Search & Win

Hasta Luego!

The kids' bags are packed.  Tomorrow Big Dad and I will pack.  I'll mow the lawn.  We'll make a run to the transfer station (trash).

Sunday we fly to Guatemala.  Lord willing.  I am watching the weather down there and wondering.  Tonight Big Dad quipped, "Hey, I know!  Let's go on vacation somewhere with hurricanes, active volcanos, crime and malaria!  That'd be fun!"

But I think it really will be fun.  It's an adventure.  So I am putting on my adventurous spirit and trusting God that we will all have a really fun, exciting time in Guatemala.

We will be staying with my Guatemalan family, mostly in Guatemala City.  But we will also be going to Antigua, Chichicastenango, and Tiquisate.  We will be in the jungle and in a mango plantation.  We will visit Mayan ruins and watch a volcano erupt (from a distance!).  Sounds like Indiana Jones, doesn't it?

I will be "going dark" for a couple of weeks.  My cell phone wouldn't work down there anyway.  And while we might have some internet access while in the city - we will be traveling all over.   So if you don't hear from me for a couple of weeks, you'll know we made it there okay.  No news is good news!

When we get back, I'll have pictures and lots of adventures to share with you.

Now off to pack the sketch pads, extra camera batteries, and passports.

Please pray for our health and for the weather to cooperate.

Wish you were here!

The Right Way to Write

I have been watching something wonderful happening.  Sher Bear is beginning to write.  This is wonderful because it is such an organic, developmental experience for her.

When Jor Man was that age, we were already doing a full "school" program at home.  I did more of a Classical Trivium program with him in the beginning.  I read "The Well Trained Mind" all the way through several times.  We worked on reading.  We worked on writing.  We worked on language arts.  We studied the Ancients and even mummified a chicken.  It was very intentional and rigorous.  And for a little while, it was fun.

I think it was fun because it was novel and I was only teaching one child.  Campster was there, getting into stuff and learning right along with us.  I was fresh and enthusiastic - and that goes a long way into making "school" fun.

Sher Bear writing.  Behind her paper are the Abeka blend ladders that a friend gave us.
But then we began to run into problems.  Jor Man didn't like to be told how to write his letters.  If I wasn't sitting there, watching each stroke, he might start a letter at the bottom, instead of at the top.  Or he might make his loops counter-clockwise, instead of clockwise.  Oh, the horror of it!

I can joke now, because I have distance and I now know that everything turns out all right in the end.  But at the time, I was really stressing myself out.  And Jor Man, of course, picked up on my anxiety.  He felt pressured to do it "my way" - which I kept telling him was the "right" way.  And the more I insisted, the more he balked.

And then there were the backwards letters.  Is he dyslexic?  What does it all mean?  So much worry - and so little fun.  Of course, I believed that if he didn't write correctly, it meant something about me as a teacher and parent.  And maybe it meant homeschooling wasn't working, and I'd need to send him to "real" school.  Ugh.

I got books on reversals, and worked with him.  That helped only when we were focusing on getting the letters (and numbers) to go the right way.  When he wrote outside of that time, they were all backwards again.

So I gave up.  Really.  And soon something else started happening.  He got really creative with his writing.  He started trying to write in cursive (he was 6 or 7 then), and he was pretty good.  He liked mimicking my writing, and his dad's.  He took an interest in how his writing looked, and soon the letters and numbers were going the "right" way.  His writing became incredibly legible.

I think his fine motor skills caught up and his interest in handwriting, now that mom wasn't badgering him about it, brought out the artist in him.  He wanted to learn calligraphy.  He began drawing cartoons.

Campster taught herself to write.  But then I intervened.  I tried "A Reason for Handwriting" and she didn't protest.  But she liked coloring the pictures more that writing the letters.  The letters were sloppy, and she didn't follow their instructions.  I could tell she had no interest in learning to write that way - so she wasn't giving it any real effort.  Another fail!

She still writes in nearly all capital letters, and usually reverses a letter or two.  I don't give it a second thought.  She writes a lot - all day calling out "Mom?  How do you spell . . .?"  The rest will come.

But what I am noticing now, that I find really fun, is Sher Bear's writing.  She's 4 1/2 and fascinated by words.  She loves to make us cards - I get three or four a day from her.  She'll ask me, or her brother or sister for help making a letter or spelling a word.  Sometimes, I'll get the magnetic lowercase letters down from the frig to spell something for her.  And sometimes I'll write it out myself and let her copy.  I might even get a highlighter and write out the words in yellow for her to trace over.  But that's the extent of our lessons.  I don't "make" her write anything.  I don't even have any of that lined paper in the house.  But we go through a lot of plain white copypaper!

And I am loving seeing her creative spelling of words and her joy in the process.  She wants to write, and read because she sees her family writing and reading.  She is teaching herself - just like she taught herself to walk and to talk.  I don't correct her, I just enjoy her.  The developmental stage she is in now is so lovely.  It's just great fun to watch it unfold.

Wish you were here!

Painting together

We really love to paint around here.  I don't just mean that we have the standard preschool easel with paints (although we do), or even finger paints or watercolor.  I mean making "real" art.

It all started when Jor Man was three-years-old.  Big Dad wanted something special to put over the mantel letting everyone know that we are Christians.  I got an idea for a painting of Jesus, in three parts:  two hands and his head, on the cross.  I sketched it out, and bought the canvases and the paint.

Then, having sketched it in pencil on the canvases, I began to paint while baby Campster was asleep.  Jor Man noticed and wanted to "help".  I gulped.  I didn't really want his help, because I wanted the painting to be "good".  Well, he was so excited about painting, that I decided to try it.  But I explained to him that I wanted it to be a certain way, and I might "fix" a few things.
Our painting together was great fun.  We painted for several days and it turned out just like I wanted.  Big Dad was so happy with it.

Fast forward to six months ago.  It was Big Dad's birthday.  The kids wanted to make him something.  I thought he might like a painting of the kids by the kids.

So we went to Michael's and got a canvas and acrylic paints.  I sketched the three kids from photos.  We'd already begun painting before I realized that it would be fun to document it.

Each child was responsible for painting their own picture.  Beauty Mom helped with mixing colors and with suggestions for how to do things.  It took several hours which we did over a few days.  Better to do a few shorter spurts with good cooperation and fun, than rush to get it all done at once, getting frustrated and impatient with ourselves and others.  We talked a lot about colors, and styles of art.  We experimented with mixing colors to see what would happen.

One of the best things we learned is that for an artist there is no such thing as a mistake, only an opportunity!  Learning to have a good attitude is, I think, more important than learning technique.  With a good attitude, technique will follow.  But with a bad attitude, technique is really wasted.

We kept it all a secret.  On the morning of his birthday, the kids lined up on the bed with the painting on their laps.  We hadn't planned it that way, but it was so funny.  Big Dad was so surprised!  And the kids were all proud and happy with their creation.  They asked if we could paint again soon.

I think it is fun for kids to paint in the standard "school" ways that we think about kids painting.  But it is really fun, engaging and meaningful for them to be a part of "real" art.  Something that hangs on your wall for years, not just on your frig for a few weeks.

When I was little, my mom had an entire wall in our kitchen designated as the art wall.  She hung up our very nicest works of art and kept them there.  In fact, one of my drawings is still on her frig.  Really.

Thanks, Mom!

Wish you were here!

Counting Ping's Family

Yesterday, the girls were reading "The Story About Ping", by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese, again.  It's such a great book.  I love all of the opportunities for learning in it.  We have discussed geography - the book takes place in China on the Yangtze River.  We have found it on our map.  We discussed that this is the same country that the movie "Mulan" is based in.  There is also reference to the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  So we've talked about directions.  Which way does the sun set at our house?  Yup.  It sets in the west here, too.    It's fun to show them this with a compass.

That's a lot of ducks!
I love that Ping disobeys because he doesn't want to get spanked.  And how he gets lost from his family because of his disobedience.  There is also a boy who disobeys his parents.  Perhaps we could decide that this is a good thing because Ping lives - but the family will now go without dinner!  (Not okay in my book.)  Don't miss the opportunity to discuss the importance of obeying your parents.

In the end, Ping finds his family, but he must decide whether or not to join them, as he knows he will be spanked for being late!  He decides it is worth it.

But the part of Ping that the girls picked up on yesterday was the numbers.  Ping's family is described several times as consisting of Ping, his mother and his father, two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins.  (Love the large family).

Math-U-See Starter Block Set
The girls wanted to know, "How many ducks does that make in all?"  So I asked Campster to get the Math-U-See blocks I bought for her at the MASSHOPE convention.  These are plastic unit blocks in different sizes and colors.  What you can't see in the picture is that there are two layers, and under what you see are four red "100" blocks.  The girls are loving using them to figure out any math problems they come up with.  I opted this year just to get the blocks.  I hear from many friends that the curriculum is wonderful.  But I have not used it myself.  I showed Campster the blocks at MASSHOPE and she really liked them.

Ping, his mother, and his father.
So we started with a 100 block to place the other blocks on.  Then we added one green block for Ping, followed by a green block each for his mother and father.  Don't miss the opportunity to recognize that we now have three ducks.

Two sisters and three brothers
Eleven Aunts
Then we added his two sisters (using the orange 2 block) and his 3 brothers (using the pink 3 block).  How many ducks do we have now?  Campster told me eight.  When I asked how she knew that without counting, she told me that she saw that it was two less than ten, and she knows that is eight.  (Hmm.  Don't remember teaching her that.  Could it be that she is learning math without being taught?)

Next we added Ping's eleven aunts.  Campster knew that eleven would be a ten and a one.  By making the largest block a ten, it shows place value.   Now we have a total of ten and nine - which is nineteen - or twenty minus one.

Seven uncles = Six plus one
Forty-two cousins
Next the Campster wowed me with her suggestion.  Rather than add a seven block for the seven uncles, she suggested that we do a six and a one and fill in the missing block in the upper right corner.  Now we have two rows of ten and six.

Last we added the forty-two cousins.  Campster grabbed four tens and a two.  Hard to "read" it this way, though.  Let's put all the tens together, and then the ones.

Sixty-eight ducks!!
Now we can count six tens and eight ones.  Sixty-eight ducks!  That's a lot.  (We "only" have 51 quail!)  The girls felt happy with their successful counting of the ducks.  Then we put all the ducks (blocks) back in the box for next time we want to do some math.

Isn't math fun?

Wish you were here!

Here is our King

Beauty Mom and Sher Bear singing and strumming
Like I said in a previous post, I want to learn to play a David Crowder song for worship.  Well, I got the chords off the internet and have been practicing.

It's funny how I can go for a while without touching my guitar, and no one else is really interested in touching it.  Then, when I get it out, suddenly all three kids MUST play guitar.  This was the scene this morning as I attempted to play.  I finally decided to let the Sher Bear strum while I fingered the chords.

Jor Man rocks out!
Now Jor Man has his electric guitar out, and Sher Bear is strumming on my acoustic, singing praise at the top of her lungs.  It doesn't take much to get kids excited about making music.

Here's the song I am learning:  Here is our King.  I hope on Monday, during our drum lessons, Jon will help us each find a part to play so we can play it together.  We're not ready to lead worship yet, but it's a start.

The video below is David Crowder Band playing it how it is supposed to sound.  :)  I like it because it is so worshipful.

Wish you were here!

Summer School

Sher Bear and Big Dad before they discovered the snake in the boat.
I received an email today from one of the many online homeschool groups that I participate in.  A mom was asking what other moms do in the summer to prevent the inevitable loss of learning over summer break.  She explained that before summer her kids would know their multiplication tables, and by the start of the school year, they would had forgotten them.

Of course, I know what she is talking about.  Having been in public school myself, and having done "school at home" for the first few years of our homeschooling adventure - I know all about the vacuum that is summer break.  It seemingly sucks all of the knowledge right out of kid's brains.  Why is that?

Jor Man goes out with Big Dad.
Well, now that we have been unschooling, I can tell you we no longer experience this.  Summer is just like any other time of our year - only warmer, and with more kids around.  I have found that if we leave something alone for a while (say Campster's reading), when we go back to it, she hasn't forgotten - she's made leaps.  She's more developmentally ready.  She's been processing what was already integrated into her learning.

It begs the question:  What is learning?  If we "learn" something, only to forget it a few months (weeks, days, hours?) later, did we ever really LEARN it in the first place?

Campster and Big Dad rowing out.
John Holt writes about this concept in "How Children Fail".  He defines two different things he sees happening in the classroom:  Learning and Producing.  Learning happens when kids are engaged and interested in the subject - when they want to learn - when it is driven by their own curiosity and delight.  Producing is something kids do to cope with the expectations of others.  It has nothing to do with real learning.  It may mean guessing at the answer.  It probably means picking up clues from the teacher or from other kids.  It may even mean choosing to answer incorrectly - failing as a coping strategy.  If you haven't read the book yet - and you are actually reading this blog - may I entice you to read it?  You'll thank me.

So, going back to the chid who learns their multiplication tables but forgets them over the summer.  I'm going to suggest that they never learned them in the first place.  They produced them.  And then it was summer and they didn't have to produce, so they forgot.  Learning is like riding a bicycle.  You don't forget how to do something you've learned, just because you haven't done it in a while.  You've incorporated it into who you are, and how you see the world.  It is part of you.

I want my kids to learn.  I have very little use for producing.

In the same email, I read this description of summer learning.  Lovely.

Enjoy your summer.

Wish you were here!

Moon in the Pond

Campster adored the farm's kitten

Today we visited Moon in the Pond Farm.  This is a wonderful place that practices old-school, sustainable farming practices.  They have pastured, heirloom breeds of cattle, sheep, geese, duck, turkeys, chicken, and pigs.

While Grace was here, I wanted to go to farm for a walk.  I love seeing all the new life of early summer.   Jor Man and Campster chose to come with us.  Sher Bear had been there last fall, and wanted to stay home with Big Dad.

They should have called it "Frog in the Pond"
It was a glorious day!  So sunny and warm.  And we saw many wonderful creatures.  The favorite by far was the kitten we found "guarding" the baby ducklings.  Campster wanted to take her home.  But I told her I didn't think Princess Miss Kitty (our cat) would appreciate that.

Out in the fields we identified the various vegetable plants we found growing there.  I thought about Jamie Oliver's show and how school kids couldn't identify potatoes!  My kids could identify most of the vegetables growing at the farm.  There was only one which we did not recognize.

Campster catches a Swallowtail at the farm.
This weekend, we butchered our eight chickens.  I didn't want to have to find someone to care for them while we are in Guatemala.  And, I didn't like them as much as the Amerucanas we used to have.  So I have ordered 10 Amerucana (hens) and 15 Cornish Cross (roosters) - all day-old chicks to arrive the week after we return from Guatemala.  We will raise the hens for eggs, and raise the roos for meat.  Tonight we had Coq Au Vin for dinner.  Yum!!

I was surprised at how much fun we had butchering.  Two friends who wanted to learn how to butcher helped.  So we had four adults and the three kids.  Sher Bear helped plucked, and then decided she wasn't into it - so she took a bath and watched a movie.  But the big kids loved it.  Once the rooster (who was such a big, mean bird) was dead, they were fearless.  They crawled into the coop and grabbed the hens.  Then they killed them, plucked them, and gutted them.  Amazing.

Baby cow.  Awwww!
Jor Man did not like the turkeys at Moon in the Pond.  They would gobble loudly, and Jor would go running.  But Campster was brave.  Campster also caught another butterfly, a swallowtail, which we released after pictures.  I don't know how she does it!

The baby pigs were super cute.  But Grace and I adored the calf.  So beautiful!!  He came right up to the fence and let Jor Man pet him.

Wish you were here!

Happiness, part two

A friend and Sher Bear playing with face paints
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7

According to Barry Neil Kaufman, author of "Happiness is a Choice" and co-founder/co-director of the Option Institute, thankfulness is one of the shortcuts to happiness.

So how do we help our kids (and ourselves!) to be more thankful?  It's a funny thing, because, it's not what you would think.  Reminding kids to say "Thank you" is not the same as them actually being thankful.  It's polite, and, I think, not a bad idea to get kids into the habit of saying thank you.  But etiquette aside, this is a heart issue.

When we are truly thankful, it springs from a knowledge that we did not deserve or earn what we got.  We we feel we earned it - that is entitlement.  Now, there is nothing wrong with doing a good job, working hard and earning your keep.  I am all for that.  But learning a good work ethic is not the same as being thankful either.

Entitlement quenches thankfulness.  It also creates whining.  When kids are whining, you could know that they feel that things aren't fair - in other words, they think they SHOULD get something.  Then, if they get it, they will not be thankful for it.

Sher Bear loves the baby quail
So how do we get rid of entitlement?  It is rampant in our culture.  Everyone thinks they are entitled to a home, healthcare, cell phones and cable television.  It is not making us happier to have all these things.

In our home, our kids know that they are not entitled to toys, special treats or even food.  (Remember the old days, when kids went to bed without supper if they disobeyed?)  Any needs we meet we do because we love them.  I am not talking about neglect.  I am talking about kid's attitudes changing to realize that they are blessed to have loving parents who care for them.

When the kids get demanding, whiney or otherwise unthankful, we talk about this again.  "Is it our job to make you happy?  No.  We love you, and so we do certain things for you.  But we don't have to do any of them."

I know how harsh this sounds.  It struck me the same way the first time I heard it five years ago.  But it has changed everything about how I parent, and how happy we all are.

Wish you were here!

A Brighter Way

Jor Man on the far left 
Last February, Jor Man was invited to be part of a world effort to sing for Haiti.  Truth be told, they needed more boys.  But it was a nice invitation - and he had fun singing and, especially, twirling the ribbons! (Jor Man is on the far left in the orange shirt).

It was incredibly challenging for Jor Man who had never sung with this group before and had an hour or so of practice before they filmed it.  But he really got a kick out of seeing himself on YouTube.

By the way, in the video below, the pictures of Haiti were taken by a friend who was part of the missions trip from our church to Haiti before the earthquake.  And the child at the very beginning is a child she sponsors.

I remember that at the time, Jor Man was very moved by the earthquake (pardon the pun) and wanted to help.  How wonderful for kids to be empowered to give and help in times of need.  Not only is it lovely, it builds the child's sense of purpose and power.  It's interesting to me how many wonderful opportunities are out there - even in our rural area - if we just keep our eyes and ears open and are willing to try new things.

I meet home schooling families who don't get out much, and complain that there aren't many resources available to them.  But I have found that networking begins with being friendly with people - letting them know you are interested in what is going on around your town.  It can be isolating to not have your kids in school.   There is a network of people and events that we "miss out" on by not having our kids enrolled.   But don't stay home and pout!  Get out there and meet people!  And if there isn't a homeschool support group in your town, start one!  Be the positive and proactive person you want your kids to become.  Model it for them.  Not only will you get to find out about great opportunities for your family, you'll meet new friends and introduce people to home schooling and to the Lord.

Wish you were here!


Jor Man's Sand Tiger Shark poster
Last week the big kids "graduated" from both Aquarium School and Animal Academy.  This was our tenth month of going to Boston for classes once a month.  What an adventure!

I wasn't at all sure how this was going to work.  Afterall, as unschoolers, we are not in the habit of "making" our kids do their homework.  But both classes had final projects of a report and a poster about an animal.  Jor Man would (if he were in school) be in 4th grade.  So I imagine he might have such a project to do in 4th grade, although I don't remember writing reports until 6th grade.

Campster's Sea Horse poster
But Campster would be only in 1st grade, if she were in school!  So it seemed funny to me for her to "have to" write a report and do a poster.  In any case, neither child had ever done anything like this before.

Happily, both classes had assignments throughout the year which were much shorter and led up to the final projects.  I always told the kids what the homework was, and that they didn't have to do it.  Of course, I pointed out that the other kids in class would probably be doing the work.  I'd say something like, "So if you want to work on it, and you'd like help, I'm available this afternoon, and tomorrow morning.  But if you leave it until the last minute, I might not be free then."

Jor Man in front of his poster
Jor Man balked the most.  I just ignored it.  And by ignore it, I mean that I didn't get unhappy about it.  It wasn't easy.  I have strong "wishes" for my kids to "do well" and make me look good.  (Lovely!)  But I know that if I try to use unhappiness to motivate my kids to do what I want, they will learn to use unhappiness to try to motivate me to do what they want (whining, moping).

The posters were fun to do, and kind of got the ball rolling.  I can't say enough good things about repositionable spray adhesive.  Just don't let the kids use it themselves, unless you want your whole house to function like a post-it!

The reports were more of a challenge.  Like I said, Jor Man balked big time about doing the two-page report.  I chose to reframe it for him:  They had done a few shorter "reports" throughout the year of about a paragraph or two.  So we collected all of the ones about Sand Tiger Sharks (his aquarium animal) and photocopied them.

Jor Man with his TuaTara poster and report, and Campster with hers on Rabbits
Then we cut the photocopies up into sentences, and organized them by topic.  Some were about the animal's classification; some, the exhibit; and some were about what the animal ate.

We then sprayed a couple blank pieces of paper with spray adhesive, making huge post-its.  Then we placed the sentences in paragraphs.  Jor Man was able to see how a report is organized.  We added opening and closing paragraphs and he had his report!  When it came time to work on his Tuatara report, he knew what to do, and wrote it himself.

The Campster was excited to work on her poster and reports.  For Aquarium School, she chose Sea Horses as her animal.  Thankfully, she had an option to do either a report or a series of five cartoons.  She chose the cartoons.  It was really fun to see how creative she got with her cartoons.  They are all her own work.  I just coached her through the process.

For her report on Rabbits (her Animal Academy animal), Campster and I checked out books from the library.  I read portions of the books to her, and she would comment when there was something she wanted me to write down for the report.  We talked about how we need to write things in her own words.  

Campster and her friend holding Campster's "Cartoons" for her Sea Horse report
Then we took the notes and read them aloud.  Afterwards I asked her to dictate her report to me, and I would write it out.  She did a great job, no problem.

Jor Man discusses Sand Tiger Sharks with the President of the Aquarium
The classes, did a great job of celebrating the end of class and the kids' learning.  At the New England Aquarium, they had the kid's posters up and their reports out on display.  The administration of the Aquarium all took the time to come by and see what the kids had done.  Jor Man had an extended conversation about Sand Tiger Sharks with the President of the Aquarium.  Jor was very excited about this.

Wish you were here!

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