Friday, March 29, 2013

switching up our routine


It hasn't been that long that I've been doing a plan of monthly assignments,  and already I'm open to changing things up.  That's one of the good things about homeschooling - you pay attention and you can change things.

I've noticed that the kids - in particular Carbon - have been racing through their assignments as fast as possible, in order to be done and then able to pursue his own interests - primarily Minecraft.  Racing through his learning without any joy or desire to learn is not the goal here.

So I decided to try something else; what if we did a block schedule and it wasn't about doing it as fast as possible but rather was just a learning routine?

We tried it out today for the first time.  I made no assignments at all - just a schedule.  During each time block, they were free to choose what to do as long as it was that type of activity.  So during pencil time they could write, or do workbooks, or draw.  Today they both chose to draw, and I had a "how to draw robots" book I'd checked out from the library so Carbon drew a bunch of robots.  It went that way for each chunk of time, with them basically asking me "what resources do you have for us?" and then deciding and going from there.

The day felt marvelous.  They were mostly engaged and excited (except that a full hour for "quiet book time" turned out to be too much - they've requested that be shortened), and I also had a flow to my day that helped me accomplish a lot because I followed that same schedule with them.  The only hiccup to the new idea came when I sat down to try and log their day's schooling into the journal I keep for our homeschooling.  Free form learning is hard to categorize into little boxes.

We're going to keep trying this two days a week.  The other three days a week will be the old style of assignments.  I really think it will be a nice balance.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dying colored eggs


We only have one hen who lays white eggs, so most of our available eggs are either brown or blue.  Can those eggs be dyed for Easter?

Turns out yes, yes they can, but there is one obvious rule:

Put the blue eggs into your blue and purple dyes, while putting the brown eggs into your red and orange dyes.  Works much better than trying to dye a brown egg purple.  That just turns out ugly, let me tell you.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

God Believes in Love


This week the Supreme Court is hearing two important cases about marriage equality, and it seems like a great time to tell you about a delightful book I read last week: God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage by Gene Robinson.

Robinson is a retired Episcopal Bishop, and he was the first openly gay man in a relationship to become a Bishop.  In this open-hearted and simply written little book, Robinson tells about his own journey toward accepting his sexuality, his divorce from his wife, and his experience of first civil union and then marriage to his husband.  In other chapters of the book, Robinson frames the issue as a Civil Rights struggle, placing it within a larger context of history, and also examines it as a scriptural and theological issue.

One brilliant chapter in particular takes each of the most often cited as condemning homosexuality passages from the Bible and analyzes each.  I thought it was ironic that according to Robinson's analysis, the Bible is patriarchal and considers women of very low-worth, but is not really anti-homosexuality.  Most of these passages, by his understanding, are actually about not treating men as you would women - because the way that women were to be treated was as inferior and would be demeaning to men.  Still a long way to go on all of this.

Despite all the content packed into this little book, it remains easy to read and uplifting.  Robinson has a remarkable way of being righteous and prophetic, but also humble and forgiving.  I highly recommend it to everyone.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our Shakespeare Study

Our study of Shakespeare continues (part 1 was blogged about here.)


Bravo, Mr. William Shakespeare gives a quick synopsis of seven of the plays in humorous comic strip format.  For a quick introduction to the types of stories in the plays, this is a good start.


Beverly Birch's retellings are longer and keep more of the poetic language and supporting characters.  But the stories are long, so it took us three days to read through The Tempest.  We then followed that up by watching the animated short from Shakespeare's Animated Tales.  I actually thought the animated short was pretty well done, so we'll use some more of them after we read more of the stories.


We read two picture books that didn't really add much.  These could be skipped.


And both of the kids said that the Shakespeare Can Be Fun! series are "confusing" and I agree with them.  We won't be trying to read any of these again.  Which is too bad, because there is a huge series of these books.

Next up: The Lamb version of the Shakespeare tales.  And some puppet making time, too!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Excuse me, No, She's Not Cute.


This week my daughter had her first baseball practice out in the rain.  It was pretty nasty out, but it was the last practice before the first game, and all their practices have been rained out so far, so the coach said they had to go practice in the field anyway.

She's the only girl on the team.

The last time she did a sport, she would not stay on the field unless she had a parent holding her hand (that can be tricky in a soccer game, let me tell you).

So there she is, out in the rain, her poor little hands turning beet red from the cold, and trying to catch and throw the balls even as they get really wet, and the grass is really wet.

"Is that your daughter?" says another mom.  I nod.  "She's so cute." the other mom says.  "She's like - I don't want to pick up this ball, it might be muddy."

I was offended, but I am easily offended, so I mulled it over for awhile.  Now, I find myself wishing I had said this:

Excuse me?

No - she is not concerned about the ball being "muddy".  She is not "cute".  (Well, I think she is cute - but not in this diminutive sense of the word which implies a sort of prissy "girlyness".)

She is trying really hard, despite being miserable in the cold and wet, and this is a new sport to her.  Does she catch and throw like a girl?  She is a girl - and girls can catch and throw just fine.  And what about the little boys who are crying because they are cold?  Why are we ignoring their reluctance to pick up a wet and slimy baseball from the wet and muddy field?  

After practice I asked my husband if he had found that mother's comments patronizing, as I had.  He said "not patronizing, no - just downright sexist."

OK, so it wasn't just me who felt that way.  Good to know.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Peep, Peep!


We left our bantams sitting on their eggs, because we really didn't need all the eggs we're getting, and the hen was broody, and we thought, why not?

Peep!  Peep!  Five of the eggs hatched, and even after one little chick died we have four little adorable fluff balls running around in the tractor with their parents.  The adults are being very protective, so I actually didn't want to open the wire door up to take the picture - the rooster tried to peck the camera lens the first time I tried that.


The kids are in love with the little chicks, and go out to check on them and watch them a couple times a day.  We've decided not to take them away from their mom, so they have a lower chance of survival, but the family all together sure is sweet.

And it's the time of year for those other little Peeps:

It's Peep Diorama Time!


This is Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Carbon.


And this is Fantastic Mr. Fox by Hypatia.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Geology is all about edible projects


I have looked at many, many different science curricula over the years.  Physics is all about models and rolling things into other things.  Chemistry is fizzy concoctions.  Biology is a blend, but you know you'll be messing about with eggs and plants.

Geology?  It seems to just beg for edible modeling.  We won't complain - I like a project that you get to eat afterward.


Layers of the earth pizza.


"Earth Balls" made from peanut butter and chocolate and coconut.


She's not objecting to this line of study!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Exploring By Myself

I had a late flight home on Saturday, after being in Chicago for a whole week for school.  What to do with myself?  I was torn between the Art Institute or the Field Museum, but a wise new friend recommended that since I was alone (no kids!) that I go for the Art.

What I was not counting on was that Saturday was the St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago, and the Art Institute is right in the thick of it all!  It was kind of fun (but overwhelming as well - I'm not fond of such thick crowds) to see the crazy people and all their over-the-top revelry.


The Art Institute was stunning.  I'm very glad I took time to go in and commune with the art for a few hours - and yes, my kids would not have had patience or energy for it.  As much as I missed them, it was also a nice break to have that week away.

And now I'm home again and facing a ton of dirty laundry I need to do and piles of mail to sort!  Life goes forward. :)

Friday, March 15, 2013

How to organize it all


In case you haven't heard, Google Reader is going to shut down this summer.  At first I was really upset - Google Reader has been a vital tool for me to stay on top of my online subscriptions and all the blogs I want to read.  If Google Reader goes away, do I have to go back to having all of these blog posts arrive in my (already too full) email inbox?

We live in an information age.  And most of the information has moved online.  Instead of getting magazines in the mail, and then having them pile up next to my sofa waiting to be read, I receive blog posts into my Google Reader, piling up (sometimes) waiting for me to have time to read them.

So I was upset when I saw that my trusty standby, Google Reader, would soon be no more.  I immediately went off to try and find a replacement - and there must have been many more people like me who were out checking the options, because all the recommended sites were knocked out by "heavy traffic" or "experiencing unusual slow-downs".  Frustrating!

But now I'm testing out Feedly.  The speed is still a problem, but their blog assures users they'll get that fixed soon.  Other than the speed, I'm happy so far.  The visual appeal of the site is much more than Google Reader, not that that ever really bothered me.  I was able to transfer my subscriptions from Reader, and then easily sort them into new categories.

The presentation is appealing, and there are apps for mobile phones that seem really easy to use as well.  So - at least after two days - I recommend Feedly for all the other Google Reader users, like me, who were taken aback by yesterday's announcement.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

For my kids


Today after class, I walked this little gnome around Chicago taking pictures.  The kids sent him along with me, and I sent all the pictures home for them to see.  I hope that was fun for them!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Away from the Kids

I'm away this week, taking a graduate level "intensive" seminary course.  This is the third week in a row that I've had a training or a class that has taken me away from home, and I feel bad about doing this to my husband and the kids.

Sure, I did all the laundry and left them with a fully stocked freezer of meals, but to get through the weeks the kids are having to skip many of their regular activities and my husband has had to work from home.  We also gave them these days off "school" because it would be too much for my husband to deal with, so the kids are probably getting way too much screen time.

And yet, that didn't stop me from leaving.  It's not just that this is my job (and I do love my job).  It's also that I really love the intellectual stimulation of taking training and classes.  Taking this class right now, being here where I'm just focused on learning, is a energizing and revitalizing.  I'll return to my job and my family with new energy and ideas.

It also might not be a purely personal endeavor.  I've heard a saying many times: "you get what you are".  If you want loving children, be loving.  If you want your children to be life-long learners - be a life-long learner.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Living Your Dream


I've been driving up and down the dreaded I5 corridor to commute an hour each way to a conference this week, and it's put a few things into perspective for me.

  • I am so glad commuting is not a normal part of my life.  Driving across town, mostly on empty backroads, is so much nicer.  I will not complain anymore about how I'm not close enough to church to walk or ride my bike. 
  • Working long hours outside the home is tough on my family.  They've survived these three days, but I've got some catch-up to do now that I'm home.  
  • Although I LOVE my work and am inspired by the material I just encountered in the training, pulling into my own driveway I was glad to be home and reminded of all I want to do here.
  • I really really love being home.
As this ad on the back of my latest issue of Mother Earth News says:


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

New possibilities in education

My favorite quote from this TED talk: "if a teacher can be replaced by a computer, they should be".  Of course, as a teacher (or parent) we know we are so much more than a computer - no computer could ever replace a good teacher.  But a not-so-good teacher?  Well, then replace away, apparently.  This really is food for thought:


Monday, March 4, 2013

Getting through to the Fun


There is a delicate balance at times for parents, between on the one hand "making" your child do something they really don't enjoy and on the other hand leaving them to do only what they are passionate about and enjoy immediately.

I am a middle-path kind of thinker on most every issue, and this is no exception.  I'm not going to follow the path of the Tiger Mother, but I also won't leave the kids to follow only their own interests.  My experience is that we don't always know what we'll enjoy.  Our foray into basketball this season is an example.

Carbon had chosen to do gymnastics in the fall, but after a few months he was frustrated and unhappy with it.  So we had a talk, and I said he could quit gymnastics but that he should pick a winter sport to take it's place in our physical education line-up.  He chose to try basketball.

The first few practices were hard - he wasn't used to running that much, he really didn't have many skills with a basketball, and he didn't know the rules of the game.  He spent the hour looking unhappy and red in the face and glaring at me imploringly.  He said he hated it after his first practice, and strongly resisted going back to the second practice.  I might have caved to the pressure of that, but both his dad and I wanted him to give it a good try - more than just one or two practices.  So we made him go back.

He loved the excitement of the first game, and as his skills and stamina improved he started to really enjoy the sport.  By the end of six weeks, he's saying that he "loves basketball" and making plans to sign up for it again in the fall.  If we had quit after that first practice, he would have been left hating basketball, and never worked through the hard parts to find the fun parts.

There are many things in life where we have to develop a few basic skills before we can really start having fun with it.  I see part of my role as a parent to be to help the kids through the tough parts, when their own motivation may wain, so they can experience the fun accomplishments that come after.