Thursday, January 29, 2009

Home school series Part 2

Before I get into the academics of it all, I want to share some of my educational philosophy. I think it is extremely important for children to have large chunks of creative playtime every day. By creative playtime I mean playing that is free from any screen (tv, computer, etc.) noises or distractions.

Children are naturally creative. You do not have to teach a child how to make up stories or how to play house. They just know how to do it! Now, if a child never has any creative playtime built into their day, it might take a little prodding to get him or her to engage the imagination, but it can be done. I know from experience that if given a choice between watching tv/playing a video game/playing on the computer and playing freely without any screen, my kids will *always* choose the screen. The screen entertains. The screen has the sounds and colors. It is fun to sit back and let the screen tell the story. You get my drift. But once I tell them they have to play, it doesn't take long for those creative juices to flow and for my den to turn into a castle, store, restaurant, hotel, or for a war to break out and little native Americans to start running past me complete with bow and arrows.

My kids absolutely amaze me with what they come up with as a game or story or fun thing to do. I believe if children are given the opportunity, they will create out of anything, be it blocks, paper, rocks, legos, whatever. I don't think you have to have much for them to have a good time. We all know how well big boxes go over and how much fun it is to turn kitchen chairs and tables into forts and tents. My personal favorite free playthings are found outside. I just love it when the kids get sticks or leaves or acorns or whatever and create.

I think it is crucial to have this creative play regularly going on in order to stimulate the mind. I would feel this way regardless of whether or not I home schooled. If I sent the kids to school, I would make sure creative play was a vital part of the day. People can get bogged down in academics and making sure their children are well-educated, and might miss this easy, wonderful aspect of learning. I'll be so sad when the make-believe days are over!

A normal day for our family has a slow start. If you know me, you know why this is the case. We have breakfast and Bible reading and the kids do their "morning chores." Then, somewhere around 8:30 or 9:00, I send them into the den for screen-free playing. Sit down-schooling begins at 10. HOWEVER, Judson just recently quit napping in the morning. So....we have been trying out sit-down school in the afternoons. I'm all about whatever works for the family is what you should do.

I find my children gravitate to open ended toys--things that can be used to *be* anything. Examples of excellent open ended toys are blocks, legos, tinker toys, play cloths, and playmobil. Two Christmases ago I made a set of playsilks. I ordered large blank white silk squares very cheaply from Dharma trading Company and then dyed them using Wilton cake food colors. My hands were red for a few days after, lol, but those silks have been played with more than any other toy. They have been turned into Indian saris, belts to hold weapons (who do you think does this?), pirate head wraps, baby blankets, pretend casts, and on and on.

Recently, we received a gift card to a fantastic educational store in Memphis called The Knowledge Tree. Dori and I went to check things out and we were both floored with everything this store offers. I think it is primarily for teachers, but since I teach my kids, I found everything so useful and wonderful. It was so hard to select gifts for the kids. We must've stayed in the store close to two hours! But finally we were able to narrow it down and I think we chose some pretty awesome stuff.

Here is a set of pictures of the kids playing with Micah's present from The Knowledge Tree. These are called "Cherry Tree Blocks" and were actually on Micah's Christmas list this year, but they didn't make the cut. Dori and I both squealed when we saw them and so that choice was very easy. Jason's Dad, aka Grandpops, happened to be over for a visit when I returned from the shopping trip, so he helped construct this awesome tree house/fort:

I thought it turned out pretty cool! Micah said it was a fort and used some of his playmobil "guys" as warriors.

Here the red guy is holding up the poor princess. We're still working on the rules of war. Like no holding up the womenfolk.

In this picture you can see how all three kids got into fort building. It didn't take long after Micah's tree house was built for James and Dori to follow suit with the other blocks we have to create their own fortresses.

This isn't really related to my post, but it is Judson's present from The Knowledge Tree. It is sort of like a geometric toy. It changes from triangle to 3d cube. Cool!

Judson likes it!

This is a picture of James on another day playing with his trains. I forgot to mention those in the list of excellent open ended toys, but they should definitely be there. We bought this set second hand last Christmas for very little.

In addition to playtime being important in our house, so also is seasonal decorating. This is something I have eased into, once I realized that celebrating holidays and decorating and all that are a big part of regular schooling. I am slowly accumulating items to use to give our home a little flair just like regular school classrooms enjoy. Here is a picture of some Valentine's decorations. We are also working on a project this week to make various shades of pink and red paper chains to go along with the Vday theme. Fun!

And finally, I'll close with a picture of Dori, Judson, and Micah. One night a few weeks ago I walked by Micah's room and as usual, Dori was hanging out there before bed. The kids are given reading time with lights on before bed most nights. I was carrying Judson to his bed, but stopped in to say goodnight to D and M and Judson was insistent to get in bed with them! I let him and went to the kitchen to finish tidying up. When I came back, all three were "reading" books and I ran to get my camera. It was so sweet. However, once I made it back, Judson was too interested in the camera and so this picture was the result:

The next post will be all about reading. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Series of Posts on Home Schooling

I thought it would be neat to blog about the part of my (our) life that contains home schooling. I have a lot of thoughts on this, but also wanted to create some picture heavy posts on what our home schooling day actually looks like, too.

For starters, a little background is needed. I was public schooled for elementary, junior, and senior high. Jason was public schooled for elementary, junior, and senior high. There are many positive things I could say about my public school experience, and also many negatives. But this is not meant to be an opinion post on different schooling choices, so I'll just leave it at that, so you will know where I'm coming from. I had a desire to home school starting as early as Dori's birth, but I really don't know why I thought about it or wanted to do it. Perhaps at its most basic, it was a desire to keep my children with me....maybe a purely selfish thing. I don't really know, and at this point, not certain it is all that important. However, it must be noted here that my husband has always been Pro whatever makes his wife happy, so that is how he comes into the picture.

I started out very eagerly when Dori was in Kinder and Micah 4 years old. I was one big ball o' stress. I had no real plan and a hodge podge of materials either given to me from other home schoolers or acquired as leftovers from friends who had children in public or private school. We had just moved to RI and I was not recognizing the very real stress that a big move puts on a family. I did not feel confident, and feared daily that my children would grow up to be unintelligent dolts who forever blamed me for their shortcomings!

In one particular stressed and frantic weekend, I decided on a whim that putting Dori in public kinder would solve all my problems. I just knew that putting her in school would take the burden off of me for her education and that my life would suddenly smooth out into perfect little homemaker bliss. I was certain of this. As I said above, Jason is in the camp of "make wife happy" so he was ok, too. In a matter of days, Dori was signed up and starting. We met her teacher, a wonderful dear who to this day we speak of occasionally with love and admiration. We bought snacks and a lunch box. I read the paperwork. Excitement abounded! And then a whole 'nother can of worms was opened.

Hurry, brush your teeth. Dori, you forgot your backpack. MICAH GET UP WE HAVE TO TAKE DORI TO SCHOOL. Mom I don't have my book that I was supposed to bring today. Tears. Hurry up, we're going to be late. I don't want to do this homework. WAHHHHHH. Mom, if you pay $97 they will give you all these pictures of me on keychains. I need to wear pink today, mom. MICAH GET UP WE HAVE TO TAKE DORI TO SCHOOL. Mom, Mrs. X says we need to bring in $5 today for lunch. And on and on it went until she was finally done in June!

It didn't end all my problems. Yes, it solved some, but created others. The whole experience was quite useful, though, because I learned that I truly did desire to home school Dori. I realized that I was doing okay, after all, and that I was on the right track--I just needed a clear plan. I realized that problems come with any schooling choice and parents have to decide which option works best for them. Thankfully, I'm able to home school my kids (at least for now) and until it is no longer is the right choice for us...we'll continue.

Home schooling can be a touchy subject for some people. I don't think it has to be, though. It's just a schooling choice. An option. I know there are those out there that believe God wants them to home school (I'm not gonna argue with you), or those that think that home schooling is wrong (you have a right to your opinion). Our personal view is to let families make their own choices and leave it at that. I'm not threatened in any way when I find out friends have their kids in public or private school--they have their reasons which are personal and real. I certainly hope I don't threaten anybody when they find out we home school.

More to come soon......

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two perspectives

I'm up early this morning because I've had a fitful night of sleep. Sometimes you have those nights where the mind doesn't shut off. Last night I remembered something that happened a year and a half ago in Rhode Island that I thought was blog-worthy.

I was hugely pregnant with Judson, probably in the ninth month, when I came down with some sort of sickness. This required a trip to the doctor and subsequent trip to the pharmacy. It just so happened that I needed to take all 3 children with me to Wal-mart, and I remember thinking in the back of my mind that I bet I was a sight. You start to be a little self-conscience of these things when you get to kid #3--much more so with kid #4!

I walked, or rather, waddled over to the Pharmacy and stood in line. James was sitting in the front part of the cart and Micah and Dori were holding on to the right side and standing there quietly. I remember being very proud of them because no one was asking me for anything and they were all being still.

I handed my script to the lady and went to take a seat and wait. A few moments later, out walks a woman I would guess in her 60s with yellow-blonde hair. She asked me a question about the script, which I answered and then I think it dawned on her that I was hugely pregnant and shopping at Wal-mart with my 3 other children. The look on her face told me she was about to say *something*. And she did:

"Are all these yours???"
I smiled.
"Yes. They are all mine."


I think the people in the very back restroom probably heard her! She was so serious and apparently really wanted to know why, because she stood there for another 30 seconds more staring me down, waiting for her answer. Now, some days, that type of intrusive and rude question would be met with a quick, curt answer or maybe no answer at all. But for some reason, that particular day, I was so overjoyed and happy to be with my children and excited about the looming new critter coming....well, I just smiled back at her and said simply, "we kinda like kids."

She left us shaking her head back and forth the whole way. I browsed the vitamin row while we waited for the prescription to be filled and almost giggled at how angry the sight of my big ole pregnant self and three small children had made a perfect stranger. It really was funny! About that time, I noticed a man in his 70s sitting on the bench watching us. I thought, "oh no! Here we go again." But then I saw that he was smiling at us. His wife was next to him and I heard them talking and I knew they were talking about us. I kept looking at the vitamins and talking quietly to the kids, telling them how much I love them and keeping James from grabbing the kiddie vitamins. I didn't want my poor children to believe that it was somehow bad that they were born, you know. And then this kind gentleman actually called me over to him.

I rolled the cart next to the bench preparing myself for another chastisement, but I was met, instead, by the most wonderful words:

"Ms...You have a beautiful family here. Your children are so sweet and they all look like each other."
He turned to his wife and said, "Honey, look how wonderful they all are. And look, she's got another one coming."

Oh, how I could have kissed this sweet gentleman and his lovely wife! What joy they brought me be commenting on my family. What a blessing they were to my children after hearing such ugly remarks! I told this man that his words had made my day.

Remembering them now has given me joy once again.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Grown-up Booklist and Reviews

Books I've read recently and what I think of them:

1. The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright. I would classify this book as light reading, although it touches on heavy issues at times throughout. It is a fictional account of the journey a family takes when they discover, after both parents die, hundreds of letters their father had written to their mother each Wednesday. I don't usually read books like this, but found that I had a hard time putting it down. At times it is a bit unbelievable, but if you let yourself simply enjoy the emotions it brings, you will be better for reading it. I give it a thumbs up!

2. It's Here.....Somewhere by Alice Fulton and Pauline Hatch. Excellent. This is a book filled with practical tips and solutions for those who want to get out from under the weight (sometimes literally!) of clutter. The authors' mantra is to streamline possessions first, then organize whatever is left. I've read a lot, I mean A LOT of organizational type books in my life. This one is by far the most practical and helpful, in my opinion. I am not a born organized type, so I need practical, easy to use advice. I also really like how the authors think outside the box and give suggestions for home organization that challenge the way we've always thought things are supposed to be done. It's Here....Somewhere is creative, helpful, and easy to read. Two thumbs up.

3. The Children's Year by Stephanie Cooper, Christine Fynes-Clinton and Marye Rowling. This wonderful book is completely packed with seasonal crafts and projects for both children and families. It is *not* your typical craft book, however, and offers everything from old fashioned toy-making ideas (Jacob's Ladder, wooden baby rattles, rag dolls) to handmade quality clothing items (knitted baby bonnets, smocks, and mittens). There is so much I could say about The Children's Year! The authors have gone to great lengths to provide projects that enlist the help of young children and at the same time produce items that are both beautiful and many times functional. Some of my favorite ideas and projects we are attempting:

"The Plank"--simply buy a long board (they provide dimensions) and sand and oil to death to make an open ended plaything for outdoors. Could be a see-saw, could be a bridge, or whatever children decide.

"Magic Ball of Wool"--wrap small objects (charms, candy, stickers, etc) with knitting yarn so that as a child knits, the objects are revealed. I actually think this idea comes from the Victorian days, but it is such a cute fun way to encourage knitting. Dori has started to knit, so I'm thinking this would be a great Christmas present next year.

"Tissue Paper Stars"--These are colorful, folded just so stars that are meant to be hung in windows to brighten a room. I have some kite paper just waiting for the right rainy day. :)

"Card Stands"--Small pieces of wood with slits cut into them for standing up and displaying a special card. I just loved this idea and Pappaw was so kind to find some scrap wood pieces for us and even sawed the slits in. This will be a wonderful project for Micah, who needs hands-on activity as much as I can provide. It will be simple enough (sanding and oiling) to complete several at a time and feel a sense of accomplishment.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed reading this book! The authors' sparked my creative side and have a knack for using items already found in nature to create lovely items that everyone in the family can enjoy.

Books I have started, but not finished:

1. Don't Be a Slave to Housework by Pam McClellan. I'm finding it difficult to finish this book, even though I'm almost there! Perhaps the other clutter book was just so good, this one didn't appeal as much. This book is all about how you can have a wonderfully clean home and have a life, too. There are, of course, many tips and a breakdown of personality types and reasons why people do what they do (perfectionist, procrastinator, housework hater). I have found this book a little bland, but useful, nonetheless.

2. The Reason for God Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. Interesting. This book Jason and I started over the holidays. So far, I like it. Keller deals with tough questions presented by modern day skeptics by answering arguments in a methodical, thoughtful manner. His writing style is clear, but not dumbed down. We are really enjoying this book and I look forward to reading the rest of it. Very insightful.

3. Dare to Discipline by James Dobson. Okay, I know I'm way behind the times on this one, but honestly I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I know folks who both love and well....let's say severely dislike, Dobson. I don't know what camp I'm in, but will admit he has annoyed me many times. My honest impression so far, is that he has some good ideas--nothing revolutionary or earth shattering--but good solid principles, that he presents as part of his case for disciplining children. He promotes both spanking and some other strange neck squeeze thing. Uh...not totally clear on that, but I think I'll stick with spanking if and when needed. I find Dobson to be wordy (I know, I know....I'm the wordiest of them all!) at times and catch myself skimming to the next big point. This might be the only way I've read the book to this point. Sometimes he wears out the psychological side a too much for my taste, but so far, I'd have to say this is a useful book. He supports unconditional parental love and affection and also supports firm, clear boundaries for children. I will most likely finish the book, but I suspect it will take me some time, as it just doesn't draw me in. I think there are plenty of better parenting books out there for the Christian parent, but it seems to be a solid, if basic, book. Hey, it beats out some of the shall-remain-nameless quacks out there writing that their brand of parenting is God's way.

Checked out and waiting to be read:

1. Screamfree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel. I picked up this book because I unfortunately raise my voice too much and too often with my children. About two years ago I made a New Year's Resolution to never yell at my kids. Well, of course, I haven't kept that resolution 100%, but I was able to cut down dramatically on yelling in times of stress or in the midst of crazy kid situations. I noticed this book on the shelf and it look interesting and I am constantly praying about the way I respond to my kids so....I'm excited to find out what's in this book. I just looked at the back cover and realized that it appears to be written from a scriptural perspective. Yay. Even better! I'm looking forward to reading this and hopefully identifying ways to respond calmly and correctly to my children.

2. Parents and Children The role of the parent in the education of the child by Charlotte Mason. I have been interested in Charlotte Mason for a while but have yet only read about her. I picked up this book so I could say I read it straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) had a lot of interesting ideas about children and education and is regularly quoted by home schoolers. Here is what is listed on the back of this book: "Charlotte Mason on leading a child to abundant life: The child brings with him into the world, not character, but disposition. His original disposition, modified, directed, expanded by education; by circumstances; later, by self-control and self-culture; above all, by the supreme agency of the Holy Ghost. Charlotte Mason was 100 years ahead of her time in developing an educational philosophy that stressed bringing broad and stimulating education to a child in a noncompetitive, biblically based way. Mason's timeless, practical insights and her stress on the responsibility of the home have made her a founding influence in the home schooling movement." Hmmm. Should be an interesting and I bet tiring read. :)

3. Protecting the Gift Keeping children and teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) by Gavin De Becker. I do not really know much about this book other than the title. I heard it recommend once a long time ago and noticed it on the bookshelf at the library. My guess is that it will be useful, but might also have the possibility to scare the ever-living daylights outta me.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A day in the life....

Sometimes I think about my life and wish certain things were different (don't we all?). Then other times, I breathe in deeply and thank God for His perfect provision for me. I may not be the most organized person. I may not have it all together. But I really, really like my life and I'm thankful to God for each new day I'm given.

I like Jason's work schedule. It's a bit odd, but then, we've always had a nontraditional family schedule and work schedule. He works Mondays, Wednesdays, and every so often Fridays from 8ish to 5ish. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he goes in around 11 and comes home anywhere from 8 to 9pm. I enjoy that those days are more relaxed for us as a family and since I home school, the kids are here and get to spend time with Dad. As some of you know, I'm not a morning person. It has been a struggle for as long as I can remember to get up early. I'm thankful for God's provision for me in giving me a husband who enjoys getting up early. And I really, really love how we can have a slow start to our mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Today Judson woke up first (as he usually does) and Jason brought him into our nice warm bed to snuggle a bit before really getting up. Jason and Judson have a neat relationship! Judson is *many* times going to his dad for comfort over me. This is new for us, but I think it is sweet that they are tight, lol. I just love Judson and his snuggling ways.

Judson dozed off and on for about an hour and then Jason got up and carried him into the kitchen for breakfast. I got to snooze a little longer. See how my husband is so gracious and kind to me????:)

About that time, James came in to snuggle with me (as he usually does). I turned on the tv so he could watch a little bit of cartoons. Eventually he left the warmth of the bed for more interesting adventures like finding his bullet and getting his gun set up. This is a daily ritual.

Dori came in not too long after, and reminded me via a message from Dad, that I had to go to Longview today to meet with my friend Debbie to learn all about how to set up a sound system. I pulled myself out of bed and tried to get ready as quickly as possible to meet Debbie.

I made a mental note that I am in bad need of major organization in the clothing department. We have too much and not a good system for the clothing we have. I got convicted that I need more organization and stewardship in this area. I prayed for God to help me have victory.

I did not eat breakfast but Jason made me a mug of coffee for the road. I said goodbye to everyone and quickly left for the 20 minute ride to Longview. On the way, I reflected that I have MANY areas in my life that need attention. I called Jason to tell him that I wished I was better at some of these things. I felt down and discouraged about it and convicted that I hadn't spent time in the Word this morning. He advised me to cling to Christ (great advice) and said he was right there with me. Thank you, Lord, for Jason and his wisdom. Thank you, Lord, for your grace and mercy.

I spent the next 2 hours walking around with Debbie (who seems unlimited in her skill and talent musically) learning how to set up and tear down a portable sound system and where certain cords go and how to make it all work. I am leading the worship for our Ladies Retreat the first weekend in February and thus, need to know exactly how to do this. I was thankful today, that I am still learning new things musically and that God is continuing to stretch me to be used of Him. I am really excited about the retreat and praying for Him to speak to both me and all our ladies attending.

Meanwhile, Jason spent those 2 hours hauling lots of wood. Micah assisted and they worked super hard to stock our supply. Dori looked after Judson and James played for the most part. Jason also instructed the children to clean their rooms, which they did.

I forgot to mention that Jason is off work today because he has the Friday rotation tomorrow.

Next, I drove home, thanking God for all the neat things I learned and praying about the retreat and which worship songs He would want me to pick. I called Jason to check in at the house. Everything had been going fine, except that Judson had refused to go down for a nap and was giving Jason a little bit of trouble. When I got home, I set out to get something to eat and learned that the kids had already eaten. Since we are completely out of groceries (!) I found some leftover quiche in the freezer. Not the healthiest, but it worked.

I cuddled Judson for a while after I ate and we played a bit together. Then I put him down for a much needed nap, which he resisted at first, but then quickly resolved himself to.

James wanted to cuddle some, too, so we did. Dori did a chore to earn 15 minutes of "screen" time and presently Jason and Micah are back outside working on the wood situation. I am writing this blog post...ha!

When Judson wakes, we are going to load up and go grocery shopping. Aldi's first, then probably walmart for the items Aldi's doesn't carry. On the list are tons of healthy veggies and other low fat food, a la 2009 being here and all. We plan to make a stop at the Salvation Army, since I haven't been in forever and have several things on my list that might be there. I am a thrift shop addict and try to go regularly when I can. I keep a running list of things we need or that I want and see what I find. I just love finding something that we need or want for a buck or less instead of paying costly retail prices.

After our excursion, I will unload all the groceries and put them away in our newly organized kitchen. I'll begin cooking dinner then, too, which is Hamburger casserole. I might make Dori and Micah do a few lessons each for school at the bar while I cook, although we usually do not do school on J's day off. But we are a bit behind from the holidays, so....

The children will be required to pick up the family room before dinner and Jason will likely help with that or move some boxes that I've asked him about recently.

We will eat dinner and then all help with kitchen cleanup. J will load the dishwasher; I will bring things to the sink and clear the table; Dori will sweep; Micah will wipe the table, and James will throw away any trash. Judson will stay in his highchair until the sink is clear and will most likely get a sink bath.

The kids will then start the before bed routine which involves putting pjs on, brushing teeth, washing hands and face, tidying rooms, and getting that last sip of water. Dori and Micah will read until lights out at 8:30. James will lie quietly--probably with his gun. Judson will babble in his crib and then fall asleep. As for me and Jason.....we will most likely relax together watching a little tv or I might surf the net or we might read together. Just depends. He will want to go to bed early, since he has to be up early for work. I will probably talk his ear off about the kids or the day or learning all about sound systems until I notice that he is mysteriously quiet and not responding to me. I will read once I discover that he is asleep and when me eyes start to droop, I'll put the book away, turn out the light, and go to dreamland with the rest of the family.

The above is a day in the life of the Hardage's. It is transparent and real. Not perfect or even close, but filled with God's grace. I'm so thankful for my life and family and so thankful that God continues to change us with each new day.