Sunday, January 29, 2012

Week 18: Mid-Year Assessment

It is the half-way point of the school year. This last week (week 18, as determined by our TOG studies) I felt as though I really needed a week to regroup, have some time off, figure things out. That didn't happen, but I did manage to squeeze time out of my weekend to do some evaluating and planning for the next term. My kitchen table is strewn with books, planning sheets and folders, but in looking through what we have completed so far, I have worked out that, in fact, we are more on track this year than I have ever been at this point! This is a happy realization! I have always struggled to complete curriculum, and in CC found that I was always "behind" because (as I have mentioned before) the curriculum had a way of blazing ahead of me before we were ready to move off of one topic onto the next.

A friend and I sat down with a new homeschooling mom who is planning to join our co-op and use TOG, as well. She asked us if we thought we had had hit our "groove" with homeschooling. Both of us emphatically said, "Yes, finally." Somehow the description of the "sweet spot" was used. There seems to be a nice balance of challenge, fun and fundamentals. I attribute it in part to the curriculum we're using, but simple experience also plays a part. I look forward to the second half of this year. I believe it will be wonderful...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dakota's Dad, My Dad...

I read this article today. It was posted on Facebook by the Christian home school organization in our state known as HEAV (Home Educators Association of Virginia). There was no stated position by the organization concerning the content, but I'm sure that all over the country, homeschoolers who are FOX News junkies are getting a high off of this article. Unfortunately, it supports my opinion that people have to prove the superiority of their home-schooled children in order to justify themselves. I have had a bad taste in my mouth all day after reading this from Dakota Root's dad. She is the daughter of a braggart father and a "devoted Christian" stay at home Mom. This is how Dakota's dad advises us to raise our children.
My advice as the home-school dad of a Harvard superstar scholar and athlete? 
Take control. 
Take charge. 
Take action. 
Be pro-active. 
Become the CEO of your child’s future. “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” 
Only through self-reliance, personal responsibility and rugged individualism, can a parent change their child’s direction and super-charge their future.

What did we teach Dakota that isn’t being taught in the public schools of Nevada? Since almost the day that Dakota was born, her mom and dad taught her the importance of work ethic -- that to succeed she would have to out work, out shine, out smart, and out hustle every other student. 
Talk is cheap. 
There are no short cuts. 
The foundation of all success is to get up early, do the work, make the sacrifices, live with discipline, fight passionately and relentlessly for your dreams.

We taught her that she must relish competition and embrace winning. 
That she must build her life around detailed and specific goals. 
That she must set the bar high and aim for the stars (in New York where I was born, we call that "chutzpah"). That along the way she must risk courageously to turn her dreams into reality. 
Without risk, there is no reward. 
We taught her that she will sometimes fail, but she must learn from that failure and get right back into the saddle again. 
And we taught her to never settle, or accept anything less than her definition of success.

The bar was set almost from birth for Dakota’s acceptance at either Stanford or Harvard. (oh, puhleeze! Parenthetical emphasis mine.)
 This is how my Dad advises me, and I am to teach the same to my children:
Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
My 10 year old son was reading the article over my shoulder a bit. I turned to him and said, "If Harvard is your highest goal, then you haven't set it high enough. What should your goal be?" and without hesitating he said, "God." Right. I have said all along that I don't care if my son is a bus driver, as long as he loves the Lord. I know that there are people who would peg me as being a very "driven" person and overly concerned with academics. These things are by-products of my desire to be a good steward of the intelligence with which my child has been gifted, not to produce some Ivy-League trick pony. I don't care where my children go to college, or even if  they go to college. I care that they are good stewards of what God has given them, and that they become the man and woman that God intends for them to be. That is my whole duty as their mother. I want them to walk humbly with their God.

What this means is that rather than "self-reliance" as Dakota's Dad suggests, I teach my children to throw themselves on the mercy of God and rely entirely on him. Rather than "out-hustling" every student and "embracing winning" I would rather they love showing mercy to their fellow man and embracing the cause of the orphan and widow, the outcast, the downcast, the broken and the sinner. I would rather them carry the cause of Christ and identify with his estate than climb over every obstacle by "rugged individualism" and stand in the halls of the most elite, the most intelligent, the most sought-after in society. This is  idolatry. The counter intuitive result is that they become powerful individuals who can overcome any obstacle before them, but not in their own strength, but by the quiet, humble inner strength that God so graciously gives.

I am not suggesting that self-discipline and hard work are not of value, because they are,  but unlike Dakota's Dad, I am not the CEO of my child's future. God is.

Our Homeschool's Worst Enemies

Enemy #1: The Telephone
It never fails. When things are cruising along nicely, we're on top of the jobs that need to get done, we're checking things off (math, language, reading...check, check, check...) there goes the phone. There are about three people who have permission to call me during the day because they usually have something to do with my life as it is and the call usually goes, "Hey, super-quick because I don't want to interrupt school..."

I am telling you this because for some reason I have gone totally slack on my commitment NOT TO ANSWER THE PHONE. I am writing this because this week, I will not answer the phone unless the person is on that very, very short list of people who have access to our school day. There. If someone is not on that short list, I will get back to them after 3:00 in the afternoon.

Enemy #2: The Night Owl Factor
I love the quiet of the evening after the kids are asleep. It's when I am most alert, most productive, and most content. Now that they are a little older, they don't go to bed at 8:00 consistently anymore, and I need a couple of hours after they go to bed. Going to bed late means that I sleep later. Sleeping later means that I need my time to wake up in the morning because I am not an up-and-at 'em kinda gal. I need some time to shake out the cobwebs. Shaking out the cobwebs means we start school later. Starting school later means we are much more likely to be interrupted by the need to go on an errand, eat, or a telephone call (see enemy #1). In spite of my love for the late night hours, when I go to bed an hour after the kids, read for a bit and then fall asleep (by 10:30 is perfect) the following school day is usually great! This is the hardest habit for me to break. My husband is also a night-owl, so it makes it doubly difficult.

Enemy #3: Neglecting the Lesson Plans
If I do not fully plan the lessons for the week and sit down with the kiddos to help them own and set their goals, then I can plan to have the kind of week that lacks direction and structure. I need to have that "meeting time" with them to help them own and set their goals.

I am writing this post because this is the kind of week I have had. While I did well with the children, getting their core subjects done, the week felt constantly interrupted and disjointed. I want to set the goal this week to get these things in line. We are beginning a new quarter this week, and it is a good time to make minor adjustments. The question I have to ask then is what changes can I make to improve these areas? After all, they are really minor adjustments, because for the most part things are moving along better this year than they ever have. I have already made one adjustment for Enemy #1, and that is a message on the voice mail that says, "We're not available. If it is a school day, we'll return your call after 3:00 p.m." Simple. Adjusting for Enemy #2 is not as easy, but it is even more simple than #1 and requires no technology--get ready for bed when the kids get ready, and turn in an hour after they do. The self-discipline it takes to turn off the computer and actually settle in earlier is the hard part. The adjustment for #3 is coming--the end of football season. Now that the playoffs are over, I can reclaim my Sunday afternoons, which is my best time for planning lessons. (Yes, I admit that I am a football fan. Green Bay Packers. Don't mess with my football-watching time. Some things just have to be...)

Hopefully these minor adjustments will make for a smooth school week. We'll see how it goes--I'll report back in a week.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Simple Discipline--I Said Simple, Not Easy

* Please note: In every rule there is an exception. If you have an exceptional child, please do not read this and feel condemned. Take what applies to you and leave the rest.

Discipline is a complex, moment-by-moment issue in parenting. There is never a moment when you are not refining, defining, and administering discipline of some form, unless you are one of those parents who can't understand why their children are holy terrors, but that's a conversation for a different day. I won't say that there is a "magic bullet" to discipline, but I will say that I was blessed by the example of a friend who taught me a way to help my children own their behavior as well as set a boundary that is clear enough to understand when they have crossed the line. A seasoned mom-friend of mine named Sue Christy shared this wisdom with me when I was just starting on this journey called parenting--I embraced the concept and have used it consistently over the years. First and foremost children need to respect and obey their parents, but following that the elder child serves the younger while the younger respects the elder. By applying these principles in nearly every situation where my children stray, they have a marker by which they can evaluate their own behavior.

For example, when they argue with us and disobey, we have only to stop them and say, "Are you obeying me or disobeying me?" When they genuinely have a concern that needs to be voiced, we listen, but most of the time, we find that the child quickly examines his / her behavior and makes a course correction. There is not a lot of yelling, no time outs, no spanking...whatever thing you choose to call "the rod" (that is not what this is about--Each family has their own means of making their child miserable when the situation calls for it.) In situations when my children are fussing, I do not single them out or tell them "You were not serving or you were not respecting..." I ask them, "Were you serving her? (grumpy reply, funky attitude, blah blah "Yeah, but she isn't listening to me...") "Were you serving her in a loving manner? Or with a crummy attitude? Have you earned her respect?" (Crickets...) Next I turn to the younger child, "Were you respecting him?" (But he is bossing me and telling me to do everything--he's supposed to be serving me!) "I see your attitude is a little snotty, there...would you want to serve someone with a snotty attitude?" (Crickets x2) Within a short time my children are apologizing and relationship is restored. It drives home to them that they need to examine how their actions play into a person's desired or undesired response to them, as well as forces them to own what they have done. Usually no further discipline is necessary than this, but there are the occasional separations or "go to your rooms until you can speak kindly to each other..." It also saves me from having to take sides in situations that are "he said, she said," or when I don't have enough information to make a sound judgement! They become the moderators of their own behavior, whether they want to or not.

This is certainly not something that happened overnight. It has taken years to cultivate, and the initial stages of tilling the soil are always tough. When we first began disciplining our children to obey, respect, and serve, there were many more unpleasant moments in which a correction had to take place than there are these days--each family has their own method, as I said. Ours vary depending on the situation (see photo at left--just kidding!) Suffice it to say that a correction usually produces tears and ends in hugs and sometimes even giggles, but a child is made fully aware of the offense and is instructed as to what the consequences will be should it happen again. If it does happen again, it is vital that the "threat" of consequences is carried out. Our children fear consequences and expect them when they have erred, but they receive them well and know in the end that they are fully loved--that the relationship between us is right and restored when discipline has taken place. This is something that we have worked out many times before (because they are not angels and are given to sinful behavior as much as the next kid) but the issue here is of training their hearts, not simply achieving a desirable behavior.

Tim Keller would say that God is not after a morally restrained heart, but rather a supernaturally changed heart. This sums up the goals we have for our children as well. As we discipline our children I continually have this in the forefront of my mind--that I can have well-behaved children who appear good, or I can have children who ARE good, not by my doing, but by God's grace. I consider Philippians 2:3-5 the guide for how we are to behave not just among Christians but with our families.
 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
It seems to me that there are often very different standards within families--there seems to be an "anything goes" kind of thinking where we trust that blood is thicker than water and that this "love" covers a multitude of sins. Actually, it doesn't. Love--God's unconditional, holy, healing love covers a multitude of sins--not our shameful, sinful, grasping love which insists that humans born into our same DNA group owe it to us to stand by us no matter what we do. People are easily, albeit painfully, estranged from parents or siblings because of sins committed in our formative years.

It is our desire to raise emotionally healthy children whose model of Christian family emanates first from their experience in their home, who in the end are not estranged as adults because of their treatment of each other as children. We desire to raise siblings who love and cherish each other and find in each other their first and truest friend, and who encourage each other to love and serve the Lord as we have done, even after we are gone. The foundation of this comes in Dad's and Mom's submission to Christ and to each other. Dad has Mom's respect and love, he in turn serves and loves her. We must show the same to our children--at every opportunity we try to praise them when they have done well, when they have made wise choices, when they have earned our respect. We enjoy serving them in ways they receive--their "love languages." I praise them to each other--tell my daughter what a good big brother she has, or remind him how much his little sister looks up to and loves him. We try to foster an environment where it is far more pleasant to serve and love than to draw negative attention. It all comes down to following--and modeling Christ's humility in our homes.

All of this means nothing without the empowering of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our home. If you are reading this and saying "easy for you to say--my kids are a mess" this is not an impossibility--you just might have to back up and do some ground work--some tilling of the soil. This begins with prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide, empower, and convict the hearts of family members to desire something different than the status quo. As the soil begins to tear, there will be painful moments, moments of doubt and confusion, and a desire to take matters into your own hands, but the key is to wait on the Lord. When you face the impossible, the only thing you can do is trust that your prayer is heard and expect the answer. God desires godly, healthy families. If you desire this for your family, begin with the simple step of praying for God to guide you as you disciple your children, and then...obey.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Week 17 - Walking Zombies and Origami

Week 17 of the school term has been a good one. Completely different than any other week we've had before, but good. My poor son has been suffering from a rather difficult case of insomnia for a couple of weeks. We are unsure why, except that perhaps his growing, changing body, and a series of interruptions to his bio-rhythms combined with increasing exhaustion was causing a vicious cycle in which he was unable to sleep. This being the case, it has been difficult to school a walking zombie with a volatile attitude. So finally this week we took the bull by the horns and canceled our one evening activity, had both kids in bed by 8:30, enforced "the routine" down to as close to clockwork as possible, eliminated any gaming after dinner, etc. These combined with some extra exercise (running a half a mile after dinner, once food is settled) and a small dose of melatonin seems to have done the trick, and I have my boy back. His face is pink, his smile is back, and he is cheerful and  energetic. That is what two nights of 11 hours of sleep will do for you. Tonight it will be my turn.

That having been the case this week, we spent a lot of time reading aloud. This is the one area that he really could focus, so I obliged and we began listening to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens together and I read Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. He continued to read his TOG assignments for the week, but math, language and other things were eclipsed by exhaustion and a story too good to put down. If you are looking for an excellent book for your family read-aloud time, you will not be sorry if you choose Moccasin Trail. I read out loud, without food or drinks for anyone for an average of 3-4 hours a week this since Tuesday! The book was supposed to be stretched out over 4 weeks, but, oh well! While I read, it was amazing at just how quiet the two of my usually noisy children were. They either sat and listened, bounced on their exercise balls or worked on origami figures.

Next week we will wrap up Unit 2 of TOG year 3. It is hard to believe that we are half way through this school year, and so I will hopefully take some time this weekend to look ahead into the next two units and plan out the rest of the school year.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Weeks 15 and 16: Back to Routine

By the end of the much-needed Christmas break, it was very much time to get back to a school routine, as my children had square eyes and rotten brains. I was happy to return to routine and re-engage their minds. As usual, the first day back was a bit rocky, but after that we enjoyed digging in to the topics at hand. Matty read The Princess and the Goblin as his literature selection, and I read Oliver Twist out loud to both of them (Matty couldn't resist listening, even though it was an abridged version for Molly's group that he had read before). We followed that by listening to a wonderful, appropriately abridged version of David Copperfield. We have started reading Moccasin Trail, aloud which we are all thoroughly enjoying. At co-op the kids are building dioramas of the 5 Civilized Tribes' villages, houses, or gardens.

I've been a bit behind on my writing, so it is my goal this week to catch up a bit on these things. Anyway, this is the jist of things, short and sweet for now. Happy New Year!