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.

 

 

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

 

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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!

 

“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.

End-of-Homeschool-Year Traditions: Field Day

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In the last of this three-part series on our end-of-homeschool-year traditions, I’ll tell about the last event that closes out the school year for us. (You can never celebrate these things too much.) In the last segment, I talked about our family graduation on a Monday night in June. The next day, Tuesday, is field day. The boys write out a whole list of outdoor games and contests that the three of us (and sometimes available friends join us) can play. Here is a book we refer to that has game ideas for as few as two to four people and that can also be played in a small backyard if needed, The Ultimate Homeschool Physical Education Game Book.

We love the nearby park for our field day, though. It’s about a mile away and has big grassy fields, picnic tables under large shade trees, a creek running through it, a fishing pond, and a three-story observation tower. We pack up whatever equipment is needed for the games on the list, a picnic lunch, and water bottles, and head over for a couple hours, before it gets too hot in the afternoon. There we play Frisbee, badminton, race each other kicking footballs (one per person) to a line and back, run foot races, crabwalk races, play hide and seek, croquet, and just walk around enjoying nature so close to our home.

We’re always sad to see it end. Not that we can’t go there anytime and play—and we do—but just because the annual field day has the official stamp of “tradition” all over it. NOW the school year is really a done deal. Bring on the lazy days of summer!

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.

End-of-Homeschool-Year Traditions: Game Day

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We are lovers of tradition at our house, and the end of our homeschool year is a time filled with beloved traditions that we’ve embraced over the years. In this three-part series I’ll describe our activities that really cap off the year for us and provide great future memories.

First is our last day of school which is our Game Day. I remember my own last days of school being filled with fun and no schoolwork, so we established our own tradition that we always look forward to. Our last day is always a Friday in early June, and the boys make out a list before that day of games that we will play. I said they had to be educational games, but truth be told, every game can have an educational angle if you look hard enough for it.

Some of the favorites we’ve enjoyed just about every year are: Travel (you have to know your math facts to take steps across the yard before your opponents), Monopoly, Yahtzee, Battleship, Mastermind, playing with Legos, Magnetix, and Brain Benders (those are science!), Boggle, Scrabble, the old standby Hangman, Borderline (that’s a card game we have where you have to know geography), and a world map puzzle. Then there’s carpet square challenge where the caller calls out two body parts which the players have to touch, at one time, to a small square. It’s funny watching them try to touch their nose and right toe, or left elbow and right ear, to the square (gotta be limber for that one. Oh, and that counts for P.E., in case you needed to know.)

The favorite game, by far, for all of us, has always been Balderdash, our own simplified version. We take turns choosing one of the hardest, unheard-of words we can find in the dictionary, and write down three definitions. One is the real definition, and the other two are made up, and the others have to guess which is the right one. The trick is to make up the most complex, convincing, dictionary-sounding definition you can.

Surprisingly, our last day of school is usually the longest school day of the year as the boys want to make sure they each get all their favorite games in. We throw in a pizza-and-pop party for lunch. What a great kickoff for summer!

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

 

Time for Cabin Fever Busters

Winter CabinI’m guessing that I probably speak for a lot of homeschoolers when I say that January is probably our slowest month of the year. All the fun holiday activities of the last couple months, including the anticipation since the beginning of the school year, have suddenly slammed to a halt. It’s miserably cold; the sun goes down early; and there’s just not much going on. That’s when we start having what we call Cabin Fever Busters.

Most of the time, this just involves taking our schoolwork to the library for a change of scenery. And if the library isn’t already one of your favorite locations…that’s just horrifically sad. After a couple of hours of doing school, plus some time getting lost amongst library books, we head to a favorite fast food place for lunch. We don’t do that real often, so it’s a treat when we do.

Following lunch we might add in a fun activity. When the boys were little it was sometimes the indoor playground at the fast food restaurant, or Chuck E. Cheese’s. Nowadays it might be the nearby sledding hill or a matinee movie. Possibilities abound, depending on your own creativity and interests.

It really takes so little effort and money to take boring, claustrophobic days up a notch while still accomplishing schoolwork. We always look forward to our January Cabin Fever Busters.

Our Family’s Required Reading List

Old library chair

In the last few months I regaled you with recommended read-aloud lists categorized by age. I said that those titles were only a few of the many excellent ones out there. I’d like to add to them now by posting our “required reading” list. These are all books either required by the language arts curriculum that we used, or were required by me because I felt they were important to read.

Because there are so many worthy books and not enough time, we only studied excerpts from some of the high school books and read some others straight through. But here they are, labeled by the grade in which they were read.

3rd Grade:

The White Stallion by Elizabeth Shub

Madeleine by Ludwig Bemelmans

Meet George Washington by Joan Heilbroner

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh

4th Grade:

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Wilbur and Orville Wright:  Young Fliers by Augusta Stevenson

Benjamin Franklin:  Young Printer by Augusta Stevenson

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Favorite Poems Old and New by Helen Ferris

5th Grade:

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

Meet Addy by Connie Porter

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

6th Grade:

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

7th Grade:

The Star of Light by Patricia St. John

Adam and His Kin by Ruth Beechick

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

8th Grade:

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

Eric Liddell by Catherine Swift

God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew

When the Banks Closed, We Opened Our Hearts by Mike Beno

We Pulled Together…And Won by Deb Mulvey

Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers by Patrick Kavanaugh

9th Grade:

Holt Anthology of Science Fiction

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

10th Grade:

The Epic of Gilgamesh

11th Grade:

The Train-of-Thought Writing Method:  Practical, User-Friendly Help for Beginning

Writers by Kathi Macias

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

William Bradford

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Stephen Crane

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

12th Grade:

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Emma by Jane Austen

Silas Marner by George Eliot

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The 5,000-Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen

The Making of America by W. Cleon Skousen

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard J. Maybury

The Jackrabbit Factor by Leslie Householder