Monday, August 20, 2012

First Day of School

I didn't plan to start school today but it just happened! It was beautiful. When I finished feeding the baby and came out of my room this morning I found the rest of my children outside catching rolly-pollies. I brought them paper and pencils and had them draw their first nature journal drawings. The nature journal idea is from the Charlotte Mason books. We walked around to our back yard to look for more things to draw and I saw that the nectarines on our tree were ready to pick. We began filling bowls full of nectarines and suddenly I got stung by a bee on my pinky toe! Ouch! I have never been stung by a bee. A wasp yes, but not a bee. It still hurts! But something great came of it. I pulled that little stinger out of my foot and we stuck it under our microscope. The kids took turns examining it and Beetle and Tony drew what they observed. Then we read our Five In A Row (FIAR) book for the week, "The Story of Ping." My favorite moment from today was my 5 children gathered around me on my bed quiet and curious as I read them a story. :)
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Friday, July 27, 2012

Why I Love Homeschooling

A good friend of mine just left my house after visiting all morning and letting our kids play. She has been interested in learning more about homeschooling and is considering home educating her children as well. I felt so inspired by our conversation today and I want to write down my thoughts before they escape me.
Why do I homeschool? Let me count the reasons!

1. Family. Family. Family. Our family relationships are the most important relationships we have. Friendships come and go but families are forever! Our church leaders have repeatedly emphasized the importance of families. "The family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children" (See The Family: A Proclamation to the World). I have been taught this and believed it for as long as I can remember, but have recently grown a deeper understanding of this message. I believe that the family is not only the perfect environment to nurture one another in, but also the perfect environment to gain an education in everything which pertains to our eternal destiny. I don't just mean teaching them the gospel, which I will address in a minute, but earthly knowledge as well -- since earthly knowledge is also spiritual knowledge.

"All things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me" (Moses 6:63) 

By divine destiny, our children were given to US. As their parents, we have more capacity to love, to teach, and to receive inspiration for our children than anyone else in this world. As a homeschooling family, we have the privilege of spending the vast majority our time together, nurturing our relationships and learning what it means to love and serve one another unconditionally. At the same time we are working to create a learning environment where seeking knowledge is part of life and not just something that's done at school. The purpose of education in our home becomes not only a means to get a good job so you can make money, but a life-long pursuit to grow and stretch and refine your whole being so that, when the time comes, you will be worthy to return to the presence of the Lord.

2. Time. You've heard it said that love is spelled T-I-M-E? Well we've got plenty of it! :) In order to accomplish everything I just spoke of, we need all the time we can get! I was so sad when my oldest daughter, Beetle, started first grade at our local public school. I felt wrong about sending her away ALL DAY. She was so young. I knew I needed so much more time to help her learn everything she needed to know to live responsibly in this world, and yet here I was handing over my influence to an unknown teacher and a classroom full of 6-year-olds, whom she would be spending 30 hours a week with. Indeed, the school had more quality time with her than I did. Once she got home, it was homework (don't even get me started) making dinner, eating dinner, and rushing everyone off to bed so they could be awake in time for school the next morning. It was very difficult to find the time to read scriptures and have quality conversations together when we were scurrying to do everything that school and everyday life requires. I remember Beetle telling her younger brother Tony how lucky he was that he got to stay home with the baby all day. Oh she missed her baby sister when she went to school! She was so sad to be leaving the family. One of my favorite things that happened after I pulled her out of school was that her then 2-year-old brother, HooDoo, became so attached to her. They'd hardly had time to spend together when she was going to school, but now that she was home every day the first thing HooDoo would do when he woke up from his nap was stand in the hallway and call his big sister's name. Nothing warms a mother's heart like seeing her children loving each other.

I have discovered that the most useful time, our prime time if you will, when my children are most receptive to learning, is in the morning. After a restful night of sleep and a good breakfast, they are energetic and ready to work and learn. Bedtime is good for stories but subjects that require more concentration and discipline are always best when done in the mornings.

3. Socialization. Yes, you read that right. This is most often used as an argument against homeschooling but I beg to differ. I've heard young children compared to sponges, absorbing everything they see and hear. That's a good one but I have another... MONKEYS! You know -- monkey see, monkey do? :) I would venture to say that being in a classroom, surrounded by 20-30 other children just as young and immature as they are, for 30 hours a week has no social benefit to the child whatsoever when the alternative is being in a loving home with siblings of various ages and parents who are deliberate, law-abiding, hard-working people. Children will learn to emulate the behavior of those they socialize with daily. Would you rather have your 6-year-old learning what they deem to be socially appropriate behaviors from a classroom full of other 6-year-olds, or from you? Or, to put it this way, would you rather spend time trying to combat all the social behaviors they learn from school or have the freedom to spend time showing them how a mature adult (which is, after all, what you are raising them to be) should behave? I loved this article I read last month in the TJEd newsletter called What Are We Socializing Them For? Here's a small excerpt written by a homeschooling father who attended public school in his youth:

Here’s what public school taught me about socialization:
  • It’s okay — encouraged, even — to make fun of anyone “different” than you and your core group of friends, particularly the weak, weird, mentally and physically disabled, and poor.
  • Within an “acceptable” range, everyone should dress, act, and think like everyone else, and those in any way and to the slightest degree outside of the norm should expect to be mocked mercilessly.
  • Appearances are everything.
  • You should only interact with those in your grade. Those in higher grades are cooler than you (and are therefore entitled to bully you and everyone else younger than them), and those in lower grades are less than you.
  • You should compare yourself to and militantly compete with others.
  • What your peers think of you is far more important than what you think of yourself, or what God thinks of you. Sacrifice everything for popularity.
  • Don’t question authority; teachers and other authority figures know best. Stay in line. There’s an established, “right” way for everything — don’t deviate.
“The idea of learning acceptable social skills in a school is as absurd to me as learning nutrition from a grocery store.” -Lisa Russell
As far as providing opportunities to socially interact with other children and build friendships, we have so much time to do this it's exciting! Once the neighborhood kids are out of school they can play until dinner time nearly every day, since they have no homework to do. Every Sunday we attend church where they go to Sunday School classes with other children for 2 hours. Beginning at age 8 there are mid-week church activities offered as well. There are hundreds of other homeschooling families in our area and we have online forums we use to coordinate field trips and get-togethers. Nearly every Friday we meet other homeschooling families at the park or someone's home. There are opportunities to form co-ops with other homeschooling families and so many opportunities for day-time music/art/drama classes. Then there are art museums, history museums, science museums, parks, soup kitchens, zoos, farms and anything else you want to do! When they're teenagers they can do their school work early in the morning and then go work on an internship to get some experience in their field on interest. Can you see how the whole world is open to you when you're not trapped in a school building all day?

The fabulous thing is, you (as the divinely inspired parent!) get to decide how much social interaction and what kind of social interaction is best for your child while they are young.

I <3 this.

4. Personalized Education. Oh, this is fun. We mature at different rates. One baby may walk at 11 months of age, while another may not walk until 16 months. Both are  normal! We learn to speak at different times and we learn everything else in different ways and at different times as well. Likewise, we each have different personalities, interests and strengths. There is no cookie cutter to make a human being. As well-adjusted adults we rejoice in our differences and see the need for varying interests and capacities. Why is it then, that we believe that all children should be taught the same concepts at the same age and everyone should excel or be dubbed a failure? "I'm sorry, your daughter is not reading at grade level. Something must be done soon or she will really fall behind!"

I could go on about the damage done to a child's love of learning when they are forced to endure lectures in a subject they are not prepared to learn yet, and so they struggle and are caused to feel stupid. As a result they think they are not good at reading or math or whatever the subject at hand is. The excitement and hunger for learning which they began with is squashed! If only they had been allowed to learn at their own pace and not pressured to stay at "grade level" and to learn everything at the same time as their peers! Their self-confidence would have remained intact and their love for learning would have blossomed!

On the other hand, what happens to a child who is more advanced than his peers in a certain subject? At the very least he is bored and not learning anything new. In his case, what a waste of time! Wouldn't he be better off learning at his own pace and devouring information on his favorite subject as fast as he desires? What if he has a unique interest in a subject not offered at his school? When can he find the time to harness his talent to its fullest? It's possible, but difficult when his schedule it already so full. I LOVE the freedom home education allows for a personalized education.

5. Religion. Scripture study is part of our daily curriculum. It is not its own category, separated from "secular" learning. Every subject we learn can be taught in the light of the gospel. It goes back to the scripture I already quoted above, all things bear testimony of Him. Another scripture that speaks to me is this one, speaking of the Lord's commandments we read:

"And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deuteronomy 6:7)

This approach to religious education is not possible in a public school setting. In a public school, teachers are not allowed to incorporate God in any way.

Along these same lines, I love a point Michelle Stone stone made in her lecture about "Celestial Education" (which is 160 minutes long and well worth your time, especially if you are LDS). This idea sounded so logical to me, I wondered why I hadn't thought of it myself. Why must we wait until the age of 8 to get baptized and become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? Because this is the age when we become accountable for our choices. Why are we accountable? Because we are finally capable of understanding right from wrong, gaining a testimony, and make the choice to get baptized or not for ourselves. Following baptism, a child will be confirmed and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This means they will now have the Holy Ghost as their constant companion, to help them understand truths, to help them discern right from wrong, and to comfort them. If you are LDS, I have not told you anything new. 

Here is the part that was an ah-ha moment for me: That means that before the age of 8 they are not mature enough to always understand right from wrong, and they do not have the Holy Ghost as their constant companion, although it is possible for them to feel the Spirit at times. So why are we sending them off to school at age 5, or sooner? It is a beautiful idea to imagine that we, their mothers, are somehow filling the role of the Holy Ghost in their lives until that point. Obviously this is not doctrine I'm quoting here but we do protect them, comfort them, teach them, and help them discern truths. In this light, it makes no sense to me to send a child younger than 8 away from home all day. Until the age of 8, their mothers should be their constant companions. Not that they should never leave your side, LOL, but you are always nearby.

I love the TJEd analogy of a tree. You plant a seed, it sprouts and begins to grow. What will someday be a hefty trunk is still a tiny twig-like stem. Its roots are tender and short and do not yet have a deep and strong hold in the ground. If this small plant is subjected to strong winds and hail before it's ready, it could be uprooted or its stem may snap. But if we keep it sheltered from the storms of life a little longer, nurturing it, allowing its roots to take hold and its trunk to strengthen, it will be more capable of surviving what the world will throw its way. It is now able to develop into a huge, immovable oak tree, developing branches of knowledge and experience -- capable of being a stalwart influence for good in this world.
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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Birth Thoughts

As I get closer and closer to what will likely be my last time giving birth, I am feeling rushed and unprepared. I've spent all my energy getting things in order so that I won't be playing (as much) catch up after this baby comes. Now that the children are asleep, the house is quiet and dark, and today's last load of laundry is in the dryer, I feel the need to unwind and reflect on spiritual things. When I've felt nervous or anxious about this upcoming birth I have pushed the thought aside by staying busy. In doing so, I have neglected the most important thing I can do to prepare for this baby, and that is to work daily at being in tune with the Holy Spirit. Today I am setting a goal to invite the Spirit into my daily life and to take the time to be still and listen to it's promptings.

Speaking of the gift and responsibility of motherhood, President Thomas S. Monson once said:

"Who can comprehend in its entirety the lofty role of a mother? With perfect trust in God, she walks, her hand in His, into the valley of the shadow of death, that you and I might come forth into light." 

When I begin this journey of becoming mother one last time, I want nothing else but to begin this new life with my hand in Christ's. I don't want to miss my chance to experience this spirituality of this birth to the fullest.

The holiest words my tongue can frame,
The noblest thoughts my soul can claim,
Unworthy are to praise the name
More precious than all other.

An infant, when her love first came,
A man, I find it still the same,
Reverently I breathe her name,
The blessed name of mother.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's About Family

When Beetle was attending first grade at the local public school, she often mentioned how sad she was that she was not able to spend more time with her family. She told her younger brother, Toni, that he was so lucky he got to stay home with Brighty (her baby sister) while she had to go to school all day. Beetle would often come home to find that we had been to someplace as simple as the grocery store without her, and she would feel left out.

When I first asked her if she would like to be home schooled she practically jumped out of her skin with excitement!
As Beetle began spending more time at home with us, her relationship with her younger siblings grew. Her then 2-year-old brother Hoodoo, would wake up from his naps, walk out into the hall, and the first thing he would do was call her name. One day, after finishing our lessons, Beetle gave Brighty a bath in the kitchen sink and helped get her diapered and dressed. She got so much pleasure out of helping with such a simple task. I remember thinking what a blessing it was to have her home with us and not miss out on all the potential bonding time together. Few things are more rewarding to me than seeing my children enjoy each other.
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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Down Time

Beetle, Toni, and Hoodoo playing "bunnies" with construction paper costumes and real carrots.

Last night, I met a woman at a bridal shower, we'll call her Sarah, and we struck up a conversation. I learned that Sarah is an elementary school teacher. Sarah told me about her sister-in-law who recently had her fifth child and happens to home school as well. Since Sarah recently had the opportunity to stay with her sister-in-law and help with the children after their baby was born, she observed what their home school was like. Sarah told me she had many reservations about home schooling. I asked her, "Why?" and her response was this:

"There was a lot of down time."

We were interrupted right at that moment and didn't get to finish our conversation. Her words have been replaying in my mind over and over again. Oh how I wish I had been able to respond to her comment.

Down time. Isn't that one of the beauties of home schooling? Because quality book learning takes a fraction of the time when a child has such individualized attention, there is so much time left over for children to be children! Since when did play time become a waste of time and book learning become the only valuable form of education? Are children not learning when they use their cleverness to create alternate worlds where imaginary characters live intricate lives together? Or when they write welcome home letters to their daddy on the driveway with sidewalk chalk? Or help make dinner, or bake cookies? As far as I'm concerned, their play time is sacred time. It's a time where they take what they've learned through books and apply it to their lives.

Recent things my children have done during their (dreaded) down time:
  • Built forts with blankets
  • Written and practiced their own play to perform for Mom and Dad
  • Practiced piano (my 7 year old)
  • Played in the dirt
  • Rode their bikes
  • Chased the chickens
  • Traced each others shadows with sidewalk chalk
  • Traced each others bodies with sidewalk chalk
  • Written short stories 
  • Written in their journals
  • Folded an assortment of paper airplanes
  • Written letters to grandparents
  • Taken photos and recorded videos of each other
  • Played a wide variety of pretend games
  • Built towers with Legos
  • Played with toy trains/tracks
  • Begun hand-sewing a quilt for a doll (my 7 year old)
  • Made dice out of construction paper and invented a new game
  • Looked at my old scrap books
  • Danced to music
  • Helped with household chores
  • Created math worksheets for each other to complete
  • Drew pictures
  • Played in the bath tub
  • Made their own lunch
  • Read books
I am very grateful that my children have so much down time. 

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Teaching Machine Sewing

It can be extremely frustrating to teach a beginner how to sew. In order to avoid the frustration of making mistakes on fabric and unpicking crooked stitches, I have found it much easier to let them learn on paper first. To do this, remove the thread from you machine and use an old or cheap needle that you don't care about. Print a paper with straight lines on it (or draw your own), varying from thick to thin and let them sew on the lines. The needle leaves little holes in the paper so they can see exactly where they have been and practice moving the paper around as they sew in order to stay on the line. When they get good at following a straight line, try curved lines. As they improve, you can have them start sewing different shapes and eventually their own name or a creative shape they drew on their own.

The following are a few worksheets to help you get started teaching your child to sew. You can print an image by first clicking on it, and when the image viewer pops up on your screen right click on the image and select "view image". When the image loads you should be able to press Ctrl+P to print a nice big copy of the worksheet.

Once they have perfected controlling the paper while they sew, you can move on to sewing something simple with fabric (such as a pillow case). It helps to draw a line with a ruler and pen where they are supposed to sew, so they have no question where their needle is supposed to stay, and then make sure to pin the fabric together so they don't have to worry about it slipping.

Beetle, Toni, and Hoodoo with their finished pillow cases.
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