Search & Win

Balancing Act

Campster and Jor Man on a log and board at a friend's house.

This is just a piece of log and a board, with a screw in the middle.  Can they balance?

Jor Man comes in to the middle, and Campster out to the edge.  Almost got it!

Ta Da!!

Wish you were here!

Space in Time

Sher Bear is really good at cracking eggs!
In a previous post, I told you how four-year-old Sher Bear is now in charge of breakfasts.  For the record, everyone is doing an outstanding job with their new posts.  If I made a listing of everything they have cooked, you wouldn't believe me.  So perhaps I need to get my camera out more often.

Here, Sher Bear is cracking eggs for scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese.  We use a dozen eggs for our family at breakfast, so she is cracking all twelve.

About three eggs into it, she noticed: "Hey, Mom, I cracked three eggs and there are (counts). . . nine eggs left!"

"Yes,"  I say "because three and nine make twelve."  Now she is onto something.  And she stops after every egg broken to count and reassess the situation.

I didn't get my camera out until she was down to four eggs.  She sits on the floor as she cracks them, because that is easier for her.

This is the quintessential unschooling moment.  Counting eggs while cooking.  Never mind that it delayed breakfast.  It was worth it.  And that got me thinking.

How much learning is missed because we are too busy and hurried to take advantage of it?  When I started homeschooling with Jor Man six years ago, I was very into the schedule.  We had our days packed, and it wasn't easy fitting in all those subjects along with driving to this meeting and that class.

The times when I stressed and feeling like I am needing to be somewhere or do something - I am not available and aware of the learning moments.  And when I am not present and in the moment - that is when I am gruff and short tempered.

Our schedule has changed drastically due to my illness last year.  There was a while there when I couldn't drive, and I needed to take things one moment at a time.  I couldn't plan things into our schedule, because I didn't know how I'd be feeling.  So we just learned to flow through the day.  First we would do one thing, at whatever pace necessary, and then we might move on to the next.  But I was easy and gentle with myself, and with the kids.   Now that I am better, we've kept the slow schedule, and it is working much better for us.

Wish you were here!

The Boy and The Moon

Recently, we attended a BBQ at my friend's house.  Among other things, we were celebrating the publishing of her hubby's book.  He is an accomplished artist, whose illustrations have been in magazines.  The Boy and the Moon is his first book.  And it is wonderful.

The story is so cute, and has a clever turn at the end.  In fact, you may find yourself discussing homonyms.  You will also enjoy a discussion of the moon and its phases.

But what will really bless you, are the amazing illustrations.  You know how the moonlight has a mysterious, glowy, dreamy quality to it?  Jim captures that in his illustrations.  They are so beautiful!  And it reminds me of the fun, fanciful "Where the Wild Things Are," but without the scary monsters.  I hope that he will be nominated for a Caldecott award.  (Note to self:  Find out how to nominate someone.)  I might have to get two copies so I can rip the pages out of one and frame them.

Beauty Mom, Fun Friend, and Awesome Artist
The book will be released on September first.  I really want you to go to Amazon and preorder one.  Not because the author/artist is my friend's husband (although. . .) - because you will LOVE it.  And then you will know what to get for all those kids on your Christmas list.

Please comment when you have the book in your hands, and tell me how much you love it.  I'll pass your comments on to Jim.  This is one of those books that you will keep on your shelf after you've culled out the twaddle.

Wish you were here!

First Concert

A couple of weeks ago, Big Dad and I took Jor Man to his first concert.  Train and John Mayer each performed just outside of Boston.  I had been thinking, the last couple of times that I was at a concert, how much Jor Man would like it, and we finally decided to make it so.

We also thought that it might be nice for Jor Man to have some time alone with mom and dad.  After all, he hasn't had us to himself since, well, since Campster was born and he was three-years-old.

I was surprised how apprehensive he was.  So many questions:  Would it be safe?  Would I stay right with him the whole time?  How many people would be there?  How long would it be?

I answered the questions to the best of my ability and assured him that Big Dad and I would not be taking him some place that wasn't safe for him.  But, it would be a very late night.  And he would see some very odd behavior.

Sure enough, there were people tailgating in the parking lot and getting really drunk.  Some of the women were scantily clad.  We had discussed alcohol in the past.  I cook with wine, but don't drink.  We've talked about drunk drivers.  Jor Man thinks drinking is stupid and bad.  And while I am glad he does not revere it, I think he a bit judgmental.

I decided to take the opportunity to talk about drugs.  I explained that there would be people smoking marijuana at the concert.  I said I wasn't sure if we would see anyone smoking it, but that we would certainly smell it.  Jor Man was shocked and appalled!  So cute how innocent he is.  But I don't want him to be naive.  We talked about what marijuana does to the body and the mind.  He asked me to describe the smell.  I couldn't.  But I promised to tell him when I smelled it.

Sure enough, I did.  And I calmly told him so.  He didn't smell it at first.  And then his nose shriveled up a bit, and he got a sickened look on his face (always the drama king!).  "Oh, yuck!" He cried.  "Why would anyone want to smell that?"

Both bands were magnificent - really impressive drums and guitar.  John Mayer is amazing - reminds me of Jimi Hendrix.  Jor Man was properly inspired.  We haven't been able to get him off his guitar and drums since.  I've noticed he is hearing music differently now - searching out the guitar lines, and differentiating between single notes and chords.

Technically, I was in my first concert.  It was sixth grade, and I was singing in Carnegie Hall with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  I was blessed to grow up in the town where the Children's Chorus sang with the CSO under George Solti and Margaret Hillis.  Doreen Rao, mother of the children's choir movement was our director.  I still have the piece, Mahler's Eighth Symphony, memorized, all these years later.  Even though it was in latin and in german, it stirred my soul.

Great music does that - whether classical or contemporary.  I hope you will make the effort to take your children to see some really great music performed.

The video below is not me, and not even the CSO, but it is my favorite part - the finale of Mahler's Eighth.   Enjoy!

Wish you were here!

The New Chefs

Campster's Gluten-Free, Butterfly-Shaped, Pepperoni Pizza

My kids have always liked to help out in the kitchen.  Now that I am done with my chef job, and back to my full-time mommy job, I decided I'd like the kids to do more of the cooking.

Cooking is the perfect unschooling medium.  It involves planning the menu and writing it out, reading the recipe, shopping for the ingredients, economizing the purchases, coordinating the time it will take to cook with the time it will be served, measuring ingredients (fractions!), time and temperature, safety training, nutrition. . . I'm sure I've missed some, but you get the idea.

We have conversations about why eating only mac & cheese for three meals a day would not be good for your body.  We talk about carbs, proteins, fats and sugars.  We categorize foods into meats, dairy, grains, vegetables and fruits.  We pick fresh produce from the garden.  And we butcher our own chickens.  Lots of botany and biology going on.

For now we have settled on Sher-Bear cooking breakfast, Campster cooking lunch, and Jor Man cooking dinner.  They plan the menus out a week in advance and help with the grocery list and shopping.  I encourage them to think ahead a couple of days and see what they might need to either defrost or to prepare in advance.  For instance, on Sundays we always have a potluck lunch after church.  So Campster needed to prepare the pot roast (crock pot overnight) and the brownies the night before.  And Jor Man is making Coq Au Vin for dinner Monday night, so it will start cooking Sunday afternoon.

This morning, Sher Bear cooked scrambled eggs and bacon for us.  I supervised, but she did most of it herself.  Before we eat, we all say "Thank you" to the chef, (who is beaming) and then we give thanks to God for the food.

Wish you were here!

Delicious and Nutritious

Hair nets are not flattering!
If you've been wondering why I haven't been posting as much, there is a reason.  I have been working.  (Gasp!!)  I haven't worked outside the home since before getting my promotion to MOM.  It's been over 11 years.  But given that Big Dad wasn't working but a few hours a week, and my friend wanted help, I said "Yes!", and I have been working as a Sous Chef for a few weeks.

My friend is the Head Chef at The Option Institute, and she was a little short-handed for their busiest season.  I was joking when I asked if she wanted me to come and help her cook.  But she wasn't concerned about my lack of professional training and experience.  She'd been to my house and she knew I could cook.

I have one week left to work there.  The fantastic news is that Big Dad now has full-time (albeit temporary) work.  So I get to do my Mommy Gig full-time again!  I confess, it has been challenging, and fun to work again.  But my kids miss me (they tell me over and over!) and I miss them.  The girls even drew pictures of me as a chef which we hung up at Option.

Sher Bear drew me wearing a chef's hat.
I've always loved to cook.  And I take cooking for my family very seriously.  I have often thought that giving my family the nutritious food they need to grow and be well is one of my most important charges as a mother.  But while making my famously delicious Cheesy Potato Soup yesterday, I was thinking.

When I am cooking at Option, I want the food to taste fabulous.  I don't get to choose the menu, the recipes or the ingredients.  So I am not focusing on the nutritious aspects of the cuisine.  I am focusing on how it tastes.  I want the food that I cook at Option to be delicious.  Good enough doesn't cut it.  I am shooting for over the top scrumptious!

And then it occurred to me, I don't do that at home.  Why?  At home, I focus so much on the nutritious aspects of the food that I am content to leave it at that.  I know the food I serve at home is fresh, organic and has all the nutrients a growing body could want.  I am, in fact, pretty hard core about that.  But if my kids don't like how it tastes - eh?  I haven't really cared so much.  I figure, if they had their way, they'd eat pizza, hot dogs and mac and cheese all day long.  Eating is about supplying nutritious food to your body - it's not about joy.  Or is it?

Campster's drawing has me a bit cross-eyed!
Working as a chef has made me think differently about food.  Sure, I still want the best food for my family.  I won't buy fruits and veggies that have pesticides sprayed on them, or milk that has been pasturized and homogenized.  I want my beef to be grass-fed.  But now I am focusing on how I can make it really delicious, too.  Because eating is about sharing the joy of food, not just a dull exercise in filling up the stomach.  I don't want my kids to learn to dislike eating.

Which got me thinking about learning.  So many of us do the same with our home schools.  We focus so much on getting "the good stuff" into them - as if they are buckets to be filled - that we stop focusing on the wonder and the joy of discovering the world around us together.

I am going to seek this year to make our learning together delicious and nutritious.  Bon appetit!

Wish you were here!

Vacation Bible School

Last week was spent at Kidz Kamp, our church's version of Vacation Bible School.  We meet each morning from 9 am to 12:15 pm.  I lead the theater class and a Bible class for 3rd and 4th graders.  

This year, Jor Man chose to do "Tech" class again, and loved it.  They figured out (the teachers didn't tell them) how to make motors.  Then they made blimps and finally submarines.  Jor Man was entranced.  He came home every afternoon eager to show Big Dad and I what he had discovered.  We begged the instructor to know where he got his projects.  This website has lots of fun experiments and projects in technology.  

Campster and Sher Bear adored their "Younger Crafts" class as usual.  Next year Campster will be old enough to possibly try something else.  But she really loves the crafts, too.

The teens serve as CTs (Counselors in Training) and it is an opportunity for them to experience ministering to others, as well as being on the team together.  In addition to assisting the teachers, (and sometimes being the teachers), they lead worship, put on skits, and set the tone for the whole camp.  This year's CT group was phenomenal.  Jor Man is looking forward to being a CT in three more years.

I love how our little church really turns out for this event each year - people take their vacations to be able to share this week with the kids.  It's free for the families, and so we draw many children from the surrounding area who do not usually attend our church.

I especially loved my Bible class, where the kids asked tough questions:  "How good do you have to be to get into heaven?" and "Why did they kill Jesus?"  I love their honesty and their willingness to get real.

Some of the kids who came to camp were not well behaved.  That gave me an opportunity to talk with my kids about how we treat others who are not nice to us.  They were able to pray for, and love these children, and now they are friends.  That's Jesus' love in action!  

Wish you were here!


Jor Man with the Coconut he found and opened
Dakota's comments on the last post really made me smile.  I love ALL your comments.  Keep them coming.  But what you may not know is that Dakota and I know each other in real life.  In fact, she's the person who encouraged me to start writing this blog - and the person I am usually thinking of when I write it - My audience of one, and the rest of you are all gravy!!  Wonderful gravy.  Dakota challenges me with her questions and makes me think about why I am doing what I am doing.  Not that I haven't thought about it before, but putting into words clarifies it for me.

But back to Dakota's comments.  For the record, I also started out as a Classical-minded, Charlotte Mason leaning educator.  I still am.  I love the classics and good literature.  I read "The Well-Trained Mind" through several times before my oldest child turned 3!!  We have a lot in common, Dakota and I.  (The two best ways to totally overwhelm yourself before starting homeschool are to read through The Well-Trained Mind, and to browse through the Rainbow Resource Curriculum Guide.  The options are indeed endless.)

It is so easy for me to fall back into that - it's deliciously comforting to me in theory.  I love the idea that I could educate my children in such a way that they would have read all of those wonderful books, and had a very rigorous and thorough education.  It's just that when I tried, I found a different reality hitting me in the face.

At Auto Safari Chapin in Guatemala
I didn't like the struggles with my kids (mostly Jor Man, since he was the guinea pig first born).  It broke my heart to see his initial joy and enthusiasm toward learning turning into a grimace, a pout and then all out defiance.

Reading John Holt's "How Children Fail" was such a revelation to me.  I was expecting my children to produce a certain result.  And this had slowly become so much more important to me than the fun of learning.  I saw in that book that I was producing for some unseen (and some seen) critics of my homeschooling.  I felt I had to produce brilliant and well-schooled children in order to "prove" that my choice in homeschooling them was somehow justified.  (As if I could convince anyone who doesn't want to believe in homeschooling.)

Hitting the wall came for me in fits and spurts.  I noticed how much they learned when life created a necessary school break.  Instead of "regressing"  when we took a break, they excelled.  It got downright embarrassing.  They did better when I didn't teach them than when I did.  Hmmm.  So much for proving myself.

Sher Bear's drawing of the boy we met carrying his parrots on a stick
I noticed the "teachable moments" - those times when they were really excited about about a beaver, a fly or a plant they found in the yard.  I noticed how a movie could open up a whole discussion about something, that (prior to the movie) they had not been interested in.

Piece by piece, I realized that my teaching them was not the joyfilled, fun experience we were all hoping for.  I organized, planned and imagined wonderful times of learning - and in practice, there was arguing, groaning and (yes) yelling on my part.

I considered sending them all to school.  Perhaps it was just that I was a poor teacher.  Or perhaps teaching and parenting was too much for me.

After digging for Mayan artifacts in the mud, Sher Bear does her "yucky" face
But I found something else.  I clung to the moments of wonder.  Instead of urging them to get back to the table and finish their worksheets, I entered into their questioning of the world.  Discovery became an adventure - OUR adventure.  And they started asking me for help.

"Mom, could you help me figure out how to skin this snake?"  Umm, ugh, okay.  "Mom, can we find the chicken's brain?" (while slaughtering our chickens)  "Mom, how do you spell Birthday?"  "How do you make a B?"  "How many quarters do I need to buy my doll a backpack?"

This Monarch butterfly is one of the many Campster will catch this summer.
All the subjects flowed naturally from their curiousity.  I no longer needed to coerce them into learning.  I just needed to be willing and flexible.  Suddenly, I was the best "teacher" ever.  They were learning, and I was helping.  I wasn't getting in their way.

Dakota, you mentioned skills like reading, writing and math.  I know you well enough to know that you read volumes to your kids.  They will read.  You don't need to teach them.  They'll get it.  They'll start asking you how to spell words and how to make the various letters.  They'll become interested in numbers, counting, and how many.  Before you know it, they'll be doing division, and you will have never "taught" them it.  That's how its happening in our house.

Campster and Sher Bear climbing the steps of an old chapel
If your kids are begging you to teach them to read, facilitate their learning.  Doing it every day is great if you want them to read early - but if they get frustrated - back off.  Kids who feel like mom or dad (or teacher) is disappointed in their progress start to shut down.  Every time my daughter reads, she's so much better than the last time.  It's a natural developmental process.  Like talking.  Like walking.

When my kids were learning to walk, I sometimes did egg them on.  It's fun.  And as long as it was fun for them, they would humor me and try.  But sometimes, I think, they didn't want to.  They resented the pressure.  Imagine if there was a school for walking.  Imagine we sent our kids to walking school, and they were graded.  Some kids were considered remedial walkers.  Really - that sounds absurd.  Or talking school?!  We play with kids when they babble.  It's fun and that is how they learned to talk.  We talked with them.  Can you imagine step by step instructions for teaching your child to talk?  "Teach your child to walk and talk in 100 easy lessons".  Crazy.  So why is reading, writing and math any different?

Jor Man overwhelmed by his club sandwich!
By not teaching my girls these things, I have noticed the natural development that occurs in these three areas if children are left to investigate them at their own pace.  It's so amazing.  Just like walking, talking, and feeding oneself - children naturally learn to read, write, and do math.  It's built into our development.

These are skills.  I agree with Dakota.  We can place them in a category different than, say, American History.  We do use them everyday.  Even without trying to.  Give your children an environment that is full of real life (not an isolated existence in a classroom full of their peers), and watch them develop naturally - with all the love for learning that God gave them.

Wish you were here!

P.S. - Dakota - I love you whether you homeschool or not - whether you unschool or insist on doing the trivium.  Whatever works for you and your kids is wonderful.


Campster caught this butterfly in Tiquisate, Guatemala
When I mention to people that we homeschool, invariably they ask how I know what to teach.  Wow.  There are so many assumptions about learning going on in that question that I hardly know where to be begin.

If you read my blog, you know that I don't claim to teach my children anything.  I prefer to view myself as a facilitator or a resource person, rather that a teacher.  They do the learning.  I help them with resources and supplies.  But I don't teach.

The original question also assumes that there are certain things which would be the correct things to teach.  As if anything my kids wanted to learn would not be the right things.  I ask my kids regularly what they want to learn.  I keep a list.  I focus my attention on helping them learn what they want to learn.  If Jor Man wants to learn about DNA so that he can "clone dinosaurs", I rent Jurassic Park, and get him a DNA kit.  If Campster's abundant interest in butterflies means she'd like a new net and a larger habitat for them, I look into getting it.  I also got her books on butterflies so she can identify what she's caught.  Sher Bear's interest in learning about Egypt lead to books on mummies and pyramids.  You get the idea.

Campster and Sher Bear examining a dead dragonfly
But what I think my well-intentioned acquaintances mean by their question is this:  "There are certain things that kids learn in school.  And if your kids don't go to school, how will you know what these things are so that you can make sure they know them?"

This assumes something commonly referred to as core knowledge: the philosophy that there is a central body of knowledge that people should know in order to be "on par" with their peers and eventually be a well-rounded citizen.

Well, apologies to Ed Hirsch aside, I don't believe in core knowledge.  First of all, because I've never met anyone who has said "core knowledge".  Rather, everyone I meet has a certain amount of things they chose to remember from school, and most of it they forgot.

This is what John Holt refers to as producing - when a person "learns" something just long enough for the test and then forgets it all.  Are we really going to call THAT learning?  And if that is what we mean by core knowledge - this all important shared information that we all have - how come we all seem to be doing just fine having forgotten it?

This amphibian was at the door one morning.  
Similar to the idea of core knowledge is the fear of holes in our knowledge.  Somethings these are called gaps.  As if any of us actually knows everything!  Obviously, we all have gaps and holes in our knowledge.  That's okay.  That's what books, experiences, museums and the internet are for.  If there's something we don't know, and we decide that we want to know it - we can go and find it out.

Every homeschooling parent I meet is amazed by how much they are learning in the process of home schooling their kids.  This means that either they never learned this "all important knowledge" the first time around themselves, and managed to lead a productive life nonetheless.  Or it means that what we want for our kids to learn, or what they want to learn, is somehow different than what we learned.  But who's to say that different is bad?

So, to sum it all up:  I am much less interested in meeting (what I deem to be arbitrary) guidelines or even milestones.  I fully expect that my children will have gaps in their knowledge of the world.  Ultimately, they choose what they want to learn about and remember, regardless of whether I want them to or not.  That would be true whether they went to school or not.

In the end, I want my kids to believe that learning is something that is fun, rewarding and something they can do whenever and wherever they want to.  I want them to love to learn.  That will serve them their whole lives.

Wish you were here!

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