Disabilities vs. Abilities

 

Stolen ideas

In recent years, there seems to have been a rise in the occurrence of mental and emotional disability labels on children. Whether that’s due to a changing, unhealthy environment, or an increase in those seeking professional diagnoses, or both, is unclear. I tend to think it’s some of both, but I also think we as a society have become sort of mental hypochondriacs. Since the advent of the internet, I know I’ve diagnosed myself with all sorts of maladies, some real, some imagined! Time was, we used to receive a doctor’s diagnosis and trek around to other doctors getting second, third, and fourth opinions. Now sometimes we trek around to different psychologists until one does diagnose something that placates us.

But the concern I have is for those children out there who may be, as it were, held back by some label of “abnormality” placed on them by well-meaning adults, an abnormality that, but for the label, they would never know they had. “Treat the disabled normally. They don’t want to be singled out,” the labelers beg of us, when they themselves have already singled them out by placing the glaring label on them for all to see.

Consider my analogy, simplified I know, but it makes sense to me. Suppose half the people of the world prefer blue as their favorite color; the other half likes red as their favorite. It’s been that way for centuries with no notice, but then, during our “enlightened” 21st century, some highly degreed doctors get together and decide that liking blue best is what they’re going to call “normal”, and liking red best is now “abnormal”. The sad news for red-lovers is that there is no cure for their condition. The best hope doctors have for the families of red-lovers is that, perhaps with some medication and/or ongoing therapy, they might get those so disabled to at least like purple, then they could have some semblance of a productive life.

Blue-loving families everywhere demand equal treatment for their unfortunate red-loving family member, but those who haven’t watched the news didn’t even know there was a blue-red debate going on.

And color preference is relative. What about the family made up of all red-lovers, except for that one single blue-lover? Might “normal” have a different definition to them?

Now I’m not saying that “abnormal” doesn’t exist. Genes can go awry. If a person is so obsessed with the color red that they paint every visible object red, the lamps, the carpet, the TV, the dog, then yes, they need some intervention, especially before they go painting the neighbors’ house, lawn, and dog red. But don’t let such persons give all red-lovers a bad name. Most likely, there are a commensurate number of painters whose work has gone unchecked during their blue period.

But if you look at history, you’ll see that it’s been both the blue and red-lovers who have made progress in our world. A worried someone once told me their child had the same disorder as Einstein, Isaac Newton, Mozart, Bill Gates, and Steven Spielberg. “And this is a problem why?” I sorely wanted to know. I submit that if those illustrious figures had not possessed such a, so-called, abnormality, we would not have the scientific discoveries, inventions, and profound cultural arts that we have today. Oh, they may have been trying at times to their mothers, but thank goodness they weren’t medicated and therapied into some ordinary human’s definition of “normalcy”.

We have a family member who no doubt could’ve been diagnosed with a certain disability. I’m not sure because we never took him to a doctor. We bought him a video camera instead so he could give form to his creativity. And our home has often been a hangout for several friends with varying degrees of disabilities. We’ve never noticed anything abnormal about them…I guess because we’re just a bunch of red-lovers over here, happily ignorant of the box we’re thinking outside of. And for the record, my favorite color really is red…..and green, but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post!

 

Bringing the Arts Home

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

As a child, I loved ballet. I attended a performance of “The Nutcracker” every Christmas with my school and listened to my LP of music from the same all year long. And I took ballet classes at the nearby rec center every Wednesday for six years. Becoming a professional ballerina was on my short list of things I wanted to do when I grew up. I progressed to a point where there wasn’t much more to learn, except pointe, where the dancers go up to their tippy toes. It’s a very hard-learned technique, requiring specially fitted shoes and long-term specialized training. I wanted to learn pointe technique, but my parents were dissuaded by the cost and the drive across town to the professional dance school where it was taught. So my dance career sort of dissolved away by high school when my interests turned to other things, one of which was writing. Probably just as well. I doubt I would still be a ballerina now, but I still have many words to be written.

My family has all found, or is in the process of finding, their niche in the arts. One son recently said that it was of prime importance to him that his future children be involved in the arts. That got me thinking about what we’ve done to point him in an artistic direction, and what he might do someday to similarly inspire his children. (And while homeschool is ideal for this, it isn’t required.)

1) Start children young, I mean as toddlers, in introducing them to all forms of the arts. If they don’t know what all categories of the arts there are, they won’t know what they’re good at and what they would enjoy.

2) When you see an interest, feed it with resources and instruction. Many fun things we’ve used are detailed in other articles on this blog.

3) If you’re afraid that it might be difficult or expensive to find resources, be creative (that’s what this is all about!) and find a way. Check with libraries, community resources, recommendations from neighbors. We spent very little to encourage our children in the arts. There are no good excuses!

4) If they lose interest in something you thought they would like, or that they seemed to like at first, it’s perfectly okay. Some things won’t stick. You have to experiment and acquire a taste for some things. A deep and burning passion cannot be forced.

I must close now and get to bed. We have an art museum field trip tomorrow.

On Parenting: You Are Good Enough

Parenting is the most important job many of us will ever do, yet we lack formal education for such. At some point, looking back, we’ll usually zero in on where we may have lacked while neglecting to congratulate ourselves for what we did right. For instance, I’ve not been very good at teaching my kids the value of hard work (as in manual labor). I mean, they do chores but have probably not been entrusted with as much as some other families do.  On the other hand, developing creativity and talents is a big deal in our family. I have sometimes cut some slack on chores, and even occasionally homeschool work when I saw a big creative project, or even good reading going on. The point is, no parent is good at teaching everything, but all parents are good at teaching something. So here’s my theory, and it’s just a theory: Perhaps God sends his spirits where he knows they will get particularly things they need most.  Maybe he says, “This spirit needs to learn the value of hard work, so I’ll send him to XYZ home.  And this spirit is particularly creative so I will send him to a home where that will be top priority.” Rather than feel guilt, which is useless and serves no purpose, I think we should trust that God sent us the kids we have because, while he knew we wouldn’t be perfect, we’d be up to the task. Accept it–you were just the right person for the job!

Kids Summer Boredom Fighter: Project Jars

Has summer boredom for the kids set in yet? Already been going for weeks, you say? Well, hold on, the cavalry’s comin’! Here’s an idea we’ve used for a few summers that helps. We have Project Jars filled with ideas. This requires a little work from Mom at the beginning, but then once that’s done, the jar business runs itself for the rest of summer. You fill a big jar with strips of paper on which you’ve written ideas of things to do. (And feel free to decorate that jar if you feel so inclined, which I don’t.)

Include creative tasks, such as Draw a Cartoon, Make an Origami Animal, Create String Art, Draw Outside with Sidewalk Chalk. Throw in a few helpful tasks, such as Organize the Shoes in Your Closet, Sweep the Kitchen Floor, Ask Mom What Help She Needs. Make these short tasks or else they’ll never reach in the jar! Include some things that are fun but require some reading, like Plan a Trip to a Favorite Place, Find Out When the Next Meteor Shower Happens, Find a Funny Limerick and Read It to Mom, Find Out What Time It Is Right Now in New Guinea. Add some random funness: Pick a Favorite Snack and Have Mom Put It on Her Grocery List, Run Through the Sprinklers, March Backwards Through the House Singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. I also included a few that said to come up with three more ideas, write them on strips of paper, and add them to the jar.

Our rule is that, if you don’t want to do what you draw from the jar, you can draw a second time, but you must choose one of those two to do. If you draw a strip that says, ‘Free-For-All’, you can keep drawing papers until you get one you want to do.

We put a second jar out labeled ‘Done.’ I bet you know what to do with that one. If you get through the whole jar before summer’s over, you just dump them back into the original jar and start again.

Our jars have grown as the kids’ interests have changed and as we’ve thought of more good ideas. But we’ve kept the jars from year to year, so it saves time in starting from scratch thinking up ideas. Have fun getting creative and happy summer!

 

Why Homeschool Series: Reason #7

Our seventh and last reason why our family likes to homeschool is to foster creativity. Since my children’s time isn’t taken up by any busy work plus hours of homework after school, they are able to complete all of their schoolwork in three to four hours a day. That’s if they focus their minds and refrain from daydreaming, but hey, that’s creative too. I believe lots of unstructured time is healthy for children; boredom can be a benefit. Combined with limits on TV and computer time (except in cases where it educates and feeds their creativity) and keeping lots of books and music available, it forces them to get creative, and they will, on their own, with no help from fussing parents who think it’s their job to entertain and fill every hour of their children’s time. I have proudly stood by and watched while my children have explored different creative areas, lighted onto their favorites, and taught themselves things I have no clue whatsoever how to do. I believe they will be heavily involved in the arts as adults as far as careers and/or hobbies. I mentioned that different homeschool families have different dynamics. We are a creative family, what with my husband’s art photography and my writing, and our children have a natural desire to want to carry on that tradition, but most importantly, they are given loads of time to do just that.Taylor's drawing

We feel that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is seriously flawed. Teachers must teach to the test, ignoring all real learning methods in order to drill facts and get every kid to memorize enough to pass a test, after which the kids do a brain dump and don’t retain it anyway. There is no love of learning, no thirst for knowledge, no inspirational lighting of fires. In this conveyor belt method of education, perhaps less children are ‘officially’ left behind, but no one is able to leap ahead either. Gifted students are rarely given the opportunity to move at their own pace and show their stuff. They must remain with the herd. As awful as that sounds, I think some parents don’t mind. They may think it’s unfortunate but aren’t bothered enough to do much about it. But it’s a very big deal to me. I’m not a stage mother who pushes my children to perform. I lead and encourage and they do the rest themselves, and this is because the natural imaginative abilities that I believe all children are born with have not been buried but allowed the time and space they need to flourish.Tristan's drawing

In looking back over our reasons to homeschool, I see that they are really benefits that we enjoy as much as they are reasons. Homeschool is not a chore for us; it’s not something we were compelled to do because of circumstances we wanted to avoid. It wasn’t a “Well, I don’t want to, but I guess I’m going to have to do this” type of thing. No, for us it was Plan A. We may spend a little more time within the four walls of our home than some, but those walls have been torn down by the adventures of books. In our small schoolroom, as well as the rest of the house, we have traveled all over our Earth and beyond and visited every era, ancient and future. We have no boundaries, and our journey continues.

 

Why Homeschool Series: Reason #6

Reason #6 is the flexibility that a homeschool lifestyle provides for us. New homeschool moms have a tendency to try to “bring school home”, make it as much like public school as possible. I say if you’re going to do that, why not just let the kids go to school?  Homeschool is a different animal, and it is different for every family according to their own habits and traditions. Yes, I have schedules and written plans, but they are loosely kept. We dispense with subjects or take a day off at a moment’s notice. But at the same time, informal schooling can take place anywhere and at anytime of the day or night, such as when we go out at midnight in August to watch the Perseid meteor shower, visit museums, read aloud great books at bedtime, or watch cool documentaries on TV. It’s nice that, if we get to take a trip, it can just be considered an extended field trip.

I’ve come to the conclusion that school teachers spend much of their time with crowd control. I used to teach a Sunday school class of five- and six-year-olds. Every week I never got through all of the things I had prepared as I spent much of the time getting and keeping their attention, a humorous sight, I’m sure. (I’m glad no video exists of it!) On two occasions when family friends visited and came to my class instead of going to their adult classes, my class became shy and clammed up. I got through everything I’d prepared, even all the just-in-case extra things, and still had 20 minutes of class time left with nothing to do. Expanding that to the length of a normal public school day, I figure teachers probably spend approximately half of the time just maintaining discipline, although admittedly I’m sure they’re much better at it than I was!

For us, unbounded by a strict schedule, we have the flexibility to stray off subject and follow unexpected, impromptu paths of exploration and discussion spurred by random knowledge we come across…..or not, if we prefer to finish quickly and have time for other things.

~to be continued~

Why Homeschool Series: Reason #5

The fifth reason we like to homeschool (these are in no particular order) is that we enjoy family togetherness. Being together as a family all the time, every day, is priceless to us. The boys do everything together and get along very well. I have taught them that we are a team and we must always stand up for each other and never, ever take sides with a friend against a family member. Family always comes first. And although the boys may not always be aware of it, I am aware every moment that we are making memories that will last us a lifetime.

I must speak to one of my pet peeves here. Everywhere parents always seem to want to get away from their kids, i.e., “Can’t wait till school starts, can’t wait till their summer vacation’s over, can’t wait till they graduate and get out of the house.” For pete’s sakes, they can’t even wait for them to go to bed at night and don’t look forward to them getting up in the morning. I do not, for a moment, question their love for their children. They love them more than life itself; they just don’t always like them. No doubt their feelings subconsciously filter down to the kids who get the feeling they’re in the way. I read in a forum where parents were fantasizing about where they’d go on a vacation if they could. They named faraway, enchanting, wonderful places, then almost every person added that they didn’t want their kids to come. What an educational opportunity those kids would miss out on. To go to Washington, D.C., New York City, or Italy without the kids?  Oh, maybe their kids would be bored with museums and geographical learning, but that’s where instilling a love of learning comes in. (Refer to this post and this post.)

I have a theory (albeit scientifically unproven, that I know of) that some of the difficult behavior in children that parents want to get away from, actually stems from the children trying to get attention because they know their parents don’t want to be around them. Kind of a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ type of thing, I know. I once observed a mom speaking to a nine-year-old as if he was three, because she thought she was responding to his version of normal. I actually think he acted three because that’s how he was spoken to. Kids aren’t clueless. A little aside here, the best advice I got when I was a new mom and quite scared about it, was from a friend who has spent many years as an elementary school librarian. She told me, “Don’t talk down to kids. They don’t like it.” (Yeah, I can remember hating that when I was a kid myself.)

Let me make clear that I greatly admire those moms who must work away from home and cannot spend as much time with their children as they’d like. I bow down to you. You have immense capacity which I don’t have, and there are angels attending you. You know what is best for your family, just like I know what is best for mine. Which is why I was a little annoyed when a mom I shall call Lisa (name has been changed) said to me, “I know you like to stay home with your kids. I would like to do that too, but I can’t afford it.” Then she promptly resumed her life with a trip to Hawaii and weekends with all her expensive outdoor toys. Now I always say that different families have different dynamics, and maybe Lisa needs those things to help her relax and “fill her bucket”. She could be with her kids more (and I know they mean the world to her), but she doesn’t want to sacrifice the fun things. Hear me now. I do…not…care that she doesn’t want to sacrifice the fun things. But just be honest about it. My family has made huge economical sacrifices for me to stay home with our children. I have set aside a career for the better part of two decades, but my husband and I have willingly done this and feel it’s been the best thing for our family.

The time with our children is so short before they are grown (ask any grandma!) and I do not want to miss out on what I will likely look back on as the greatest years of my life, and I also love spending this time creating great moments and memories for my children as well.

~to be continued~

Why Homeschool Series: Reason #4

Our fourth reason why we like to homeschool is socialization. Yes, I said that. The most common question homeschool moms are asked is, “Aren’t you worried about their socialization?” My pat answer is, “Yes, we are terribly worried about their socialization. That’s why we homeschool.” Seriously, the social question is about as ludicrous as it could be. Throwing children together with a roomful of children all the same age does not reflect real life as they will experience it as adults. And how does dealing with bullies prepare them for real life? If an adult were physically assaulted by someone or had their money stolen, we’d call the police and press charges. Society expects children to put up with a lot more than adults would.

Then there is the lack of morals in the public schools, where foul language is commonplace in junior high hallways, and even elementary schools in many places, where drinking and sexual behavior runs rampant in high schools. Sure, it’s important to teach our children about what they will come up against in the real world, but delaying their actual exposure to it gives us the opportunity to fortify them first, so that when they are surrounded by it someday, they will be strong and have the tools available to fight temptations and choose the right path.

Additionally, homeschooled children tend to be fairly good at developing mature behavior. Most homeschoolers find it natural to relate to people of all ages, including adults. I have happily watched as children aged five to sixteen played games together at homeschool group parties, the older ones helping the younger ones, everyone having fun together. My children have easily made friends with others both older and younger than they.

Many people don’t realize the social extent of the homeschool culture. There are organized groups everywhere, often with so many activities going on that families can pick and choose how involved they want to be. My children have taken part in geography and spelling bees, science fairs, arts festivals, chess club, played on a soccer team, and attended numerous plays, concerts, field trips, roller skating days, and parties, all with our homeschool groups. Outside of homeschool, they actively participate in Boy Scouts and church youth programs and have had multiple opportunities for volunteer service and public speaking. No homeschooler needs to be anti-social unless they want to!

~to be continued~

Why Homeschool Series: Reason #2

The second reason our family likes to homeschool is what I will call patriotic reasons. I reiterate that these reasons are particular to our family. I respect those who have different beliefs about government and education and ask for their respect for us in return.

There are those who believe that children should not be indoctrinated by the values of their parents, yet they don’t realize that the indoctrination train runs both ways. Children are going to learn values of some sort, whether we teach them ours or not. We do not shelter our children to keep them out of the world for as long as possible. We fortify them so that when they do face the world, they are well-prepared with tools that will help them with decision-making. I daresay this is the position of many homeschool parents as statistics show that homeschooled children tend to become more community-involved adults, i.e., participate more in voting, stand up for certain issues, write letters to the editor, etc., because they understand well about their civic responsibility and how important their voice is.

Some also believe that parents are not qualified to oversee the education of their children and want the government to be the entity that fashions their impressionable minds.  Interesting concept because, if parents aren’t qualified to oversee the education of their children, after most parents have been educated in public schools themselves, what does that say about public schools? I believe that the adversary’s desire is to get children away from the influence of their parents as soon as possible, as seen by the growing trend towards full-time preschool, which some states have discussed as making mandatory. I believe it is not the government’s responsibility to dictate the education of children. Rather, it is the parents who grant permission to government to teach their children, and with the full knowledge and supervision of the parents.

Public schools tend to be liberal-leaning institutions, and homeschool gives us the chance to teach about conservative values and government as we believe the Founding Fathers intended it to be. As stated in this post, the framers of the Constitution believed that an educated populace was necessary to care adequately for the republic they gave us. We are not perfect, but we try to live up to their expectations as best we can.

~to be continued~

Why Homeschool Series: Reason #1

ID-10014646

I am in my 13th year of homeschooling, and as my oldest graduates this year, I’ve been reflecting on our educational journey together and the reasons why we chose this path. I know that homeschooling is not for every family. But I have found through the years that, whenever I mention to any new acquaintance that we homeschool, the most common response I get are the reasons why they don’t homeschool. I don’t expect any such explanation and have never felt that one was necessary. Just as I appreciate the freedom we have to choose our way of education, I equally appreciate that every family has their own unique personality, goals, and dynamics. Nevertheless, I’d like to write a series of articles about why we do homeschool.

First, a word about the goals we’ve established for our homeschool experience:

1)      Introduce them to all areas of learning so they get the opportunity to see what they are naturally good at and/or enjoy. I don’t require my children to make good grades in everything. As long as they are introduced to the knowledge and try their best, we have met the goal.

2)      Although I want my children to remember plain, basic knowledge, I don’t require them to memorize loads of things which are useless and which I know they’ll soon forget. What’s more important is that they learn how to find information when they need it or want it, a far more crucial skill for life.

As for our reasons, there are probably about as many reasons to homeschool as there are homeschoolers. In this series, I will address those that are particular to our family.

The first is the one we list on the official homeschool affidavit filed with the school district every year, “religious reasons.”

When my oldest son was eight, we were doing his language arts one day and it had to do with a story about Jesus. I stopped mid-lesson and said, “You know, if you were in public school, you couldn’t have this lesson about Jesus.” He looked dumbfounded and asked why. I fumbled for words to try to explain it but realized I didn’t have a good answer that would make much sense to an eight-year-old. But it got me to thinking, how could we, as Christians, teach consumer math without teaching about tithing? How could we teach science without teaching about the creation, or health without talking about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Ghost, or history without teaching about the divine inspiration of the Founding Fathers of our country or God’s hand in all of history? How could we teach literature, music, or art without addressing the God-given talents of so many writers, composers, and artists throughout history? Having attended a Christian school from fourth through twelfth grade myself, I had never actually seen those subjects taught without a gospel influence and, frankly, don’t know how it’s done. In our family, the gospel and education just naturally go together, and we would rather not have to set aside our beliefs during six of the most important hours of the children’s days.

~to be continued~