Friday, May 28, 2010

Why We Homeschool

Friday Morning. 11:30 a.m.

Power (conquering fears of a scary-looking flume)
Love/Belonging (doing all this with friends)
God, who designed this place of beauty. 

All the needs, met in one place. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hubble 3D!

Today, the children and I visited our local history museum to attend the IMAX showing of Hubble 3D.

We all loved it! Caroline thought it was oh-so-splendiferous that not only did they mention Andromeda, which she remembered all about from a recent co-op class, but also they showed an astronaut trying to make a burrito in zero G. Spoiler alert: His tortilla turns upside down and the filling stays put.

Maybe you had to be there. Trust me, those astronaut guys and gals are pretty funny.

Any time I read or hear about the sheer numbers involved in the ages and distances of stars, galaxies, baby solar systems about to be born from tadpole-like bodies in a far-off nebula, my brain starts to smell like burning rubber. The imagination, it simply cannot conceive of these numbers.

And why does footage of a shuttle lift-off ALWAYS make me tear up?

And finally. The best line in the whole movie? The shuttle crew is getting suited up and one of them looks at  the camera and says, "The last thing you have to do before you put on your helmet -- because once you do, you can't touch your face -- is scratch your nose." THANK YOU! I have thought about that dilemma for YEARS, I tell you. In fact, my face starts to itch whenever I see those bubbles around their heads. The shuttle will be roaring into action and you see those excited faces, about to soar where only a handful of humans have gone before, and amid my tears, all I can think is, "But what if his face starts to itch???" And I start scratching on their behalf.

Issues. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Our Interest-Led Learning Experiment

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
- William Butler Yeats 

This post has been brewing in my cacophonous brain for a while, and I'm not sure why I've procrastinated spewing it out. (Ew. Brewing and spewing.) Maybe because I'm afraid it will be too long. Maybe because I'm afraid of what some of y'all will think. Yes, I have issues.

So way back at the beginning of April, we began an experiment in interest-led learning here at our house. We put away all curriculum and I stopped making daily to-do lists for the kids (except chores). I was tired of some of the repetitious struggles we had been having for so long over learning. Occasionally I allude to them here, but not often. In short, one of my kiddos has some personality traits/learning differences that can make homeschooling ... an extra challenge. Add to that my tendency to dream big and take setbacks personally, and something needed to change.

I told the kids that for that month, they were in charge of their own learning. I wasn't going to require anything of them. (Go ahead. Gasp in horror. I'll be right here when you're done.) I corresponded a bit with Jena, whose son wrote that very interesting post a while back from his perspective as a U. Chicago student on full scholarship. I needed to talk to someone who'd done this and had a success story to show for it, to reassure me that interest-led learning could be a viable option, even just for a month. Jena was so helpful, even on days when I'd email her like a panic-stricken floozy because one of the kids had done little but play on the Wii all day, or so it seemed.

What I did still require, and in fact required more of: household work. Before any computer games happened, they each needed to have a clean whiteboard (where I wrote their daily chores). I encountered surprisingly little resistance. Also, we still had a daily read-aloud session -- our biggest tackle being Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers.

At the end of April, we reevaluated. I had a sitdown with my oldest and we discussed pros and cons. We both felt like our relationship had been smoother, with less tension over what he perceived as "school" (which I resented, knowing how little like real "school" our lifestyle actually was!). He liked having a greater degree of freedom (although frankly, we'd never been anything close to school-at-homers). I liked that he'd read more, of his own volition. I liked that he took more initiative to work on his drawing.

I told him I did miss doing some things together and wasn't sure where I fit in to his lifestyle of learning. He accepted that, and thought we could add a few things back in, like our bird study.

Since then, our homeschool style has continued to evolve. I read and was inspired by The Call to Brilliance. At a friend's recommendation, I also ordered (for free, from here), a book called Homeschooling and Loving It! This book inspired me to sit down and make a list of my OWN goals -- she suggests 100 Life Goals; I'm up to about 20. After all, if we want dedicated lifelong learners, guess what we need to be ourselves???

Based on that exercise, I talked with Ian about setting some goals of his own. Together, we came up with a reading goal called Ten By Ten. He plans to finish ten books from this list of age-appropriate classics by his tenth birthday at the end of July. And he has a list to track his progress -- which HE is responsible for filling in.

Just this week, we've been working on everyone (well, except Caroline, who's very self-directed and very four years old) having daily goals based on weekly goals. Ian's goals for this week are to finish Charlotte's Web, to make himself a pair of bandana pants with my help, to finish his music belt loop for Cub Scouts, to work on his writing belt loop by writing a decent-length letter, and to learn to use the weed whacker so he can expand the services of his budding lawn care business. Eliza planned to ride her bike to the park and back -- a new distance for her -- and to read a book all the way through on her own. And I'm plugging away on my own goals.

Still, we tinker with what really works for us. Yesterday went rather disappointingly by my standards. Goals went unmet; time was wasted. I prayed Eeyore-like prayers, as is my wont. (But hey, I finished The Help! Great book!) Daddy donned his shining armor at the dinner table to discuss priorities with the children. He showed them the "Big Rocks" demonstration, and apparently lightbulbs switched on. Today, Eliza's been asking me all day, "Am I taking care of my Big Rocks?"  Um, making banana bread? I'd call that a yes!

In my more clear-eyed moments, I can see that this life we've chosen for ourselves will *always* be a work in progress. Our goals of doing more inspiring than requiring, of encouraging self-directed and passionate learning, of facilitating their education rather than handing it to them in a wrapped package, of teaching them to set goals and make plans to reach them -- there is no set curriculum, no clear road map for how to carry these out. What works one month or year may not work the next, what worked for each child may not fly with the others. Tides ebb and flow, even in learning.  So we're working on staying true to our vision and letting the path we take to get there become a journey of faith.

And I should edit this, but my computer time is up. Time to go tackle some Big Rocks. :-)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Firsts and Lasts

It was a weekend of beginnings and endings, momentous and mundane.

Our first family bike ride in which Eliza rode under her own two-wheeled power. No training wheels. This girl is finally free to fly, and she's not looking back. And oh boy, is she proud.

(Knock knock, who's there? "Don't." Don't who? "Don't hassle me about her flip flops! Mea culpa! Mea culpa!") 

Our last time -- well, for the next six weeks or so -- to eat Sunday lunch at the Good Luck Grill with Nonnie and Opa and the family. The grandparents are headed to England for their annual stint at Cambridge University. One of these years -- and I say this every year -- we are so going to visit them. Oh, and an important detail? They left us their ice cream maker. It's shiny, enormous, and brimming with possibilities.

My first time to make these:

I followed the idiot-proof directions from NotMartha and made one for me, one for a friend. Y'all, I'll tell you something. When I do these kinds of crafts, I feel like Martha Stewart.

That is, Martha Stewart after she's had three glasses of wine and a couple of Valium. My fingers feel slow, clumsy and inextricably smeared with Fabri-Tac glue, rather than deft, clever and clean. Also, I have help. Four- and six-year-old help. As they sweetly, eagerly pelt me with questions and offers, sweat beads my brow, snappishness hovers in the offing, and I find myself muttering Charlotte Mason's motto: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." I think the discipline is mostly for me. The children get the atmosphere and the life. :-)

And of course, the most anticipated "last" of the weekend: The LOST series finale.

I'll just go on record as saying that as someone who values character evolution and relationships over mythology and shock value in a story, I found the ending quite satisfying.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Internet debates, feel free to rage on without me.

Friday, May 21, 2010

We'll Fly Away

Actually, we already did.

The Professor and I took a night away to Wimberley, TX. Thanks to my kind sister and brother-in-law and a couple friends, this getaway took place sans children. I know. Consider and be amazed.

We stayed at the Creekhaven Inn (fellow Central Texans, I recommend!) which, startlingly enough, backed up to ... a CREEK. Specifically, the clear and burbling Cypress Creek, so named for the graceful bald cypresses that hug its banks and create a continuous archway of shade. Shade in Texas, my friends, is nothing to sneeze at.

Our itinerary included:

Kayaking on the creek
Sitting and reading
Soaking under the stars in the outdoor hot tub
Forgetting about anything stressful
Hiking along the creek to Blue Hole, site of these photos from two years ago:

Visiting an olive orchard where we tasted and asked lots of questions

Lunching at a winery

Strolling the town center
Talking about stuff
Wondering, now and then, how the kids were doing.

So, how were the kids doing?

Well, as we made our way around our city picking them up this afternoon, two of them immediately requested that the next time we want to go away for our anniversary, how about a two days, or maybe three, or maybe a week? And did they really have to come home NOW? The other child had the grace to hug us first.

We felt like the homecoming king and queen.

Like, last year's homecoming king and queen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thirteen Years Ago Today

We were just babies, really! Hardly out of those onesies I referred to yesterday.

I had barely turned twenty. The Professor was newly twenty three. In the New England of my youth, college-edjamicated folks just didn’t do that. I KNOW some eyebrows raised.

But here we are, thirteen years and three kids later. On that day, we were totally convinced that due to the exalted nature of our love, our marriage would remain special and romantic for all time. Now, please take the following at face value: One thing I’ve learned in the past thirteen years is that no relationship is above the need for consistent effort and renewal. Decay and entropy happen – in nature, in relationships. Fighting back requires some of that determination that convinced you what you had was special in the first place. It takes daily choices, a focus on loving rather than on being loved. Often, it requires divine power – the same power that raised Christ from the dead – to move us beyond our selves.

Want to hear one of our secrets to a happy marriage? It’s super deep and groundbreaking, guaranteed to fend off the blahs. It’s a little game we call “YOU’RE A …”

Here’s how it goes.

Scenario A. We’re wandering through a public park.
Me: “That’s an interesting sculpture.”
Him: “YOU’RE an interesting sculpture.”

Scenario B. We’re eating dinner.
Him: “I like this dish. It’s a little bit salty and a little bit spicy.”
Me: “YOU’RE a little bit salty and a little bit spicy.”

Scenario:  He bursts in the door, home from his evening bike commute.
Him: “There is the most awesome sunset outside right now! Did you see it?”
Me: “YOU’RE an awesome sunset, and I see YOU.”

Our kids roll their eyes a bit, but even they get in on the act sometimes.  (“I knew you were going to say I was a really unusual car!”)

Our book, "How to Save Your Marriage, One Snarky Comment at a Time," will be out next summer and promises to tear up the bestseller list. In the meantime, you can try this strategy in the privacy of your own home and see if it isn't too much fun.

Happy Anniversary, my love! YOU'RE too much fun.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Books for Big Girls and Big-Looking Boys

I never showed you what my kids gave me for my recent birthday.

Somehow my family has managed to pick up on my Betsy-Tacy fixation. Now, each of these volumes contains TWO books from Betsy's high school years and beyond -- including her European tour and her first year of marriage to her soulmate, whose name is ... No. I can't spoil you. There's Heaven to Betsy/Betsy in Spite of Herself, Betsy Was a Junior/Betsy and Joe, and Betsy and the Great World/Betsy's Wedding. You'll just have to read them for yourself, and I dare you not to be utterly charmed by the heroine and her fiercely loyal family, who never questions the idea that Betsy is destined for greatness as a writer and always puts the coffee pot on in times of crisis.

I've had my nose in these books for the past week or so, and haven't been good for a whole lot else except modeling a love of literature to my young students. The end of the final book is approaching though -- oh, bittersweet! -- and then my house can return to its characteristic state of gleaming, orderly perfection.

Now, now. It's not nice to snort your drink out through your nose.

More bookish stuff: Fellow Austenland fans rejoice! The lovely Ms. Hale is penning a sequel! Midnight in Austenland should be out some time next year.

And finally. My oldest child? The boy who rode around in a sling for the first year of his life, slept on my pillow, and otherwise experienced quite peaceable beginnings?  Look what he's been into all weekend.

 I'm sure it was just last Tuesday that I was tucking him into an organic cotton onesie. How did this happen? Please send help. You'll find me sheltered in a locked closet, reading a book. Over and out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Strawberry Delight

I have a conundrum for you. Let's say that, theoretically and hypothetically, you went to a STRAWBERRY farm to pick lots of STRAWBERRIES. Let's say that about forty five minutes into the picking, after your perspiring mother had told you three times not to throw any more STRAWBERRIES at your siblings or friends, that that same mother decided that everyone had had quite enough ninety two degree sun, thank you, that her poor mama-friend looked kind of miserable sitting amid the rows of STRAWBERRIES and nursing her cranky baby, and that it was time to retreat to the shade, eat lunch, and purchase a nice, cold, refreshing treat.

Let's say that your choices, all homemade on the farm, were as follows: STRAWBERRY lemonade. STRAWBERRY popsicle. STRAWBERRY ice cream. And vanilla ice cream. What would you choose?

Would you care to consult these four nincompoops for guidance?

I'm thinking of taking them all (Ian's friend included) to the nearest neurologist to have their brains scanned for gross abnormalities. Just sayin'.

In other news, we went strawberry picking last week! We had a wonderful time!

Strawberry bushes, it turns out, are a lot like people. Gently push aside the external foliage and you'll find lots of beauty flourishing underneath. 

Over the weekend, I was able to make the Professor a super delicious strawberry shortcake layered birthday cake. I reduced the sugar and made it gluten-free using Pamela's baking mix instead of flour and eliminating the leaveners. If you have any strawberries on hand, please drop everything you're doing right now and go make this cake. It's positively vital to your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Thank you.

Caroline and I also made freezer jam following Katie's easy recipe. It was my first foray into jam-making, and all I can say is, if I can do it, YOU CAN TOO. Just channel your homesteading ancestors, roll up those sleeves, and tie on your most charming apron.

(But if it doesn't work out, I can tell you where to get a good dish of homemade vanilla ice cream.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

This Wasn't Supposed to Be About Bacon

So was your Mother's Day the very pink of perfection?

Here we are after gorging ourselves in traditional fashion at a fancy local Mother's Day lunch buffet. We do this every year with the Diller side of the family. 

Clearly, we're not a family who knows how to coordinate our clothing patterns. Lord-a-mercy. 

Aw, look, it's five sweet-looking children. Don't you just want to take them home with you?

Whoopsie. Looks like someone(s) had a little too much bacon. 

I noticed something this year about our behavior at the buffet. The adults seem to feel that they're obliged to sample just about everything. Smoked duck? Bring it. Smoked salmon? Sure. Made-to-order omelets? Don't mind if I do. Three different desserts? Surely we mustn't waste food. Are we trying to get my father-in-law's money's worth? Are we worried about where our next meal is coming from? Are we just gluttons? The jury's out on these profound questions.

The kids, meanwhile? I wasn't kidding earlier about the bacon.

My plate (one of several):

My daughter's plate:

Houston, do we have a problem?

Let us observe the results. Adults, nourished with a wide variety of wholesome, gourmet foods: 

Kids, nourished with bacon: 


Meanwhile, we'll just zoom in for a moment ...

Whaddya know? The Professor reads my blog! (And gets more timely, un-subtle hints from Vanessa, who I believe is now toting similar jewelry of her own. We all need friends like this in our lives.)

So after the buffet and photo session, we headed home and everyone piled onto my bed to listen to me read The Willoughbys(wicked, funny) until my throat was sore. Then we lazed around some more, and even with Caroline interjecting her important needs, thoughts, and desires for popcorn every few minutes, I managed to read When You Reach Me in its entirety, which is this year's Newbery Medal winner and has a delightful twist that made me think all about time travel and feel about as scrambled in the brain as I did during Season 5 of LOST.

And somewhere in all of the rush of the weekend, the very best Mother's Day gift I received was the moment I realized all over again that both because of and in spite of me, my children are having a happy childhood. With bacon. The End.