Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wish I'd had this years ago!

Right now my children are drawing. It's a free afternoon, and they are choosing to draw. This is unusual, but I can credit it to a brilliant move my mom made recently by sending an old drawing book I had as a kid. It's called Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals, and they love it. For the first time, they are drawing with confidence and enjoying it. Granted, these are cartoon looking animals, but if I'd had this book years ago, they might be further on at this point in their skills. Certainly in their enjoyment of drawing! I just scanned Amazon and put several more of his books on my wish list. If you're looking for a good beginning drawing book, this is it! Thanks mom!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More books you need

Back when I first knew Erik, he knocked himself off his pedestal just a little bit with this comment, "Poetry is a crock." At that point in my life, poetry was one of my main means of self-expression. I decided not to hold it against him, but instead to enlighten him, shall we say, to the beauty of poetry.

In an effort to avoid the same cynicism growing in my children, I've been trying to expose them to poetry from the beginning. So many recommended poetry books for kids I find just plain weird and not likely to develop anything but a healthy distrust in my kids. But I've continued searching and here are a couple I really enjoy:

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
You've most likely heard of this one, but it's a classic - you have to have it. Also enjoyable are Runny Babbit and A Light in the Attic, also by Silverstein. Erik read the latter and even copied one of the poems down because he liked it so much. Erik! The poetry is a crock man!

Poetry Speaks to Children
This is a wonderful collection of poems read by the authors themselves (the book comes with a CD). I wish they'd make a second version of this. My kids have memorized a few of the poems and they'll sit and listen to it for an hour.

If anyone knows of more poetry collections that are fun, please let me know!

Boredom isn't bad

I used to think that if my kids ever said they were bored, I was failing as a parent. Lately, I've been rethinking that. Although it doesn't please me when my kids say they're bored (which really translates to, "I don't feel like exerting myself to do anything more than stare at a computer or television screen can I please please please?") I think it's actually a good thing.

Being bored is something I think few kids are these days. On top of spending most of the day in school, they get ferried off to extracurricular classes and playdates, and use the rest of the time to do homework, eat, and probably stare at a screen. One of the great blessings of homeschool is that my kids have lots of time to just be kids. If I'm creative and proactive, we can spend that time doing interesting things. But even then, it's not uncommon (especially with dad gone and a sick mom) to hear "I'm bored!"

Like any good mother, when they say this, I usually do one of several things. Most often I launch into a list of things they could be doing. Why I do this, I don't know, because they never, ever respond with, "Gee, mom, you're right! I'll go read right now!" Next I'll say, "Well, I guess if you don't want to play with any of those toys, we'll just get rid of them." Seeing this in writing makes me realize the complete futility of this line of argument. Sometimes I just get fed up and go all grandma on them, "When I was your age we didn't have computers! We had 12 channels on the TV and sometimes there was nothing on for kids! We played outside all day long and we liked it!" And my children stare at me like I was raised on the prairie.

Today, when they gave me the "I'm bored" line I went into the playroom, got out some cars, and made a few ramps. That entertained them for about 5 minutes. I got out another toy, which also entertained them for 5 minutes. Sometimes that's what they want - for me to stop what I'm doing, sit down, and actually play with them. I guess not today though.

But what I'm discovering is that most of the time, when they say they're bored, if I let them be, soon I'll find them doing something on their own. I've decided that boredom is the doorway to imagination. I think it's good for kids to stop being entertained by the world around them, so that they can remember that there's enough inside them to entertain themselves. So here's to being bored.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ah, the freedom

No, I'm not talking about the freedom of summer. You'll know when we hit that because it will evoke an old testament, Davidian dancing in the streets in our underwear kind of celebration. I love my kids, really, but who would rather work than not?

I'm talking about the freedom I'm about to exercise today called "Teacher Sick Day." I just announced to my kids that we aren't having school today because I feel like a lump. I want nothing more than to sleep my morning away, after the accumulation of 2 1/2 weeks without my husband (he streaked through here for 12 hours a few days ago but that was insufficient), an off and on tension headache, and a year of homeschool.

So I laid out the 3 R's for them on the homeschool desk with instructions to do a few things, then entertain (and, they insist, EDUCATE) themselves, with the Jump Start 3rd Grade computer game. Granted, if they were in school I could sleep every morning away. But my responsibility quotient is too highly strung to do that. As it is, I'm barely comfortable doing this, even though we could really quit school right now and my kids would be none the worse for it.

I'm yawning and will soon be incapable of making coherent sentences. Rejoice with me in my freedom to zzzz . . . .

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I'll Make a Writer of Him Yet!

Ethan is not particularly interested in writing, unless it involves making lists of the Legos he doesn't have and how much they are in both US dollars and Singapore dollars. This grieves me, naturally, but I will not give up on developing, if not a love for writing, a competency in it.

I was encouraged on Friday when Ethan willingly submitted to an exercise in making acrostic poems. He did such a great job in fact that I feel compelled to share them. Here they are, with almost no prompting from mom:

Excellent at building
Tough wrestler
Healthy person because I eat a lot of fruit
A smart person
Not that musical

Excellent at reading
Gentle when someone's hurt
Always singing
Not into Star Wars Legos

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Anger and other things we wish we didn't have to deal with

One of the blessings (and sometimes I say "blessings" by faith) of homeschool is that I am able to observe and address the issues that my kids have, be they emotional, behavioral, or attitudinal (is attitudinal a word?). My kids are the kind, bless their hearts, who teachers and babysitters love because they're just so "good." That's because they've used up all their evil on their parents. Or maybe because they don't feel the same kind of freedom to express their evil. Yeah, let's say that because it sounds better. Regardless, just because kids don't misbehave doesn't mean they don't want to. So I guess in that sense I'm glad it comes out at home so I can help them with it.

In light of the current issues in our house, I picked up a book called Helping Your Kids Deal with Anger, Fear and Sadness. Ethan has developed, within the last year or so, what we call the "disproportionate emotional response" when he doesn't get what he wants. Maybe he's making up for the first seven years of his life being easy going, or maybe he's dealing with the great emotional upheaval of our family life in the last year. Again, I'm going with the latter. I've never thought of Ethan as angry, but I think it's because I never identified these symptoms as being expressions of anger: changing the rules of a game, not liking change and being resistant to it, being resistant to learning something new and easily frustrated by it, and being a poor sport. Ethan does all of those, in addition to the occasional new outburst of screaming and getting a little wild with his belongings (ok, I'll say it - sometimes he throws things).

Last night we had a classic exhibit A. My friend Jen whose house we have overtaken suggested a movie night for the kids. They couldn't decide between two, so Jen made a fair and executive decision to choose for them. Since it was the one Ethan didn't want, he lost it. Imagine a high pitched squeal starting from deep within and coming to a high crescendo within 2 seconds, sending everyone around him running for shelter. Me - sigh, "Ethan, into the bedroom." In the end, it all worked out, but it brought back into sharp focus the need for me to be reading this book and addressing his anger.

What's most interesting to me is that in reading it, I can recognize the anger in myself. It should be no surprise to me that what has been true of most of this journey is true in this as well: so many of the issues with my kids have their root in my own attitude and behavior. If you homeschool, or are considering homeschool, you should be aware of this oh so true fact: you will learn and change as much or more than your kids. Be prepared for a mirror to put in front of your face every day. You may not always like what you see, but do we really want to go through life blind to the things that keep us from fully living?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Story of the world

I love history, so I'd probably be into any history curriculum I pick up, but we love Story of the World. We started last year in Volume 1 and are just finishing up Volume 2 this spring. The reading book has short, interesting chapters, often incorporating a folk tale from a particular time period. The accompanying activity book has suggestions for comprehension, map work, crafts, and further reading.

Ethan has inherited my history gene, so I think I could read the whole book to him in one sitting. Megan sees me pull it out and runs, but she's just not that into history period.

We bought the test booklets this spring just to try them out. I don't necessarily recommend them. I think covering the comprehension questions in the activity book will suffice. We use them more as review.

This may be the most dull post I've ever written in my life, but I've wanted to share reviews of curriculum for awhile so this will be the first in a line of many. Hopefully I can instill a little more oomph into future reviews.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Book recommendations #1

I'm guessing that vast majority of posts on this blog will be about books. I think I just heard some people fall asleep. Hey, no one told you that you had to read my blog. I love books. This love was instilled deep into me by my book loving parents - my mom was a librarian. How could I not love books? I'm eternally grateful to them for that. So here are a few books that we've loved as a family recently:

1. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
My mom turned me on to this (of course). It's about a china bunny who is full of himself. He gets lost from the little girl, Abilene, who loves him far more than he deserves. He is passed from stranger to stranger, getting more and more shabby. Along the way he finds his heart. It's a terrific read aloud because the chapters are quite short. Except for the last chapter, which I read two or three words at a time, pausing to collect myself while the kids kept asking, "Mommy, why are you crying?" Yeah, it's that kind of good.

2. Mercy Watson Fights Crime, by Kate DiCamillo
I give the Mercy Watson series credit for teaching my five year old to read. Since the chapters are short and there are lots of pictures, it held Megan's attention while it challenged her with bigger words. As a read aloud, it's quick and fun - what's not to love about a toast eating pig who's treated like one of the family?

3. The Man Who Wore All His Clothes, by Allan Ahlberg
This is one of a series about a funny family, the Gaskitts, that has crazy adventures. The illustrations are great and the story has our kids laughing out loud. They're disappointed that they've read them all already.

All about us

I'm assuming that most of the people who are reading this already know plenty about us. But I'll give a quick "who we are" introduction in this post. To begin, we have our son, Ethan. I refuse to refer to my children as ds and dd. People seem to do that a lot on the internet. I think it's weird. So I will just refer to him as my son, if it's all the same to you.

Ethan turned eight on February 23. He was born in China, moved to Singapore at age 4 1/2, and is still fairly convinced that he is Chinese American. He is an engineer in training, following his daddy. His obsessions are Legos and computers, particularly combinations of the two like the Star War Lego computer game. When it comes to school, he majors in math and science. He's not a big fan of language arts, though he's a good reader. He's an auditory, logic smart learner. He's not much for sports aside from biking, fishing, archery and ping pong. He loves being in the Cub Scouts. He's a pretty even keeled kid who goes with the flow, but he is known to get upset if you pull him away from the computer unexpectedly.

Our daughter, Megan, just turned six on April 15. Yes, I know, it's tax day. But it wasn't tax day in China, where she was also born. I was just glad she wasn't born on the fourteenth of April, because it's an unlucky day there and while I don't believe it, I didn't want the Chinese thinking she was cursed. Megan sings and dances her way through life, currently to the soundtracks from High School Musical 1 and 2. She loves to read and write, but she hates history. She started Tae Kwon Do recently and is in love with it. That's usually the case with any sport she tries. When she irreparably tore a tendon on her toe this year, her only concern was whether or not she could still play basketball. Megan's trademark is her long red hair and yes, she has the temper to match.

I always say that life with my husband is like climbing a mountain - in a good way! You know those amazing guys who lead expeditions up Everest? They seem to have a superhuman strength and endurance. They're encouraging, challenging, and you trust them with your life. That's Erik! He's an adrenaline loving, godly man who has an engineering bent. His current role as an Operations Director means that he's always figuring out bigger and better systems for how things operate - including in our home. But he not one of those "great tech skills poor social skills" kind of people - he's been voted "friendliest in the office." People love him because on a team he's so approachable and capable. Can you tell I'm blessed? He's fantastic, which is a good thing, because I could never do this homeschool gig without his undying support.

As for me, the defining truth I know is that I am a deeply loved child of God, and I try to live out of that as my identity. I want to live a life of humility and dependence on God. That's a big reason why I homeschool - nothing has driven me to my knees more than this!

I am a native Minnesotan with a degree in organizational communication. I am most alive when I am able to communicate the lessons and insights God gives me into myself, into life, into knowing Him. Put me in front of a thousand people with something to share and I will be thrilled. I wouldn't say I'm cut out to be a homeschool mom, but I have my strengths, and I'm learning to rely on God in my weaknesses.

That's it - there's our whole family. No plans for 10 children or a farm. We won't be milking our own goat or making our own clothes. Our kids don't build pretend pyramids in their spare time or play any musical instruments. But they're learning a lot and enjoying the freedom of just being kids, and I'm enjoying a prolonged time with them before I release them into the world.

If you found this blog and expect it to be a litany of the glories of homeschool, you're wrong. What you will find is the honest expression of what we're learning, resources and techniques we've found that are working, and probably some venting.

As if I needed another thing to do . . .

Being a homeschool mom, my time is limited. And yet, I still find time to waste. And time to start another blog. I amaze even myself.

So why AM I starting another blog? Well, aside from the fact that I love writing more than anything, I just felt a moment of inspiration to make a blog where I share solely about our homeschool experience, which I often term in my mind "The Grand Experiment." Homeschooling my kids is something that sort of happened to me by virtue of our circumstances, rather than because I possessed deep convictions about the superiority of homeschool. It is probably the most daring thing I've ever attempted. It has been intriguing, challenging, frustrating, terrifying, and at times quite satisfying. And in the process I've learned a lot about myself, my kids, how to homeschool, and how not to homeschool.

So this blog is partly educational, partly therapeutic. Hopefully with a dash of entertainment.