Friday, December 17, 2010

Trimester Review: Pros and Cons

Wow, it's been a fast few months! I wanted to reflect on how homeschooling has been in this first trimester. Here's the quick review: it has been amazing!! I can't believe how much I love it, and for so many reasons. These are my top 10:

1. Stress-free mornings

I can actually start my day at a relaxed pace, and I've been able to incorporate a prayer each morning in bed. That's been a wonderful new habit that I didn't have last year. Recently, I added checking my phone for the daily Bible verse before I get out of bed as well to get my mind focused on truth before I do anything else. Those few minutes of peace are critical to my day, and since we don't get started with "school" till 9am, I don't feel rushed.

2. No packing lunches

It may seem to be a trivial thing, but with 3 girls, packing daily lunches is a massive chore, especially when I know that they probably won't eat anything I pack. Being able to eat at home makes life a lot easier! (Unfortunately, Sophie has to bring a lunch for preschool and since she can't take peanut butter, she refuses to eat anything in her backpack on Tuesdays and Thursdays!)

3. No busywork homework

Since we cut out the middleman through schooling at home, we don't have to deal with busywork. I can monitor where they are and work on any issues during the day. There's no need to produce extra work for assessment purposes; I am assessing daily! We don't have to do anything after "school" is done, so they usually practice their instruments, read, and play afterwards.

4. Individual pace

We are able to go at the pace of each of the girls individually. This has proven especially helpful in math for Ellie; she can stop the video teacher at any point, ask me a question, and we will go over the concept that she needs clarified. As for Chloe, we have been going at her pace in writing and spelling. I think she would have had a very difficult year in school if we hadn't had individual time to focus on writing legibly and spelling correctly.

5. Depth of discussion

I can't tell you how rewarding it feels to discuss Emily Dickinson's poem "There is No Frigate Like a Book" or other literature with the girls and see their eyes light up as we discover and unpack the meaning of the words. They share their ideas, make connections with other areas of their learning, and try to emulate the poet or author in their own writing. All of this is basically unsolicited; it is a natural response to great writing!

6. Variety of subjects

Our days have been filled with art, American and world history, geography, poetry, anatomy, nature study, writing, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, Shakespeare, music, Bible study, math, a little French, and lots of reading. The variety keeps it fresh, and I can honestly say that for each subject, the girls are genuinely interested and excited about learning more. There hasn't been an eyes-glazed-over look yet, and that love for learning is priceless.

7. Time

I am so blessed with my Ellie, Chloe, and Sophie. I often can't believe how fortunate I am to be their mom! Spending time with them has truly not been as taxing as I expected, probably because I am no longer the drill sergeant I was last year. I have moments where I am cooking lunch, the kids are playing, and I think to myself, "This is what I was meant to do."

8. New friends

I hosted a homeschool mom's brunch at my house this week and it was so great getting together with these ladies who have been homeschooling a little longer than I have, with 5th-7th graders. I am so grateful for their perspective and their ideas, and the kids have become good friends too!

9. Flexibility

I love that we can drop what we're doing on a Thursday and go to a choir concert at the Adolphus Hotel, or take a field trip to the museum or the zoo in the middle of the week. I also love that we can get affordable private tennis lessons during the day since we are homeschooling!

10. Discipling my kids

This might be my last reason on this list, but it's truly the most important. Some of you know me as the discipleship contact at church, and I am definitely all about helping others learn the basics of our faith and grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus. I have enjoyed leading discipleship groups and meeting with women individually for discipleship through the years. However, I have come to realize that I also need to see my girls as a priority in discipleship; I have been given a huge role to direct them to a Christ-centered life and I don't want to let the years go by without being intentional with them. This is the first year that we've been able to pray together, study the Word together, memorize Scripture together, and grow spiritually together. This is one of my biggest joys and I pray God gives me more years with them!

Now that we have the pros, what about the cons of homeschooling? Here's a few for me:

1. Limited personal time

I admit, I am a retail therapy kind of girl. Sadly, my shopping has been limited to 1 hour when all 3 girls are at choir practice on Wednesdays. (I'm sure Todd is actually secretly glad this is the case for me.) However, this means I am WAY behind on Christmas shopping!! Also, I used to go to the gym and work out in the mornings but that's no longer happening. I definitely gained some weight and now I am determined to get rid of the muffin top. Hopefully Jillian Michael's 30-day shred is going to help!!

2. Really bad home-cooked meals

I decided early on that if I homeschooled and continued my music studio, something was going to have to give- either the cleanliness of our home, or the cooking. Since I can't bear for it to be too messy, I've given up making good meals. We are resorting to all kinds of quick fixes, and I am not proud. However, we are still eating, so I guess that's a good thing? I know there are some homeschool moms who make the most incredible meals, but I'm just not one of them.

3. Being judged

Yes, it happens. I used to judge homeschoolers too, so I shouldn't be surprised. I'm not any different than I was last year, but sometimes I'm treated like I've joined a cult. I also think I'll be judged either way- by non-homeschool moms when I'm homeschooling, and by homeschool moms if the girls go back to school. But we moms are guilty of judging a lot, aren't we? It might stem from our own insecurities of what is best for our kids. We all want to give them the best, and I say, let's just allow each other to make those decisions for our kids without judging each other if we make different choices. I trust you with your kids, and I hope you can trust me with mine!


4. No daytime phone calls

It's funny, the one day I posted on Facebook that we were skipping school that morning, I got a few emails and phone calls from friends who said they missed me and didn't want to bother me during the day! I do miss those hours of chatting with friends and being able to go to lunch to catch up; I am definitely limited now in the amount of time I get to cultivate my girlfriends. However, I am trying to balance this by staying connected with old friends, making time for my new homeschool mom friends, and going out every Wednesday with the Bible study ladies for lunch (my girls know that this is treasured mommy time so they eat at the adjoining table). There is definitely a relational sacrifice for the sake of educating my kids, but I know that true friends will survive the changing times and seasons of life.

5. Shorter quiet times

Again, though this is listed last, it's probably the biggest issue. Thankfully, I do spend the first few minutes of my morning meditating and praying, but after that, I am at work. My quiet times used to be longer; I was working through Malseed's Old Testament Overview, and I haven't pulled that book out in months. Thankfully I do have weekly Bible study homework which gets me in the Word, and working with the kids on their Bible study keeps it fresh daily. However, it just feels different, and I'm not sure if it's my own idea of what quiet times are supposed to look like that makes this a problem, or if in fact it is a problem. Either way, it is shorter, and it's taking a while to get used to the new normal right now.

So the final verdict? The pros outweigh the cons, which I didn't expect at the beginning of the year! We still haven't decided whether this will remain a one-year commitment or not, but for right now, I am thankful to be exactly where I am.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Teaching Shakespeare

We have tackled a bit of Shakespeare in the last couple weeks. I admit, I was fearful of whether or not my 9 and 7-year-old girls would comprehend the story line, but alas, Shakespeare reached them too! (Yes, I just said "alas").

Here's how it worked for me; maybe it will help someone else out there too. I am not saying this is the only way to teach Shakespeare; I am just sharing what has been successful for my kids. Even if these ideas don't work for you, I think any effort in exposing your children to one of the most famous writers of all time can't be wasted!

1. YouTube Video

We started by watching 3 short BBC animated videos on YouTube of A Midsummer Night's Dream (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCZndWMALOo&feature=related). Shakespeare's plays were meant to be seen and heard, after all! I thought this would be the best way to introduce Shakespeare and pique their interest. Thankfully, it worked! The videos were very entertaining and narrated the story in modern English, interspersed with a few original Shakespearean lines.

2. Story Version

A few days later, we read the story version of A Midsummer Night's Dream from Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, which is meant to be read by young children. This filled in more of the plot, characters, and motives, helping to clarify the story. I made sure to ask them to retell what was happening after every page so I could check for comprehension.

3. Notebooking Pages

I found some great materials online at http://www.homeschoolshare.com/shakespeare_notebook_pages.php for a notebook study on Shakespeare. The notebook pages ask the students to identify the following:

- Type of play: romance, comedy, tragedy, and history
- Setting
- Characters and traits
- Brief summary
- Conflict and resolution: man vs. man, man vs. society, man. vs. himself, man vs. nature, or man vs. fate (God).
- Answer the question: What is Shakespeare saying about human nature in this work?
- Copy a famous quote from the play
- Vocab words
- Personal review

We have worked on half of it so far, and it is so much fun discussing the questions with them!

4. Library Books

Bruce Coville's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," illustrated by Dennis Nolan, has incredibly beautiful, imaginative pictures of the play for them to look at, and the Eyewitness Book Series has a Shakespeare book with pictures of the Globe Theatre, costumes of the time, Shakespeare's home, etc. These are great ways for the kids to visualize the time period.


5. Telling Back (Narration)

The girls re-enacted the story by using their Polly Pockets. (Here's the link for Part 1 on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6_K6q_q34k)

Because of Shakespeare's universal themes and lively characters, Ellie was able to share the whole story by memory, and Chloe helped with the Polly Pockets. This is their form of telling back, but there are many other forms of narration that can work, such as poetry, a letter to a character, a puppet show, or even drawing pictures of scenes.

The best part? Ellie loved the story so much that she is now inspired to write her own script for A Midsummer Night's Dream, cast her friends in the roles (Chloe will be Puck), and perform it in the spring for the parents- Shakespeare in the Park for Kids! She said she wants no help from me, so I am just going to be there to watch. I hope she follows through!

Up next? Shakespeare's Twelfth Night!

Monday, October 18, 2010

No More Ho-Hum History!

I couldn't stand history class growing up. It seemed so meaningless to me. I had no interest in learning about the Battle of Waterloo or Eli Whitney or the Archduke of Ferdinand. I took copious notes in class and inhaled the information only to regurgitate it on a test or essay a few weeks later.

My experience leads me to ask, "Why do we teach history? Is it merely because it is a mandatory subject in primary and secondary education? How do we choose which parts of history we teach? Is mastery of history the ability to simply memorize and rattle off names of people, places, and dates?"

Charlotte Mason, from A Philosophy of Education, writes, "It is a great thing to possess a pageant of history in the background of one's thoughts. We may not be able to recall this or that circumstance, but the imagination is warmed" (p.178).

One reason we teach history is to warm the imagination, igniting an interest through a person in history or an event. That means there is great importance to learning the pageantry of the past. As we build a framework of history in our minds, we can shape who we are in the present as well as the future. Isn't that truly the purpose of learning history? To become better informed? To learn how to accept and reject ideas based on what someone did well or not well? Doesn't that lead to learning how to become more responsible citizens, which ultimately shapes character? One could argue that the study and understanding of history is critical to the knowledge of one's will and the power to influence others.

I have discovered this year that one of the most effective ways to learn character development through the study of history is to see "His Story" in history and the events in the Bible. Take for example the story of Joseph. He was a man who despite terrible circumstances, forgave those who hurt him the most. You can read about him in chapter 9 of Hillyer's book "A Child's History of the World" or in Genesis 37-50, or you can even watch the musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat for a modern take on the story.

After reading Hillyer's account of the time period surrounding Joseph and then the story of his life, we had an important discussion about forgiveness versus holding grudges. It was a tough conversation, because I have a hard time with that myself! Would I have forgiven my brothers if they had thrown me down a well and sold me to slavery with the original intention to kill me? Would I have shown them kindness years later when they begged in my presence for food? Would I have had the faith to say of all the negative circumstances in my life, "What you meant for evil, God meant for good?" We talked at length about the difficulties in Joseph's life and how his faith helped him to overcome bitterness.

But here was the icing on the cake: the movie "Joseph" came on TV late that very night as I was flipping through channels! I recorded it and then the next day we watched certain segments of Joseph as a young boy, the dynamics of his family (being a favorite of many brothers), the common dress and living quarters of that time, the Egyptian's extravagance and treatment of Pharoah, Joseph's dreams, his life of slavery, his rise to 2nd in command of all Egypt, and the final reconciliation with his family. It not only made the story come alive, but it also created a visual picture for the girls to view life circa 1850 BC. Perfect timing! So whether Ellie and Chloe will remember exactly what century these stories took place or what countries were involved, I know they will have an indelible memory of Joseph, his life, and the character he possessed.

Going one step further, however, we see that history also lends accuracy to the Bible as well. In my previous post I mentioned that we are studying the book of Daniel in CBS. Last week we read in Daniel chapter 5 about the Babylonian king Belshazzar who was entertaining 1000 guests with a big feast and much wine. The party was interrupted by a miraculous hand writing on the wall telling of his kingdom's demise, as interpreted by Daniel. That very night, his kingdom is handed over to Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:30-31). (Incidentally, we also viewed Rembrandt's rendition of the hand writing on the wall as a visual to the story.)

In class we learned that the secular ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote in the 5th century B.C., records that the Persians captured the city while during a festival, with revelry and dancing; the Babylonians were completely unprepared for what happened. In addition to Herodotus, an ancient archeological inscription states that the city of Babylon fell to the Persians quickly and without a battle. Both of these sources agree with the Biblical account of Daniel 5, and the girls are starting to see that the Bible stories we read are not just stories but are grounded in history.

Am I saying that every history lesson should center around the Bible if it is of value? Of course not. However, when history overlaps with literature, the Bible, poetry, and art, it truly "warms the imagination" and I can see their faces light up with excitement to see the connections. And when the history lesson centers around a desirable or undesirable character trait based on the people we have read about, history becomes more than just a list of names and places. It becomes a part of their intellectual, spiritual, and social development. It is a huge privilege for me to be involved in that process with my kids this year, and to change my own view of what studying history entails. I no longer dread history class!

Friday, October 8, 2010

What's New?

It's been a while since I've written, but a lot has happened in the last few weeks. I feel like I had to go into survival mode to continue doing what I'm doing while I was physically sick and emotionally spent from grief (see last post). I even completely lost my voice and it took so much energy to try to speak! However, this week I have felt better and thought I'd give a quick update on the homeschooling front.

HISTORY

We have begun reading "A Child's History of the World" by Hillyer. It tells the "story" of history, why we call time "B.C." and "A.D.", and the germination of human communication and belief in a very fascinating and child-friendly way. I couldn't stand history and social studies growing up because it was so boring, but Hillyer makes it come alive with the way he writes.

We also began collecting dates in a Book of Centuries. At the top of each page is the year, whether it is 3400 B.C. or 134 A.D., and we put them in order. We only have a few pages right now such as Menes, the 1st Egyptian King (3400 B.C.), Hammurabi, the 1st king of Babylon (1300 B.C.), the Rosetta Stone created (196 B.C.), and a few A.D. dates including their own birthdays. What I really like about the Book of Centuries is that it causes the kids to begin to see history as a continuum rather than in choppy units of time, which is how I was taught. I could never place what century important events were in, but here, they get a sense of it falling into a certain time period, before or after X, Y, or Z. It also excites them to add more to their book of centuries any time a date is given, even if it's not in the history reading. For instance, they wanted to write the date of when C.S. Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, as well as when we had a full moon for the fall equinox a few weeks ago, which hasn't happened in 20 years. It encourages them to view history as a living text and an important part of understanding life.

One side note: In CBS (Community Bible Study), the kids are I are studying the book of Daniel. Daniel was taken captive by the Babylonians in 605 B.C. to serve King Nebuchadnezzar. Well, where have we landed in our history readings the last few weeks? Ancient Babylonia! I couldn't have planned it, but God knew.


MATH

We finished Alpha and Beta of Math-U-See as of today. Although this is really easy stuff for them (mostly addition/subtraction), we needed to go over it completely to make sure we had a solid understanding, especially of multiple digit addition/subtraction. As we went through the DVD's, Ellie said that she never really understood the concept of regrouping (or what we used to call "borrowing" or "carrying" numbers), and I am so glad she really gets it now. If she had trouble with just that, no wonder she had trouble with other mathematical concepts! I am so thankful that we are catching some of the holes and filling them in for her. She loves "Mr. Steve-a-rino" as he calls himself on the videos. I wish I could meet him in person and thank him!


HYMNS

A great way to remember God's Word, practice reading, and grasp basic theology is to sing hymns. One of the ladies at our monthly book club for Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education said, "Your kids may not remember all the Bible verses they memorized as a child, but they will remember hymns." So we began singing a hymn together once a week. We started with "Breathe on me, Breath of God," and I am surprised at how much they love that hymn. They sing it on their own and Chloe tries to pick out the melody on the piano at 7:30am. Not that I mind, of course! But it's true; somehow the music really stays with you. I love hearing their little voices sing, "Breathe on me, breath of God. . . that I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do." Amen to that!

FRENCH

Not pleased with the progress on this. The library resources haven't really worked well for us, nor have the free ones online. I think it's also because I am not as familiar with the language. I really would love for them to learn it, but I just don't think I am equipped! I may have to start Spanish instead, but I was hoping to try something different. It may be Korean, which for those of you who know me well, is a shock!!

SCIENCE

After doing a few weeks in Chemistry, we hit a wall. Why? It was my mistake for using a textbook over a living book (a book written by a single author invested in the topic). I should have known better! So now we are studying anatomy through reading the book "I am Joe's Body," a Reader's Digest series that was turned into a book. I'm sure you can imagine that the result has been much more successful- Ellie and Chloe have really latched on to it! Every organ is written in 1st person, so you really get a sense of what they do for Joe and also Joe's misconceptions of each organ; the stomach, for instance, really resents the fact that Joe blames him for the noises when he's hungry! The scientific detail is balanced with humor, so the kids love it. I highly recommend it, even for adults!

We also visited a new science museum in our town which was great fun for the kids. They got to work with simple machines, ride on a square-wheeled tricycle, work with mathematical formulas in inventive ways, and observe physics tricks. We went at 1pm on a school day and had the entire place to ourselves. I am planning to sign them up for the homeschool science classes there.

RECESS

We are enjoying beautiful, breezy, 85-degree days out in TX right now, so we have spent a lot of time outdoors, whether for reading, picnic lunch or an extended play time at a park after we finish our work. I hope the weather stays like this for a while!


As for my own recess, I haven't been working out for the last 3 weeks! That's totally unacceptable to me, but I just couldn't get the energy going. I am hoping to get back into it starting Monday. If not, the next blog will be about the woes of gaining weight!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Death Does Sting

I know the Bible says, "Where O Death is your sting?" (Isaiah 25:8)

I have to say, I'm feeling a little sting right now. 2 friends have passed away within the last week. For one, death was unexpected; for the other, he was battling cancer. Both were in their 40's. Both served faithfully at our church, both have left beautiful wives and children, both were the nicest guys you could have ever met.

Death is sobering; it shakes you up. It reminds you how short life is. It makes you wonder if you are doing everything you can in every area of your life to the fullest, or if there are things you should change. I'm sure neither of these men predicted that last week was their last time talking with friends, with their wives, with their children, their last meal somewhere.

My kids knew both of these men. They have questions right now. They want to know why God took their friend's daddy when we had prayed for him to get better. It's so tough- I want to know that too.

What do we do when our faith comes under fire through life's pain and misery? How do we view God when He answers our prayers with, "No"? Do we paint a new picture of who He is based on our experience, or do we hold fast to the unchanging, omniscient, ever-loving, and omnipotent God?

I choose to believe that my God is who He says He is, and that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is gracious and compassionate, faithful and just (Psalm 111:4, 7). He is slow to anger, abounding in love (Psalm 103:8). That means I can yell, scream, and cry all I want about how this seem so unfair, and God can take it. He's big enough, and He loves me in my pain because I can't see the perfect tapestry He is weaving on the other side. He is in control (Psalm 103:19), He is eternal, not bound by time (Isaiah 44:6), and He is good (Psalm 119:68). But above all, God is love (1 John 3:16). He loves these 2 guys whom He welcomed into His presence this week, and He loves those who are left behind to wait until it's our turn.

Can I trust God even through pain? I must. I cannot let pain define my beliefs; I must let my beliefs define my pain. It stings, no question. There are so many people hurting right now because of these men who have left so suddenly. But we can hold on to His Word which is "eternal, it stands firm in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89) Let's cling to the lifeline of God's Word, His very love letter to us, the anchor of our souls. I pray for the kids who have lost their dads and wives who have become widows, that they too will anchor themselves in You who never changes, who has numbered our days and knew this was coming even though all of us on earth were surprised.

My cousin just sent me some verses of hope and promises in the Word. May they bring comfort to those who need comfort today.

God will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deut. 31:6)

God is a shield and the lifter of your head (Ps 3:3)

He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18)

He hears you and will save you (Ps 34:6)

He cares for you (Ps 8:4), he puts your tears in a bottle (Ps 56:8)

He is a stronghold for the oppressed , a stronghold in times of trouble (Ps 9:9)

He is your light and salvation, you have nothing to be afraid of (Ps 27:1)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps 46:1)

He is trustworthy. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Ps 56:3-4)

He knows you and he knows what you're going through. (Ps 139)

He is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Ps 145:18)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Ps 147:3)

He is sovereign. The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Prov 16:4)

He is true, and His Word is truth. Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him (Pr 30:5)

You can put your whole weight on Him. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock (Is 26:4)

He does not faint or grow weary, and He will give you strength (Is 40:31)

He will provide for you- if He cares for the sparrows and flowers, how much more will He care for you? You are of more value than them. (Mt 6:25-34, Mt 10:31)

He will give you rest. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mt 11:28-29)

He answers prayer. (Mt 21:22)

You are His child if you have believed in His name (Jn 1:12) and He loves you (Jn 3:16)

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39)

He is good and He has good plans for you. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28)

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor 10:13)

He is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction (2 Cor 1:3-4)

There are better things to come. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

His grace is sufficient for you. (2 Cor 12:9)

He won't leave you hanging. He has given you the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph 6:10-18)

Pray and let your request be known to Him, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7)

You can do all things through him who strengthens you (Phil 4:13)

He has been where you are and knows what you are going through. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb 2:18).

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 5:15-16)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. You can trust in Him. (Heb 13:8)

He will give you wisdom. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:8)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Week 3 in a Nutshell

We actually started 3 new things this week: Sophie's preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Community Bible Study (CBS) for myself and the girls on Wednesday morning, and choir rehearsals at Stonebriar Church on Wednesday evenings.

Sophie was very happy to go back to preschool, and I know it will be great for her to have her own school while I teach Ellie and Chloe. Sophie is very proud of all of her crafts and papers that come home and tells me all about her day. I know she needs that special time away and we need that time too! I plan to do some things that we can't do with her around, like Chemistry, Shakespeare, and an art class that they will join with other homeschoolers next week.

CBS is a national movement of people interested in studying the Bible in-depth, and this year in the Plano location, they have started a homeschool program for the kids that corresponds with what the adults are studying. (We will be studying Daniel, 1 Thessalonians, 1 John, and James.) I have to say that after leading groups for a few years, it's such a blessing to be a participant for a change and have a curriculum laid out for me! I am also impressed with how organized the children's classes are; they each have their own workbook and we all have the same memory verses. Another plus is that they get to meet some new homeschool friends! After the meeting, a group of us plan to go out to lunch to hang out a little more. It is exactly what I need in the middle of my week: meeting with friends and discussing the Word!

Later in the afternoon, we also went to the first choir rehearsal at Stonebriar church in Frisco. They have a Pre-k choir, Grade 2-3, and Grade 4-6 choir, so all my girls can participate. They will be performing at the church and also working on a spring musical. One thing I didn't realize was that many of the kids in the choir are homeschooled! It's a big commitment to be a part of the choir, and it's hard to do that when you have so many other activities and homework to do after school. As a homeschooler, once school is done, it's done with no homework, so the rest of your day is open! This freedom has allowed us to let Ellie participate in cheerleading and tennis, Chloe in dance and gymnastics, and all the girls in choir and Awanas. We definitely won't be able to do all these activities when they return to school, so we are taking full advantage of the extra time. I know it seems that we must be running around like crazy, but honestly, I've never been so relaxed. Our mornings are not rushed, and our evenings are eventful but fun. I truly expected to be moderately happy about homeschooling, or at least report that it was tolerable, but I actually love it! The kids are spending so much time together and I get to be a part of their intellectual, spiritual, and emotional development more than I ever have before. I know it's going to be a year that we'll never forget.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Little by Little

We are slowly adding in a few more elements to our homeschooling. Here's the latest:

FRENCH
We borrowed a few beginning French CD's from the library with songs and a picture dictionary, and now we are all learning French! Sure, it's more practical to learn Spanish, but I know the kids will eventually learn Spanish. I've always wanted to learn French and then take a trip to Paris; lofty goals, but it doesn't hurt to dream, right?

We are going to do a little suitcase project with France. We will explore the cuisine, the customs, the must-see buildings all through books and the internet. We will "pack" our 8 x 10 construction paper suitcase with our own research on these topics and then make the hard sell to daddy that we need to go visit someday!! :)

INDEPENDENT READING
We also added independent reading this week. I have assigned a book to each of the girls to read; you can find wonderful book lists from Amblesideonline.com. I am adapting the list for my girls since I want to ease them into the more formal and complex language of some of the books.

COMPREHENSION
Ellie has a reading journal that she will fill out as she reads; she will identify the genre, title, author, settings, characters, key events, the central question, the solution, her favorite character and why, and new vocabulary words. I hope to have her read many great books this year, including The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn, Pilgrim's Progress, Swiss Family Robinson, and Pollyanna. These books have such rich characters and quality writing; I can't wait for her to get into them! We will explore other genres as well besides realistic fiction, but right now that's her favorite.

For Chloe, her reading will start with simpler books; she has begun reading Stuart Little. Oral narration will be the way I can assess whether she is really understanding what she is reading. Here are some narration questions I will ask her after she reads each chapter on her own:

"Tell me all you know about x, y, z according to what you've read"

"Explain how. . ."

"Describe anything new you just learned from this chapter"

"Tell me five things you learned about. . ."

"Tell back the story (passage, episode, chapter) in your own words

"Draw a picture of. . ."

We will see how it goes with both of them!

HANDWRITING
I found a great website: http://www.handwritingworksheets.com/ that allows you to customize handwriting worksheets! It is awesome since Ellie needs to work on her cursive and Chloe needs to work on her handwriting in general. For Chloe, I am basically turning the handwriting worksheet into a spelling sheet, using words that she consistently has trouble with as she writes during her independent writing time. I will also be taking the spelling lists off the public school's website since they post their grade level spelling lists online! I can use the handwriting worksheets for Sophie too, which is a plus!

NATURE WALK
Today we took our 2nd nature walk, but rather than sketching what we saw, we took a ziploc bag and filled it with different leaves from bushes, trees, and other vegetation as we walked. We went to Taychas Trail which follows West Rowlett Creek in a natural forest area within the Hunter's Creek subdivision of Frisco. The girls loved discovering the variety of plants!

What I love about nature walks is that it teaches the girls to be observers. Normally they would just run past the natural surroundings straight to the swing set at a park, but asking them to look for differences in trees and vegetation suddenly opens up the world right in front of them. We didn't have time today to look up each leaf and classify it as Charlotte Mason would have you do, but we are looking forward to doing that tomorrow.

That's it for tonight. Bonne nuit everyone!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Truth From the Beginning

Sophie and I began reading the Children's Message version of the Bible for bedtime. I have read Genesis 3:14-19 many times in the past, the passage where God disciplines Adam and Eve for disobeying and distrusting Him. However, I had never read it like this before!

"God told the Woman, 'Now you'll give birth to your babies in pain. And pleasing your husband will be painful too.' He told the Man: 'Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from, saying 'Don't eat from this tree,' the very ground is cursed because of you; getting food from the ground will be as painful as having babies is for your wife; you'll be working in pain all your life long. The ground will sprout thorns and weeds, you'll get your food the hard way, sweating in the fields, until you return to that ground you started from, dead and buried."

Wow! Ain't that the truth!

For the woman, childbirth is painful, but it's equally painful to please my husband. I had to laugh when I read it. The NIV version says, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." It's a loaded concept, the idea that as wives we have a tendency to obsess about our husbands, not in the sense that I'm infatuated, but in the sense that I want to have control over his time, the way he treats me, the way he views me. That stems from wanting to please him. I think most of my insecurities over my body image also stem from wanting to be pleasing to my husband, and wondering if I am really the one he still wants to be with year after year. And how many times have I started a sentence with, "If you loved me, then. . ." I don't like being this way- it's painful!

The flip side is that our husbands are cursed by their job, which takes up a good 8 hours or more of their day. They work and toil, sweat and plow, and do it all over again the next day. According to the Message, a man's work is as painful as childbirth! Again, I had to laugh. Over the years my husband has shared many difficult "birthing stories," and if I were really aware that to him, work is as incredibly painful as childbirth, I would be a little more merciful in my reactions to another story from work. However, I still don't think ANYTHING is as hard as childbirth- can I get an Amen, sisters? :)

As my husband and I are coming up on our 13th wedding anniversary this weekend, reading this passage brought a smile to my face. We have had some wonderful times, but we have also had very difficult times, and many of them are related to these same issues that Adam and Eve were cursed with from the beginning of time. I find a strange comfort in that. It's okay to have these tensions in life. We have to learn to manage them, not expect to get rid of them; that's just not going to happen on this side of heaven! Pain is to be expected in marriage and daily life; sounds strange, but it's Biblical! We are all broken- men and women, husbands and wives- but as long as we fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith, we will at least end up in the same place, in His presence, together.

Who knew that God would speak to me in a kid-version of the Bible tonight? I love when He surprises me like that!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Delight

As we were working through our material today and my girls were taking turns talking with me, I honestly wasn't really paying attention to what they were saying. I was just admiring them, each one so beautiful, so interesting, so unique. How did my little babies turn into these little women with thoughts and personalities and perspectives? I delight in them so much. And then it struck me; this is how God thinks of me! He allows me to go on and on about my thoughts and He delights in having me spend time with Him. The Bible says I am the apple of His eye! He loves me, He watches over me, and He delights in me, His daughter, whom He knew while I was being knit in my mother's womb. What a marvelous thing to be known and loved so deeply, and to partake in that kind of love with my own kids. I thank God for a glimpse of His heart for me today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nature Walk at the Dallas Arboretum

I really can't explain what a beautiful day it was. Maybe it's because out here in TX we have been in stifling heat for weeks, and today was literally 85 degrees. It was a shock to our systems; we were actually a little chilled this morning! But the weather couldn't have been better for our first nature walk of the year, especially going to the arboretum.

The girls brought all their gear: their colored pencils, sketchbooks, binoculars. I asked them to observe and sketch their favorite flowers. The girls enjoyed that exercise, but they spent the rest of the day in full story re-enactment mode! The arboretum had created a Beatrix Potter exhibit with different mini-homes for Peter Rabbit and all the other characters. Each home had a story written next to it, and the girls were fascinated as they read the chapter and walked through their little huts. Mr. McGregor's home was their favorite; his garden was full of real vegetables and there was a sign to try to keep Peter Rabbit away!

After a picnic lunch, we visited the Pioneer exhibit which has many different log cabin homes, churches, etc. for kids to explore and free play. The girls spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to be Laura, Carrie, and Mary from the Little House in the Prarie books and creating movies. They rode in a covered wagon, worked on their garden, went to school and the general store, climbed up into a treehouse to keep watch for wild animals, and did the chores for Ma and Pa. We are currently reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books at bedtime, so this was a wonderful way for them to make more connections with the story.

The girls were completely wiped out on our car ride home, but it was worth all the time. I would say it was worth the money too, but it only cost us $4 for all 4 of us to get in! The Arboretum offers admission for $1 in August because of the heat. Thankfully, we got to take advantage of the price without experiencing the heat today, so it was worth much more than the money!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 2 Highlights

Today Chloe asked if I was going to give any homework and how I would grade her work. (She knows that 2nd grade is when public schools give official grades.) I said, "Well, since your teacher is living here with you, she will make sure you understand everything until you get a 100% A+ on everything! And since she also only has 3 students, she doesn't need to give you extra homework to see what you need help in when she can keep track of that every day."

Chloe thought for a minute and then said, "So my grade doesn't matter?" And I replied, "Nope! I want you to get everything right all the time. If you don't understand something, we won't call it a "B" or "C"; we'll just stop and figure out what we need to do so you can understand what you missed!" Her eyes widened, and you could almost hear the wheels turning in her little mind as the concept of mastery vs. grades sunk in.

That conversation alone gave me more confirmation that we are doing the right thing for my family this year. Learning to learn, not to get grades, was a lesson I didn't fully understand till college!

Then we got into more funny aspects of the mommy/teacher scenarios; I told them that we will still celebrate Teacher Appreciation Day this year, and I am so excited about the parent-teacher conferences and I really hope that I like their teacher, and did you get her wish list for her classroom or her list of favorites for her birthday in a few weeks? :)

In general, the day went very similarly to yesterday, except we added in a little science lab: observing a gummy bear in water and making observations and predictions for what will happen overnight. I got a cute little book at Target for some quick Physics labs that I know all 3 will enjoy doing together.

Also, we're going to take a day off of our regular schedule tomorrow. After checking the weather forecast, we decided to take a trip to the Dallas Arboretum for a Nature Walk and picnic. It is supposed to be only 88 degrees! Coming off of weeks of triple-digit heat, this is a welcome break for everyone! I'll let you know how it turns out. . .

Monday, August 23, 2010

First Day of Home School!

Today was a blast! I remember the first week or so when I was a 7/8 grade teacher, I had so much fun that I couldn't believe I was actually being paid to teach and help develop thinkers. That's how I felt today, except of course I'm not being paid!

Here was our schedule today:

8:00 Breakfast

8:30 Prayer and Bible Verse

Ellie read a Bible verse from a little packet of memory verses and we talked about the fact that God will keep us from all harm and that He watches over us day and night. (Psalm 121:7-8) We then prayed for God to help guide us for the day.

8:40 Aesop's Fables

Chloe read a short fable and talked about the moral of the story, as well as the character quality we want or don't want.

8:50 Sophie's Letter of the Week and Poem

I'm using a Poem/Finger Play book that has 5-6 entries for each letter of the alphabet. Today's poem was an animal poem, since our letter of the week is "A".

9:00 Math

We are using Math-U-See for Ellie and Chloe, and it is awesome. It was developed by a college professor who realized that his students had huge gaps in their learning, so he decided to develop a program teaching the basics on how to think about numbers, place value, and the purpose of math from simple counting to exponents. We are starting at the very beginning with both girls, since I know math has been a challenge for Ellie. I hope to get through the first 2 levels quickly and then slow down as we get into multiplication and division. Today the girls went through the lesson on DVD together. I gave Sophie some coloring to do in the same room so she didn't feel left out.

9:30 Art

Today's art project was a self-portrait. I thought it would be appropriate to capture where we are in this slice of time as we home school. We all made one, including me!

10:00 Snack/Reading

Although it may sound silly, my girls actually really enjoy reading A.A. Milne's original Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It is very cleverly written and the kids laugh every few sentences. I read some of it today, but I hope to read many different books to them during this period of time through the year. Since I am reading to all 3 at the same time, the book needs to be able to reach all 3 for interest.

10:30 Instrument practice

The big girls practiced one of their instruments: Ellie on cello, Chloe on piano. I let Sophie watch a short PBS program during this time so I can help with practicing.

11:00 Exercise

We will be doing different things for exercising, but today Chloe and I did 1/2 of a DVD (Core Synergistics from P90X) and Ellie/Sophie ran track on Wii Fit.

11:30 Independent Writing

The girls worked independently in their rooms for this.

I have a writing book for Ellie that I used when I taught 7/8 English called Writing Traits; it goes through the writing process and she is definitely ready to tackle all the different areas of writing. This is the part that I'm most excited about since I loved teaching how to write and streamline thinking. Today she worked on focus in a paragraph; did every sentence in the paragraph relate to a main topic? Which ones were out of place? Then she created her own paragraph on a topic and we worked on recognizing whether or not it had true focus or not. She will write a new paragraph each day this week.

Chloe is working through a Grade 2 Workbook that I bought at Costco. Yes, I know workbooks are really not very Charlotte Mason, but I know Chloe's style; she likes to get a sticker on her page and get a sense of completion and satisfaction of a job well done. Since this is her weaker area, I want her to build up some confidence and also work on her handwriting through the book.

Sophie has a little tracing book that she worked on for her letter "A."

12:00 Lunch

We all ate lunch together and the girls mentioned how they couldn't believe this was really school. It reminded me of the reason why I am doing this: I want to spend more time with my kids. We also talked about our school motto: "I am, I can, I ought, I will." I want my kids to know who they are, that they are capable, that their decisions should be governed foremost by the Bible, and that they should discipline themselves to use their will by doing what they know they should do. Home school is not just about the academics; I want to train their character through all of our experiences together.

1:00 Recess/Free Play

We had some other unconventional friends come over to play for a few hours and the girls had fun together. It's great for them to have other friends who are also trying something new and going against the grain. We will be seeing them again tomorrow; they are moving to Costa Rica for an immersion experience!

3:00 Snack

3:30 Instrument Practice

Ellie practiced piano and Chloe practiced violin. I let Sophie watch another show.

4:00 Spelling

I like to use spelling words from books, and since we have been listening to C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia on CD whenever we are driving in the car, I used words from "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." The girls enjoyed talking about the context of the words such as "Turkish Delight", or "stone", or "magnificent mane."

As a side note, we are actually going to create our own lapbooks for each of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia as a long-term project. I am actually really excited about this project because not only will it allow them to creatively put to paper their thoughts about the book and allow for written narration, it will also be something tangible that they can have to mark this year's work. The first lapbook will essentially be a wardrobe (from construction paper) that you open, and inside will be pictures and narration of the story. Chloe is already thinking about making a large ring for the cover of the Magician's Nephew. I love when they bubble over with ideas and excitement!

Today ended as busily as it started; we took Chloe to her first modern dance class, ate dinner, then took Ellie to cheerleading practice. I am so glad we decided to let her do cheer this year since she gets to see her friends; apparently her 3rd grade teacher came by to say hello too! During cheer practice, the other 2 girls and I went grocery shopping. We got home around 7:45 and were all exhausted from a full day.

Every day's schedule will look a little different depending on our activities, and I expect to add in more subjects, like history, science, geography, French, and Shakespeare. But I need to remember to take things slowly and savor each topic as we go along. Our first field trip is this Friday to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and Industry where we will revisit the Da Vinci exhibit and explore some new exhibits. I'm assuming it's going to be empty since everyone will be in school!

I will most likely blog more often now that we are really getting started. I know we are in the honeymoon stage of homeschooling, and I'm sure we will have some tough days ahead. But I'll take the honeymoon for as long as I can!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Mother's Prayer for Homeschooling

We are embarking on a year of homeschooling in a few weeks and I am getting all my ducks in a row with curriculum. I have found new friends in the homeschooling world and am gleaning wisdom from great blogs and sites from veteran teachers. I am so looking forward to this year with the kids and being involved in their learning, but I still feel a sense of fear in the back of my mind asking, "Will I be good enough? Will I be able to teach them what they need to know? Will my kids fall behind or become lazy because they are home? Will I truly make the most of all the time I have with them, or will I fall into the trap of doing too much housework and not enough school?"

Well, God knew exactly what I needed to help calm my fears. By "chance", I found a book called "Prayers for Homeschool Moms" in the stash of preschool books I had purchased from another homeschool mom. As I read through it, I realized that it was not coincidence this book was given to me. It has excerpts of different stories from moms and then a prayer dealing with that topic, and each mom articulated so many of my own thoughts and feelings. I've put together a prayer based on the moms' prayers in the book to help me through this transition and this new year of homeschooling. I thought I'd share it with you too.

"Dear Lord, thank you for giving me the courage to educate our children at home this year. Any confidence I might possess stems directly from you. Still, there are moments when I am paralyzed by a sudden fear that leaves me frozen. I'm not certain I'm up to this challenge of educating my children. Yet there is another part of me that recognizes that you equipped me to parent my family even in this new way. Lord, meet me at my weakest point and renew my frail heart. I'm standing in your presence awaiting your grace and strength to give me what I require for today's needs. Give me all the wisdom and insight I require to teach my children in your ways. Thank you for allowing me to understand that my weakness invites your strength; show yourself strong in my life.

Father, I confess my compulsion to work until I drop. I find too much of my identity in what I do; give me the eternal perspective to discern between what is good and what is best in the choices I make for myself and my family. Help me not to be lost in busyness, but to take time each day for your Word and prayer. Let every decision I make be tempered by thoughts of eternity.

Please take away any fears, insecurities, or burdens that I bear. Help me to learn from my mistakes and to sift through the myriad of voices I hear. Guard my heart against the temptation of seeing my children's successes or failures as reflecting my competence as a mother or teacher. Restrain in me attitudes of pride and self-sufficiency that may hinder my abilities to best influence my family. Let me be humble enough to seek out assistance when I need it. Let not my expectations, reasonable or not, rule my thoughts and emotions.

Thank you Lord that You are the head of this family. I'm grateful that I don't need to have all the answers. Lord, calm my heart and mind. Enable me to rest in the knowledge that you are always close by when I call to you. Let my words bring encouragement, and let my face reveal the love I feel for my children. Let them see in me a mother who has the stamina and fortitude to press ahead despite setbacks and discouragement. Make me into a woman of faith, a mother with vision, and as a child who trusts in you unreservedly.

Lord, I ask that you make this year a fruitful one. Help each of us take full advantage of these new opportunities to learn all we can. May my children grow not only academically but also spiritually this year. May we become closer to you and each other. Help me to have joy as I serve these precious souls that you have entrusted to me. Transform me Lord, into a woman whose sole source of hope and strength comes directly from you. I commit my wonderful children into your faithful hands. Amen."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Gary I Never Knew

My father-in-law Gary passed away on Friday July 9th, 2010. As my husband Todd and I prepared for his memorial service and eulogy, we realized that we didn't have a lot of information about his early childhood; everything we knew about Gary was based on the 37 years of Todd's life. But what about the 30 years before then? Sometimes we would ask Gary what it was like growing up in the 50's and 60's, but he was very reserved with his answers. I assumed his silence meant that he must have been a very shy boy, not too social, and perhaps carrying a troubled past. I didn't want to push for answers, so we let our conversations stay on the present.

Then this weekend, we began to fill in the gaps of Gary's early years. His older sisters Marilyn and Sue told me that they remember dressing Gary up like a girl and making him play Barbies with them. They said he was not a troublemaker and a good boy, even though for the first 5 years of his life, he was in a neighborhood with only girls!

But even more astonishing was that I met someone who described Gary as his soul mate, his best friend, and his idol during the teenage years. Those words in themselves blew me away! Roger Meinershagen is Gary's cousin, and they are only 3 months apart in age. Because Gary's sisters were 8 and 9 years older, Roger and Gary were like brothers growing up. Roger said that they would even try to fool their parents by wearing the same outfit with a mask to cover their faces, and their parents couldn't tell them apart. They had a similar build, same blue eyes and blond hair, and the same spirit.

Gary was so happy when they moved to (Mr.) Roger's neighborhood (I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself!) For 16 years, he and Roger were only a few blocks apart. They attended a small elementary school with two grades and one teacher in each room. When lining up and picking sides for various sports, he said Gary was one of the captain's first picks; everyone wanted Gary on their side.

Roger recalls that Gary was quite popular and very social; he was chosen King of Hearts for Valentine's Day in the 8th grade, and was a natural at ballroom dance lessons given in the school basement. Apparently Gary was never without a dance partner during those Friday night dances!

In high school, Gary and his friends formed a barbershop style quartet called "The Blue Notes." They even had matching baby blue monogrammed sweaters! The Blue Notes performed at school functions and contests throughout the city; Roger admits that he was basically a "groupie" of their quartet during that time. We never heard about The Blue Notes from Gary, but it does explain where Todd got his musical talent. Todd said his dad wanted him to become the next Kenny G or David Sanborn; Gary was always very supportive of his musical pursuits.

During college, Gary convinced Roger and their friend Brian Watson to take a trip to Europe to broaden their education. (That's what they all say, right?) They set sail in June of 1962 and spent 2 1/2 months abroad on only $5 a day. Roger jokes that he has a lot of good stories from that time but I'd have to pay him for the details!

I absolutely loved hearing just this small bit of Gary's life and I look forward to staying in touch with many of the Meinershagens that I met this weekend. I think one of the best ways we can honor Gary's memory is to make new memories with the people who knew and loved him from his past. We hope to make a trip to Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska in the near future!

I also want to share one more incredible way we can honor Gary's memory. Remember that my daughter Ellie was born on Gary's birthday? Well, he died on another granddaughter's birthday- Abby Meinershagen, Todd's brother Matt's daughter. Gary could have passed the day before, the day after, but no- he died right on her birthday- July 9th. There are 365 days a year- what is the probability that his birth and death would be exactly the same days as two of his granddaughter's birthdays? We recognize that this is not chance or coincidence; it is from the hand of God. The Bible says that all of our days are numbered; how incredible that He chose these 2 specific days to be celebrated in our families forever! Though we grieve the loss of our father-in-law Gary, we are so grateful for this sign of His sovereignty, love, and grace. He has turned our mourning into dancing!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Waiting for the Final Good-bye

Right now, my husband's father is dying. His body is frail; he has liver, kidney, and heart failure, and when he contracted pneumonia this week, it was too much for his system. He is unresponsive, taking short, shallow breaths, and his sons and wife are by his bedside as I write.

It has been a difficult few days. Though my husband is 37, he still needs a dad and so does the rest of the family. This will be the first death that will have a profound impact on us and the kids.

I met Gary 15 years ago when I was still dating Todd, and he was gentle and sweet. Yes, his sons have stories of his temper and more "lively" times growing up, but I have only seen the calm side of him. I remember our first dinner out when I visited TX to meet the parents. I think we went to Ruth Chris steakhouse and I was so nervous about whether or not his parents would like me. They made me feel so welcome, and I sat next to Gary at dinner. I asked him a little about what life was like for him during college, and he laughed and said that he had a lot of regrets. He smiled warmly when I spoke about what I was studying and I felt very comfortable. He asked me about my family, and I slowly realized that I didn't have anything to fear. They had accepted me, and I was grateful.

Todd and I got married in August 1997. We had a friend make a video of our parents sharing thoughts on each of us for the wedding, and Gary said, "We are so thankful that Tammy came into the family. She's helped change Todd." I was very touched by that. I knew that the relationship between them was strained, and having me come into the family was a way for them to ease back into a relationship again.

In 2000, when I was 9 months pregnant with Ellie, Gary suddenly went into a coma. He had been battling his demons of alcohol, and it caused a condition where blood vessels burst in his esophagus and blood rushed into his stomach. The liver couldn't process that much protein, so his body broke down. His head filled with ammonia which caused him to be unresponsive, and Todd flew down to TX even though I was due with Ellie any day. But there was no choice; we thought it was the end.

I remember Todd calling me and crying, saying that he couldn't believe his dad looked so thin and frail. He wished he had more time with him, a better relationship with him. His brothers felt the same way. We had our church praying for him, for a miracle, and it came. A few days later, Gary woke from his coma. The most amazing thing is that Ellie did hold off on coming until Todd returned home, and she was born on Gary's birthday- November 6th. When we called to let them know, we heard laughter in the background as Gary said, "So am I supposed to die now?" But I knew he felt it was special to have his first grandchild born on his birthday, especially after everything that had happened. It was meant to be.

We came to visit Todd's parents and his brothers regularly, and our family grew in size. Matt and Karen were married, and then more grandkids came along. Holidays, especially Christmas, are a huge ordeal for the Meinershagens. They spare no expense and love to lavish gifts on the grandchildren and us. It is a whirlwind of flying wrapping paper, lots of squealing and giggles, and great food and wine. We are always amazed at their generosity, and I can tell it gives them great joy to give gifts.

When Todd and I were getting ready to move to TX from IL in 2004, Gary did all the leg work for us. He scoped out the suburbs and chose Frisco, and he also chose a builder based on our likes and dislikes. Every few days we would get an update from him on the progress of our home, and he was extremely meticulous. Like father, like son! He looked at every little detail and would put blue tape on any flaw to make sure it was fixed. Oh, that blue tape. I'll never forget how much of it was on the floor of their own house when they were having trouble with their flooring. It was almost humorous how much he cared about getting things done exactly right.

In the last 10 years there have been many milestones in our lives, and Gary has celebrated many with his grandkids Ellie, Chloe, Sophie, and Taylor, Abby, and Parker. The last time I saw Gary functioning somewhat normally was after my recital at the end of May this year. My mom had come into town, and Todd and I had an overnight in Dallas. On our way back home, we decided to visit Gary because we felt it might be one of the last times we would get to spend alone time with him. He was down to 109 pounds and very weak. His belly was still filling up with fluid and needing to be drained every week, and the skin on his arms was bruised and scabbed. We sat and talked with him a little bit; I said I thought he looked better, and he said, "I'm just skin and bones now. All my muscle is gone." I let Todd and Gary talk a bit on their own, and for some reason, I started taking pictures of their house; I had a feeling that things weren't going to be the same the next time I came over. I wanted to remember it the way it was. It has been a place of wonderful family memories and fun for the kids, and I wanted to be able to see it and visit it anytime.

I was right- it was the last time I spoke with Gary. When I came to see him at the hospital a few days ago in the ICU, he was already very incoherent. I asked for 5 minutes on my own with him, and I held his hand and cried. I cried about the fact that he would be gone soon, and I cried because I wanted to see him again on the other side. I told him I loved him and that no matter what had happened between him and Todd, I knew that he had done the best he could and that he had raised a wonderful family. I thanked him for loving me and accepting me, and that I was grateful to be a Meinershagen. I prayed that somewhere, in the deep recesses of his heart and mind, he heard me and that he let his heart go to the One who has known him and loved him his whole life.

So for now, we still sit and wait. Death is not beautiful. It is difficult and it is humbling. We will all die eventually, but what is beautiful is the love that is almost tangible in the family. No matter how much has happened amongst them, you cannot deny that they love each other, and they love Gary. That much is true, and love will be what remains in the end. I love you Gary, and will miss you.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chopin is Salad Music to My Kids, and Other News

The past 2 weeks we have been in Chicago visiting my family. I decided to try a bit of homeschooling to see how it would feel. I had a grand plan of getting started in a Nature Study (observing and drawing during a nature walk), Composer Study (Chopin), Reading, and some Spelling/Copywork (selecting words to spell and working on handwriting while copying passages). Here's how it turned out.

Nature Study:
The first day we tried this, the girls went out to my mom's backyard with their notebooks and pencils, looking for 10 living things to observe and draw. They had a blast, finding things like bugs, mushrooms, ducks and flowers. We didn't try it again until we went to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. The girls absolutely loved looking at the gorgeous flowers and writing down the names in Latin as well as trying to draw their favorite ones. We had a picnic at the Japanese gardens and observed a squirrel chasing another squirrel; they were delighted! It was a beautiful day- 70 degrees and breezy, and my mom was with me, which made the day even sweeter. We talked about our discoveries and our favorite flowers on the way home. We didn't do any more nature studies except for those 2 days.

Composer Study:
My goal was that we would study the life of Chopin and then conclude the 2 weeks with an outdoor concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia in Highland Park. Ravinia Festival welcomes artists from all over the world to their outdoor venue and you can purchase a lawn seat for $10 and watch/listen to the performers from the outdoor concert hall. To prepare for the all-Chopin concert, I had the pieces playing in the background during our playtime and in the car. Sadly, they didn't really seem very interested in it even though I was bawling like a baby at the melodies. When I tried to sit them down to talk about Chopin and his life, their eyes glazed over like, "When is this torture going to be over?" I didn't pursue it anymore after that. When we got to our lawn seats on the day of the concert, the girls were more excited to make their picnic dinner and play cards than listen to the music. We did see the piano soloist play with the orchestra for a bit, but they quickly wanted to return to their games. I realized that Chopin's music is really just salad music to my kids right now (my word for background tracks), and even though I could appreciate the interpretation of the music, they weren't ready for it. They preferred playing with my mom's keyboard that had all the funky rap sounds and creating bizarre sequences from it than listening to an orchestra. So we did have some form of music appreciation, but not exactly what I had in mind!

Reading:
Ellie is my natural reader. She finished her 3rd Harry Potter book and is now into the 4th one in those 2 weeks. She loves to tell me about the chapters and keep her nose in the book all afternoon. Chloe on the other hand, would much rather play with her legos or run around the house. We found a Calvin and Hobbes book for her, and it was the first time that I had ever seen her quietly reading and laughing as she read! She wanted to show me what she was reading and the pictures, and sometimes she could barely talk because she was laughing so hard. I didn't care that the book was a comic strip, I was just happy to see her delighted to open a book for once! With Sophie, I read from the Complete Stories of Winnie the Pooh, which Ellie and Chloe actually enjoyed listening to as well. We also decided to read about the childhood of Abraham Lincoln at bedtime (from the Childhood of Famous Americans series), and they loved talking about how amazing it was that Abe didn't have any toys, or that he had to walk 3 miles barefoot to school, or that he was almost kidnapped by Indians. Reading to the kids is something that I really hadn't done much in the past, but it has quickly become one of my favorite things to do with them.

Spelling/Copywork
All 3 girls sat with notebooks and pencils at the kitchen table, and I gave them each a word or a letter to spell. I took words from an article about Chopin, and we did some vocabulary learning as well. I discovered a lot about where my girls are in their spelling! Ellie is very familiar with spelling patterns and more difficult words, while Chloe has barely learned how to spell even the simplest of words. We have a lot of work to do in this area. Although Charlotte Mason's methods don't necessarily focus on spelling right away, I just did this exercise as a way for me to see where my kids' skills are right now. Poor Sophie can only write certain letters and has the hardest time with the letter "s," so she writes her name "OPHIE". What was interesting is that we did about 35 words, and they wanted to do more! I made us take a break and then they spontaneously wanted to write a poem. Ellie wrote an interesting poem about shadows, and Chloe wrote about the blueberry muffin she ate that morning. Sophie drew a mermaid, her favorite obsession of late. Afterwards, I gave Ellie Psalms 1 from the Bible to copy word for word in her notebook, and we talked about what it means to delight in the Word of God as it says in the verses of the Psalms.

I didn't have a schedule laid out, so we didn't do all of these things in one day, or even every day, but when we did it, I began to see my kids differently and get a glimpse of their innate love of learning. I know some of my friends are already doing daily activities with their kids and being intentional about their learning through the summer, whether or not they are homeschooling. I am embarrassed to admit that this is my first time really being intentional about their learning, but I see the value in it now! I definitely identified some challenges that I will have to figure out, such as balancing the 3 of them together and adjusting my expectations of what they can handle, but it's worth the challenge. And maybe by the end of it, they will someday change their minds about Chopin!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why?

It's already here- the last day of school! And it's official- we are homeschooling Ellie for 4th grade and Chloe for 2nd. I had a chance to talk with the principal about withdrawing our kids for next year, and she was incredibly supportive. Her own daughter homeschools!

As I have been slowly letting people know about our decision, I am consistently met with "Why?" It reminds me a lot of when we decided to go with home births rather than a hospital delivery. When I told people I was going to birth at home, they would look at me probably like Columbus' peers did when he told them that the world was round. It just doesn't compute. Why choose a home birth? Everyone goes to the hospital to have a baby! Why choose home school? Everyone just goes to public school! Why question the establishment? Why reject the standard?

To that, I respond, "Why not?" Why not see if there is another way? Why not try something different? What will it hurt if we do something new for a year? And if it doesn't work like I hope, what do I lose? Of course, the stakes were high with a home birth; many people thought I would lose the baby's life and it was irresponsible to do a home birth. One thing I have always believed though is that the most natural way is the best way. Birthing at home for me was the most natural, and I sought to make it happen; what a wonderful experience it was. Teaching is also naturally done at home; children learn from their parents, whether we realize what we are teaching or not. Probably the most acceptable version of this principle can be seen with food and the organic movement- the more natural and home-grown, the better. We just had dinner tonight with some friends who have started an organic garden; what an awesome example of how much you can gain from some careful investment of time and effort!

So yes, we are going all-natural next year. I look forward to spending quality time cultivating the garden of their minds and souls next year. I will be planting a lot of different seeds and I pray for a good harvest. Will I have bad days? Yes, I expect that. Will I question myself and why I chose this path? I'm sure. But I also hope that I will see some fruit of my labor, and I consider it a privilege to be able to try school at home. So to answer your question of "Why?" Well, "Why not?"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nuts and Bolts

So, now that we have agreed as a family to try homeschooling for a year, I am ready to look at some nuts and bolts! How will homeschooling look for us next year?

CURRICULUM
There are many avenues to take for curriculum, but I have to say that the resources found at Ambleside Online sit the best with me right now. (I have a direct link to the website on my blog). Why? Here's their description from the website:

"Ambleside Online is a curriculum guide and booklist designed to follow Charlotte Mason's method of homeschooling. Each year/grade has a list of books to lay out what resources will need to be collected or purchased, and an optional weekly schedule based on a 36-week school year to break the resources into smaller increments to help with pacing the books throughout the year. There is no fee to use the curriculum or website. Parents may use as much or as little of the booklists and schedules as they like. Some families follow it exactly as laid out, most tweak it a little here and there to use books they already have, or because they prefer another resource over the one listed."

What I like about that is the guided flexibility. I can use their book list and materials, but remember, curriculum is only half the picture. I have to use my understanding of Charlotte Mason's philosophy for it to come to life in my family. Oh, and did you catch that it's FREE?!?

CHARLOTTE MASON
So what do I need to know about Charlotte Mason to understand how her curriculum works? Here's what they explain:

"Charlotte Mason lived in England in the 1800's. Orphaned at age 16 and never married, she devoted her life to children and their education. Her ideas were ahead of her time - while others thought that children were no more than empty slates to be filled with information, she believed that they were already real people capable of independent, intelligent thought and that they needed vital ideas, rather than dry facts, to feed their growing minds.

The students in the schools she founded read and discussed living books written by excellent authors on various subjects, took daily nature walks and recorded their observations in notebooks, enjoyed art and music, cultivated and maintained good personal habits such as attention to detail, focused attention and consideration to others, and learned foreign languages. And, by using short lessons, they accomplished all of this (and more) by lunchtime so that they had their afternoons free for their own individual worthy pursuits.

The Charlotte Mason method uses living books with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity, narration instead of comprehension exercises or composition, copywork for handwriting, spelling and grammar modeling, nature observation as the primary means of early science, and literature, poetry, art and music to give children's minds beautiful ideas to feed on."

I don't know about you, but when I read this, I want that for my kids. I want to feed their minds with wonderful literature and ideas, and I want them to see lots of connections amongst all the subjects. (By the way, "living" books are living in the sense that they are written by a single author who shares personally his favorite subject with us.)

HOW TO START
According to Ambleside's webiste, this is how I can get started:

1. Choose a Year for your child to start in by looking at the booklists and assessing what seems appropriate for your child.

2. Look at the booklist, make a list and gather materials - buy, borrow or print out books, choose a math program, consider what you'll use for transcription/copywork (you can simply have your child transcribe appropriately sized passages from any of his school books).

3. Decide how you'll divide the workload over the term or year (use or adapt the 36-week schedule if it helps) and plan a schedule, remembering to schedule short lessons of 10-20 minutes for younger children, 25-30 minutes for older children. You don't need to do every subject every day. You can do math Mon/Wed/Fri, geography Tue/Thur, US history Mon/Tues/Wed and world history Thu/Fri. You can break up the week in any way that suits you. Some break up the traditional subjects over four days and reserve Fridays for art or music. There is no one right way. Be prepared to make changes as you see what works.

4. Plan to start slowly, beginning with history, geography, copywork, math, natural history/science, literature and poetry - you can add nature study, art, music and foreign language one step at a time as you feel ready.

5. On your first day, alternate the day between quiet subjects and hands-on subjects to keep your child's mind fresh. After your child reads from one of his schoolbooks, have him tell you what he read (this is narration). You may discuss it with him, if you wish. Most students do copywork every day. Ideally, your school day should be done by lunchtime, but plan for longer at first as you and your child adjust to this new endeavor.

6. After the first week or so, assess how your schedule is working and what you might change. Add nature study, art or music if you feel ready. Over the following weeks, slowly add one subject at a time as you feel you can handle it. Remember that any new venture can seem overwhelming and don't rush yourself to get it all in at first. Many who have been doing this for 2 or 3 years still have one or two things they have trouble fitting in.

7. Learn as much as you can before you start, and continue to learn as you go. The Charlotte Mason method is more than a booklist. It's a whole philosophical approach. The more you understand, the more effective your homeschool will be.

Wow. Are you overwhelmed? I am! Those are some big nuts and bolts! Homeschooling is a tall order, but I desire to do it and my kids are excited. I look forward to taking them out of the system for a year to develop in them a broader perspective of learning. I definitely have a lot to learn too, and this is just the beginning!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Confessions of a Former School Teacher

When I was a 7/8 English teacher, I was responsible for 108 students daily. Ideally, I would have preferred to sit down with each of them individually and have a conversation about the books we were studying to see if they really got the main ideas and understood the characters. But there's no way to do that with a class load that size. The best way to gauge learning in a classroom of over 20 students per hour is to use comprehension questions, Socratic class discussion, pop quizzes, multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the blanks, matching, essays, and the occasional group project. It's a necessity to use these methods (and they aren't necessarily bad); how else can you give a quantifiable measure of learning to the students and to the parents? (This does not fault the teacher at all; believe me, I know there is simply no other way to handle the amount of work we are required to do with the number of people in our care!)

However, now that I'm on the other side of the classroom, as a parent of students, I see the strategies my girls use to deal with the necessary classroom forms of assessment. They often use the "hunt-and-peck" method; read the questions at the end of the assignment first, and then hunt for the answer through the reading. Do the assignment as quickly as possible to get it over with. Memorize the set of definitions or spelling words to get it right on the test, even if they don't make sense to you.

What concerns me is that my girls are not learning how to learn. They are learning how to cope with assignments. I remember doing that as a child too and even through high school. When my grade was slipping in Chemistry, I did extra credit assignments by cleaning out test tubes in order raise my grade. My grade went up, but did I understand the concept I was having trouble with? No.

What surprised me when I went to college was the method of assessment. In the math and science courses, there were still knowledge exams, but we mostly did lots of reading, lots of discussion, and lots of essay writing. You were judged based on how well you could apply your knowledge or explain the comparison between 2 topics. Learning wasn't about spoon-feeding and memorization anymore.

So why do we wait until college to begin assessing learning that way? Are my 7 and 9-year-old kids capable of analyzing topics and explaining connections? Is it realistic to ask them to use their whole brain to learn for mind memory of concepts, and not just rote word memory? Can I expect them to really invest in their learning because they are excited about the subject, not because they have to do it?

From what I'm reading in Charlotte Mason's Companion Guide, the answer is yes. The key to this kind of learning is self-education. "Self-education is achieved by a regular and steady diet of the best books combined with the use of narration to develop retention and understanding of what is read. This approach maintains students' interest and helps them develop the habit of attention, as well as a literary style, a readiness of speaking, a wide vocabulary, and a love of books. This is self-education (vs. traditional education,) because ultimately it is the child who is doing the work." (Andreola 45)

"Self-education is not dependent on a system of artificial rewards, prizes, and grade scores, because it is not bound to a system of education, but a method of learning. A system and a method are 2 different things. A system depends on a cycle of tedium: read the textbook chapter, find the facts and record them as answers to the chapter's list of questions, take the test, get the grade, get it over with. A system makes the process more important than either the information or the learner. On the other hand, a method emphasizes the process by which the goal is attained. If the goal is an educated child, a variety of means will best achieve it" (Andreola 44)

Right now I'm at a critical crossing point with my kids. They are just teetering on the edge of feeling burdened by school and keeping their enthusiasm to read and learn. I see that they do enjoy certain aspects of school, but I also see that they are employing strategies that are unhealthy for their future habits of study. What if we took a year to retrain them on what grades really mean? Right now Ellie worries that she got a 92 in Math as opposed to a 100 or that she got one question wrong on her homework. If we took a year to work on the method of becoming educated rather than working the system of homework, would they begin to see that the goal of every subject is full comprehension, not an "A"? Will they feel less defined by the almighty report card? I hope so. Charlotte Mason said, "The best work is not visible." Next year might be my "invisible" year, but it may also be the most important one!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An Asian-American Perspective on the Goal of Education

I have heard that for anything in life to be accomplished, you need to begin with the end in mind. As I have been contemplating this decision of home schooling, I have also been thinking about the goals that my parents had for me in education. I might be wrong, but I think most Asian parents have the same goals for their kids: go to an Ivy League school, become a doctor or at least marry one, and be wealthy enough to buy your parents a house and a nice car as a token of your gratitude. That equals success to the Asian community; it's a final certificate of accomplishment that the journey to America was worth all the sacrifices along the way. So far, I have failed to deliver on all 3 of these: I went to Northwestern, married a white guy who at the time was a band director (gasp!), and we are still working on our Dave Ramsey plan for our finances.

If you are Asian-American, you totally track with what I'm saying. If not, I am letting you in on the secrets of the Asian community, not that any of this is really rocket science. Have you ever wondered why all Asians are such high achievers? It's because their parents are drilling a message into them every day: You are worth what you produce.

Don't get me wrong; I am very grateful for my parents and the discipline they instilled in me. Without it, I could not be the person I am today or the musician I am either. I do owe them a lot for their perseverance with me. There are some things I want to pass on to my kids from my Korean upbringing- being hospitable to others, respecting elders, and being disciplined, but I definitely don't want to pass on the notion that the end goal of education is to pay me back for all my sacrifices. Or that you study just to get all A's, or to obtain a perfect score on the SAT's, or to secure an admission to an Ivy League school. These are all great things, but if those are the goals, then hasn't learning been lost for the sake of education?

That's what I want to be careful of in this process. What's my end goal of education for my kids? I want them to be thoughtful, articulate, and godly women. I want them to be well-read, be able to make connections with past authors, current authors, the Bible, and current events. I want them to be able to think critically about topics and write about them with clarity. I want them to have hearts that are open to others and value love over any material possession or personal skill. I want them to be content with their lot in life, whether they become a waitress or secretary or doctor or penniless writer. I want them to see that their early years were spent in training: their character, their worldview, their understanding of God. I want them to know that they are worth so much in God's eyes, not because of what they do, but simply because of who they are. The goal of education in my view is to give them space to grow and learn to be the women God has called them to be. Whether I home school or send them to public school, I pray for the wisdom to be able to begin with that end in mind!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Summer with Shakespeare

I am getting a little ahead of myself, but I have to say I was inspired today after reading chapter 30 in Karen Andreola's book, The Charlotte Mason Companion. It basically encouraged reading/listening to Shakespeare even in the elementary ages because of its universal themes.

I love Shakespeare. My college essay was about Shakespeare, the fact that I felt part of something greater than myself when I read it. As a 7/8 Literature teacher, I suggested to our team that we teach Taming of the Shrew to our 7th graders, and many of the teachers and parents balked. "It's too hard!" "They'll never understand iambic pentameter!" "The subjects are above their life experiences!"

But the kids loved it. We acted it out in class (it is a play, after all), we studied about the Elizabethan theater and Shakespeare's life, we memorized monologues, we did group activities of modernizing scenes for today's culture, and we watched the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, which is essentially the story set in present day. At the end of the year, my 7th graders said it was their favorite unit.

Introducing Shakespeare to 7th graders was a stretch, so I never even considered reading it with a 1st or 3rd grader! But "if a child is brought up with an early appreciation of Shakespeare, if Shakespeare becomes a natural part of his educational life, he will not be apprehensive about Shakespeare in his high school years. He will not feel that he is studying, but rather that he is delving into the plays." (p.127) Younger students can read Shakespeare's dramas in E. Nesbit's book "Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children", which is intended for children as young as 6! I plan to get that book for Chloe and start this summer. For Ellie, Andreola recommends "Tales from Shakespeare" by Charles and Mary Lamb, one of the first retellings of his plays written for children about age 10.

So why Shakespeare? His plays are universal. He overflows with ideas of "goodness, pity, generosity, courage, and love," and "in the lines of his plays, he metes out morsels of proverbs spoken by his characters, who entertain us thoroughly. . . His characters, as in real life, are often a mix of virtue and sinfulness . . . Shakespeare was not of an age but for all time" (p. 230). "As the Bible tells us all we need to know about God, Shakespeare tells us some things we ought to know about man. Shakespeare's plays are performed everywhere in the English-speaking world. Can a person who has no knowledge of Shakespeare be considered well-educated?" (p. 232) Well, that's a discussion for another day, but I am certainly on board!

How to start? Andreola suggests 4 things. First, read aloud the story of one of the comedies, maybe during one or 2 morning or bedtime readings. Second, borrow or purchase a Shakespare play on video and discuss it. Third, for grades 1-8, experience one play a year without notes or academic comments. Start with one of the lighter plays, like the comedies. Fourth, listen to professional actors read the text of a play on CD in the original language. The variety of voices and musical interludes stimulate their imaginations.

I don't expect my kids to "get" every nuance of every line, but I know that letting them hear, read, and become familiar with Shakespeare will give them a taste of one of the finer things in life. Homeschool or not, I want to do a summer with Shakespeare with the kids. Perhaps "A Midsummer Night's Dream?"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fear #2- Loss of Connection

Today I attended a Moms-in-Touch meeting at a friend's house to pray for our school, the teachers, and our kids. It's a wonderful national movement for mothers who want to cover their kids in prayer while they are away from home. The women who attend this meeting are very involved in the school and this morning, we talked a lot about the fun school field day coming up. It really made me think about the fact that if I homeschool, my kids will miss out on certain events that have made them feel connected to their friends, to their school, and to their neighborhood, such as the Sock Hop, Multicultural night, Spring Fling, just to name a few. They so enjoy these activities, and as a parent, it's fun to meet new parents and hang out with friends at the events. Perhaps this seems trivial to those who will say that I can join a co-op of homeschooling moms who also host dozens of wonderful field trips and events, but right now, I am feeling a bit hesitant because I don't want to lose the connections that I have right now.

It's the whole "social" dilemma. Does pulling a child out of school create an antisocial person? Who said that school is the best place to learn social skills? I know there are arguments for both sides, but I foresee that I will feel a loss of connection if we are not at the school. Can I live with that? Will I have enough of a resolve and conviction about what I am doing that it will be worth that loss? I'm sure we will meet new people and forge relationships with new friends, but it still won't make the change easy for me. I am a creature of habit, and I like my friends. I fear losing them for the sake of homeschooling.

Right now, the kids still want to do it. Homeschooling was Ellie's suggestion (age 9), and for her sake, I am really trying to consider it fairly. At this point, I am leaning more towards a "pilot" year of homeschooling for the older 2 kids (9 and 6) and sending Sophie (3) to preschool; we can try it out for a year and evaluate whether or not we want to continue next year. I am still reading in my Charlotte Mason's companion book to get a better sense of philosophy so as to root all my fears. I will share those findings in another blog coming soon. . .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fear #1- My Alone time

Today after the 2 big girls went to school, I dropped Sophie off at preschool and went grocery shopping, came home, put everything away, practiced a little bit for my recital, drove to meet Todd for lunch, ran another errand, and then started to panic. "How will I ever get anything done if I am homeschooling?" "Will I ever get to have lunch dates with Todd?" "Am I shackling myself to a life of being home all day long with no breaks?" Those were my thoughts as I drove to pick up Sophie after a productive and peaceful day by myself.

Here's the truth- I really enjoy my alone time. I mean, REALLY enjoy it. I like having time when there are no kids talking to me and I can listen to whatever music I want. I like having lunch with girlfriends and going window shopping with no one to watch after. I like having MY time. (Yes, I know that God owns everything and I am just a steward of His time, but sometimes I get caught up in owning what's not mine!)

I am scared that homeschooling will mean that I am never alone. Will I go insane? Will I become a worse mother with less patience? And is time alone a luxury or a right? Perhaps even a necessity?

I don't know, but I think I'm going to savor the last few days of preschool more than ever before!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Where to begin?

If you are reading my blog, I'm guessing it's probably because you are curious to see what has prompted me to be suddenly interested in Charlotte Mason and the philosophy of education. I have to say, I am just as surprised as you are about this! But that's why I am glad I have this safe place to write my thoughts; it will help me process all of the new information and hopefully bring our family to a decision.

Those of you who know me are aware that when I plunge into something, I go deep. I leave no stone unturned and want to get as much information as possible on the topic before proceeding. It's just in my DNA! If I am in, I'm in 100%, and I don't look back. That's how I came to the decision of having home births for all 3 of my kids, and wow, did that generate a lot of discussion! My family thought I was crazy, some friends thought I'd gone all "granola", and a few people supported me. (But I studied that topic thoroughly and even convinced my HMO to pay for it!)

I have to say, I never expected that I'd be one of "those" people- having babies at home and considering home schooling. I'm not a tree-hugger, and I don't hate the government. I am not trying to isolate my family for protection against immorality, and I have met asocial home schoolers who are incapable of holding a conversation with another 8-year-old. So I don't tread lightly on this decision; I want to look at it from all angles and find out as much as I can about it.

The big question is, why now? Why do I think I even need to consider home schooling or doing something different with my children's education? Good question! I am still trying to answer it myself. I currently have a 3rd grader and a 1st grader at a wonderful school walking distance away. We love all the teachers and the activities, and we couldn't be more thankful for our home and our friends here in the neighborhood. It really doesn't make any sense that I would pay taxes and not get to reap the benefits of public school, especially right in my own backyard. And what about their friends? Won't they miss seeing them every day in class and recess?

I agree, right now, it really doesn't make sense. But here's something Ellie said to me when she turned 9 this year that I can't get out of my head: "Mom, I'm half-way done living here!" She said it with a smile, but it knocked the wind out of me. It's as if I blinked, and suddenly she was 9, and I know that in another 2 blinks, she'll be 18 and ready to go to college. It has really made me evaluate the time I spend with her. How much time, how many hours do I really have before she leaves? How much of myself will I have invested in her? How much do I really know about what she is learning and what is shaping her character? I am always amazed to see her papers come home and listen to the teachers tell me how well she is doing. But I have to admit, part of it makes me sad. I want to know her and engage in ideas with her, not just for homework, but for the bulk of her learning. Is that selfish? Am I being idealistic? I don't know, but it's just how I feel.

And then there's the tyrant of the almighty Schedule. If you read my previous blog, you'll see that I lived under an extremely tight schedule for all of my years at home. I never thought I would repeat the cycle, but I have. Every morning starts with a list, like get dressed, brush your teeth and hair, get your socks and shoes, eat your breakfast, sign this paper, make sure you have your assignment and your library book, don't forget your lunch, quick kiss and hug, and then I watch 2 backpacks bob away off to school. As soon as they get home, it's time to have a snack, talk about the day, practice their instrument, go to tennis or gymnastics, get homework done, maybe play a little bit outside, and then dinner, showers, and bedtime. And then add to that the different activities we have on the weekends- serving in the worship team, going to Awana's, birthday parties, and possibly some free time squeezed in there somewhere? It's insanity! The Meinershagens are hamsters: we are on a wheel running and running, doing the same things over and over again, not getting anywhere. My heart questions, "Is this the only way? Is this what I want my kids to remember about living at home?"

I'm sure we could change the situation by taking a few activities away, or trying to serve less at the church, or lowering my expectations of what can be accomplished in a day. Those are definitely options. But for the first time, I've actually considered the fact that they spend 7 hours of their day at school, and if I got to choose how they spent those 7 hours, we might actually be able to breathe a little more even while we manage all our activities. It's an option, and I want to see if it will be the right one for our family. Am I scared? Yes. Will I still have a social life if I homeschool? I hope so! Do I know for sure this is what we are supposed to do? No- still praying. But what I do know is, something's gotta change. What will that be? I guess we will all find out!