December 28, 2010

Good Intentions

I started out this year with good intentions to blog.  I thought I had more time and often have something I think "oh I should blog that"  but then I somehow never get around to it.  I suppose there are a million reasons I could use but I guess I just never did it.

A friend asked me when I would blog again and that every time she visited my blog I was on the pool deck (my last post).  I thought how appropriate because that statement is so true.  I am not always at the pool but I am driving to and from and sometimes staying at the pool nearly every day of the week so I guess I probably could have been found at the pool deck, so an appropriate post to leave off.

We are on Christmas vacation now.  Some years we don't have a normal vacation but this year I am trying to take the full time off at the request of Ciaran.  Today Maria and Sirah both said they missed school and the structure it gives them.  Ciaran immediately told them to be quiet and stop saying that afraid I would force him to start school and he is absolutely not wanting that.

As I type there are children running through my house, some outside playing airsoft, some watching a movie and some playing with dolls and stuffed animals - life is very good.  Yesterday the house was full of kids too and all I wanted to do was play a board game and no one wanted to play with me.  When Serona came home he finally agreed :)

We have already been to the pool deck and the ice skating rink and were home by 11am.  We had a snowblower delivered and now a house of kids until dinner time.  I hope my kids remember this piece of their childhood - how I was always willing to host kids here and our home was always busy and full.  I like having the kids here, I like getting to know all their friends and seeing the relationships develop.  I don't think a week when everyone is healthy goes by without some kids hanging out here and I don't want it any other way.

As for me I am trying to take a vacation for myself too so I can be fresh for the start of school again next week.  There are many things I could be doing but not much that I am doing. I am trying to let myself get bored and just sit on the couch or read a book or knit the had I have been wanting for myself.  I am trying to be okay with not being productive for a change and I have to say it is harder than I thought :)

Minnesota winters are hard on me, I think they are hard on almost everyone :)  Today we had sunshine and I just sat outside wrapped up in coat, scarf, warm gloves and boots and soaked it in while the kids were ice skating.  It was around 8 degrees but still the sun felt nice.  I should have waited because now it is almost 30 degrees.  We have lived in Minnesota for 10 years now and just bought our first snow blower. We have almost 40 inches of snow on the ground and nearly 3 months of snow left to come.  I am trying to find strategies to help me cope with the Minnesota winters and those hard months of homeschooling when we have all been cooped up together for so long.  I am trying to learn to take time for just me.  I am trying to find the things I want to do for just me and then do them.

The picture above is one of my favorite things about Minnesota winters - the hoary tree frost.  It is always so beautiful.  Yesterday all the trees we saw were beautiful and covered like this.

October 30, 2010

Lessons from the Pool Deck

Maria is starting her third season of competitive swimming and we spend a lot of time on the pool deck as a family - she spends even more there on her own.  Sitting at her meet last week I could not help but reflect on some of the unique things swimming has brought to our family and specifically to Maria.

I could not be prouder.  Swimming takes a lot of guts, determination, discipline and hard work.  Like any sport it requires commitment and a ton of practice.  Hours and hours spent staring at the line on the bottom of a pool, swimming lap after lap to improve your technique.  Then standing up on those starting blocks in front of sometimes hundreds of people at meets, putting yourself and your best out there for all to see. It takes courage.

I did not know much about competitive swimming before the Olympics Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals but something led me to watch that part of the Olympics faithfully with the kids and we watched every race he won together, even waiting up late with the kids.  Something turned on inside of Maria who was 9 years old - she said to me "You can swim in competition not just for fun?" and I saw her start a dream.  She was persistent and kept at us until we found a program she could compete in.  We knew nothing of swimming as a sport beyond swim lessons and swimming laps or for fun.  She joined a small team at our local health club that met twice a week and after a few weeks she realized she wanted more so we joined a local swim club and she was content to be swimming 5 days a week and competing on weekends.

Joining the swim club made us realize many of these athletes had moved right from swim lessons and started team swimming at 6 or 7 years old and she seemed far behind the curve and like hockey in Minnesota you wonder if they will ever be able to catch up.  This made me wonder if swimming was long for my daughter who is fairly competitive.  Swimming though is a uniquely individual and team sport (much like track) where they are continually improving against themselves and trying to better their own scores.   Swimming is set up with tiers so they can compete against kids in the same place they are and as they improve move up and compete against kids who are still in the same swim time range as them.  This set up helped keep her motivated and reward her individual successes and allow her to contribute to her team points as well.  She feels small and big victories both for herself and for her squad.

This swimming structure has also helped her set individual goals for herself and work hard to achieve them.  These goals and motivation have brought out amazing discipline and character in our daughter.  I watch her make many different life choices about her nutrition, exercise, sleep patterns and free time. and see her find a healthy balance between school, swimming, friends and general life.  She has developed short term and long term goals for herself and for swimming and is working on a plan to get there.

It is inspiring to me to watch my child go through this process and handle it the way she does.  It is encouraging to see there is definite balance and still being a kid and swimming is not taking over but keeping a healthy place in her life.  It is fun to watch my kids cheer loudly for their sister when she is in the water, even though they know she often can't hear them - it does not stop them.  It shows a commitment from all of us as a family to her when in the Minnesota winter we get up early, brave the cold and drive to spend our day on a pool deck to watch her swim for just a few minutes.  It shows her character when at the last meet she turned to each of us, parents and siblings, and said "Thank you, thanks for doing all of this for me" She was showing her appreciation and understanding that each member of the family is giving up something for her to be where she is doing what she loves.

I know any sport can lead to these sorts of results.  Any child's commitment to a sport often leads to these results and I know I am having a brag on my kid moment :)  That is all part of being a parent, a good healthy part.  Sports, if kept in check, lead to so much benefit in a child's life.  My husband worked for an employer who prefers to hire people who balance a college sport with their studies, believing this shows a lot about the individual's character and discipline and work ethic.  I would not have chosen swimming as a sport, mostly out of ignorance, but I love it for my child and it is clearly a great fit for her.  I hope she continue to swim for many years and that my other kids consider it as an option for themselves.  To all the other swim parents out there - see you on the pool decks or camping in the gym.  To my dear Maria.  I am so very proud of you, swim on.

October 22, 2010

"I like reading now because it puts my brain to a hard task."
The words of my 7 year old.

This has been the year of reading for her so far in school. We are working on building confidence in her capabilities. Today she read me The Giving Tree, one of her favorite books and she was so excited that she only needed help with one word. She is reading Magic Tree House for school now and for fun Maria is reading The Tale of Emily Windsnap together with her. Sirah can't read too long on her own but they take turns reading every other page and it is so special to her because it is special time with her big sister. I am so proud of how far she has come during just this year. We started school just 6 weeks ago and so much progress iit seems amazing. I treasure each of those lightbulb moments.
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For My Friend on Her Birthday

You are beautiful
You are wise
You are a gift from God

You are strong
You are humble
You are faithful

You are patient
You are kind
You are loving

You are gentle
You are peaceful
You are calming

You are brave
You are passionate
You are a quietly fiery

You are easy going
You are funny
You are an example to us all

You are a good friend
You are a confidant
You are some one I am proud to know

You are born today
You probably would prefer I not mention you by name
You know who you are

Be blessed today my friend
May those around you bless you
Even more than you bless each of us

Your Friend

October 18, 2010

Hunger Games Essay Questions

Here are some essay or discussion questions we wrote to review some of the central themes found in The Hunger Games trilogy.

Pick one of the following themes of the Hunger Games Series and discuss it in a 1-3 page paper.

1)  The Hunger Games series shows how old habits die hard.  People will continue old traditions even though they know that they are unfair and unjust. Discuss how the people in the different districts and the capital felt about the hunger games.  Why did they continue to participate?

2)  The Hunger Games series shows that good people can be especially cruel and violent if the situation allows for it or even demands it.  The Hunger Games and then the civil war required some incredibly violent actions by people who were not "bad" people.  Discuss your thoughts on if and when violence and cruelty is OK.

3)  The Hunger Games shows that the ends justify the means and that if the final outcome is good, that makes the strategies, tools and actions getting there OK.  The final tactic that won the civil war was the dropping of bombs on the civilian shield around the presidential mansion.  We don't know who ordered the attack.  If it was the rebels, was this OK?  Was it worth the price of those who died to stop the war and even more kiling?

4)  The Hunger Games shows that good leadership often requires morally questionable decisions and actions.  Discuss 3 specific actions that the rebel president did or that Katniss did over the course of the books that was morally questionable.  How did these actions contribute to their leadership?

5)  The Hunger Games shows that television plays a very important role in society.  Discuss how the televised games were received in the Capital.  Discuss how the televised games were received in the Districts.  How did people's actions change because they were going to be on TV?  Did it make them try to be more "sensational" than they would otherwise have been?  If so, was it really "real" or was it a simulacrum?

6)  The Hunger Games Series shows that honor is sometimes assumed where it is not warranted and found where it is not expected.  Who was the most honorable in the book and why?  Who was the least honorable and why?  Who was assumed to have honor but demonstrated a moral and ethical ambiguity when it came time to act on that honor?  Who is more honorable at the beginning of the series Gale or Peeta or Haymitch?  How did this change by the end of the series?

October 4, 2010

Homeschooling Sick

Homeschooling when sick is not really fun but it is workable, especially since we are rarely all sick at the same time.  We just tend to put everything else on hold and cocoon together and get our work done.  Occasionally a person gets an entire sick day with nothing to do, though it is fairly rare since most of them can still read when they are sick.  Last week we had a few true sick days and it was hard to keep the other kids on task when one spent the day watching movies and napping.  Then of course they suddenly feel to terrible to school themselves, or so they say.  Then I have to decide who is really sick and who is trying to get out of school, all while I don't feel great myself.

This week we are slowly getting back on track to a regular schedule.  All of our activities have started so our evenings are full as well.  We are still on track - moving into 5th lessons after 4 weeks of schooling - so that is good overall.  Overall I try to plan for somewhere between 30 and 35 weeks of lessons per subject.  Some years we do a few more and some years we do a few less.  Some weeks we double up on lessons and other weeks we take off, in the end it all seems to work out.

I do have to admit I enjoy this time of year when we still feel on track.  I do know we will be off track not that far into the future but I try not to think of it as a track because Jan-March is when majority of our schooling takes place.  After all what else is there to do in the cold of the Minnesota winter and snow?

September 23, 2010

Starbucks Schooling

Today my older kids were at chemistry class with friends and it ws just Sirah and I. So we headed to Starbucks and read together, homeschooling in public. We must have been quite the sight to the morning coffee shop crowd. Surronding us were morning business meetings, reading retirees, people on their computers, coffee klatches and us. Sirah and I were snuggled together in one of the big overstuffed chairs, reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit on my ereader.

Not one person asked any questions though we did get some of those looks. Any homeschool parent or child knows the look I mean. Donut, Izzy, and a latte on the table beside us, my daughter snuggled in my lap, it was a perfect homeschool moment, and one I am glad the world got to see, looks and all.

She finished reading and discussing the story with me and in that moment I realized these are the moments I will cherish about homeschooling.

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September 20, 2010

You Can Find Me In The Car

Like so many other parents I know you can find me in the car this time of year.  It feels like that is all I do some days.  Tonight from about 4pm until 9pm I was in a car with a few moments running in and out of building to deposit various children at various activities and then to pick up said children at various activities.  Ciaran ran the entire carpool with me despite not having any activities of his own on this particular night.  He was rewarded with an ice cream and brownie Sunday and unlimited DS time for our drive.  I think he wants to run carpools all the time now :)

I am amazed I spend as much time as I do in a car considering how much I actually limit my kids individual activities.  We only have one sport going at a time in order to keep sanity to our schedules.  That is not one sport per child, it is one kid in one sport.  The other kids can be in various activities (scouts, church, etc) but only one sports team to deal with at a time.  Sometimes I wonder if that rule is what led my 11 year old to chose swimming which has by far the longest competitive season even if she does not swim year round.

Still besides being a swim taxi we have enough outside classes and activities to keep us busy, art, gym, science, cooperative (all on different days), plus church and now scouts and regular playdates, museum visits etc.  The time in the car really adds up.  I am trying to maximize that time with my kids.  I find they share so much when we talk during this time especially if I manage to have just one child alone - their hearts and minds seem to open so easily and they expose so much during that time.  Plus we are in a confined location with nowhere to go for extended periods of time.  It is really great for our relationships.

When they were little we always listened to audio books and occasionaly we still will but I am finding more and more I want all that driving time to listen to their hearts and hear all about their activities and days while they are most excited to tell me - immediately after it happened.  I don't want to brush that time aside because I am busy or rushing or not interested because later when I make time the moment has passed for them and the sharing is simply not the same.

If you spend a lot of time in the car with your kids, make the most of it - you are trapped there together anyway - it might as well be pleasant and productive :)  Now I don't mind so much that you can find me in the car all the time.

Free Museum Day - Sept 25th

Be sure to visit the website and print out your free tickets to a local museum.  Thanks to my mom for the tip!

September 18, 2010


Warning - some swearing in the clip.

As moms we can do this to each other, intentionally or not, well meaning or not.  I have never in real life met a mom like the over the top exaggeration of this video.  I have met some parents who have made similar parenting choices, I personally have made some similar choices.  I laughed at the video in parts.  I related to the video in parts.  I cringed in parts as I wondered if that is how people viewed me.

Through the many years of blogging I have gone through multiple phases of self reflection about how I present myself and my family.  If you only know me through this blog you don't really know me, you know glimpses of my family's best moments we choose to make public.  You don't see how scattered I arrive at the homeschool coop where I teach the great classes I write about.  You don't see the mess in my kids room - or my own for that matter.  You don't see me on the days when no one wants to school, everyone has a rotten attitude and we are all picking at each other.  That is a good thing but it can also be a bad thing - I am coming to realize over the years the way we present ourselves in our minds is not always the way people hear us in real life.  Just as we listen to our voices in a recording and wonder how we sound like that when we sound so different in our heads - I sometimes wonder if the same is true in real life.  Well meaning phrases come out sideways in the mind of the listener.  I hope you have never felt judged here as you read,  I have never meant that toward anyone and would be saddened to know if that had occured.

Of course there is the flip side of this.  There are really some moms who want to compete with each other through their kids and their parenting styles.  Them I have met in real life.  I have really never seen anything good come out of these types of competitions.  I have seen hurt, misunderstanding, judgement, superiority, and a myriad of other negative emotions be a result.

I can remember being a young mother with a very compliant first child who was not prone to mischief.  I can remember thinking to myself  "where are the parents that we need all these kid locks?" God gave me my next child who would drink bleach while sitting next to me, require me to lock all chairs away in a separate room because he was using them to climb on everything and it was dangerous, and he loved electric sockets and cabinets.  I realized quickly how wrong headed my thinking was and I became far more understanding and sympathetic.

We all need to think about how we come across in our communication, in what we say and how we say it.  As woman we can build each other up or we can bring each other down through our words and actions.  In the end we are all mothers trying to do the best job we can with the particular situation we find ourselves in.  A little compassion, kindness and understanding can go a long way in loving each other rather than competing with one another.

September 15, 2010

"You're awesome" and "I love you".  Words have power and few have had as much power today as those words said at the end of the day to me by my 11 year old daughter as I was tucking her in.  The past few hours have been emotional and challenging as we worked through a variety of issues and came out the other side.  To know the final resolution was "You're awesome" and as I am walking away "I love you mom"  - I could not ask for more.

Still more is what I got today.  My son rejoiced when he got an A on his spelling test and thanked me for working with him and teaching him.  He told me he loved me and came up just to snuggle with me.  He thanked me for driving him places and for making cookies.

My youngest seemed to spend her entire day wanting to be my helper and sharing her serving heart.  Whether it was making me coffee, helping make a bed, sweep a floor or be cooperative during school, her heart and spirit were just so giving all day.  She was flexible and generous and kind and gentle and loving.  She came to sit in my lap and wrap her arms around me.  Today running errands with me she shared with me how thankful she is that she gets to be home schooled.  Tonight putting her to bed I thanked her and told her how proud of her I was.

My husband worked hard all day and came home and told me how much he loved me.  He kept working on things around the house all night without a complaint.  He ate our take in dinner with the same gratitude as if I had spent all day cooking.  He was engaged with the kids and I at dinner and fully with us all evening.  Now after the evening is all wrapped up he picked up his work that still needs to be done tonight that he put on hold to put the family first all night.

I really am blessed.  I really am loved.  I feel so thankful for my family.  They are all pretty awesome too and I love them so much.  

Nurturing Self

As mother's we can be hard on ourselves, as women we can be hard on ourselves and as home educators we can be hard on ourselves.  It is an easy pattern to fall into and a hard one to get out of.  During those first years of motherhood and then home educating I often felt like I was just winging in (ok I still feel this way) and making my way through life moment by moment figuring it out as I went along.  When something did not meet my expectation or go the way I would have preferred it to I immediately blamed myself and would feel like I had somehow screwed up.  Sometimes mistakes were my fault, often though they were just part of life and I needed to work not on preventing them or living a perfect life but rolling with the waves of life better as they came along.

Life, marriage, parenthood, teaching, and the myriad of other jobs we have in this life are not easy and are not without their pitfalls and waves, we can not control this no matter how hard we try.  Our reactions and the way we move forward in these moments, those are the things we can and should try to manage.  I am learning compassion, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, encouragement, and love are for me too, not just for everyone else.  I know my children need all of the above. I know my family and friends need all of the above. I am learning it is not only okay but essential that I treat myself the same.

When a friend is in need how do we respond?  Most of us with love, gentleness, compassion and kindness.  We meet and love them where they are at with understanding and forgiveness.  But how do we treat ourselves in the same situations?  Maybe you already know to be gentle and forgiving with yourself, good for you and keep up the great work.  Maybe you are more like me and initially react toward yourself with some judgement, harshness, and unforgiveness, feeling you need to hold yourself at a higher standard. I fret, I worry, I feel I need to improve and stop screwing up. I am learning and I am getting better at being gentle with myself.

Gentleness does not mean throwing in the towel, it just means being kinder and more fair to myself.  It means treating myself the way I need to in order to be healthy.  I still have standards that are too high, I still struggle to not compare myself to others and feel I am a failure, I still have a hard time forgiving myself for my mistakes, I am learning to be better.  I am learning to readjust my expectations of myself and the world around me, I am learning to forgive myself, to love myself and to be more fair with myself.   I am still continually striving for excellence, desiring to do more, while also learning to be more patient and understanding toward myself. I am learning to support, nurture and encourage the woman, mother and teacher I am, rather than try to become someone I am not.

I am listening to God tell me He loves me, He made me, He cares for me.  I am leaning on Him and trusting in Him.  I am surrounding myself with healthy people who love, support and encourage me.  I am sheltering myself more from those who drag me down with them.  I am filling my head with the tada's instead of the todo's.  I am letting my husband and children encourage and support me as they can too.  I am learning to be my own cheerleader in a real and positive way.  I am learning to let go and just be.

Be excellent to each other.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Love one another.  We have heard these lessons from childhood.  Somehow we lose sight of remembering we deserve and need the same respect, love, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, support and encouragement we share with others.  Love yourself today, buy yourself flowers, stop and have some tea, forgive yourself for a mistake, encourage and support yourself for the woman you are.  Be free to be you today.

A special thanks to my friend Connie:a wise, gentle, loving and encouraging woman who reminds me it is okay and good to be me and to love myself where I am at.  A woman who lives out what she says and is learning to be free herself.

September 14, 2010

My Love Hate Relationship with Audio Books

Audio books.  I have very mixed emotions about them.  My children LOVE audio books and could listen to them all day long if I would let them.  I restrict what they listen to just as much as what they read.  There are some things I love about them and some things that drive me crazy.

When they were little I listened to good children's literature on audio book in the car all the time.  It kept them quite, helped them learn to love being read to and exposed them to great literature for their age.  It also made the car time pass quickly.

As they got older and had radios and mp3 players they wanted to check them out of the library for themselves and began listening to them in their bedrooms or on the go in their mp3 players. I am glad they enjoy being read to, I am glad they are still being exposed to good literature and listening to books over music. I am glad that they use audio books the way some might watch TV.  However, a funny and unexpected thing happened, my younger two decided they did not need to read to themselves but they could listen to someone else reading instead.  I think it delayed their interest in reading and helped resolve some of the boredom that otherwise led my oldest to pick up a book and read.  Maria does not like audio books she prefers to read, my other two love audio books more than reading.

Still on the flip side in some ways it has helped them learn to read.  Right now I am working with Sirah on reading Magic Tree House books and I noticed that having heard the stories previously has helped her confidence as she knew some of the bigger words or names from the audio book.  Ciaran has certain books he wants to listen to on audio and I have told him he has to read the series himself first and then he can listen to them.  He will sometimes burn through a book in order to listen to someone else read it to him over and over again at bedtime.

Every night I go to sleep listening to the cacophony of sounds emanating from my children's rooms as competing audio books play at fairly loud volumes.  In the middle of the night sometimes I wake up to the droning voices of an audio book or a skipping cd that was turned on in the middle of the night by an awakened child trying to fall back asleep.  During the school day I have to remind them that listening to an audio book is not the same as listening to classical music and no they can not listen to it while they are trying to study spelling or read history for comprehension.  At bedtime instead of picking up a book to read to fall asleep they will turn on their cd players and listen to someone else read.

I go back and forth between being glad they love good stories and being concerned that they should be more actively reading them on their own.  I know it is a balance and in moderation it is a good thing.  I remind myself of that every night when I hear Charlotte's Web and The Lightning Thief competing and I try to find the correct volume for both so everyone can hear and no one goes crazy :)


September 13, 2010

My Teacher Wears Pajamas

It is lunchtime now and time to get out of my pj's :)  It was that kind of morning and that is just fine here.  We actually were very productive despite my attire.

The kids were ready to start working early and I had not taken time to get ready myself after a late night of lesson planning and prep work.  I spent the morning at the kitchen table and couch reading out loud to them, teaching, and all the other typical duties of school just in my pj's with coffee cup in hand.  It really was quite comfortable and the kids did not blink an eye or even seem to notice it.  My tween was enjoying the morning in her lounge clothes too.

Of course now it is almost 1pm and I am still wearing pj's, hope the neighbors don't stop by.  Time to get ready and face the real world.  When I was younger I thought how much I wanted to be able to wear comfy clothes at work and dreaded the idea of high heels ever.  Well I got my wish, even when I dress up for the day it is still jeans and a comfy shirt or sweater and those high heels only come out once or twice a year for weddings and special events.

Late Nights...Early Mornings

Morning is going to come too quickly and it is not going to feel great after being up until 1:30am working on the weeks lesson plans, last weeks grading and homeschool cooperative planning.  Why is it that I am most productive after 9pm?  

Here's to hoping I can be up and cheerful in a few hours and have a productive week.  This is just a four day school week for us with cooperative on Friday.  Sports, clubs and other activities are all starting this week as well.  

Think I need to restock my coffee.  

September 10, 2010

A Hard Yet Beautiful Day

My kids had bagels, fruit and a glass of milk for breakfast which was a good thing, since the rest of their diet today has been interesting.  Lunch consisted of candy bars, cookies and brownies.  Dinner was Lucky Charms cereal with a brownie for dessert.  At least I can say they had some protein today as they consumed a fair amount of milk.  Some days are like that.

We spent the day baking and making thank you cards which we will distribute tomorrow.  In the midst of that we just let sugar be our diet for the day :)  I think it was honestly just what the doctor ordered after spending an intense morning discussing such light topics as terrorism, war, 9/11, and all the intense and fairly graphic discussions that went along with that.

Tonight putting Sirah to bed, she said "Today was a lot for my 7 year old brain" and I could not have summed it up any better.  I wanted to respond "It was a lot for my 36 year old brain as well" but I did not think it would help her.  Throughout the course of the day some questions that came up were:

Why would a terrorist want children to die?

How does a fire fighter go back inside a building they know they are likely to never come out of?

How can I pray for the people who might want to do this again?

What really happened inside the plane that crashed and why couldn't they get it back in the air?

Why did this happen and can't it happen again?

How many children died?  What happened to the children who lost their parents?

How can our government make sure this doesn't happen again?

Why didn't this happen on a weekend when no one was there or why not in the middle of the day when more people would have been?

Mom I just can't wrap my mind around it or why anyone would want to do this.  Why would anyone want to die and not care about anyone else or themselves?

We had discussions about the difference between war and terrorism.  We talked about how we can't judge people or make assumptions based on religion, nationality or the like, how there can be extreme people everywhere.  We talked about how the police and FBI were able to learn about the people behind the attacks and all the good that was able to come out of that horrible day.  We watched a video of the events of the day.  We used a lot of personal examples and discussed the ways the day directly affected our family.   Our morning was filled with discussion and prayer.

Our afternoon was filled with baking and artwork.  The kids made thank you cards for the fire department, police department, military and emergency room workers.  We baked cookies and brownies for hours on end.  Tomorrow we will deliver them and say thank you.

Yes my children are still young and some may feel too young to have these discussions with but as I listened to their prayers, their questions and their understanding - they are not too young.  Too young to see images of the jumpers - yes.  Too young to know what happened and the significance - no.  Too young to pray - no.

History is not always kind or pleasant but we can always learn from it.  We can make choices to never forget and to do our part to remember and try to move forward in a more positive way.  My kids spent a day in service and a day they will remember - for several years now this is how we spend 9/11 - serving others and saying thank you to all of those who serve us.

Hold your family close.  Be kind to a stranger.  Be gentle and loving with one another.  Never forget.

September 9, 2010

Learning in Nature

Today we spent the morning at the local arboretum.  It seemed we somehow decided to organize our day around various water exhibits there.  We visited the ponds. waterfalls, and fountains.  Each time we finished in one location the kids wanted to head to the next water destination.  It is not always this way but it was so remarkable yesterday that I noted it to myself.  It was also interesting to me because the water views lasts much longer than the flowers will here, which is what I suppose I wanted to get my fill of :)

Only Sirah seemed to enjoy the flowers as much as I did.  She took several videos of simply walking through the gardens filled with flowers.  The video is simply her camera pointing down and out at the gardens as she walks through them, no narration, no special commentary just a walk through the gardens.  At first I thought that was odd but then I thought how awesome will that feel to watch in about 4 months?

School at the arboretum is not unusual for us.  Often in the springtime I will pack up school bags, blankets and lunch and we will find a nice spot to do all of our subjects there.  Workbooks and textbooks and certainly read alouds are portable and sometimes the change of scenery is all we need to get inspired again.  I used to be afraid it would be distracting for my kids and to an extent it is but the distraction is an overall good one and worth it.

Today we simply went with our sketchbooks and cameras.  We walked through the arboretum at a fairly leisurely pace just taking it all in.  At times we would sit quietly near the waterfall and just be, at other times the kids were exploring and looking for nature and asking questions without any prompting.  Several times we stopped in a particular area to take some photos or to do some nature note booking.

Since my kids were little I have kept nature notebooks of theirs.  Sketches they have drawn in various places like zoos, arboretums, nature preserves, our yard, etc.  I date them and write a description of what they drew and where they were.  It is fun then to look back and compare their work from when they were 4 to when they are 11.  These are somewhat scattered despite my best efforts to keep them in one book - that seemed to not work, a sketchbook would get lost and found years later, another sketchbook would be filled and sometimes they would just draw on random slips of paper.  I am saving as many of these as I can and one day and will try to compile them into one single book for them.  This past summer I bought each of the kids a very nice sketchbook with a nice cover and told them this was for school purposes only and they can't skip around or rip out pages in it.  They are now all old enough to make this work and hopefully this can be the start of a new tradition of keeping them all in one place :)  Yesterday we used those notebooks and each person drew a sketch or two.

Sometimes it is hard to let myself go out during school hours without feeling like I am losing or wasting time.  I need to remind myself that these field trips, excursions and alternate classrooms really do promote their learning in unique ways.  A visit to the arboretum helps them see science at work in a natural way.  The visit piques their curiosity and inspires them to ask interesting and unusual questions and discover answers they may not have thought of otherwise.  A walk through the flowers calms us and prepares our minds, and reminds us of what is beautiful and good.  Drawing nature challenges our artistic ability as well as our scientific minds as we pay attention to details in ways we would not if we just observed a flower or specimen.  These are not wasted but well used moments of my kids education and they are the ones I hope they recall when they remember our years of homeschooling.

After the arboretum we came home and had lunch and went back to our textbooks and workbooks and challenging our minds in the usual ways.  We still got in several hours worth of traditional school work even with our morning excursion.  I felt more refreshed, hope the kids did too.

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September 7, 2010

Today we spent the afternoon at our local science museum. We began the day sleeping in, slow breakfast, playing in their self built fort then some basic book work. Spelling, math, grammar and handwriting, then we headed out for some afternoon fun.

The first day of school is always a great day to visit a museum as there are very few people there. We are able to move from exhibit to exhibit easily and be the only people at a particular location. The kids were in a great mood and took time at each location, actually taking the time to read what was written and even instructions for hands on activities.

Some of the highlights from the day were the brand new hydraulics lab where Ciaran had to try to figure out how to attach hoses and work various pistons etc to make water store up and then release to power lights.

He also really enjoyed the Ac circuit board exhibit where he had to learn to build functioning circuits and provide enough power and wire to keep the electricity flowing.  

Maria could have spent all day at the Science Buzz kiosks.  Everywhere we went she was looking for one of them.  At first I wanted her to get up and participate in some of the more hands on exhibits but I did not say anything.  Later in the day she told me, I love the science buzz can we get it at home?  She went and found a museum volunteer and had them walk her through how she could access it at home, through their website.  She asked me to write down a few concepts she wanted to later research herself.  At one point she told me that if it did not involve a computer or reading it was not fun for her because she realizes she learns best by reading.

Her favorite hands on exhibit was the pendulum harmonograph where she used a pendulum to create this photo.  She then found Ciaran and Sirah and helped them each draw pictures explaining how it worked.

Sirah's favorites were building a transformer and figuring out how to have enough power to provide light for a local area.  She had to try several different combinations and was very proud of herself when she finally found the brightest combination.  She also learned the value of looking at directions at this station. Her second favorite exhibit was the Scope on a Rope.  We sat at this station together for quite awhile comparing what our skin, hair, clothes, cheeks and various other things looked like.  

For me it was lovely to spend a quiet afternoon at the museum with just my kids without school groups.  I alternated between sitting right there with them and helping them at stations and standing back and just watching them figure it out themselves.

At times I probably looked like non-involved parent as I stood in the place near none of my kids where I could watch all three of them trying to figure out different things on their own.  At other times I looked very engaged and helpful to my kids.  In one of those moments where I could see someone looking at Sirah wondering where her parents were I thought to myself we only catch people in the moments we catch them in.  If you saw me yesterday at the museum in certain exhibits I probably looked like a bored disengaged parent on my cell phone.  What you would not have known was I was actually watching each of them and standing back so they could figure it out themselves.  I was also taking photos and some short notes for this blog. At other times I could have looked like I was doing everything for them at a station, not letting them figure it out themselves.  Overall the moment reminded me to not judge in the quick snapshot I catch a particular family and person in.

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September 6, 2010

Return of the School Buses

Tomorrow morning brings the return of the school buses to our neighborhood.  I am contemplating making the kids get up and be ready for their respective counter part buses, so they can further appreciate the ability to sleep in with homeschooling.  Of course that would mean I would need to get up at just before 6am and have the first one ready to go at 6:45.  Not sure my experiment would be worth that.  I think we might just sleep in and get school started when they wake up instead, maybe school in pj's.  Maybe we will take off and go to the beach or a field trip to celebrate back to school.  Yes I think that sounds like a better plan than getting up at 5:45 to wave to the school buses as they go by.  Times like this that I really love homeschooling.

September 1, 2010

Earlier days

It is my goal this year to start our days earlier and so far we are doing well. Three days of starting before 9am is excellent in this household! I know it begins with me getting up earlier as hard as that is for me. This year I am motivated by the outside activites I want to have time for. If we want to be doing outside activites in the afternoon then we need to be done at a reasonable time and that starts with beginning earlier.

This is a hard transition for me as I am not very fond of rigid schedules. I am trying to develop it as my natural habit rather than think of it as a requirement on a schedule. Such semantic gymnastics actually work for me even if they seem contrived. What new habits or routines are you trying differently this year and what are your strategies for staying on task when it gets hard?
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August 31, 2010

Day Two - Settling in their rooms

We have a school room in our basement.  We have a school table, chalkboard, maps, art supplies, manipulatives, games and plenty of bookshelves.  We rarely school there anymore.  As the kids get older they seem to want to work more and more independently in their own rooms, at their own desks, listening to their own music or audio book of the day.  We have shared lesson times but even much of that seems to have moved to the kitchen table or living room couches.  Should I keep the school room?  I don't feel ready to let it go - they are only in 2nd, 4th and 6th grade. The room offers me one place to keep all of our stuff conveniently and occasionally I really appreciate having the school table in front of the chalkboard.

Still as I watch the school year start and right away everyone want to keep their books in their own rooms so they don't need to go up and downstairs to get them I really start to question if having a school room is the best use of the real estate of our home.  In some ways I think it is part of our identity, you walk into that room and it is clear we homeschool, still we rarely school in there anymore.  I could force us all to sit at the table downstairs but everyone generally ends up irritated with each other and far less productive than if we are upstairs.  I like keeping the books out of their rooms so they can't get lost in the vortex of their rooms, though last year I let my responsible and fairly neat 5th grader move them to her room with much success.

At what point do I need to let it go and allow that room to become something else?

New beginnings

Another school year is starting filled with new books, new energy and new schedules.  The beginning is always a mix of a bit of dread and excitement.  Sadness the summer and its freedoms are coming to an end and hope for what the new year has to offer.  Today was our first day back and it is very gradual : introducing our schedules, new books and plans, getting our school and bedroom work spaces ready.  As is typical the children were ready to go back before me.  This year it was our 6th grade daughter who was pushing us all to start early.  The rest of us could have been content waiting a few more weeks.

We started out with some read aloud time which is always a favorite.  This year we are starting our day reading a passage of the bible, working on the kids version of reading the entire bible in 90 days.  We also started a new book Window on the World by Daphne Spragget, recommended by a dear friend.  This is a Christian book that introduces a variety of countries throughout the world and emphasizes hard times in the country and prayer points for each nation.  I am using it as part of our bible time rather than history or geography but it touches on some of those topics.  Today our read aloud was Afghanistan and we touched on topics such as civil war, world war, freedom vs. oppression, courage, Islam and Christianity, jihad and terrorism.  We ended this time with a family prayer for the people of Afghanistan, along with the missionaries, aid workers and military in the country.  I really enjoy starting our day this way and think it will be a powerful resource in our studies this year.

This week math, spelling, and some language arts are the emphasis as we slowly move back into our school schedule.  Our textbooks and resources have not all arrived yet in the mail because I waited to order them until just last week as the school year always seems to sneak up on me.  We are starting math off with worksheet reviews I print from the website, The Math Worksheet.  I started using this website two years ago for test reviews and last spring I tried out the paid subscriber section which I have decided is worth it.  You can build custom sheets and reuse them because the sheets utilize a random generator.  It is perfect for back to school reviews and test prep topics as well as for extra practice on particular topics.

Reading seems to be our challenge this fall which is unusual for our family.  This fall though I have one student who loves reading but can't find any interesting and appropriate material to read that the child has not already read, one reluctant reader who thinks everything is boring and one reader who needs a bit more confidence.  I never really expected reading to feel like pulling teeth but it currently does.  Still they have to read an hour a day, I don't cut them slack in that one area even when it is frustrating or less than enjoyable.  Maybe some day they will thank me, or they will grow up with reading issues they can later talk about as an adult, at least I will have the confidence that they are all good readers and have been exposed to many good books through the years :)  

July 14, 2010

Moments of a Mom

Ciaran said to me "Sometimes I feel like something is missing and then I climb in your lap and snuggle and nothing is missing anymore"  then he climbed into my lap and stayed there for over an hour.  He asked to stay up late next to me reading and feel asleep with his head in my lap.  What more beautiful moment could I want with my 9 year old son?

Sirah has been dressing up a lot with the neighbors and has entered her  English queen accent phase.  I remember when Maria was in this stage too.  Funny how they both ended up there.  She asked me just to lay with her last night until she feel asleep because it is calming and comforting to her.  She has taken to telling me I am her queen and how beautiful I am.  She has been especially noticing my hair and asking to braid it or play with it.

Maria has a birthday coming up and is in the pushing boundaries stage but still she and I had a several hour long heart to heart one morning before anyone else was up.  Sitting on the couch in the living room and then in her bed talking on all sorts of topics and hopefully setting groundwork for these kinds of conversations all through the teenage years I thought about how much I am still enjoying our changing relationship.  Time with me, especially undivided time is still very important to her.  While I can no longer simply touch her and make the crying stop like when she was a baby I know that being there for her is the most comforting thing I can give her now.

"Your presence is soothing" - yes it is a Star Wars quote but one I often here from Serona.  He just wants me around in the same room and near to him even when he is playing a video game or reading a book, engaged in a solo hobby he says it is better if I am just there with him.

It is good to be wanted so by so many people.  I used to find it demanding and a bit draining, like everyone wants something all the time.  Now though I look at it differently.  I really am thankful they all want me around so much and that I really make a difference in their lives as they do in mine.  I suppose it is easier now that no one needs to nurse or have their diapers changed and they can entertain themselves on their own when needed.  Still it is if something in me switched and I realized not everyone has this sort of relationship with their spouse and kids and it is something I love about who we are.  I realize the time is fleeting and maybe that makes it easier to embrace.

This weekend there were moments when everyone needed something and it felt like all I was doing was pouring out.  Even Serona commmented on it and complimented me on it and I thought these are the moments that make up being a wife and mother and I am so very thankful for them.  Too many moments to share but just a glimpse into my moments.  Enjoy yours today.

July 6, 2010

Summer Moments to Remember

 We had a great family 4th of July weekend.  Spending lots of time with neighbors, friends, and our family.  We went to a carnival, launched water balloons at each other with a catapult, took the kids to their first live concert and dance, saw the parade, shot off and watched many fireworks, swam, played badminton in a pouring rainstorm, played Star Wars Risk, enjoyed video games, watched movies and just really enjoyed being together as a family.

This year I realized how soon it will come that our kids will want to start splitting up and doing things more with their friends then with us and I think that made this weekend even more special to us.  Taking that time together while the kids still really want to be with us and enjoy our time together as a family.  Watching the sparkle in my kids eyes as they watch the fireworks display, even the almost 11 year old.  Watching our 6 year old up on dad's shoulders for another year or two. It really is precious and special time together and I am so thankful we have had so much of it.

As I watched my kids swim in the pool at a friends house, use sparklers and snaps I was reminded of being their age myself and spending the 4th with cousins and family friends doing the very same things.  A few days ago we took the kids to catch fireflies in a nearby field and I was brought back to countless nights in my own childhood doing the same.  Having water gun fights with my kids I think how I wish I had a super soaker instead of a small squirt gun that needed to be continually refilled, still it is the same.  Watching them ride their bikes and continually want a bigger boundary reminds me of my own days bike riding through my neighborhood.  Having a baseball catch with my son reminds me of having the same with my dad.

There are differences to be sure - my daughter loves playing dolls with the neighbors far more than I recall doing.  My son builds bows and arrows and tree forts and has a love for wildlife I don't recall having at his age.  We don't live near an ocean but have lakes surrounding us every few miles.  Video games seem to be more pervasive and more of a driving factor for my kids and their friends than they were for me at these ages. I also remember playing far more board games then they seem to enjoy despite our continual efforts.

Still so much of summer seems universal to me despite generations.  There are small changes, different rules, different neighborhoods and improved technology to be sure but still so much of it repeats itself.  I wonder if that is because we are sharing our experiences with our kids or if there is just something about summer and kids that leads to the same things occuring over and over again.

I love summer time and the freedoms that come with it.  I love having the privelage and freedom to be home with my kids to enjoy these days.  I love that right now my job is going to the lake, pool, park, arboretum, zoo, ball fields, and playing around the yard.  Honestly who could ask for a better job or work environment.  Hope you are enjoying your summer.

June 10, 2010

One of my favorite parts of summer is I get to say yes more.  Mom can I go out to play?  Yes.  Mom can I have a friend over?  Yes.  Mom can I go make bows and arrows today?  Yes.  Mom can we go to the pool?  Yes.  Mom can I bike ride?  Yes.  All the things I feel like I have to say no to I tend to say yes to in the summer.  That is a great feeling for both me and them.

However there tends to be a pattern with this. After they discover I am saying yes more they immediately test the boundaries of my willingness.  Today upon waking "Mom can I play Wii all day?  Mom can I watch a movie (that they know they are not allowed to yet)?  Mom can I have ice cream now?  Mom can I have pretzels for breakfast?"  It's almost like they need to still hear me say no and realize there still are boundaries even if they are fairly loose for my typical standards.  More likely they just want to see what they can truly get out of me and away with.

We will find our new balance fairly quickly.  They will settle into our summer routine and I will continue to say yes and they will continue to push the boundaries to the limit .  They will push until they realize there really is a firm limit at the other end.  Eventually they will be happy with the extra latitude they are receiving because it is summer.

For now I feel like the picture above and I am enjoying being able to say yes to them and reward them after a long but successful school year.

June 9, 2010

Unexpected Road

I had our summer all mapped out.  I was excited and we had plans and a way to follow through on them.  I should have known better and known life is full of curve balls and unexpected turns.

Last Friday the kids and I headed out for the first of many planned bike rides.  A nice bike ride to and from the pool a day filled with swimming, a little exercise, a lot of sun.

On our bike ride there Ciaran kept getting off his bike just not wanting to ride anymore. He is usually my most amenable rider the one I have to reign in from riding to far ahead of the rest of us.   I was feeling frustrated as we had plans and were meeting people at the pool and were already running late.  He told me had sudden growing pains and after the second stop I offered to turn around and go home, we probably should have.

Not sure if his Irish stubborn side or his desire to swim won out in the end but he decided he wanted to keep going forward.  We got to the pool and played with our friends for just a bit before they had to leave, it was nice to see there and be with them.  When they left the kids went swimming and I laid on the chair in the sunshine with my book and thought, this is a perfect way to spend summer just like this.  Get some bike exercise, relax on the pool deck, the kids can all swim themselves and I can jump in for some laps and to cool off.  It felt like summer and was lovely.

We headed home and on our bike ride home Maria took a spill at the bottom of the hill and in just that brief moment the summer changed.  We will still have a great summer, it will still be fun and filled with interesting things but it will be different now.  Maria tore a ligament in her knee in that spill and will have a long road to recovery.  There will not be many family bike rides and our time at the pool will look different over the next few weeks but it will come.

So it is time to slow down and just be.  Time to just hang out at home and have friends over to play.  Time to read together, play board games, work on puzzles, take up a new handwork hobby.  Time to swing in the hammock, have bonfires and enjoy the home we have built together.  In a few weeks or months when the injury is fully healed then it can be the time for other things.  Now seems to be the time to just be here and just be, enjoying the summer this way.  Enjoying Unexpected Road.

June 4, 2010


I love reading and always have for as long as I can remember.  I read a lot as a child and then straight through the rest of my life. I visited far off place, made friends and began to dream big dreams all on the pages of those books.  I wanted to pass not just an ability but also a love of reading on to my children.  So I read to them a lot and I taught them to read and when they could read I required them to read a lot.  

In general the rule in our house is an hour a day from second grade on, often they read more, sometimes they read less.  That is a year round rule for us, during school and summer.  During the school year that hour a day is a book or books of their choice.  For summertime reading I choose the books or at least the subject they read for that hour.  They are free to read books of their choice beyond that hour and often they will if they are interested enough in something.  Screen time (video games, televesion, computer time) is directly tied to the amount of time they read.  They can not have any until they have read for at least an hour and then after that they can only receive the amount of screen time equal to the amount of time they have read for the day. 

This summer Maria is reading biography's of her choice for her assigned reading time.  I took her to the library yesterday and she chose a dozen biography's from the children's section, with her rule being it has to be about someone you have not learned or do not know much about yet.  Her choices so far have been interesting, it will be fun to see what the summer brings.  I am also encouraging her to read the entire Redwall series though she has not yet developed a love for it. 

Ciaran is reading two series to start the summer - The Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum (14 books) and The Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks (5 books).  If he gets through those we will finish up the Great Illustrated Classics series books he has not finished.  He is also enjoying rereading the Rick Riordan books and I think he will begin reading Ridley Pearson multiple series for fun on his own. 

Sirah has the most freedom in book choices as she can choose anything at her reading level and she still only need to read around 30 minutes each day.  I try to read aloud to her for atleast a half hour as well to bring her up to an hour a day. 

I am finishing compiling their school year book lists.  I keep track of all the books they read through the school year and then post the lists here.  Look for them some time this month. 

May 28, 2010

School's Out for Summer

Today is the last day of official school for us.  Most of our subjects will wrap up today and we begin summer vacation next week after their yearly standardized test.  My 9 year old son asked if he can play Guitar Hero today so he can sing "School's Out" which yes is by Alice Cooper.

I am looking forward to wrapping up this year and taking a break as much as the kids are.  We will not be completely "free" of school as my son constantly reminds me.  I make them do daily math reviews and read an hour a day.  Two of them are bringing a subject they did not finish yet into the summer with them until they are done but overall it will be nice to have a break.

We have some summer projects lined up and some vacations planned, some baseball to wrap up and plenty of free time at the pool and nature preserves calling out to us.  The early heat in Minnesota has made us a bit restless and ready to be done earlier this year but I am proud of all of us to making it through another school year and finishing out strong.  This last month has seen each of us having our days of "can't we just be done yet?"

We are finishing up our 6th year of homeschooling, sometimes it feels like it has been much longer and sometimes it seems it has flown by.  Next year I will have a middle schooler as we adjust to life with a 6th, 4th and 2nd grader. I am still glad we are homeschooling even with its challenges and ups and downs.  I am also really glad we take a summer vacation and relax just a little bit.  I am actually most looking forward to just being mom for a little while.

One of the hardest things for me to balance and my kids to understand is the difference between mom and teacher.  Mom is always on your side, mom always thinks you do great work, mom is always proud of your writing, your skills and your progress.  Your teacher wants to be but your teacher can not always appear to be.  Your teacher needs to teach and help grow you and offer constructive criticism, your teacher can not always seem to be your biggest fan.  It is very hard for my kids to understand how I play both roles in their lives and to see and feel just the supportive loving mom part.  Summer is an important part of that for us.  So here is to just being mom for a few months! Enjoy your summer, I know we will.

May 24, 2010

Creative Writing Story Starters

Here are some great creative writing assignments, we have been using them here on a weekly basis and the stories my kids are writing have been very interesting.

May 23, 2010

Summer Projects

"I'm bored"
"I have have nothing to do"
"There's nothing to play with"
"Entertain me"
"No one is home to play"

The list goes on and on of the many ways my children will soon be asking me to be their entertainment committee during the summer.  I used to have a list of ideas for them to choose from this summer though I think I will have a different strategy now that they are getting older and have each other.

I may be in a minority here but I think it is good for my kids to struggle through feeling bored and find a solution for themselves with the things we have on hand.  Just as necessity is the mother of creativity I believe boredom is also the mother of creativity.  Sometimes my kids very best ideas come when they just finished telling me they had nothing to do and no friends to play with.  We have a double decker hammock inside a tree fort they created as the most recent proof.

Lately I have taken to answering that question with the offer of chores and they almost immediately remember or discover something they could do.  It is actually a pretty effective strategy for my kids and it forces them to be creative.  If they come back again in a short amount of time I will make them do chores and after a few of those reminders and several times of  follow through on actual chores, they pretty much stopped expecting me to figure it out for them and suddenly found a way to not be bored.

In addition during the summer we assign certain projects for those down times and if they really are at loose ends we will encourage them to work on their independent projects.  This summer they are working on photography, nature sketching , leather working, sewing, knitting, and woodworking.  In addition they have their summer reading and math requirements.  My job is to make sure they have the supplies on hand for those projects and the initial direction and instruction they need then to set them to the tasks.  The "I'm bored" moments are a perfect opportunity for that.  Chores are my follow up.  It rarely gets beyond those.

Don't get me wrong we will do a lot together as a family during the summer days and they will have friends here often and be visiting their friends, beaches, pools, park etc plenty.  Still for children it never seems to be enough and inevitably the "I have nothing to do" moments hit with more regularity in the summer.  This year I am prepared to head that off right from the get go.  I am guessing it will be a fairly creative and inventive summer, otherwise I will have a very clean home.  Either way I will put their boredom to good use.

Last Week of School

The end is in sight.  We are going to finish school up this week one way or another.  The week may not be the most "fun" school week we have but it is time to be done so we don't have to worry about it anymore.  No field trips, only outside activities this week are piano recital, baseball and book club.

Hopefully everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel and buckle down to finish their work.  Sometimes the end seems harder than the beginning.  This year our annual testing is scheduled on June 1st so I have made that our official last day of school and June 2nd the beginning of summer.  This is the longest we have continued school and I think next year the kids will be more motivated to stay on track in the winter to finish up a bit earlier in the spring in order to enjoy the beautiful relatively bug free month of May in Minnesota.  Here's to one more week.

May 20, 2010

Kids in Nature

Sometimes I think ahead and wonder what my kids are going to remember about their childhood with me.  I hope this picture comes to their mind because we certainly spend enough time doing things that look just like this.  One thing I am fairly consistent about is getting them out in nature: for hikes, exploration, nature study, art sketching, arboretum and nature center visits, geocaching, just being outside in creation.

Today I was thinking about this as I led a group of 8 kids, my kids and some of their friends through a nearby pond area we love and frequent.  My kids and their friends have named different areas of the pond.  Names like Devils Haunt, Witches Pass, Turtle Cove, Frog Swallow and others I can't think of.  They run around and and talk about where they want to go next.  They build forts, climb trees, big dirt piles they call mountains and run through deer trails.  They catch frogs, turtles and snakes and watch tadpoles grow into frogs they will later catch.  They alternate between being loud and quiet, so as to not scare away the animals, from running fast to walking super slow and taking it all in.  They negotiate with each other over where they will head next and how much time they will spend there.  They want to spend all day there and I believe my son would if he was allowed to.  One day I think I am just going to say we can spend as long as they want but I need to go ready to spend an entire day there, bringing provisions for us all.

This part of parenting comes easily to me.  I like being in nature myself and I love being in nature with other kids.  I love watching kids explore, learn and just have fun outdoors.  I like watching them gain independence and some freedom within boundaries, discover they can do things they did not think they could before and challenge one another to push just a bit harder.  I also love the quiet calm when they watch a turtle on a log, a bird in flight or take time to sketch a beautiful flower.  It makes me think this is what being a kid is about.  It is kid in fullness to me in some ways.

My kids don't really have a choice but to at least put up with being out in nature often as they have been forced to since they were infants really.  I think we took each of them camping before they were one.  Though I must admit it is much nicer to camp with older kids than it was with toddlers.  I think being outdoors so much has given them an appreciation for it and a desire to be there.  My son is hard wired to need it so his sisters would have to put up with it one way or another.  Thankful they like it as much and can be found holding the turtles, frogs and yes even snakes.  They still hold out from spiders and bugs though - there is some girly girl in them.

During the school year I remind myself every once in awhile to throw everyone in the car and just get outside and suddenly we are all a bit nicer to each other.  The great outdoors is a wonderful place to get a bit of space and breathing room from each other even if we are all still in the same general area and in view of each other, it still feels freeing and spacious in a way being in the house simply does not.

I know our nature walks, our nearby pond, arboretum and nature center will be a large part of my memories of their childhood when they grow up and move out.  I hope it leaves positive impressions in their minds as well.  Of course as I write this they are indoors playing Band Hero on Wii and singing together.  I can live with both of those things being part of their childhood memories.  Wii has its place in our home too.

May 12, 2010

Volume of Homeschooling

As I type this I am overwhelmed by the loud volume in my home school.  When we began our journey I envisioned reading quietly together on the couch or sitting around a table working on books.  I knew we would do field trips and hands on projects and I was all for non traditional school experiences which I expected to have varying volumes.  What I did not expect is the cacophony of sounds that would fill our day.

I did not expect the continual interruptions of each other and the delicate dance we do of who I teach when and working on independent subjects while I am working with another child.  I did not expect the kids to yell over each other to be heard.  I did not expect one to cover her eyes and yell "You are too loud, my ears are sensitive" and go running off into her room.  I did not expect that for mother's day I would ask for and actually want a pair of earplugs and one of my favorite possessions would be a pair of noise reducing headphones.  This gets filed in the unexpected moments of homeschooling.

It is not that I have no control over my kids or they can not observe silence, it is just that it is rare and nearly impossible to attain for any length of time while actually schooling my children.  We have found benefit at this time of year to splitting up into seperate rooms and enforced outdoor times.  Returning to the days of reminding my kids of the difference between an indoor voice and an outdoor one, like when they were toddlers.

At the end of the day I have found the sound of silence or of my favorite music to be what I crave the most.  As I sit down to read my book and not answer anyone's questions, teach anyone anything or just answer to the word mom one more moment of my day, I am thankful for the moments away from the loudness of school.

May 4, 2010

Ready to Be Done

It is now May and I am very ready to be done.  The kids are as well and this year for the first time ever in our homeschooling we will not be finished up during the first two weeks of May.  We simply took too much time in the beginning and middle off.  We have neighbors who decided to homeschool this year and we did year round sports for the first time as well as having three full time students for the first time.  So we will continue through the month of May.  We are down to half days so it is not so bad but we are all ready to be done, which makes focus a problem for everyone involved.  I think everyone is a bit crabby with each other too and ready to be outside more.

We have tried a few days of outdoor schooling but sometimes it is harder to focus and keep going as we are easily distracted by all the interesting things going on in nature all around us.  These next few weeks will be challenging for us all but the promise of freedom to come in just a few more weeks will keep us all on task.  I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel but right about now I am not feeling or seeing it.

In just a few months I will be longing for the order and structure that school brings our days and lives.  Today however I am longing for a day where I don't feel the desire to duct tape my kids to their seats so I might hold their attention for more than a few moments at a time and we could just buckle down and finish off these lessons and books.  Come on summer you are almost here.

April 24, 2010

Touching Minds

For the last five years our family has been part of the same homeschool cooperative.  This is one of my kids favorite parts of being home schooled.  They love their friends there, they enjoy the teachers and they enjoy the variety of classes being taught.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with some other students teaching topics I love.  Some of these students I have had for multiple years. As I sat at a table yesterday across from some teenagers that I have now taught since they were 11 and 12 years old along with a new crop of students I am getting to know I thought about how much I enjoy spending time with these kids.

For a few short moments we get to touch minds about topics that are interesting to them and engage in conversation that I hope challenges them and helps them to grow and think about things.  One of my favorite parts of teaching anyone is when you are able to witness those light bulb moments, when it all clicks together in the mind of a person and you can see it on their face.  When you watch someone have the realization that they knew something or truly understand something, that is a beautiful moment.  I have been blessed by so many of those moments through this cooperative.  I have had the blessing of interacting with some of these students from the time they were 11 and 12 years old until now 16 and 17.  I have seen some graduate and move on and I still like the moments when I can see them or interact with them on intellectual topics.  I love seeing the growth and the way young minds develop and sharpen.

I am not a main teacher for any of these kids.  I will not have been a major or even a minor influence or even remembered by many of them.  Still there were moments when they learned things that I know will be further built upon in their lives and for that I am thankful.  I am thankful for the small moments when they learned to look at something from a different point of view, learned to be able to articulate their thoughts better, or gained a new understanding of a concept they may have not considered before.  Those are the gifts our students give us and those are the things that make it all worth while.

One of the greatest things about our cooperative is the freedom to teach whatever class we want and the ability to tailor it to the student's interests.  Over the past five years I have taught the younger, middle and older levels of students, having taught at the 2nd-4th grade level, 5th - 7th grade and 8th through high school level.

I do love teaching the younger kids and have the energy and creativity to do so and some of those classes have been among my favorite as I watch kids be introduced to new topics and find excitement for history or literature that they never thought was there before.  The classes I taught the younger students will be the topic of another post.

Today I am thinking more of the older classes, the high school level ones, mostly because I realized yesterday that several students would be moving on from cooperative and they were some of the first ones I had.  I realized yesterday one my students took almost every single class I offered at his level for the past 5 years.  I sometimes joked with him "Aren't you bored of me yet?"  They do get to choose their classes so they do not need to take a class with me.

Over the years I have taught classes about The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, Teen Christian Music, Research, Argument, Current Events, Advertising, and Movie Criticism.  I try to take topics kids naturally like or are easily interested in and then teach them something through the course of the class.  For instance movie criticism, star wars and narnia all really ended up teaching literature and literary concepts.  Teen Christian Music introduced some poetry and analysis and in current events, research and argument I encouraged them to pick any topic of interest to them even if it may not be traditional.

The thing I most enjoyed was class discussion and watching the students test out their ideas on each other and on me.  Watching some students gain a confidence in their ideas and their abilities.  It has been interesting to watch them mature over the years and see the difference in depth of their answers and analysis.  So many sharp minds make for interesting discussions.  While I will miss interacting with some students and still miss some from years past, I love getting to know a whole new crop of students and getting to see a glimpse of where their minds take them.  Watching someone interact with material and other people in an intelligent way is one of my favorite things.  Being able to help offer opportunities and encouragement for those interactions is one of the biggest blessings I receive as a teacher.  It makes all the work I put into a class well worth it.

I love that I teach my own children at home.  I love that I get to see those light bulb moments all the time here with my own children, it is powerful.  I also like that my kids get the opportunity to learn from and experience other teachers and their teaching styles and interact and share their ideas with other kids.  Homeschooling with attendance in a regular cooperative has been a good combination for us.

There are days when I really miss being part of the debate community I spent so many years as a young adult in.  I miss being surrounded by smart, engaged and interesting people who wanted to discuss, debate and think about a wide variety of topics.  I miss the constant interaction and testing of ideas.  The iron sharpening the iron.  I know my own background in debate heavily influences the way I approach and teach my classes to the high school students.  I try to encourage them to do that to each other and try to let them discuss and lead as much as possible using guided questions or probing challenges so they will interact and work it out with each other.

My favorite age of mind is from about 13-23 or so.  Those ten years (with a few on either end for some) are so formative and to watch the mind work is very interesting.  So many ideas are being tested, independent opinions and factual judgements are being formed on so many topics.  It is as if the mind is sprouting wings, discovering them, deciding which way to point, flying off, falling and picking back up again, sometimes resetting a new course or trying the old one with new energy.  So many people don't enjoy people of this age group but I really do, they are some of my favorite people and I almost always feel refreshed after walking away from a discussion with people in that age group.  Teenagers and college students, I have loved them since I was a debate coach and I think I always will because of what is going on in the mind. Forget about the hormones, crazy behavior, and other annoying habits and try to touch those minds with yours for just a moment and you will come away rewarded and possibly challenged yourself, I know I always do.  Thank you to all of you who have blessed me over the years.