Reflections on a Full Circle

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about things in my life that have come full circle, and this month saw the conclusion of another very, very significant full circle. We had the last day of our Davis Academy homeschool, EVER, with Tristan graduating from 12th grade. Our last day of school each June has always been a game day and pizza lunch. This year I didn’t even think to get a pizza and I had to leave for work at 1:30, so it was an abbreviated game day. Taylor was to be home in the morning, though, and when I informed him it was the last day of homeschool ever, he wanted to join in. So we played Yahtzee, three rounds of Boggle, and six rounds (two apiece) of Balderdash, a favorite we’ve done every year. We threw together a lunch of canned chili, saltine crackers, and peach smoothie. And after the last game, we yelled our cheer that we’ve always ended game day with: “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s nefarious looks.” Then Taylor quietly said, “And thus ends homeschool.” And that was it, just like that one of the greatest experiences of my life was over.

So speaking of full circles, I remembered my very first day of homeschool, August 21, 2000 in Tennessee when Taylor started kindergarten. I woke up that day with butterflies in my stomach. I had planned and prepared for years (fleshing out a curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade when he was only two!), and now the day was finally here! Of course, kindergarten days were short and very simple—I had just worked myself up psychologically I guess. And I bet after our short first day was over, I probably spent the rest of the day going over it in my head again and again, reliving my little success and eager to do it again the next day. What completely different situations between the first and the last days—different homes in different states, no David here, me going to work every day, Taylor going to BYU, and Tristan doing school on his own. And that first day was so all-consuming to me. It was the absolutely biggest, most important thing in my life that day. I had no other job, I never even made any to-do lists. But the last day crept up on me with hardly any notice. I had to remind myself to squeeze some games onto my to-do list, while my mind was clouded with a million other things.

It seems that the last day should have had more fanfare than it did. I didn’t tell anyone at all about it because I knew it was a big deal only to me. And for that reason I wanted to hang onto the day for as long as I could. Because from recent experience, I knew what would happen. Soon it would become ‘yesterday’, then ‘the day before yesterday’, then way too soon it would seem like long ago. The whole 17 years would seem like a blip that flew by in a second. But don’t good times always fly by?

So it’s time to enter a new phase, to begin a new full circle for all of us, and with the preparation we’ve all had (because I’ve now been educated through the 12th grade three times!), it’ll be exciting to see where our separate and collective circles take us.

 

 

…bring all things to your remembrance

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” ~ John 14:26

I’m all about lifelong reading, studying, and learning, but I have discovered another really cool reason for doing so. As a spiritual person, I believe that one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to bring things to our remembrance when we need them. I also believe we have some responsibility here. Experts say that all the things we read and learn stay permanently in our minds, albeit the subconscious mind. I don’t always believe those unnamed experts, but in this case I do. Our brains are computers that take in information from the moment we’re born, catalog it, and file it away, and thankfully, these computers never run out of memory. Oh, you might think you run out of memory (it does often seem that way), but that’s only because the information has left your conscious mind (the 10% we use) and lodged itself in your subconscious mind (the other 90%). But the information is there, every piece of information you’ve ever taken in, every great (and not-so-great) thought you’ve ever had. The Holy Spirit simply brings things to our remembrance, from our subconscious to our conscious minds, when we need them. BUT, he can only bring things to our remembrance that have been put into our minds to begin with, so the more we study and gain wisdom, and life experience, the more he has to draw from to help us. Like the law of attraction says, every single thing we need, we already have! Is that not exciting?

Book and candle

 

 

Gleaning the Most from Technology

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I’ve heard plenty of people express their opinions of Facebook, as well as the internet and television in general, some good, some bad. I thought I’d tell you on which side I fall. As I use the internet to do so—there’s a hint for ya!

I’ve been privy to several group conversations where some swear off of Facebook, stating that it has led some people to improper relationships. (Frankly, so has going to church.) Yes, there are time-wasting games on the internet. It’s the modern-day doodling, or idly twirling a pencil, or playing with a slinky. If people want to waste time, they’ll find a way to do it regardless of internet access.

My feelings about all of technology (Facebook, internet, television) are that those things are inanimate objects. They can be used for good or bad depending on the person using them. It’s just like drugs. There are dangerous and illegal ones, but does that mean we swear off all drugs because of the bad ones?  No, because there are many good medications that help us regain health and feel better, sometimes even imperative to stay alive.

I believe having our free will and learning to use it wisely is a very important thing to God. To ban TV or internet from a home takes away our responsibility to practice making good choices. We may avoid some bad, but we miss out on much more good. We’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. Children who grow up in such a home, with rare exception, will have and use those things at some point in the future. And when they do, they’re likely to binge like a toddler turned loose in a candy store for the first time. My personal MO is to search out that which is good, wherever it can be found. It’s my job to learn self-discipline in the candy store, but don’t deny me some chocolate.

As a dyed-in-the-wool list maker, I’d like to list the many benefits for homeschool (to name just one arena) that the internet has provided me.

1) Research into teaching methods, ideas, and tips

2) Newsletters I’ve subscribed to which give information

3) Curriculum reviews

4) Online ordering of books and supplies

5) Research for the kids’ schoolwork

6) YouTube videos that supplement our science and history classes

7) Online typing courses and scientific calculators

8) Library’s online catalog

9) Research content of movies to find appropriate ones to show

10) Yahoo groups email lists connecting me to nearby homeschoolers which has led to competition opportunities, field trips, used curriculum purchases and sales, information on area happenings and discounts, clubs, and parties.

Yes, the internet and television are wonderful inventions for keeping us informed, educated, and for increasing our individual talents. I love living in the 21st century!

(Image by graur razvan ionut, used with permission from freedigitalphotos.net)

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.

“Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?” Makes Economics Understandable

 

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Does economics seem like a distant, difficult-to-grasp subject to you? Do you have a hard time really, I mean really understanding the basics of our American free enterprise system? Do you have a hard time explaining it to children and teens? I did, till I read the book Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard J. Maybury. It is part of his Uncle Eric series, in which the fictional Uncle Eric explains to his nephew Chris, through a series of letters, all about history, government, justice, and economics.

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? now in its sixth edition, promises, quote, “a fast, clear, and fun explanation of the economics you need for success in your career, business, and investments.” Is there anybody who doesn’t need to learn about such things? Raise your hand. No one? Well, I recommend this little 160-page, fifteen-chapter volume that is written for tweens through adults.

Sometimes when you’re faced with a little bit of a hazy subject, you just need the right explanation from the right author to clear it up for you, and that’s what Maybury did for me and my high school son who also read it.

For instance, most of us think of inflation as an increase in prices and falling of the value of money. That is actually a result of inflation, the real cause being the printing of more money. It goes like this: Government prints money which is not backed by gold or silver, floods the market with it so that the value of each individual unit goes down, which means you need more of it to buy what you want. Goods don’t cost more because they have more value; they cost more because the units of money used to purchase them are nearly worthless.

Maybury draws extensively from the history of the Roman Empire to show the cycle of money and civilizations and how playing politics so vastly affects the economic core of all nations, past and present. The book speaks to my own motto, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Well, I didn’t originate that; it’s an adopted motto, but a most true one.

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? includes an extensive appendix of charts and graphs, excerpts and anecdotes, websites, suggestions of films to go along with the subject, and more to really give you a good, basic knowledge of economics.

With its wonderful conversational style, it is not a bit boring. It easily held my interest and I felt the more richly educated because of it.

“Grammar Wings” Writing Camp

proofreading

When I was asked to present at the Grammar Wings writing camp, one of several Brigham Young University-sponsored writing camps for teens this summer, the dedication and passion of young people, some from out of state, who would spend a portion of their summer vacation voluntarily learning about grammar and creative writing surprised and elated me. Count me in!

On the last day of their camp on Friday, June 13th, I spent an hour talking with them about rough drafting versus revisions, changing passive to active voice, and how to do speech tags that keep the author invisible to the reader, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves in a story. Part of my task was to bring a little of the writing, editing, and publishing world into the classroom as there were several in the group who aim to publish their work. What a privilege to address this bright bunch as a guest author.

Thanks to Chris Thompson, Sadie Rawlinson, and BYU Conferences & Workshops for granting me this opportunity to talk with these up-and-coming authors. And if you know a teen author, check out the BYU writing camps. Several are held each year.

End-of-Homeschool-Year Traditions: Graduation

ID-10045280In the 2004 Disney-Pixar film The Incredibles, superhero Helen says to her superhero husband Bob about their son Dash:

“And you are missing this! I can’t believe you don’t want to go to your own son’s graduation.”

Bob retorts, “It’s not a graduation. He’s moving from the fourth grade to the fifth grade.”

“It’s a ceremony!” says Helen.

“It’s psychotic!” says Bob. “They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.”

Our family had a private laugh over that because we have a ceremony every year, not to celebrate mediocrity but to celebrate…well, I don’t know, but it’s another of our end-of-homeschool-year traditions and we love it.

In the last post I described our last-day-of-school game days that happen on a Friday in early June. Monday nights are always family night for us, but the Monday night following our last day of school is a special one, in which we have our own small graduation ceremony. Often we dress up for it and take pictures. We have no family who live nearby, but we have a good family friend who usually comes and stays for a long visit afterwards.

We begin with an “exhibition” in which the boys show off to their dad what they learned in all their subjects throughout the year. They have presented book reports, summaries of science projects, history reports, memorized poetry and passages from historic documents (we even did the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution in sign language one year), and played pieces of music. It’s become less formal as the kids have gotten older, but they still take a few minutes to tell some of the most interesting and fun things they learned during the school year, favorite field trips, events, etc. We also have a “gallery” of their art projects, science fair displays, and sketchbooks containing their historical timelines on view.

We then present them with a certificate of advancement. I have some parchment paper that I use to print those out. It’s a simple and nice way to recognize their hard work during the year and give them a sense of accomplishment.

We end with some refreshments, a little fancier than usual for the occasion. Once I decorated a sheet cake with some little candy mortarboards I found in a candy shop. Another year was homemade moon pies and strawberry ice cream, and another time we made banana splits.

Even more than the last day of school, there’s just something about that ceremony that makes the boys feel happy—like they really got another finished year under their belts and summer vacation can start.

Heavenly Help for Homeschool

School books

Some moms who are thinking of homeschooling their children are stymied by a lack of confidence and question their ability to succeed, maybe forgetting that, for the Christian, there is infinite heavenly help available for all righteous desires. Certainly my uneducated self (at least on paper) has benefited on a daily basis from divine inspiration in my task, to the point that it’s become fun to watch for all the miracles. Even my boys have learned to often recognize God’s help in our homeschool.

When Taylor was younger, he wasn’t very good at writing. He answered questions on paper with as few words as possible, and he was better at expressing himself through drawing pictures than writing words. In some subjects I saved his papers, where he answered end-of-chapter questions, as answer keys for his younger brother Tristan, but Tristan usually writes more detailed answers where Taylor was very brief and/or illustrated his answers, for instance, drawing a chart of the water cycle instead of describing it. But Taylor has since turned out to be quite a good writer. David and I saw a couple of his college papers from his first semester and were amazed. “You really wrote this yourself? You didn’t plagiarize this?” we asked him. (Great confidence builders, aren’t we?)

Only in hindsight was I able to see that God’s inspiration to me during Taylor’s high school years had produced an effect I hadn’t expected. It started before his eleventh grade year when I shopped online for high school literature textbooks. I wanted to do American lit first, then English lit for twelfth grade. Everything I found was much more expensive than I was willing to pay, or just didn’t suit me. Then God showed up. “Shelly, you numbskull,” he said (yes, God talks to me that way), “use what you have.” You see, for years I’d shopped the thrift stores and secondhand bookstores for paperback copies of the classics for fifty cents or a buck, then tossed them into boxes in the basement. “Those books are meant to be read, not just bought,” the inspiration continued.

Well, hot diggity dog! This got exciting! I dug into my boxes and picked out several books by American authors and more by English authors. As he read each book I assigned papers for each one. First he researched and wrote author biographies, learned and wrote about the context of the story (its background, how it related to the time period, its impact on society). When he finished reading, he wrote a synopsis of the story and then a critique in which he addressed thematic elements, pace and flow, prose, what made it a classic. We didn’t have time to read all the books I might have liked, so in some cases, we did a “quick study”, where he learned about the author and the plot and read excerpts from it. I also assigned him two other books, The Train-of-Thought Writing Method and Wordsmith Craftsman, which taught story structure and essay writing respectively. By the time he’d graduated he’d written so many bios, synopses, analyses, critiques, and essays, it made an impressive collection.

I was elated when he scored a 35 (out of 36) on the English portion of the ACT test. He was just accepted to his university’s theater and media arts department. He isn’t sure what he wants to do in the field of filmmaking, but he’s mentioned screenplay writing as a possibility he might want to try. At one time I wouldn’t have thought that possible. That’s what homeschool (and for that matter lifelong learning) is all about, not being great at everything, but uncovering what you are great at, what you’re interested in, and running with it. And a big thank you to God and the heavenly homeschool angels.

And if you’d like to know some of the books we read or studied excerpts from, here are a few:

Of Plymouth Plantation:  Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement 1608-1650

The Scarlet Letter

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Huck Finn

To Kill a Mockingbird

The 5,000-Year Leap

Pilgrim’s Progress

Hamlet

Oliver Twist

Emma

Silas Marner

The Screwtape Letters

Animal Farm

Frankenstein

Sherlock Holmes

Around the World in 80 Days

 

Homeschool Curriculum Series: Music, Art, Foreign Language

George Frideric Handel

As homeschoolers, we like to cover all bases, go beyond reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. As a creative family, we value the arts and consider it vitally important to include them in our curriculum. Thus, we’ve used some resources I’d love to share.

Music: The boys both had music lessons with private instructors for a few years. At home, we learned a lot about composers through the ages from Meet the Great Composers, Books 1 and 2. Each lesson provided a short biography, activity, and piece of music from each composer on the accompanying CD. We also read Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, which was an informative book about the inspiration behind the great composers’ work.

Art: In elementary school we did lots of art projects, many of them using a book called Discovering Great Artists. Each lesson discussed a particular artist, taught his/her technique, and then provided an art project using their method, such as lying down beneath a table and painting on a paper taped underneath the table to represent Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Fun stuff right there. In junior high, we used Understanding Art (a mega expensive school textbook which we found dirt cheap on eBay.) It was a very complete study of art through the ages and around the world.

Foreign Language: This is a little bit tougher of a subject for homeschool and many who want to tackle it may want outside lessons. However, there are self-guided resources to use at home. Most are quite expensive. One that was more affordable (and we bought it cheaper used, as we did many of our school books) was Power-Glide, now called Powerspeak. My older son got a pretty good basis in Spanish using this.

As you can see, there are resources out there for every homeschooler’s needs and so much to choose from. Don’t be deterred. The search is half the fun!