homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Darn it!

Yup. I taught myself another "new" (old) skill. And saved my favorite pair of wool boot socks. (Storebought, but much loved nonetheless.)


It's not the best job, but it's a far sight better than the threadbare and the huge hole. And I'll improve with practice. I went on to mend several small holes in my husband's favorite jeans. What a clever little trick--and I think that in many cases it's a lot better-looking than a patch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Health food (not)

I was cleaning out my images "temp" file yesterday and found a series of photos I'd taken months ago while working at my local video rental store. They were intended for a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic blog entry that never quite happened. I made a note to resurrect them soon.

And then within the next twelve hours I stumbled across (I swear, I wasn't looking!) two news articles about, well, the same topic. So now I'm current. Here ya go.

These folks said it better. And this guy said it funnier. As for me, I'll just let the labels speak for themselves. Go ahead, trust the claims. You'll be fine. In fact, you'll be HEALTHY! All of the following are claims printed on candy wrappers.

Twizzlers

Swedish Fish. Fat free? Many real fish can't claim that!

Neon "Squorms" Let me repeat...NEON. That sounds good.

One of my favorites--it controls the portions for you, you helpless glutton! Even better, these little bags of gummy candies are advertised as "Sack Lunch". I shudder to think of the thoughtless parent who might mistake these for Lunchables...

"Rips", a fruit-flavored, sugar-dusted licorice candy.

Rasinets. OMG it's *this close* to being "part of a nutritious breakfast". LOL

Lemonheads. Fat Free? Load me up!

See? The Lemonheads are natural!

Low in fat, and full of tradition. Junior Mints.

Goobers. Hey, my doc said to get more protein. Wonder how many boxes I should eat?

This is my favorite. Why? Because it's on cotton candy. COTTON CANDY, people. Of course it is free of all of those things. It's two ingredients: sugar and food coloring. If you are surprised or delighted to learn that it imparts no fat, cholesterol, or sodium, you need a refresher in chemistry or cooking classes. If you are buying this item because you are concerned about limiting your fat/cholesterol/sodium intake, you need a personal dietitian and a kick to the head. I'm just sayin'.

And honorable mention. Because if you are waffling at the candy rack next to the checkout at the video store, I'm sure the large claims about calories per lollipop are going to sway you. It may be me, but if I were going to go into a panic about the calorie count of my candy, I wouldn't be eating...candy.

Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-candy. It's only 4 days past Halloween and it's still a "sure, why not" free-for-all around here. What I am against, however, is misleading advertising and the notion that there are people out there who are willing (or able) to be duped by it. Let's keep a little perspective, a little honesty, and the ability to flip the package over and read the list of ingredients instead of the advertising.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Resourceful

He plays hockey. She wears sweaters. How to dry a load full?

A woman I know once huffily confided that she would never use a clothesline. She deemed it "low class" and "tacky"...she couldn't bear the thought of her neighbors seeing her clothes out on display in the yard. Well, let's just hope she doesn't drive past today, hmmm? LOL

Monday, November 2, 2009

A fabulous night for a moondance

Tonight's a full moon. Last night was close enough.

We had just wrapped up a crazy family birthday party, and were at the end of a long and exciting weekend which included Halloween. Lots of fun and noise and craziness, but it was over, and we were at that moment where half of the household has crashed into bed and the remaining wakeful folks are kind of kicking back and sighing. I knew I should be getting the kids into jammies, but I didn't have the energy just yet.

And then Cayden (3) asked, "Can we go on a listening walk tonight?"

Well, why not.

We've never done this before--it's a notion he just picked up from an episode of "Miss Spider", where an adult character guided a frightened child through a nighttime neighborhood to dispel some fears. And you know, it sounded like fun.

It was a crisp night with a bright moon. We bundled up warmly, found our new flashlights (seriously, aren't flashlights the best kid-gifts ever?), and headed out through the leaf-deep yard and down toward the woods.

We didn't go far. And between the cold weather and the excited children, we didn't really hear much either. But we had so much fun exploring the magical-looking landscapes that were suddenly unfamiliar in the different light. And we made "ghosts" with the flashlights. And, well, we made a really nice memory. :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Green vs. Green

So, here's a quandary.

I'm all about the reduce/reuse/repair/recycle kind of lifestyle. A large part is, yes, environmental awareness. An equally large motivation, however, is plain old frugality. I didn't get this way by joining a recent "green" trendy bandwagon. Rather, it was encoded in my DNA by two Depression-surviving grandmothers and several generations of family living at or below the poverty line. "Waste" is the cardinal sin for my people.

(I am also, therefore, a packrat. I save all sorts of small scraps of things--especially craft supplies--with the notion that someday I may need them. And in my defense, sometimes I do find uses for them. But finding storage in the meantime is another issue altogether...)

I tend to think, and rethink, before considering replacing an old item which may still prove to have some "life" left in it. It's wasteful to buy a new item if you don't *need* it. Not only are you spending money that might be used toward other purposes, but you're keeping the current item out of the landfill just a little while longer.

But what about when those possibilities overlap?

Case in point: a while back, my digital camera died. Well, not really. Only the flash died. Now, digital cameras are apparently a bear to repair. Very little useful information could be found online or otherwise for a DIY job, and the only camera repair shop that would even consider handling the job charged almost as much for the *estimate* as the replacement cost. My other option--manufacturer repair--was a mere $15 cheaper than buying a new camera, which was a later model with better features. By the time I considered the cost of shipping/handling plus the repair, it made more sense to go to the (local) store and buy a new camera than to fix the existing one. I sighed, paid, and passed my ailing camera on to a friend who hadn't yet gone digital (it still photographed well in good light)--so I hope that its life was at least extended a little while.

Now I'm faced with a similar situation. A favorite pair of shoes are falling apart. The soles are cracked, but the rest of the shoe is in good shape. New retail cost is around $115, but I have found a similar style (same manufacturer) at an online outlet for around $35. I have not yet gotten a repair estimate (I just discovered the damage and all local shops have closed for the evening), but I suspect that it may work out to be nearly the same price.

And if it's more? Ah, there's the rub. It's very difficult, when bills are tight, to say "let's throw more money at a repair rather than buying new" just for the sake of keeping material out of a landfill.

I hate that we've become such a throwaway society, but sometimes it really does come down to the bottom line. I suppose at some level we can blame shoddy manufacturing and poor quality materials. (In this latest example, however, the shoes are very high quality and simply a result of normal wear.) What really saddens me is that we as a consuming public aren't more outraged over this. My mother is still using several appliances that she received as wedding gifts in 1970. In 7 years of my own marriage, I have already replaced two irons, a toaster oven, a blender, and three food processors. Sickening.

They say that the best way to influence the marketplace is to "vote with your dollars". Which is easy to say when you have the funds to choose a more expensive, better-made product from the get-go. Yes, in the long run it may end up to be the more frugal choice since you won't be replacing it. But in the here-and-now you might not be able to wiggle your budget enough to justify spending twice as much (or more). It's a sad reality for many.

So what to do? I'm honestly not sure. The motivations to save stuff and to save money are equally strong with me. I wish that it wasn't so often a choice between.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Danger in the Animal Kingdom

Literally.
Theo's most recent animal obsession is Komodo Dragons. A few weeks ago, we visited the Pittsburgh Zoo and his imagination was captured by "Noname"*, the 16-year-old dragon on exhibit there. This was followed by day after day of his insistence upon playing zoo...with him playing the role of the dragon and yours truly as zookeeper. We checked out a few books from the library and searched for videos online. When this kid gets into an animal, we immerse.
This past weekend, we returned to the zoo for "Zoo Boo", a costume party and trick-or-treat adventure through the exhibits. Theo nearly ran to Noname's enclosure and was met with disappointment and a large sign explaining that the animal has been moved for the duration of the season, to return with warmer weather.
Lucky us, though, we found a very detailed Komodo Dragon toy in the gift shop. Of course it had to come home with us. Theo named it "Danger", and the two have been inseparable. Danger has been taken on several trips (to the woods, the playground, the grocery store) and has its own special bed. He is the Special Toy of the moment. It hasn't been long, but with the intensity of Theo's love, he has a good shot at being made Real.
Danger is also featuring heavily in imaginative play. Imagine my delight (not only as a mom but also as a word-nerd) when I came out to the living room to find this little arrangement on the castle playset, and Theo announced, "This is the Animal Kingdom!"
I love double-entendres. Danger, naturally, enjoyed the role of King of Animals...protector of all within his realm. He is assisted by a loyal group of crocodile cousins and a motley group of assorted other soldiers.

*True confession: When I first read the signage at Noname's enclosure, I mentally pronounced it "no-NAH-mee" and thought the name quite exotic. It wasn't until later that it dawned on me that it was far more simple than that...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Doing school, old-school

Theo found some crow feathers in the yard. Not an unusual thing. He asked about quill pens. And, being the geeky homeschooling mom that I am, I decided that We Can Do This.

First step: find out exactly how to cut a quill. I found a tute here and there online, but nothing as detailed and charming and informative as this "English Heritage" video. Love it. So, armed with a penknife (get it--PEN KNIFE--how did I never see *that* connection before?), I did my best novice job at cutting a tip onto the feathers. (Despite her advice, I did leave the barbs on. We decided it looked cooler, and we didn't think they particularly got in the way.)

What next? Ink! Well, according to the lady in the video, one can make ink from oak galls. So noted, and to be tried at some point in the future. But we wanted instant gratification instead of a long and potentially fruitless search, so we went instead with poke berries. Plentiful, ripe, and easy.


And then--writing!
I found it difficult to use at first. Calligraphy exists for a good reason--a classic quill only makes nice easy marks on the downstroke. Trying to draw the pen tip sideways makes a horrid scratching noise and uneven ink distribution. Downstroke, downstroke, downstroke. After a while of practicing, I was able to produce a relatively unembarrassing "Christopher" (Cayden's middle name), but alas--did not get a photo before the paper got rootbeer spilled on it. LOL

Theo's masterpiece:

Part of me wants to go full-out geek and make linen paper (and the oak-gall ink) and really authentic it up. But the kids were happy enough with this, and we all learned quite a bit and really enjoyed the experience.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We're not like that. Except when we are.

We're not school-at-home-ers. I don't sit my kids down with worksheets and assignments. I try to explain this to all well-meaning folks who insist on giving us workbooks anyway. Mind you, I'm not anti-workbook, but the kids are young and I want to hold off on any formal instruction (and all tedious busy-work) as long as possible. If they're a means to an end, fine. If they *are* the end, that seems a bit silly to me.

But I am also all about strewing. And being polite. So I accept the workbooks, and make sure they're available.

And for the past several days, both kids have insisted upon "doing their homework". Granted, Cayden is merely entranced by the idea of whiteboards (the eco-mama in me rejoices at whiteboard books!). But Theo has been diligently practicing his writing. Mostly numerals, although he will flip to the letters pages every now and again.


So, okay. We're workbook people. This week, anyway! ;)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

And why aren't you in school...

I found this list of sarcastic answers to the question, as posed to homeschoolers. It's funny.

It also reminded me of a little bit of annoyance from yesterday. I took my children, who are 5 and 3, out to brunch. On a weekday. As we were getting out of the car, an elderly gentleman crossing the parking lot remarked, "Playing hooky today?"

At this point, only my three year old was visible. I am still trying to decide whether this guy was trying to be funny--either teasing my obviously too-young child or perhaps even me--or if he was actually being rude/accusing.

Either way, it rubbed me the wrong way. Now that Theo is getting older, I'm going to have to work on thickening my skin for such comments. Sigh.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Education = Employment = Happiness?

My eldest stepson recently applied for his first job. Because of his age and experience level and availability, it is a manual labor position, for minimum wage. And the comments are starting, from adults in the crowd. "Well, this will convince him to go to college!"

It will?

It's the same refrain that I heard for three summers during my own college years, when I worked on the production floor at a local manufacturing facility. "Now you see what awaits you if you don't have an education..."

I suppose some of the sentiment is wrapped up in economics. Most of the time, degree-required jobs pay significantly better than GED-accepted jobs. But I think it's more than that. I think that, as a society, we are still deeply mired in the 20th-century mindset that manual labor is menial labor. That working with one's hands is distasteful, and the route to success lies in getting an "education" and landing a high-paying, white-collar job.

I disagree. I've done both. And perhaps my experience has left me a bit jaded, but part of what I've learned along the way is that often, your education (unless you attend a technical school or complete a specific training or apprenticeship program) does not guarantee you the tools necessary to thrive in the workplace. What typically serves one best is an ability to learn new skills quickly, to adapt to change, to think creatively, and to relate well to people--especially keeping one's cool in emotional situations. I've written installation manuals with no prior engineering experience. I've updated my programming skills on the fly, as the situation required. I've seen people who got where they were by teaching themselves, by tinkering, or by being mentored by senior colleagues. And a constantly changing marketplace almost always means that whatever skills and knowledge you acquire now will likely be outdated in five years. Or one. Or instantly.

That's only one half of the equation: the notion that an education prepares you for employment. The other, more distressing, notion is that certain jobs are undesirable and only to be performed by the underqualified, underskilled, or unmotivated. A family I know still speaks with regret about their youngest son, who despite his solid job in a construction position which both feeds his family and uses his natural skills and abilities, is forevermore viewed as "the college dropout". At the risk of sounding like a platitude-spouting ninny, the world needs ditch diggers too. And frankly, I would much rather my children grow up to be happy and well-adjusted ditch diggers than unhappy executives, if that is where their desire lies.

Your job is what you DO. It doesn't have to be who you ARE. But if it is...let it be something, and someone, you'd be content/happy/proud to be. And as long as your bills are getting paid (and you aren't harming anyone!), let those who would judge reconsider just how success *should* be defined.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Correlation

Or...coincidence, although that sounds too much like superstition and I'm trying really hard to avoid that. Anyway, cool...but not so much...story.

Sometime within the past two days (maybe Monday, maybe Sunday--I can't recall now), in the course of normal random conversation, Theo asked me for the "name" of the flap of cartilage in front of the ear canal. Puzzled, I said that I wasn't sure--that it most likely *has* a name, but that I didn't know it.

It's a tragus, folks. I learned this while reading up on Swimmer's Ear at 3 AM (self-diagnosing, alas).

Ah, learning when you least expect it. LOL and sigh.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beginning. I guess.

Today is the first day of classes in our school district. The big guys are back in school. The little guys are here at home. The difference is...had I chosen to enroll him, Theodore would have started Kindergarten today.

It's a weird moment. On one hand, nothing has changed. But there's this *hole* in the expectation, if that makes sense...this sense of what could-have-been and a little twinge of nostalgia about the never-to-be "first day of school" pictures (although also a heaping helping of relief over no "first day of school" tears) and a bit of tension with me pondering anew my decisions.

Having spoken with a number of other homeschooling mothers, I'm starting to think that the occasional rethinking is pretty normal. And most of the time, it reminds me of all of the reasons WHY I wanted to try this route, and strengthens my resolve. However, just the fact that I do it at all makes me wonder if I need stronger faith (something I've always lacked in all areas of my life), and makes me feel like a waffler when I want to be more firm in my convictions. Sigh. Ah well, something to work on personally.

Anyway.

It's a "school" day. Part of me wants to do nothing at all different. Part of me wants to recognize the moment with some constructed rite of passage. Part of me feels not only external but a bit of internal pressure to "do" something tangible...to plan and structure and record our moments to justify to myself and to Others that this actually is a process and not just laziness. Part of me knows that true learning and comprehension, even when brought about by traditional means, is most often invisible and gradual and unpredictable and often indescribable. Oh, and NOT tied to a school year calendar. What is all of this stuff they've been filling their heads with up until now, if not knowledge and experience and understanding? I have always known--and want them to embrace--that education is not something that comes exclusively from approved texts, presented by trained lecturers and confirmed by standardized tests.

For those of you who hear "homeschooling" and think "flashcards"; yes, we are learning...but no, it doesn't look like that much, and no, there's no difference between yesterday and today to signify "starting" anything new. I'm still marching to an eclectic and rather free-form drummer...I'm attracted most strongly right now to Charlotte Mason (for the reading, reading, reading) and Waldorf (for the nature and cyclical rhythm) and both of those approaches will probably shape our journey for the immediate future. For my own sake, I am planning to record things a bit more frequently. For their sake, I'm still going to keep things as natural and joyful and unplanned as possible. We'll see how it goes.

The kids are still asleep (joy #1 of homeschooling!), but I think we may mark today with a trip to Holcomb's for a few basic supplies--notebooks for journaling, a basic globe for emerging discussions, etc. Then a stop at the local library, and perhaps a game of mini golf in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. Because if nothing else, the freedom to explore during those hours is one of the best gifts that home education allows us.

Happy Learning, everyone!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some recent artwork

The kids love to do craft projects. Despite my own love of the same, I don't often sit down to "make stuff" with them, at least not outside of the kitchen. I need to commit to doing so more often. They come up with the most delightful things.

Our recent clay adventure produced:

BEADS (Theo)

and...

PORCUPINES (Cayden)

The clay has since been painted, but not photographed, alas.

I also splurged on some new watercolor supplies. (Or, as Theo requested, "the hard paints".) The materials were still rather low-quality in the grand scheme of things, but even the small step up from my frugal "here, use the back of this printer paper" typical way of doing things was amazing. Real, honest-to-goodness watercolor paper alone makes a galaxy of difference in the experience. I even got in on the fun, and truly enjoyed the tactile adventure.

Here are Theo and Taner, deep in creative mode:

And Cayden's completed "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".

And finally, I wanted to share an older piece. This was done late this past spring...yes, on printer paper...using washable poster paints. What tickles me so very much about this one (and earned it a very long engagement on the hallway wall) is Theo's description of it.

"Storm in a Box"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is the grass any greener?

I recently asked a friend of mine who is an American living abroad to offer her perspective on the whole "culture of fear" we here seem to be mired in. Her thoughts are interesting, and I encourage you to give her blog entry a read.

I have more thoughts on the "culture of fear", to be explored in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Balance and the Culture of Fear

My watchword for personal growth and navigation lately seems to be balance, and the past few months have given me a lot to think about regarding protecting my children.

Let it be said that I recognize that there are real and tangible threats to anyone's safety. Bad things do sometimes happen to good people, often for no reason.

Let it also be said that statistically, many of these bad things are unlikely to happen.

And finally, let me preface by saying that I grew up during the age of the After-School Special. We children were constantly drilled with the idea that the world was a threatening and dangerous place. All strangers wanted to abduct and molest us, or pressure us to use illicit drugs which would instantly destroy us. All Halloween candy had the potential to contain poison or roofies or razor blades. We were taught about Stranger Danger and trained to "say no! then go! and tell!"

I don't want my kids to grow up in fear like I did. I firmly believe that despite the few bad apples, most people are basically decent and friendly folk who do not wish to cause harm. I encourage my children to get to know the adults in our community with whom we interact (librarians, cashiers and waitresses, the garbage collector, etc.) and they watch me smile and say a neighborly hello to strangers we encounter on our outings. I would much rather they learn to be outgoing and comfortable in their environment than to grow up eyeing everyone with suspicion of hostile intent. Caution is wise. Blind universal mistrust, however, can cause unnecessary negativity for everyone.

On a related note, I also wish to encourage as much independence in my children as they are prepared to and capable of and eager to handle. I scaffold, I guide, but ultimately I want them to have the confidence to do things for themselves. Isn't that part of the learning/growing/maturation process? I still shudder at the memory of a certain 10-year-old I knew who blithely stood by while his grandmother not only tied his shoes but actually put them, and his socks, on him. No way. My kids will do for themselves (as appropriate). This usually requires feeling comfortable in their environment.

So. Here are the series of events that happened in my little world.

Event A: I went for a run at our local community center, and took my 5yo and my then-12yo stepson with me. It is a small and relatively open building. I toured both children around, showing them the locations of the front desk, the youth lounge, the restrooms and water fountains, and finally the gym where they would be free to play ball while I ran. I also introduced them to the two staff members who were sitting at the front desk and made sure that the kids recognized them as Friendly and Helpful Adults. The 12yo went downstairs to play ball. The 5yo followed, but also occasionally came up to the running track (directly above the basketball courts, where I had a constant view of the kids) to happily jog after me. He did not, to my observation, disturb any other patrons.

Eventually he had to pee.

I escorted him down the short hallway to the restrooms (just to the side of the front desk). He insisted on going into the BOYS room, alone (instead of the GIRLS room with Mom). I was hesitant because of his age, but the door had been propped open and I was sure that I'd be able to hear anything. I agreed (with plenty of Mom-admonishments to Wash Your Hands...WITH SOAP) and stood by the door waiting for him. He emerged unscathed and proud, then made a request. He wanted to get a drink from the fountain and insisted that I return to my run and he would find his own way back. Well, why not. In a large, well-lit building, why wouldn't I let my son navigate a hallway All By Himself? I went back to the track, and he joined me less than a minute later.

When we were leaving the building, I was confronted by one of the staff members from the front desk, who angrily read me the riot act for letting my kids "run wild", and how he was "not a babysitter" and how I should be more careful, etc. etc. He was hostile and unfriendly and my 5yo ended up in tears, worried that he was in trouble. I left that night feeling attacked and resentful. And I spent the rest of the night questioning things and second-guessing and replaying the event. Was he just a grouchy old man who hates children? Was I (gasp!) an irresponsible mother who had put my child in danger?

Event B: A few days later, there was an incident in the municipal building across the street. This is also one of our frequent haunts, as it houses the public library. An adult man followed an (otherwise unaccompanied) 7yo boy into the public restroom in the common area of the building (just outside the main entrance to the library) and molested him.

O.M.G.

Now I was freaked out. That was OUR place. Our library! And something so awful, and so close to...well...it actually COULD have happened to us. OMG OMG OMG.

I went into Super Worry mode. Sure, I don't want my kids to fear universally. But trusting universally may not serve them any better. So how do I find that BALANCE??

I turned to a book: Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (And Parents Sane) by Gavin De Becker. Although this book is full of frightening anecdotes, its overall message is less alarmist than recommending caution and trusting one's instincts. It also provides plenty of statistics to help one sort out the likelihood of threats. (A familiar person is a more likely predator than a stranger, for example.)

I have also found a great touchstone of sanity at FreeRangeKids, a wonderful site--founded and maintained by Lenore Skenazy--which advocates for "sane parenting", including freedom for children to explore their environment responsibly. She even had a recent post about the public potty issue, with plenty of reader comments...including my own story from above.

After all of the recent soul-searching, I think I'm back where I started. Which is reassuring. Despite an Actual Event, I still believe that most people are not predatory and still believe in allowing my children as much freedom as they are prepared for, comfortable with, and as seems reasonable.

Non sequiturs

If there's one thing that a 3-year-old is good for, that's it. Little comments out of the blue, with little or no connection to anything that preceded them, and which may or may not even make sense. Some recent favorites:

"A dog has a tail and legs."

"Eating this will make my tummy pink."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gold Stars

I sometimes worry that the record-keeping element of homeschooling will be a real challenge for me. Yes, there's the habit aspect of it (just look at my blog--I'm not the best at maintaining a regular check-in for very long), but more than that, much of it goes so far counter to my feelings about learning (natural/organic/learner-directed) that I see it as a detraction from our journey.

Case in point: keeping a reading list. For my own reference, I love the idea. (Obviously! I even keep a widget here, to map my own explorations and perhaps spark discussion.) It gives us a visual record of the topics we've covered and the ideas we've discussed. But it can easily turn into a competition of sorts, and that turns me off. Our local library sponsors a Summer Reading Club every year. Children are encouraged to keep a log of the titles they've read (or had read to them), and they earn prizes based on the number of titles.

Um, yay?

Okay, I get that it's exciting to earn rewards, and to be recognized for your accomplishments.

But.

After a certain point, I worry that the external motivation changes the essence of experience. I am sure that for most if not all participants in such programs, reading becomes more about accumulating a high number of entries than it is about gaining knowledge, enjoying entertainment, or otherwise doing it for its own merit. I flash back to memories of "reading marathons" in my own grade school days and becoming disillusioned because while I worked diligently through chapter books, other classmates would rack up a long list of Easy Readers and Little Golden Books (a title is a title, after all) and win Fabulous Prizes. Not only was it "not fair" in the sense that I'd put more time and effort into my reading, but it was ultimately "not fair" in that the focus had shifted from What I'm Doing to Why I'm Doing It. The reward had become the Prize, not the Book.

Yes, I realize that many situations in life require us to show the self-discipline to perform a task not for our own fulfillment but to satisfy the goals or gain the approval of others. In that respect, this is probably very good (and relatively benign) training for the Adult World. But the Adult World will suck the fun out of learning soon enough. Can't we just enjoy it for its own sake without worrying about justifying it to outsiders...just for a little while longer?

Even if something such as a reading list is not part of a group event but is only for the year-end portfolio, I still worry that we will become so focused on recording things that we will not have the freedom for unstructured exploration, free of expectation. Learning (at least at this age) comes so naturally that I often do not even consider an event worth recording until I see it defined and justified on someone else's portfolio or website. ("Wow, we introduced concepts of clasification and spatial relationships. Golly, and I thought we were just *playing*...")

It discourages me that I'll sometimes pause in the middle of something that we're doing and try to think of ways to spin the experience into something that sounds like a plausible Lesson, so I can justify our activites (to myself or others) as worthwhile. It's a necessary evil that I will have to defend what we're doing. That doesn't make me any more comfortable with the notion.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A shift of perspective

Probably the biggest paradigm shift I've experienced lately speaks directly to my parenting style. I have spent years in full-immersion attachment parenting, to the point where accusations of "enmeshment" are definitely accurate. Now, I'm not going to debate whether there is One Superior Way to parent, because if I have learned anything from parenting more than one child it is that you often cannot even reliably use one approach for all parties within one family. So please don't read this and feel judged or attacked, or proselytized to. I'm just documenting my experience.

That said...yes, I was enmeshed with the kids. And things were working out fine, thanks. BUT. I started seeing some disturbing trends. An often panicked dependence on me by my eldest. Irritability on my own part. And a general sense of "it feels like I should be doing things this way...so why aren't we happy?".

After much, MUCH soul-searching (which sidelined into the inevitable questioning of my commitment to, reasons for, and preparation for, homeschooling), I have made a slight yet siginificantly world-changing adjustment to my parenting approach and expectations. The best way to describe it is to say that I have changed from "child led" to "child aware".

Many detractors of unschooling or attachment parenting often argue about "who's in control", and speaking from experience I can attest that focusing on honoring the child can indeed sometimes lead to situations where indeed one party feels dominated by the demands or needs of the other. It's no fun. And not just for the parent, either, which may come as a bit of a surprise. Any unbalance in the family affects everyone negatively. It took some stepping back for me to remind myself that the world does not need to be made of extremes. As with everything else, my ultimate goal is to strive for balance.

The difference? When I thought "child led", I had a tendency to think, "Do what they want/need at all costs." When I think "child aware", I consider their needs/abilities/desires/emotions, but ultimately make objective decisions based on not only their input but what is good/healthy/possible/desirable for all parties involved.

It wasn't the end of the world. I am learning how to set and enforce boundaries without guilt. They are learning how to take "no" for an answer gracefully. I am feeling far less overwhelmed and tense than I had in previous years. What a difference!! I'm still a relaxed parent compared to the standards of many I know...but I no longer feel as though I'm lax. We are all thriving.

(Insert sigh of relief here.)

Epiphanies and Apostasies

So, what have you been up to lately? :)

The "apostasy" part is a bit hyperbolic, I suppose, but I love the sound of the words, the juxtaposition of the ideas, and the fact that yet again I've appropriated the words of Neil Peart. (This was a chapter title from his book "The Masked Rider".)

What I do mean to say, as I recommit myself to blogging (yes, AGAIN), is that my life over the past few months has been filled with a great deal of introspection, self-assessment, and a deep philosophical questioning of many of my evolving values, ideas, beliefs, and plans.

Perhaps that's part of the nature of being a Thinking Parent...always questioning what "right" is, and how to best proceed toward that goal.

Perhaps I'm just incurably neurotic. (Ha! Perhaps?)

At any rate, I'm back. I recently noted in a Facebook exchange that I have a lifelong tendency to collect, and then never actually USE, journals. It has been true in my academic and personal life. I have two baby books full of blanks. I have a number of diaries with only a handful of entries. And I have a blog full of more apologies for not writing than actual writing.

Well, hold on. I have a lot of things on my mind. I'm about to start full-force rambling. Please do feel free to comment; much of this is intended to foster discussion!

Here we go...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Malapropisms

We went wading in the water at the park a few days ago.


It is important for any readers from outside the Pittsburgh area to note that the word C-R-E-E-K is pronounced "Crick". No, I do not care how the rest of the world pronounces it or why you will insist that I am wrong. Around here, it is Crick.

Unless you are Cayden, in which case you will happily announce, "I am playing in the cricket!!"

The cricket was cold. They did not care. Mom fell on her butt in the mud. They enjoyed that thoroughly. The only part they didn't like?

The park had many discarded wrappers and containers lying about. Or, as Theo called it...


Glitter.

:)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's time

Theo asked for a watch yesterday. In fact, he didn't so much ask as he informed me that we were going to go to the store and buy one for him. Um...okay. So we did. He chose carefully--a black watch with red flames on the band. Snazzy. Cayden insisted on one too, and his is similar but has blue flames. Cayden's, incidentally, was misplaced later that same evening. Alas.

Theo chose a dial-face over the digital readout. A boy after my own heart! I remember my first watch...sensible, black band and silver fittings over a white face with black hands. It was a gift for my eighth birthday. Theo is 5 1/2.

He also does not know how to tell time. But I suppose he has decided to learn. For a week or so leading up to this, he has been attempting to give us reports from various digital clocks (alarms, stovetop display) around the house. He's got the "hour" part down, but has trouble with the minutes. And no wonder...because he doesn't know the written symbols for any double-digit numbers above 10.

And now he wants to tackle a dial-face clock! Let's see...that involves not only the double-digit numbers, but also fractions (a quarter after?) and multiplication (or counting by five, but really--same result), not to mention the mental twist of remembering that "7" really means "35". Ay yi yi.

But I'm the one overwhelmed. He's game. And he has spent the past two days happily reporting the hour to me and asking for help on the minutes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Giving them more by giving them less?

Our youngest son is obsessed with the 1968 film adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He asks to watch the film daily, and has had more than a few days with two or more viewings. He has named one of his Matchbox cars "Chitty" (it's an old-timey open-top...close enough). He has renamed a large toy dump truck "Chitty" and runs around pushing it.

He builds entire fleets of elaborate (and wonderfully symmetrical) "Chitty cars" out of the toddler-sized Lego blocks.

And he has his "spinning sticks", which started as two scrap sections of dowel rod but have also manifested as small branches, pencils, or whatever is on hand. The idea there is that he is Chitty, as represented by his propellers.

When my husband found an online listing for a replica model of the car, he sent me the URL. My first thought, as was his, was...OMG THIS IS SO INCREDIBLY COOL!! I sent a quick reply indicating my desire to purchase this for our son's upcoming third birthday.

Then I started thinking.

Yes, the toy is really cool. Yes, as parents we love the thought of fulfilling their dearest fantasies and love having the ability to do so. But if they have already successfully (and contentedly) filled that need with creativity and imagination, do they really *need* the actual item? What's more, would giving them the actual item actually backfire and stifle said creativity and imagination?

I went through this same question at Christmas time, when this same child was intensely interested in Wall*E. I decided to not get him a licensed Wall*E action figure because he had already reassigned another toy for that purpose. It was a boxy Tonka construction vehicle that does actually look remarkably similar to the little trash compacting robot. (At least, the triangular wheel arrangement warrants some comparison!)
He was perfectly happy with HIS Wall*E. And what's more, that toy had been a gift to reflect his ongoing fascination with construction equipment and (perhaps because of its unrealistic shape and proportions) was never played with for that purpose. He continued to use older, broken diggers and wouldn't touch this thing. Until he realized that it was Wall*E. And so, it is.

While my mind did the back-and-forth on the Chitty issue, my husband emailed a reply...and said exactly what I had been thinking.
If we do then his imagination for all the legos he builds and his dump truck may change and he won't call all his toys Chitty. So I'm torn.

Isn't it reassuring when parents find that they're actually (gasp!) on the same page? :)

At this point, I'm looking for a Chitty Chitty logo on a T-shirt, assuming I can find one small enough. (He's a size 3-4, the smallest I've found is a 6-8...so if you know of one, please let me know!!) I have ordered a vintage children's book targeted toward his age level as well. (He asked me a few weeks ago to read him the book, and he was a real trouper for a handful of pages but it's just not time for chapter books yet!)

I would feel/act differently if he hadn't designated a surrogate. His 5 year old brother has received a number of toys to reflect his intense interests...from sharks to bats and beyond. But even he has shown a preference for the "found" and "made" rather than the purchased. A recent example was a light-up, telescoping light saber that we gave him for his birthday. He loves sword-play with his 17 year old cousin (who is a rather good sport about such things), and this cousin is way cool because of the collection of toy swords at his house. So I bought the really cool sword. And it lies broken at the bottom of the toy box, and our son happily fights the neighbor boy with fallen branches.

So, while I am not categorically opposed to materialism and can totally appreciate a cool toy, if there is a choice to be made I will go with imagination more often than not.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Big Boys on Ice

I believe I posted pictures of Theo's first ice skating adventure a while back. Cayden was not included that day. While *everyone else* went skating, he went to Grandma's. He has never quite forgiven me for that, and still throws a panicked tantrum when he is close to Grandma's car, as I assume he's afraid we're going to give him the slip again. Poor kid.

In our absence, Grandma told him that he would get to go, too...when he was "a big boy". Several weeks later I was praising him for some accomplishment and remarked about what a big boy he was. And he joyfully exclaimed, "YAY! Now I can go skating!"

This kid is seriously breaking my heart.

So when a friend offered some tickets to go ice skating last week, we happily accepted.

Here is Theo...only his fourth time on the ice and he is already way too cool and kept his hands in his pockets the whole time. He acted very worldly and bored. LOL

Here is Cayden, learning how to stand/balance on the rubber matting. He was SO thrilled.

And finally, an action shot.


Poor kid...I didn't realize how much his jacket pulled up. I'd be amazed if he had any visibility at all. But MAN was he happy. He kept shouting, "Faster! Go faster!" When I took the kids off the ice for a little break, all it took was one turn of Mom's head and he had raced up the ramp and stepped back onto the ice himself. Of course he fell right on his backside! But my friend's three daughters were right there to offer a hand and he eagerly accepted and let them escort him around a bit too.

It was a GOOD day.

In true Spring-in-Pennsylvania fashion, two days later we were playing outside in T-shirts. Gotta love the random weather.

Another neat thing to note from the day... The rink that we visited is in downtown Pittsburgh. To save hassle, gas, and parking fees, we took the trolley. BIG fun for everyone. I sat the kids by the window and narrated much of the trip, answering their questions and pointing out neat landmarks or rail equipment. Just as we approached the city, the woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said (paraphrased--forgive me, it's been a week), "I just wanted to thank you. I ride this train every day and never give it a second thought. Seeing the journey through their eyes has made me realize just how wonderful it is."

I concur. I thanked her and told her that EVERY DAY is like that for me, thanks to them. Is it any wonder I try not to refer to it as "homeschooling them", but rather "WE are homeschooling"? I truly think the greatest gift our children give to us (besides humility!) is a renewal of wonder.

Friday, February 20, 2009

One of these things...

...is not like the others...


How long did it take you to catch it? ;)

(You can click to enlarge, if it helps...)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tracks in the snow

Despite the dearth of vegetation and visible animals, winter can still be an excellent time for learning in the woods. Identifying (and making!) tracks, for example, is much easier this time of year. Some of the things we've been investigating:

RACCOON
(I'm still puzzled about the track *right on* the nail. Odd.

DOG


AUTOMOBILE
Hey, they are part of our neighborhood too.

Interestingly, the ever-present, over-populated deer don't seem to be leaving too many tracks these days. Yeah, we just passed hunting season, but there's not much hunting here in suburbia.

We also left our own marks in the snow. Eco-friendly tagging! Theo proudly demonstrated his name:

And not to be left out, Cayden declared that this says "Mommy".I see it, don't you? :)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Arts & Crafts...and recycling!

We are crafty!

We are fun!

We are frugal and green!

But mostly...we have cool new crayons. I followed the instructions in this nice tutorial, with the exception of using large plastic lids (from laundry detergent bottles; saved for another project but repurposed for this one) instead of cutting up aluminum cans as the poster suggested. Um, ouch. The plastic worked just fine. I raised them off the surface of the cooking pot with my canning rack, which worked well to provide even heat.

The "raw" materials:

Getting "soupy":

The molds:

I bought Wilton candy molds for $1.99 at JoAnn's. The car ones are particularly neat--they are designed to be used to cast chocolate around the end of a pretzel rod, which makes them roughly crayon-shaped and easy to use. As you can see from the picture, I dammed up the ends with Play-Doh to keep the melted crayon from spilling out. Worked like a dream.

Our new crayons:

And of course, the gratuitous action shot: