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Priorities… Schmiorities?

When I started this blog it was my intent (and, believe it or not, still is) to make it a priority in my life. It is meant to be a jumping-off point for bigger things. But, like all homeschool moms, I tend to get bogged down at the beginning of the school year. All my careful planning over the summer gets tested. Some things work. Some are GLARING fails. I have to scramble around to make sure our classes are following my vision while making sure the Littles are staying engaged and even entertained so they’re actually learning something. This year I discovered our intended art history book was more technical than my original skimming of it implied and neither artistic nor historical enough. So I am using it as a jumping off point to COMPLETELY PLAN our art history class each week instead of following the notes in my teacher planner. Umm… my friends and husband will tell you I have enough to do without stressing about that week to week.

I am a Mama who envisions grand things for her children’s futures. My homeschool is not for the faint-hearted. And sometimes, I just want to be faint-hearted. Because the slightest deviation from the fastidiously planned school day can send me into a tailspin of worry and guilt. Am I doing enough? Are they learning enough? Have I got them far enough ahead of the curve that we can afford to lose this one day of math? Am I cheating them because a doctor’s appointment or other priority made us cut the day short? How will we make it up if we get a chapter behind in Oliver Twist? When will we find the time?

Any homeschooling mama will tell you these are common worries. Some of my colleagues even laugh at me for them. “Your kids are happy and healthy,” they say. “So long as you treat every experience as a learning experience, you are schooling them.”

I tell myself that. I don’t listen.

So actually making time to do something for myself (i.e. this blog, Zumba class, a trip to the grocery store ALONE), hasn’t been a priority for me for four years. And I don’t see it being a priority until Littlest is graduated and off to college. I can’t even picture any of those things ever being more important than sitting down to plan art class.

With that in mind, I’m making myself a promise. Because this blog and its promise are important to me. I’m going to sit down with my family and discuss a way to make this one thing one of my priorities. Because if I don’t teach my kids to take their commitments (even those they make to themselves) seriously, why bother teaching them at all?

What do you think? What’s one thing in your life you would love to make a priority just for you?

Love wins,

KT

Using My Creative Noggin

So I’m going to deviate from lit posts today to talk about something I’m very excited about this year. GEOGRAPHY!! We’re studying U.S. geography in school this year, and our fall/winter schedule gives us just enough time to do two states a week with some reminder stuff at the end of the year. I found some fun-tastic worksheets and notebooking pages at a couple of the homeschool sites I follow, including www.layersoflearning.com and Homeschool Bits at www.currclick.com . Plus, I got a frabjous ebook set (one for students, one for the teacher) called Fifty States and Where to Find Them by Kathy Jo DeVore at www.barefootmeandering.com that is chock full of info! But as great as those are, they aren’t what’s got my blood pumping.

image of our homeschool geography scrapbook front coverimage of map in our homeschool US geography scrapbook

I knew last year when we completed world geography that we would be moving on to our beautiful States next. So I got to thinking—what could I do that would really give the Littles a hands-on look at each individual state and really concrete each one in their minds? (Short of packing up the camper and spending a year or two on the road, I mean.)  First, I wanted to concentrate on one state at a time and really really learn it before moving on to the next. Thus, this year’s new schedule was conceived. One state on Tuesday, one on Thursday, with a couple of hours to learn about each. But then… (drum roll, please) I realized that every state has a tourism department. And those tourism departments probably send out those magazines telling all about the states. And those magazines are full of pictures! The idea for a U.S. State Scrapbook was born!

image of homeschool US geography scrapbook maps

I got hold of some big binders, made covers, added dividers by region and some construction paper to glue pics on. We started in New England and not only did we read about Maine, Vermont, etc., in a few books and do some worksheets and notebooking, but the Littles had a blast cutting their fave pics out of the travel guide and adding them to their scrapbook. And it is truly working. They are now little fonts of information about all of the New England states, and they’re able to keep them straight. I have to admit, I feel a little bit genius about this one.

Image of an inside page of our homeschool US geography scrapbook

It’s a lot of mail to get. And if you’re an even bigger environmental freak than me, it is a lot of paper. To get a travel guide or guides from all fifty U.S. states requires a storage bin to keep them in. A big one. And Massachusetts IS a bigger enviro-freak than me; they don’t even have print guides anymore. So those pics you’ll have to print off if you want them from their online guide. But ALL the guides are free. And the fun learning that comes with it is priceless.

If you’re looking for a super-awesome way to get the states separate in your homeschoolers’ heads, this is it. I had to share it once I saw what a success it was. I hope it inspires you to have a successful and creative year, too.

Also, because I can’t resist a good book-plugging, the books we are using are National Geographic Kids United States Atlas, The United States of America (A State-by-State Guide) by Millie Miller and Cyndi Nelson, and Don’t Know Much About the 50 States by Kenneth C. Davis.

Love wins,

KT

Banned Book Week (September 21-27)

When I worked as a librarian, I once had a heated discussion with my director. See, I was running a book club for teens in conjunction with the American Library Association that summer. In fact, the ALA was sending me the books for the program. I had kids in my group from age 12 through 16, and they were all bright, avid readers and seekers of knowledge. We used the study guides sent with the books by the ALA, but we often rambled off into interesting discussions of our own. Good stories are wonderful. Good stories that make us think are priceless. I hope I’m not the only person in the world who feels that way.

My director, who was nearing retirement, did not necessarily agree. Apparently.

One of the books the ALA chose for the summer book club was The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer. The book is a lovely coming-of age-story about a 12-year-old boy, Gabe, who lived in the foster care system until his uncle was found. He lived with his uncle, a crusty old hermit, for two years. At the beginning of the novel, Gabe comes home from school and finds his uncle dead from a heart attack. He’s so scared of going back into the system that he doesn’t tell anyone about the death. And no one notices, because no one has seen the uncle in years. The next day, his uncle’s body disappears and Gabe finds a note in the mailbox that reads, I HAVE A SECRET. DO NOT BE AFRAID. So begins a friendship in correspondence which leads to a lyrical lesson about how two people can save each other. The novel does something really cool aside from the story itself. Gabe is a reader. And he tells a bit about the books he reads and what they mean to him. I LOVE it when good books for young people recommend more good books for young people.

Now back to my director. We both had a strict policy of not reading books to or with our young patrons without reading them first. I had read The Mailbox and, well, you can tell from my description I thought it worthy of the young minds I was guiding. My director had not read the book. She read one of those reviews—you know, the ones that tell all the bad things about a book and why you might not want to let your kids read them—and she came into the library on a mission. A mission to ban this terrible book from my reading club. Why?

Because in the novel Gabe reads Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men! He doesn’t say, “Hey, I jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and you should really try the drugs I was on when I did it.” He reads a classic novel with several important messages in it that is lucky it barely escaped making my Recommended Reading list. I was shocked. Floored. Flabbergasted. “Wait a minute,” I said to her, “we are Librarians (yes, with a capital L—it’s an important job!). Aren’t we supposed to encourage kids to read anything and everything?”

She railed about the way Of Mice and Men ends. I pointed out that The Mailbox is not the same novel and the ending of Steinbeck’s novel does not occur in Shafer’s. The point, I believe, of even mentioning Of Mice and Men, was to spark a little curiosity in the reader, to let the young reader know that there was this great book out there if they choose to read it.

Eventually, I won the battle. My book club and I read The Mailbox together and enjoyed it immensely. But I was lucky that even when I was seeing red I was able to make a logical argument for the book. It had never occurred to me that a librarian, of all people, might agree with any form of book banning, so the whole blind-sided part of the conversation did stymie my reasoning skills.

With Banned Book Week approaching (September 21-27), that memory is kinda haunting me. So I thought I would take this chance to encourage you to look at the Banned Book lists (http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks) with your children, pick a book from it and read it together. One of the most important jobs we have as parents is paying attention to our kids—what they’re doing on the internet, what they’re watching on television, and yes, what they’re reading. If we are there to guide them, there is no reason to ever ban a book. In the meantime, here are some of the books on the list that carried me right back to the feeling I had during that disagreement with my director (remember, these books are meant to be banned from everyone, not just young readers):

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

1984, by George Orwell

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck  (Ha. Ha.)

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Captain Underpants (series), by Dave Pilkey

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Here’s the thing. Banned Book Week is the time to watch Footloose. Not that new one, the Kevin Bacon one. You know the scene where the parishioners go to the library and start burning books and John Lithgow, the well-meaning but dance-forbidding minister says, “Who elected all of you to be the saviors of everybody’s souls?..Satan is not in these books.” Here he points at his own heart. “He’s in here. He’s in your hearts.” That can be said of any kind of evil, no matter your beliefs. It is up to us as individuals to keep the evil out. Sure, there are going to be books you don’t want your kids to read. But does that mean the book should be banned, that NO ONE should get to read it just because you don’t want your child to read it? I am of the firm opinion that the answer is no. Just as you wouldn’t want me coming into your home and telling you how to homeschool, I don’t have the right to tell an entire nation what they can read.

So give these books a chance. Or at least allow the rest of us to do so.

 

Love wins,

KT

 

I hope you know what you’re doing…

Here’s one I bet all you homeschooling parents out there have heard before:

“Let’s go in the kitchen where we can talk. I’ll tell you what so-and-so is doing in school so you can get the boys caught up.”

I got that suggestion from my sister-in-law, whose daughter is in the same grade as Middle. This was several years ago, a couple of months into our third year of homeschooling. Smirking on the inside, I followed her into my kitchen. She started talking vocabulary, so I told her about the SAT-prep high school books Middle was working from that year. Her expression quickly changed from smug to slightly confused, but she dove into history. I told her about the public school text I had that had only one paragraph—ONE PARAGRAPH!—about the French and Indian War, and the research I had to do and the literature I had to find in order to teach the boys its importance in our nation’s history. Now her expression was downright angry. “Well, “ she spat, “in math…”

They were both working in Saxon books two grade levels ahead.

See, for most of us the first year may be bumpy. Many of us, myself included, never even planned to homeschool. The opportunity came to us, the divine intervention caught us up, we saw the flaws in the current public system… whatever the reason we set out on this journey with few tools and less confidence. But we are fortunate in this digital age to have support all over the interweb. We find support close to home and people to bounce our ideas off of. We get to watch our children every day and see exactly how they learn, what limits we can push, where we should go from here.  So by the third year, if we have paid attention, we’re getting good at this.  Our confidence is through the roof and are children are excelling.

As parents who don’t have to corral 30 kids every day or spend most of our time transporting them from one schoolroom to another, we have wide-open opportunities to teach critical thinking at every turn. We can be sure our children are reading books that make them think, not just about surface matters, but about the irony of Dickens, the history of Austen, the growing pains of Blume.  If grade-level math is too easy for them, there is no bureaucratic process to go through to bump them up a grade.

We don’t need public school proponents to tell us how to educate our kids. Most of the time, our children are getting deeper and better educations without them. Even colleges are starting to admit that homeschooled kids often have an advantage over the publicly educated.

My advice to you when someone suggests you must hear what’s happening in public school in order to be sure you’re teaching your children well? Smile politely, smirk a little on the inside if you must, and say, “Thank you, but we’re good.”

Love Wins,

KT