Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekly Book Post (The Shallows, How Children Succeed)


This week I've read two books about our malleable brains.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr came out a couple years ago, so I'm behind the curve on talking about it, but I enjoyed this story of how the intellectual technologies we use change the way our brains are 'wired'.  Part defense of old-fashioned book reading, part natural history of the human brain, and part warning and social analysis of our new digital selves, this is a well-written and engaging book.  My take-away was the notion that our brains are always malleable, and that we expose ourselves to and habitually do will have neurological consequences for us.  So while I'm not ready to ditch the internet altogether, I am noticing how and when I use it, and I'm trying to stop mindlessly surfing just because I'm bored, and stop multitasking such as surfing the internet while also watching a TV show.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough is a more recent book.  The author sets out to look at what makes children succeed (success seems to mean graduating from college and earning more money as an adult, with some other markers being health and avoiding jail and early pregnancy) and how we can influence this success.  Character traits, rather than cognitive scores, are identified as the largest influence on success, and those character traits are revealed to be both malleable and teachable.  Tough tells the story of the KIPP programs, a successful chess program in a low-income public school, and the efforts in an exclusive and expensive private school to address character issues in kids who never get to experience failure.  He also tells us about the latest research in Adverse Childhood Experiences, stress-management, and long-term health and mental consequences.  It's a well-told story, and one I think parents and educators should read.

The pairing of these two books, along with The Power of Habit, which I read a month ago, has me cogitating about our malleable, changeable brains and the notion that in many ways we become what we habitually do and are habitually exposed to.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

New Arrivals


A 6:30 am wake-up call from the Post Office was the start to my day today.  Our long-awaited shipment of baby turkeys had arrived!  The addition of 15 more mouths to feed and creatures to care for has us busy for a bit.  But aren't they cute right now?  The kids sure think so.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In My Kitchen




My kitchen has become the primary bird watching station in our house.  Bird guides belong on the bread machine, right?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Rather than just take a day off, I wanted to mark the day as a day of remembering.


It took a bit of coaxing to get my family out in the rain to go look at war memorials, but they did it.


We read the signs, discussed each of the wars and their memorials, talked about those in our own family and those we have known who have died in war, and saw the others marking the day in some way - like this fellow in WWII get-up at the WWII memorial.

My husband thanked me for getting the family out to do this.  He was thinking of his own fallen comrades in our latest, long and ongoing wars - which do not yet have a memorial for us to visit.


There was a moderately large gathering, of mostly motorcycle club members, at the Vietnam Memorial.  We could hear their speeches and music across the campus, and then they played taps while we were in the WWII memorial.  I found it haunting.


I think we might do it again next year, but bring flowers for the kids to put out.

We Remember.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Things I've Found Interesting This Week


A few links to some stuff I've enjoyed this week:

Birds of North America done in Legos are very fun.

In the realm of educational interventions that seem totally unnecessary, Texas passed a bill to fight the War on Christmas.

A new study says that teens are tired of Facebook, which has lots of folks in youth ministry talking about how to reach them.  I don't think it will do any good to chase teens from one social media platform to the next, but the article is interesting anyway.

And in the wake of another tragedy, this post at For the Someday Book on Help That's Helpful: Do's and Don'ts After Disaster is a good reminder for us all.

Project-Based Homeschooling had a great post about The Sliver: How To Stop Fighting About Screentime

And Doug Muder wrote on UU World about "My Bloody Closet", a very thoughtful and thought-provoking essay about how to respond to the tragedy of the Bangladeshi factory collapse.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Value of Game Play


As we are settling into a routine with our two days a week of "Block Schedule", we are scheduling "Game Time" onto those days.  Sometimes it's a 30 minute block, sometimes it's an hour.  At first, because this was for school, I limited the game selection to our collection of explicitly "educational" games.  Gradually, however, the time has come to mean that the kids can pick any of our games or puzzles.  We are still not allowing computer or video games during this time, however, because those happen so much without any time dedicated to them.  This is special time for board games and puzzles.

Is this really "school"?  By my definition, yes.  There are so many things we learn from games, and not just those that have been elevated to the status of an intellectual pursuit, such as chess.  It's not just the cognitive or academic lessons, either, but also the social:

  • communication skills
  • strategy
  • perseverance
  • winning/losing gracefully and resiliency 
  • hand-eye coordination
  • creativity
  • fairness


These are the sorts of things I want us to be doing, and the best way I have found to make sure they happen is by putting a special time on our schedule.  Something we'll keep doing for sure!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weekly Book Post (Casual Vacancy, Talking Back to Facebook)

Book pile

My TBR pile got a little out of control!  Sometimes all my holds from the library come in at once and I get .... this!

This week I read The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.  I wouldn't have read it, based on reviews and the jacket description, if I wasn't curious because of the author.  It has to be hard to shift genres after you become so famous in one, and overall it's a fine piece of literature.  I don't really like this realistic "if you only knew what was going on behind all the closed doors and in everyone's heads" sorts of novels, in fact I find them sad and depressing in the way they point to all the misunderstandings and small human cruelties/tragedies, but I still found myself drawn to finish the book.  I know people who really like the book, and others who really dislike it, and now I'm saying "meh, it was OK" - mixed reviews all around.

I also read Talking Back to Facebook: the Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in a Digital Age.  This is a very current book, so it will probably be out-of-date soon as the technology and culture develop further, but for now it is a good overview for parents who are wondering if they should let their kids have facebook accounts or cellphones, surf YouTube videos or have computers in their bedrooms. The first part of the book is an overview of the "RAP" on digital media (relationships, addiction, privacy) and then the second half has specific recommendations by age of your child.

Now I need to get onto reading the rest of that big pile!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gardening with and for Children


Ever since we moved, my daughter has been wanting "a magical fairy garden".  We didn't get it done last summer, so this year (our second in this new home) it was a priority.  I gave her seeds and statuary for her birthday in February, but it took our Mother's Day nursery trip to really make it all come together.

george the lawn gnome
"George", the lawn gnome.

My son decided this was the place for his bunny statue he got for Easter last year, and he planted some lettuce seeds all around the rabbit.  We'll see if that works out or not, but it's a cool idea.

fairy garden 3

fairy garden 2
"Alann" the Fairy Queen (and owner of this garden).

fairy garden 4

A fun project, checked off the list.  Next up for kid's gardening plans is a "Jurassic Park" garden my son wants.  He already bought one plant for it, the "Dinosaur Plant" Gunnera Manicata.

Friday, May 17, 2013

10 years


My boy turns 10 years old today.  That's a decade of parenting gone by!

I had thought that I would be sad to not have any babies anymore, but I like these big kids.  He's wearing my shoes already, and measuring how much height he has to go before he's taller than mom.  He can do a lot on his own: stay at home alone for a bit, cook his own breakfast, read the directions for something without my help, etc.

The baby and toddler years were sweet, but 10 is good too.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Homeschool Field Trips: Nature Centers

I've been hearing about and seeing signs for this urban nature center in a nearby city, and last Friday it made the perfect stop after a work-related daytrip.  This nature center also featured a very cool playground surrounding an artificial pond, all made to be as natural as possible.  Super fun!





Monday, May 13, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Innovate


We worry so much about finding the Perfect Solution, as if there is One Right Way to educate our children (or do anything else).  But this book I read last week and the this video I watched this morning pair together to remind me that innovation involves experimentation and FAILURE.  Fail early and often, but just keep trying new things!  We can't be afraid to fail, or there are so many things we will simply never try in the first place.

Quotes from A Simpler Way by Margaret J. Wheatley:

There is no such thing as survival of the fittest, only survival of the fit.  This means there is no one answer that is right, but many that might work.  Life explores all sorts of combinations, content to find anything that works.

We could give more support to our own experimentation if we focused on discovering pretty good solutions that worked for now.  With more to choose from, with more bidding for support as the ultimate right answer, we might feel less attached to them.  If these solutions did not require such enormous investments of resources, ego, and certainties, we could abandon them sooner if they stopped working.

So try something new.  And then stop it if it doesn't work.  If it does, great, but stay open to tweaking it again in the future.  This was the educational philosophy I was raised with: nothing works for every child, and nothing works forever.  So follow the lead of the child right in front of you, and do what is right for them, right now.  Be ready to change when that stops working.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Weekly Round-Up

I find so many interesting articles and ideas when I'm reading online, and I enjoy other weekly link lists a great deal, so I want to try it on my own blog, and put a list of links up once a week.  A curated list of what I've found of interest this week:

What have you found thought-provoking this week?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Reading Life: The Year So Far

This is what I've read so far this year, not counting books I read to the kids:

1. Everyday Spiritual Practice by Scott Alexander
2. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
3. Youth Ministry Advising: A Complete Guide by the UUA
4.  Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season edited by Gary D Schmidt
5. Faith Without Certainty by Paul Rasor
6. On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers by Friedrich Schleiermacher
7. Making the Manifesto: The Birth of Religious Humanism by Bill Schulz
8. Reason and Reverence: Religious Humanism for the 21st Century by William Murry
9. Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology by Monica Coleman
10. Religious Naturalism Today: the Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative by Jerome Stone
11. Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker
12. The Feminist Ethic of Risk by Sharon Welch
13. The Minimalist Vision of Transcendence by Jerome Stone
14. What Americans Really Believe by Rodney Stark
15. Varieties of African American Religious Experience by Anthony Pinn
16. Process Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead by Robert C. Mesle
17. Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle
18.  The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
19.  We Have Been Believers by James H. Evans, Jr.
20. Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky
21. Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl by Susan Campbell
22. God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage by Gene Robinson
23. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball
24. Letting Go: Transforming Congregations for Ministry by Roy Phillips
25. Theories of Development by William Crain
26. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff
27. Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon
28. The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch
29. When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

Monday, May 6, 2013

Simplifying a bit


Partly because of a need to make budget adjustments (classes and camps and all that can get expensive) we are simplifying our plans.  We're quitting the Homeschool PE class we've done for almost two years now, which is four hours a week.  The Homeschool Art and Science workshops at the local Children's Museum that we thought we would take have been canceled due to low enrollment, so that made the choice easier for us.  And we're drawing the line at the summer camps I've already sent deposits in for, and we will not sign up for the Puppetry and Animators camps the kids had wanted to do.

On the one hand, the kids were a bit disappointed to not do some of these things.  On the other hand they took it well and were very mature about the fact that we just have to make some choices and stick within our budget and time constraints.

And it occurs to me that this opens up more time to just be at home.  Or to go off and have adventures on our own without rushing and scheduling.  Four hours a week indoors in a gym and pool or four hours to go on nature hikes or to museums?  Of course, it is easier to make this choice in the summer months when the weather is nice. :)

Still, I think this is going to be good for us.  A bit more breathing space in our lives.  Simple is so often the way to go.

(Pictures: the kind of fun we can have in our own backyard without going anywhere or spending any money.)

Friday, May 3, 2013

One-on-one lesson time


We had a great day in our homeschool on Monday.  Hypatia had asked to have "time like with a governess or a tutor", so we had scheduled our block schedule day to have one hour of "Hypatia Lesson Time" (while her brother got an hour of free time) and then one hour of "Carbon Lesson Time" (while his sister had that hour of free time).

I did nothing else for those two hours but focus on one child at a time.  We got a lot done, but the main benefit was that they loved having my attention to themselves.

We did some history work, and I also helped each of them work up a learning plan for what they wanted to do next.  Then I made a supply list for each of them so I can gather up the supplies they need for their plans.


Both kids wanted to focus on Animals for their "Self-Choice" study.  ("Self-Choice" is a category we use for them to pick a unit study that doesn't have to fit into the boxes of traditional school subjects - it can be anything and it can cross over multiple subject areas.)  I challenged them each to come up with a project they would work on, and Hypatia chose to make an "Animal Fact Book" and Carbon decided to make a "Nature Documentary".

Then, because it was our Block Schedule day, they had Project Time and Outdoor Time to immediately follow through on the plan.


Carbon gathered up the most realistic animal toys they own, then researched those animals and wrote scripts for his Narrator to say.  They took the video camera and went out and shot their scenes, and then I helped them edit it together.

It was a great learning day. :)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Weekly Book Post (Alone Together, Present Shock, Little Bookstore, Sticks and Stones, and Mind in the Making)


I've read a bunch of good books this week.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle  is a fascinating look at how humans are psychologically affected by technology.  The first half of the book (less interesting to me) was about robots and all the little fake pets and so forth that we use as well as the possible future of robots standing in for human relationships.  The second half of the book looks at The Network of internet and smart phones and how we are both more and less connected to others through the network.

This paired really well with another book that I read:

Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by David Rushkoff is another look at how technology has changed us.  Rushkoff focused on how we perceive time, rather than on relationships, and has some fascinating bits about our biological clocks and how we perceive time.  However, Rushkoff doesn't give a lot of detail or refer to research, and that was a bit off-putting to me.  I like my research. :)

What came through to me from these two books is this one simple truth: we are biological beings.  We have tools and technology, and using those does change how we live our lives.  But the mistake we make is when we forget that they are tools, and when we try to change ourselves to match the tool rather than the tool to match us.


The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch is a memoir of people choosing a different life and following their dream, which was in this case to start a little used bookstore in a small town.  Welch's writing is fun and funny, and I found myself wishing I could go visit their little bookstore.  It also made me feel pretty bad that I don't shop at small local stores in my town more often!  Support your local businesses!  (I have made a trip to our local bookstore this week, but my husband says I can't start buying all these books - I am a library user and I need to stay one!).

Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky is full of all the research detail that I like when I read.  Gallinsky has culled from many studies about how the brain develops in early childhood and about what skills are correlated with success in academics and life in general, and she has also interviewed real parents and examined successful programs.  The seven skills she says are the most important for your child to have are: focus and self-control, perspective taking, communication, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed engaged learning.  She gives suggestions for parents in how to strengthen all the areas.  I loved that almost every section suggested that the best thing a parent can do is model these skills and behaviors in their own life!

The last book I read this week is Sticks and Stones.  I wrote a blog post about it on my other blog, The Childrens Chalice.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The disappearance of childhood

photo: Carbon's map of his island and Port Goon, which has been played out in our backyard all week.

I read a post at Simple Homeschool this week titled on the disappearance of childhood, and it was one of those times when seemingly unconnected and unrelated things and ideas all click together in my mind.

We are listening to an audiobook in the car when we drive around town (as we always do - audiobooks are the magical tool that keeps my children happy in the car), and the book is a sequel to Peter Pan, Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean.  The audiobook is narrated by Tim Curry, and it is marvelous.  In this sequel, the Lost Boys and Wendy have all grown up - they are the Old Boys now - but they are dreaming about NeverLand and they are worried that something may be wrong there.  When they realize they need to go back and check on Peter Pan (the Only Child, The Always Child), they have to turn themselves back into children or they can't make the journey.  And the way to turn yourself back into a child is to take a little fairy dust (obtained by being on hand to capture the fairy that springs from a babies first laugh) and sprinkle it on yourself as you wriggle into your own child's clothing.  Because it is through our children that we can re-enter childhood ourselves.

Peter Pan does not describe a childhood that ever really existed, any more than my other favorite, Winnie the Pooh does.  But it describes a certain imaginary landscape of childhood, of romping about on strange islands or 100 Acre Woods and having adventures that are clearly self-directed and based on common childhood fascinations.

Whether or not this long, un-rushed and un-scheduled sort of childhood ever really existed seems to be a point of argument.  I don't really care if it existed for everyone.  I care that, to a great extent, this Did exist for me as a child.  And that time to romp and imagine and think that magic could be real is not time I regret, or wish I had been spending practicing a musical instrument or playing more sports or watching more television.

I don't think it is even an either/or issue.  We don't have to choose Imagination Time OR Music Lessons.  There really is time for both.  Imagination is a very flexible thing, willing to squeeze and change shape to fit into different spaces and amounts of time.  The only things I've found bad for Imagination are Mockery, Stress, Adult-Concerns Leaking In (like having the news on in the background at home), and their cousins Hurry, Quiet, Grow-Up Already, and Advertising.

It is something precious, and it should be treated as such.  Not just for the kids themselves, either, since after all, it is through our children that we are able to get back to the land of childhood ourselves.