Monday, June 30, 2014

Lessons Learned in June

lessons learned in june

My monthly reflection, looking back at the month just past with an eye toward lessons learned and challenges faced.  What did I learn in June?

  • Although the process of trying to go back to work and still keep up all my home duties started in May, June kept up the relentless grind of a long long To Do list and family needing me for things at the same time I had paid employment work sitting there needing to be done.  I am learning that I need to put everything in its own place, with a designated time for each, and put on blinders to what is happening outside of the designated task at hand.  I cannot worry about my laundry to fold if it's time to do school work with the kids, or worry about the kids being bored when it's time to be focusing on my church work.  Carefully balanced compartmentalization is the skill I am trying to work on.
  • Simple routines are better than fancy schedules for getting my family to help.  I overshot by making a complicated chore chart, which the kids couldn't keep track of and so I was always having to check if people had done their chores.  It wasn't working, so now I'm focusing on just one chore - the after dinner dishes.  The kids each will wash the dishes two nights a week, and their dad will wash them one night a week.  Keep it Simple is my new (old) lesson to re-learn.
  • Baking cannot really only be done once a week.  I had designated Mondays as "Baking Day" because it is my day off work and it seemed like it would be good to start the week off with bread and muffins, cookies and homemade granola bars.  But really we just gorged on baked goods on Monday and Tuesday, and then whatever was left went quickly stale.  So my new idea that is working out much better was to add Baking to my daily morning chores.  I get up at 6am and do: 1.  put away the dishes from the drain racks, 2. wash any dishes still dirty, 3. make coffee, 4. bake something, 5. throw a daily load of laundry in, 6. fold laundry on the drying racks, 7. hang the new wet laundry up to dry.
  • We need to create more products to show what the kids are learning, I realized when I was trying to gather up samples for our end-of-year assessment through Northwest Untest.  We learned a lot, but samples to show for it were a bit weak.  The kids and I talked about it, and one idea they want to implement is to keep a daily Learning Log journal and write down what they learned at the end of each day.  That's lovely, but I think I also need to assign more reports/report-outs of some kind.
  • Screen time (specifically in the form of Disney sitcoms) was creeping up to unacceptable levels.  Although I can watch those shows with my kids and think "it's no worse than what I watched as a kid", I still don't like the disrespectful way they seem to start treating me after too much exposure to that stuff.  Those shows are undermining the values that I'm trying to instill, it seems. So I re-instated the 1 Hour Limit for television/youtube/movies (not for gaming - we decided passive vs. active applied here not just whether it involves a "screen").  The limit has been really good for the kids.  They are playing with each more.  They are building things, creating, drawing, reading.  They are also demanding more of our time and attention (play this board game with me, go on a bike ride with me, etc), and I realize part of why screen time gets out of control is because I am too busy/tired and it's always easier to just let the screen hypnotize my family than it is to stay actively engaged.

Now, onto July!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Time and the Learning is Outside

Summer has arrived, and we have moved a lot of our learning outside.  This week we've had a field trip with our homeschool group to a local nature sanctuary.

A little learning inside:


And then they took the kids on guided walks.


Of course, my little artist just kept trying to sit down and sketch (not nature - just "my imagination as inspired by being here")


We went to a party put on by my husband's employer over the weekend, which was marvelously family friendly: at a lake and they had a puppet show.


Fishing and Swimming kids!


Dancing with puppets!


And then we built a new chicken house and moved our baby chicks outdoors this week.


And my daughter had three days of camp in this amazing setting:


Naturalists teach the kids about the estuary and the sound, and they spend days out on the beach doing surveys of what they can find.  She counted crabs, dug for clams, and collected little fish in nets.  Every day I picked her up she was muddy and wet. :)

Living in the land of grey cloud cover as we do, we have to enjoy the summer while we can!

Monday, June 23, 2014

What I'm Reading: Ungifted


It's a big book with more than one subtitle: Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined: The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness by Scott Barry Kaufman.

Kaufman tells a fascinating story about intelligence, weaving his own personal life story with both the history of the changing science and understanding of intelligence and the latest findings and speculations in the field.  Kaufman was labeled learning disabled as a child, and became fascinated with understanding intelligence in the abstract and his own in particular.

IQ, mindset, potential, talent, creativity, effort, and the g factor are all discussed and sometimes the book gets a bit dense.  I am a tad rusty on my understanding of statistics, and had to do a little refresher to figure out some of this.  But although the material has serious weight to it, it is also presented in a very interesting way and I found it fascinating.

The validity of testing and the labels "learning disabled" and "gifted" are also really challenged here.

The implications for education are that we should be addressing the whole child with work on cognitive strategies, maximizing each individual's strengths, and encouraging a growth mindset and lots of deliberate practice.  Intelligence is earned through effort, not fixed at birth.


Counterintuitively - and contrary to the practice in most schools - the most efficient and cost-effective route to obtaining the best academic outcomes for all students is not a narrow focus on content but a focus on the whole child, including their social, emotional, and physical development.

The deep implication here is that there should be no external pressure to realize a goal at a particular rate.  The comparison isn't with others; it's with your former and future selves.  If we rid ourselves of the notion that any of us ever reach a state labeled "failure", then there's no problem whatsoever in encouraging people to engage with a domain.  

This suggests we should encourage children to dream the impossible, to think beyond the standard expectations, to dare to be unrealistic.  Such encouragement promotes the importance of perseverance and questioning the established order.  What's more, this instills in all people a mindset of lifelong learning and growth.

Monday, June 16, 2014

We Need Diverse Books


Did you ever play Authors?  This was one of my mom's favorite games when I was a kid, and I remembered it fondly.  When I recently ordered a set for my family to try out, however, I had one of those uncomfortable moments when you see a childhood thing and realize how biased it was.

The authors are all white, and there is only one woman author.  My kids noticed it at once, and I'm proud of them for that.  But darn - I really liked this game when I was a kid, and it actually greatly influenced my reading list.

And that means that I missed out on a lot of good books that would have broadened my horizons.  Reading is the closest I can come to understanding a world, a place, a time, or a life that I can't actually live.  A good book gives the reader a chance to step into other shoes in a way that nothing else does.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign has made waves recently, and it is bringing much needed attention to the issue.  Not only do we need diverse books because everyone should be able to see themselves represented somewhere in the library shelves or the bookstore, but we also all need to explore beyond our own lives and beyond people who look or live just like we do.


As a teacher, it is my job to surround the children I am educating (my own and the children at church) with books that celebrate diversity, promote acceptance and compassion, and open their minds to a larger vision of the possibilities of life.  All teachers should be curating the books they surround their students with, and there are helpful guides out there that can point us in the right direction.

(I also have a recommended reading list on my other blog right now, reflecting some of the good books I've found recently.)

Is it a lot of work to re-sort and re-evaluate your collection?  Yes.  But this is important, incredibly important, work that we all need to do.  And, it is also a joyful and fun task!  Goodness, there are some amazingly good books out there that are both representative of diversity and just lovely books in their own right.  If you love books, then realizing that you've only been getting just a slice of the them by reading your standards means that now you have a whole new world to explore.

But we only have them to explore if they get published, and so seek them out, buy them, and demand that publishers give us diverse books!

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Sense of Earned Righteousness


 I'm still working my way through to read the entire Bible, in my Mother-Daughter Bible Study.  But, honestly, we got pretty bogged down by the point we reached Chronicles.  This is not just a book - this is a collection of books and some of it is pretty tough on the reader.

So I thought it was pretty funny when I was browsing in the used bookstore in town and found a very slim volume by Jeanne and William Steig called The Old Testament Made Easy.  It is far too slight a book to really be covering the whole Old Testament - and I was right, it jumps breazily through, with recommendations like "unless you like stats, just skip the begats".  It's cute and funny, all around.

But it was even more fun to discover this note, taped, in the front of the book:


It says "Christmas is a good time to remind both of you that you are ill read in the Bible.  Study hard and enjoy the result in virtue and a sense of earned righteousness!  Love, Joe."

The fact that the note was taped into the book and not directly written on the pages is also funny - was it taken from somewhere else and put in this book as a joke?  Or was the note ironic to begin with?

And a sense of earned righteousness - that is perfect!  That is just what I feel as I work my way through the difficult reading (Not skipping all the begats, either!).

Monday, June 9, 2014

What I'm Reading: Little Women and Three Apples Fell From Heaven

Heading in to Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts.


During our big trip we visited the Orchard House Museum, and saw where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.  The kids hadn't read the book yet, or seen the movie, but the tour was still interesting enough without that background, and it inspired me to buy a copy of the book in the gift shop and start reading it out loud to the kids.

Which brings up an interesting issue - where am I going to place this book in my 14 x 14 Reading Challenge?  The category of Children's Lit is already full up - I've read and listened to 14 childrens books with my kids already this year.  For the next half of the year the books we read together will have to go into other categories!

Little Women can go in my Women's Studies category, I think.

I've also just finished Three Apples Fell From Heaven, and thank goodness that's over with.  I did not realize what I was getting myself into when I selected this book - I chose it for my "Around the World" category of the 14 x 14 challenge, because it is about Armenia, which is an A.  Yes, I've decided to go around the world in alphabetical order.


The books for this category are all coming from Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers by Nancy Pearl.  Pearl is a librarian and author of multiple books that just review and recommend other books - I love her!  Book Lust is organized in alphabetical order, hence my choice to read one book for each letter of the alphabet.

But Three Apples Fell From Heaven is about the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during WWI.  It is a wrenching and sickening and emotionally terrifying subject matter, addressed with beautiful, surreal, and dreamlike writing by the author.  Reading the book made me very, very sad.

I've already read my "B" (Botswana) book, so I need something more cheerful for the "C".  Luckily, I've got Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada by Will Ferguson sitting on my TBR pile right now.  It looks like it should be a good change of scene.

Saturday, June 7, 2014



Balance.  When all the different parts of your life are spread out evenly, you have balance.  A well-balanced life is an ideal, but how to accomplish it?

This might seem completely obvious to others, but it is suddenly occurring to me that balance cannot be accomplished by trying to do Everything Excellently All The Time.  For the longest time, that has been my goal, and my preferred method for reaching it was to seek Efficiency.  The key was to figure out ways to get more done in less time.

This hasn't worked for me.  In fact, it's been pretty unhealthy for me.

What is the alternative?  One alternative way to approach life is to seek to do The right thing for this time, recognizing that being effective is different from being efficient.  What is the right thing to do on this day?  What is the right balance among the different calls on my time and energy?

As part of the effort to find the right balance in our life, I separated out the different parts of the kids' schooling and looked at the flow of my work week.  On my day off we are doing the vast bulk of their "serious" academic work.  On the days I do long office hours, they are doing a bare minimum and it's mostly stuff they can do independently.  We have one mixed sort of day - more than the minimum of work and often lessons to attend as well.  And then there is Friday.

I love the fun parts of homeschooling: the art, the nature study, the field trips.  But those things take a lot of time, energy, and frequently generate a mess.  What is the right time for these projects?  How can I make sure I give the kids that time, but also be realistic with myself?  My answer right now is to save it for Friday.

On Friday we don't have any of the bookwork scheduled, and instead we either take a field trip, or do a messy art project, or take a day hike or long bicycle trail ride.


So far, this is lovely.  It feels like it the right balance, and the kids know that they have Friday to look forward to as they work hard on their other goals all week long.  I am still able to do the shopping and prep that I need to do for work around the field trips, so that feels effective.

I can't do art every day.  That would be a mess and run me ragged!  But once a week - that I can do.

Effective, balanced, just enough.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lessons Learned in May


What did I learn last month?  Once again, I'm using this space to reflect back on the previous month for lessons learned, challenges faced, and ideas gleaned.

1.  The process of re-entry into home life (from the road), into normal homeschooling routines (from the roadtrip style learning), and into church work (from sabbatical) has been exhausting, but not nearly as stressful as it could have been.  I have actually found myself keeping some of the let-it-go/let-it-be calm that I found during my sabbatical.  I want to commit myself to remembering what this feels like, and striving to be accepting of life as it is.

2.  The concept of "Scruffy Hospitality" floated through my feedly this month, just as I was also pondering whether I could embrace my home as it is.  My husband told me at one point this month that if there was a home-dysmorphic disorder (like body dysmorphic disorder) then that would describe the way I always see the house as much worse than he thinks it really is.  Now, I don't know which of us is actually seeing it realistically, but maybe that's not the point.  Maybe the real point is that it hasn't done me much good to be always unhappy about the cleanliness of my home.  I gave up on trying to have a magazine perfect personal appearance, and it was a good thing for me.  I'm going to try and give up the idea of a picture-ready home at all times, as well.

3.  My kids keep surprising me with how independent they are growing.  My parenting role is changing rapidly, and I find it bittersweet.  Mostly sweet.

4.  I've tried to "give up processed foods" in my grocery shopping, and this month has been a learning curve on that.  The first week or so the kids felt like they were starving.  Now, although I miss the ease of breakfast cereal and I'm spending more time cooking than before, we are all pretty happy.  But what counts as "processed"?  Dried fruit and roasted nuts have been one of our arguments.  Yes, they are processed, but I think we will keep them in our diet.  Giving this effort a label or strict rules will probably not work.  The effort to make our diet healthy, environmentally sustainable, ethical and fair, tasty, and affordable will continue.

Another good month in the life!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Celebrating Reading Success and a Wider Range of Normal


Both of my children have been "late" to read.  And while I wasn't too worried about it, it's amazing how stressed out other people in the world seemed to get when they realized the kids were "behind" on reading.

I put both "late" and "behind" in quotation marks because I find both labels frustrating and symptomatic of the competitive way we are always measuring kids against each other.  How do we measure success in reading?  Is it just to be the youngest person you know to start reading?  Is it to love reading?  How do we define loving reading?

There is a range of ages that fall within the normal for all the developmental milestones.  And yet it seems to me that we only focus on the youngest end of that normal range, and also treat years as though they all happen at once.  This means that when it says "a 7 year old should begin reading independently" and your child is say, 7 years and 1 month old and shows no signs of reading independently, then you worry that they are behind.  Six months later they may be reading, which is still within the definition of 7 years old.

Basically, growing up and learning should not be a competition.  Parenting and teaching should not be a high stakes stressful race through milestones and test scores, either.  I think we'll get a lot further with some patience, with some grace, and with some faith and hope.

So my children have both made huge leaps in their reading, and we are seeing our schooling patterns shift as they are spending more time reading on their own and I'm spending less time reading out loud to them.  I'm happy and proud of them, but I was never worried or afraid it wouldn't happen, in its own right time.