.  With Christmas coming, who wants to deal with that???  I want to decorate on my schedule, not be cleaning instead.

It showed up in a homeschooling group:  The Fly Lady Holiday Control Journal, which promises to help one conquer cleaning, making gifts, baking, hosting, and shopping.  Seems like a pretty audacious claim, doesn’t it?  The Fly Lady premise tackles cleaning in small, 15-minute chunks, claiming you can do anything for fifteen minutes.

The original Fly Lady

The original Fly Lady

As soon as I discovered and printed off this journal (it’s in a handy .pdf), I sat the family down and said, “This is what we’re going to do.”  I don’t want to be stressed this Advent season, and I want to be doing something other than last-minute present making/assembling on Christmas Eve.  The Troops got it.  We’ve done the 15-minute blitzes twice now; the only problem we face is, some of us don’t want to stop once the 15 minutes are up; a still-cluttered space – just this morning, in fact – can make one of us say, “But that area still needs to be cleaned.”  That was my older daughter.  I know the struggle, but I say, “Nope.  We’ll come back to it after moving on.”  At the end of each blitz, I make everyone come into the room.  I ask them to remember what the room looked like before we started, then have them take a good look at what it looks like now.  What do they think of it?  Everyone agrees that there’s a lot of improvement.

We’re a family of four, and the children are both old enough to help clean.  No one wants to be stuck cleaning a room by her- or himself, so if the room is big enough, we all tackle it together.  Think about it:  Fifteen minutes times four people…  That’s like an hour’s worth of cleaning in that one room!  Darn straight, there’s a lot of improvement in a short amount of time!  I was even able to seize a teachable moment by grabbing one of the teaching clocks and explaining this concept to my younger daughter.  It’s like a competition against the clock – how much cleaning can we do before the timer goes off?  That means there is very little second-guessing – things get thrown away, there’s little squabbling over “that’s not mine” (it all gets put away), and there’s a real sense of teamwork.  At the end of it, I get the cleaner home I want, I get the help I need, none of us are spending all day cleaning, leaving us free to enjoy other activities.  That’s a win all the way around!

My Daughters are Weird

Weird is the opposite of normal, and for the sake of this piece, “normal” is like what everyone else does.  Given that, my daughters are weird.

In some circles around here, being home educated makes them weird.  They enjoy school and learning.  They have tons of free time.  They get weeks off at a time.  When they’re not having structured lessons, they learn life lessons; this week, it’s a review of preserving apples, tomatoes, and herbs.

They save their money.  My younger daughter, aged 6, has a fat wad of money saved from birthdays and Christmases that we keep in a safe place for her.  She could get it if she wanted, and she only has to ask if she wants us to get it down for her.  But every other bit of money she gets, from earning it to finding coins on the sidewalk, goes into her boat fund.  When it comes to shopping, she just waits until she has gift cards.

They earn their money.  My older daughter, aged 12, mows lawns and does chores to earn money, and this money goes to mission trips, clothes, and anything else she wants.  We supply her needs, but having to work and earn money has made her a lot more deliberate in how she determines her wants.  The girls across the street from us – teenagers both – find her completely fascinating.  They ask her where she gets her clothes, what she learns, and so forth.  Mary gets clothes for her birthday and Christmas, and she uses her own money for whatever else she wants.  She likes to shop consignment stores for that stuff; she doesn’t see the point in paying full price when she’ll only be able to wear a garment for a year at the most.  The older of the girls told Mary, “I buy whatever I want.”  Mary cocked her head,

We prefer being weird

We prefer being weird

looked at her, and asked, “How will you learn how to manage your money?”  The girl just repeated that she buys whatever she wants.  OK.  That’s great until you’re an adult and real life steps in.

 

Because the girls earn and save their own money, they have learned how to wait for things they want to have.  It started out with waiting for a sale or some special deal.  Once they experienced the rewards of waiting to buy something, they discovered that it’s nothing to wait for other things.  When I promise something fun, they are cool with waiting, and they do well when something affects our plans, making us have to wait even longer.

I don’t mind being weird, and I like having weird children.  It’s my belief that weird children grow up to be weird adults, and weird adults tend to make iNcReDiBlE things happen.

Making My Children Happy Isn’t My Job

That sounds outrageously harsh, doesn’t it?  But it’s true.

As a mom and home educator, I have certain responsibilities regarding my children.

  1. I am responsible for keeping my children healthy.  We provide nutritious, balanced meals on a daily basis.  We take them to the doctor for check-ups and, if needed, sick child visits.  They have weather-appropriate clothes and shelter.
  2. I am responsible for keeping my children safe.  We teach them how to cross streets safely.  We make sure the youngest especially wears her bike helmet as she’s mastering riding without training wheels.  I teach them stranger danger and self-defense skills.
  3. I am responsible for teaching my children everything.  Sure, I teach reading, writing, math, and so forth, but I also teach them the Bible, how to do what Jesus instructs, how to cook, and all sorts of other good homemaking skills (not just “girly” stuff, either).  The Teacher writes in Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  From the moment our children are born to us, the process of their leaving us begins.  It’s such a depressing thought, but this is necessary for them to become independent future adults.  Everything we teach them is what they will carry into adulthood.  If we teach compassion and generosity, then we will one day have adult children who are compassionate and generous.  Those who spoil children so that they learn they’re the center of the universe have adult children who are petulant, spoiled, and self-centered.
  4. I am responsible for disciplining my children.  Again, the Teacher:  “He who spares the rod hates his child, but the one who loves his children is careful to discipline him,” and “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope.”  This is not a biblical mandate to beat our children for disobedience.  The imagery here is that of a shepherd.  A shepherd uses his staff (“rod”) to guide the sheep and to protect them from predators.  Our task in disciplining our children is to guide them to make right choices and to protect them along the way.  Just as a shepherd would not beat the sheep who strays from the herd, we don’t beat our children for straying from our instruction.
  5. I am responsible for treating my children with compassion as I teach them.  Paul tells the fathers in the church at Ephesus, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  While this verse is directed to fathers in particular, I believe it applies to mothers as well.  Some versions say “do not frustrate your children.”  As we teach our children, whether it’s as parents nurturing spiritual development or home educators teaching the joys of physics, we need to be mindful not to frustrate them to the point where they cannot learn or do not wish to learn.  Some frustration is good; we are often astute enough to see the top levels of our children’s potential, and setting the bar just to that point encourages children to reach for that height.  I often see this with my older daughter.  I’ll give her a math problem that is just a little out of reach for her.  I watch in near agony as she struggles with her angst with it and with me.  She tries a conventional method for solving the problem, and it doesn’t work.  Then she angrily marks through all that work and stubbornly starts over from a new angle.  Frustration turns to determination leads to exaltation as she grasps the problem.  If I spared her that angst in my attempts to keep her happy, then I would have also denied her learning, advanced cognitive growth, and the feeling of achievement.

Beyond and above all this, I am to love them.  I truly believe my children are a blessing from the LORD.  I love them in so many ways, day in and day out.  Snuggles, stories, teaching, quality time together, general silliness…  All these moments add up to a lot of love and a lot of great memories.

While I do love them and make many memories with them, the one thing I will not do is make them happy.  That’s just not in my job description.  My favorite undergrad Psych professor told us repeatedly for 2.5 years, “If your children like you all the time, you’re doing something wrong.”  The point he was making is, “If you discipline your children the way you should, they will hate you sometimes, and that’s OK.”  I’ve taken that to heart in a way that drives my kids crazy.  We’ll set a limit on their behavior, and one will say, “I don’t like you right now,” and their dad and I will high-five each other right in front of them.  (Mean, right?)

This came up today.  I was out to lunch with my best friend, my second Mom, and my friend’s daughter.  The daughter had had an attitude from the moment her Grandma picked her up, before church, during church, and then here we were at lunch, and the attitude was still with her.  I’d had enough.  I’m not used to children having such bad attitudes, especially out in public.  We were getting ready to bless our meal, and she was mouthing off about hating to pray.  I murmured “One moment” to my friends and told the daughter to cut the attitude now.  She did, we blessed, and lunch was great.  Later in the afternoon, my friend said, “She wasn’t happy about that.”  I replied, “Her happiness is not my concern,” not because I don’t love her, but because I do.

My children are happy, because they choose to be happy.  They feel loved, safe, secure, and that helps them feel happy.  They have boundaries on their behavior (which they sometimes push), but when it comes to what they can do, of what they’re capable, of what they are able to achieve, there are no boundaries.  The sky’s the limit for them!  Why?  Because I’ve spent more time giving them love, safety, security, and discipline and not bothered with ensuring their happiness.  Children whose parents don’t discipline them because they don’t want them to be unhappy end up with no sense of boundaries and they’re fairly incapable of creating their own happiness; they’re dependent on others or on having their own way to have their happiness.  Put bluntly, being willing to piss off our children as we create them to be productive, enjoyable future adults will help our children choose to be happy.

So, go out and make your children angry at you with your discipline.  Holy crap, is that hard to do!!!  Seriously, I know.  I’ve cried heartbroken tears over how my daughters have spoken to me in their anger, but I also am aware I made my mom cry with my angry teenage words.  Parenthood isn’t for wimps.  Yank up those big girl panties (or big boy undies, whichever suits you best) and dive into disciplining those young’uns in love.  Set boundaries.  Correct bad behavior.  Get ’em good and mad.  Then hug those kids, even – especially – if they’re big kids, taller than you, and tell them you love them forever.

Innovators Don’t Learn Tests

Think Outside the Box

I stumbled upon this opinion piece about inventing the job you need.  Wagner asserts that schools need to focus more on teaching innovation than “college and career readiness skills.”  I’ve noticed that these “readiness” skills include such talents as “blindly obeying authority” and giving a conditioned response to certain stimuli.  In other words, working without thinking or problem solving.

These are skill sets that belong to cogs in the industrial and corporate machine, but these are not skills which will motivate people to excellence, nor will it help them advance in their careers.  It’s not the mid-line assembly line worker who becomes president of the company; it’s the person who figures out who to produce the goods cheaper and quicker who rises up in the ranks.

The problem with the current educational model is, students are taught “college and career readiness,” they are taught to pass a series of standardized tests, but there is no room for teachers to teach critical thinking skills, logic, or reasoning; or to encourage outside-the-box thinking.  These are cognitive skills that innovators possess.  Teachers are forced to focus so heavily on “teaching the tests” and making sure that their students pass, that they have no time to encourage group work or collaborative efforts.  Being able to work in groups and being interdependent is crucial to team success, and this team success leads to professional success as more and more work settings feature teams more than individual efforts.

As I look at my daughters and how they think and process – how we’re teaching them to think and process – part of me is frightened for them.  You see, I want my daughters to think outside-the-box.  I want them to innovate and create, to conceive ideas and test them out to see if they’ll work.  These are hallmarks for their future success; I’ve long felt this way.  Way before the days of Common Core, my older daughter’s kindergarten teacher advised, “She needs a teacher who can think outside the box, who can teach creatively” to optimize her learning potential.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, which is what lead to our decision to home educate.

My older daughter thrives in math, which tends to be a pretty “black-and-white” subject – right answers or wrong answers, not nearly the subjective grey area of analyzing literature or writing.  Yet, we have found the grey area in how she achieves her answers.  I may work a problem one way; my daughter works it a different way.  We can do this math mentally, take the same amount of time doing it, come up with the same answer but by two very different means.  Today’s public school-educated children are told to solve their problems one way and only one way.  We ascribe to the belief, It doesn’t matter how you get the answer, as long as it’s correct and you can justify your process.  In other words, whether it’s math or life or relationships, there is more than one way to find solutions.

While I am a little afraid that my girls won’t have the “federally mandated” programming/brainwashing of their public school-educated peers and this might lead to a certain array of struggles for them, at the same time, I am peaceful in the knowledge that I am preparing them to work around the system, to innovate, not merely to memorize facts to regurgitate back on a bubble sheet.  They will be the innovators, the outside-the-box thinkers, the movers and shakers.  My girls will have the staff who obeys without thinking, who knows how to do exactly as they’re told.

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Credit Card Debt-Free (and how much I need my husband)

A credit card, the biggest beneficiary of the ...

It came!  It came!  It came!  On the morning of my birthday, it came!  “It” is our federal income tax return.  Lots of money to do with exactly what we… need.  Ooh, that hurts.  It’s no longer about what we want; it’s about what we need.  What do we want?  How about another week in Orlando, this time at Universal Studios?  Or maybe a week at a condo in Hilton Head would fit the bill nicely.  Shoot!  We could even do a week at an all-inclusive resort down in the Caribbean.  But those aren’t needs.

As of this morning, our family is completely, 100% credit card debt-free.  As of this morning, our family has a decent emergency fund in place.  As of this morning, we are quickly on our way to being completely debt-free.  Damn, that feels sooooo good!!!

Oooh, and then on top of that, the mail came – with birthday cards.  Birthday cards with money in them!  Then there was that email from DSW.  Shoes, anyone?  And with – OMGosh! – TWO coupons.  Shoes on sale!  Can I get an Amen for a shoe sale?  The Nerd in me says, “That money goes into the debt snowball.”  The little bit of me that’s Free Spirit says, “You need a new pair of white sandals (and you have your birthday coupon).”  My husband, on hearing about our IRS-gifted windfall asked, “Where would you like to go for your birthday?”  My girls and he were going to make dinner at home, which was fine and budget-friendly.  He’s the Free Spirit; he wants to have some fun.  He’ll also make sure I have a little fun myself.

It’s been a truly great day.  My older daughter – so sweet! – very altruistically said, “Mommy, it’s your birthday.  You shouldn’t have to do any work today, and you shouldn’t have to teach me.”  Haha!  The lessons have been thin – Bible with reading comprehension and math.  It’s good for her to see me ecstatic over being credit card debt-free.  She should witness the struggle with blowing it for fun and using that money responsibly.  It’s in the normal moments of life that she learns so much more than what our basic third grade curriculum would allow.

Running the Race

A little dexterity is helpful in working with ...

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Life isn’t about finishing fast, but about running with endurance.  Sprinters can run short distances very quickly, but marathoners can consistently run long distances without faltering.  My life lately has been a marathon.

It’s been busy, with homeschooling merging with business and daily life.  How’s all this going?  Very well.  My daughter’s thrilled that we started multiplication just before Thanksgiving and she likes how the work is getting more challenging now.  Business is growing by leaps and bounds lately.  And daily life…?  In the words of a good friend of mine, “It is what it is.”  There are more good times than bad, but it all comes together into one very interesting life.

Today life got even more interesting.  Our baby got sick yesterday (Thanksgiving day), but despite the high fever and stuffy nose, she rarely stopped.  She was like the Energizer Bunny with boogers – she kept going and going and going.  Yet, I could look at her eyes and know she wasn’t feeling good.  She’s still sick, up in bed with a healthy dose of Motrin and some juice.  Our older daughter claimed she was tired this afternoon when we returned home from my parents’ house; long story short, she’s sick now, too.  So, for the weekend, the Academy for Exceptional Children is the Pediatric Clinic of Exceptional Children.

In the midst of this busyness, I started feeling the urge to create something with my hands that would last longer than a bar of soap.  I made two pairs of braided barrettes for my older daughter – pink and purple, and red and green (accented with a gold star button).  I made pirate-themed bags to hold the soaps I created for my private label account, a project that required me dusting off my “how to use a sewing machine” skills.  And finally, I picked my knitting back up again.  My mother-in-law taught me how to knit last Christmas – my husband’s aunt Maria and she are master knitters – but I hadn’t touched my needles since last January, knitting a few rows then ripping them out because they weren’t perfect.  I’d like for what I’m working on to be a washcloth, but it’s not perfect.  I wonder if I can just call it shabby chic?

Read Me

Alice sings "All in the Golden Afternoon&...

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It’s like a tag attached to something in Wonderland – “Read Me.”  What’ll happen when you follow the instructions?  Will you grow bigger?  Smaller?  Will you break houses or be on eye-level with opium-smoking caterpillars?  Honestly, probably none of those things.

As you know, I’m not only a homeschooling mom, former counselor, chaplain and baby-wrangler, but I’m also a small business owner, and I’m passionate about my business.  I haven’t been so great lately about coming up with material for my blog, beyond the mundane “Look what’s in the soap pot today,” so I’ve decided to start a series of posts about that other great thing I like doing in my kitchen.  No, not that, though it’s certainly fun (and I’d like to shake the hand of anyone who can do “that” in the kitchen with two kids running around).  I mean cooking.  With all the pumpkins we’re bringing home lately, I’m making a lot of pumpkin-based recipes and am posting those recipes on my business blog.  You can find it at www.SarasSoapsnSuch.blogspot.com.

I also invite you to “like” me on facebook; I do some fantastic giveaways every hundred new likes.  That’s the most reliable way to find out “what’s in the soap pot.”

I now return you to your regularly scheduled crazy mom blog that reminds us (say it with me) “We are God‘s masterpieces!”

Teacher? Or Counselor?

Friday presented one of those situations in which the mom who is also the homeschool teacher experienced tension with mom who is also a counselor.  I’d given my daughter an assignment out of her spelling book:  Write about something you learned how to do.  Whereas usually writing is cause for distress and drama, she instead announced, “I’m going to write about learning how to wrap presents without a box!”

I affirmed her choice and she was off.  About fifteen minutes later, she announced she was finished and I looked at her work.  She’d gotten distracted from her plan and instead had spent the majority of her paper on visiting the counselor, why she’d gone and how she’d felt.  *sigh*  The teacher thought, “I need to either really take off points or have her rewrite this to fit the assignment.”  The counselor (and really, that side is strongest in me, anyway) determined that, if she needed to write about her counseling, then she needed to get that out.  In the end, I praised her for writing in her newly discovered voice, commented on what I’d noticed and gave her a B-.

It raised a dilemma, though.  It also made me realize that I’m never “just” teacher or “just” chaplain/counselor or “just” mom.  I am often all these things at one time.  Did I handle this the right way?  I’m confident that I did, given my daughter’s needs.  What would you have done similarly or differently?