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Planning Your Itinerary

Some people think that unschoolers are lazy, reject any sort of planning, and don’t have goals. I can’t speak for other unschoolers – but nothing can be further from the truth for my family.

I am the daughter of two travel agents. So travel is in my blood. My whole family jokes about our innate love of maps. One thing my parents taught me about is planning a trip. In travel agent lingo, it’s called an itinerary. When you take a trip, you want to know where you are going and how you will get there.

When my husband and I decided to homeschool (and even when we decided to unschool) we knew we had certain wants for our school. One of the reasons we homeschool is that we desire that our children become adults with certain skills and certain beliefs. So we do have goals for our homeschool.

Some of those goals are:

Spiritual health: We want our kids to have their own relationship with Jesus. We want to develop in them certain habits which will encourage this relationship, such as reading the Bible, praying and trusting in Jesus and not in the world or their own "goodness".

Relational health: We want them to have the ability to develop strong, healthy relationships with other people. We want them to have boundaries. We want them to know how to love. We talk about what to look for in friends and in a spouse.

Physical health: We want their bodies to be strong and healthy. We teach them about nutrition, exercise, hygiene, healing prayer, and first aid.

Financial health: Too many in our country are slaves to debt. We want our kids to understand how money works, and how to best be a steward of their finances.

Strong work ethic: We teach them what they can accomplish by working hard and planning well. We talk about project management and follow-through. We work on problem-solving skills. We discuss their future vocations and help them to discern their giftings and decide what their life’s calling might be.

Happiness: It sounds trite to say that we want our kids to be happy, but so many people today are unhappy. We use the teachings of the Option Institute to train our children to be able to choose happiness in all situations – which we find to be a Biblical directive: Count it all joy!

Love of learning: We want our children to love to learn and have the ability to learn anything they want. Reading is an essential skill – but is only loved if it is not forced. We want our children to love reading and enjoy learning new things. (I read a great blog post on "teaching" kids to read today.)

An appreciation for art, beauty and music: Whatever artistic gifts the Lord has blessed our kids with, we want them to flourish. Enjoyment of the arts is part of the joy of my life and I want to share that with my children.

If you haven’t written out your goals for your homeschool, then I encourage you to do so. Even if you don't homeschool, you want to have a focus for your parenting.  It’s a fluid process. There will always be more to add, or to refine. But start. It’s important to know where you are going when you start on a trip. After all, you don't want to wind up wandering in the desert for 40 years. However, once you are on the trip, it’s totally cool to change it up a bit! Praying and asking God what His plans are for your kids, is a great way to start.

So how do you move toward these goals while maintaining an unschool, child directed approach? Stay tuned!

Wish you were here!

Boston - part three

After Aquarium School, and doing a little sightseeing, we head to our hotel. When I was setting this whole thing up, I remembered a hotel I had stayed in when I was 17. My family had vacationed on Nantucket that summer, and stayed in several hotels on the long drive there and back from Chicago. One hotel made a particular impression on me, all those years ago. Now it is known as the Holiday Inn, Boxborough, MA.  It has a huge atrium with a pool and the rooms all around it. To a kid it is heaven. So I called the hotel and negotiated a great rate, based on the fact that we would be there 10 times in the coming year. In addition to a really great rate, they have a Kids Eat Free policy. The kids can’t decide which is better, the swimming pool, or the breakfast buffet. To save money, we pack the cooler with snacks and eat dinner in the room. Then we have the buffet for breakfast.

After breakfast, we swim again. We get late checkout after lunch, and head to the next class.

This is another class coordinated by Family Resource Center. Animal Adventures is a mini-zoo, run by creationist Ed Laquidara in Bolton, Massachusetts. They have ferrets, alligators, snakes, lemurs, lizards, wallaby, bunnies, pigs, chickens, skunks, owl, bobcats, parrots, turtles, chameleon, goats, Komodo dragon and more! The kids are taught how to care for these animals, scientific terms, and an appreciation for God’s creation. Once, they were taught how to wrangle alligators. The alligators’ mouths were taped shut. They started with the 2 foot long alligators and worked their way up to the 6 foot alligator. That’s right. My 6 year old girl has wrangled a 6 foot alligator. There is homework for both classes. I let the kids decide if they want to do it or not. So far they’ve wanted to do it.

The ride home is long and everyone is tired. But we love our vacation school. The next morning is all about unpacking and laundry. They are getting good at both!

Wish you were here!

Boston – part two

After the big kids come from Aquarium School, we hear their excited stories of what they did in class that day. Then we have free time to explore Boston. We like to go to Legal Seafood restaurant. They have delicious seafood and are very kid-friendly.

There are many wonderful museums in Boston. We’ve been to the Boston Children’s Museum – love it! The Museum of Science is a great place to spend a day or two! For a tour of the city, be sure to try the Duck Tours.
A combination land and river tour – they even let Jor Man drive while on the river.

A little farther out, in Sudbury, Massachusetts, we discovered Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. This is the oldest running inn in America. There is a mini-museum inside. But my favorite part is the tavern. It is the oldest part of the inn. Jor Man was so interested in the tavern and its furniture that he kept the barkeep busy answering his questions. The friendly barman showed my kids secret passageways and hiding places where children were kept safe in Indian attacks! There is a dining room and a gift shop, as well. But I recommend spending a while in the tavern and just feeling like you’ve gone back in time. The cheese plate was delicious. We’ve gone back several times.

Henry Ford (yes, THE Henry Ford) fell in love with the place – bought and restored it. He added a reproduction Grist Mill that is nearly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Your kids will love seeing it in action. They give tours. Mr. Ford also built a chapel, and had the actual schoolhouse about which “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was written moved to the site.

And I promise, in the next post, to tell you about the hotel we stay in!

Boston - part one

This "school year", if we can call it that, my family and I are doing something a little different. My friend has asked me (repeatedly) to blog about it - so here we go.

Family Resource Center is a wonderful organization that coordinates field trips and classes for homeschoolers in New England. For a small fee (I think it's $60) we get access to these classes at a discounted rate, and first opportunity to sign up for them. I talked with the two "Big Kids" (my 9 year-old boy and my 6 year-old girl) about taking some classes with them this year, and they were all for it.

So once a month, on Monday, we all (yes, Big Dad, too!) get in the minivan and drive the 3 hours to Boston. There we have lunch (packed) out on the wharf (weather permitting) and then the Big Kids go to Aquarium School at the New England Aquarium in Boston. These classes are broken up by age group, so Campster is in a younger group than Jor Man. They are taught all about taking care of various animals in the Aquarium. One month, they dissected sharks! The kids LOVE their classes.

Class is two hours long, and since that is a long time for SherBear to stay quiet, we take that opportunity to give her special Mom and Dad time, which she adores. We bought a family membership to the Aquarium ($99), so we get free admission and discounted parking ($25). SherBear loves the hands-on Starfish exhibit and spends at least some time there each trip. She also likes the penguins and the seals.

Weather permitting, we take walks and see a bit of Boston. We've toured Faneuil Hall. And this month, we discovered Christopher Columbus park with a playground. Being the daughter of travel agents, I also like to look at the various hotels.

Oh, and speaking of hotels, I can't wait to tell you what happens next! More to come!

Wish you were here!

Majoring in Math

Another old post to give you a background of our process.

Math is a subject that comes easy to me. I was intimidated as a child only in that my little brother was so incredibly brilliant in that subject that he was always ahead of me, even though I was two years older and considered a gifted student. Even though my math career only went as far as geometry (meaning that I've never taken Trig or Calc), I got a 680 in math on the SAT. I married a math major. He was teaching Junior High math when we first started dating and made it to co-chair of the Senior High Math Department before changing careers.

So given the gene pool from which our oldest child was derived, I figure, he's going to be good in math.

Well, today I finally proved to myself that the genes don't lie.

You see, I've been homeschooling him for four years now. The first two years we worked the math book, Singapore math to be exact. And we'd always get to the same point in the book, and, well, get stuck. I didn't want to go forward because I knew that he didn't get it. He didn't know what 3+7 was without counting on his fingers, and even then he looked perplexed. So we did the book again from the beginning. Same outcome, one year later. Frustrated, I decided to forget about math for now and play Monopoly.

To my surprise, the same kid who couldn't tell you what 3+7 was to save his soul, could the following in his head: "Okay, this property is $320, and you gave me $500, what's your change?" "$180." Without blinking. That's when I realized, 3+7 is just numbers. $500 minus $320 is about money, and winning the game, and beating mom. It meant something to him.
So we've been playing Monopoly, and Cashflow, and other games, and doing lots of mental math. We didn't have a formal math program at all last year.

This year, however, I have a Kindergartener who deserves time with mom to learn her 3+7's and phonics. So I wanted the 8 year old to do something a little more concrete and independent.

I was reading in Robinson Curriculum that he starts his kids on Saxon 5/4. Well, my son would just be entering 3rd grade if he were in public school, so I thought it'd be a stretch. But I tested him online, and he actually did very well.

So today we began. He worked on Lesson One for about an hour and 15 minutes and moaned about it quite a bit. Then this evening his former math teacher father and he went over his work. He got every problem right. Tricky stuff, like 10 - N = 3. Stuff he'd never seen or done before.

And before going to bed he told me, "You know, Mom, I think I actually liked math today. I mean, it was kind of fun." Yeah, that's my boy. He's really good at math.

Wish you were here!

Don't You Just LOVE Vacations

You know what it’s like: You’re on vacation with your family. And while there is no such thing as a “real vacation” for a mom of young kids, you notice that it feels different. Everyone is having a good time. Discipline is easy for two reasons: you are not trying to get the kids to do something that they don’t want to do, and your kids recognize that this is fun, special and not your everyday thing. They are feeling grateful for the time together as a family and the things that you are doing together.

Question: Does learning stop on vacation? Or do your kids, like mine, learn even more when they are presented with a new location, situation or event? I noticed on our trip to Jamaica that the kids were learning new things, happily, everywhere we went. They tracked the huge frogs (toads?) in the fountain. They snorkeled and identified types of fish and crustaceans. They went in the caves, and up the waterfalls. They noticed the people and the conditions around them. It’s been two years and they still talk about it. It was a wonderful learning experience. They can pick out the Jamaica flag and recognize reggae music.

But as much as I would have liked to stay in Jamaica every day, life goes on. We live in a rural, remote section of the Northeast United States. But, guess what?! There are adventures to be had here, too.

My decision to unschool came primarily from reading John Holt’s book, “How Children Fail.” If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It is a good book for any parent and any teacher to read. When I recommend this book to friends and they begin to read it, they comment to me “Are you sure you want me to read this book?” The answer is “Yes.” Hang in there. I know it’s not what you were expecting. But read it. It’s worth it.

As I read the book, I saw myself and my children in it. Was I more interested in fulfilling some arbitrary standards than I was in my kids actually learning? Were my children just checking off the boxes rather than really learning? And what did I actually remember from my own education? I admit, I have learned so many things since beginning to homeschool. I don’t remember ever learning these things in school. But now that I am interested in it, I want to learn it, and so I do.

I read snippets of the book to my husband. And we both were struck by the truth of what John Holt saw in those 5th graders he observed. We wanted our children to learn what God inspired them to be interested in – not what the government said they should know. We wanted them to love learning.

My turning point came one day when I was struggling to get the kids to do their work. So much of our homeschool was frustrating to them and to me. I chose the curriculum carefully, and thought they would love it. But like most things that we HAVE to do, they didn’t. Jor-man called out in a moment of distraction, “Mom, there’s the beaver! Can I go outside and follow it? I want to see where the dam is. I want to figure out what it eats? Please?”

“When you are finished with your workbook,” was my answer. And it hit me. I had just killed the teachable moment. Not that I had to go with every whim of my child. But that I was making finishing the page more important than real learning that would last a lifestyle. We put the workbook away after that.

The Revolutionary War

An old post, that I thought you might enjoy.

When the Jor Man was seven, he had informed me that he did not want to study the Revolutionary War. He wanted to study baseball, and the history of baseball, instead. We homeschool. And one of the many things that I love about homeschooling is the ability to tailor the curriculum to fit the student. That said, I wasn't about to give up on studying the Revolutionary War as planned. After all, we had just moved to New England from San Diego. Here we are, right in the middle of so much history. The very town we live in was mined for iron ore that supplied the cannons and munition that won the war. I am learning more about the beginnings of our country from just living here, than I had ever learned in American History classes in school.

So I told my boy that he could study baseball history for school. I thought that was a great idea. And then I went to the library and checked out Felicity: An American Girl's Story. It's a movie - not very good, but interesting enough to catch my son's attention. And halfway through it, he said, "Mom, is this about the Revolutionary War?" "Yes." I said. "I thought you said we weren't going to study the Revolutionary War!" "No," I corrected him. "You said that you didn't want to study the Revolutionary War. I never said we weren't going to."

He was perplexed. But he kind of liked it. And when Johnny Tremaine, the old Disney movie, arrived from Netflix, he was thoroughly hooked. "Mom?" He asked. "Can we study the Revolutionary War next year, too? I really like it!"

So, this mom who left her TVs in San Diego, has signed up with Netflix. And we are watching Revolutionary War videos until Christmas. Today we finished 1776. Really fun - although I could do without all the cussing. The music is wonderful. And my son loves a good musical. The queue at Netflix is all set with 75 movies; most of which are about the Revolutionary War. Some are for the hubby and I to watch, and quite a few are about baseball. He's going to love this schoolyear, and I think I will, too.

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