Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reflecting on This is Us

A month ago, I started noticing a bunch of posts from friends about a tv show, This is Us.  I was curious, so I opened a new tab and watched the available episodes of the show.  But, I seem to have had the opposite reaction that many people I know have had to this show.

I don't like it.

This is one of those times when I have felt puzzled and so I began asking the question, "Why don't I like it?"

Yesterday, after leaving Bible study, I was able to articulate part of why.  We're going through the book A Praying Life by Paul Miller and our discussion was about chapter 23.  It focused on understanding that our suffering is part of God's story that He is weaving.  Mr. Miller gave some advice on how to cope with suffering and this is my paraphrased of his advice.
                 1.  Surrender.
                 2.  Look for God's story and what he's doing.
                 3.  Stay in the story.  Hang in there.

One of my friend's mentioned her childhood and the difference between her childhood and her own children's childhood.  I often think about this.  But, yesterday, I thought about it in a new way.

I thought of my mom's life while I was a child.  I loved my mom then and love her now.  She protected me the best she could and the one time she didn't, she quickly learned the consequences of that and never did that again.  My mom didn't have a college education or even a community college education, but supported me in school and college.  I was a very strong willed child, but the freedom she gave me made want to turn to her and tell her everything.  My mom's life as a wife stayed the same during her marriage and didn't improve until she got a divorce from my dad.

My childhood was tense and without laughter.  It was lonely and mostly unhappy.  I don't have that many happy memories of being a kid.  I grew up in a big house, but a big house doesn't mean someone's happy.  Never judge a book by its cover.  I was introverted as a measure of self protection.

But, my children's childhood is very different than mine and for this I am immensely grateful.  We laugh every day.  They have friends, even if only a few, they do have good friends.  And they have each other--and they enjoy playing with each other (which my brother and I did not)!  And my life as a mom is different than my mom's.  My marriage has God at the center of it, holding my husband and I together.  In the years we have been married, we have grown.  Life may not be the exact way I want it to be and I may not have all that I want (intangible things), but my life with my husband is marked by change and growth.  God has grown me.  He has grown my husband.  And he has grown us together.

There are actually several reasons why This is Us bothers me.  The first is that it's a show about self-centered characters.  Even though the show is telling the story simultaneously of the adults' childhood and their adulthood (going back and forth between the two), each of the characters is very self centered on their own issues.  The main character of the three adult children, Randall, spends the majority of all the scenes I've seen blaming his mother and being angry at her.  One predominant theme of the show is blame.

I have a teenage daughter and one who is in her tween years.  Sometimes I worry that as adults they will look back on their childhoods and wish that I parented differently.  I worry sometimes that they will blame me if they have problems as adults.  This show feeds into that fear and it's not good for me.

It's easy to start focusing on what we don't have, but rather we should be focusing on what God has given us and what He's doing in our lives.  This is what God reminded me to look at.  He reminded me this week that those things I want most--He is giving me--but they don't look at all like I wanted them to.  So, if I'm not looking for how God is working, I'm going to miss it.

I'm not a perfect parent.  I know I'm going to make mistakes.  I know I have already made mistakes. But, I'm grateful for the life God is giving me, my husband, and our children--even though it's not perfect.  It is marked by suffering of a different kind than I experienced as a child.  Our family has walked through some tough stuff--like everyone I know.  But, there is a story there--one that God is weaving even now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Escaping into Fiction

Sometimes I wish I read books a little more slowly, but other times, it doesn't bother me.  Last week, I sat down with a new book by Tamera Alexander, A Note Yet Unsung.

It is the story of a young woman returning to the south during the Reconstruction Era after the US
Civil War.  The young woman, Rebekah, has been forced to return home from Austria, where she had been living for several years.  It was not by choice that she returns home, but rather because of the death of her grandmother.  She is a musician, but at the time women were not allowed to play in orchestras.  They were a male-only profession.  This fictional story is of her attempt to play and perform.  She becomes the assistant to the local Orchestra Conductor and an invaluable aid to his work.  Due to her home situation, she was also unable to return to her mother's home where her stepfather lives, but she finds a live-in position as a music instructor.  The main plot of the story unfolds bit by bit from there.

The plot kept me engaged and I wanted to know how the story ended, though I was surprised and a bit disappointed that there were certain rabbit trails the author dangled in front of the reader, but didn't really expand upon.  I liked the main character of the story and the unpredictableness of one of Rebekah's employers.  Rebekah was very likeable.  The ending left me cringing a little though because it felt a little too idealistic and fairy tale-like given the social mores of the time.  But, that is often what Christian historical fiction is.

This book is one of a series "A Belmont Mansion Novel", but the ending didn't lead me to believe that there will be a distinct sequel.  This is actually the first book I've read by this author and it was fine.  I enjoyed the story.  I don't think I'd go out of my way to get her new books as soon as they're published, but she's a safe one.  When I'm at the library, looking for something to read, I would pick up one of the other books in this series.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher--but these opinions are my own and I chose to write this review.

My aha moment with teaching high school writing to homeschoolers!

Okay. So I had an aha moment. 

I do not use IEW and I do not follow the classical model for writing. 

I follow the model of students writing first sentences (K-2), paragraphs (3-5), then essays (4-8). when they write (I've used Write Source from Great Source for K-6) they learn many different forms: how to writing, cause and effect writing, compare/contrast, descriptive, narrative, poetry... In 7th grade, I wrote my own curriculum that focused first on Show, Don't Tell Writing (lots of printables online for free), then moved into poetry--choosing words on purpose, then into narrative writing where description naturally fits, and then into non-fiction narrative. We end that year with compare/contrast writing. 

This year, we began with summarizing, moved into when to paraphrase, quote, and summarize, and then into a research paper. The research paper was where the waters got muddy. It's an enormous undertaking and I needed to break it down. We started with how to tell what was a good source on the internet and what wasn't (found an awesome presentation on this online!) then chose a topic and evaluated several online sources for info. 

We moved towards writing the research paper, but I still felt like I was treading water a little and that was when my aha moment came! We had started outlining. First phrases and then sentence outline, but I was missing a piece and this it...

In K-8 students learn the forms of writing. Teachers explain when to use this form (and this connection should be also made when they are reading) and the structure of it. Then, in 8th grade they transition... ! 

They must now do 2 thing: 
1. They must be able to write research papers. They must take notes, and then decide what approach is best for the essay (there's a page in that Glencoe book that explains this). Then they outline based on the form they've chosen. For longer papers, you need to combine more than one approach/form ie. for postmodernism, my student is going to begin with a definition, move into a compare/contrast, and end with a cause/effect. 
2. They must read a writing prompt and identify which approach/form is best for that prompt. This is where homeschoolers tend to be weak. We don't want to teach to the test (myself included), but I realized when I started grading my daughter's tests that I have to teach her how to take tests and she does also have to do well on the SAT/ACT because that is what colleges want to see (external validation that she can do fine in college). 

This is huge for me, because I need to make sure that my children can write in all these forms and now I see the big picture of why I'm teaching them how to write all these different ways to begin with!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book #2... Waiting for #3

I find that it is hard to keep track of series of books when one has to wait several months between their publishing.  But, sometimes I happen upon the first and then subsequent books in a series.  Honestly, I prefer to read a series when it has all already been published--because then I don't have to wait!

Last year, I began reading the books by one particular author, Susan May Warren.  She had written two different series set in Deep Haven, Minnesota.  One was about a fictional family, the Christiansens.  The second was several interconnected stories about people who lived in that same town.  I enjoyed the stories more than I enjoy most stories.  So, I looked forward to the books in her new Montana Rescue series.  A few months ago, I reviewed the first novel of the series: Wild Montana Skies.  Then, a week ago, I got to read the second book in the series, Rescue Me.

Rescue Me follows two characters that appear near the end of the first book, Sam Brooks and Willow.  I didn't remember much about these two characters from the first book, so my opinion is that this second book is fine as a stand alone novel.  Of course, the ending leaves the reader with questions, and waiting for the third book.  

This story begins with Willow, a girl who's path has not been a traditional one.  She never graduated from high school, but loves the youth at her church with a passion.  Her sister Sierra is dating the man, that Willow has had a crush on for years.  But, in the story, Sam and Willow end up on an adventurous hike together with some youth.  And the story goes from there...

I like Ms. Warren's characters and her writing.  She isn't too graphic in how she writes romantic scenes and I am glad for this.  Her books are very easy and quick to read.  I have to admit that I read her books simply for fun.  They are light-hearted Christian fiction with some drama thrown in!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Publishing but that these opinions are entirely my own.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Easy to Use Art Curriculum

Where I live (Maryland), art is a required subjects for homeschoolers in grades K-8.  What counts as art?  That's a good question.

Art appreciation is art.
Arts and crafts is art.
Drawing is art.
Painting is art.
Photography is art.
Interior Design is art.
Lettering and calligraphy are art.
Graphic Design is art.
Sculpture is art.
Cartooning is art.
Stop animation is art.

What parents choose to do for art depends on what they want and the importance they place on art.  I remember when my oldest daughter started drawing.  I didn't think much of it.  She could draw.  I signed up for a few random art classes.  But, as she grew older, I realized that she could take an assignment and run with it.   My husband and I saw that art needed to be a priority in our family, particularly in her case.

I've used a few different curriculums over the years.  I love Laura Chapman's older art textbooks for grades 1-6, because they incorporate both art appreciation and art projects.  My favorite arts and crafts books are Williamson Kids Can Books.  They're inexpensive to buy used and they use supplies you usually keep around the house.  For a video drawing curriculum, I loved See the Light Shine's video art curriculum.  It was an investment for the set, but we would do one lesson each week and practice that lesson the following week--which extended the length of the set for us.  There are a bunch of free resources on their site that are worth checking out.  This year I am teaching art to a group using one of Laura Chapman's book along with Animation Lab for Kids, which they are enjoying.

But, what if you're in the same place I am--trying to figure out how to fit everything in and art isn't a huge priority?  Or you want a simple art appreciation curriculum to use along with an arts and crafts curriculum...  Well, I was recently sent a curriculum to review that I really like.  I like the focus of the curriculum and how simple it would be to use.

The curriculum is titled A Child's First Introduction to Art:  What do you see?.  It was written by Laurie Bluedorn.

It is only available as an ebook, but you can print the pages of questions so that you can view the art on a computer or tablet at the same time.  This curriculum has three volumes so far.  Each ebook is $2.99 on Amazon.  The first volume is focused on center of interest and includes ten pictures with questions for each.  I liked what the author did with the questions and in choosing a focus.  This curriculum would be easy to use in a multi-age setting with kids in grades K-8.  I would discuss one picture a week and use it along with a practical art curriculum to help children learn how to look at art and think about what they are seeing.  I think the discussion of each picture would take between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on how much your children love to talk.  After finishing a book, you could go to an art museum with your kids and look at the art, discussing what the center of interest is in each picture to apply the lessons from this book.  The second volume is focuses on artists' use of primary colors and the third on light.

Many art curriculums have a high price tag or they are complicated to teach.  I like What Do You See? because it is so simple and straightforward.  Ms. Bluedorn did a wonderful job with it.  For students who have an artistic bent, this curriculum can provide an easy way to foster appreciation for other artsists' work.

Would What You See? be enough to satisfy my state's art curriculum requirement?  Yes.  If it meets your goals for them, then it is.  I think that getting through 1-2 volumes plus a trip to a museum (either virtual or in person) would be great exposure to art.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this curriculum for review from the author, but that these opinions are my own and I look forward to using it with my own children next year as part of our curriculum!