Saturday, August 19, 2017

Is Cursive Dead?

I began this new blog a couple months ago, but I have been looking over my homeschool blog at Home Mission Field.  While none of my posts were life-changing for anyone besides me, I did have a couple very popular blog posts that I believe are still very relevant.

 Here is one originally posted on August 4, 2011 about whether cursive is important in this modern age.

Is cursive writing a skill that is necessary in this digital age?  Recently the State of Indiana has stopped requiring students to learn how to write in cursive.  Whether it is up to the individual schools or not, the trend seems to be moving in the direction of teaching children typing skills at an earlier age, and not teaching how to write in cursive.

"Neuroimaging scans of children who wrote versus those who looked at text showed brain activity in the writing group akin to an adult's. The writing group also showed better memory and letter recognition."

I am not surprised at the new move of public schools.  I have read where some homeschoolers feel the same way.  In fact, I am sure that I am quite old fashioned in my belief that learning cursive has a lot of merit.  I believe it is important... even if it is old-fashioned or unpopular.

I haven't told my daughter that the public schools aren't requiring her to write in cursive.  In our home, we plan to learn and continue to practice the skill.  Laura does dictation.  She will be learning to type, as that is also a necessary skill, but I don't believe that typing has the same power in the brain as writing something out by hand.  This has been proven to me in our schooling through the use of dictation.  In dictation, Laura studies a few sentences or a paragraph from a piece of quality literature.  Then, it is dictated to her.  She must write the piece perfectly or redo it.  In a few short months I have watched her writing, spelling, vocabulary, and memory recall all improve drastically.  I don't think I would have seen the improvement if Laura had been typing the same material.

In these modern times children will be required to learn how to use a computer and maintain the necessary skills to do their work efficiently on that computer.  Typing is much faster and legible than handwriting.  When a person types, they can keep up with their thoughts much quicker than if they were writing.  I wonder, though, if what we are losing is as beneficial as what we are gaining.

Hands-on work is so helpful to many students.  When I am studying, I love to take notes.  I do this by writing down what I want to remember and the thoughts I have about the subject.  The act and process of writing, whether it is copying or even my own material, stays with me much longer than if I was typing the material.

There was a time where possessing beautiful handwriting was a sign of a quality education.  Does that mean that someone who has not so neat handwriting is less educated or less intelligent?  Well... not if the cliche about doctors' handwriting has any truth to it.  Beautiful handwriting is just that... a skill.  However, it also plays such an important part in learning that it shouldn't be easily cast aside for typing.  Yes, it is a skill that is harder for some than for others.  As a mother of two left-handed children, I have seen their left hands covered with pencil or pen as they struggle to learn this skill.  Even now, my 18 year old leftie has an odd mixture of cursive and print as her writing.  However, she did learn both and can type quite successfully.

There was a time when cursive was taught even before printing.  Some homeschool curricula even still leave that option open.  ABeka Book offers a print and cursive selection for 4 year olds.  In an article on the ABeka website concerning learning cursive in Kindergarten, the following reasoning was offered:

"Before the 1940s, schools across the nation took this approach and, as a result, most American school children developed beautiful handwriting. Ball-and-stick manuscript came about as part of progressive education reforms in the 1940s. The change was made primarily to help children recognize the letters in the “Dick and Jane” look-say readers. By starting with cursive writing rather than manuscript printing, we help the child develop good writing habits from the very beginning. This means that habits acquired from manuscript printing do not need to be unlearned."   - A Beka Book Cursive Writing in Kindergarten

The argument against cursive is that is just isn't used as much today.  Schools have tough curriculum choices to make with limited time and budgets.  Learning cursive takes a lot of time.  Typing uses a different sort of motor skills.  Teaching a child typing instead of typing and cursive saves a lot of time.  Typing can be taught with less one on one instruction, using computer programs.  Cursive writing takes a lot more individual attention to a child.

I think we are replacing foundational skills for easier ones.  After all, we don't need to teach children to write because they can just type.  But, if we take that further, we can find that this could lead to other areas of compromise.  We don't need to teach children how to spell because computers have spell check.  We don't need to teach children how to read because we have computers and machines that will read stories to them.  We don't need to teach children math skills, we only need to teach them how to use computers and calculators.  We don't need to teach children how to think for themselves, we can tell them what to believe.

I am exaggerating in an effort to make a point.  I love to write in cursive.  A couple of my daughters would rather print.  However, they know how to do both.  They also type quickly.  They can also read the original Declaration of Independence, in the original cursive.  The 11 year old might not understand every concept, but she can read it and look up the meanings.  Without cursive, she would have to read a copy that was typed out.  Doesn't that mean the allure of the time is gone?

I have read some of the writings of those from as little as 100 years ago.  Much of their correspondence and writings were done by hand... in cursive.  Not only is it beautiful, but I read the words of those that went through a whole different time in their original writing, and I feel connected to them somehow.  A type-written version may be more legible, but the idea of knowing someone's hand put those words to paper during a time in the past brings about a connection to that person and time.  Like a picture, I can see that person a little more clearly.  Handwriting is personal.  It isn't cold like type.  It is full of personality, like a person.  It is a part of them, a legacy.

I don't want that lost for my children.  Not only do I want them to have the ability to read the past, but also to have their own legacy.  In the scrapbooks I have for my children are yearly samples of their writing.  I can see how they grew and changed by their writing just as much as by their pictures.  I can see the rough scrawl of Kindergarten, so uncertain and uneven, as it matures into the beautiful, individual writing of a young adult.  I can tell you which of my children have similar writing to me or their father, and which ones have their own style.  To see that lost for typewritten pages or only block lettering means losing something that my child could have possessed and passed down.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Our First Week

We made it through week one of homeschooling.  

My classes begin next Monday, so this is where the challenges will begin.  I will have my own classes to complete while working with my girls.

So far, I haven't changed much from what I have planned out.   I was tempted to...

My fifth grader seemed to unfocused.  Yes, she would be classified as ADHD in school.  At home, the symptoms are apparent some days.  I wanted her to be able to study her own interests for social studies/history and science. Unfortunately, this needs a bit more structure.  At first she was using a Fun Schooling journal.  She doesn't like it, which surprised me.  Then, I assigned a notebooking page every couple of days.  That wasn't working well either. 

In the end, I scheduled a rotating schedule of Social Studies and Science, using some workbooks I have.  I'll also give her a half-hour a day as free read.  This way she can still delve into what she wants, but also be getting a light load of a structured curriculum.  With her attention span, I think this will work for her.  If I see her totally getting engrossed in a topic, I can cut back on the workbooks.  And once they are completed, I have no desire to purchase more. This means using what I already have and coming up with my own plans.  

Other than that, the lesson plans seem to be going well.  I worried that I had overscheduled my high schooler, but she dived in and has not had major issues.  Well, she has been fighting a cold.  The illness and working a couple of days haven't seemed to hurt her schoolwork. 

I did let her spend the week exploring a different English and Literature.  She doesn't like it.  I already own one that we have used in the past.  In the end, I will let her decide which of the two she likes the best.  She has to use one of the two, however.  

I wasn't sure how my children would take to the McGuffey reading.  I have used McGuffey in the past, but it has been a couple of years, and the previous lessons weren't as in-depth.     They both seem to enjoy them. 

Over all, it was a good first week.  We got a bit back into a schedule.  My goal was to get one going before classes began for me.  In fact, the biggest issue this week was the fact that I dropped a class for college and added a different one.  That caused more stress than homeschooling in me!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

World Geography

It is my daughter's senior year.  I have been planning her lessons, debating between books and programs. Geography has been my most time consuming class to plan this year.

When I thought about what I wanted a World Geography class to contain, I asked myself what I wanted my daughter to know about the world.  Most high schoolers take World Geography in their first year of high school.  Since I placed my daughter in the same classes as her older sister when she began high school, she is actually taking this class in her senior year.

Geography is about so much more than finding countries on a map. It's about people.  It's about cultures.  It's about learning about the great beauty and variety that God created.  

I took a long time to pick what I wanted this year to contain. I liked some selections other Geography programs held, and dismissed things that I thought were not valuable or were busy work.  That meant that the workbooks were out the door.  Instead, I scheduled in a computer-based program with a lot of pictures and videos of the countries being studied.

Adding in my own special touches was important to me.  I choose a selection of books, both physical and digital, to supplement the computer learning.  I wanted a mix of books, from biographies to spiritually encouraging works. 

One area that has come to mean a lot to me was the book, Material World.  With rampant materialism the norm in so much of society, I want my daughter to see that many people in the world live very differently. The glorification of "stuff" is not a value I want imparted in my children.  Material World is an older book, built it shows that so many in the world have few possessions.

A few years ago I had purchased the Jesus Freaks' Martyrs book. I was touched by the stories from around the world and throughout time of those that have loved Jesus and died for serving Him.  Then, last month, I found the book Sister Chicks.  Following a similar pattern of the Jesus Freaks' books, Sister Chicks follows Christians around the world at different times.  These aren't Christians that were martyred for their faith, but ones that lived for Him.  

I chose these books and some of the biographies, such as Kisses from Katie and Basher Five-Two because I wanted to show the work of God around the world, in hard times and good, in different eras.  I also included books like A Long Walk to Water because so many struggles in this world are ones that we don't hear about until years later. Like Material World, I hope to touch my daughter's heart to the world.

Geography should not be boring.  The world is a fascinating place.  Different cultures and landforms, languages and religions, landmarks and foods...  it's a world of wondrous variety.  I want my daughter to learn about this world, to be informed.  She is also reading the book But Don't All Religions Lead to God.   I want her to understand other religions, and to have a firm foundation in her own. 

This year is my last year with my daughter in our homeschool.  She is a young woman that is learning about the world.  She is working and driving and maturing.  I am praying for her to be the woman God wants her to be, to follow the path He wants her to follow. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Our Homeschooling Adventures Are Drawing to a Close

From age 9 to age 17, 3rd grade to a senior!

I'll never forget my nervousness, writing the letter to the school to pull my third grader out.  Doubts assailed my mind, even as I wrote.  Was I crazy?  What did I know about teaching?  Was I going to screw up my child for the rest of her life?  Was this going to be the start of a long road that would be discussed endlessly in therapy years from now?
The first day.

But the pull was strong.  I had researched, though I would spend the next several years learning and researching about how children learn.  I had prayed, though the prayers were only a glimpse of the years I would spend begging God to see me through, to guide me.  I might have been fighting the swarm of butterflies in my stomach, but I knew God was telling me to do something that was WAY outside my comfort zone.  I told my husband, "We'll try it for a year."  I finished the letter and un-enrolled my nine year old from public school.
Playing Store

Our journey had begun.  That was nearly ten years ago.  And nothing has ever felt as right as that time.
Bean Math

She is entering her senior year this year.  Yes, I have just one year left of homeschooling my first student.  Since that warm day in October when I nervously brought my third-grade daughter home, I have graduated two of her older sisters and added her little sister to my little "one-room schoolhouse" at home. I wouldn't change a thing.'
Reading to Little Sis

Homeschooling hasn't made life perfect.  My daughter has faced hard times, despite being home for her education.  She has lost friends.  She has had to face new beginnings.  She has not been sheltered from hurt or struggle or doubts about faith and self.  She, like many teenage girls in the world, has struggled with self-esteem and self-image.  Homeschooling hasn't protected her from everything "bad" in the world.  Some think that homeschooling is not good for children because it keeps them from the "real world."  I am saying blatantly how foolish that thinking is.  She lives in the real world every day.  She is not immune to it simply because she doesn't go to a building with hundreds of others peers in her age group.  She has faced rejection by a couple people because she didn't fit their idea of what they thought she should be.  Would it have been healthy for her to have that pressure, times a hundred, from peers to conform to the image they see as "normal?"
Her History timeline in the Early Years

I have no issues with having had my daughter at home for the last nine years.  I know that she was spared unnecessary bullying and peer pressure.  That doesn't mean that she never faced any.  She lives in the world.  Bullies and peer pressure can be found at the park, on the ball field, in the local Girl Scout group, and at church.  At least, with homeschooling, she was spared some of the worst instances.
Learning about and drawing birds
 My daughter is a major introvert.  She has been allowed to be her, without feeling the pressure to conform to some extroverted, "normal" image.  She could dress in her black leggings and leather jacket and not be labeled "emo" or "goth," but instead be understood that she was experimenting with who she is and trying to figure herself out. She could read all about cats and volcanoes for several years in a row without being told that her interests were "less than" or " dumb."
Learning about Volcanoes... again

She could build entire worlds under the coffee table with toys during read-aloud time and not be told that she must be ADHD because she wasn't sitting still.  Instead, she was seen as creative and artistic.  She could learn about the world through a lens of the faith of her parents, but not be "indoctrinated."  Instead, she could be shown multiple viewpoints, and given sound arguments, and not be kept from one view simply because it doesn't line up with current political ideology running rampant in schools.  Her intelligence and worth hasn't been measured by standardized tests.  Her learning hasn't been decimated by texts full of dates and facts, but no personality or humanity.

When she struggled to grasp a concept, she wasn't labeled as learning disabled.  She was simply given more time, more practice.  Her brain easily grasped concepts very quickly when it was ready, compared to struggling when it wasn't ready.  And in areas where she had a natural bent, she was allowed to move more quickly, instead of being held back to an arbitrary level that someone stated every person of her age should be.

A Science Experiment
Here we are, going into ten years of homeschooling.  My daughter is a beautiful, talented, and a somewhat normal teenage girl.  She is questioning.  She is searching and seeking.  She is working.  She is quirky.  She has a quick, dry wit and a good sense of humor.  She is even-tempered most of the time, and reserved about her true feelings.  She surprises me with her sense of fun in moments that I don't expect.  Her grades are high, and she has a goal to graduate with a near perfect GPA.  She is my "list-checker" girl, with a love of classic rock music and drawing and the TV show, Supernatural.  She is naturally beautiful, but loves makeup and wears it nearly daily, even though I believe she doesn't need a drop.
math games with her older sis

She won't be this girl in five years.  The changes that happen between 17 and the early twenties are huge, as I have learned from my other daughters.  I am choosing to enjoy this girl, this time in her life, instead of worrying about the future.  She is an intelligent girl and a hard-worker.  I have placed her in God's capable hands.  I will enjoy this last year of being with my girl, having Bible time with her, and watching her grow from a teenager into a woman.  I am praying that I can pour into her life just a little more before she is off on her own in this world. 
Learning about Different Rocks
The memories are strong of our homeschooling years.
Learning to make homemade butter and putting on our homemade bread.
We baked and read good books and watched movies and learned about the world.  We grew flowers and one poor potato plant that dad kept running over with the lawnmower.
Snowflake Bentley was a fun study into the magical world of snowflakes.  That led to a fascination with the weather, and my girl spent a few weeks watching the weather channel for fun!

Sometimes our learning was a bit crazy, such as when Laura completed a scavenger hunt for literature.
Baking became a skill where Laura excelled.  She is the "cookie" expert, but she can cook anything she sets her mind to make.

Box days, the days when the next year's curriculum would arrive, were often fun days of checking out what was next in our learning adventures.

While we were learning, we were living.  We had such a good time when our studies were over, hanging out together.  Laura became known for her love (obsession) of cats.

I have been privileged to homeschool my children.  It has meant we lived with less.  It has meant that we had times of struggle.  It has meant that each year held new challenges.  It has also meant that I have gotten to be a part of something pretty spectacular: life with my girl.

That life didn't have to rotate around the seven or more hours a day she would have been gone in public school.  Learning became part of that life.  We read books together for hours.  We played store to learn math.  We used beans as manipulatives.  We have boxes of used workbooks and artwork and projects.  We have spent years going through the Bible, studying it bit by bit.  We know the Bible memory songs that drove Dad crazy, and so we made sure he heard them often that year.  We still have the paintings from the year she brought Robert Frost poems to life with acrylic, watercolors, and paper.

 I wouldn't trade these past few years for anything. 

Homeschooling isn't easy.  It is, however, very worth it!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Plans and Wasted Money

After a summer of starts and stops in school planning, I feel I'm in a good place now.  I spent some time researching the Finnish model of education.  I reread some of the theories about the differences in Hebrew and Greek education. I took some time to pray.  I took some time to go through what I already had on my shelves and in my storage closet.  

Then, I got a little irritated with the plethora of "stuff " I have in boxes that I forgot I had.  I got more irritated with the amount of money I have spent over the last nine years of homeschooling.

Then, I prayed some more, because that irritation is not healthy.  Live and learn...   right?

Then...  as God tends to do, I was given a very basic plan. I was led to ideas and encouragement and guidance from a homeschooling mama that has walked the path much longer than me. I came across, once again, the words of wisdom from Sherry Hayes at Mom Delights

I figured it up.  Without including paper, pencils, pens, crayons, and other supplies, I have spent easily $8000-$9000 dollars homeschooling curricula over the last nine years. Granted, that was for four different children, but that figure still seems astronomical to me. Some years I only spent a few hundred.  Other years I blew a couple thousand.  Some years I used the library more often, and other years I bought boxes of books and workbooks and schedules and plans. 

Is it worth it?  It was, while I was learning how to homeschool and dealing with life's ups and downs.  When I was trying various methods, I enjoyed trying the various curricula that went along with the methods.  Then life would weigh me down and I would switch to things that weren't as teacher intensive, such as workbooks. 

I have crates full of materials in my storage closet, evidence of all my dabblings.  I own a lot of stuff for homeschooling.  I have just a few dollars to make it to payday, but I have CRATES overflowing with stuff I don't use and only tried or used for one child but not the others. 

This was the cause of the irritation.  Here I was, surrounded by piles of books and workbooks that costs me thousands of dollars, and I was struggling to plan this upcoming year.  I didn't want to do any of it!  The pressure to do the right thing, to use the perfect curriculum, to create this amazing education for my children had been overwhelming.  Too many times I had bought into the lie that I just needed to find the "perfect" curriculum. The result was a lot of stuff that didn't live up to its promises. 

And I no longer want to spend more money to try something else.   The thought makes me nauseous.  For awhile I considered the fact that maybe, since I have tried so many different things, the problem was me and couldn't be fixed with a curriculum.  And, to a degree, that was true.  The problem was I was never content, and always saw the grass as greener in someone else's curriculum yard. 

But, the truth is that I have graduated two students.  I studied and researched and gained nine years' of experience in teaching my children. And I didn't threaten to send a child to public school more than a couple times last school year.  It used to be a weekly thing.  

Most homeschooling mamas spend a lot of money at first, and then spend less and less as they learn that they don't need to buy the expensive stuff.  For me, it has taken a bit longer. I have homeschooled all grades now up till college.  I have homeschooled during unemployment.  I have homeschooled while sick, while recovering from surgery, while dealing with personal and family crisis moments.  Sometimes I could spend a lot of time planning and, at other times, I was lucky to get out of bed.  Every family should do what works for them.  But what isn't working for me is spending big bucks any longer.  Even if I have the money, it seems crazy.

There are simpler, less expensive options that are just as solid and wonderful to use in homeschooling.  There are so many free options online.  There is a library five minutes away... and fifteen minutes away... and twenty minutes away.  Basically, there are libraries if I need them.  There is the wonderful world of Google Books, which allows me to print public domain books to use in my school. 

And then there is the world of notebookingjournaling, and all the enriching ideas of Charlotte Mason.  I looked through what I had, what I could easily obtain, and what was free online, such as Easy Peasy Homeschooling.  Did I really need to purchase a bunch more? 

On my bookshelves are the years of the curriculum that my older daughters completed.  It's nice...  and I might get back to it since I own it.  But this year, I wanted my daughter to have a year of working on math, Reading and writing, art, music, and her own interests.  Yes, I am going to let her dig into what she wants to study.  Hopefully it won't be a year of only cats and volcanoes, but if it is, she should be an expert by the time the school year is over. 

And so, off to the store I went to purchase composition notebooks while they are the back to school sale price.   I grabbed my McGuffey Readers off the shelf and began planning.  The planning is flowing now..  I am content with the direction my homeschool is headed.  Delight-directed studies, books from the library, morning time with devotions, McGuffey readers, some mixed math, Long's Language Lessons, some Easy Peasy; progress is being made. Finally!  And this is just for the fifth grader!

Ideas are flowing for my upcoming senior also.  She will be in her own McGuffey reader, learning from Hawthorne, Dickens, and more!  She is reading some great English literature with the McGuffey reader for her senior year.  And she will be jumping into a drawing class, forensics, and some accounting.   

I'm going to miss homeschooling her.  She was my first student.  She came home at age nine from third grade in public school.  I was crazy, and many told me so. Now, I can freely admit that I don't regret one moment and would do it all again!  Even the money spent on curriculum was worth it.  

Every article and post I ever came across about saving money on homeschooling always talks about using the internet, using public domain materials, taking advantage of the library...  but I always felt like the plans I could come up with weren't as good as the pre-planned ones. However, I would buy these excellent materials, and then tweak them.  I would take out the project that seemed to be busy work with no real learning.  I would add in more reading.  I would swap out the recommended math and English.  By the time I was done, it didn't really resemble the plans I paid for, so what was the point of spending all that money?

And then the doubts and stress would begin.  Was I doing enough?  Was the program "Christian" enough?  Was the child engaged?  Were they bored and losing their love of learning?  Was I failing?  Shouldn't I just stick to traditional materials?  Was I giving them the best?

Then, I would spend more money to "supplement" or to change nearly everything.  Insecurity is expensive.  And when that wasn't what I wanted, I would swap back or try something else.  

Luckily, the daughter that went through most of my "experiments" is smart, capable, and adaptable.  She has made it to her senior year and is doing well!  The classes she has taken where the computer does the grading have held high scores, just like her work that I grade.  

I am praying this year will be a bit more relaxed.  I have my own college classes I will be doing, and I need time to focus.  This year will have "Morning Time."  My Morning Time will give me the ability to complete read alouds, Bible time, and even help my girls with assignments before I jump into my own class work.  This, I pray, will help me to spend an hour or so every morning focusing on my girls and feeding into their hearts and spirits.  I'll be available anytime, but a dedicated time to ensure I am covering some things I want to do with my daughters seems vital with a busy schedule.

I am excited about this upcoming school year.  I wouldn't trade homeschooling.  And, I love that the path I have found seems to be more affordable and relaxed.  New school year, here we come!  (Well, in a couple more weeks😊.) 


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Are You On a Race to Nowhere?

This is one of the saddest documentaries I have ever seen.  As I watched these children, stressed out to the point of developing eating disorders and having anxiety attacks because of the pressure from school, I was deeply saddened. What are we doing to our children?

Having studied the school systems in other countries, especially the top performing ones in the world, it is clear that we have doing serious damage to our children...  and it isn't helping us to achieve anything. 

We start them in formal academics too early.  We pile on homework and testing from the beginning.  When a child doesn't learn to read in Kindergarten, we label them as "learning disabled" and send them for tutoring and more pressure. When they can't sit still for long periods of time at age seven, we label them as ADHD and medicate them.  

This documentary tells of some of the academic pressures our children face.  This doesn't include peer pressures or home pressures or the pressure to fit in with others.  This was solely about the pressure to do well in school, the hours of homework, the ambition in working to get the best grades, and the negative impact it has on young minds. 

I can't fix the American educational system.  I can help my own children.  We homeschool.  The pressure to perform isn't absent in homeschooling, however.  Many parents homeschool as a way to give their child a better education than the public school, but then do what the public school does.  They pile on the work and push the standards more and more, until the child hates school. 

After researching Finland and other countries, I decided to change the way I homeschool.  I want my children to have a great education, but not at the expense of their mental health.  And so, I designed a different path, with lots of art and music and play time for my ten year old.  She will have school, but not six or seven hours a day. 

Even my oldest will have a gentler schedule.

I recommend this documentary.  I think many parents don't truly know what's going on, or we assume it is happening "elsewhere."  The documentary was full of teachers that were honest about the pressures they face from administrators and the government to teach to the tests.  Most confessed that they'll didn't even have the time to teach all the material they were supposed to cover. 

The fact that any child would be suicidal over grades shows how obsessed our culture has become with achievement.  It also shows how little we respect childhood as a special time.  Of course, if we don't respect children, we won't respect childhood. If we see children as little adults, we won't understand that they shouldn't have two hours of homework at twelve years of age.  

One beautiful, smart young girl in the movie committed suicide because of a bad grade.  How hopeless must a child feel to commit suicide?  For suicide to be about something as temporary and unsubstantial as a grade is a punch in the gut.  This girl was beautiful and smart.  She was a musician. Why did one math grade hold the power of life and death?  Why did her father go to the school and be told that everything was fine?  Why are there more questions than answers? 

Life is precious.  It matters.  It matters more than grades.  I love to learn, but even I see the futility of pressuring children to do what they never should...  be little, achieving adults. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Personalities We Neglect

This week has been busy!  I have helped babysit my grandson during the day.  My evenings are being spent helping at my church's Vacation Bible School. 

We have a lot of different personalities at VBS.  Some of the kids are extroverted and exuberant.  My youngest is this way.  She has no problem dancing and singing to the music, cheering and being loud.  And then there are those that barely speak, the quiet introverts that you hope are having fun, but it's hard to tell.  From the hyped-up dancers to the quietly observing and every level in between, we have children participating. 

As a mom, I have long known that my children are very different people.  They have unique personalities and gifts and talents.  Some are extroverted and are drawn to more extroverted callings.  Others are introverted and are drawn to hobbies that are more singular.  

The problem is that this world celebrates the extroverts very publicly much of the time.  And the introverts must adapt or risk alienation.  It is only in recent years, as more research has been done into personalities, that the "strong, silent" types are not seen as anti-social. 

I was never one that was shy.  My mother says I had no fear and would talk to everyone as a child.  But the older I got, the more introverted I became.  I was content with a book.  I enjoyed writing.  I liked taking pictures.  I was (gasp) someone that liked learning.  I tried team sports, but was better at more singular pursuits, like gymnastics.  

I still am not shy.  I moved around a lot in my life and met many different types of people.  This helped me to ensure, even from a young age, that I learned to greet people.  But I was never the one with a large group of friends or pursuits that brought attention to myself.  Maybe it was because I moved so often that I learned to be okay by myself.  I was the new girl too many times.  The ability to greet people is very different from the natural personality that attracts others.  Every friend I made as a child, I lost.  I never could depend on people to be that support system.  I was never one of the kids that was anyone's "best friend since five."  I didn't make those memories. They weren't available to me. 

Maybe this is why I can homeschool without feeling that my children are "missing out."  For me, most of school was a painful social experiment gone wrong.  I never had the money or the looks or the personality to fit into that mold.  I was the outcast.  I had very rich experiences, traveling and meeting different people, and they didn't often occur at the high school football games or at a sleepover with a group of buddies.  

Would things have been different if I had a different personality?  It's something that really doesn't matter because the personality I have is the one God gave me. As a mother, I see the different personalities in my five daughters, and each one is special and valuable. 

I have daughters that are natural extroverts, that love performing and music and theater, comfortable in front of a crowd, natural leaders.  I am so proud of them because they are go-getters, working with the gifts God has given them.

A couple of my girls are a bit of a mix, fine with some extrovert tendencies, but recharging in alone time.  This is something that makes it difficult to "classify" people as one way. Not everyone is one or the other, but a bit of a mixture of multiple personality traits.  It's like a spectrum, and people will land all over the chart.

Then there are the ones with more quiet personalities.  They are more reserved, at least in public situations. Quirky, fun, generous...  they don't necessarily care for the spotlight. But...  they still want to be approved.  They still want to know they are just as valuable as their extroverted counterparts.

It is very easy to give attention, and even approval, to the extroverts.  They often are drawn to hobbies that bring attention.  It isn't so easy with those that are more self-contained, that recharge in alone time, that love their singular pursuits. 

I want to find ways to celebrate all the gifts my children  have, whether they are singing on the worship team or writing incredible poems, acting in a play or reading in the corner.  I have a couple very introverted children.  Do they know I am proud of them?  I was supportive of my youngest daughter's play performances the last few years.  I think she is an extremely talented singer, even at ten.  Does the daughter that draws beautiful pictures think that her interests are not as important because it doesn't happen on a stage?  Do the daughters that work with special needs clients know that I feel they are just as wonderful as the daughter that leads worship at her church?

I hope so.

But the truth is that it can be easy to overlook the ones that are more behind the scenes.  For example, I love taking pictures. I don't do it to be some great photographer.  I just love capturing moments, and I've often done so with a cheap camera.  At fifteen, I received a camera for Christmas, and proceeded to take thousands and thousands of pictures.  My children, family holidays, everyday moments, travels...  it didn't matter.  I spent thousands on film.  Then I was given a digital camera and could take even more photos!  I love the candid moments, the real parts of life, more than the posed. But I have never been able to afford professional equipment.  What I have has often been gifted to me.  I simply love recording my life, my children, my journey.  I don't have a watermark on my photos.  I don't charge.  I don't have anything against professional photographers, and love their work.  But my fun is in recording my journey. It may be photos of flowers I see on my walks, or photos of my handsome grandson, but I keep taking the pictures, capturing the moments.  I have been teased for taking so many pictures, but I have also been thanked.  When I am not here, these photos are the story of my life and the lives of those I love. They may be out of focus occasionally.  They may be too dark.  They may show the mess...  the messy house in the day to day, the bed-head hair of Christmas morning.  It is something that I do that has never been about what others think or getting attention.  

Every hobby doesn't have to become a career.  Every love doesn't have to bring attention.  That is not what motivates an introvert.  The process is the motivator, the experience, the journey.  It's okay if others have different motivations.  That is the beauty of different personalities.  It becomes important, as a mother, however, to recognize these differences and to celebrate each child for who God made them to be, not simply for their more outgoing, easy to praise gifts. 

Many in this world don't understand basic personality differences.  Introversion, extroversion, intuitive, empathetic, judging, sensitive...  the great variety is what  makes this world a beautiful AND NOT A BORING place.  For parents, not understanding personality differences can bring about insecurities and low self-esteem in the children that may not be ones that seek attention.  Does your reader know he is just as approved of as your athlete?  Does your artist know she is just as talented as your actor?  Does your child, no matter what their personality, know their worth?

We know, in our heads, that our children are created unique and given different giftings.  We know that it is, in fact, very important for there to be differences in what people love and pursue.  And yet, I have been guilty of not taking the time to build up.  I have not praised nearly as much as I have criticized.  I have not encouraged equally.  It shames me, because I know the feelings of being the awkward one, the one that doesn't fit, the one that would rather read.  I know the feeling of being overshadowed because my personality is different.  I know the feeling of loving something, but someone else is better, more talented, more noticed.  It leaves an empty pit in your heart, because suddenly what you love is something to be measured against someone else, and you come up lacking. 

I never want a child of mine to feel as if she is not as valued because her personality is more solitary.  Maybe she doesn't get fulfilled by being in front of a crowd, but she should never feel less than because the focus lands on the ones that are naturally wired to seek the limelight, that recharge in a group. It takes intentionality on the part of the parent to speak life to the ones that won't ask for the attention.  It doesn't mean they don't need the encouragement and validation just as much from those they love, it simply means they are uncomfortable asking because it isn't their personality!  

I know... people can't read minds.  But as a mom, I spend a lot of time with my children.  I know which ones will tell me their hearts, and which ones will subtly show me instead.  I know what each loves, and that each one is so very different from the others.  I know that I have often failed my more introverted children...  and it wasn't intentional.  It wasn't until I realized that it felt like a "competition" in my own life, one I could never win, that I realized I NEVER want to have any child of mine feel that way.  

So many of us repeat patterns in our lives without fully realizing it.  We act on our insecurities.  We often struggle with our children, because their personalities differ from ours, or perhaps because they are similar.  Those of us awkward people take a little longer to be comfortable in our own skin.  It takes us longer to understand our own strengths because, I believe, they aren't always noticed as readily or recognized as often.  And if a person doesn't study and learn about different personalities, they might know that it's okay to be different, but not live confident when others point out their flaws or compare them or constantly cast them aside for the opposite, more extroverted personalities.
I am certain there are families out there that don't struggle with speaking life to their children and giving them a solid foundation in which they can be themselves with confidence.    I strive to be one, even now, when three of my children are grown and have moved out.  The need for your parents to love the person you are and to validate you never goes away.  The desire to belong is deeply ingrained.  It is difficult, in this world, when you feel out of place.  Feeling out of place or less than with the ones you love the most leads to comparison, competition, rebellion,  or people-pleasing.  What is beautiful?  Learning to love who God created you to be (gifts, talents, flaws, awkwardness), and learning to intentionally give the same love, acceptance, encouragement, and praise to the precious souls that God places in your life.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I Can Pray

My heart has been through ups and down recently, and I find myself not acting like me.  I just can't deal with more crisis moments, more things I feel I have to "fix," more guilt for my own failures, more of anything.  I find myself fleeing to God, because I am so weak I can't decide which homeschool curriculum to use or what book to read next. 

Basically, I need Him.  At a pivotal moment a few weeks ago, I made some different choices.  It opened a flood, and I can only follow the path.  I can't fix others and I can't force resolutions and I can't "talk" endlessly about things that won't be resolved until God changes hearts. I can only pray.

I pray for my husband.  I keep praying.  There are so many desires in my heart for my marriage, but I can't bring them to fruition by wishing.  Maybe some of the things aren't in God's plan.  But I keep praying anyway.  I love my husband, and I long to pray for him.  His walk, his struggles, his temptations, his heart...  I pray.

And as much as I pray, the hardest part is leaving the results up the God.  It is difficult.  But the truth is that I am just going to screw things up doing it my way.  

No matter if I am praying for my husband or my children or my precious grandson, it has been a tough lesson to learn that no matter what I do, I can't change the hearts of others.  My words land on deaf ears, and I know that it's just more noise in the ears of the loved ones I'm praying for if God isn't working. 

This includes my daughters.  

Is there any heart like a mother's heart?  Any prayers more intense and whole-hearted than a mother's prayers for her child?  My heart cries out for my children.  No matter the need, I pray for it to be met.  No matter the struggle I see, and all those I never see, I pray for God to walk them through.  Day by day, step by step, I place what I value more than my own life back into the hands of their creator. 

I pray for God to work mightily in the hearts and lives of my children.  With three of my five daughters now adults, and another only a year away, I know the best way to be a nurturing, guiding, loving mother is to keep praying. 

Prayer takes trust.  It takes trust and faith to believe God is working in situations and people when there is no evidence that He is doing so.  I pray because if I can't change hearts and if I can't "fix" the problems, then I have to leave it all with a God that holds everything. I have to trust Him.

I have to trust Him, and let Him be my comforter.  I have to trust Him and love people, even when I don't feel like loving them.  I have to trust and let the joy of Him be my strength.  I have to trust Him with outcomes that I may never see.  I have to trust, even when it feels like a lonely path.

I have to trust, because it is the only option. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Homeschool Inspired by the Finnish Model of Education

I have been reading all I can lately about the Finnish model of education.  I have listened to YouTube videos, read article after article.  For those that don't know, Finland has one of the best, if not THE best, education system in the world.  In the 1970s, they scored right along with the United States... in the middle of the road.  They decided to make changes to their education system, not to compete on the world stage, but to give every child a chance.  Children's well-being became more important than tests and competition. They changed things around in their country so that the goal for each and every child was that they would be that they would be able to have an equal chance for an education, a happy life, and future employment.

For years, Finland worked their system, unnoticed by the world. Teachers were required to have a Master's Degree, and were paid well and treated respectfully.  In fact, only the best are selected to be a teacher in Finland.  Students don't begin school until they are seven years of age.  When they start, there is a lot of play time (recess) given.  Students receive fifteen minutes of recess for every forty-five minutes of instruction.  School hours are much shorter there than American schools.  There is little to no homework, especially in the early years.  Thirty percent or more of students receive special help if needed (one-on-one).  The teachers in the early years often have the same students for several years in a row, allowing them to get to know their students and how they learn.  Class sizes are small.  There is no standardized testing until the student is about to graduate high school.

And, at age fifteen, these students are scoring top scores in the world.  Ironically, they are changing their model system to even more of a loose, topic-based education instead of subjects.  While some predict disaster, I don't believe so.  Every study of learning shows that children learn this way better than in traditional models.

As a homeschooling mama, this has been eye-opening to me.  While I don't want to be a complete unschooler, I do believe that I have pushed my children too hard at times, and I have watched the light go out of their eyes.  I have watched the joy they used to have dim, and the curiosity about the world around them die.  School has become drudgery.  They comply, but it isn't what it should be.

"But, Cathy, kids need to learn now that there will be things in life that they will have to do that won't bring them pleasure, that they won't want to do.  Not everything is fun."

Is this the goal of education?   I doubt every child in Finland is a bottle of sunshine, but this model of education does give so many benefits to students.  In America, we kill the love of learning and instill dread and drudgery instead. 

For instance, the students start compulsory school at age seven, but in America we start at five or six.  That year or two makes a big difference!  Students in Finland do have preschool, but the emphasis is on play and socializing, not academics.  That means that the when the students begin school, some can read and some can't.   But the ones that haven't learned to read at five or six aren't labeled as slow learners, as they are here.  Right from the start, here in America, we are pushing children to do more and more academically at earlier and earlier ages. The students that might have brains that aren't ready are stressed are often treated as slow.  In truth, many aren't slow, they simply need more time for their brain to mature.

Second, the rates of learning disabilities in Finland are not much different than here in the States, but the approach is different.  Students in the younger years are given fifteen minutes of free time in outside play for every forty-five minutes of instruction.  In fact, these breaks are not looked at as a break from learning, but as a strategy to maximize learning.  Since the students aren't beginning school until they are seven, and have lots of time to run and play, this makes a difference.  Many of the students with ADHD are not treated with medication.  Also, the school day is much shorter than here in America (20 hours per week in Finland compared to 35 hours in America) and homework is limited or not given at all. This allows a lot more time for a child to play and grow and mature at a slower pace than what is demanded in America's pushy, stress-filled, do more and more, earlier and earlier educational method.  And if a child is still in need of help in learning, the teacher and special education teachers will take the time to give the student one-on-one instruction and tutoring.

Third, the teachers are not treated or paid like American teachers.  Teaching is respected in Finland, and is considered one of the most prestigious jobs in the country.  Only ten percent of those that apply to be a teacher are accepted.  The training is rigorous.   The result is that teachers can impact the quality of the education their students receive in incredible ways.  The salary of a teacher is a good one.  The teachers teach less hours than here in America.  Since there is only one standardized test in a student's schooling years, teachers aren't pressured into teaching to that test.  In fact, teachers in Finland are looked at as professionals and trusted to choose the teaching methods they see will work with the students they have.  Each teacher has a Master's degree.  They are highly trained in child development, in how children learn, in curriculum development, and in their field of expertise.   They are empowered to work with the students and other teachers.  They are trusted. There is no script.  Ninety percent of Finnish teachers stay in the profession until retirement.  In contrast, fifty percent of American teachers leave in the first five years.

I'll be honest, I don't trust many American teachers.  I think many are great and are motivated to enter into teaching because they want to help children.  But the few bad apples have spoiled it all.  I've had teachers call a child of mine stupid.  I've had teachers pass the jocks and rich kids, and leave the rest to take remedial English or not graduate.  In nearly every school system, there has been a teacher arrested for inappropriate conduct with a student.  If we want the best and the brightest for our children, we need to have teachers that honor and respect childhood, not ones that want to make children into little adult machines.   I have spent the last few years learning how children learn so that I can give my own children a quality education.  Truthfully, I have a lot of issues with the American model of education.

The focus in the Finnish education system is not competition.  In fact, all the schools are publicly funded.  There isn't competition between them to outdo the one in the next town. The goal is completely different.  It's about creating life-long learners.  It's about teaching life-skills.  There is a lot of art and poetry and music.  There are different languages taught, such as English in third grade and Swedish in fourth.

Obviously, it isn't perfect.  There are problems, but on the whole, the system is working.

This research into a different way of education has inspired me to make changes to my homeschool.   As much as I have had issues with the American model of education, it is easy to stick with what I know.  But as I watch the natural spark in my youngest daughter die out, I realize that I want her to have better.  As I plan this upcoming year, I find myself relaxing. I find myself questioning what I really want her to learn.

One article I read about Finnish education stated that school is where kids learn how to live and that they are needed, not just how to have a job.  There is an emphasis on things that many American schools have gotten rid of or diminished:  handcrafts, cooking, art, music, community service, etc.  There is a balance between academic and non-academic learning that is emphasized.

I want to bring that to my home.  I want to bring that to my homeschool and to my parenting.  I want to raise a child that has a chance to find life, not just success as defined by money and things.  I want my child to have a passion for learning.  I want her to develop skills.  I want her to know her faith, so she can understand why it is important.  I want her to know how to love life and learning, not just how to get through the stuff she doesn't like.   Basically, I'm giving her less so she can be more.  And, I plan to do so with one daughter in her last year of homeschool, and with my ten year old with eight years left. 

Is Cursive Dead?

I began this new blog a couple months ago, but I have been looking over my homeschool blog at Home Mission Field.   While none of my posts w...