Thursday, May 31, 2012



Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  She also did a TED Talk.

Why I Read It:

I saw it "On the Nightstand" over at Mental Multivitamin, and the topic sounded intriguing.

What It's About:

The author, an avowed life-long introvert and Wall Street lawyer, has done all sorts of research into what she calls "the extrovert bias" and how introverts are undervalued in our society.  She interviews people from many different walks of life, examines history and research, and shares stories from her own life, all to point to the fact that introverts have their own strengths and have a lot to offer organizations and our society as a whole.

What I thought of it:

Cain is an excellent writer, and I liked her voice - she's one of those authors I can imagine liking if we met for coffee.  And it was also fascinating to think of our culture in this way - a "Culture of Personality" where we sell ourselves and where projecting confidence is more important than actually knowing anything or having a useful idea.  As Cain says "there is zero correlation between having the loudest voice and having the best idea".

I really enjoyed the book, and was bummed that I ran out of time before it was due back at the library.

My Take Away:

Be yourself.  However you are, that's fine, and that way of being in the world will have its own unique strengths.  Overall, I'm getting this message from many sides right now, so it may just be my new goal for myself: to get comfortable just being the way I am and not trying to pretend to be somehow different than I naturally am.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Transitioning to Summer Eating


Ever since we joined our first CSA half a decade ago, we've been eating differently.  CSA's have a lot to recommend them, as ways to support local farmers, but most of all I think their value comes in changing our relationship to food and how we eat.

When I am part of a CSA, I go down to the market once a week and they hand me a bag of veggies.  Who knows what will be in it - whatever is in season, whatever they've grown plenty of.


I've had to learn to cook with strange new vegetables (kohlrabi, anyone?), but it's not just the new types that have changed the way we eat.  It's also that we eat with the seasons, that we can't plan weeks in advance, and that we are encouraged to experiment.

The CSA season is 25 weeks long, and it has just begun.  My first week's share had rhubarb, onions, beet greens, carrots, chard, and chives.

In the summer we eat more salads, stir frys, and vegetable soups.  We grill more often, as well.  In the summer we buy fruit and meat at the market also, and sometimes our cheese as well.

So it's time to set the cookbooks aside, forget the long-term meal planning.  It's time to find and wash out the popcicle molds and the salad dressing shaker.  The seasons shift, and how we live shifts too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our Current and Planned Homeschool Program

It's that time of year - kids are wrapping up their current school years (however they are schooled) and parents are asking each other, "What's your plan for next year?"

Most folks have already enrolled if they are switching schools, and there's a lot of discussion about schools, programs, curricula, etc.

My plan is to keep homeschooling the kids next year.  We're pretty happy with what we're doing, but I am looking at adding a couple new programs.  Although I think we do just fine designing our own program as we go and using the library as our main resource, on the other hand a standard packaged curriculum is a lot easier on me when I'm busy.

So our plan is to seek balance between Child-Led Learning Time, Organized-Parent-Led Learning Time, and Standard Curriculum.

And the curricula we plan to use:

Math-U-See is working well for us for math, and so we'll continue it.  I like that the concepts are all explained visually, but there is also a bit of drill to memorize facts.  I see it as a very holistic approach, and it has made good sense to the kids so far.  Carbon is currently 1/2 way through the Beta level and Hypatia is just beginning the Alpha level.

Language Lessons is also working for us, and I plan to continue it.  The lessons are short, sweet, and gentle.  With a blend of copywork, narration, creative expression, picture study, poetry appreciation, and grammar the children get a whole language program in short sweet bites.

For more standard, phonics-based, reading instruction we also use Explode the Code, which both kids enjoy as well.  The books are easy for them, and have never presented any stress to do, but at the same time there is something about the whimsical drawings that both kids enjoy and they have never complained it's boring either.  A good simple thing for them to do with minimal help and supervision from me.

We had been doing Story of the World so far in our homeschool life, and it's worked well for us.  But this year I began to feel that the kids needed to get some more American History now - there were just enough times that they didn't know something that applies to our everyday life.  So we will still get back to the Middle Ages and SOTW at a later date, but we've taken a break and broken with the chronology in order to spend some time on the Americas.  We're reading Before Columbus and A Young People's History of the United States  , and we'll add in some activities and field trips as we think of them.

For Art we have enjoyed MaryAnn F Kohl's Storybook Art very much.  When we have finished with that book, I plan to go on to her other titles: Great American Artists for Kids and Discovering Great Artists.

And, finally, I'm looking to use REAL Science Odyssey next year.  A friend has used it and says it's great, and so although we enjoy our own rambling explorations, a program would be nice and simplify my life a bit.

What's missing?

Literature - we'll read books.  I don't know what books, but I'm sure we'll have fun choosing as we go.

Music - I need to get Carbon lessons in the instrument of his choice.  Hypatia will still be fine doing piano lessons with me, as I've done with Carbon.  And then we listen to lots of music, of course.

Nature Study - seasonally appropriate study of what is actually surrounding us.  We'll go outside, we'll see things, it will be interesting.

Spanish - I wish I could find a good program for spanish that wasn't so much work for me, but I'm still cobbling together several resources and making it up as I go along.

And of course all the other learning that will happen through living.

That's our plan!

Monday, May 28, 2012

In Defense of Childhood


Why I read it:

In Defense of Childhood came to my attention because it is published by Beacon Press, and the author Mercogliano is co-director of the Albany Free School.  It was the book I took with me to the beach to read, which proved a harmonious choice.

What it's about:

Mercogliano describes the "domestication" of childhood, including modern parenting, institutional schooling, electronic media, and advertising.  The emphasis is on conformity, safety, and compliance, which leaves kids no room for the authentic and unpredictable self-directed activity that the author calls "wildness".

It's an interesting argument, and the author points to a wide variety of practices he feels are antithetical to protecting childrens' wildness.  Attachment parenting, "helicopter" parenting, and homework are all discussed, but the author doesn't dismiss the value of all out of hand.  He gives a nod to the value of AP, but also has a skepticism for many aspects of it.

 What I thought of it:

I found the book and its thesis interesting, and a good reminder that kids need space, time, and autonomy if they are to develop their own unique selves.

However, the book itself got boring and the arguments seemed repetitive.  The same good points could have been said with far less ink.

The Take-Away:

Let the kids be themselves.  Give them the space, time, and autonomy they need to develop that self.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

make yourself comfortable ....


You know the churches with the signs that say "Come As You Are"?  Well, at least in the Religious Education Wing, I think we should have a sign that says "Make Yourself Comfortable".  However that works for you.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

What do you teach?

Last Sunday, I delivered my first-ever sermon.  I learned a lot from the experience, and it went well.  Folks were very kind and complimentary, and my assessment from my minister was good, with just enough critique to be helpful but enough praise to make me want to do it again someday.  :) I should have defined pedagogy for folks though, so here is what I should have put in there:

Pedagogy (play /ˈpɛdəɡɒi/ or /ˈpɛdəɡi/)[1][2] is the holistic science of education. It may be implemented in practice as a personal, and holistic approach of socialising and upbringing children and young people.[3][4] The term is not to be confused with social pedagogy, where society (represented by social pedagogues) holds a bigger part of the responsibility of the citizen's (often with mental or physical disabilities) well-being.[5][6]
Pedagogy is also occasionally referred to as the correct use of instructive strategies (see instructional theory). For example, Paulo Freire referred to his method of teaching adult humans as "critical pedagogy". In correlation with those instructive strategies the instructor's own philosophical beliefs of instruction are harbored and governed by the pupil's background knowledge and experience, situation, and environment, as well as learning goals set by the student and teacher. One example would be the Socratic schools of thought.[7]

Teaching as a Theologically Rooted Act

A Sermon by Sara Lewis

As a religious educator in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, I am asked fairly frequently “what do you teach them?”.  After four years of this work, I have begun to have a good simple answer to that question, but in reality it’s not a silly question.  We include in our curriculum a dizzying array of topics and ideas and have no core doctrine to, well, indoctrinate our young with.  So the What? Is not simple.  But I believe that the What is less important than the How, and that for us, the How of religious education is what reveals our true core theology.

Sophia Lyon Fahs was born in 1876, in Hangchow, China where both her parents were Lutheran missionaries.   She married a man she met through the missionary movement, and he became a Methodist minister.  The young couple initially intended to become missionaries themselves, but a bout of illness kept them from beginning that work.  Mr. Fahs instead went to work for the Missionary Board and spent the rest of his professional life promoting Christian Mission work around the world.
From this early religious background, Sophia Lyon Fahs would go on to become one of the most important religious educators of the 20th century, influence Unitarian Universalist religious education to this day, and eventually accept honorary ordination as a Unitarian minister while in her 80’s.   She advocated many controversial ideas, such as that religious instruction should be based around the actual experiences of children rather than in the text of the Bible, and even that young children were not developmentally ready to have a mature concept of God and therefore the subject should be avoided.

How did she go from planning a life as a Christian missionary to creating religious education curricula for children that didn’t even mention Christ at all?  In the biography of Fahs written by Edith Hunter, who knew her during her life, Hunter writes that despite Fahs’ interest in Biblical scholarship and exposure to new methods of Biblical criticism that were shifting theology for some at the time, it was actually in the area of teaching and pedagogy that Fahs had her conversion experience.

The late nineteenth century was a time of large shifts in education.  While the industrial model of graded classrooms was a product of new goals for education in an industrial society, the influences of the theory of evolution and the new field of psychology also came to be felt in education.  Progressive educators imagined the essential nature of children and the process of learning differently than previous educators had done.  That children are essentially different from adults and go through stages of development was established, and that learning is a process that occurs within the learner was also emphasized.   These changes were felt in secular education, but also in religious education.   As the Christian Education professor Harold Burgess writes: “the resulting model prescribed monumental changes in how religious education might best be pursued.  Perhaps the single most important change was that an almost complete reliance upon revealed truth was superceded by a characteristic commitment to discover, and to test, truth through rigorous application of the scientific method”.  It was a time of shifting understandings about the nature of mankind, of childhood, the process of learning, and even the ultimate goal of a human life.  This was the atmosphere that Fahs encountered when she attended Teachers College.

Professors such as Edward Lee Thorndike, an early behavioralist, opened her eyes to new scientific ideas of learning.  The progressive educator, John Dewey, an advocate of hands on experiential learning for children, was on staff at Teachers College.  But it was another professor, Dr. Frank McMurry, who would push her toward storytelling, a pedagogy that she would become well-known for. 

McMurry was interested in both secular and religious education, and he was part of an effort by Teachers College to run an experimental Sunday School program.  Fahs taught a class in that school, which she described as “a year’s revolutionizing experience for me.  I had an opportunity to acquire an entirely new outlook on what religious education might mean”.

I can relate to the sentiment, and I imagine that the atmosphere in that experimental school must have been energizing.  Theory can be fascinating and useful, but nothing I ever read in a book about teaching could match the experience of actually engaging with children with an open mind or an experimental and fresh method or idea.  As Mrs. Fahs illustrated so wonderfully in the Reading we shared today, children can experience the extraordinary in simple things that we adults may overlook.  I love the simple wonder and awe or profound sense of connection that I’ve seen children express during religious education classes.

It would be through her years of wrestling with two questions, namely how children should be taught about religion and what they should be taught, that Fahs’ educational philosophy led to personal theological change.  Her early struggle is illustrated in her first published article, titled “Missionary Biography in the Sunday School”, in which she wrote “although the Bible must ever remain the textbook norm for Sunday School instruction, it is quite generally recognized that, in the form in which we have it, it is not a children’s book”.  Over time, the struggle with that inconsistency would lead to the idea that the Bible did not need to be the textbook norm for the Sunday School, and an increasingly naturalistic religious theology.

Fahs became a mother in 1905, and later described her child-raising years as a “period of internship education in the most dynamic educational institution in our culture – namely, the home”.  As a mother, Fahs read the works of Dr. Montesorri and John Dewey, and found herself greatly dissatisfied with the quality of education, both secular but particularly religious, that her children received in the various schools and churches they tried.  She felt that the religious education she provided the children at home was superior to what she could find in any church in the area, and she reported in many letters to her husband conversations she had with the children about God and theology.  She came to believe that “every child in every culture is confronted by the same basic forces, both outside of himself and within himself”.

During those mothering years, Fahs learned from her children and from experiences with illness and death (two of her children died, one in infancy and another as an adolescent) and also found time to study, write, and teach both children and adults.  But she struggled with feeling that there was not enough time to pursue her passion for religious education with all the homely domestic duties, and in 1923 she was happy to write to her mother that she had registered at Union Theological Seminary, to work toward the Bachelor of Divinity degree.  

As a religious educator in this tradition, I have found it very inspirational that Fahs’ methods and theories were founded on observation of real children over a long period of time.  In order to teach with intention, a teacher needs to have a notion of the nature of the one who will be learning, of how they will learn, and what the ultimate goal of the learning is.  Prior to the sweeping changes that progressive education brought with it, Christian education had been scripturally based.  This meant that our understanding of the nature of children was informed by the doctrine of original sin, that our understanding of how learning happened was that transmission of the revealed truths in the Bible could be accomplished by memorizing them, and that the ultimate goal was that the learner would be a good Christian and be granted salvation after death.

What Fahs, and other progressive educators, did was to look to the children themselves, rather than the old authorities, for the answers to those questions of Who is learning, How do they learn, and Why do they learn?  Fahs answered those questions with the new ideas of evolution and psychology, and she saw in children a natural impulse toward religion.  This was different than a natural impulse toward wanting to memorize the Bible.  A natural impulse toward religion is the impulse to look at the natural world around us with awe and wonder, to see connections between different beings and ideas, to ask questions and to frame life with meaning.  It is the way human beings make meaning and understand their lives.  It is present when children ask questions such as “where did I come from”, “why am I me?”, or “why do people die?”. 

Ideas like these prompted Reinhold Niebuhr in 1928 to write that “I have a dark suspicion that some of these modern religious educators do not really know what religion is about”.  But there were others who read her words with interest, and one was The Rev. Albert C Dieffenbach, the editor of the Christian Register, the official denominational paper of the Unitarians.

The Unitarians, although they had the open-minded theology that Fahs was looking for, did not have a great history of progressive methods in their religious education programs.  Almost a hundred years before, William Ellery Channing had called for such a progressive approach when he wrote the oft quoted aim of religious education as being “not to stamp our minds irresistibly on the young, but to stir up their own …”, but his inspiring words had largely been ignored and the Unitarians continued to rely on catechism memorization in their Sunday Schools.  They did introduce graded materials around the turn of the century, and in 1909 The Beacon Series was introduced under the leadership of Dr. Edward A. Horton, who urged the churches to adopt the best of the new methods of the secular educators.  By 1935, the Commission of Appraisal was at work, and a new curriculum study committee was formed.

And so it was that Sophia Lyon Fahs began work as Editor of Children’s Materials in 1937, at the age of 61, and took on the task of revising The Beacon Series.  She brought a remarkable passion and viewpoint to her work there.  As David B. Parke writes in The Children Were My Teachers, “Sixty years old and a mature educator at the time of her appointment, she was a teacher in search of an audience at the very moment when American Unitarianism was an audience in search of a teacher.  The contact which they made with each other was to have momentous consequences for the denomination and for Mrs. Fahs herself”

Meanwhile, there was increasing reaction to these new methods of religious education.  More and more, mainline Christians were calling for a rejection of the new educational methods and theories, and Neo-orthodoxy was pushing liberal theology aside.  A conflict between method, and its related assumptions about the nature of man and our history on this world, and the message of a received revelation, had reached loggerheads.  One defender of the liberal methods, Professor Harrison Elliot, wrote a book titled Can Religious Education be Christian?, in which he defended the experiential learning theories,  “learning in and through experience is not a pedagogical slogan, invented by progressive educators.  It is rather a statement of the way mankind has found out everything which is known and has made whatever progress has been attained.  All knowledge has grown out of his reflections … God did not become known by some single and complete revelation”.

Fahs reacted to this new intensity of debate by calling for a nobler religion, “I believe that the coming generation should build a nobler religion than has as yet been embodied in any tradition … A liberal’s child should come to realize that finding God is his own job and not one which he may relinquish to any adult or to any traditional revelation”.  Her pedagogy and her understanding of the nature of child and of humanity had led naturally to a break with traditional theology and an embrace of Unitarianism.  She had some concerns with the denomination’s willingness to try the new methods, however, and found some associates more conservative than she had expected.  Nevertheless, for the next 27 years she helped steer the publication of a whole mini-library of resource books that were based around a child’s real-life experiences and stories from many cultures and religions.  Even after retirement, Fahs continued to champion continued improvement in the field of religious education.

First and foremost, Sophia Lyon Fahs was a teacher.  She looked to the children, and in the process she saw them and their religious needs in a new way.  She ranks among the great thinkers in pedagogy and was also a creative and practical teacher of real children and adults.   Through her life story, we can see how the educational philosophy came first and naturally led to the liberal theology.  The method became the message, and when both method and message are in agreement our highest ideals in both pedagogy and theology come alive in our religious education classrooms.             

Brothers and Sisters


We've been having a bit of a rough go of it here in the last few weeks with the kids.  Various incidents and trends have resulted in the need for extra family meetings, extra talking-to's, and some experimenting with eliminating television content I deem too violent and limiting all the remaining content that I don't deem "educational" to just one show per day per child.  (None of these incidents has been major.  Small stuff like hurt feelings between friends, interrupting me at work, or yelling at each other in public.)

It's incredibly hard to deal when the kids act out.  Even though I try to just smile and walk gracefully through their public hiccups, nonetheless I still feel like their behavior is a reflection on me, and I'm parenting them in some very public ways, including at my place of work.  It can be enough to cast doubt on whether this whole project is possible - to work full time and homeschool full time and still give everyone what they need and not turn myself into a gibbering blob in the process.

But yesterday I remembered: we've been here before.  Whenever I've had prolonged periods of overwork (writing a Master's thesis over the summer, taking on too many volunteer commitments at once, or this recent taking a seminary course while working and homeschooling) the kids start to get poorly behaved, needy, disrespectful, etc.  The solution has always been difficult, because it involves:

a. More Time Spent With Them

b.  Calm, Happy, Loving Parents

c.  An Unhurried and Simple Pace to Life

Those are the keys to getting my children to calm down and be happy, respectful, well-adjusted little people.   But those are exactly what is difficult to accomplish when we are overworked and stressed.

I just got through a very busy 5 months (that was preceded by a very busy 4 months), and my husband managed to work 57 hours of overtime last month, and is continuing to do about that much this month.  The kids have been champs, actually, entertaining themselves and understanding how much we have to work.

Now, I really do need to bring us all back to Calm.  So, the limits on screen-time will stay in place, but more importantly I need to just focus on playing with them, or going on a walk, or working in the garden ... anything as long as it is Together, Calm, and Unhurried.

Last night we ate dinner outside on our back patio, then played baseball as a whole family for a bit, then my husband and the kids played with the goats while I did the dishes, and then he helped them work on the lego Millenium Falcon that is currently covering our dining room table, while I read a book nearby.  Bedtime stories read aloud, and off to bed they went.  That's the way it should be.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Flower Communion


This coming Sunday my church will be doing the Flower Communion, a peculiarly unique ritual in the Unitarian Universalist tradition.

We are all invited to bring flowers - from home or store-bought - and then everyone comes forward and places the flowers in several large vases.  It is always lovely how the variety of flowers make unique bouquets.  Then the minister says something meaningful, then the congregation says the blessing of the flowers.  And then we all come forward again, to receive a flower - a different flower than the one we brought.

Some people forget to bring flowers.  Others bring extras.  A few times we've had to split a flower (one with multiple blooms on one stem) and hand out the tiny bits.  But it always works out.  It is my favorite ritual, and it's always a blessing to me when I get to be at the table handing out flowers, looking each congregant in the face and making that connection as we share this ritual of community.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

There's a bit more breathing room ....


The calendar is finally opening up, with a bit more room to breathe.  Sure, we still have baseball season now, and a Youth Bridging service to plan, but the Religious Education program at church is about to switch to the much easier summer program, my UU History class wrapped up, I've delivered my sermon, and we'll soon be finishing up our PE and martial arts classes and then taking a break for the summer.

I'm hoping for (and needing) a bit of rest this summer, but I know that summer gets busy fast.  I need to start laying out a summer calendar now, and then penciling out days and just writing "Chill Out" on them!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Circle Time at Home


A few weeks ago when we were discussing at Family Meeting whether or not to enroll in the school district's homeschool resource center (which would require that the kids do a few classes on site) Hypatia asked if school would be "circle time: will they read stories to us, and sing songs, and play games?"

Ah, Circle Time.  I love that part of preschool, and she did too.  But, unfortunately, school stops being about circle time.

We do a bit of "circle time" in our homeschool, although it's a very small circle. :)  Today we did Circle Time for our Spanish lesson.  With a pile of play food in the middle, we played several games to work on our vocabulary.  The kids were laughing and rolling around and being silly, and it was lovely.  Maybe we even learned a bit more Spanish.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Lego Party

DSCF6821 Lego Cake DSCF6829 A Lego Relay Race game DSCF6840 Lego Pinata DSCF6856 A Happy Birthday Boy. :)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Reading Women


Reading Women: How the great books of feminism changed my life  is about feminism, motherhood, marriage, society, but most of all it's about reading.  

The author, Stephanie Staal, found herself in a slump as she tried to balance her career, motherhood, and marriage, and figure out just what it meant to be a woman anymore.  Seeking to explain herself to herself (like Beauvoir), she returned to the books written by and about women.  And then she had the idea to go back to her alma mater and re-take Fem Texts.

The rest of the book follows the year-long course (although in the back of the book she admits that she wasn't able to schedule to do the class straight through, and edited things to give a better narrative), with the books they read discussed and interspersed with personal reflection and memoir.

I found the feminist discussions interesting, but what really struck me were each time Staal compared her young self's reaction to a text with her older self's reaction.  Reading really is a conversation between the written words and the reader, and it's so interesting to see how we change as readers throughout our life.

All in all, this book was an interesting read, with a likeable narrator and some thought-provoking bits.  And it has inspired me to remember that I am a Reader.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


My baby is nine years old today.  There have been some very noticeable changes this year.  He's more in control of himself - he sees consequences and chooses how to react to things.  He's more in control of his body, more able to do complex physical tasks, and stronger all around.  He's reading and learning at an astonishing rate.  He's growing up!  Not too fast, I hope.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Frugal or foolish?


Grooming for my little dog usually runs me around $50.  So, I thought, what would happen if I just tried to cut it myself?  With hair scissors?  Result = he's cooler in the hotter weather and not getting all the grass and burrs stuck in his long hair, and he looks like he got caught in a chicken plucker.

It's not pretty, but is it functional?

Where is the line between frugal and foolish?  What makes sense to pay other people to do?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mothers Day, during the time of Mommy Wars


This is my Mom.  Happy Mothers Day to her.  She was kind of a "granola mom", a hippy mom, and she chose alternative parenting.  Home births, breastfeeding, no vaccinations, homeschooling, homeopathics, tarot card readings, women's moon circles, taking me to buy a vibrator when I was a teen.

I love my mom, and I'm all for alternative parenting or attachment parenting.  But I can't imagine that she would ever have posed on the cover of Time Magazine while breastfeeding my brother - even though he did continue breastfeeding until he was almost four years old.  She just would have felt like that was something private, not to be put on a magazine cover with a provocative title like "are you Mom Enough?".  For more on this, click here.

My children both self-weaned at 13 months old.  Why?  I don't know.  Maybe I just wasn't Mom Enough.

Are the Mommy Wars real?  I don't really see folks getting into fights about parenting choices face to face.  But in print, or on the internet, there we go to extremes and fight.  The idea that there is some perfect way to parent, or to live, just baffles me.  All there is is our own human-fraility, blinding groping toward living the life that human dignity demands of us - a life of integrity in compliance with what our hearts call us to do.  Or, in other words - we do what our heart instinctually tells us to do.

So, I want to wish all the Mom's a happy Mother's Day.  No matter how you do it, or if you are "Mom Enough" for some, you are a Good Mother, and God Knows It's Not Easy.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Reading Life: the not so great book week


Another week, another pile of picture books.  Nothing we read this week was really all that great though. I don't know if I'm just not in a great mood this week, if the kids are getting too old for picture books, or if we just didn't have any winners in this pile.

The good thing is, since they are all from the library, we can just return them and get another pile!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Summer Religious Education


Summer time is our "throw away" session.  Traditionally, the church has low attendance throughout the summer, and the main goal of the summer program has been to just do something easy with whatever kids do show up.

However, this year there have been folks really looking forward to the summer program, based on our positive experience with a summer reading program last year.  The concept is to have guest reader volunteers come in each Sunday and read a picture book of their choice to the kids, and then the kids all have a chance to share about what they have read that week, possibly get prizes for their reading, and then spend whatever time is left exploring books and art supplies in the classroom.

This year I'm going to make a giant poster of the 7 Principles and 6 Sources and have the kids decide where the book they read might belong.

We're looking forward to our summer reading through the UU Principles!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What child-led learning looks like here


We are mixed-method homeschoolers, but one feature of our homeschool that is really important to me to protect and maintain is the time for child-led learning.  "Child-Led" or "Child-Centered" are terms that are overused and sometimes used for completely different things, so I should define my use of the term.

For me, child-led means that they lead the way, choosing topics of interest to them and projects they want to pursue.  It does not mean that the adults are not involved in the learning, and it is not the same as unschooling.  But also, true child-led learning is more than just being given a few choices on what to study (which country in Asia would you like to study, for instance) and more than just a choice in formats (do you want to write a report about it or do a presentation?)

We are currently in the midst of a child-led learning here that has sustained itself for a few months and shows no sign of stopping.  My son's interest in dinosaurs was reignited, and he began asking to have dinosaur documentaries added to our Netflix instant queue.  (Here, I will admit that my children get a lot more screen time than you might think is good for them.  We don't have commercial television, so they only get to watch what I put on the Netflix queue for them - but they watch a lot of that).

The next thing was that he asked where the dinosaur books would be in the library, on our weekly library trip.  He checked out every book they had.

For independent reading time he asked to read his dino books.  For bedtime read alouds, he asked for dino books.  He made model fossils out of fimo clay.  Then the interest expanded into the process of evolution.

I brought out our evolution timeline and cards, and we got more documentaries and books.  He's started to invent his own creatures and show how they evolve into each other - the bionicle pieces feature heavily here.  I've reserved a "museum in a box" kit from the natural history museum, and we'll be getting that and exploring it soon.  He's asked if there is any way he could be part of a dig site, but I can't find one for a kid his age. :)

The main thing here is this - all this learning is because he was interested.  He led the way.  My job has been to help him get the resources he wanted, to be interested (and listen to hours of him talking about dinosaurs), and to make sure that he has the most important resource of all - Time.

My husband remarked that he remembers being interested in dinosaurs around this age, but that there was no time to follow that interest because there were other things he had to study in school.  In our homeschool, the kids have time to follow their interests, and I think that is one of the most important things.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

there are days for reading books and there are ...

days for getting outdoors.  To everything there is a season, and thank goodness we mostly have the flexibility to go with the seasonal flow and set aside the history of ancient China in favor of nature study at a local beaver pond on a lovely day.





Monday, May 7, 2012

On being domestic


I made myself a new tea towel - with embroidery designs from Sublime Stitching.  In this picture, the tea towel is wrapped around a loaf of homemade bread, sitting on a counter that I cleaned, in front of the slow cooker that I would be shortly loading up to be that night's dinner.

I cook.

I clean.

I sew.

I garden.

I iron.

I bake.

I mend.

I shop.

I fix.

I am domestic.

What does this mean, to be "domestic"?  It implies being tamed, constrained, and dependent on others.  It implies nurture, relationship to others, devotion.

Domestic: " Remaining much at home; devoted to home duties or pleasures; as, a domesticman or woman."

1. Of or relating to the family or household: domestic chores.
2. Fond of home life and household affairs.
3. Tame or domesticated. Used of animals.
4. Of or relating to a country's internal affairs: domestic issues such as tax rates and highway construction.
5. Produced in or indigenous to a particular country: domestic oil; domestic wine.
1. A household servant.
a. Cotton cloth.
b. Household linens. Often used in the plural.
3. A product or substance discovered in, developed in, or exported from a particular country.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Reading Life


Both of my kids are "late" to read.  The late is in quotations because there are so many different standards for when children should read: the Moore's say later with their book Better Late Than Early, the schools say "during 1st grade", or "before entering Kindergarten", some online sources say by age six, and there are campaigns to get all kids reading by 3rd grade.  And there are many who say that boys should be given even more time to start reading than girls, such as Whitmire of Why Boys Fail

My son would be in third grade, and my daughter would be in Kindergarten, so by MY standards they are fine.  Despite early interest, my daughter still cannot read, and is completely unwilling to learn through phonics.  "What sound does what make?  Why do I care - I don't."  That's her response.  Our breakthrough this week has been her excitement to start "reading" a few books that she basically memorizes with me, then goes back over and reads out loud over and over and over and over and over again.  That's how I learned to read as a child (a bit younger than her, but still .... ) so I'm not too worried about it.  She's getting sight words down, for sure, because I was sneaky and "tested" her by doing a "you read, I read" trade off and pointing to words in a new book that she had seen in one of her memorized books - and she got them all.

My son is independently reading now, but still very slowly.  We went through a bit of vision therapy, and he has reading glasses, but he won't wear them.  The doctor says he doesn't necessarily need them - it's a borderline case.  At age 8, he can read anything he really wants to, but man - it was rough getting to this point.  He just couldn't/wouldn't read, until just a few months ago.  I told people about our vision therapy, but honestly no one cut us any slack because of that.  Grandparents, strangers - it didn't matter they all felt free to express their concern about when he would read.  And then, overnight it seemed, he just was.  

My plan with his reading now is to mandate 20 minutes of reading, three times a week.  That's right - you heard me - only 1 hour of reading a week.  It's not that he doesn't read other times too, but for Reading the assigned subject, this is enough.  And I absolutely do not control WHAT he reads during Reading Time.  Mostly he reads books from the library about dinosaurs.  I don't care, and I don't stress him out about it.  I ask, "did you understand what you read?" and "do you want to talk about it?" and then I let it go.

And he doesn't fight me about that, and he reads books.  As simple as that.

I love all the reading we do as a family.  My kids are in a book culture, and they love books too, so I have no worries that they won't be readers as they grow.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May the Fourth Be With You


Tomorrow is Star Wars Day, which my kids have chosen to make an "official family holiday".  Tomorrow we'll have a small party, but today we did some prep crafts.  The Star Wars Craft Book was more of an inspiration than a guide, but we still had fun with it. DSCF6683


May the Fourth Be With You!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Work/Life Balance and the Religious Professional



Here is where I want to be on Sunday evenings.  For the last decade, my husband and I have had dinner at his mother's house almost every single Sunday night.  It's Sunday Night Dinner - a family tradition and institution all it's own.  His sister makes it, we make it, our children have grown up expecting that they will see their grandparents every week for dinner.

This year I took on a new time slot for hosting a Young Adult group at church, and let myself get convinced that Sunday evening was the right time for Young Adult ministry.  And I started missing a lot of these family dinners as a consequence.

I have a great job that lets me have time off during weekdays that most other people don't get off.  But I also am working evenings and weekends - the time that most other people do have off.  And I'm seeing that there is a real problem of becoming separated from your family because you miss Sunday Night Dinner, or because you have to be at a meeting the evening of your son's birthday (never mind that you took him out to lunch - the rest of the family is doing a dinner), or because you can't go away for a weekend ever.

It's not just about time, it's also about Together Time.  I'm going to take the kids to the ocean this month - on a Monday-Tuesday.  That's when I can go.  But my husband works a "normal" job, and so he can't go with us.  He could go if we went Saturday-Sunday, but I can't be gone on a Sunday.  It's a struggle to find whole-family time.

But I'm setting some limits.  I'm taking some steps of self-care and one of them is that I really cannot be responsible for young adult ministry in my church.  I already have enough to do with ministry to infants through high schoolers and their families, and young adults have different needs, some of which are to meet during the times that I really need to keep for my own family and marriage's health (example - Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings) and so that I can also have a social life outside of church.

Next year, you won't find me at church on a Sunday evening.  My family has a norm of sitting down to a nice meal together on Sundays, and that's where I'm going to be.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

New Babies

I'm tempted to delete yesterday's post, but I so rarely get worked up enough about anything to write a blog post about it, I feel like I should just leave it up for that.  Hey, we all get worked up sometimes.

But, for something completely different .... we got new babies! IMG_0690