Saturday, January 30, 2016

Middle of the year question marks

I met a mom yesterday at the library who put her two little girls in school in January (she had homeschooled the first half of the year).  We had a great conversation about homeschooling and I enjoyed meeting her.

Where I live it can be hard to get connected to other homeschoolers, but once you do make a few friends you'll be off and running.  But, that first few connections can be really tough sometimes because I live in a very homegrown community.  I remember this well.

This morning I remembered a book that I wished I'd recommended to her.  It's one that I love.  When I read it, I remember thinking--that's exactly what I would have said--and I wish I'd had this the year I taught kindergarten to my oldest daughter.

The book is called When Homeschooling Gets Tough by Diana Johnson.  It's out of print, but there's lots of used copies out there on Amazon.  I thought I'd mention this in case anyone happens to read this post and want a little homeschooling encouragement.  The author is very down to earth and realistic about homeschooling--that's what I liked most about the book.  She's also refers to the Bible and encourages moms from the Word.

Pressing On... Middle of the year thoughts.

This week has been an unusual one.  It's one of those weeks that many homeschooled kids wish they weren't homeschooled around here because all of the public school kids have been out of school--ALL WEEK!  My kids did not complain much and I am thankful for that.  But, I tried not to keep them from missing out on all the fun.

It's tough when snow storms happen in the middle of the week.  We usually just press on and take some time off in the afternoon so they can play outside or go sledding at the school playground (which has a nice hill) near us.  I was thankful for this storm because we were able to go sledding on Sunday afternoon.

Monday morning rolled around and we... well, we did school work.  The tricky part about Monday and Tuesday was that my husband was home.  We didn't mind him being home, but it does change the dynamic of how things get done around our house and when they get done.  Instead of just juggling the kids, I'm juggling him too--making sure he has what he needs.  He happened to need to get a lot of work done for church, so he was working away at all of that on Monday and Tuesday.

It was different.  It's funny how the addition of a person in the house that isn't there during the normal school routine just makes things--different.

What I've noticed over the years is that every husband and wife interact differently when it comes to homeschooling.  In most families I've known (with a rare exception), the wife has been the primary teacher of the children.  In a few families I've known, the husband teaches a few subjects to the children.  The fathers in those situations all work from home.  Because of this, my next few statements are coming from the perspective of mom being the primary teacher.

It's interesting having my husband come in for a few days and see how things are going.  I remember him telling me once that he was impressed with the patience I had in teaching them.  But, our expectations of noise aren't always the same.  He's a very schedule, time oriented person.  I tend to be more routine oriented person--moving on to the next thing when we're done with the first.  I've learned a lot from homeschooling for ten years.  My husband has, too.  Our expectations of our children have changed.  We are both focused on learning rather than "getting ahead" and "keeping up with the rest of the world".  But, I remember ten years ago when we started out... we felt so much pressure to accelerate our kids from people he talked to at work and the ideas we'd both been raised with.  

Amidst the storm and my husband being home so many days, the questions that always crop up in my mind around the middle of the year came unbidden.  They always do when I stop to ponder.  It's the middle of the year.  I began with...What's working? What's not?  How's my heart?  Am I engaged?  Does my husband feel comfortable with our homeschooling? Are we getting work done?  Are my children learning?  What are they enjoying?  What are they not? These questions were flitting around in my head all week.  Some have been answered and some are still waiting in the wings...

Teaching is a journey in which both children and teacher have to press on every single day.  You put one foot in front of the other and hope that you'll be where you need to be at the end of the year.  I remember having the same feeling when I was a classroom teacher--"How are we going to cover everything by the end of the year?  Will my students get where they need to be?"  Each year is like an enormous mountain.  You can't run up a mountain, but you can climb up it slowly.  If you persist and persevere on, you will ultimately reach the top.

So, how do I make make sure I get to the top by the end of the year?  (I want to get there and I need a break in the summer.  I know lots of moms who are able to school year round, but I crave my summer break!)  Well, one of the things I do is that I check where my kids are at when each quarter ends.  Today is the end of second quarter for us (18 weeks by the school calendar).  A few weeks before the end of the quarter, I make a quick check of where my kids are at in their books (dividing their books into 4 equal parts) to see if they need to do a little more in one book than another before the end of the quarter.  I do this for math, literature, health, social studies, and science.  For some of their books:  Explode the Code, Vocabulary, Spelling (Megawords or Spelling Power), Handwriting, writing journal, dictionary skills--they have a set number of pages to do each day.  I don't check those books.  They just press on and when they finish one book in that series, they go on to the next.

I also discovered two years ago that I wasn't good at keeping track of a teacher planner.  I used one for preschool with all of my children, but then switched them over to their own planner pages by first grade that they use to keep track of the subjects they need to do each day.  This helps them and me feel like we got something done by the end of the day and of the week.  It also helps me keep on track better.  Math is okay two or three times a week in preschool, but by kindergarten it needs to be a daily subject.  But, beware of cheating!  My middle daughter last year started marking off things she hadn't done--until I caught her!  This year, she's grown up and matured--and thankfully, doesn't do that anymore.  The planner is also something I can show my husband if he ever wants to know how much each of the children have done.

My conclusions to some of my questions...
Yes, we're getting our work done.  We lost a lot of time in December because of a myriad (!!!) of doctors appointments.  We didn't lose much to my dental surgery this month and I am thankful for that.
How's my heart?  Okay.  It's been a busy year.  Co-op takes a lot of energy and thought from me.  Plus the college refresher teaching course I'm taking has occupied space in my brain.  I'm engaged, but I wish I was more engaged.  I find that staying engaged with homeschooling is a daily battle--a daily effort.  There's so much to take care of and keep track of that some days can be really tough in this regard.
How does my husband feel about our homeschooling?
My husband does feel good about what we're doing.  We added French lessons, gym time, and private art lessons this year which have all been great additions to our school weeks.
Are my children learning?  What's working? What's not?
I discovered when I reflected on this question that a few things weren't working well.
1.  Science wasn't happening.  So, I've designated an hour on Wednesdays with my son to get his done and Thursday evenings with my middle daughter to get hers done while my husband teaches an evening class.
2.  Literature discussions weren't happening regularly.  I started off well at the beginning of the year, but then tapered off when things got tight.  Now, I meet with my oldest daughter for an hour on Tuesdays, my son for an hour on Wednesdays, and my middle daughter for an hour on Thursdays. They do a lesson from Evan Moor's Understand poetry on their own on Monday and then work through book studies on the days I don't meet with them.  This is working better.
3.  Social studies.  My middle daughter is my hands on child, so I switched from the social studies we were supposed to start in January with her to a new approach.  She is using a book: Kids' Guide to American History (Highlighting important details) and then working through the Evan Moor History Pockets that go with the periods of history they correspond to.  (Teacher Created Materials also has some similar books for topics Evan Moor doesn't cover.)
4.  Math has been slow for us.  Pre-Algebra has been more challenging to my oldest daughter while adjusting to co-op classes and deadlines.  She's working away at it, but I'm taking more time with the beginning chapters because I believe the foundation of pre-algebra is very important.  My son is almost done with his grade level math book (2nd grade) and I'll let him move on to the third grade book so that he'll have a time buffer for when he gets stuck on concepts in the future.
What's working, though?
Lots.  The kids are more focused this year.  I noticed that there's less spacing off and daydreaming than there used to be.  All three of my children now want to write and I'm thankful for that!  My son got over the hump of not wanting to read chapter books and now says he likes to read!  A box of 15 Roald Dahl books that I got at Ollie's for $10 helped with that jump!  My oldest daughter is working towards the deadlines she has and being responsible about it.  All three kids are enjoying learning French.

So, those are my answers.  I'm thankful.  We keep pressing on...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Light hearted fiction

I don't read as many books as I used to, but everyonce in a while I plow through several at time.  Recently, I seem to have gone on a bit of a reading binge.

I started with Julie Klassen's most recent book, The Painter's Daughter.  I like Julie Klassen's plots and so I'm always game to read her new books.  But, every time I read one, I wonder if I will read another.  I'm really not sure.  The characters of Sophie and Captain Stephen are interesting and likeable.  The book begins with Captain Stephen picking up the pieces again and chasing after his negligent brother.  There isn't really a way to explain any of the plot without giving away important details (and I hate when book jackets do that!).  Sophie is obviously, the painter's daughter.  She had fallen in love with the Captain's brother and he literally absconded with her heart.  The captain arrives as she realizes that she has to put the pieces back together.  They enter into an arrangement to her benefit that is agreed to by the captain out of compassion and a sense of responsibility.  It's really a typical historical romance.  I just like the twists and turns.  

But, the reason I question every time whether I will read another of Ms. Klassen's books is how graphic she gets about the physical side of the romantic relationships that she portrays.  I've never been comfortable with the amount of detail she includes and I skip multiple pages in every book I've read by her.  The question I'm faced with is--is it really wise to read these books?  

I'm gravitating more and more to no.  The alternative is to read even cheesier books like one of the other books I read.  I wish this wasn't the alternative, but it is dependable.  The second book I read was Beyond the Silence by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse.  The back cover of this book gives away way too much of the plot, in my opinion, and it was very frustrating!  The book is formulaic, but it flows.  You know what's going to happen if you read the back of the book.  The main characters are very likeable, though far too predictable.  Ms. Peterson's writing does tend to be very predictable, but I think that's what most readers expect of her books and what they look for.  There is a happy ending tied up with a neat bow.  

The next book I recently read was A Long Walk to Water.  This book is a completely different sort of book and actually needs its own post, so I'm going to keep moving and talk about the next book I'm still in the process of reading.

On my table sits Death at Pemberly, the sequel to Pride and Prejudice by PD James.  I loved the Masterpiece theater production of this book and PD James happens to be one of my husband's favorite authors, so I have been meaning to read this book for quite some time.  The language is wonderful and the plot is interesting.  I once read a weak novel conclusion to the unfinished book, Wives and Daughters, a few years ago.  It was quite troubling because of the direction the author went.  Then, I tried to read Lark Rise to Candleford and never could get into the book.  Subsequently, I tried North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and was greatly distressed by how the author truly portrayed the main two characters.  I didn't like them at all!  Yet, I loved the BBC movie and have watched it many times.  As a result of these previous reading adventures, I have felt very skittish about reading Death at Pemberly.  But, I decided to make myself start reading it a week ago.  Thankfully, I do enjoy it.  There are differences between the book and movie, of course, but not as great as between the other books and movies I have just mentioned.  The biggest difference that gets bothers me is PD James repeated portrayal of Elizabeth as being focused on money and being unwilling to marry a man without money.  I don't remember this at all about Elizabeth and in my mind it makes her look very petty.  There are other minor changes like Alveston not representing Wickham in court and the absence of the mother at the house when it all occurs.  I am still reading it and haven't finished it, but it has been a refreshing bit of reading amidst the other books.  

The other two books I've read this month are The Curiosity Keeper by Sarah Ladd and Susan May Warren's book, My Foolish Heart.  The Curiosity Keeper was much more interesting than Peterson and Klassen's book.  The story focused on the daughter of a shopkeeper.  She is thrust into the middle of a conflict and must find a way out.  There are twists and turns in the story.  There is good vs. evil and the ending is not perfectly tied up in a bow, although it is a happy ending.  It is easy to read Christian fiction that doesn't contain the details that Ms. Klassen includes that I don't want to know.  

My Foolish Heart is the only book of the bunch that is a contemporary Christian romance.  I checked it out via my library as an ebook because I was bored during the blizzard we were experiencing yesterday.  I had just watched a romantic comedy/made for tv movie recently called Dear Viola and it sounded strangely similar.  I was hoping it would have a better plot, though, and it did.  My Foolish Heart is about several imperfect people with struggles that they have to deal with.  Issy lives with severe agoraphobia and PTSD because of a car accident, Caleb had his leg amputed in Iraq during his service, Lucy holds it together although her heart is crushed inside, and Seb is trying to figure out how to get his life together.  These four characters' lives weave together in a small town and a story of high school football, donuts, and a love advice show.  The writing is easy to read and follow.  The book dealt with some things that people really deal with today.  The good and bad sides of people come out over the course of the story.  I have to admit that I did like reading it.  It did have a much better plot than Dear Viola!  

So, that's what I've been reading.  Mostly easy reading stuff.  Sometimes my brain just needs to check out for a little bit.  I had dental surgery and I can't eat normally for 6 more weeks.  It's crummy.  This morning I accidentally ate a bite on the wrong side of my mouth and I had to work hard to quell the fear that arose in my heart.  I continually have to work on quelling that fear actually.  It's been 2 weeks so far, but it's hard to focus on eating small bites when I have 3 children who want and need things from me most of the time.  I am thankful that at least I can drink my coffee easily and that that doesn't have to change!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Worth Reading...

A week or two I read an article on Relevant Magazine's website.  The article was actually the reprint of something that Derek Webb posted on his Facebook page.  I thought that it was very wise and helpful to read.  Here's a link if you have time:  CLICK HERE.

Derek Webb is the ex-husband of Sandra McCracken.  The divorced last year.  He is the founder of the website Noisetrade.  He and Sandra McCracken are both musicians themselves.  I remember being sad when I heard about their separation (and divorce).  It grieved me, but I also knew that it wasn't really any of my business.  I was puzzled and saddened at the same time.  This article was helpful and encouraging to me.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Ending

One of the benefits of having Netflix is that you can skip super easily to the end of a bad movie--or of a movie that you only want to know how it ends.  I find that with many movies today, all I want to know is how it ends.  That's how it is with the one I'm listening to right now.  It's called Ask Me Anything.  And I did just hear a very wise section of dialogue...

The scene has a young woman and an older man (much older) who owns a bookstore.  He's giving her advice about how to move forward with her life because she's been having an affair with a married man.  They are coming out of the store when she says she hasn't been reading, but that she's been writing--on a blog.  His response?  Well, he's not pleased, per se.  She thought he would be.  He goes on to explain that he appreciates writing as an expressive, creative means of communication, but that her generation (millenials--teens and 20 somethings) is addicted to attention.  The young girl (who's about 19 or 20 years old) replies that they want to be famous even though "they aren't good at anything".  To which the older gentleman replies--exactly.

I suspect that in fifteen years we'll have a better idea of how blogs and social media are shaping who many--not all--young people are.  They are shaping the older generations too.  One friend explained to me that an extended family member came over for a recent visit and sat on her phone the whole time.  I was sad for the woman when my friend explained to me that it is what she's doing on her phone that makes her feel important--that she matters.

A few scenes later in Ask Me Anything, the young woman ponders whether she could stop blogging--whether she could live her life without thinking of how to describe everything--to live and become a better person and-- really live.  Then, she asks the question of whether people can really change their lives.  And then she disappears.

The young woman was playing with fire with the choices she was making and something happens to her.  The movie is not based on a true story, but is rather a realistic fictional narrative based on a book.

So, could I stop blogging?  I review fewer books now.  A few years ago, I regularly had a stack on my desk of ten to fifteen books that I needed to read and write book reviews for.  And then, last summer I stopped being a part of a large review program I had been a part of for ten years.  I still post occasional reviews of books that I love (because I still read very fast--a book in a day or less than a day) and I love to share about good books that I discover.  But, when I read now, it's just because I want to--not because I have to.

Over the years, I've asked myself many, many times, "Why do I blog?  Is any of my identity wrapped up in blogging?  Have I gotten caught by the notion that I need to describe what I'm living in order to make it meaningful?"

No.  I blog because I like to write.  That's all it is anymore.  I love to talk and blogging is a form of talking.