Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at About.com:Homeschooling. Take a peek!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Is It OFF?

A few weeks ago, our lovely 3-year-old goddaughter Sarai (in pigtails, on the left --if you look closely you can see the bandage on her fingers) suffered a terrible accident in which the tips of her second and third fingers were severed. A four hour wait for a doctor's care at a West African hospital may have cost her at least one of the fingers permanently. It's not certain yet what the outcome will be, and we are still praying for her recovery.

This has put a lot of thing into perspective at our house. Instead of rushing to the rescue, I find myself responding to cries of anguish from the backyard by simply calling out the door... "Is it OFF?" Most of the time, this brings silence, followed by a return to laughter and play as the kids, who have been apprised of and updated on their little friend's injury, remember what real suffering is.

Today, Abby came to me crying because of a teeny-weeny scrape on her finger. After a kiss and a "kiss-it-stroke-it-pat-it-bless-it" she was still carrying on quite inconsolably. Finally I told her, "Get over it, baby. Sarai's was OFF." And I put her down. She stopped crying and went off to play.

We joke about the old "you'd-better-eat-that-because-children-are-starving-in-Africa" parental lecture...but it's true. Having lived in a developing nation where malnutrition and diseases like polio and tuberculosis still devour lives each day, my thoughts turn frequently to families who suffer through war, hunger, and disease, reminding me to be very content that we can live in peace with a roof over our heads and food on the table.

In the meantime, watch out for finger-eating chairs.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Big Green Lawn

I am not by nature one of those individuals who aspire to a pristine monoculture carpet of green grass in front of (or behind) my house. I love dandelions; they are fun, pretty, and marvelously nutritious -- even medicinal. I think Hare and the Big Green Lawn is a wonderful book. I like to keep a chunk of backyard habitat and a vegetable garden, because I have this crazy notion that land is meant to produce food for people and animals. The only real use I have for expanses of cultivated grass is as a place for children to run around.

However, the house we live in was vacant for two years before we moved in. It hasn't exactly reverted to prairie like Hare's lawn; it's weedy in parts, and bare in parts, and so thatched it's almost dead in other parts. It is neither wild nor cultivated...it's just... scruffy.

We could have a lawn service come in and do the job...but I have this thing against putting chemicals on the place where my children play and my salad grows. No, it must be an organic lawn (more here and here). Crunch crunch. And so the restoration of the Big Green Lawn has become my personal quest, nay, battle...

My dear dedicated husband so loves his hippie wife that he rented the seed thingy from the hardware store and reseeded the whole mess. He has also assured me that he will rent the de-thatcher and the aerator in the fall and do that job as well.

Meanwhile, I am obsessed, anxiously nursing my tiny seedlings of blue fescue and waging a one-woman war on the weeds, following the tractor sprinkler day after day and filing ten-gallon bucket after ten-gallon bucket with anything that isn't grass -- but leaving the dandelions, of course.

Do Nothing

Pastor Petersen muses on how God commands that we worship Him by doing nothing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Homeschool Wars

The Homeschool Wars are uglier than the Mommy Wars ever were.

I was working up to posting this week about how I am fascinated by the diverse, even polemical, worldviews of homeschoolers. About how people who live in seemingly different universes could have this One Thing in common. One rather radical, counter-cultural Thing. One Thing which changes the whole shape of your daily life and family interactions.

I was going to write about how ironic it is that many Christians homeschool because they find the public school environment hostile to the faith and the values that they hope to pass on to their children -- and yet many pagans, atheists, Muslims, Jews, and others homeschool because they find the public school system too Christian. (It makes you feel a bit sorry for the public schools...by trying to please everyone, they can't please anyone.)

I was going to write about how my daughter said, "Mom, I don't know why, but I make friends with homeschoolers more easily than with other kids." I think it's because there is some underlying cultural commonality that homeschoolers share. Maybe it's because they stay home and spend more time relating to their parents and siblings. Honestly, I don't know how you could ever pin down what that commonality is...once you thought you'd found it, you'd find an exception.

I'm not a "why-can't-we-just-all-get-along" type. I have strong convictions; I believe in objective truth. My former pastor pointed out that it is actually disrespectful to those who hold convictions other than our own to exalt tolerance and attempt to assign equal validity to all viewpoints -- by so doing we negate them all, reducing them to mere mental constructs. But there is danger in the other direction as well -- loving others is not just a means to an end, gathering notches on our belt for our Christian witness.

As Lutherans, we're usually the odd ones out at Christian homeschool events. We're not arminians; neither are we calvinists; we don't believe in the rapture and we do believe in the sacraments. But we'd be the odd ones out at an inclusive group as well. As it is, we live in a little bitty country town. It's two miles wide. Life here revolves around the activities of the local public school. As homeschoolers, we make friends and fit in where we can. We have to drive sixty miles even to go to a homeschool group activity. That puts things in perspective. Anything less than fun and friendly isn't worth my gas money.

I'm glad my children are learning to make friends with practically everyone they meet. They get on just fine with little girls who only wear dresses. They hardly even batted an eye when they found that the children they wanted to play with didn't speak English; they just found ways around it. But they also have firm convictions. They know how to stand quietly with heads unbowed when prayers are said to another god. Homeschooling affords us -- I hope -- the opportunity to guide them and talk with them as they relate to all kinds of people and ideas, think through their faith, and learn to be gentle and humble as well as truthful, to be salt and light, and to genuinely love others. And, by God's grace, ample opportunity to set an example ourselves.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Teaching Children to FLY

I hope I'm not violating any copyrights by posting this message from FLYlady here...mostly for my own benefit so I can refer to it:

Dear Friends:

Many of you over the years have sent in requests for helping your
children establish routines. I believe that everyone needs routines
and zones. As adults our zones involve the whole house. We can teach
our children all about BabySteps and Zones by taking their rooms and
breaking them down into Zones. This is long but worth the read.

Years ago, I implemented zones when I realized that my kids were
overwhelmed when I made the classic parenting mistake of sending my
kids into "clean" their rooms without any real instruction from me.
Then the tears that came when I went to check on them; they had done
what they thought was clean and of course it was not what I thought.
I realized that they feel the same way I do when a room seems out of
control and I don't know where to start. So we made zones. The
floor, the desk, the dresser, the bed and the closet. We set a timer
and they only had to work on one zone at a time. Instead of the
overwhelming task of "go clean your room" we set the timer for focus
only on the floor. Next was to let them know what they needed to do
with the items on the floor example: put the legos in the bucket, put
the books on the shelf, put the crayons in the box.

When the tasks are broken down into manageable BABYSTEPS they can
FLY too! Beating the timer was always the goal! They were able to
see how fast they could really do what needed to be done and feel so
proud of their accomplishment! Then you move on to the other "zones in
their rooms and then they learn how to "clean" their room one area at
a time plus they will see how little time it takes when they stay on
top of it before it gets out of control. They will find that they
like the order and the peace they feel with it.

This takes time, you have to lead by example and be patient. You
can't expect a 10 year old that has lived with CHAOS in their room
their whole life to change because you want them to. You will have to
help declutter their rooms first and then slowly implement what your
expectations are and teach them BabySteps. Give them praise for their
efforts and be careful of negative reactions when you think they have
not done something the way you would like it to be done. They are
looking for you to be proud of them.

You must help your children declutter their rooms before you can
teach them the zone way of taking care of their rooms. Once again
decluttering can be done the same way that you have done it in your
home. Do super fling boogies, hot spot fire drills, teach them about
these and help them early on how to let go of things that are just
taking up space that they don't love. Help them learn the difference
of owning things because they bring you joy and just being surrounded
by stuff that just takes up space, this will help them later in life
not to fill their own homes with stuff. Teach them to let go of
broken toys, teach them if they are so blessed with so many things
that maybe they can bless some other children that are not so

Teach them the value of 15 minutes and keep your word. Set
a timer for 15 minutes and work together, if you don't get as much
done as you would like too, let it go and let them go. Try again
tomorrow, set the timer for 15 minutes and go again. Let them see
that it does not have to be torture. As SHE's we tend to hyper-focus
and want to keep going, but your kids need to believe you when you
tell them it is only 15 minutes. When they start to see what they
can accomplish they will be more agreeable to jump in for 15

I will be perfectly honest here, I have decluttered their
rooms when they were not around to see it, things that I knew they no
longer played with, books that were no longer read, coloring books
that were full, broken crayons, dried up markers, a lot of what I
decluttered were things they never noticed were gone, but they would
have not considered giving up. I prefer to let them make their own
choices but sometimes we have to rely on when Mom knows best. I
would not recommend this for children over the age of 8 or 9, past
this age kids have established a sense of personal ownership and most
likely will notice things missing that the younger ones will not.

Now, you can take the zones in their rooms to the next level. Just
as we have the whole the house broken down into zones for a month we
can do the same for our kids and their rooms:

Week one can be the detail clean of the dresser. This means that you
straighten the clothes in the drawers, get rid of the stained, torn,
worn out clothes, the clothes that are too small and the clothes that
never get worn because they don't like them. Detail dust the tops of
the dresser by removing the things on top and really get it dusted
from side to side and end to end. This can be done in 15 minutes once
they understand how to do it and when to do it. There are 7 days in a
week that they can get this one detail task accomplished.

Week two can be the closet. Straighten the clothes, straighten shoes
and items stored there and vacuum the floor. The next week the desk:
go through the drawers, have a trash bag ready for this (kids love to
stash stuff in their desk drawers) and dust the top again taking
everything off, dusting and then putting things back.

Week three can be the bed zone - have them strip their beds to get
their linens washed (personal choice as to how many times a month you
do this depending on whether your kids bathe at night and if they have
pets that sleep with them) and remake the bed and check under the bed
for things that have gotten stashed under there.

Week four can be the floor zone, this is when the floor gets swept or
vacuumed really well, under the bed, behind the door, the corners and
against the baseboards. This is the detail cleaning that goes on for
the monthly zones. All of these things take less than 15 minutes and
only have to be done once a week, once a month per zone.

This takes time and effort, remember that you did not FLY overnight,
you took BabySteps. Teach your children to bless their rooms so they
can go out and bless the world.


PS Remember that the examples I gave you are what I did, you take
them and adapt them to fit your child's room and your schedule.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

On Robins and Teenagers

I haven't posted about "our" baby robins for awhile...about two weeks ago, I lifted the kids up to peep inside the nest -- and one of the now-mostly-feathered babies jumped out! Needless to say we were a bit alarmed since they obviously weren't the least bit able to fly, and tried to catch the little fellow to return him to the nest. But he scurried away under the bushes and we lost him. So we peeked into the nest again -- and the other baby jumped out! We managed to catch that one, but when we returned him to the nest, he promptly jumped out again.

At last we went indoors and searched for information on baby robins. It turns out that robin fledglings leave the nest about two weeks before their flight feathers are fully developed. The mother and father follow them around bringing them food and water on the ground until their flight feathers grow in and they can fend for themselves. My husband's comment: "Hmmm... sounds like college."

Sure enough, Mr. & Mrs. Robin are still to be seen hopping about our yard watching over their fledglings. Two days ago, we spied one of the babies hiding on a low branch of one of the pine trees on the north side of our house. His red breast feathers were growing in and he looked much more like an adult robin, though he could still only flutter to the lower branches of the tree. (Photos coming soon!)

Some time ago I read about a cross-cultural study (I think sponsored by the UN?) which compared the ages at which young people reached "functional adulthood", defined by the study as being intellectually and emotionally prepared to assume the responsibilities of adulthood. What was interesting was that in industrialized nations the age is getting higher and higher, while it remains somewhere in the mid-teens in the rest of the world. I was thinking about this topic last night, and thinking I'd write something about it, and today I find it popping up all over the homeschool blogosphere. I won't reiterate what others have said better than I , here and here ... and be sure to follow Principled Discovery's link to Susan Wise Bauer's blog on allowing high schoolers to specialize.

I realize my children are only 7, 6, and 2, but what happens now and in the next few years must get them from here to there. My goals for my children in high school:
Deeper faith formation
Preparation for married life
A specialized area of interest and an idea of what they want to do in life
Organizational skills, the ability to manage time, and to balance life (work, study, prayer, service, recreation, rest)
Lots more household responsibilities -- a teen should be able to run the household in a basic way, including the kitchen, the garden, maintaining the car, caring for children, etc.
Vocational training and/or working part-time at a real job in an area of interest, or possibly starting and operating a small business if that is their inclination
Specific training and practical experiences in finances and managing money
Basic high school academic diploma requirements, keeping in mind specific goals (college or other)
Higher levels of critical thinking in all areas


This sounds like fun. Maybe someday I'll try it if I can get my hands on a GPS unit.


Last night my husband said to me, "You need to go to Zenhabits.net" The he showed me his nifty new zen PDA -- a few notecards held together with a binder clip and a small pen.

I'm definitely going to be working on the "Ten Habits" of Zen to Done. I'm also signing onto FLYlady's e-mail reminders again -- I need them. Hmmm... FLYlady is all about habits; ZTD is all about habits; Charlotte Mason is also all about forming habits. From the zenhabits blog, this quote from Aristotle: ""We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit."

Friday, May 4, 2007

Homeschooling by the Seasons

It's spring, the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing -- and yet here I am dreaming up sewing projects and art lessons and cooking activities to do with my children. Last night I went outdoors in the early evening to turn off the sprinkler, spied a bird I'd never seen before, and wondered why we weren't sitting outdoors on these nice spring evenings...oh, that's right, we're sitting indoors listening to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings on CD. And yet all winter long I brooded that we weren't doing nature study. Somehow I got out of step with the seasons. Winter is for cozy, cooped up in the house kinds of things like knitting, cooking and crafting, kitchen science experiments, extra academic lessons, and evenings spent listening to stories and playing games. Spring and summer are for gardening and sunflower houses and nature study and long afternoons playing outdoors. Press flowers in summer but save them for making notecards on snowy days.

So I'd better start a list now of all those indoor types of things that will keep us from having cabin fever next winter when it keeps snowing on into March!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Door in the Wall

Today we just finished chapter one of The Door in the Wall by Marguerite deAngeli; we are already entranced and can't wait til tomorrow. Ten-year-old Robin ought to have begun serving as a page on the way to knighthood, but has through illness lost the use of his legs. He is being cared for in the monastery of St. Mark by Brother Luke, and must learn patience and courage to overcome his handicap. The book paints a lovely and accurate portrait of life in the Middle Ages, weaving seamlessly into the story details such as where English surnames and words like "window" and "sheriff "come from, what houses and clothing were like, the plague, the training of a boy for knighthood, the hours of prayer, and the religious life. I'm so glad I stumbled across this book --it is a wonderful, well written and well researched story with a rich vocabulary which should be on everyone's reading list to accompany medieval history studies.