Thursday, October 19, 2017

Since I Can't Live at the Beach

It was dark by six in the evening today.  In a little over two weeks we will turn the clocks backwards an hour.  That will mean it will be dark at five in the evening.  I don't see why we still perform this inane ritual.  I would prefer to stay on Daylight Saving's Time.  It seems to me that having it get dark at five in the evening is one of the main reasons so many of us in colder, darker parts of the country are impacted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  Since I just passed several combines harvesting crops last night with their headlights blazing, they don't need the extra light to plant or harvest any longer.  As for saving energy, it seems that it would save more energy if we had more sunlight during the evening, not less.  When most families are home from school and work, a little longer sunlight would mean less electricity being used... even if only for an hour.

But, fall begins the time of year when many, myself included, begin to feel... blah.  For some, they are unaffected.  Some don't feel that "blah" until after Christmas.  For me, and others I know, we are very sensitive to light, or the lack of light.  Sunlight is a mood enhancer.  It uplifts moods.  In warmer weather, it provides much needed vitamin D that must be supplemented otherwise.

The winter gets to me.  The cold makes my body hurt. I have hypothyroidism, and the cold can be nearly intolerable at times.  Since I have gotten treatment, the symptoms aren't as severe, but they still exist.  I often am bundled up in layers with a heating blanket over me, a warm drink in my hands, and Hawaii 5-0 playing on Netflix.  Yes, I watch the tropical island show because seeing the sun and palm trees, even on television, shows me that the entire world is not a Popsicle.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look as if I will be moving to a warm, tropical environment any time soon.  God has placed me here, in this part of the world with hot hots and frigid colds and everything in between.  The colds seem to last the longest.  When summer arrives, and I can bask in the warm sunshine, I try to absorb as much as I can (without burning) and soak up the feeling of not being cold or hurting.  This is just one coping mechanism that has been beneficial.

I have held a secret belief that those that live in tropical paradises must be the happiest people in the world.   Since I can't live at the beach, I looked it up... just to see.  I was WRONG! Costa Rica is most 'tropical' country listed in the annual World Happiness Report... and they are number twelve.  Of course, that still beats the United States, which landed at number fourteen.  Yes, America is seventeenth in education, eleventh in Health Care (though ours is the most expensive), ninth in religious freedom (so much for Constitutional Freedom), and fourteenth in happiness.  However, we are the number one country of incarcerated people per capita.  We also are number one in Olympic Gold Medals, number of Universities, and charitable giving.  There are a few other things.  I'm not trying to trash America.

I was just shocked.  First, Americans are not a happy group of people, as a whole.  Of all the tropical environments, most of those don't make the "Happiness" list either. So, maybe living at the beach won't bring me happiness.  I still think it would sure help, but I will go with the averages for now.

Why in the world are the citizens of Norway and Denmark, countries that experience months of cold and dark, so happy?  And could what they practice help this SAD fighting, cold sensitive girl learn anything about dealing with the winters that seem to last and last?


This was all the rage a year ago.  I tend to be late on the "trends."  That's okay, because by the time I read about an idea or practice, it has been well researched and opinions are flowing freely.  I get the Kindle books cheaper than they were a year ago when the rage was new and books were being written to meet the demand.  I can read the anti-opinions about how this is anti-Christian, a trend that focuses on self and not on others.  I can also read the pro-opinions about how we can't give what we don't have, and it isn't a sin to light some candles, have some cozy light, and fellowship with friends and family in a positive atmosphere.

For a person that has looked for ways to not let winter get to me, including being given a gift of a "Happy" light that was bright, but didn't really help, I don't mind admitting that I see no problem with wanting to research this Danish practice of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga) that means coziness and fellowship with loved ones.  I am going to experience winter anyway, either by grumping my way through or by doing what I can to make the time pleasurable.

Not all of winter is bad.  I think it should be made clear that most of the people that struggle in the winter, either with SAD or with some downcast times, don't think it is all bad.  My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  I love gathering with family, eating yummy food, playing games and visiting, being PURPOSEFULLY THANKFUL for my blessings.  From what I can see of Hygge, this is taking that feeling from that day, and living the spirit of it all winter. 

I like the idea of winter lights, not Christmas lights.  While I don't want the colorful chasers all season, I can see using the soft white twinkling lights in my home.  I love the idea of a less cluttered area, with cozy blankets and family togetherness, to fight back against the dark outside.  Bring on the candles and books!  And, as for getting fresh air daily, that will be cold, but getting out into the sunshine, limited as it may be, could still be beneficial, even if in small bits.

 The more I read, the more I don't understand why anyone in a cold, dark part of the country would ever think this is horrible.  Yes, like anything, it can be taken too far, where the focus is on our own comfort excessively.  One description I read talked about "practicing contentment" - "Contentment that comes from appreciating shelter from the elements, food around the table for a shared meal, or being alone with a good book."

  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:12-13
Can I say I am content whether the weather is 80 degree Fahrenheit or -10 degrees Fahrenheit?  Am I content whether the sun is shining or the snow is blowing?  Am I content whether it's fresh veggies from the farmer's market or crock pot chili?   Am I as content when it is dark at five in the afternoon as I am when I am waiting for dusk after nine at night on Independence day so we can watch fireworks?  Am I as content in the dreary, bleak February days as I am in the July sun by the pool?
If I am not, what can I do to help?
 I am not going to lie and say that the aching in my body doesn't get to me, or the bitter cold that burns my lungs when I breath is what I want.  However, this is where God has me.  And this is where I need to make the time as pleasant as possible, to have a good attitude, to find things to bring out the best of each season.  If God wants me elsewhere, He will open those doors.  Wishing for a life I don't currently have is a waste of time.  My family is here.  As much as I love the ocean, I love my family more.
Somehow the idea of Hygge, while not unfamiliar, is not one that I have ever encountered in this way.  We all try in some way, to add little bits of joy to our winters.  I just had never thought about it being a way of life.  For those in Norway and Denmark, where they spend so many months of the year in the cold, this has become a way of life for survival purposes.  To think that they have taken this way of life and made it center, to the point that they are the top two happiest countries in the world, is pretty incredible. This is purposeful living, to light candles and create a cozy sanctuary in the harshest times outside.   
I was surprised that, in many ways, the principles here go along with what I believe are more simple, minimalist principles that are important to me.  I don't want some complicated, expensive concept that I can't achieve unless I take my already full schedule and meager finances and stretch them even more.  
I did buy candles.  That was a joy, though, and I love the candles around me when I am studying for classes or relaxing in my bath.  
Winter will come, whether I am finding ways to cope or allowing it to drag me into a down depressive state.  I choose to find ways to be upbeat and positive, to fill my life with Jesus and family and contentment and coziness.  We all have choices, in our attitudes, in the way we fill our environment, in our thoughts, in what we choose as our focus.  I can choose to focus on the dark and cold, or I can fill my environment with light and warmth and family and moments of introvert heaven.   

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sometimes You Should Ignore the Statistics

Sixty-seven percent of second marriages end in divorce.

It was tough.  Some days were so difficult I wondered if we would end up being part of the sixty-seven percent.  

When I consider the things we endured, the odds against us, the gut-wrenching defeats and the years of scraping by, the children with life-threatening illnesses, the heartbreaking losses mixed with blessings only we saw; I can only give God the credit.

So many times, I didn’t want to continue.  Sharing even bits of our testimony is difficult, for we walked paths that were very dark at times.  And yet, in that darkness, we sought the Light.  Sometimes we only had enough illumination to see where we were, not the next step.  Those were taken in faith. 

I only have to remember who I was to know how blessed I am.  Angry, bitter, so desperate for love, a soul that knew rejection and abandonment intimately. I was a single mom, working for minimum wage, fighting to keep a roof over the heads of my girls, fighting to keep my girls.  A friend introduced me to this rock and roll bass player with a tiny, two-year old cherub. 

I had not known what a father could be.  Mine hadn’t been around much.  I hadn’t seen it in the men around me.  But this man was different.  He was raising his daughter.  He was patient with her.  He was tender and loving.  He put her needs before his own, and that gave me hope that not all men were like the ones I had seen.

Dating turned into a relationship.  A relationship turned into a marriage proposal and a baby on the way.  We did it all wrong, all backwards.  We were both single parents.  We married just months after we met.  We had a baby a few months after that.  Suddenly we were this family of six.  We had to buy a mini-van to fit the kids.  

The struggles and battles began in earnest.  Finances, exes, custody, all mixed with the baggage from the past that just refused to stay there.  We stumbled and struggled.  I ranted way too often.  He closed down on me several times.  We kept going.

Then came the bigger things, the things that took any foundation we had and obliterated it.  One child was sick.  Another wasn’t safe.  We approached it very different, had different personalities disagreeing.  We didn’t know what to believe, who to trust.  Most don’t truly know how hard it was at that time. 

And then came a couple phone calls that began a very slow change in the physical, but enormous changes in the spiritual.  A dad that listened, a Pastor that gave some advice, and my husband went to the church that had held very little draw to him up to that point, and he gave his life to Jesus.

I could battle the exes.  I could fight for my kids.  I could even fight for justice, but I didn’t know how to battle against a husband with peace in the midst of chaos.  Even I could feel the supernatural battle...  and that was an uncomfortable feeling to have.  

I was enraged by the circumstances we found ourselves in that August 2005.  I still remember the exact date... August 5, 2005.  I still remember the scared words from a little girl.  I still remember the angry but protective feeling taking over my heart. How does a parent deal with what we dealt with without being consumed?  

I also remember that moment, just weeks later, broken in a church that I didn’t want to step a foot inside, fighting a battle in my heart between that overwhelming anger and the deepest desire for that elusive peace I saw in my husband.

That moment didn’t change the circumstances.  It would be years, and long, desperate, expensive battles, before those circumstances would change in our favor.  The anger didn’t leave me immediately either.  In fact, that battle sometimes still gets the best of me. But there was hope.

In the twelve years since, we have stuck by each other.  We had another daughter, making us seven. We watched many of our children grow into amazing adults.  We grew in our faith.  We lost everything we had built materialistically.  We cried and laughed and cherished.  We served.  

We kept pressing on.  We didn’t become a statistic of failure.  

Are there still struggles?  Yes. We may be older and, hopefully, wiser, but there are still times that overwhelm.  There are still children with health issues.  There are still financial stresses.  There are still these two personalities that don’t always see life the same way. The rocker and the bookworm, the mellow and the type A, the slow-paced and the in a hurry...  still somehow complementing each other instead of conflicting all the time.  And there is still a love that we hold for each other.  This is still a battle where we fight for each other, even when it is hard.

There is still Jesus.  No matter what changes in our world, He is a stable foundation, a true north, to guide us.   I know that I know that there wouldn’t have been eighteen years together if Jesus hadn’t stepped into our chaotic, messed-up midst with His presence. 

I want to continue to beat the statistics.  I want to continue our journey with our Lord.  I want to continue to cherish the memories we make.  I want to continue to plan hiking trips and family gatherings.  And new adventures await as well.  

God has blessed us, and I am so very thankful that He didn’t leave me who I was.  I have to only remember who I was to know how blessed I am. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Reading Journals

I would like to thank Sarah MacKenzie of Read Aloud Revival for making her master class on reading journals available for everyone.

If you don't know who Sarah MacKenzie is in the homeschool realm, she is the author of the blog and host of the podcast, Read Aloud Revival.  She also is the author of the book, Homeschooling From Rest.  She recently posted a class, which normally would be a part of her premium membership.  I have listened to Sarah's podcast for a couple of years now, and she is fun and excited and knowledgeable.  She interviews incredible children's authors, homeschooling leaders, curriculum writers, and more.

I went the very next day and bought the journals to use as reading journals, both for me and my youngest daughter.  I set them up, and my daughter and I are off and running!

What are Reading Journals?

Reading journals are an amazing idea that, as a bookworm, I should have thought of earlier.  I wish someone had told me about the idea years ago.  Basically, the front of the book is list of books you have read.  You can put the author, the pages in the book, or whatever description you want.  I keep a running list every year of the books my children read in their planners.  For my personal reading, I began keeping a list on Pinterest last year.

However, a reading journal is more than simply a list of books read.  What makes the reading journal so special is that, after a few pages for the book list, you create a common place area.  The rest of the journal is full of whatever you desire to help you interact with the book and make it  yours.  I am following Sarah's lead and putting in quotes from the books I am reading that touch me in some way.  However, I could see an artistic person adding in artwork.  I could see even adding in personal thoughts or Scripture.  I might do some of that eventually, as I get used to interacting with my books.  After all, reading books can be a bit like a conversation with the characters or the author.  There can be some deep thinking about concepts.

I am curious how my ten year old will interact with her reading journal as time goes by.  She loves writing and drawing and creating.

What is best is that, in years to come, these journals are wonderful keepsakes.  Almost like a diary, they tell about the history of a person, the thoughts in their minds, the things that touched their hearts, the reading material that formed who they were.  I wish I had reading journals from when I was a child.  Other than a diary, there isn't a better way to look back and see what was influencing me at a certain age.

Books are holders of knowledge.  They are reflections of our hearts.  They are the stories that shape us.  Engaging with a book on a personal level means that the story becomes more than just a story, it becomes a part of you.  Concepts and lessons are taught very easily through story.  I believe this is why Jesus used parables to teach lessons and engage His disciples.  Stories impact the world unlike any other method of teaching.

We are just beginning our reading journals. I am entrenched in a couple of novels at this time, and find myself reading a little differently.  I am looking for passages that touch me.  I am still enjoying the story, or taking in the information.  Now, when a passage catches my attention, I don't just share a quote on Facebook or underline (highlight in my Kindle) the words, I copy them into my reading journal.  I find the passages in the children's stories I read to my daughter, and in the enchanting Baxter Family brought to life by Karen Kingsbury.  It's like receiving messages from the authors or characters.  The thoughts and words and lessons are stored, an interaction has occurred, and a piece of the book becomes a piece of me.

Sarah suggests not making the journals into "school."  I agree.  I don't want to damage the heart of reading, the joy that my daughter gets from reading by making it an assignment.  I want to add to her love of reading, not detract from it.  And so, the stories that make us who we are are engaged in with these reading journals in a special, individual way.  It's beautiful and holds a depth that cannot be compared to "school."  Books are about so much more than the academic lessons we call "school."

Friday, September 29, 2017

Have We Lost Our Reading Culture?

Nearly everywhere I go, I take a book.  In fact, I choose my purses based on if they are big enough to fit a book or my Kindle inside.  Reading has been an escape, a comfort, and a passion since I was a child.

As a homeschooling family, reading is what we do.  We read a lot.  My step-daughter never loved reading.  When she began homeschooling after years and years of public school, I think she was surprised at all the books she was assigned.  Before she graduated, she read more than she ever had.  

Lately, I have noticed that I don’t read as much as I have in the past.  Yes, I am reading for college, but I also noticed that my go to is not picking up the book.  I am usually simply scrolling away on social media.  This is a bad habit that is pointless most of the time.  It’s amazing how often I’ll grab my phone and click the Facebook or Instagram button before I even engage my brain.  Habits form easily, especially addicting ones.

If I’m not mindlessly scrolling, I’m mindlessly vegging in front of a television.  After working for hours on college courses, I tend to turn on a favorite tv show and passively pass the hours engaged in a crime drama.  Sadly, I have seen most of the shows numerous times and am binging on reruns on Netflix. 

I’m not alone in any of this. The average American watches five hours of television per day!  If we combine television viewing, gaming, smart phones, tablets, computers, and any other screens, the average American devotes ten hours and thirty-nine minutes to screen time every day!

It stands to reason that we aren’t reading because we are distracted by entertainment.

What else are we not doing when we are drowning in our screens?  Are we spending time with our loved ones?  Are we spending time with God?  It stands to reason that devoting ten hours a day to anything is going to have consequences.  Maybe our relationships are suffering because we are otherwise absorbed in our screens instead of being together.  Maybe we have become Biblically illiterate because we buy Bibles, and place them on our shelves.  We aren’t reading them. 

Why is it that twenty-one percent of U.S. adults read below a fifth grade level?  My ten year old is in the fifth grade.  This statistic means that 21% of the adults around me are reading at the level of my ten year old...  or worse, because she is an advanced reader.

I love the podcast, Read Aloud Revival.  Sarah MacKenzie, the host and author of the blog by the same name, has breathed fresh air into the importance of reading to our children.  Recently she hosted a podcast discussing tips and ideas for moms to find time to read for themselves.  There were plenty of reasons why this is important, but the number one reason was that, when a child sees parents reading for enjoyment, they will likely follow suit. 

If the average American is glued to a screen for over ten hours a day, chances are we aren’t modeling anything except our addiction to screens.  We certainly aren’t reading to our children like we could or should.  And we aren’t growing the active parts of our own brains by vegging in front of the Boob Tube or mindlessly scrolling through the same ole Facebook battles and food posts. 

I won’t even get into what this sedentary life does to our health.

And so, when countries are listed in order of how much they read, and we see that the United States is way down the list at number 23, the fight over how to improve the school systems seems self-explanatory.  There is nothing better we could do for our children than to read to them and make reading a priority for our children.  The list of benefits is remarkable!  

“I don’t like to read.”

Ah...  I have heard that often.  And I understand that reading isn’t everyone’s favorite activity.  This has come about because the purpose behind reading has changed.  Two hundred years ago, learning to read was important.  And not just learning to read, but being literate and informed.  Learning to read meant that you could study the Bible.  Learning to read meant you could learn anything you desired to learn.  Reading was important.  It was how people stayed informed of the news in the world.  There wasn’t a television with thousands of channels to tell you what was happening (or to sensationalize for ratings).  There were books and newspapers. 

Somehow, reading has been relegated to a hobby, instead of a way to grow the brain and learn about the world, we simply turn on the screen and have those that profit most from those screens tell us what to think.  Then we wonder why the world is in the condition it is, and how to stop the chaos. 

Reading promotes multiculturalism.  Those that read are more empathetic.  Reading increases attention.  

I wish our culture was a reading culture, but I can’t change an entire culture.  I can only influence the world around me. I can read to my daughter.  I can make it my habit to grab a book instead of my smart phone.  I can supply my home with a wide array of books and plenty of trips to the library.  I can encourage my other children in their reading and have them read engaging and God-honoring books and materials for school.  

I can promote reading to others.  I can share the works of Sarah MacKenzie and Jim Trelease and others that are telling the benefits of this amazing reading culture that our families can have.  I can continue that work by training to work in a library, as I am doing now.  This way, when my homeschooling days are complete, I am still working to promote this wonderful passion: reading.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Dear Jesus...

Dear Jesus,

Lord, could you bless that girl above?  Could you heal her?  I know, I know, I have asked many times.  Seems we've been in this place in the past.  I know that, if I waited until I was perfect or she was perfect before asking, I would never ask.  But You are perfect. You alone, and Your thoughts are higher and Your plans are good.  So, when the hard happens... again...  when life doesn't make sense...  again...  when a young woman is sick and has been sick for so long and it's a battle every day to keep going, we need You.  We need Your good.  We need Your peace.  We need Your hope.

I have pleaded for answers for a long time.  Answers were supposed to come after one of the myriad of tests ran in the last year.  Answers were supposed to come with relief and praise report, not another battle and more questions.

I would so take her place.  I always would have.  I keep telling myself that I won't drive myself crazy asking why.  But there are weak moments when I do.  Why do I have children that face life-threatening issues?  Why my family?  Why my daughter, so ill, with tubes and monitors and pain and fear?  So, the "whys" circle in my brain and I push them down. I cast them aside, and they come back.  I turn on praise and worship music that calls you the anchor in the "eye of the storm", the "King of the World", "my God through all of it."  

What I feel the most, as uncertainty and frustration flow through me, is how broken I am, how weak, how utterly helpless to help my child, and how desperate.  Can the weak be used?

"Now I'm just a beggar in the presence of a King.  
I wish I could bring so much more.
But if it's true You use broken things
Then here I am Lord, I'm all Yours."

But I am so flawed. I think thoughts that aren't fair to others.  Such as...  Do other parents know how blessed they are?  Do they see their children, their healthy children, and know how precarious that health can be?  One diagnosis, one doctor that wasn't properly trained, one "rare complication;" and it can all change.  Lord, forgive me for seeing other parents with healthy children, hearing them complain over the trivial, and being frustrated with them... and perhaps envying them a little.

I so love my children.  I don't know why You chose my girls to face what they face. I can't see the final tapestry, only the tangles and knots on the back. I can't make sense out of what seems senseless, especially since it probably won't be made clear while we are here on this earth.  I'm just a mom, begging once again for her child to be made whole.  

Each time I beg, I step with You.  More than once I have begged for them to live, sitting on the side of a hospital bed, a bleak diagnosis from a doctor ringing in my ears.  Every time you have given me my child.  And despite feeling frustrated with parents who don't realize they are so blessed, I also wouldn't wish any parent to feel that heart-aching, paralyzing fear for their child.

Yes, there are a lot of "I"s in this.  My apologies, Jesus, for I know the focus should be on You. 

See...  I understand the temptation to walk away, to be so crushed with heartache or fear that you feel abandoned.  I understand the anger coursing through the veins at the injustice of it all.  I understand those that question, but haven't had all props removed with only You left to lean on and cling to.  So even as I cry out, begging, weak and small, I have found You in this place before, and believe You will meet me here again. 

I pray for my child, not me. I pray for answers.  I pray for strength.  I pray for healing.  Most of all, I pray because...  is there any hope without You?  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

My Daughter is in Fifth Grade... Sorta

"What grade are you in?"

This question is the one asked the most to children.  It is a sense of pride for children to say at the end of the year, "I'm no longer a fourth (or first or second or whatever) grader, and I am now a fifth (second, third, etc) grade.  When I am asked, or my daughter is asked, what grade she is in, we say what she would be in if she was in public school.

But homeschooling often doesn't work like public school.  In public school, standards are set for all children to meet in a certain age range.  There are children on the high end of the grade range that meet the standards easily.  There are children on the low end of the grade that struggle to meet the standards.  Fall outside of these "standards" and you will receive a label.  If you can't meet the standards, you will receive a "Learning Disabled" label.  If you can easily meet the standards and maybe move on to the next set of standards, you will receive the label of "advanced" or "gifted."  The truth is probably more mixed.  A child may have a natural aptitude in certain areas, but struggle in others. 

My seventeen year old will have met the standards for the state we live in, the standards most colleges would want to see, and the standards I have set for my child, to graduate high school this spring.  In all her years of homeschooling, I don't believe she was ever in a single grade in every subject.  She was all over the place.  She would do well in one subject and advance quickly, but struggle in another.  I would switch curriculum, and she would find the way it was structured made things worse.  I would find something else, and she would do extremely well for awhile.  She made odd progressions at times.  It took me a long time to realize that she is perfectly normal and this is how most children learn.  They make slow progress for awhile, struggle a bit, then make a leap ahead. 

Homeschooling offers the chance for students to receive an education tailored just for them.  When the areas of struggle come up, most homeschool students can simply slow down the lessons, or even forgo that subject briefly, until they understand.  Sometimes the brain just has to mature to be ready to master the material.  Sometimes it is just an area where the child needs extra practice to master the lesson.  Either way, the child should never be made to feel as if there was something wrong with him or her.

In other areas the child can move at the pace where they stay challenged, moving quickly through material they easily understand.  This has happened to my children often.  One summer my youngest daughter jumped over a year in her reading level simply due to summer reading.  When we began the school year, she sat down and read her entire phonics and reading curriculum in less than a week.  I didn't have to keep her at a lower reading level or put her through a phonics program she didn't need.  We just moved forward.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the years is to choose materials where a child can make steady progress without the burden of grade levels.  Yes, grade levels are a burden.  The math program that we are using has grade levels, but I choose to simply call them levels.  It is an advanced program, and no one was more surprised than me that my daughter prefers this program.  So, instead of worrying about "grade level," we are just making our way through the lessons at a steady pace.  First of all, the grades on the cover of the books don't match up with American grade levels, or a child wouldn't finish level six and be ready for Algebra.  I am supplementing with Life of Fred for a different approach to math that is more story-based.  This is working for her, this slow and steady pace that puts emphasis on the basics.

The reading and grammar we use is similar.  I have chosen to use the McGuffey readers for my children.  The steady progress goes from learning to read to college-level vocabulary and sentence structure in six books.  However, these books aren't the same as any six books.  These books are power punches for the brain.  They aren't dumbed-down.   We literally go through a lesson or two a week, with daily work in whatever lesson she is studying.  We don't just read the lesson.  We copy parts of the writing.  We look up the definitions of the vocabulary words.  We draw pictures.  We look up extra facts in some of the lessons.  It takes at least two years to get through a McGuffey reader properly.  Oh, and I base the readers on writing levels, not reading levels, because my advanced reader is learning sentence structure and proper grammar with each lesson, not simply reading a story.

I have a different grammar program we are also using.  It is such a gentle program, was free through Google books, and focuses on writing before introducing grammar.  It is wonderful!  My ten year old loves it!  Occasionally I add in some workbook pages from a grammar program that I bought, to give a little more time in certain concepts and add in more practice.  It isn't needed for every child, but I wanted the extra practice for my little leftie.

I am learning so much recently about how to set up a gradual learning program.  In this system, grade levels don't really matter.  I don't worry about what other fifth graders are doing at the local public school.  In most areas, my daughter is ahead of them.  In a few areas, she might be on the same level.  Even if she was behind, if she is progressing, does it matter?  What tends to happen is that a child will make slow, steady progress for a long time, and then suddenly jump in skill level.  It's like the brain suddenly hits a growth spurt, like a child does in height, and makes quick advances.

I stumbled upon this quote this morning.  "Omit grade levels.  Each student should simply move seamlessly up the road of knowledge at whatever rate of progress his abilities and study habits permit.  Grade levels have become a means by which student achievement is normed to public school academic levels.  Children should not be deprived of the chance for a superb education by subjecting them to the failed standards of the public schools."  - Art Robinson of Robinson Curriculum

 I find a freedom in this idea, this belief that grade levels are truly arbitrary.  I'm not alone either.  I have found that other homeschooling moms share my belief.

Even public schools are beginning to see that "grade levels" don't matter as much as learning and mastering material.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

More Reading, Less Lessons

Books...  they are the backbone of our homeschool.  I might need a break once in awhile, and give my girls some workbooks.  But books have been the main tool of our school.

I returned to college last semester.  I was never taught how to do MLA and APA papers.  It wasn't a "thing" when I was in high school...  or college.  But I learned how, and I learned quickly.  I had some classes that wanted papers written in MLA format.  I had other classes that insisted on APA.  With multiple papers due, it was learn fast or flunk. I learned fast.

My children need the ability to do this.  They need the ability to look at information, to read the knowledge, and use that knowledge in the way that is appropriate.  I learned to write papers in two different forms in a couple weeks because I read the chapters in the English book that talked about these formats, and then I applied that knowledge.  No, it wasn't simple at first.  I had my grown daughters that have been in college in the last few years check my first few papers to ensure I was not making errors.

We are four weeks into this school year and the year has been a fight with me and my youngest daughter.  She is smart, but is very distracted.  I planned and planned this year.  She is ADHD, and we have always worked around it in the past.  This year she is struggling like I have never seen her struggle.  It's like trying to get her to see clearly through mud.

And I am working on my college courses also.

But then I remembered that I am probably putting too much on myself.  My girl loves to read and is normally quite happy.  She loves to be creative and is always singing.  Maybe I'm trying too hard, expecting too much. 

Knowledge comes in books. I know this.  We are a reading homeschool.  And yet, when stressed, I cut her books.  What?!  I gave her more workbooks?  What was I thinking?

Workbooks have their place and, in moderation, can be an asset to homeschool.  But I want my daughter reading.  She learns so much from reading.  She jumped multiple reading levels after first grade because she read all summer.  She will spend hours writing down facts and drawing pictures, all based on what she is reading in her books.  When given the chance, she is self-taught. 

And so, I spent the last couple of days logging book after book into an Excel spreadsheet with titles, authors, and reading levels.  They are listed by reading level.  I have a couple lists going, actually.  One list is books I want her to do that have accompanying curriculum that I feel supplements nicely.  The other list is books...  old, new, Kindle, print.  Some I own.  Some I will have to purchase.  Some will be borrowed from the library.  The list is, currently, over three hundred books.  This in no way is a comprehensive list, however, including every book from every level.  

It is a mix of old and new.  I have some Robinson curriculum choices, my Heart of Dakota selections, some others I have purchased over the years, and some recommendations from various sources.  On Monday, she will have some assignments, and then she will read.  I want her reading from my lists, with some time for her to read what she wants.  Then, she will have time to delve into her own interests.  

My format is simple...  reading, writing, math, personal.  She will have a LOT of reading time.  Right now her writing consists of copywork, vocabulary, dictation, with Grammar and some creative writing.  She will write more as she gets older.  She will have math.  Right now I have her math time split into two half hour segments.  That seems to be working.  She doesn't get as tired in two shorter sessions than she did in one long session.  Finally, she will have personal time, for piano lessons, music and art, and free reading. 

That is it.  She focuses well she. She is reading.  So, I'm going to give her reading time with lots of breaks.  My little wiggled needs to move, so she can move.  I need her to learn, and the materials I am using will help.  

Knowledge, true knowledge, comes from books and experiences. No one lives life in a bubble.  My daughter still interacts with her world.  She is a social little buttlerfly.  Her brain may be maturing at a different rate than others, and I need to be able to work with her, not feel at odds with her all the time.  

Science shows that the ADHD brain develops and matures a little slower than others her own age.  I do t want her to think she is a problem.  And yet, I have felt that way often the last couple weeks.  And I realized that I was causing more damage than good with my attitude.  Ironically, it was a fellow college student that unintentionally helped me.

We have discussion boards every week, since I'm taking online classes.  One student in my major was homeschooled.  We were discussing the value of libraries.  He stated that he spent his middle school years in his local public library, reading all the time.  He said it was the best education ever because he was given that time to dig into his interests and to live in other worlds.  

Yep, that is what I want for my children.  

And so, I am relaxing.  Yes, there is math and grammar.  There is writing.  But I want my daughter to fall in love with learning.  I want her to be able to learn whatever she needs to learn when she needs to learn it, as I did with writing papers.  That skill comes from learning how to learn, from digging into her interests and escaping into worlds with heros that show how to solve problems.  

So much comes from reading!  The brain of a reader receives many benefits.  Vocabulary grows.  Thought processes differ.  Readers even develop more empathy.  Language skills are boosted, but so are math skills!

So many literature based homeschool programs have touted the benefits of reading.  And yet, when I planned school, I didn't olacethe focus on literature this year.  In wanted well-rounded.  But it is clearly not working as I planned.  Then I read a quote that basically stated that there is a costnfor everything.  If you try to do it all, you won't do anything well.  

I knew this in my personal life, but didn't apply it to my homeschool.  At this time, when I'm trying to complete college classes as well as homeschool, it requires being selective.  I need to be able to balance all the balls in the air. 

I am praying this will be an answer.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Monthly Pictures Collages

It started with scrap-booking back in the early 2000s.  I was a mom of four girls in a newly blended family.  Our story was unique, although a blended family isn't a rare thing.  I wanted to beat the odds.  I wanted to create a family with a rich history.  I wanted my girls to not see themselves as simply children of divorce, but as loved members of a family that was brought together by God, not just blood.  I had two daughters and the man I married had one.  Step-parents, step-sisters... I just wanted us to be family.  We didn't use "step" or "half" when we talked about our family.  Yes, we had other parents that were a part of the equation.  But, as my husband and I added two more daughters to the blend, we knew that it was important to create a healthy home of love and acceptance as much as we could.

I have always been one that takes many photos. I love capturing that moment, from the extraordinary to the everyday.  Pictures tell the stories of our lives.  We can go back and see the faces of loved ones.  Pictures trigger memories; smells of childhood, the favorite jeans, the toddler learning to walk, first days of school, summers at Grandma's, the feeling of awe when we saw an Ocean or mountain for the first time.  

After my youngest child was born, scrap-booking stopped.  My time was spread thin.  Then, on her first birthday, I received my first digital camera.  From that moment, I could take all the pictures I wanted.  And...  I took and took.  

A couple years ago I began making collages of special occasions.  A throwback of my scrap-booking days when I would make collages of holidays and birthday parties for my children's scrapbooks, I began posting these collages online. 

Slowly, I added made other moments to remember into photo collages, such as the historic flooding that our town endured a couple years ago.

Our vacation to Georgia:

Homeschool memories:

It is the everyday moments that make a life.  The idea of creating a monthly collage came about because so much happens over a year!  Children grow so fast.  Time slips by, and one season of life becomes another.  The little things we do don't matter to many others, but they do matter to us.  The books we read as children, the sunset on the porch with our spouse, the puzzle that took so long to put together, the baby cooing on the floor, the trees in full color spectrum each autumn...  these are the moments to capture.  These are the fleeting glimpses that are there for a moment and then gone like a puff of smoke.

The monthly collage doesn't always happen.  There are busy times when I forget.  But I try to create them when I remember because it is a small way for me to relive moments, to cherish my blessings.  As time goes by, I never want to forget how blessed I truly am.

Incorporating more scrap booking ideas, I also have began using my children's artwork for occasional backgrounds.  The background in the picture below is from a painting done by my ten year old. 

(Painting for background)

Be creative!  Start recording your memories.  You don't have to post them online.  Simply take the photos!  Remember to include the everyday moments that most would not think we're important.  It is the everyday moments that add up to a life.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Don't Worry, Keep Juggling

It's a juggling act most days.  I added a couple pins to the routine with college classes, but the motions are the same.  There are just more of them. And, of course, a couple pins are lopsided and don't want to go where I toss them.

The math lab for college is so slow it takes me hours to complete one assignment.  "Be patient," My instructor emailed, as three other classes await my attention.  

My ten year old seems to have less of an attention span than ever in her life.  I spend a long time in the mornings dedicated to working with her, and it still took her until five p.m. today to finish her school work.  Why?  Because she procrastinates.  She works in slow-mode, not wanting to get going in the mornings, stopping often for any reason she can think of, and just not working very diligently.  I'm at a loss about what to do at this point.

But I press on, because God pointed me in this direction, and I know He has it handled.  I know that I may have less free time than a year ago.  I know that the laundry sometimes has to be rewashed because I forgot it overnight in the washer.  I know that my seventeen year old made an awesome chicken salad for dinner while I was fighting with the notorious math   lab.  I know that my ten year old took a long time for school, but she spent a long time making baskets out of clay and enjoying learning about art.

I know that life is hectic right now, but I wouldn't trade this journey for anything.  I know that I get the privilege of spending time in the Bible every morning with my two homeschooling daughters.  I know that I got to read parts of Galatians with my seventeen year old this morning as we delved into the teachings of Paul.  I know that I get to teach my ten year old about Creation as we read through Genesis.  

If nothing else got accomplished or will be remembered, those times with my girls have made homeschooling worth the struggle.  What God does with it is not up to me.  It's up to me to pray and to be obedient to Him.

I have scheduled and done my best.  I have switched things up more than once.  I have felt the frustration as my carefully laid plans seem to backfire.  I have melted down as the pressure to do it all overwhelmed me. I promised myself I wouldn't stress myself out, I wouldn't rush in a panic, and then had to fight those very urges down when things began to fall apart once again.

He is in control.  Not me... for even my best laid plans will never be as vital as what He is trying to teach me. 

His will...  to let go when the day has overwhelmed me and to pick it all up the next day; to pray when those feelings of urgency and frustration began to knot up in my stomach; to trust when I am tired.

I have a class in a few hours.  Tomorrow is another day.  I found some amazing notebooking printables for my daughter's science...  if my printer will work! If not, oh well, I'll let it go for now.  I want that quiet confidence that says, even as life sometimes feels as if it is falling apart, "It will all work out.  Don't worry."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Artistic Pursuits

I planned a lot of art this year.  My children are always doing something "artsy-fartsy," as my husband says.  They draw and color and paint.  So much of the time I don't place a lot of emphasis.  I am not naturally artistic.  My husband has artistic talent, however, and our children seem to have inherited the ability.

Both girls are officially studying art this year.  Plus, I have left opportunities to be artistic in other subjects with notebooking.  We haven't avoided art, it just wasn't a priority unless scheduled as part of whatever curriculum we were using.

As I was trying to plan this year, I kept watching my daughters naturally drift toward art.  It is common for ten year olds to be creative, but even my seventeen year old was drawing.  I felt, looking back, as if I had shortchanged my children in something they naturally loved for math lessons and sentence diagramming and more reading.

Nothing is wrong with any of those things, but I overlooked the natural creativity inside my daughters.  I didn't nurture it.  

When I open their world to more creativity, more art, they do not disappoint.

Here is some paintings from my ten year old.  She is splatter painting and creating a masterpiece of our dog.  

She is girlie and loves painting hearts and rainbows.

My seventeen year old is playing with shading and shadows.

She draws flowers, like any girl, especially the enchanted one from Beauty and the Beast.

But her favorite is faces.

I love the art my children create.  I take pictures of it all because I know I won't be able to keep it all.  (This is especially true for my ten year old.)

Lesson learned.  Let the children be creative and artistic, even if it takes the place of some "academic" time.

Since I Can't Live at the Beach

It was dark by six in the evening today.  In a little over two weeks we will turn the clocks backwards an hour.  That will mean it will be d...