Monday, October 26, 2015

Books, Boardgames, and Kits

AHS 2015
While in the midst of packing for a move, I find myself wondering how and why do we accumulate so many things. We are a family of six, so that explains some of it. Seriously, we own a million boardgames, but only play two or three consistently. I can't bring myself to part with them, because one day we might want to learn to play them. Some of them were quite expensive, so I've been holding on. That's when I was in the buy games of European origin phase, because they're higher quality. Since we're homes much, I guess we need more to get through the day. I have free STEM kits and materials from Civil Air Patrol stored in bins. I don't even have room on the shelves. The upside of moving is letting go of so many items that are just taking up precious space. Or just rediscovering useful and interesting items that have been hidden away for the last year. More doodads, more objects to dust.

AHS 2015
My downfall is books. I look books. My suppliers assume many faces: public libraries, church libraries, used bookstores, Amazon, thrift stores, friends, co-op book swaps, and meet ups with strangers to collect books. There's no greater high than finding that favorite book for a few cents, or even as a freebie. My friend just purchased a $16.99 book marked down to $.80 for me. How can you even turn that down? Unfortunately, I don't have time to go by the store holding the closeout sale.  I stop at the book sale cart at my local library every single time I step into the building. At each move (3) in the last 3 years, I have donated anywhere from 100 to 200 books to lighten the load. This time I've only donated around 20-30. The simplicity part of me wants to give half of them away. It's the addicted half that's holding me back. Most of our moving boxes contain books.

But, we do tend to read our favorites over and over. At some point in time, I have gone to the shelf to locate most of the books I've donated and needed right at that moment to highlight or research a point. Physical books are my preferred method of reading. I've just gotten into highlighting poignant statements and quotes. I mean it's my book, right? Even the kids have gotten where they hold on to their favorites. My nine year old refuses to entertain the thought of giving up his Christopher books. My daughter will forever own Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gable, and Little House on the Prairie. I mean, she still adds Nancy Drew books to her collection. Somehow, she managed to part with some of the American Girl books. And we still manage to have literally hundreds of library books checked out from the library. We need separate shelf space to reign them in. In the last year, I curtailed our Amazon buying. There's a sound even sweeter than a TARDIS or a light saber: a UPS truck pulling into the driveway with fresh purchases.

So, consider these options:

1. Public Library. Our regional libraries have reciprocal agreements. So, we're card holders at four
    libraries right now. It is often a hassle keeping track of books, but we limit our checkouts at every
    library, except our local library. The online resources available through the libraries are
    phenomenal. One library loans video games as well. Also, I can preview books first, then
    determine if it's something I really want to add to my home library.

2. Home School or church resource libraries. Our co-op in SC had a resource library where you could
    preview curriculum, borrow a microscope, or kits. A few churches have libraries as well as
    computer labs open to the public.

3. 4-H. They often have kits and curriculum available for public school use, which means home
    schoolers have access as well. The electricity kit is awesome. Plus, many lessons plans are
    available online.

4. Borrow and trade books, curriculum, even games, puzzles, etc., with other families.

5. Kindles, tablets, oh my. This is a great way to read books you don't necessarily want to own.  
    Think Librovox,, Overdrive, Project Gutenberg, or Baldwin Project.

6. Order curriculum in pdf format for easy download.

When you are ready to pass it on support a good cause. It became easier to let go of certain books when I found a cause I loved. For  quick donations, I typically donate to Goodwill. If I'm not feeling rushed, I love to support an organization that supplies books to build libraries in Africa. Some towns have book donation bins located in strategic spots just like the clothing bins. You don't even need to think so globally. I have a friend who's always ready to pass along her son's books and games as he outgrows them. Many of the home school families in our area will just as soon leave a free box of books on the front steps as sell it. Think of that family who might benefit from the items you no longer need.

I keep telling myself I can't own every book I see, or can I?

Friday, October 23, 2015

One Direction

*Courtesy of Sun Ladder-Creative Commons
Yesterday,  my daughter shared a One Direction cd with me. We were discussing the draw of this music to the teen girls and what messages certain songs send. That's an entire post it itself. I kept reminding myself I was once a New Kids on the Block fan. Naturally, this led to my thinking about time. Whether it's linear or circular and how it relates to life. Pretty interesting stuff. This led to a conversation about Greek philosophers, Einstein, Neitzshe, and then there's my nine year old son.   He noted that "scientists say in seven billion years the sun will expand and destroy the Earth." Time is serious business. We started at a certain point and will end at a certain point.

Western thought says time is linear; there is a beginning and an ending. Trends circle around, but we're moving towards an end. Physicists talk about the one second before the big bang and the universe expanding to an ultimate end. The Bible discusses the world coming into existence and ultimately the end of it all. In a linear path of home schooling, we're hoping to reach an end goal. We're essentially biding our time until it ends. There are mile markers along the way, kindergarten, middle school, culminating with high school graduation.

But, other ideologies consider time circular, an endless cycle of creation and destruction. Now, I'm not into rebirth and past lives, but it's funny how many cultures view time like a clock as opposed to a timeline. How does this relate to home schooling you ask? It doesn't really, but it raised some questions. What if I had to repeat an endless cycle of what we're doing right now in our home? Would I keep doing it? What areas would I change? What would I keep the same?

It's an interesting line of thought. In reality, we are hoping this home school journey continues beyond the end. Maybe in our children passing this form of education along to their children. Or maybe, in the way they choose to live their lives through lifelong learning and sharing their gifts and talents with the world around them. Hopefully, they're constantly creating, affecting, and changing the world around them. I want them to destroy the soul crushing limits society will attempt to place on them. There is a constant cycle of evaluating our lives and choosing life.

Obviously, these are not quantum level musings, but more of a mom's response to One Direction. Oh, the places our minds take us. Or delivers us from (boy bands).

* Image By Sun Ladder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

When Less is More

Math Update:

I have finally been able to leave the children alone about their levels in math. One child afraid of possibly enrolling in school, because in the past I mentioned his being behind in math. I keep reminding myself time takes care of most things. The problem is I sometimes have a fast food mentality when I'm healthier and better off having a home cooked meal. I'm focusing on slow learning.

With my easing up, I've noticed them gravitating towards math on their own. More than likely it's been there all along, but without the pressure to perform they're more relaxed. The 13 and 10 year olds enjoy Khan Academy, so they choose to do this on their own. They're able to move as fast or slow as needed. The 10 year ild is trying teach himself Python. He's the html guy, future app and video game builder. I'm planning to design something unique for him to strengthen these interests. The 13 year old wants to get into the stock market, so we'll look into investing soon.

For my youngest, I'm simply reading the Number Devil  by Hans Enzenberger. He has started making the connection between multiplication and addition. At random points during the day, he'll just blurt out a multiplication fact or speak aloud some piece of mental math he's doing. Usually because he's calculating how much he needs to save to buy a certain Lego set. My daughter started asking questions about who came up with certain mathematical operations. She firmly believes these people had too much time on their hands.By observing, I realized her problem is not an inability to perform isolated operations, but she finds multiple step problems tedious. No textbook is really working with her right now, so we're going to leave that format alone right now. Maybe focus on the history of math, patterns, and brain teasers. History is her thing.

So, I've had to change my speech and approach. I never really believed people when they advised leaving the kids alone and allowing math to come naturally. I could see every subject except math. I'm realizing that if we're active and involved in projects math is unavoidable. But, it's on me to provide opportunities. Programming, robotics, sewing, art, baking, building, and financial matters are all areas that interest one or more of the children. These are all areas that involve a wide array of mathematical concepts. I'm learning I can't rush them, but they need time and opportunity to wrestle with ideas on their own. Most of the learning that sticks doesn't really happen in the classroom or living room, but in the downtime and quiet spaces of our lives.

Thankfully, I continue to release my expectations and meet each one where she or he is individually.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The 4 R's

Is it really possible to have a home school based upon peace and simplicity? Some days it seems that we do so much ripping and running we're barely home. In many cases, we're typical 21st century parents, spending an inordinate amount of hours shuttling our kids from one activity to another. Yet, we're often overcommitted and tired of the nonstop activity. Do we really allow enough time for relaxation and daydreaming? Are we allowing our children to progress at their pace or is there just a hint of a push? I know many parents who try to fill every educational gap and offer every extracurricular activity under the sun. I wonder if much of the struggle for balance comes from trying to prove the naysayers wrong. Yes, we're socialized look all the classes and playdates we have scheduled. Yes, home schooling is the best educational choice, see little Mary reading at 3 and Johnny calculating differential equations at 5. The time with our children is too short to constantly operate from someone else's agenda for your family.

First Steps

Remember the scene in Independence Day where the president asks the alien if peace is an option. The alien responds, "No peace." Fortunately for us, peace is a possibility.

Reduce your emphasis on educational deficits: yours and your children. Don't try to make up for every educational deficit you have identified in yourself by trying to beat knowledge into your child's head. I hyper focus on math because it is my weakness, therefore I obsess over my children's abilities in this area. I had to let my lifelong struggles with Math go. Literally, I was stressing them out. Accept your shortcomings, and if it's your desire, do something about it. Otherwise, learn to go with your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. Likewise, learn to operate from your child's strengths and move beyond seeing only their weaknesses. They're more than just one part.

Realize peace is not the absence of conflict. Life is not always easy. Life is not always pretty. But, we can respond from a place of peace knowing this too shall pass. There are days that home schooling is a hot mess. There are tears over math. Someone hates every idea he/she comes up with for a story. All the crayon are broken, and that right shade of red is no where to be found. What someone knew yesterday draws a blank stare today. How you choose to respond makes all the difference. Do you see it as a calculated assault against your best laid plans or an opportunity to show understanding? Maybe, today is better served at the park or snuggling cozily on the couch.

Refuse to allow the naysayers to control your home. Everyone, home schoolers and non-home schoolers, has an opinion on the best educational choices for your children. If you don't want advice don't even open the door of conversation. If necessary, refuse to discuss home schooling with certain people. In my strongest southern accent protect your family from "anyone who don't mean you no

Resolve. Spend more time designing your family's home school and less time duplicating what you read in books and blogs. Anybody can look good on paper. Trust yourself to know what works for your family. Most importantly, don't be afraid to discard whatever doesn't work, even if it's touted as the holy grail of home schooling.

I'm definitely don't meet these 100% of the time, but I'm trying. Pernicious voices get inside my head sometimes, and I have to take a stance against freaking out when I think of the future or buying that hit curriculum. All I can concern myself with is doing the best possible right now.

* This post is very similar to my dechooling plan post, which means it's an area that keeps popping up in my area. Sometimes we just need a reminder of things most important in life.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Position of Strength

Why do we focus so intently on building areas of weakness? I decided to  apply certain aspects of Valorie Burton's Successful Women Think Differently: 9 Habits to Make You Happier, Healthier, & More Resilient (2012) to my home school. Some of my children have developed negative speech. I know it's because I focus on building their weaknesses as opposed to encouraging them to build their strengths. Burton describes this as "making a shift from weakness-based personal improvement to strengths-based personal improvement"(p. 74). She gives the following quote by Peter Drucker (p.75):
"The ageless essence of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that makes a system's weaknesses irrelevant." 
This is exactly what I want to do when my children are learning. I have a tendency to focus on their weaknesses, so they spend time on those areas, maybe playing a related a related computer game or completing additional problems. What do you do when every math lesson becomes a battle and the default response is "I'm just not good at math"? Essentially, they're not where I think they should be in math (mistake number one). Instead of focusing on their inability to do well on the SAT if Algebra is not reached within a certain time period or difficulty with college admission, I've realized there has to be a better way. (Yes, I'm projecting  2-3 years.) My older children are pretty certain college is definitely in their plans. At this point, both have shown interest in science and math heavy fields. One hopes to play college sports, so there are definite requirements to meet. Yet, I still can't force the knowledge.

My biggest fear has been what does it say about our home school and my dedication if they are
"behind." Does it make me slack? Or do my children accept responsibility at some point. Obviously, I
can't really make a high school student learn anything. It really is up to them in the end whether they choose to learn certain material now or later. Many athletes have had to attend junior colleges in order to play at a four year college. Many a student has attended community college first to build a foundation before obtaining a four year degree. No, I'm not advocating giving up on them. But, I plan to think hard about their current abilities, and whether it's best to let time take care of development process.

Personally, Algebra never even began to click until I entered college. I have never been strong in math, but when I need to find solutions I know how to read and get the answers. Basic formulas don't stick in my mind. I could correctly find solutions to word problems through my own devices, but was always penalized because I couldn't show the work. I had no clue how to use the formulas. I could have a page of ten identical problems, and each problem was like I was doing it for the first time. I remember the embarrassment of being called to the board. My mind literally blanked out whenever I faced math. It was so bad I avoided even basic math situations.

In elementary and middle school, I hated for people to ask the time using an analog watch, ask me to count change, or even estimate distances. Instant deer in headlights look. I never learned to read the tick marks on a ruler until older. My entire school career was spent focusing on my math deficit. I chose my college major based on the amount of math classes involved. I wanted to be a medical doctor, but I wanted straight A's in math. Now, I know this was a mistake, but then Psychology seemed such a wise and easy choice. Upon graduating, I took another look at attending medical school somewhere that looked favorably on liberal arts majors and helped them make the transition, but I took the easy way out again by getting a master's in Criminal Justice. This is what happens when there is a weakness-based assessment of abilities.

Now, I realize I had other strengths that would have compensated for a little bit of struggle. Sadly, I found myself discouraging one of my children from a science career because of a math weakness. So, in the future, I hope to highlight their strengths and try a different approach to help them achieve their stated goals. Burton suggests "rather than focusing on everything that is wrong in a situation, pinpoint the steps that would lead to success"(p.76). I look forward to identifying my children's strengths and devaluing the weaknesses, thereby helping them improve wherever needed.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lifting the Veil of Ignorance

We're in the midst of packing for a move. I was trying to figure out how to continue out with our daily routine while boxing everything up. To keep it simple, we're going to focus on reading, writing,  and finishing some read alouds. One in particular, Watership Down, has been a never-ending read aloud, even though we're enjoying it.

We finally finished Elijah of Buxton and look forward to reading more of Christopher Paul Curtis. Hopefully, Bud, Not Buddy is next on our list. We have been reading a chapter a day of Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery (free on Gutenberg Press), writing responses, and jotting down interesting quotes in a commonplace book.  It's funny to hear them sum up Washington's thoughts in terse, one sentence responses as only the young can. I want them to understand their education should extend beyond them. Also, education cannot be isolated from work. There is no sin in hard work or manual labor.

Nor do we eschew a college degree, but at the completion of any type of degree or certificate it should leave the holder with skills and the ability to earn a living and contribute to society. A degree is not for the purpose of getting out of hard work. During his time, Washington viewed some African-Americans as gaining an education to get out of manual labor. They depended on the government to create positions, focused on Greek and Latin, and thought manual labor was beneath them. Thus, some were unable to make a living for themselves. I think of my uncles, some who have degrees, some with certificates, and some with only high school degrees. What they all have in common are skills outside of their regular jobs that if they lost main employment they'd still have the ability to earn a living. My uncles, regardless of education level, can do electrical/mechanical work, plant and grow gardens, construction, and carpentry. Some of my aunts can garden, can, and sew. It reminds me of John Taylor Gatto who describes such an education in A Different Kind of Teacher. He says an education should leave you with the skills to do something, such as build a house. My uncles could build a house if needed.

In response to the certain sections from the book, my children had the following to say:
"I think it's really cool how Booker was so determined to get an education. I should use Booker's example to help me to get more serious about my work."
"You don't work you don't eat." 
"If you help someone you'll be happy." 
"Even though you get an education you should still be able to work."
"Try to do something with your education."  
No, we don't agree with everything Washington and often find ourselves wondering if he honestly looked at the race relations of his day. But, the kids are convinced he wasn't vocal about the real state of affairs so as not to offend the patrons of what is now Tuskegee University. After Up From Slavery, we'll read Du Bois to compare their ideas. It's amazing how many people belittle Washington and elevate Du Bois. Their backgrounds were so different as it's impossible to understand their ideologies without taking this fact into consideration.

This book has led to discussions of: Reconstruction, lynching, the Ku Klux Klan, and the13th-15th Amendments. All of this before we really jump into the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance and Du Bois' influence.