Friday, February 28, 2014

The place of sports in our lives


I never played sports when I was growing up.  My parents, the radical homeschoolers and classical musicians that they were, had no interest in sports, and so we never pursued them.  My experiences were of ballet, musical theater, a bit of gymnastics, some competitive rhythmic gymnastics, and a tiny smattering of martial arts.  Competition was all individual, and intense.  And I never knew what it felt like to be on a team (no, being in a musical or a dance group didn't feel the same) until I joined the Army when I was eighteen.

As parents, my husband and I have always talked about giving our kids the things we most treasured as kids and also filling in what we perceived as the gaps.  Since we are very different people and had different childhoods, that produces quite the list.  Neither of us did sports, though, so we had that in common when we've tried to fill in that gap.  We started off with Tball, then baseball.  I got us all mitts, and it is one of the parenting accomplishments that I am most proud of that I actually stuck with playing catch with my kids and can now catch a ball at least some of the time.  Since then the kids have chosen to try basketball and volleyball, and once again the parents have had to figure out a new sport and some very basic competence with a different type of ball.

All sorts of studies and books about raising girls suggest that there are huge benefits to team sports for them.  My kids are both playing sports through the YMCA, which heavily emphasizes good sportsmanship and other good values over "winning", and I think it's been really good for both my son and my daughter to experience being on a team.

Neither is a gifted athlete.  Neither is particularly competitive or aggressive, either.  But they have worked hard and improved their skills, at times really enjoying themselves and definitely feeling the thrill of accomplishment when they master a new skill.  And I'm satisfied that when they are eighteen years old they won't flinch and say they've never had a ball thrown at them in their lives.  We aren't fanatics about it, and I don't ever want sports to eat up all our family time, but I do want my family to always be physically active, always playful, and always trying to push ourselves to improve.  So far, that's been found in the arena of youth sports.  Soon, as my son gets older and the schedules get insane (why no "relaxed and casual" middle school sports?  Does it have to become such a big deal?), we'll have to find another way to accomplish those same goals.  But for the elementary years, Y sports have been wonderful for us.

How do you do sports and physical fitness in your homeschool?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Taking a "Sun" Day

Some kids get Snow Days, but that doesn't make much sense for a homeschooling family - we're home snug anyway so we might as well get some learning done. :)

But ... a SUN day hasn't come around in a while in our neck of the woods.  And we couldn't possibly waste it sitting inside, no matter what fabulous books and studies we are currently engaged in.


I canceled normal school and we headed out!


Nature guides in hand, we saw a northern harrier and a great blue heron up close and personal, spotted what we think was an egret off in the distance, heard the loud geese and watched the ducks dive.  We also found a mass of garter snakes enjoying the sun as much as we were!


Plenty of time to catch back up on the book stuff tomorrow. :)

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Poem a Day


One of my reading goals for 2014 is to read 14 books of poetry.  I haven't been much in the habit of reading poetry, although there are some poets I enjoy a great deal (Marge Piercy and Denise Levertov have been my favorites), and this goal of 14 books of poetry is a "stretch" goal for me.

But I quickly realized that sitting down and reading a book of poetry straight through didn't work for me.  Each poem seems to demand more digestion time before I move on and take another one in, and so they lose their beauty when I consume them too quickly.

The solution seems to be A Poem a Day.  Or more than one, but it just depends on the poems and the day.  The point being, I am trying to sit down at my desk, coffee and journal at my elbow, and start the day with a poem.  This comes right after my morning yoga/stretching, and right before reading out loud to my kids from their latest chapter book.

It has proven to be a delightful way to start the day!  So far I've read Sands of the Well by Levertov, and now I've started Leaves of Grass by Whitman.  Suggestions of other poets most welcome!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dreaming of March during the February Blahs


I get the "November Blahs", and I get the "February Blahs" too.  These two months are the worst for me, and I frequently feel pretty depressed.  But soon - soon! Dear God, please make it soon! - I will be out in the garden with the sun shining on my head.

In the meantime, I'm getting a few things organized as I prepare for that day.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weekly Book Posts: Lifetime Reading Plans


Do you have a lifetime reading plan?  There are lists out there, such as Fadiman's, or the book I own 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and any one of these lists could be a good starting point if you are interested in making a lifetime reading plan.

There are some arguments to be made against any effort to establish a literary canon of what is good literature and what isn't, with the most compelling being that it often privileges the works of dead white guys over the voices of the marginalized or different.  But when I look at most lists now, they are clearly making an effort to branch out and be more inclusive.

So what is cool about a list like this?  It is challenging, it takes us further as readers than browsing our local bookstore would, and it can remind us to read older works.  But mostly, for someone like me who is a lover of reading and listology, it's just compelling and enjoyable to try and read them all and keep track as I go.


One of my 14 x 14 in 2014 categories is "Lifetime Reading Plan", and I am using the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list to select 14 titles I had not already read and to read those this year.  So far, I've read The Old Man and the Sea (a double dipper, since it also counts for my category of "Books Made Into Movies").  I very much enjoyed this sparse and taut little novella about man versus nature.  My next pick from the list is Crime and Punishment.  

What books would you consider "must-reads" in a lifetime?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Time Management is Life Management

How you spend your time is how you spend your life.  It seems obvious on the face of it, because we only have this one wild and precious life to live, but somehow I think most people manage to hurry through life without stopping to think about that.

How you live your life day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute --- that is your life.  


This is really hitting me in the face right now because we've had a geological scale shift in our lives (a temporary one but still huge), as I have gone on a 3 month Sabbatical from work and so I'm home full-time this month.  Suddenly, I don't have the schedule and the weekly due dates of my job, and instead I have a list of projects and studies that I've been wanting the time to do, but they are all Big And Have No Deadlines.  Last week I finished up the last few loose ends from work, and then just ... sort of floundered.

I'm not comfortable not being Busy.  It feels weird.

This week I'm settling in to it and recognizing it as a chance to look at how I and my family are spending our lives.  Is this the routine, the space, the schedule, the practice, or the organization that helps us live the life we want to live?  What is truly important and what is just a bad habit of busyness? Why does it feel guilt-inducing to spend a rainy afternoon listening to music and reading, curled up under an afghan?  No matter how much I put on my To Do list, if I finish it I just look around for more work to do, instead of claiming my time as my own.

Am I scared to live my life for myself?  Am I afraid that I won't be a "useful little engine" and get a brief word of praise from Sir Topham Hat?  Or is it that in our society we seem to take pride in being "terribly busy"?  Others will disapprove if I'm not running just as crazed and tired as they are, but is that a reason to stay in the rat race?

This seems to be Step One of my sabbatical:

1.  Spend time with myself.  Get to know myself without the rushing.

After that, we'll see where Step Two takes me.

Linky Love, to a few posts that have resonated with me this week and been part of my thinking process here:

Paradigm Shift: Curriculum is Not Something You Buy by Simple Homeschool

Overscheduling, Outliers, and the Olympics by The Happiest Home

Secrets of Adulthood: Schedule Time to be Unscheduled by The Happiness Project

Treat Yourself to These Luxuries of Simplicity by Home Your Way

Friday, February 14, 2014

Homeschooled doesn't mean stuck at Home


When I was growing up homeschooled, one of the drawbacks of my mom running a home daycare at the same time was that we couldn't participate in a lot of homeschool group activities.  But she was able to do childcare for other homeschool families, so we would have other kids our age over on a semi-regular basis, and she organized an evening "Science Scouts" club for a while, and later we had a book club with a couple of friends.  And we took the city bus to all sorts of after-school classes, so don't picture my brother and I being locked at home wasting away.

Now, I have a much more flexible job and that is great for being able to take part in homeschool groups.  I'm a member of three groups, ranging from tiny to a huge multi-county one.  This means my kids do:

  • Group field trips (museums, farm tours, the special performances of ballets, etc that are for school groups)
  • Nature Study activities in a group
  • Book Clubs
  • Presentation Days
  • Chess Club
  • Lego Club
  • Holiday Parties
  • PE type play dates (skating rinks, group bicycle rides, etc)
  • Park play days
  • and more
In fact, I need to be careful with the calendar, to keep a good balance so we're not running around so much that we don't have enough time at home to do what we need to do there.  Some days we are very busy being social.  Like today in the life of my daughter: we all went to Lego Club (where valentines were also exchanged), then she had a Homeschool Art Workshop at the children's museum, then I dropped her off with friends who took her with them to the church's Valentine Dinner and Dance.  Needless to say, I kept the rest of her school assignments for the day pretty light (just math and violin practice).  

So if you were picturing the reality of homeschooling as being kids sitting at home at little desks facing a wall with a giant map on it, that sure isn't our lived reality.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book Post: Horns, Ender's Game, and Reflections on the Psalms


As much as I read, I don't read as much as my mother - she reported to me that she's already read 42 books this year - a very healthy start to her 14 x 14 challenge.

But I did get through three more books toward my own challenge:

Horns has been made into a movie, so it fits my "Books Made Into Movies" category.  Iggy Perrish wakes up one morning, about a year after his girlfriend was found brutally raped and murdered and he was the prime suspect, and he has horns.  People are confessing their sinful urges to him, and he has become a demon.  From there, the book goes on to uncover what really happened to his girlfriend and to wrestle with the question of why God lets bad things happen, and who/what the devil really is.  I thought it was good, even with a few awkward or heavy handed bits.  Actually, it reminds me of Stephen King's good stuff.  The movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, and I can't wait to see it when it becomes available on netflix.

Another for my Books Into Movies category: Ender's Game.  Despite its status as a Sci-Fi classic, I had never read it.  The kids and I listened to it as our car audio book, and they loved it.  I thought it was OK, even though there was no way I was going to believe those characters were young children (even genius children).  Maybe if I had read it when I was younger, or if it was one of my first exposures to this type of science fiction, I would have loved it.  But when I was the right age and first reading sci-fi I read all of Robert Heinlein instead, and so coming to Ender's Game I was just reminded of Heinlein. Comparing notes with my husband, he noted that he read Orson Scott Card first, so when he got to Heinlein he thought "eh".  The first cut is the deepest, Cat Stevens told us.

But my kids - well for my kids this was their very first real grown-up science fiction book.  They loved it, and it has inspired my son to want to write science fiction.  Maybe I should introduce them to Heinlein next?

And then there is C.S. Lewis, best known for Narnia.  I am about to read the Psalms, and his Reflections on the Psalms popped up as one of the commentary books in my library search.  It was frustrating, as I wanted to like his ramblings.  I think I would have liked Lewis, and much of his writing here is charming and thought-provoking.  But he was also a product of his milieu, (Oxford, Anglican, mid-twentieth century) and that colors his writing in ways I found difficult to turn a blind eye to.  While his Christian apologetics are fine, his supersessionism (the idea that Christianity perfected/replaced Judaism - basically that Christianity is superior to Judaism) grated on me.  Sweeping characterizations of "The Jews" and "The Pagans" were more than a bit offensive-seeming.  So I wasn't able to really like this book, which disappointed me.

That's what I have been reading.  Next up, I'm starting The Old Man and the Sea and Frozen in Time.  Happy Reading!

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Willy Wonka themed Birthday Party

This week my daughter turned 8, and we celebrated by doing a Willy Wonka themed birthday party.  Although it was a lot of work, this theme was tons of fun:

  • It was a co-ed party and this is a great theme to appeal to both boys and girls
  • There are movies and soundtracks that make great background for a party
  • It is obviously going to be a ton of sugar

First, we made Golden Ticket invitations.  I found some fancy templates out there on the nets, but we opted for the easier solution of just printing the invitation information on white paper, and glueing that to a rectangle of shiny gold cardstock from the craft store.

When guests arrived they were asked to sign a contract, just like the kids had to do before they went on the tour of the factory.  It was all birthday jargon, like "by signing this contract you agree to wish H. a very happy birthday from now until blah, blah, blah it went on and on.  All the guests signed it, and that makes a nice memento for the birthday child to keep.

Then they could enter the "chocolate room", which was just a spot I had set up with a chocolate fondue and stuff for dipping.  This was a lot of fun, until the kids dropped so many mini- marshmallows in there that the fondue got gross.  But by then we were moving on to the next activity, anyway. :)


We had the older Gene Wilder version of the movie on for background, and the kids watched it off and on - they seemed to know which scenes were their favorites, and of course we turned up the volume for each of the Oompa Loompa songs.

I had a game ready for each of the four characters other than Charlie:

  1. For Augustus Gloop we did a eating game, with donuts tied on strings from a broom handle, and the kids had to try and eat them without using their hands.
  2. For Violet Beauregard we had a "juicing" game for when she turns into a giant blueberry, and the kids were blindfolded and given stick pins to try and pop balloons.  The balloons had candy inside them, so when they popped they got to eat the candy that fell out.
  3. For Verucca Salt we had a "sorting room" game, and I had a bunch of plastic easter eggs with either real peanuts in the shell or those circus peanut candies in them.  This was a bit post-modern, because no one could agree which was actually the "good egg/nut" and which was the "bad egg/nut".  
  4. For Mike Teevee, we had a cardboard box made to look like a TV with holes for targets, and they shot a nerf pistol at it.

After the games were all done and the movie was over, we had cake and ice cream, and then we had a "candy shop" as kids exited and so more candy served as the party favors.  Sugar overload was a serious issue.

The cake could have been really fancy, but I opted for a simpler cake and just decorated it with big candy and a chocolate "river" down the middle.


Monday, February 3, 2014

"Strewing" and Independent Study in the Homeschool

Although our method in our little homeschool can best be described as a blend of Charlotte Mason/"Thomas Jefferson Education"/Unit Study, we also allow a lot of unstructured time, and I like to "strew" for the kids during that time.  Strewing is a technique used in some unschooling households, where interesting resources are left out for kids to see and they can either choose to engage with them or not.

I do this by finding interesting books from the library and leaving them in the kids' piles, or by adding a documentary movie to the "list" on our Netflix account.  Sometimes the things that are strewn are supplies ... craft supplies, building kits, art supplies.  Sometimes it's a game or a new cookbook.  It's not random, though, as I'm trying to find things that match up with recent interests for the kids.

For instance, after my son had done all the computer programming lessons on Khan Academy during his "free time", we bought him a book about programming 3D animation.  He was engrossed for almost a whole weekend.


Soon after that, he was trying to build "accurate" castles in Minecraft, so I checked out a bunch of books about castles from the library and left them in a pile.  He read most of them, and incorporated them into his building.  Then he started talking about architecture and "medieval fantasy", and I found a book about drawing fantasy architecture and left that out for him.


He devoured that book, and for a couple weeks everything was about gothic architecture.

But then he discovered the Stephen Hawking documentaries on Netflix, and began watching those with all his spare time.  That led to another documentary series "When We Left Earth".  He began to talk about building a rocket.  I reminded him we had an old kit somewhere in a closet, and he found that and figured out what else he needed to finish it.

He built the rocket, and on a weekend visit to my family I had my brothers help him launch it in my mother's back field (a good open space with no trees).


The interest in rockets and "flying devices" continues, so I once again have checked out a whole pile of books from the library and left them strewn about for him.  Now he says "I can't wait to make my own black powder".  Hmmm .... that one is going to be interesting.  When we were kids I remember my brother building a little black powder pistol from a kit he bought.  Maybe?  We'll see what I can find.

But you see how it works.  This is "independent study".  Nothing is forced, so it's always "fun", but as far as he wants to keep going with something, I'll work to help him find the resources, or to bring things he had no idea he even wanted to his attention.  The result is that a lot of learning happens during "free" time.

For now, this works better with my son than it does with my daughter.  I try strewing things for her, as well, but she doesn't pick them up as often.  Different personalities call for different approaches.  It won't work for every kid, but give it a try.  It might surprise you where you end up when you dance with your child's interests like this.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Weekly Book Post: Gone Girl, The Testing, and The Book of Job

I'm very much enjoying the phenomenon of being able to read anything I want (after 3 years of most of my reading time going to books required for my credentialing as a religious educator through the UUA).  I'm enjoying fiction again!

But I have plenty of books on religion-related topics to go through too, especially after our minister brought the gleanings from his bookshelf clean-off to my office.  I get first dibs, and if I don't want them, they go to the used-booksale fundraiser my church is doing for our affiliated homeless shelter.  So far, I seem to want about half of the books - and there are a lot of them!


So that is a glimpse into the near future for me as a reader, but here is the report of the last week in my reading life:

The public library gave me a wonderful pile for my bedside table:


But I found myself completely engrossed, obsessed, unable-to-stop-reading-into-the-night, one particular book:


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a He Said/She Said back-and-forth portrait of a marriage-gone-bad.  Very, very bad.  On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick is called home by a neighbor to discover his house standing open and his wife, Amy, gone.  There are signs of a struggle, and the police are called.  But everything seems to point to Nick, himself, including Amy's diary entries that are interspersed between Nick's chapters.

But wait ... it's not that simple a story.  In fact, because I'm bad this way, I flipped to the back of the book and read the last few pages.  I thought I knew what was going to happen based on that cheater's glimpse, but then ... no another twist ... wait now ... oh goodness ... I finally got to the ending and NOW, reading it a second time, suddenly it meant something completely different to me!

It's dark, it's sad, it's violent (although not gratuitously so - mostly it's psychological violence), and it does not end with a "and they lived happily ever after".  But, wow, I really got sucked in and Flynn's writing at times rose to lovely heights of prose.  In short, I loved this book.

Which probably set me up to be disappointed in the next book I picked up after that, but really, The Testing wasn't very good.  I'm not even sure why I checked it out from the library in the first place.  The premise (very much like The Hunger Games) is a dystopian future after 7 Stages of War have left the world scarred by radiation and chemical damage and the human population a fraction of what it used to be.  One central city controls various colonies, and after high school graduation those who are deemed to be potential leaders are sent to the capitol city for "The Testing" to possibly get into the university.  But the Testing is not safe ... and blah, blah, blah.  A female protagonist must navigate her way through deadly competition to try and survive, etc.  It's basically just the little sister of the Hunger Games.  But it would be a funny gift to give someone who has serious test anxiety.

On a completely different note, I also read The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person by Harold Kushner.  My Mother-Daughter Bible Study has finally progressed to Esther and Job, so we are also reading commentary on those books right now.  And I am so glad I picked up Kushner's book, because I didn't think I was going to enjoy Job.  I, probably like many of us, thought I knew the story - and thought it was a pretty stupid story.  God does horrible things to Job because of a bet with Satan, but Job remains faithful, so yay for God.  I got a little more insight from Marcus Borg, but I still wasn't looking forward to reading this part of the Bible.

Kushner brought it to life for me.  He walks, slowly, through the verses, dwelling on some, explicating and explaining, and taking little sidetracks as he pleases.  The author, a Rabbi, is no stranger to tragedy, having had his own son die of a rare illness that made him age prematurely, and he previously wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People.    Now he applies that thinking to The Book of Job, in a work that I found intellectually clear and honest, but also emotionally honest and comforting.

Next up for me: I'm starting C.S. Lewis's Reflections on the Psalms and Horns by Joe Hill.  An eclectic pairing. :)