Saturday, August 31, 2013

The ugliness of perfectionism

Things are going better today. Since I have working brain cells today, I've been thinking a lot about our little episode yesterday and the idea of perfectionism in general. There's nothing like seeing your own worst traits reflected in your children to bring you up short, huh?

You see, I am a recovering perfectionist.

And when you couple the perfectionism with a strong competitive streak, I'm afraid the results aren't always pretty. I've known I am perfectionist for as long as I can remember... even before I had a word to describe the need to do everything right. Like most perfectionists, it came out in one of two ways, really depending on how successful I imagined I could complete something. If it was something I felt capable of, I was insanely driven to do it 'just right'. (Um, this would be not unlike how I recently tackled my school planning for the year... remember I'm recovering.) Or, if it was something I knew I would not be able to do as well as I thought I should I would either not try at all (sports of nearly any form) or put it off until the absolute last minute so I had an excuse for how shoddy the result was (many college papers). "Just do your best' was not really part of my vocabulary because what I deemed 'my best' was always rather unobtainable.

So what was going on in my head didn't always match reality. Take my gifted class in sixth grade, the one I eventually begged my mother to pull me out of, for instance. I would do an assignment, I'm sure it was fine, but in my head it was not 'my best', and the teacher would tell me what a good job I had done. Well, instead of making me feel good about myself, all it did was to make me feel a sort of contempt for the teacher that she could not see that I wasn't truly trying. Since I was one to only do the absolute minimum of work that was not my own idea, I'm sure I didn't make a huge effort, but I am also sure that my little perfectionism trait had played in as well. I'm not sure I would have really thought I had ever done 'my best'.

Ridiculously, even though this type of encouragement had the opposite effect on me, I still use the phrase today with my own children, and I'm not sure it works any better. If I think back to that classroom, what would have helped me was to have the teacher ask me some questions... How did I feel about the assignment? What would I like to have done better? What did I think I did well? Would I like to try doing it again? And that was because they would have aimed discussion at the process of completing something and taken the focus off the product.

This is what I do with myself as I work on getting past my perfectionism. I force myself to focus on the process, the act of making or doing, and seeing that as the most important part. I may not be happy with the dress I made for myself, but did I enjoy making it? Did I learn something that will help me sew I dress I would like better in the future? The house may be messing again, sometimes in seconds, but there is something enjoyable about the act of putting things to rights. I can feel I am doing something. I am restoring some order that wouldn't have been there if I just left it. I am modelling behavior that I want my children to emulate.

Particularly in homemaking, if we focus on the product rather than the process, we are asking for frustration. The product in never finished and if we think it's going to be we will be disappointed. There is always something more to clean, always something more to cook, always something more to wash. We need to focus on the process... of enjoying the way clean laundry smells as we fold it, to enjoy the shiny counter (if only briefly) when it is decluttered and clean, to enjoy the smells and tastes of preparing food.

There was a always a secret part of me that was a little proud to be a perfectionist. That meant that I had high standards, that I didn't do things in a sloppy, half-hearted way, in some way it made me superior. I have now lived with enough perfectionists (more than one of my children shares this trait with me) and to be on the other side is just not that enjoyable. Being a perfectionist also means that we are easily frustrated when things don't work out how we would like. That frustration usually finds its outlet in some way, either directed at another person or at ourselves, neither of which is fun to live with. It means we watch people we love not enjoying something because it will never be 'perfect'. It means being unhappy more than being happy. You just want to shake the other person and tell them it just doesn't matter. Seeing it in someone else is clarifying, because who wants to be like that and who wants to make someone you love live with that?

And really it comes down to being able to accept ourselves, imperfections and all. If we are not perfect than we are not valuable is really what we are saying. Once again, by thinking this we hurt those who love us, who do love us despite our imperfections. Most especially, we turn our backs on what God has said to us. He loves us even though we are not perfect. In fact, He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us BECAUSE we are not perfect. Our only hope for achieving perfection is accept that work of Jesus, and even then, it won't happen in this world. We can let go of that expectation and enjoy the life that we have before us, knowing we'll make mistakes, because of that love. It is a blessed relief to let it go.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A word of advice

Just file this away for future reference...

If the day is very, very hot and your children are at loose ends, and you happen to be at the craft store picking up a few more supplies for your preschool curriculum, do not under any circumstances also buy your developmentally older children paint-by-numbers to pass the time. Do not do this even if the disregulated child you have with takes a sudden interest in them and thinks it looks like something he would enjoy. Just turn around and make the few purchases you actually came for.

Because if you don't, you will be reminded how dreadful it is to deal with a frustrated child who is an extreme perfectionist. And the fact that the painting does not look like the picture, even though only four spaces have been painted in, will undoubtedly be your fault. Your fault for allowing him to choose an obviously defective kit. Your fault that the colors do not match exactly. Your fault that he cannot paint like the computer generated image. And when you try to help him, he will get angry with you all over again.

It will not turn out to be the fun distraction you had planned.

Some days you can't win.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Recent news

I'm spending my day catching up with laundry (desperate... I should take a picture of the pile of dirty laundry just to make every other person feel better about their laundry) and working on making preschool activities for the school year. It will mean doing copious amounts of laminating. (I'm secretly very excited.) The trick will be to keep all the smaller people in my house occupied while I do this. Preferably with an activity htat has limited mess making possibilities. I am not hopeful.

Recently the favorite activity has been to play "Going on a Trip". They love this game. I do not, other than the fact it does keep them busy. It is mainly because the game involves packing. And by packing I mean the littles take nearly every item in their room, put it in any available container they can find, and carrying it downstairs where the 'vehicle' is. Inevitably when they arrive at their destination, they must unpack. For some reason, when they go on trips, they always leave, but never go home. They never think to pack all their stuff again and carry it upstairs. Really what they should call the game is 'Moving'. It would more accurately reflect the movement of stuff from one location to another.

In other news, I still have yet to hear from the Brookfield Zoo (and yes, I did send them a copy of the letter). I'll let you know if I hear back. H. and K. had appointments at the plastic surgeon's yesterday. He is very happy with how H. is looking and is starting to think about what the next will be. There is a possibility that nerve cells can be transplanted to allow her more mobility in the affected side of her face. K. is set to have surgery on Sept. 12 for a lip and nose revision. Evidently there are some muscles in his lip that aren't attached, so those will be connected as well.

And now, having got another late start (that will have to change next week), I need to go. The children are getting louder, the dog is barking outside, D. is needing help with making bread, and I still need to get dressed.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Frugal large family meals: Not-from-a-box hamburger helper, or keeping up with the garden

B.'s garden is doing exceedingly well this year. He has been growing beans, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and cucumbers, among other things. It is the first year that I have had to work to keep up with the produce. That is why I threw this dish together last night; to avoid good produce going bad. The only reason I used this combination of vegetables is that it was what was sitting on the counter. I make a similar version in winter with carrots, celery, peas, and canned diced tomatoes. Really, it can be just about any vegetable you have on hand.

Not-From-a-Box Hamburger Helper
Serves pretty much as many as you need it too, add more noodles. (I'm going to write out a manageable sized version. I had more leftovers than I expected to last night.)

1 bag egg noodles
1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
handful of green beans, chopped
2 small eggplant, chopped
2 small zucchini, chopped
2 tsp chopped garlic
2 tomatoes, chopped

Cook the egg noodles as directed (since I will be adding them to the meat to cook a little longer, I undercook for a minute of two.) Cook the green beans and garlic in some olive oil, after a few minutes add the eggplant and zucchini. Cook until desired doneness. Remove from pan and set aside. Brown the ground beef, add the onion to cook as well. When meat is cooked through and onion is transluscent, add the rest of the vegetables back in. Stir in chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add in cooked noodles and stir well.

You're done. Add a salad (thus using up more tomatoes and cucumbers) and you have dinner.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The finally completed homeschool schedule

I know some of you are very interested in how our homeschool day works, so this may be a little more detailed than others of you really care about. Permission to skip this post and come back tomorrow is granted.

In trying to figure out the details, I had a couple of problems. I had a lot of little people and not-so-little people who needed my attention through out the morning. When you include the older grade school student who isn't quite ready to do everything on his own, the junior high student who needs not as many check-in times, but still needs them, a completely independent high schooler, and an ESL high schooler, it made for a lot of needs and not so many people to fill them. I eventually decided on a less-is-more approach. Here is how I hope it will work.

9:00 - 10:00 - This is the hour when I will do work with G. and L. (they are beginning the Rod and Staff preschool books this year). I expect that they will breeze through their work (I'm thinking 10 minutes for each girl) and then they will play. K. will come next. He cannot sit still for more than 15 minutes of book work and we will squeeze in some math (Rod and Staff 1st grade) and phonics (AlphaPhonics and Explode the Code). I will work with H. for the rest of the hour. I think we are going to focus on reading this fall. She has finished Explode the Code book 1 and she is starting to try to sound our words when she comes across them in everyday life. Numbers boggle her. She can count accurately and do other math-related things, but remembering the name of a numeral without a visual clue is very difficult. I'm going to focus on other memory-building exercises and let the math rest for a while. I'm afraid that if I push it, all I will do will be to compound the problem. I wish I could go back and erase all math-related learning that she had prior to coming with us. The stacks of books I have with numbers written by rote have done something truly funky to how her brain stores and retrieves number-related information. Anything that she has learned from scratch here has not been a problem.

10:00 - 10:30 - This is the preschool half hour, when I do hands-on activities and games with the five developmental preschoolers that can really use them. I have an old book called Kindergarten Learning Games (from the 1960's) that I am going to use for some of the days. They cover concepts such as listening, instruction following, story telling, emotions, colors, numbers, and letter, and with five children, we can actually play some of them as group games. Some other activities I'm creating or making up... some will be directed play about what we will be learning later in the morning, some with be songs and actions rhymes, and a game I'm creating for learning prepositions. The other weeks we will be doing activities based on children's picture books (in the Five in a Row style). I chose picture books that we don't already own (not always easy!) and every few weeks we will spend a week on one of them and do related activities. I thought I would do the whole year in that way, but then came to my senses about the amount of work it would be. Since this is detailed, here is the list of books we will be using:

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World
The Storm in the Night
The Glorious Flight
Cranberry Thanksgiving
Papa Piccolo
A Pair of Red Clogs
The Bee Tree
The Carrot Seed

10:30 - 11:00 - This is the half hour where I will work with TM. He was one of the challenging pieces of the puzzle. He is easily overwhelmed and it is difficult for him to work independently because of this. It's not that he cannot do the work -- he is freakily bright -- but there are many things which cause his brain to stop working and to enter panic mode. So, I decided to try out a modified work box system. I know many homeschool parents love this, but I've always thought it sounded like far too much work on my part. I think it might be the answer to TM's difficulties. I am using a hanging file box with just four empty hanging folders inside. I have made myself a list of the activities that I will put inside each file folder every morning (I think I can handle one child's work... just not 8+), with the last folder being the work he does with me. I am not asking him to do math, English, or reading alone, and we will be only doing one of these subjects a day. The other folders will have things such as mazes, drawing exercises, simple (as in very few problems) math worksheets, independent reading, and things such as this. Not heavily academic, not huge amounts of work, and some of it even enjoyable for him. My goal is not to make huge academic progress, but to retrain the connections in his brain about how he feels about schoolwork.

This is sort of along the lines of what we have done this past year with his raging. We had made it our goal to reduce the number or rages and give him alternative behaviors for when he became upset or frustrated. It often meant biting our tongues or ignoring things that we wouldn't have with the goal of increasing his level of safety and security. It has been working and as he had gained the ability (in small amounts, mind you) of controlling his raging emotions and feelings, we have been able to have conversations about behavior and feelings that we hadn't before. I am hoping that we can do the same type of brain reprogamming in the area of school. (Let me not over-paint the picture. Life can still be hard and helping TM deal with his emotions can still be tricky. But it has been several months since we have had a full-blown, out-of-control rage. I'm hesitant to even type that and if I were superstitious I would be banging away at the wood on my desk.)

D. will be doing all of his work independently this year, but I have still written his assignments out in daily amounts. I will check up with him as needed. Plus, he wanted to learn about dinosaurs, so I created a dinosaur study for him to work on. He will be making four dinosaur lap books throughout the year.

11:00 - 12:00 - This hour will be very much like it has been for several years; the period where we do our group learning. On Mondays and Wednesdays we will be learning about Ancient Rome and on Tuesdays and Thursdays we will do science.. finishing up botany this fall and starting on sea creatures in the winter. For Rome we will be reading through The Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber. I read through the book so I could also plan supplemental readings and art projects and movies to go along with it. For science we are using the Charlotte Mason-styled Apologia grade school science books, with supplemental books as movies as well.

On Fridays, the schedule will be different. For the past 14 years, we have had our history co-op meet at that time, but some of us (OK, really it's just me) needed a break and so we have Friday mornings free. Instead of continuing with our regular schedule, I decided to do something different. On some Fridays, we will go on field trips, others we will do our monthly library visit, some will be for catching-up if we got behind or for playing games if we didn't, and still others will be what I am calling 'Art Fridays'. On those days we will do a Charlotte Mason-style picture study. We started Turner last spring, looked at one picture, and then didn't finish, so we will be looking at the rest this year. (I have been using the art portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason for a couple of years now and really love them.) Then we will do a bigger art project. I even have those all planned out, complete with lists of supplies to get ahead of time. I'm not going to list them, but if you're curious, looking at the homeschooling board on my Pinterest page will give you some idea of what we're doing.

Now onto what the older three students are doing. P., in 8th grade, is pretty independent these days. I have gone through all of her work and broken it down into weekly assignments. In order for me to supervise a bit, she is to show me all of her completed work on Friday afternoons. She will be doing Rod and Staff English, Key to Algebra, Reading (by Christian Light Education) Apologia 8th grade science, working through The Fallacy Detective and The Thinking Toolbox for logic, plus she really wanted to learn about horses. The mom of the H-S family gave me a great idea to look at 4-H for curriculum as I was moaning about creating yet another personalized study. It was a great tip and not only is she doing the horse study guides, she will also be doing the three guides on veterinary science. In addition to all that she is working through the Scottish Gaelic program on Mango Language and will be listening to Exploring Music programs (with A.) which are produced by WFMT. This is definitely her most academic year yet, but I think she is looking forward to what she is going to work on.

A. is completely independent and I am pretty extraneous these days except for my credit card to purchase curriculum. She loves textbooks and loves a challenge, so together, this is the list we came up with for her this year: Worldviews of the Western World, year 1 from Cornerstone Curriculum. It's pretty intense and she'll be doing a lot of reading including The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid. Geometry and Trig with VideoText, Chemistry using Apologia, a book on Latin Roots, a Writing program from Excellence in Writing, Mandarin using Mango Language, and the Exploring Music programs. She also wants me to give her a list of literature to read this year.

HG will work with me for a bit each day after lunch and everybody is resting. She can do some things independently in the morning, but due to learning in a new language, she also needs my help to fill in some of the gaps.

I think I've covered everything. I still have preschool games to make, some photocopying to do, and a new job assignment chart to create. Our current one doesn't work so well these days with B. not living at home. Once again I'm afraid I have too many little people and not enough big and capable ones to make a workable system. I've kind of been ignoring it. That will only work for so long.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What we did on everyone else's first day of school.

Often I take advantage of the quiet and go to a museum. Pretty much on the first day of school the museums are completely empty and we have one of them all to ourselves. I think we'll try to hit one later in the week and it will probably be just as empty. But today we stayed home.

You see, J. went to the farmer's market for me on Saturday and I had bags of beans in my refrigerator and half a bushel of peaches on my counter which were joining the cucumbers I had already bought and had been waiting a little longer. I was starting to have stress dreams about all this produce going bad so today was the day to do something about it.

I pressed many people into service and we got a lot done. Total for today: 7 pints of peach jam, 5 pints of dilly beans, and 3 quarts of bread and butter pickles. I still want to peel and slice some more of the peaches to put in the dehydrator. that may have to wait for tomorrow because my enthusiasm for the project is quickly waning. It does feel good to have it done.

I'm not done for the season, I still want more peaches to can slices and freeze for pie. Plus B.'s garden has done extremely well this year and we have more than a few cherry tomatoes. I found a really good looking recipe for canning cherry tomatoes and turning them into pickles. Then, in the middle of winter - the time of year you have forgotten what a good tomato tastes like - you take your pint of pickles tomatoes, add some olive oil, puree it with an immersion blender and you have an instant vinaigrette. Sounds good, huh? Now that B. is at school, I can collect enough ripe cherry tomatoes to try it.

When I was out running to the store this morning for more supplies I was reminded how different the world is during school. No one is around. Anywhere. It's always a little odd at first, but then we get used to it and wonder where in the world all these people came from when school lets out. Doesn't it seem a little weird to anyone else? I mean, not every single person in the city can be affected by the school schedules, can they? Or is the whole population just so conditioned by them that they change their schedules as well whether they need to or not? Anyway, we're still observing summer and since the whole week will be in the 90's, I think that's a very good thing. I should also clarify a bit. While we didn't start school today, (I make it a point to never start on the same day the public schools do... because I can) A. did work quite a bit at her school work. I think she thought it sounded more interesting than peeling, cutting, and slicing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Children and reading and a few book recommendations

I think it is done. The school schedule, that is. After hours and hours of thinking and making notes and flipping through books and staring at Pinterest, I think I know how I'm going to make it work. I'm so tired of thinking about it right now, you'll have to wait for the details. I know this will sadden the dozens and dozens of you out whose schools include 5 developmental preschoolers, a 5th grader whose fear is triggered by school work, typically developing 5th, 8th, and 10th graders, and an ESL high school student who are dying to hear my plans.

In one of the past comments, a real life friend asked if I had recommendations for mysteries for her grade school aged son because she was heartily sick of the Hardy Boys. I'm happy to think about books that are not in the piles which have surrounded my desk for the past two weeks, so I'll chat about this instead.

First I need to offer my disclaimer about our family reading policy before I go recommending any books. That way you will know how carefully you will feel you need to prescreen them to meet your family's own criteria. Our policy is pretty liberal. We figure that if a child reads a lot and reads broadly, a few not-so-great books are not going to hurt them. That would be for content or writing or both. We have this policy for a couple of reasons. First, by allowing a wide variety of books, it dilutes the not-great stuff considerably. I do try to recommend and sometimes require my children to read good books. And I only spend time reading aloud good literature to them. They have it in their ear and can tell when a book is poorly written. Very few of my children have much patience for bad writing and will often stop reading a book because of that. In full disclosure, there was the time when J. picked up a Junie B. Jones book that A. had been reading, was so horrified by the grammar that he proclaimed that these books were never to be allowed in the house.

By not making a certain genre or type of book forbidden, it loses some of its appeal. I know this makes some people uncomfortable, but I don't want to give a book more power than it needs to have and allowing it to be read and be discussed takes away some of the illicitness and therefore some of the appeal. Nothing like having to discuss a book with mom to make it not quite so desireable. My children learn discernment by reading broadly and learning how to be careful readers. If I am reading out loud and there is something in the book that I don't agree with, I will pause to point it out right away. It is good to learn to question while you read.

This does not mean my children have complete free rein. There have been times I have spot-checked what someone was reading and asked that person not to finish it and tell them why. There have also been books that received a lot of press and that everyone else was reading and so a child has asked to read them also. Two books in this category leap to mind. The first was when The Golden Compass came out. It was a very well written book with an engaging plot line (I really did enjoy the story), but also a world view at complete odds with our family's. M. was marginally interested in reading it, but I requested she wait just a little bit until she was older because there were some tough ideas cloaked in some really compelling writing that I wanted her to be old enough to really tackle. She agreed to wait and then never went back to read it when she was older because she had lost interest. The other book was the Twilight series. Once again, the world view and ideas presented were not ones I agreed with, but I let her read them because the writing wasn't quite as compelling. She read them, we talked about them, she felt she could converse with friends, and then she gave them all away as she realized that there was really nothing she liked about them after all.

I want my children to be voracious readers and that means logistically there is no way I could keep up with prereading every book they bring home. I will spot check, I will recommend, I will occasionally say no, and all this has created some discerning readers who are all willing to close a book because the writing is bad or because they realize the content is not something they need to read.

If you've made it this far, you must really want the book titles. I've been thinking about this for a couple of days and first off, it's just hard to wean a child off book series at this age. There is a reason why so many series exist that are aimed at mid-grade school readers... it's because that is what these children love to read. There is something comforting and familiar about a series. The characters are the same and usually the plot is the same, and that is their appeal. There are very few surprises and when you are a child on the cusp of adolescence that is exactly what you want. You want the familiar and the safe and the expected. (And if you look at popular adult titles, we aren't really any better, frankly.) I have found the best I can do is to encourage branching out into other books while not making a big deal about the 20th book in a series that a son is reading (or the 20th time he has read the same book).

Sometimes the best way to interrupt a series jag is with another series. All of my children have loved The Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series. (I loved them as a child as well.) They are older (and as far as I know have not been modernized like happens to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys... I could be wrong, we've been reading old copies), so frankly, the language is written at a slightly higher level. The boys are polite and the mysteries, while at first appearing to have scary or paranormal aspects, always have some rational and reasonable explanation. I have also found that after my children read these, they are not so interested in going back to Frank and Joe. There is another older series of mysteries by Peggy Parish (of Amelia Bedelia fame); Pirate Island Adventure and Key to the Treasure are two of the titles I can come up with off the top of my head. They are light, but appealing, especially to boys.

Still in the series genre, but also well-written and entertaining (and a wee bit silly) are the Freddy the Pig books by Walter R. Brooks. If you have a mystery lover, I would start with Freddy the Detective and perhaps it will be enjoyed enough that the child will try some others. We have listened to more than a few of these on car trips and are particularly amused by the way the narrator voices the cows, Mrs. Wogus, Mrs. Wurzburger, and Mrs. Wiggins.

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett was another car trip find that was entertaining, though I probably would have enjoyed it more if I were reading rather than listening to it. (The narrator is everything and one annoying voice can ruin an otherwise good book.) I have noticed that there are now more books along the same lines, though I haven't read them personally.

Lastly, a book list for this age wouldn't be complere if I didn't include E. Nesbit, who wrote some of my favorite books. While The Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet were written over 100 years ago, they are still incredibly entertaining. But the trouble is they were written over 100 years ago and unless your child is experienced with the language of late Victorian England, they will stare at it they same way they would stare at a book written in a different language. These are books that must be read aloud the first time through. While a child would be unlikely to understand them if reading independently, that is not the case for listening. Children can understand much more complex language if they are hearing it rather than reading it. (Plus, you can stop and clarify and explain certain words or ideas if needed.) The stories are exciting and while it may be a stretch at first, I find children become so engrossed in the story that they stop worrying about the language and just begin to absorb it. (Plus, once that language is in their heads, it's not coming out.) Once you have read the three Five Children books, you can try out some others. The Enchanted Castle is another of my favorites.

I'm sure there are many of you who are waving your hands wanting to share your favorite book or series to help the series obsessed (dependent?) child to broaden his or her horizons. Share away. I'm always on the lookout for new titles to keep the voracious readers satisfied.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Adding to the law

Dear Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Zoological Society,

Since I am a homeschool teacher, it's that time of year when I sit down and plan our schedule and also arrange for field trips for my children. To that end, I was looking at your website thinking that a trip to your zoo would be a wonderful destination. For the majority of institutions in and around Chicago, I have simply registered as a school group and away we went, so when I noticed you have a separate page and policy for homeschooled students, I knew it couldn't be good.

To say I was dismayed at reading your policy would be a complete understatement, outraged would be far more accurate. Since your policy was most likely made out of ignorance, I will try to explain how the homeschooling laws in Illinois work and perhaps help you to understand why I had such a strong reaction. First of all, the Illinois school code (article 26 if you would like to look it up yourself) states that a school, either public or private which teaches the branches of education in English, is in compliance with the law. Furthermore, the IL supreme court case, People vs. Levisen, made the judgment that a homeschool in Illinois is to be considered a private school. There is no difference between the two in the eyes of Illinois law.

As homeschoolers, we take the freedoms we have been given very seriously and do not want to lose them. Thus, we are very sensitive to occasions when homeschoolers are given different or more strenuous requirements to prove we are a school, requirements that other schools are not required to meet. Perhaps you did not realize that you were adding to the law when you made the decision to require homeschoolers to prove themselves as such, but that is exactly what you did. I don't know the rationale behind the decision, but I suspect that it was partially monetary. It costs a lot to go to your zoo and you may be afraid that families who are not really homeschooling would try to scam your system and get their children in free. If you had stopped and thought about this, you would have realized that school groups make reservations for field trips during school hours. What are the odds that a family will choose to come to the zoo on an arranged field trip during regular school hours if they are not indeed homeschooling? They seem very low to me.

I don't suppose you meant to alienate me, but you have. Instead of making me want to come and visit your zoo (where the likelihood of me spending money on my 10 children seems quite high), I have the opposite reaction. I don't need to go where I am obviously not wanted and where I am made to feel suspect. Lincoln Park Zoo is closer and cheaper anyway. I'm sure this was not the reaction you want to create toward your facility.

Aside from your adding to the law and feeling the need to personally police homeschoolers, there is another extremely disturbing undertone to your policy and one that I think you would be very wise to correct.  You provided a list of homeschooling organizations, membership in which you approve as "proof" of genuine homeschool status. As I look at the list of "approved" groups in which membership would deem us as a genuine and acceptable homeschooler, I notice that all of these organizations, except the option for registering with the state, are Christian organizations. Now, I am actually a Christian, but I know plenty of homeschoolers, some of them very good friends, who are not. What exactly are they supposed to do to prove their status as homeschoolers? You allow them only one option if they care to visit you and that is register with the state. Once again, I must educate you on homeschooling law and point out that we are not required to register with the state and as a rule we avoid it at all costs. It's all part of that preserving-our-freedom-thing. We don't really want the state to have a list of who homeschools and they don't really need it. Even as a Christian, I have my own personal reasons why I do not join any of the groups on your list. There are many other options available to me, either in terms of support or of legal assistance, than those that appear on your 'approved' list. Including such a narrow list of what is actually available to homeschoolers makes you look ignorant at best and bigoted at worst.

I urge you to seriously rethink your homeschooling policy. Most simple would be to put yourselves in compliance with the law and treat us as you would any other private school in Illinois. Until then, I have many other options for field trips in the area and I will happily take my children (and encourage my many homeschooling friends to take theirs) and visit them instead.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

And he's off

Yesterday was the big day when B. moved into the dorm to start his freshman year of college. It was a little tricky to figure out how we were going to make the logistics work. We finally decided that B. would say good-bye to H., K., G., and L. at the house and then HG would take all the little people to the park. The older children would then come to school and see B.'s dorm room and help move him in. My job was to be supportive and not blubber to an embarrassing amount.

First the good-byes at home. H. and K. didn't want B. to go, but were OK with saying good-bye and having a picture.

H. and B.

K. and B.

And then it was time for B. to say good-bye to L. and G. These were two sad little girls. L. coped by clutching an old balloon and B. had to scoop her up for a picture because she was NOT going to cooperate. That was a bit sad.

But not as sad as when it was time to say good-bye to G. When he called her over to have her picture taken, she burst into tears grabbed onto his leg and wouldn't let him go. This is the very sad picture I took while everyone in the room was doing a bit more sniffing than usual. Poor thing.

We all then loaded into the van and drove to school. The room is pretty big as far as dorm rooms go and had some cool modular furniture that allowed it to be easily rearranged. This is B. and his roommate working out where things were going to go.

Once B. got as unpacked as he was willing to be with all the "help" that was in the room it was time for a family picture. J. wasn't in the room helping because the trouble with your father also working at the same university you attend is that he has a lot of things he needs to get done as well, so he met us for various parts of the day and then went back and tried to get some work done in between.

B. and the older children move-in crew

B. and H. H-S (This post will explain the H-S family for those who are new.)

By this time we were all hungry, so we went to collect J. and went across the street to find some food. With a smaller group of children in tow, it makes buying lunch just a little easier. It seemed like an 'occasion' so we sprang for some smoothies.

Some children opted for bubbles (tapioca balls) in theirs. They were a bit surprising at first.

After lunch it was really time to say good-bye. Since we had some nice pictures of me and J. with M. two years ago, I wanted to get a few with B. He's a funny guy, we'll miss having him around all the time.

We did get one serious one. I can't believe he's 18 and off to college. I'm caught between being so proud of the wonderful young man he has become and wishing, wishing, wishing I had a few more years with the little boy he was. Being a parent is both wonderful and gut-wrenching all at the same time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pausing in the planning to write a post

I'm still knee deep (nearly literally) in homeschool planning. I think I probably have a grip on how I'm going to make this goofy year work and when I'm done I'll share it with you. But doing all this planning combined with being a wee bit compulsive means that not much else has happened, including laundry. I really need to something about the laundry or it will get ugly.

All that to say, there's not a whole lot else going on in my brain these days. (Unless you count preparing to send B. off to school tomorrow. I'm pretty sure there is a good chunk of mental real estate given over to that somewhere in my head.) So I'll share a couple of things with and then I can get on with my planning.

  • The little girls never fail to delight and yesterday HG came up to me laughing with a funny G. story. (Remember, I've done a new cast of characters so you can keep straight all the initials including the few new ones I'll be using.) Ever since HGbaby has been here, the little girls, particularly G., have been a little baby-crazy; the dolls which never got a lot of play before are more popular. All morning yesterday, G. was wearing the little sling we have with a baby doll in it and taking care of the baby doll. So G. takes herself over to HG's room and announces, "We have to talk. You are a mommy and I am a mommy and mommies talk together."
  • There are certain seasons of the year where I am very glad we homeschool. The back-to-school period is one of them and not for the reason you might expect. Reading people's facebook posts about how much they are spending on back to school supplies leaves my jaw hanging open. Truly, I can't afford for my children to go to school looking at those totals! I have spent less getting my ~13 people ready for school (and that includes the supplies needed for a new freshman living on campus) than some of the amounts for families with three children. I really do inhabit a different world.
  • Judging by the amount of typos in yesterday's post (which I will be correcting in just a moment), I need to not try to write when surrounded by children. The quiet early morning hours are far better for accurate keyboard use. Evidently, I'm not as good at typing one-handed (I wrote a good chunk of yesterday's post with L. on my lap asking me nearly constant questions) as I thought I was. 
  • I had no idea that the woman who wrote under the name Elizabeth Peters had died. I have read her books over so many years it feels a little as though I've lost a friend. M. and I did think we would need to reread all the Amelia Peabody books again in memorium. On the other hand, I'm very excited to look up some of the authors that were recommended... once I have a school year planned, that is.
And finally, I have been negligent in reminding you to pray for this little girl. I kept hoping that I would hear some good news about her, but I've heard nothing. Please do not forget her, she so desperately needs a family to love her and help her to reach her full potential.

Monday, August 19, 2013

All-new, improved, cast of characters

I know that my initial system for identifying family and friends can be tricky to keep straight, and if you are a newer reader or don't know us personally, it can be even harder. So, now with updated pictures, here is a list of everyone, starting from youngest to oldest.

L. (on left) and G. on right - with M.'s velociraptors she made 

G. (on left) and L. (on right)

G. and L. are next in the line-up. They are four year old twins and a lot of fun to have around. G. loves panda bears and L. love superheroes (especially Superman). They are very bright, verbal, and determined. This is not always a good combination in a four year old... just sayin'.

K. is next. He is seven years old and was adopted from Vietnam at the age of two. We adjust his age down two years to make up for the very deprived two years in the orphanage. K. loves vehicles of all types and also really likes super heroes. He is small but ridiculously strong... his ability to do sit-ups and pull-ups is astonishing. He's our happy guy.

On to D. one of the 10 year olds. I don't think there is a child who has a kinder or more tender heart. He just loves people. He also loves to read and to act. D. is a sweetheart. A sweetheart with a pretty amazing memory.

TM is in the middle of the ten year olds, though he turns 11 in October. TM was adopted from Vietnam at nearly 4 years old. He has a fantastically mechanical and artistic mind, and I am always amazed at the things he creates. He is pretty physically gifted and has yet to meet the physical activity that he can't master. TM also has suffered greatly from the trauma related to too many losses in his early life and learning to parent him and help him to heal has been a significant journey for all of us.

The last 10 year old is H., though she, too, will be turning 11 in October. H. came home from China at nine years old... just a year and a half ago. We knew she had facial tumors, but were unsure of her diagnosis which has turned out to be linear nevus sebaceous syndrome. She is the most loving and resilient girl I know and has accepted her new life with open arms. Instead of suffering emotionally from the deprivations of her past life, she suffers cognitively and we are moving ahead with the knowledge that the brain is plastic and can change and grow. She has a lot of holes in her knowledge and abilities and we are slowly working to help her fill them in.

P. is turning 13 in September. She is my quietest child and I work very hard to be sure that she isn't overlooked. P. loves all animals, especially horses and wishes that we lived somewhere more rural. She is funny and loves to read and is great company provided she has had enough alone time to recharge.

Here is A. who is 15. She loves photography and this is a self-portrait that she took of herself. A. also is very social and has a wide circle of friends that she likes to visit with on a regular basis. I think it's safe to say she is my most driven, competitive child. She is also really excellent with people, especially hurting ones and there are many days I am very thankful she is in the house to help with the hurting people who live here. I love spending time with her.

Then comes B. who is 18 and will be living on campus at college this year. Also very quiet, he has a great sense of humor and is a lot of fun. We will all miss him a lot. He loves plants and bees and books. You will all be relieved to know that he will be taking all of his indoor plants with him to school so there is need to worry that I will kill them.

M. is 20 and the oldest. She will be a junior in college this year. Like TM, she is also incredibly creative and mechanically minded. I love seeing what the next thing is that she has made. M. is also very level-headed and terrific in a crisis. She adds life to our family that is missing when she is gone. I couldn't ask for a better 'practice child'.

In order of age, HG (for our house guest and mother of the young children) comes next. As we get to know this charming young woman we like her more and more. We are so happy that we can provide a safe place to land and can be her much needed family. The process is a learning one for all of us and she adds a great deal to our family. We hope she'll be here for quite a while.

This is me, E., and writer (mostly) of this blog. I spend my days trying to keep chaos at bay and maybe help people learn something as well. When I have the time I read voraciously and do a little sewing.

That leaves us with J., father of all these young people. He is my best friend and best supporter and cheer leader. I wouldn't want to live this crazy life without him. He is very smart and very funny and the best father and husband. He works at a local university and is also working towards earning his doctoral degree, thus giving him essentially three full-time jobs. He doesn't get a lot of sleep and hasn't read a book for fun in a long time.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The travails of an avid mystery reader

I think I may have already mentioned that I read mysteries like some people eat candy. They are my escapist occupation at the end of what can be long days. The trouble is, I don't really enjoy poorly written books and the number of mysteries that I've begun but can't bear to finish because of pretty rotten writing or plot is large. Thus, when I find well-written, entertaining mysteries that aren't too graphic, and that happen to part of a series with the same detective, I'm thrilled. I have weeks (or sometimes months) of happy reading as I plow through the entire series (in order, of course). And then I come to the last book. Sadly, it is impossible for mystery writers to crank out new books fast enough to keep up with my reading speed.

My absolute favorite detective is Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy Sayers. Since there will be no more books, I make do with rereading them every 10 years or so, when I've forgotten most of the important points. My next favorite is Amelia Peabody by Elizabeth Peters. These books are entertaining, have a great story arc about Amelia and her family who are archaeologists in Egypt, and there is a lot of them. Sadly, the last book Ms. Peters has written about Amelia came out in 2010. I'm still waiting for a new one.

It was a happy day a couple of weeks ago when I discovered a new detective by a new author... Vish Puri, India' Most Private Investigator written by Tarquin Hall. The characters are charming and interesting, I love reading about different cultures, and the mysteries are interesting. Plus, there is a lot of humor which I greatly appreciate. I have read the first two books over the past week or so and just yesterday the third (and currently last) book arrived at the library and I can't wait to start it. (Of course I am currently knee deep in school year planning, and can't really justify taking the time out to start a book that I know will cause me to drop everything else to read.) As B. was looking at it, he noticed that there are even a couple of recipes at the back of this volume. One of the things I have enjoyed about the series is reading the descriptions of the food. After I've read for a while, I have an overwhelming urge to go eat at an Indian restaurant.

Knowing I have a new book waiting for me is quite the motivation to get my school planning done. I should savor it when I do get to read it, but I know I will plow through it and be done in a day or two, at which point I will have to find something else to read.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Graduation dinner

Last night we went out to dinner to celebrate B.'s high school graduation. With him moving onto campus next week, we realized that we needed to schedule this or he would leave for college before we got to it. This is also what we did for M.'s graduation. She really didn't want a big party, so I completely stole the idea of a dinner with just our older children from Mary at Owlhaven. She had written about having a date with her older children and I loved it and stored it in my mental files. It seemed to be the perfect way to celebrate the end of high school. B. also did not want a party, so we did the same thing with him.

He chose to go to an Irish Pub restaurant in town and it was just M., B., and A. who went. We had to make the decisions that you counted as an older child if you were in high school or beyond. It was a lot of fun. As much as I love dinner with everyone at the table, it can become a bit loud and difficult to have real conversations. This allowed us to really visit with our older children and enjoy their company without also reminding smaller types to not put their feet on the table or shout or to use their silverware.

As nice as it is to go with just the older people, it can't happen very often these days. The amount of planning and such required in order for us to leave the house and take all the older ones with us is a little staggering. Thanks to the P family and H-S family girls for helping us out. Let's just say that with our current household population, supervision is an important thing. It reminds me that we don't really live a normal life.

Happy high school graduation, B. Congratulations!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Appropriate emotions

I've written before about how sometimes children coming out of difficult living situations have learned to disassociate from what they are feeling. It can mean some odd looking behavior... laughing at something that is not funny or not crying when they are obviously hurt. It is survival behavior that allows them to function in hard circumstances, but it is not healthy and not appropriate in a family setting.

This has been true for all of my children who were adopted, each with varying degrees of impact. But with H., the continued absence of genuine sadness has been, well, odd. She is a naturally cheerful and positive child, so her overall good nature doesn't surprise me, but life doesn't always go her way. Occasionally she will do something that gets her in trouble, or she will not get something she wants, or any of the other small disappointments that come in life. When this happens, she will look a bit sad, but then agreeably go along with whatever comes next. This is in stark contrast to every other child living in this house. I don't know if I live in a more tearful house than others, but crying from a child because of hurt or disappointment or just whatever is a normal part of the day. I don't think I've ever had a day without tears of some sort since I became a parent.

That is why I am heartened by what happened this morning. I'm not happy that the event occurred, but I am happy for the reaction. H. had gone down the front basement stairs to get one of the games that we keep down there. Through a series of events that I still don't quite understand, she believed that the door at the top of the stairway was locked. (It can't lock, so there was never any real danger of it happening, just the perceived danger.) D. let her out once he understood why she was upset and brought her to me and explained what had happened. I could tell she was shaken up so had her come over so I could give her a hug. Once I had wrapped my arms around her she started to cry. Real crying. She was scared and she reacted to that fear in an appropriate way and experienced comfort from her mother as a result.

I am sad that she was scared, but at the same time I was so happy that she felt safe enough at last to express that emotion and not stuff it down inside of her. It was a huge step toward emotional healing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

School room, the real life version

I don't know what to write today, so am going to take advantage of a homeschool blog hop and talk about our school room... or lack of one these days. For several years, we actually had a dedicated school room in our home. It was large and held a big table, wall to wall books, a computer, and even natural history items including small mammals. And then our family grew again, and suddenly having another bedroom became much more important than having a school room.

In full disclosure, the last few years of the school room's life were not optimal. Once our kitchen was redone, it was a much more pleasant room to be in and many people opted to be there instead. The school room became a disaster area waiting to happen with the dump-and-run phenomenon happening. You know what that is... instead of actually entering the room and putting something away, the child would enter only as far as necessary and dump whatever item was in hand on whatever surface could be reached first. It became one of those places I spent more time picking up than anything else. I wasn't overly sad to see it go away.

But in order to turn it into a bedroom, something needed to happen with all of those books and school supplies. That was the summer I spent going through them all and purging the collection down by at least half. I then created a 'resource room' on the third floor to hold it all. In theory, I am the only one allowed in there and am the sole curator of it. It works fairly well.

So where do we 'do' school these days? For many people, pretty much where ever they want. The older ones tend to work in their rooms where it is a bit quieter. The younger ones stick with me in the kitchen where I help them at the kitchen table. Sometimes we'll move outside if the weather is nice. It works, but there are some trade-offs. For instance, with many people working at the kitchen table, piles of school work and other projects tend to live there full time and get pushed around when people want to do something else there, say, eat.

This is actually pretty darn pristine in comparison to how it usually looks.

It means that you really want to keep your library books close at hand so they get piles in a convenient corner. And when you check out nearly 100 at a time, it is a substantial pile. 

It means that there are some books I need to keep nearby so they get piles on a nearby surface. The trouble is, once I start piling things, it's as though it is an open invitation for others to pile there stuff there as well.

It means that nearly every available surface has at least one or two books and some papers on it. OK, maybe this is just life when everyone in your family reads a lot and I can't really blame this on homeschooling.

It means that as I'm trying to plan things, I make my own piles near my desk so I can work on it at odd, free moments of the day.

Really, it all boils down to the fact that there just aren't enough bookcases to satisfy our book storing needs. What we need is a house designed on a library plan. Each room would have it's own stacks and there would be comfy reading areas near each of them.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Here is the letter I sent off to the writer of the Ask Amy column in the Chicago Tribune this morning.

Dear Amy,
I have been following with interest the responses to the letter from the young girl who was convinced that she never wanted children and desired to do something permanent in that direction. I was pleased that others chimed in with their experience. At 19 we think we know what we will be like 10, 20, or more years down the road, but really, there is no way to know what forces will shape our lives and how we will change. The respondent's tone was understanding of where she saw herself now, yet tried to communicate how limited her life experiences and views of the future really were at this young age.
And then came the letter from the woman about never having wanted to be a 'breeder'. How very "Handmaid's Tale". I cannot even begin to describe how extremely distasteful I find this phrase. To describe a fellow human being as a 'breeder' is to reduce that person to less-than-human status. It implies that anyone stupid or selfish enough to actually bear the children which are the result of their sexual conduct are no better than animals. It sets up a hierarchy in which the child-less are a step or two higher than those with children. It also effectively shuts down any sort of dialogue as name calling in place of actual discussion often does.
Now in full disclosure, I would be among the group of women to which she so charmingly refers to as a 'breeder'. I have 10 children, 7 of whom I gave birth to. I would never say to someone that I am better than they because I have children and they do not. I would never imply that they should have children if they do not desire them. But I also cannot change the fact that I love my children and that I know that by having these children I have been changed into a far better person than I would have been otherwise. Just because I share these details of my life does not say that I expect others to choose my exact path. Too frequently as a society, we tend to assume that if someone shares a personal experience different from our own, they must be passing judgement on us. Just because I say I love having a large family and I love being a mother... that I have experienced joy and personal growth as a result of being a parent... it does not mean that I am saying anything about another person. Too often it seems that if I say, "Having a large family is a wonderful thing," that other people hear, "Clearly, having a large family is a better choice than your two measly children. What's wrong with you people?" when really, all I ever intended to say was, "I love having a large family." We take personally what was never meant to be personal.
I think this is the error that those who choose to use the 'breeder' term fall into. They are surrounded by people who do indeed have children. And that's actually a really good thing. Other than the obvious of dying out as a species, there is everything that the new generation brings to society that we would miss. This is not only the sheer economic necessity of younger workers in the work force, but the creative energy as well. Each generation will create things which will aid society. Of course, there will also be people who will do things that are not so great as well, but that is the nature of humanity. So, whether others like it or not, people will have children. They will fall in love with those children and be changed by them and never once (OK, perhaps once or twice) regret having them. And they will share with others about this extraordinary experience. What they are not doing by sharing their parenting journey is saying that others must follow in their footsteps. On some level, they are so enamored of the process that they quietly think everyone would be better for it, but only because they have had such wonderful experience. It's not a value judgement, but just a desire to share something wonderful with another person.
Thanks for your time.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Making stuff makes me happy

Somehow or other I ended up with quite of bit of time this weekend and was able to make G. and L. a pair of t-shirts. Creating things really does help to relax me and put me in a healthy frame of mind. I truly believe that people were meant to create, in whatever form that takes, and it is in this way that we show how we are made in the likeness of God, the ultimate creator.

Besides, who cannot help but be happy when you see four big spools of this color of blue on your serger?

It also makes you especially happy when, after a good chunk of time, you finally feel as though you have truly figured out how to thread that serger. Plus, being able to change the thread on the serger allows one to make a couple cute t-shirts in the same pretty blue. (These are from Burda 9614)

Oh, how I love my embroidery machine (and my parents for giving it to me several years ago). Because then I can make these...

a panda for G....

and Superman for L.

It felt as though it was a educational experience, for not only did I finally overcome my fear of threading the serger, I also figured out how to use a double needle on my sewing machine so I could do neck edges like this.

Or sleeves like this.

J. gave me the nicest comment when I showed him the finished t-shirts last night, "It looks like something you would buy in a store." Music to my ears.

And the girls pretty much love them. It was pretty difficult to choose whether to show the photo of the nice smiles, but with hair in the face,

or no hair in the face, but extremely goofy smiles. So you get both. It probably won't surprise you that G. and L. getting dressed this morning was quick and drama-free. If only I could give them new t-shirts every morning.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Can you recommend a book?

Normally I have no problem answering this question. I always have a book (or two or ten) to recommend, but this time I realize I was stumped. On one of our adoption agency fb pages, someone posted a question as to what book people would recommend to prepare this family for adopting the first time around. Most of the books I usually recommend were mentioned (they are numbers 90-94 on my top 100 books list), and I was trying to think of any others I could add.

What I wanted to recommend was a book that prepared a family for the possibilities of what adoption would bring to their family. While I don't want to scare anyone away from choosing adoption, I also think that going in fully informed is a good thing. (I will also say, that sometimes no amount of books or classes or first-hand accounts can prepare you for what it is like to adopt a child who is damaged from trauma. Until you have lived it yourself, you just cannot know.) I was wanting a memoir that would share the real difficulties, but also the joys of engaging in such a venture. I have read plenty of adoption memoirs. While some have some hard bits, none that I have found has ever come close to mirroring our own experiences, and many fall into the 'they lived happily ever after' formula.

I am missing them? Are they out there? Or are the parents who are in the throws of therapeutic parenting just too worn to take time to write their experiences? It is also possible, that there are so few people who have come to the end of their adoptive parenting journey that there is not someone out there who is able to write about it. My secret fear is that those who have come to the end are so done in by the process that their journey would be too painful to share. And I know that those in the middle of such a journey are doing well if they make it to the end of their day and everyone is still alive and possibly even fed.

I don't want to cause fear because there are plenty of adoptions which are pretty uneventful things. Sure there are some bumps along the way, but that is true in parenting any child. Raising children opens you up for moments of unhappiness regardless of how the child joined the family. But sometimes I hear first-time adoptive parents talk as they wait to bring home their new child and I worry a bit. I worry that they are unaware of some very real potential problems. I worry that they don't know how this new child could change their family. I worry that they have no idea how much they must be willing to change who they are if they are to successfully parent a hurt child.

Because we don't like to talk about this. We want children to find homes. All children deserve to be raised in a loving family. The truth about how hurt some of these children are can be scary and might cause a child to not find a family because the family was scared away. There is still  a lot of shame out there as well when you are parenting a hurt child... that in some way the adoptive parents are to blame. It's not the case but it makes it difficult to really share what life is like. "Good parents" wouldn't have a child with so many distasteful behavioral issues. This is a load of, well, you can fill in the blank with whatever level of swearing you are comfortable with. Adoptive parents are the ones living with the damage caused by other people and other circumstances. And since very few talk about what that behavior looks like, not a lot of people know or understand. We can do things which help or hinder the healing of that child, but the child would behave the same way in any home.

So a book that describes the roller coaster that therapeutic parenting is... the joys, the frustrations, the fatigue, the hope and hopelessness, and how very few people start out their journey having actually signed up for it is what I'm looking for. One that really shows the ups and downs. Because in the journey, it's as if you thought you were in line for the tame kiddie roller coaster, but somehow you got on the great big giant scary one instead. That's the book I want.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Office supplies

While I may be purposefully ignoring the rapidly approaching school year, my children are not. And really, it is not because they are all so anxious to crack those math books open again. I know why. It's all because the beginning of the school year means new school supplies which means a trip to the office supply store. The badgering has already begun. "When are you going to get school supplies?" "Can I come with you to get school supplies?" "I love going to the office supply store!" And on and on and on. They love office supplies and love to walk around the office supply store. Every single one of them.

(Actually, I have no idea if G. and L. love the office supply store since I have never taken them there. I have taken them to very few stores at all. Poor things don't get out much.)

You would think to hear them that we were down to two short stubby pencils and they were pulling paper out of the recycling to use. The reality is, I'm not sure we really need to load up on all that many school supplies this year. I have stacks of empty notebooks and boxes of reams of paper. We have more crayons than we know what to do with and currently the children's scissors are in a breeding phase. (At least that's what it seems like. Our scissors go through phases. We either find ones we don't recognize all over the house or they have done some sort of lemming trick and there is not a pair to be seen.) Based on how often office supply type things have to be picked up off the floor, I think we could use a little less of them and not more.

There are a couple of things I do need to get. The first is I'm going to (finally) throw out all the bad pencils which fill the drawers and buy good ones. For years I thought I could get buy with purchasing the cheapest pencils available and now I'm paying for it. They don't sharpen, they just break. Since they don't sharpen, no on uses them and they sit and pile up in the drawers giving the illusion that we have more pencils than one family needs. If I added it up, I have probably wasted hours of my life looking for a pencil which will actually write.

I will also be buying (again) a new electric pencil sharpener. I'm pretty sure our family could hold the record for speed killing of electric pencil sharpeners. I still have the latest one sitting on my desk, but I don't know why since it doesn't do anything but make noise anymore. It will be joining the bad pencils in the garbage. Anyone come across an industrial strength electric pencil sharpener that works?

The last things I know I need to stock up on are glue sticks and tape. At the rate these items are used up by the craft loving children is astonishing and I don't think I could ever buy too much of either of them. I actually hide the tape so I have some when I need it. I've actually put rolls of tape into people's stockings at Christmas it is such a valuable commodity.

So that's it; that's my list. It's not terribly exciting. Some people will be disappointed that it doesn't include carbon paper or pretty paper clips or index cards or multi-colored erasers or stacks of new notebooks. I'm the mean mom sometimes. It's OK, I can live with it. I do have something maybe all of you can help me with, though. When you have an appliance repairman come to your house, sometimes they have a metal box that has rolls of carbon receipts where you are asked to sign (after having written a very large check) and they turn the handle and out rolls the receipt and they go away with your check and you are left with a small piece of yellow paper and (hopefully) a working appliance? Does anyone know what the actual name for those boxes is? And how does one go about locating one? There is a boy in my home particularly obsessed with those boxes and there is a birthday coming up... (Shhh!)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

What's the point?

It's been one of those days where I run from one thing to another and things like blog posts just don't get written. Better late than never, right? I've noticed that the back-to-school gear up has begun and homeschoolers are not immune. (I would like to be immune, really I would. I'm still feeling as though it's the middle of summer. Please don't disabuse me of that notion.) I've also noticed that, for homeschoolers, teaching high school, especially when one is just beginning is a major hurdle to wrap one's mind around.

I can remember that feeling of being a little (or more than a little) afraid of homeschooling high school when M. was a freshman. I was worried that we would have to completely change how we learned things; that we would never have fun together again because it would be all academics all the time or else I would have failed my daughter miserably. I can remember secretly hoping that she would decide that she never wanted to go to college, thus taking the pressure off me a bit and we could go back to enjoying our learning together. I was kind of a wreck, so I understand when parents who are new to homeschooling high school are a little anxious.

Having two children in college now (and both of them having successfully completed college level work), I am a bit more relaxed now than I was at this time 6 years ago. OK, a lot more relaxed, because really, high school is about so much more than academics. (Yes, learning things is important, but I'll get to that in a moment.) I think that homeschooling high school is important because in reality, while your children will always be your children and you will always be the parent, these are the last really formative years they have in your home. And they go fast... too fast. These are the years where you have a chance to help them learn how to navigate life as an adult. Will they be able to function on their own when they leave your home? Will they be able to cook and budget and make wise choices? Will they be able to stand firm in their convictions in the face of outside pressure, whether that pressure is from peers or professors? Have they become independent thinkers? What kind of a relationship have you built with them? Will they feel free to call you at 2 am with a sticky situation and trust you not to overreact? Can they diaper a baby and understand the value in and work involved with such little beings? To me, this is the point of high school... to develop the character of my high school age child and forge a strong and trust-based relationship with that child. It is the process of learning to treat them as the young adult he or she is, while still guiding their thinking and choices. It is hard work for both parents and child and it takes time. By homeschooling my high school aged children, I have been blessed with far more time with them than if they were away at school for hours a day. It is invaluable time and actually allows me to send them off to college with fewer qualms than many parents I know. I will miss them, but I don't feel as though I missed out on being with them.

Academics is important. High school is the beginning of the young brain's ability to think deeply and critically and understand things that were not accessible at a younger age. This doesn't mean that a high schooler's life should be all consumed with endless textbooks and busy work. I think we all become so consumed with 'getting into a good college' that we forget what the point of all of it is. And that would be a young adult who is familiar with how the world works and the scope of history, who is interested in the world around him, and who knows how to learn about things. Yes, I want my high schooler to learn a great deal. But more importantly, I want my child to be deeply interested in something that they learn it well and of their own accord. I want them to enjoy reading and not only read things that are easy and enjoyable, but seek out books that challenge them. It makes my day when one of my children mentions a book that they've read, which I didn't assign them, that I know is worth the effort of reading. I want my children to see learning as something that requires effort, but also brings great rewards and satisfaction for that effort. I want my children to know more about a subject that they are interested in than I do. This type of learning does not come from cranking through endless textbooks and checking off classes.

If a child is learning like this, the transcript comes easily. Life is one great endless learning adventure and it is just a matter of turning that into the right language that schools can understand. It has been fun to take the long list of different things my children have learned and studied and translate them into educationese. And it always seems that after the transcript is created I will realize that there were several different areas, which would have equaled credits, that I accidentally omitted. It's OK, because there were already enough credits, and people start to disbelieve you if you are too far outside the norm.

So if you are new to homeschooling high school, take a deep breath. It's not as scary and intimidating as the professional educational forces would have you believe. Focus on who your child is and is becoming and encourage them to discover their own interests and pursue them with vigor. If you do this, college will be a breeze.

The Homeschool Village High School Homeschool Blog Hop

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

It's that time of year

As much as I don't want to, I need to start thinking about school plans for the fall. We have done very little formal school work this summer and I have appreciated the break. (I may change my mind about that when we start back. That first week of math can be unpleasant.) I think my children have appreciated it too, in that they are starting to ask when we will begin school and what we are going to be doing. I have the general idea in my head as to what we are going to be working on, but the details are still a bit fuzzy.

You would think that by the 16th year of homeschooling I would have the logistics of it all worked out. I thought that as well, but as I think about how the school year is going to work, I'm realizing that I really need to go back to the drawing board and rethink how we are going to do school this year. It's all because I've never had this odd set of ages and abilities before. And it is a bit odd.

Here's the spread. I have two doing high school work. A. is a sophomore this year and her studies are pretty much set. She likes school work and together has helped me figure out what she will be doing. Having finished algebra II over the summer (she didn't take the summer off... her choice), she is now working on geometry and trig this year. (For the curriculum junkies out there, she is using Video Text which seems to work well for her.) Chemistry (Apologia) is on the docket for science and for history/writing/literature she will be using Worldviews of the Western World from Cornerstone. It's pretty intense, but she likes textbooks and she likes having a lot of work. I also have her using a writing curriculum from the Institute for Excellence in Writing and a book on Latin roots of words. It feels like a lot, but it's what she's asked for. She's the easy one. I pretty much set up what she needs to have done and she figures out how she will fit it in. I am merely the resource person and supplier of books.

But I said two high schoolers. Those who know our family well, are scratching their heads because P. is not yet in high school and B. heads off to college in a couple of weeks. Who does that leave? Well, it turns out that our house guest (I'm going to need to figure out a better way to refer to her) has had a fairly interrupted educational past. I have been working with her to fill in the gaps. It's completely different from what A. is doing, but once again, I am more of a resource person and answerer of questions than anything else. It's been interesting.

P. is in 8th grade and is also becoming fairly self-sufficient. She will be working on physical science (Apologia) and pre-algebra (we use the Key to... books as a warm-up and then move into Video Text). Roman history is on the docket for everyone, but P. will be doing much of hers independently (using Famous Men of Rome and the study guide). She would also like to focus on horses this year, so I need to decide how to do that. And there is always language arts (a combination of Rod and Staff and Christian Light). I'm also going to have her start reading some literature this year. I need to keep a little more on top of her as she figures out how to work independently, but it's not so much daily checking up.

And then we come to everyone else: three 10-year olds, a 7-year old, two 4-year olds, and a 3-year old (son of our house guest). It's complicated by the fact that more than a couple of those children are not working at their chronological age. I may have three 10-year olds, but I don't have three in the same grade. One is pretty advanced, one could be pretty advanced if schoolwork didn't trigger a huge fear response, and one has years and years of gaps to fill in, essentially making her about the academic level of a kindergartener. The 7-year old is two years behind his chronological age. The 4-year olds are chomping at the bit to do real work, and the three year old is a very active three year old boy. (Anyone one who has experienced a very active three year old boy is now nodding their head appreciatively.)

The question that has been rolling around in my head for the past couple of week is what in the world do I do with this crew? My first thought was to clone myself. It really did seem like the simplest idea. If only it would work. What I've done in the past with all of my grade school age children is that we spend the first part of the morning with everyone doing their math and English, independently if they could or with me helping. We then joined together for everything else... reading about things, doing projects, making crafts, etc. I'm just not sure model is going to work for us this year. The age range and ability range is just too huge.

We will still all learn about the same things... Roman history and botany for the first half of the year moving onto marine science in the second half. I'm also realizing that I really need much more of an early elementary focus for most of these people. Lot of story books and hands-on learning and play. As I write this, I'm realizing that what I need to do is move my more advanced fifth grader into a more independent learning mode for more of his work. He would still join us for projects and crafts, but he can handle a lot more academic work than the others at this point. This is not set in stone, as I'm still not feeling quite settled about the whole thing.

I'm not sure I really like the whole children grow up-thing. It makes me feel a little melancholy and wishing all my children could be little again.

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