April 29, 2010

Guest Post by Becky

Making the Decision to Homeschool, Part I:

Just so you know, I’m not afraid of the act of homeschooling. I find most of my trepidation comes from the inherent fear of how the world around me will react to me for choosing a path so different from the one everyone else has chosen. I’ve already dipped my toe in, tested the waters and came back with a few piranha bites. Boy oh boy, do people have opinions about homeschooling! And since you’re here at this site reading this post – I don’t have to defend any of it to you’all.

What I will get on my soapbox and defend is this – I know with every fiber of my being that American schools are systematically stripping children of their love of learning…as they fill in the school year with benchmarks and focused lessons and department (if not state-wide and soon to be nation-wide) testing – and do all of this as they strip the schools of their arts, music and physical education programs. The level of redundancy is ridiculous, the actual time spent learning (average of 10 minutes to every hour) is a staggering waste of time and the narrow focus on scores and rankings is astounding – and defeating.

In addition to this, the social implications of sending your children into the mosh pit/lion’s den that is public education is to send your child into an environment where the greater percentage of kids are exposed prematurely to drugs, sex and rock&roll. Now don’t get me wrong, all of us need a little bit of the sex and rock&roll in our lives (and if ben&jerry’s can be considered a drug, that as well) – but at an appropriate age and within the appropriate constructs of monogamy and whatnot. Listen, I subbed for a number of years and was initially shocked when kindergarten students told me they were tired because they stayed up all night watching horror movies and eating their boy weight in cheetos. But the shock quickly wore off when I realized a majority of my students were living lives with very few boundaries and very little constructive parenting. It sad, but even our kindergartners aren’t safe from the slew of permissive parenting running rampant across the land.

And yes, I recognize that many live in areas where going to public school is like going to private school because of parental demographics and local income levels – but for me, this is not the case. I live in a town where 50% of the population has been and will continue to be below the poverty line. And while I love the diversity and small farming town feel of my little burb…it leaves a lot to be desired…

Sum Total: The public education system and American parents are not producing capable world citizens. It doesn’t mean a few aren’t eeking out, but for the most part the percentages are shifting in favor of my belief…that the current education model paired with permissive parenting is creating entitled ignorant brats who know very little about the world around and feel very little responsibility to better said world.

Next Time…The Things I Want my Kids to Learn and Why I Completely Disregard the Value of the Modern Liberal Arts Education.

Note from me: I actually love public education. I think our country provides some of the best free education available in the world. There are parts of it with which I disagree, but on the whole I am a huge fan and supporter. However, it is fun to see why other people homeschool and share opinions. Expect more from Becky. You can read more about her here. Also, watch for my guest post about public school myths. I'll link it here when it is posted.

April 23, 2010

Yankee Peddler

Once upon a time, I asked my hubby to make me a tree. On our wall.
I envisioned a little tree. Nothing too fancy. In short, I expected what I could create. But I asked my artistic hubby to make it because I hate doing crafty things like . . . coloring . . . let alone making trees.
My hubby likes doing artistic things so even though making the Liberty Tree for homeschool wasn't high on his list of things to do that particular night, he was inspired by the challenge.
And I was inspired/amazed by the result.
The idea behind the tree came from http://www.courageousbeings.com/b1.html. When Miriam was starting kindergarten, I was pregnant and a lot was going on so I bought A Noble Birthright: Defenders of the Title of Liberty. It was very well-put together and had tons of great ideas and resources. It was also, for me, a waste of money. I just plain like to write my own curriculum too much to use other people's, regardless of the quality of the curriculum. I used a few ideas and then the rest of the gigantic binder of good ideas sat on the shelf. However, if I was ever to buy curriculum again, I wouldn't hesitate to buy more from this website and these designers. It was really good stuff.

The tree was one of their ideas. Make a Liberty Tree on your wall, then award your children leaves when they do good things, and then when the Yankee Peddler comes around your children can use the leaves as currency to buy items from the Peddler. It was a great idea and my children loved it. It also reminded me to use positive incentives, since I have a tendency to only use negative incentives.

The above picture is my husband working on his Peddler costume. I, ahem, only sew straight lines and the thought of cutting off pants to make them into something else was all too much for me. My hubby put together his own costume. Yes, I lucked out in the matrimonial department.
That's the Peddler on his first visit. My children were enraptured, but also confused about whether or not it was the Peddler or their dad. Baffled them the whole time he was there. I finally explained to them that it was Dad acting the part of the peddler. Their disappointment was intense, but short-lived.
If you ever study Colonial America, I highly recommend involving a Peddler in some way. It didn't cost much because we bought all the "wares" at second-hand stores, and the Peddler affixed prices based on the number of leaves the kids had. If the kids were flush, the merchandise went up in price.

Fun times. Back when I only had three children. Crazy.

April 22, 2010

Slavery books for independent readers

Miriam is an avid reader. That is wonderful and challenging at the same time. When you have a six year old reading several years above age level, finding books becomes a challenge. That is where historical fiction becomes so valuable. History is fascinating (stop grimacing) and the best stories are often the true stories. While I had a hard time finding books on certain historical topics (mountain men, for example) there is a bounty of historical fiction books on slavery and the Civil War.

A small caveat: I have not read these books. I cannot keep up with what Miriam is reading. However, at the end of the slavery/Civil War unit, I asked Miriam to show me her favorites and these are the ones she picked.

Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells

Escape North!: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Monica Kulling

The Brother's War: My Side of the Story (Melody and Marshall) by Patricia Hermes. This is two books in one, which is a very clever idea. My daughter was thrilled that she could turn the book over and read a completely different story about the same story. She showed it to everyone who walked through our door.

The Drinking Gourd by F. N. Monjo

President of the Underground Railroad: A Story About Levi Coffin by Gwenyth Swain

North Star to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad by Gena K. Gorrell

All of these titles are available from the Davis County, UT library system.

April 21, 2010

Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander is great hero of mine. I read his Prydain Chronicles (The Black Cauldron, etc.) when I was very young and because of it, I wanted to grow up and write fantasy novels. I still do. I don't think anyone should grow up without reading Alexander. It should be illegal. Or something.

This post is a reminder of why Alexander still rules supreme in the world of fantasy and why all children aged 7 on up, should be reading his stuff.

Vesper Holly is a very energetic and intelligent young woman who travels around the world with her guardian finding a whole lot of danger in the process. It is fun, clean, and has an Indiana Jones feel to it. I love them all, but my favorite is the Philadelphia Adventure. This series is great for girls, 10 and up. I don't think boys would hate it either.

The Westmark trilogy is geared toward older youth. I'd peg it at about twelve and up (Lloyd Alexander really does write for the younger crowd). The story follows a young man, Theo, who gets into trouble with the law and has to flee his home city. He hooks up with a shyster and a young girl, Mickle, who later turns out to be someone slightly more significant than anyone thought. Later, Theo has to lead an army. The story follows his evolution from gentle, peace-loving, compassionate hero to war leader. This is my favorite series of Alexander's. It has a lot of depth and character development.

The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man is about what you'd expect--hilarious. Lionel decides he wants to try being a human so he convinces a magician to change him. When Lionel heads to the city a great uproar ensues as he manages to enrage the two major political heads of the city within the first fifteen minutes of his arrival. There's also a girl. It is hard for a cat to figure out how to impress a girl. Tons of fun.

The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha is my favorite stand-alone book by Alexander. The story is about a young rascal, a street rat, who volunteers to help a magician win over the townspeople by sticking his head in a bucket. Of course, he doesn't believe anything will happen but it does. Yes, indeed it does. Lukas winds up in a different time, different country, and certainly different social status. What he learns during his "second" life surprises him.

The Arkadians is a frolic through Greek mythology. Basically, Alexander takes some major myths and writes about how they got started. Only he does it through a story of a two travelers and a donkey (so three travelers) who don't intend to make anything of significance happen as they travel along. It is very fun to be reading along and then recognize, suddenly, just what myth Alexander is working in next. Fun, fun.

Alexander's best known works are his Prydain Chronicles including: The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King. These books follow the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper, after he loses his pig and stumbles on treachery and war.

The cast of characters are fantastic including Gurgi (who loves to eat), Fflewddur Fflam (who cannot tell the truth), Eilonwy (who refuses to be merely decorative), Prince Gwydion (who is supposed to save everyone), and Dallben (the wise man). I love them all.

It is unfortunate that Disney ever made the animated movie. Do not watch it. I repeat, DO NOT WATCH IT. It kills the book. However, if the people who made the new Narnia movies wanted to make the Prydain Chronicles into movies, I would wholeheartedly support the idea. Not that anyone cares what I think. I'm just saying.

Alexander wrote dozens of books and they are all wonderful. I've read just about everything he's ever written, and the man was brilliant. He had a great sense of audience and always made the stories fun and charming without including anything that was too mature. That's hard to do. How many books for third graders do you choose to read? Exactly my point. I pick up my Alexander books all the time. They're that good.

April 17, 2010

First Hike of the Season

I'm sure there are educational reasons to take your kids hiking. Like, um, botany. Or wildlife appreciation. Or, perhaps, metereological studies. We don't actually do any of those things. Mostly we just have fun as a family. I highly recommend it. Not hiking, necessarily, but having fun as a family. Here's to much summer fun for all of us and our families!

April 15, 2010

My Soapbox

I wrote an email to a nice person today about my wariness of homeschool blogs that style themselves as "LDS" or "Christian" and decided to post parts of it here. Allow me to begin with what I feel is a very important truth:

Homeschooling is not mandatory for salvation.

I often find myself uncomfortable reading homeschool blogs. Many blogs preach (and I mean preach) a certain type of homeschooling, such as TJEd or Charlotte Mason, or unschooling. The more attached a blogger is to a certain philosopy, the more uncomfortable I feel. Not because I think there is something wrong with those homeschooling methodologies but because homeschooling is not the one true religion. It is a valid choice among many valid choices. And each particular methodology is a valid homeschooling option among many valid homeschooling options. When I read homeschooling blogs, I usually wind up feeling alienated rather than supported or inspired.

I'm not saying that there can't be homeschool blogs aimed specifically at families utilizing a particular approach. Obviously, Charlotte Mason fans want blogs specifically aimed to help them reach their specific homeschooling goals. That only makes sense. It is mostly the attitude I find troubling. The us/them feeling. I like to learn about different methodologies so I can take what I like from each one. I do not like to read a blog that insists one methodology is the one and only way to true homeschooling happiness in this life and the next.

As for sanctimonious LDS homeschoolers . . .. I find it troublesome when any Christian homeschoolers, but especially LDS homeschoolers, imply or outright state that homeschooling is somehow more morally correct than not homeschooling. This is a very pervasive attitude and again, I think it is alienating and ridiculous. Of course, many homeschoolers believe no such thing. I am not trying to say that anyone who made a decision to homeschool based on revelation or a fear of unhealthy influences at school, or because they think Halloween is a wicked holiday are sanctimonious. I would not homeschool if I didn't feel that my Heavenly Father approved. However, I will never put a quote from President Benson (or any other religious figure) on my blog as a way to support or legitimize my choice. It is not doctrine to homeschool.

I'm afraid I might have stepped onto a soapbox again, but I feel strongly that we are all here to support each other and that means nixing the attitude of us/them or right/wrong (as pertains to homeschooling--not the commandments).

And now I am stepping down from my soapbox.

April 14, 2010

My children

Since you're going to be hearing a lot about my children, I thought I would introduce them. Emeline is 3. Her older sister cut her hair. Not a pleasant memory. Cowen is 5. He's hilarious. Eli is 16 months--my very favorite age. He just learned to make kiss faces with the accompanying kiss sound. Love it. Miriam is 6 (turning 7 in June). She's very busy and has the most incredible imagination.
And this picture is me flagrantly showing off my baby because he is beautiful. And he's the baby. You understand.

Language Lessons for the Very Young

My friend, BB, is probably going to show up on this blog at one time or another. She's making the decision to homeschool (Luke, her oldest, is five) and is exploring this possible future for her and her family with a great deal of anticipation and trepidation. Sound familiar?

She is very curious about materials that I use, so I promised her a few reviews. Here's the first one.

I love this product. I am not necessarily a Charlotte Mason home educator, but I have to say I am very impressed with this language arts book for numerous reasons.

1) The artwork. I know, I know, I am just one of the crowd. Most of the reviewers at Timberdoodle (where I purchased it) said the same thing because it is true! My children love looking at the pictures, talking about the pictures, creating their own narratives about the pictures. Even three year old Emeline participates in this part of our studies. I am exceedingly impressed that the author picked artwork by the masters. Thank you for not dumbing down our children.

2) I love the questions after the artwork and the poetry. Allow me to step onto my English teacher soapbox for a moment. Picture, if you will, a grade 11 classroom where all the students have been divided into very small groups (four max) to discuss the book their group has been reading. These books are not erudite, alienating, or over-their-heads. They were handpicked by me in a variety of genres to actually appeal to the high school crowd of non-readers (including things like Louis L'Amour and Orson Scott Card and Andromeda Strain). The students liked the books. The students also liked me--and this is important for this example. We'd been together through the evil research paper and perfect essays and Bohemian poetry. Trust me, we had a very tight bond and it was the end of the year and the students were more than willing to do what I asked.

So I asked these students, whom I loved and had worked with all year, to get into their book groups and discuss what they had read so far. After all the noise of moving around desks and shuffling papers, the room was silent. They had no idea how to discuss literature. They weren't trying to be disrespectful, they just didn't know what to do. After the first wasted fifteen minutes, I started producing helpful prompt questions. That would generate a sentence or two, and then, nada. Nothing. Zilch. They were quiet or off-topic within three minutes.

This might not seem like a huge problem to some people but think about this: most of the world's most profound questions and ideas are found in literature. If you can't discuss literature, how can you discuss ideas? If you can't discuss ideas, how can you learn to think for yourself?

I propose that you cannot. And we all know that if you can't think for yourself, other people will do your thinking for you.

The ability to discuss literature is critical in so many ways. Suffice it to say, I started having mini book discussions at the beginning of each class where I modeled what happened around my family's dinner table all through my growing up years. I learned that knowing how to discuss what you read is a learned skill. Teach it to your children!

3) After each poem, there is an opportunity for the children to draw what they pictured. When I first introduced the book to my 1st grader and pre-k boy, I gave them new scribblers and pencils. (Then I had to run downstairs and find a scribbler for my three year old who felt left out.) They carefully and lovingly wrote their names on the inside cover and then waited anxiously for what came next. We looked at the first bit of artwork, talked about it, took turns telling our own version of the story of what happened leading up to the moment in the picture.

Then we moved on to the poem, "Stopping by the Woods" by Robert Frost. After I read the third line my children, quite of their own accord, started drawing what they were hearing. It was so natural for them. Creating a tangible reminder of what they pictured in their head was important to them and certainly cemented the ideas into their young brains. Creating art is naturally and gracefully included in this manual.

4) The grammar is basic, quick, and painless. I don't believe in rushing young children into learning "concepts." When a child turns eight, you can start to formalize your instruction a little bit. Before that, you are better off (IMHO) to keep their interest in learning high and keep close tabs on when they are ready for something new. Nothing turns brains off faster than grammar. Unless you're like me--extremely sick. My children love everything about the poetry and artwork and they don't hate the grammar. That's awesome. Queen (the author) keeps things very simple and age appropriate. I think it is a practically perfect language arts primer.

In some reviews, people mentioned that they didn't like the quantity of copywork. I also think the amount of copywork is overkill and I've already mentioned that my daughter hates writing. That is an easy problem to fix though--don't make your child do all the copywork. Miriam writes two sentences a week. She acts like I'm killing her, but then she has fun reading through the poem to pick her favorite lines to copy.

Also, the book can be used as a workbook, but since I'm all about reduce, reuse, and save money, I just do all the assignments in a scribbler.

This line of language arts books are available for numerous age groups. It isn't as easy as you'd expect to pick the right book for your child's age. I purchased Language Lessons for the Very Young 1, recommended for ages 6-8. Miriam, my first grader, is doing all of it, including the grammar. My pre-K (5 yr) son is doing all the art/poetry narration stuff, but he loses interest in the grammar sections. That's fine with me. I'm happy with that arrangement. However, for Luke, and other kindergarteners, there is Language Lessons for Little Ones 2 (for ages 4-6) and Language Lessons for Little Ones 3 (for ages 5-7). Based on my experience, I would get Cowen the Little Ones 2.

Here's the link to Timberdoodle. All the Sandi Queen language arts materials can be found under the language arts link.

Hope this was helpful and not just long-winded!

April 13, 2010

Two Success Stories

Before you think I'm an impressive home educator with mad "o" skills, allow me to explain these two pictures.

On Sunday, I was asked to sing at a graveside service the coming Thursday, or put together a group of people to sing at the service. I called three friends and they met at my house this morning to run through the song the family had picked, "Angels Among Us" by Alabama.

As a group, we decided that the "Oh" at the beginning of each chorus was awkward for us, and so we crossed it out.

My five year old son heard that we were crossing out "o" and ran for a colored pencil. He pulled over a chair to where the women folk were sitting, got his own library book to put his paper on (just like us) and started crossing out all the "o"s he could find.

When the women left, Cowen proudly handed me his paper and said, "I found way more 'o's than you did!'"

The other night I was done with my children at 6:30 pm. This has been known to happen around here. I put everyone in bed, but as a precaution, I gave Miriam a book to keep her out of trouble. Since she was at my mercy and would read anything I handed to her, I gave her Little House on the Prairie. While that is easily within Miriam's reading level, she still likes shorter books (she's only 6) so this was my chance to show her that longer books are okay too. She read 3/4ths of it that night. Success!

April 12, 2010

Why I Homeschool

Since starting to homeschool, I've noticed that I LOVE to hear why other people homeschool. It is almost an obsession, to the point where I don't feel like I really know a fellow homeschooler until I've heard their "why I homeschool" story. I don't have a story so much as a journey. I'm sure I'll share more of that later. For right now, I'll tell you why I started homeschooling. The first reason, and perhaps still the best reason: I wanted my children to have exceptionally close relationships with each other. Very close sibling relationships are not always the norm now that people live in cities where other friendships can dominate the growing up years. I wanted my children to be the exception in that they are tight. Tighter than my brother's football team tight. Tighter than my brother's football pants tight.

So far it has worked like a charm. See exhibit A (the picture below).

When I was growing up, we moved around a lot. By the time I left for college the longest I'd lived anywhere was almost three years. There were nine children in my family and we were tight. Very tight. I have long believed that this is because of three reasons. 1) We lived on a farm when I was younger and developed relationships there because we lacked other playmate options. 2) We moved around so much that we were always the "new kids." When you are the new kid you don't have a best friend yet, so you play with your siblings. That gave us a six month period every other year at least to renew our sibling relationships. 3) My parents liked us and liked doing things with us, so there was a whole lot of wholesome recreational activity around our house. Besides that, there were so many of us that there was always something going on. It might have also helped that my dad is a white Bill Cosby mixed with Weird Al and my mother a goddess in the kitchen. Good jokes, good food, good friends--my house was amazing.

Now that we are all grown, we are still tight. Family website tight. Call at least one of my sisters daily tight. Catch up on each other's blogs tight. Write YA fantasy together tight. Reunions, get-togethers, in each other's business tight. I love it. I want that for my children.

But my hubby and I aren't going to pick up and move every two years like my father. We don't live on a farm. I attempt to make my children feel as loved and liked as my mother did me, but I'm a lot like my father (why fates???) so I don't think I do quite as good a job at that as she did.

Enter homeschooling. I really did decide to homeschool so my children would be forced to build the kind of relationship that I was able to build with my siblings. I'm not saying that other people who lived in one place their whole lives and attended school can't have tight relationships with their sibs. I'm just saying I wanted to make it a priority and homeschool seemed like the right solution.

That is one reason. There are others. So many others. I'll tell you more later.

PS--Becky B., my buddy who is about to embark on a homeschool adventure of her own, has labeled my blog useful, but lacking a certain consistency of posting. I promise to post more often. Really.

April 8, 2010

Fantastic Library Find--Score One for the Sloths

I was recently at the library (duh) looking for pioneer books (stay tuned for the complete pioneer unit coming in about two months) when I ran across this tremendously entertaining book: Score One for the Sloths.

The cover grabbed me. The illustrations are priceless. Especially the page where the sloths are building a tower with blocks, but it takes so much out of them that they have to nap in the middle of the project so the end tower has several blocks and several sleeping sloths all piled on top of each other. You really have to check out the book if only for that one illustration. Charming. Hilarious. My children loved this book.

The plot was okay. Better than many children's books. The sloth school is threatened with closure because the sloths aren't meeting basic scholastic achievement requirements. Sparky, a perky sloth, saves the day.

Fortunately, there is more napping than anything else in this book. I loved it. Check it out!

Score One for the Sloths by Helen Lester is available from the Davis County, UT library system.

April 7, 2010

Unintended Results

Today I bagged most of school in favor of practicing for our upcoming end of school show that includes four short plays (written by me--they last approximately 1 minute each) and four songs with special appearances by Cowen on the trumpet, Miriam on the piano, and Emeline on the drum. Since the performance is the 24th and we're performing before that at two rest homes, it has pretty much taken over school.

But then, in the late afternoon, we decided to go for a walk. Miriam likes to take a notebook with her on walks these days. Because she had a notebook, Cowen needed a notebook. After our walk, we were all sitting on the driveway (the grass is too muddy) and Cowen handed me his notebook and showed me a perfect "D" he had written. He said he was writing daffodil. He asked me what came next and I said, "ah." He wrote an "A." Then I said, "fff" and he wrote an "F." We did that for the entire word and he spelled it based entirely on the sounds!!! It was awesome.

Since I praised Cowen to high heaven, Miriam decided she needed to write words. The girl is six, reads at about a fifth grade level, but hates to write. She usually scribbles and then tells me what she meant, or she sweet talks me into writing things for her. Today, though, she wrote lots of spring words like baby, spring, flowers, and rain. All without any prompting from me.

And such is the bliss of the homeschool mom who goes outside for a walk and winds up with an English lesson.