Archive for October, 2008

After someone finds out we are homeschooling, often the next question they ask is related in some way to socialization. Rarely is this meant in a negative way. Most often, I find that people are genuinely seeking information. Over the years, I have answered in many different ways. In the early years, I used to feel quite defensive and would have a list of research and facts in favour of homeschooling socialization. Nowdays, I am so confident of the benefits of homeschooling that I welcome the chance to share with others.

Many times, I will ask the person what they mean by socialization. Most people just want to know if your children have any friends their age and if they ever get to see them. Beginning with this concern, I will reassure the person that the answer is a ‘yes’ on both fronts. This is actually socializing, not socialization. Then, I steer the conversation in the direction of true socialization.

According to one dictionary definition, socialization is: “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” Starting with the idea that socialization is learning the social skills necessary to make my child a functional, thriving and positive contributing member of society, I paint a word picture.

Imagine you want your five-year-old to learn to swim. You check out the available classes in your area and, thoughtfully, choose the best one. You sign up, pay your money and sit back while you and your child eagerly anticipate the first class.

On the big day, you guide your bathing suit clad child to the poolside where you are greeted by ten other five-year-olds, all excited to learn to swim. Shortly, an adult arrives, wearing regular street clothes and introduces herself as the teacher. She points out the pool (the deep end, no less) and tells the kids they can all jump in and start learning to swim. She will be in a nearby office, if anyone needs her. You are a little shocked at this method and ask, “Aren’t the children to be given any instruction? Won’t you be here to come alongside them while they learn? Won’t they drown?” The teacher reassures you that the children should learn to swim from each other. After all, in the real world, she can’t be with them all the time.

Now, wouldn’t you feel a bit ripped-off? Wouldn’t you feel this was a dangerous situation? The other children can’t teach your child to swim. They don’t know how to swim. They will be fighting for their own lives, not capable of helping someone else. They will be desperately doing anything they can to survive, including putting others in danger.

This word picture is usually self-explanatory (but here’s the explanation, anyway). Essentially, when we put children in any large group with little to no direct adult supervision, we are tossing them into the water hoping they learn to swim. Of course, we want our children to know how to deal with difficult social situations without us someday. However, just as with swimming, our children will learn to thrive socially by being released in baby-steps as they show proficiency in the skills they have learned. Swimming lessons begin with very small classes, often parent and child together, adults always plentiful and in close proximity. Skills begin with blowing bubbles, not with high-board diving. When a child masters blowing bubbles, the teacher might hold the child’s hands and pull them around the pool, getting them to kick their feet. You get the idea. Starting small, with lots of direct adult supervision, each skill builds on the next, gradually moving in the direction of independent, skillful swimming. Just because we want our children swimming independently one day does not mean that it is at all wise to start this way. Socialization, it turns out functions exactly the same way.

Keeping in mind the swimming analogy above, here is what I think makes homeschool-style socialization safe and effective:

  • Social skills are to be learned a few at at time, not in an overwhelming bunch
  • Each skill is mastered before the learning of a new one begins (baby steps)
  • The level of adult supervision is appropriate (from being constant at first to indirect later)
  • Challenging situations begin small (“He called me, ‘stupid’!”) and gradually increase to more difficult as the child is capable of handling them
  • Social skills are learned in a safe environment (alongside people who love the child) so they can later be practiced in any situation (ie. the workplace)

The great thing about all of this is that, in a homeschooling situation, these skills can be learned naturally as we live alongside our children. The context of a family is a fantastic place to find out how to live in this world. Life in a family presents all kinds of challenges and opportunities to learn…unless, of course, your family is completely perfect. I am fortunate that mine is not. 🙂

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Cozy flannel fitted sheets

My husband has been suggesting that I might consider a) turning on the heat, for heaven’s sake and b) putting the flannel sheets on the bed. I have been putting off turning on the heat to save money, but also because I knew our furnace filter needed changing. I haven’t put on the flannel sheets because our fitted sheet has a hole worn through it and we needed a replacement.

Anyway, I can proudly say that yesterday, when my hard-working husband arrived home from work, I had the furnace on (with a fresh filter installed, by my very self!) and I had a nice, new chocolate brown flannel sheet and new matching pillow cases on our bed. I am fairly particular about what kind of sheets I like to put on our bed. There is no point getting cheap ones because they will wear through. The particular sheet mentioned above was used for about 4 seasons, which I think is quite good. I like to use IBEX blanket flannel because it is so durable. I can find flat sheets, but never find fitted and certainly not fitted ones that will fit the newer, deep mattresses. The answer? I make my own fitted sheets. I know lots of you think you can’t sew, right? I’m telling you…you can do this project! I promise, it is very easy AND very rewarding AND it doesn’t take much time. I managed to finish my sheet/pillow cases while Mr. Erratic Napping Baby took a rare 1 hour nap.

First of all, I found about several yards of IBEX blanket flannel remnants at the local cheap store. 🙂 I have also used IBEX flannel flat sheets and converted them. These are easily findable at thrift stores if you keep your eye out for them. Then, I followed the trusty instructions at this site. Her math may look complicated at first glance, but if you just trust her and plug in your measurements, it will come out very well…I promise. I have used her instructions for dozens of sheets over the years, including sheets for the beautiful maple cradle my father made, which is not a standard size and the futon two of our girls sleep on. All of my sheets made with these instructions have fit perfectly. You can even use the instructions to make fitted sheets for dolls’ beds or to make waterproof mattress covers for children who might need them.

Okay…so while I was searching for a picture of IBEX blanket flannel to link you to, I actually found out that you can get fitted sheets. Humph. I’ll bet they aren’t as nice as mine are…and they are certainly more expensive. 😉

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What is a mother to do?

It is virtually impossible keeping up with the ever-changing ‘scientific’ opinion of what is safe and what is not. Ages ago (like when we had our first child!) it was perfectly safe to drink out of just about anything, plastic or not. A few years ago, we were warned to get rid of all our plastic water bottles and replace them with polycarbonate (such as Nalgene). Shortly after, we found out that, too, was a big no-no, due to BPA.

We have two problems with drinking glasses in our family. First of all, with so many of us home all day, we can very quickly go through a lot of glasses. This problem we solved by getting every member a stainless steel water bottle that is filled and reused throughout the day. We drink water all day except for breakfast, when milk, juice or fruit smoothies are served. Since I like to keep the bottles for water only, I then had two choices, glass or plastic cups. Because scientists seem to find problems with plastic drinking glasses faster than new types can be invented, we settled on glass. Problem two is that we have ceramic tile in our kitchen and everything breaks on this floor. No kidding…even Corelle dishes! Nevertheless, off to the thrift store I went to collect 25-cent glasses, the strongest ones I could find.

These broke one by one very quickly — many on our floor, some in our dishwasher and even some just being tipped over on our counter.

I got a fantastic tip to try using small jam jars as glasses! I love them. They are very sturdy, as they are meant to go in and out of boiling water and be reused over and over. They are also easily replaceable should one break. We have been using them for several weeks without a break thus far, though no one has dropped one on our floor, yet. The tip also came with a very handy side-tip which was to use wide elastics to label the cup with the child’s name using a sharpie marker. These labels can withstand the dishwasher multiple times.

And…the best part of labelling the jar with the child’s name is there is no argueing about whose cup is left on the table after table-clearing time! 😉

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The Look of Love

Awhile ago, I read that the way a wife greets her husband when he arrives home from work is very important to their relationship. The author of the article suggested that, regardless of whether or not I feel like it, I should make sure my face lights up with a smile when my husband comes home from work or an outing, or even when he just walks into the room. The idea is to let your husband know that he is really special to you with simple good, old fashioned body language. The benefit is that it is not at all difficult to do and, if you are not feeling particularly loving, it can go a long way to changing your own feelings and perceptions.

I gave it a try and was thrilled to see how such a small thing set a warm tone for the rest of our evening. I enjoyed doing this so much that I decided to try it with my children, too. I don’t ‘come home’ very often, since I am already at home, but I do try to remember to greet my children in the morning with a smile and a face that lights up as they walk into the room. I think, mainly, I want them to know that I like them. Most children know that their parents love them. Parents show love with all the things they do naturally as they care for their children’s needs. That isn’t the issue. They need to know they are liked, that I want to be around them and that I enjoy their company.

In The Discipline Book, Dr. William Sears says that, When a child feels right, he will act right. We, alone, are not fully responsible for how our child feels inside, but communicating that we like them can go a long way to nurturing the attitude that a child believes he is a worthwhile person.

I encourage you to try letting your face light up when you greet your children and husband this week. It will reap beautiful benefits for your whole family. Don’t forget your babies, too! My current baby is a very erratic napper and often awakes just when I am finally sitting down to some personal time or doing something with another child that I would prefer to do baby-free. However, I always make sure to greet him with a big huge smile and tell him how happy I am to see him. It never fails to change my grumbling into gratefulness. 🙂

Are their any small, easy things you do to show your family they are special to you? I’d love to hear them!

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Roasted Kale — You’ll Love it!

Siberian kale
Originally uploaded by tiny banquet committee

Do you have a list of healthy foods that you would like to include in your diet,but if you are honest you: a) don’t really like them, and, b) don’t know what to do with them? A couple of years ago, I would have said that kale was on my list. We get it often from our local CSA and while I used to agonize over how I could sneak it onto our plates, I now know exactly what I will do with it and am actually disappointed when it isn’t in our weekly basket.

Here is the answer to all your kale woes! Everyone in our family gobbles this up almost before it reaches the table.

Roasted Kale
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Take any amount of kale. (Make sure you have enough — this is yummy!)
Wash and dry, remove stems and rip into bite-sized pieces.
Put into a bowl, adding a few splashes of extra-virgin olive oil and a dash or two of fine sea salt. Toss it with your hands to coat well (it should be like a salad dressing, not dripping with the stuff, but well-coated).
Transfer to a cookie sheet, spreading out well so that it isn’t all bunched up.
Bake about 10 minutes or until it is getting crispy edges.
Mmmmmmm…see if this isn’t the best kale you’ve ever had.

Now, make sure to pick some up at the local farmer’s market and make it again!

I’d love to hear how your family liked it. 🙂

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Our New Plan

As I promised you yesterday, here is our new homeschooling plan, based on the reality that I cannot read aloud for any lengthy period of time. I can, however, read aloud for short, well-timed periods and I can listen to lots of narrations of independent reading the children have done.

After breakfast, everyone does independent seat work. At this point, I am available for helping, but not for anything too involved if baby is awake. (Our oldest daughter, 14yo, is working almost completely independently doing Sonlight curriculum this year. Of course, I still listen to/read plenty of narrations.)

Independent seat work includes:

  • Math
  • Copywork/Italic Handwriting book
  • Spanish (Rosetta Stone on the computer)
  • Typing (Mavis Beacon on the computer)

If they finish, they can either go off to play for awhile until baby goes for his nap or they can do some independent reading. Currently, I have decided to assign each child 4 books (2 historical and 2 literature) from their corresponding year at AmblesideOnline. They are required to do at least one reading a day (generally a chapter) with, of course, a narration, but often they will do two or more since they like the books so much. Most narrations are just straight oral narrations, but older kids need to do at least 1 written narration/wk. Sometimes, my older daughter will take dictation of a narration while she types, giving her typing and proofreading practice. The narration can then be printed and placed in their Book of Centuries. They are also reading good-quality literature on their own. I love that about homeschooling…it is impossible to separate ‘school’ and non-school time.

As soon as baby goes down for his nap, we drop everything and make a mad dash for the Bible. We are currently reading according to the schedule in Greenleaf Guide to Old Testament History. I read and listen to narrations most of the time. Sometimes the older kids will do a digital scrapbooking narration to include in their Bible portfolio (which is essentially a collection of scrapbook narrations!). We use this program, which we love. Occasionally, we look at a corresponding map or I will assign something for the kids to research in a Bible reference book.

At some point, I will sit down with my almost 5yo and do her math and reading lesson.

We often don’t eat lunch until 1-2pm, but most of our must-do work is done at this point. After lunch, we spend 1/2 hour on home blessing (cleaning!) and then, hopefully, do a special activity.

  • Mondays: Art (mostly painting, working through these great online lessons)
  • Tuesdays: Nature walk (using the Outdoor Hour Challenges)
  • Wednesdays: Drawing (doing ‘Sketch Tuesday‘)
  • Thursdays: Tea Time with poetry (where we drink tea and pass around the poetry book, taking turns reading — we actually do this more than once a week, sometimes)
  • Fridays: We don’t necessarily homeschool this day, but are usually in-town running errands/going to appointments

And, that is it. What about you? What does your ‘school day’ include? How do you arrange your time?

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I realized recently that I have been grieving the loss of our homeschool. Not that we don’t have a homeschool anymore, but I have been grieving the homeschool we used to have (or at least the one I ‘remember’ having.) You see, I aspire to a Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling, one that in my mind, includes lots of reading-aloud together, snuggled up on the sofa. The problem is that with several little people under 5 in our home, interruptions are nearly as abundant as the love and laughter we share, making reading-aloud next to impossible.

I realized that not only was I grieving, but my grief actually paralleled the 5 official stages of grieving associated with the death of a loved one:

At first, I didn’t believe that this was actually true. How could it be possible that I could not spend an hour or more reading aloud to my children each day? No one else at my beloved Charlotte Mason study group seemed to be struggling with this. I kept thinking I just didn’t have the children well-enough trained to stay quiet or play independently, that we just didn’t have our routine together because I was too undisciplined, or even that my priorities must just be wrong (the folly of this is now evident — to busy making healthy meals? tidying my home? nursing my baby??) Is there ever any end to a mother’s ability to self-deprecate?

Next, I was mad. For heaven’s sake, I am a veteran, experienced homeschooler, a current and past leader of several homeschooling groups, and even a homeschool conference speaker! It, therefore, could not be my fault that I couldn’t read aloud for any length of time. Logically, the blame had to be someone else’s. I continually blamed the children for the reading interruptions. The baby wouldn’t focus on nursing, but would constantly grab the book…toddlers would pee their pants or need bum-wiping, sibling fights would break out, the phone would ring, and the children would, annoyingly, feel the need to constantly comment on the reading (“Oh, this is like in An Island Story when…”) Can you even imagine a mother who would be annoyed at her children making connections with other readings!?!? My frustration level with the interruptions caused me to raise my voice more times than I care to remember, including my personal favourite, “Will you all sit still and BE QUIET!! For HEAVEN’S SAKE! I am TRYING to read the BIBLE!!!”

I started dreaming up what I could possibly trade off to acquire interruption-free reading time. I could get my oldest (and already over-burdened) daughter to take the littles elsewhere while I did some reading, I could send the littles off to the playroom with strict instructions not to open the door or ask me for anything, I could make convenience foods, or maybe we could even humanely sleep-train our baby. I even imagined that I could change my style of homeschooling and buy a new curriculum. (How often is buying something ever really the answer?)

Nothing was going to work. I was stuck with things the way they were. I couldn’t figure out how to solve the problem and I couldn’t think of who to ask who would really have answers for me. My children were doomed to educational mediocrity. Things in my home would never be like they are in the homeschools of the moms who have it together. I was anxious and sad day after day, always longing for the past when we would read chapter after chapter of a great book together. I felt like a hypocrite answering questions or speaking at homeschool meetings. I was like a financial-counselor facing personal bankruptcy. Fortunately, all the while, I continued to pray – sometimes asking, sometimes begging God to do something…anything!

Slowly, God began to whisper to me with the words of friends, with scripture, with books, with others blog-posts. This is my only life. It is a gift from God and abundant with ways to become more like Him. There is never a problem finding serving-opportunities around our home. Over the past few days, I have rediscovered the joy of simple homeschooling, of spending time enjoying and snuggling my sweet, chubby baby, of purposefully noticing the uniqueness of each of my children, of taking time to come alongside my children, assisting them in problem-solving, of each day doing my best and accepting it as such instead of continually berating myself with the “if-only’s” (“If only I’d tried harder”, “If only, I’d scheduled better”, “If only I’d taken better advantage of a certain time”) I am not only accepting and embracing my life, but I am learning the deeper lesson of contentment. Now that I have made the choice to accept the reality that I cannot read aloud much at all to my children, I am, oddly, filled with hope. Now I know my starting point and I can work with it. God is good. Can I inspire you with an article that really speaks to me? Perhaps you have already read it: The Baby is the Lesson.

Do you struggle with interruptions while reading aloud? I’d love it if you would encourage me by leaving a comment…I’m not alone here, right? 🙂

Next post: Our New Plan!

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