Monday, September 30, 2013

Time for More Indoors Activities

The fall weather is really starting to turn in our neck of the woods, with lots of downright stormy days and wet mushy ground even when the rain isn't falling.

It's hard on the kids, who were used to spending at least an hour a day outdoors playing with each other every day.  It's hard on me too, since now they and their noise and their mess are more under foot in the house.

Just time to adapt again, and get used to a more indoor life.


They are on the computers more, of course, but they are also playing more board games together. A friend loaned us a board game of Dungeons and Dragons, and that has been a huge hit.  The kids also spent almost three days well occupied by creating a card game together that seems to be half a sort of pokemon game (all the boys cards) and half a fairy warrior game (all the girls cards) but the two self-created decks interact with each other.  I think it was a masterpiece of cooperation.


It also calls for more "arts and crafts".  A recent quick stop in our local bookstore produced two good finds: the Klutz petal people kit and an "instructional comic" called Welcome to Your Awesome Robot. So we are living in a sea of little fragile fairies and bits and bobs of cardboard and duct tape in our house at the moment.

How do you adjust to more indoor time for your kids? Any good rainy day activities?


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Balancing Act: Homeschooling and Having Your Own Life Too


I've always known that I loved homeschooling - after all, I was homeschooled all the way through and I loved my own education and the lifestyle we had in my family.  But there is a twist when you know you love homeschooling, because most often that means that the mother would need to stay home and not have an outside career.

My mother balanced her need for income and her desire to homeschool us by running a home daycare. When we were little she could only take in a few kids, but by the time I was legally old enough to count as an assistant we were able to have 10 extra kids in our home all day long.  She spent 11 hour days supervising our schooling and all those babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, she did all the housework, and she took on lots of volunteer tasks for the community theater company that our entire family got heavily involved with.  She also continued to play the cello, which had been her pre-children passion.  She played for a community orchestra and in a string quartet.

Now, my mother has no regrets, other than this: she says she wishes she had taken more time for pursuing her own lifetime learning goals.  She wishes she had set herself more learning challenges and had homeschooled herself at the same time.

I am balancing my role as a homeschooling parent with a full-time job running the religious education program for a church, as well as with the housework, garden, animals, and all my crafty/homesteading experiments and hobbies.  And I am taking a cue from my mother's regret, and taking time to continue learning and reading for myself and not just for the kids.  It's a lot to balance, or I'm well-supported by the pillars of my life, depending on how you flip the organizational chart.  How do you balance your life?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

One of the Things I Love About Homeschooling: Studying What We Want To


I absolutely adore how we are free as homeschoolers to tailor our studies to the kids' interests.  Some kids are going to find certain things more enthralling than others ... and that's totally fine in my opinion. Yes, we need some breadth to our knowledge base, but life gets a lot more interesting when we have some depth in places too.

We had started studying colonial and revolutionary history here (this year I take sabbatical at work and I plan on taking the kids to Boston for about a month - a great chance to see all this history on the ground!), and then I saw the hook for my boy: Ben Franklin.  Oh, how he loves inventors and inventions (and he's studying electricity in physics right now so that's a good tie-in!)  My daughter is interested in him too, but more for his stories, sayings, and charisma that still gets conveyed through his writing, all these years later.

So we will be stopping here, indefinitely, until we feel well and truly done with the subject.  On our own time.

If we were tied into a learning plan, a scope and sequence, or (ack!) pushed to study for a particular test, we wouldn't have time for these sidetracks.  But we aren't tied into any of that - we are learning how we please.

Just another thing I love about homeschooling.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A walk around my home and garden






Fall is definitely here, but we are still enjoying the outdoors.  My husband has been finishing up projects that have been on "the list" for a long time, such as the pergola here.  I'm ready for our northwest rain to start up again, but these crisp fall days are lovely while they last.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Zomo the Rabbit and Finding Nouf


Reading is getting pretty exciting around here, as my second "reluctant" or "late blooming" reader is finding her way into reading and loving it!

Both the kids discovered a fun book at the library this week, and have read it over and over again: Zomo the Rabbit by Gerald McDermott is a trickster tale with a twist.  My kids think I should tell it in church sometime in my role as storyteller.  They want me to recommend it to all of you.


Meanwhile, I read Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris last week.  It's an interesting mystery, set in Saudi Arabia.  When a rich sixteen year old girl goes missing and her family suspects she ran away into the desert, they hire their desert guide to search for her.  When she turns up dead, a conflicted mix of emotions drives him to keep investigating.  Along the way he is joined in the search by a female medical examiner, which challenges his traditional notions of women.

I read it because it was on a list of overlooked good books on NPR, and it was good.  It wasn't great ... there were some awkward scenes, a somewhat predictable and anticlimactic ending.  But ultimately, for a first novel this is solid and I would read more of her books if I have time in the future.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Making Use of the Blackberries


I may have missed the main blackberry harvest this year, but I still got a few.


We are trying to make wine.  It's something new, so we'll see how it goes!


And jam, of course.

Monday, September 9, 2013

No Apologies

I recently found myself trying to make conversation at a dinner party with someone I didn't know ... a relative of a friend of my husband's ... who asked me "what's new with you?"

I found myself floundering, saying something lame like "nothing really.  Between the kids, the house, and work, I don't have time for 'new' things."  The conversation then proceeded in a direction of this well-meaning lady telling me I needed to "get out more", put the kids in school, and basically "get a life".

It's not really her fault.  The way I presented my life, my inability to answer that simple small-talk question, did make it sound like I really don't have much of a life of my own.  By starting off from a position of apology - making excuses for why I couldn't think of anything "new" - I had already undermined my own life.

Thinking about it, I've come to a few realizations:

I don't need to have anything "New", when the everyday is just the way I want it.  

The whole question "What's New With You?" is really asking for you to give a highlight reel, preferably with some kind of major transition or adventure (travel!).  But people may just ask it because it's an easy conversation starter.

I am not really a collector of adventures.  I am more of a homebody.

I will not apologize for living the life I want to live.  

So I wish I had replied something like "Nothing 'new' really, since I'm so happy and content with my everyday life.  It is rich and full of things I enjoy like books to read, cooking and enjoying good food, homeschooling and getting to go on learning adventures with my kids, birdwatching from my window, taking care of my home and land, and trying out new homesteading projects like raising turkeys or making blackberry wine.  All of that keeps me busy and I love it."

We don't need to apologize for living the life we want to live.  Maybe it's not the way someone else would live - that's why it's your life and not theirs. Claim it proudly.  No apologies.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Most Essential Homeschool Supplies


It's back to school time (for a lot of us). Do you have everything set up the way you want it?  Do you have a lovely school room or area for your kids to use?

I don't.  I don't have everything set up the way I want it.  And I don't have a lovely school area for the kids.  But I have enough to get by; I have the essentials.

My "Essential Homechool Supplies" List:

1.  A large whiteboard.  This is our most used tool - I write schedules and lists on it, the kids like to draw on it or write out their math on it.  Ours is not fixed to a wall, so it can travel around the house and yard with us, going wherever we have decided to do school that day.

2.  Pencils.  Sharpened ones to be exact.  I don't know about your kids, but mine are the masters of breaking pencils in the middle of their work and then of losing pencils in between work.  I try to keep a supply of sharpened pencils standing by to swap out.


3.  Blank books.  Sketch books, journals, composition books, etc.  Before I really started giving them all the blank books they could want, they used scrap paper for their drawings, stories, and other paper creations.  We ended up with drawings and scribblings floating all over the house and getting lost or just cluttering up every surface.  Keeping them in a book is much better.  Combine some blank books with some pencil pouches full of pencils, both graphite and colored, and you are all set to wander about the world and observe it.

4.  Computer/Internet Access.  So much of what we do is on a computer now, and with internet access you will be able to find online educational programs, look things up, create, explore, communicate.  It does pose its problems as well, but the world is literally opened up to kids on a computer.

5.  A Library Account.  We use our library accounts to their max: books for me to read to them, books for them to read out loud or to themselves, books about subjects we are studying,  DVDs, audiobooks, bilingual books for learning spanish, craft books, cook books, how-to books. There is no way I could afford all the resources we use if I had to buy them, so thank goodness for libraries!

6.  Workbooks.  Yes, we use some workbooks.  They have their place, and are one of our tools.

7.  A World Map/Globe.  Just to be able to get an idea of where in the world things are as they are discussed is invaluable.  We consult the map in relation to history, to current events, to literature, and at other times as well.

8.  A Normal Kitchen plus a few "Extras" (balloons, batteries, duct tape, wire, yarn, cheesecloth, pipettes).  If you include the contents of the recycling bin as normal kitchen supplies, you are basically set for 70% of the home science experiments your kids might do.

9.  A Sliver of Natural Space.  Somewhere for the kids to observe nature and engage in nature study, which is really not a planned "school subject" but rather the habit of feeling connection with nature and noticing what is going on out in the non-human world.  You can add in nature journals and field guides, tools to extend our senses (magnifying glasses, binoculars), and ways to capture and hold samples and specimens, but the real essential is just a bit of nature.

10.  And the most important "supply"!  Time!  The kids just need time: time alone, time with an adult paying attention to them, time to explore, time to read, time to create, time to be silly, time to ask questions, time to think, unrushed and unscheduled time!

What would be on your list of essentials?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A new screen time management tool


It's one of those controversial subjects between parents - how much "screen time" do you allow your children?  Within my social circle, the answer ranges from "only one movie a week" to "I don't put limits on it at all".

The "experts" tell us to limit screen time to one hour a day, which I can see ... and yet it would not work for us.  No - we love our minecraft, wii, plants vs. zombies, youtube, netflix, and too much, and I am inclined toward the philosophy of letting them do what they love.

But letting them have as much screen time as they wanted wasn't working for us either.  The primary problem became that they both wanted access to the same devices at the same time, and ended up fighting over them all the time.  It was driving me crazy.

So I made up these "Screen Time Tickets".  The tickets can be used to purchase screen time on any of our devices that are available at the time.  The kids need to have a ticket if they want to do any "non-educational/creative" screen time on a school day, and they get a ticket for each chore they do, each school subject they complete, or for one hour of non-screen and no-fighting play with each other or one hour spent alone outside.  Yep, there is an element of bribery to this system, but getting them to do chores or schoolwork isn't the real point.

They aren't fighting over the computer anymore, and that is the real value here.  When someone had to "cash in a ticket" to get the device, and when there is a timer running for how long they will be on that device, the other one is more willing to wait.  Because they get about the same number of tickets each day, they know it's "fair".  And I know that there will be a balance between the screen and more active time.

The downside is that now I am constantly running a bank and operating timers.  But it's worth it.