Friday, March 25, 2011

Week 25: The Plague

Life from Mom's Perspective:
On Monday afternoon I began to feel achy. On Tuesday I felt as though I had been hit by a truck. Everything hurt. I had a fever, headache, chills. All I wanted to do was sit in a hot bath or sleep. On Wednesday Glen telecommuted. He took Matty over to Candace's house to be proofed for Memory Master. On Thursday he went back to work figuring that I was sure to be improving. I wasn't. Providence being what it is, the kids' new Wii game that they had been waiting for for months arrived. Again, I sat in the bath and shivered, but added to that the stuffy head and congestion had hit. Friday, Glen is home again. I am slightly better, but cannot help wondering if I will ever really feel well again.

Life from the Kids' Perspective:
Mom, are you okay? Do you need a blanket? (cool...she's fine, let's go play) Mom, I'm hungry. She replies, "Okay, let's cook lunch." Mom stands by while Molly and Matty cook Mac and cheese from a box. (cool...what a treat). Mom, are you okay? (cool...she's fine) Can we play Wii? She replies, "uh-huh." COOL! (we never get to play Wii on school days!)

If it seems as if the week passed by in a total fog, it did. Nevertheless, my memory work whiz-kid went to his tutor's house for his "tutor proof" for Memory Master and passed with flying colors! I'm so excited for him. The highlight of the week was him calling me from her house and saying, "Hey, Mom, I made it." Molly immediately wanted to talk to him, and took the phone from me and said, "Hey Matty! Did you make it?...Any hesitations?" She was so excited for him, as we all are. He still has to go through the "spot check" proof with the director, but so far so good. The "big one" is done! Unfortunately, he was supposed to do the final proof today, but our CC was cancelled because so many families have the flu or are recovering from it. Fully 1/3 of the community has been affected. It's a bad one, this flu.

Here's hoping the rest of my family stays healthy...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring is Springing!

I have been itching to get into the garden. It is after all, fully spring. I have multiple patches of bare dirt that really need some attention, especially in my front yard, which badly needs to be landscaped. My condition is not helped by the fact that I am stuck in the house today with the worst flu I've had in ages and a gorgeous day outside.

To inspire me even more, and to make my heart ache even more for spring, I came upon this post from Polyface Farm's blog, The Hen House. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Priorities and Healing?

Sally Clarkson of I Take Joy linked to a very insightful blog post today, so I followed it and read. Entitled "Relationship and Sacrifice" Elizabeth Foss writes,
The first aspect of attachment is that we absolutely have to be honest with the way we spend our time. If our families are our first priority, then we need to devote more time and attention to them than anything else (except Our Lord — but I think we serve God when we serve our families). That means that every time we are presented with a choice about how to spend time — and there are countless times every single day — we choose according to priority. It’s not a stretch to say that most parents don’t do this. They choose work. They choose adult social relationships. They choose hobbies.
“But I need to work to support them!” goes up the cry. “But I need friends, too!” “But I need to pursue a creative outlet or a sport of my own.” Of course you do. So do I. It’s disordered, however, to ignore our children in order to support them. It’s ridiculous to spend more time developing and nurturing relationships with our neighbors, while our precious child gets the leftovers of our social attention. It’s silly to devote time to creative or athletic endeavors to the neglect of the children we co-created with God. It is up to each of us to discern if we truly manage our time according to our professed priorities [emphasis mine].
I want to say that I wholeheartedly agree with Elizabeth's premise. Yes, yes, and yes again. I was one of those moms at one time. While I loved my husband and children above anyone else, having a family was at times more of an infringement on the things I seemed to need to do in order to satisfy something deeper in me. I had to go through some rough times to figure out that those holes in my soul threatened the integrity of my family. If I did not get to the bottom of them and begin repairing them soon, I would soon be living in a broken marriage with bitter children.

Here is what Elizabeth Foss does not state, but I will because I'm blunt that way: the reason that many parents are making the choices to have friends, hobbies, and jobs that scatter their priorities over many counties is because they cannot give to their children what they themselves do not possess. The actions of a parent may appear to be perfectly acceptable by society's standards, with no apparent reasons for the brokenness that works itself out in our children. But underneath all the busy-ness, the heart of the matter is dark, and divine healing is needed.

Only the Holy Spirit can reveal to a person the ways in which they need to be healed. Only the Holy Spirit can shine light into the broken and dark places of a person's soul and bring them to a place of peace and joy and true healing. Only a broken person can cry out to the Lord and humble herself and request that He do this very thing. Once we invite the Lord wholly into that process, we are able to find peace and stillness. Striving against the needs of the nest in order to meet our own becomes a thing of the past, and we find ourselves longing to fulfill the calling we are given first and foremost.

If a parent works, or socializes with the neighbors, or enjoys time with their friends is really a moot point. All of those things in and of themselves are perfectly benign as long as the Lord has ordained those activities and the hearts of our children are satisfied with the knowledge that they are loved, cherished and protected. It is therefore not a matter of time management but of soul management.

May we have the courage to ask the Lord to search us and test us for the sake of our children (Psalm 139). It requires great courage to present oneself to the Lord in this manner, understanding full well that He may choose to dismantle and reassemble our lives. Nevertheless, He is a wise and faithful builder, and we can trust that He will only do good for us in the process, no matter how painful it may be.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Week 24: Sprinting to the Finish

One goal that we have worked for this year is for Matty to prepare for the Memory Master Challenge in Classical Conversations. As I mentioned in my last weekly update, I had to wrestle with this concept and consider carefully whether it was too much pressure to put on him, or even if I was sure of its value for his education. Eventually I came to the conclusion that yes, this does have value, and no, it is not too much pressure. Rather, I began to see the constant practice and rigor as a mental discipline and not a burden that I was placing on him. He is a sharp kid who memorizes very easily, and if he can store things that are important in his brain, then he ought to memorize as much as possible.

So in the last week we have been practicing daily for the Memory Master proofing process. This entails reciting all 24 weeks of the memory work without errors in eight different disciplines. They are "permitted" 2 mistakes on the final proof. He must be "proofed" by both parents, his tutor, and the program director. If all of these levels are passed, then he has earned the status of memory master. On Wednesday, I decided to do a surprise proof. He didn't really know that I was proofing him, but he passed, with only a few mistakes and a hesitation here or there. Then Thursday we worked out those kinks and that evening his dad proofed him. He made no mistakes. I have to admit that even though we have worked very hard to this end, I am still amazed at his ability to retain all of this information!

There has been an additional lesson in this which I could not have anticipated. It has been such a wonderful thing to watch my son learn not to give in to his natural tendency to worry and fret over the smallest aspects of a thing. It has been a challenge for him to think about the things he is getting right and not focus on his mistakes. Then one evening when he had done about all the studying he could do, we talked about how he could just place the outcome into God's hands. That way if he succeeded, he could not be proud, and if he for some reason did not, he would have no need to feel as though he had failed, but rather look for the lesson that God would have him learn in the process. He understood, and immediately the pressure came off. He prayed that God would give him the words, that he would work through him, and that no matter the outcome, it would be to God's glory.

Serendipitously, this is all falling into place in such a way that we should actually be finished with the memory work a week early, and can then proceed into some OTHER THINGS. Molly will finally be able to get the full attention she deserves in her language arts and math (she has been so patient), and we plan to make a couple of lap books on topics that we covered in the memory work in the second part of the year. Be sure to check back on the progress of those lap books as we go. I will blog about how we are doing them and post pictures along the way.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Week 23: Digging Deep

This was a week of challenges for us. Last Friday at CC there was a project introduced for the students to build bridges made from straws, rubber bands, and play dough, as part of our physics portion of Cycle 2. The bridges had to be built in class and will be tested at the end of the term to see if they hold weight. The bridge that holds the most weight "wins." Matty and his partner found the task to be somewhat frustrating last week, so we bought materials and invited his friend over and together they built a prototype so that they would have a better idea of what to do in class this week. They worked diligently and after one epic failure built a bridge that ultimately held 16 lbs! Not bad for straws, rubber bands and a bit of determination, but those boys had to dig deep to conquer their frustration, disappointment, and their desire to give up.

Working diligently
The completed design
16 lbs!
In addition to bridge-building, we have been preparing to meet the challenge of Memory Master, so much of our school time is given to reviewing and reciting. It is an excellent opportunity to see just how determined this kid can be, and yet, I wake in the middle of the night with history and Latin songs going through my head! I will be glad to finish the term!

Molly is enjoying Phonics Road, though I confess that I have not worked with her as much as I have wanted to this week, due to the emphasis on memory work for her big brother. Nevertheless we started working through the readers, and while these are very easy for her, they give her a feeling of success because she can read them fluently, and she is always willing to illustrate...anything! She took her time and did a very good job illustrating "The Red Hen."

My diligent artist!

Upon reflection, this week was wonderful. I love watching the children (and especially at this point Matty) meet his challenges head on and overcome them. He is beginning to understand that he can do what he wants to do if he sets his mind firmly to do it, and "digs deep." He is growing more confident with every success, and admitting that he has learned even when he fails. I have struggled with whether or not it was wise to put pressure on him to aim for something that he has a reasonable chance of not achieving, but I have come to the conclusion that failure is just as good a teacher as success, and perhaps better. I have confidence that he is able to do this. The question becomes, however, can I guide my son to lay down his fears, work to the best of his ability, and ultimately throw himself upon the grace of God to help carry him through, win or lose? That last question...there's the rub...and the guiding principle of this whole journey, is it not?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Teaching Humility

This morning's devotion was taken from I Peter 5:5, which says:
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
Humility is a difficult concept to explain to children, who are certainly not inclined to be humble at all, ever. It is most definitely a learned thing, but I believe that without the Holy Spirit, it is nearly impossible to obtain. There are whole cultures that are built on the concept of humility, i.e. one never promotes himself or speaks well of himself or his possessions. Nevertheless, this humility is as empty as any virtue devoid of the love of Christ (I Corinthians 13), and pride seeps out in other places and in other ways. Pride is rooted in the heart of man, so no act of humility can be sincere unless there is true submission to the One who requires it by His example. So how do I teach my children to be humble?

In our household we settle conflicts with a couple of questions, the first to the older: "Are you serving your sister?" and the second to the younger, "Are you respecting / honoring your brother?" I sometimes have them repeat after me, "The older serves the younger, the younger respects the older." Invariably, when conflict arises and I pose these simple questions, both of them stop and hang their heads and think. Usually the answer for both of them is, "no." I then walk away and listen for a bit, and consistently I hear the chatter of happy cooperation between the two of them, as they begin to look for a way to please the other. Almost always, both end up satisfied with the outcome, and if not, they are at least aware that they have made a choice based on what is right rather than on their own selfish desires.

Great. I have established a pattern of behavior in my children by which they can escape discipline by working out their differences. But what about the heart? Today we talked about Jesus and his example of humility. Even though he was God incarnate, he served, washed his disciples' feet, allowed himself to be murdered for crimes he did not commit. If the very Son of God made no place in his life for pride, then should we?
Philippians 2:5-9
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Thankfully, both of my children walk with the Lord have the Holy Spirit to guide them. It is my prayer that this lesson sinks deeply into their hearts, and that they live their lives as humble servants of God and their neighbors.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Week 22: All is not Lost!

Okay, I guess we get weeks like last week to make up for weeks like this. This week wasn't a total waste, but it felt really out of sync and very much like the kind of week my planner hates--few boxes getting checked off, schedules getting chucked for emergency room visits...stuff like that. However, its saving grace was that it started out wonderfully with a trip to the National Gallery of Art complete with a tour and getting ourselves caught in the pouring rain with good friends.

Matty and Molly at the tour's end

Since last week I highlighted my ideal week and indicated the things that were working well for us, this week I will highlight why this week was not a wash, and what in the end saved my patootie. It is weeks like this for which I am very grateful to have Classical Conversations as part of our homeschool experience. When I have weeks that are stressful or unpredictable, I have something to fall back on because of the community we have and the activities that we organize together. At this point, it is critical for us to study the memory work diligently, since Matty is going to make an attempt at Memory Master, which is the recitation of all the material we have covered from week 1 through 24 with no more than two mistakes. Even if we fall behind in other areas, this still continues. For example, this week we had a field trip which highlighted other topics we have been covering in the fine arts portion of our studies. The children visited with Rembrandt, Degas' "Little Dancer," Monet, and others, which made their class discussions and art projects come alive for them. In essence, when all the items which I have planned fall through the cracks, CC keeps my head above water and holds me on track just enough that I don't feel as though the week was a failure.

I know that for many people, the idea of participating in a co-op or community is anathema--they simply don't need it, or feel that such a thing would actually intrude on their own homeschool agenda. Then there are others who find that participation in a homeschool community strengthens them and holds them accountable to completing the goals they set for themselves. I have friends in both categories, but I happen to fall into the latter. I am extrinsically motivated and find that it is much easier to stay on course at home if I have a community of like-minded people who are also working to a similar end. It is also in this community that I have forged some of my most valuable friendships, and my children have as well. We enjoy spending time with these folks, and in these relationships with other families we find fellowship and companionship and even vacation buddies! In my opinion, it is the community aspect of CC above all other things that makes this tool so valuable to us as a family.

Our Classical Conversations field trip participants