Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't Let School Get In the Way of Learning!

What do you think about punctuality, schedules and routines? Boring? Blah? Beautiful? I have to raise my hand on the beautiful.  Especially in this homeschooling home.  Not that I'm over-the-top about it all. It's just that the reality of raising five boys is that they need a little bit 'o that structure as much as I do.  
But, last week, I just couldn't seem to get the punctualized scheduled order harmonized in my home.  Or, in myself for that matter.  My internal clock just seemed to be broken. The swing was there, but the follow through - not so much.

8:30 a.m. That's when I like to ring the bell. Or blow the whistle, or yell really, really loudly that it's time to get the brain waves fired up. Unfortunately, just as I would reach for the bell, a minor set-back would hold things up:

- Fight breaks out between #2 and #3....mommy intervention.... it is now 8:40.
- Charlie has a blow out...more mommy is now 8:45.
- Mommy steps on big banana chunk while cruising through the kitchen.  Really guys? Legos and Cheerios I understand, but a nanner? Okay, minor squishy setback.
- Phone rings, we missed yesterday's dental appointment....mommy apologizes.... it is now 9:00.
- Mommy had too much coffee, regroups in the "library" for 45 seconds, and comes out to find this:
Three boys, creatively cooperating on a mega building project without my assistance or referee skills. (For a moment, I thought I must have been dreaming!) Now this, this is more beautiful than my little polished punctual schedule!

The funny thing is, the night before I had stayed up reviewing the kids curriculum schedules.  I wanted to be sure that I hadn't missed something critical in their lessons, in my planning. This is the time of year when I toss and turn a little bit at night with worry.  My mind just can't shut the little checklist down....Present participles?? Decimals to fractions?? Venn Diagrams?? Latin Roots?? States of Matter??  LMNOP??? 

Maybe it's because I understand the ENORMOUS responsibility I have as a parent who has chosen to homeschool our children.  Or, maybe it's because I need some medication.

The boys' little industrious act, initiated on their own, brought me back to center.  Because, the truth is, sometimes school can get in the way of learning.  There, I said it.  Oh, and P.S. I HATE standardized tests.  And, I feel sorry for all of the amazing teachers out there who have to give up a month of their school year for preparation and administration of the tests.  But, that's another story...feel free to comment.

As I sat back and watched their method for organizing the construction of their neighborhood I was impressed with the logical strategy they used.  First, they brainstormed for a few minutes about what they should construct.  Then, after agreeing to create a Lincoln Log neighborhood, they went about building a model home.  
Andrew suggested that they take an inventory of the pieces used to construct the home.  He then asked Henry to sort the pieces according to size and put them in piles.  The sorted piles made it easy for Andrew to assemble "kits" for George with the necessary pieces needed to build each home. After their neighborhood was built, they used Keva planks to create a neat little fenced border.  
Hmmm....something's missing.  Little feet are sent skipping into the playroom for a plunder through the stash of goods. Henry emerges proudly with his favorite Hot Wheels and adds them as a finishing touch to their display. They were so pleased with their work and had fun playing with it throughout the day!
I sat sat on the floor with Charlie, my cup of coffee and my camera, careful not to interrupt their creativity.  I couldn't resist snapping a few shots of Mr. Chuckles' C-A-UTE chubbiness!  Hey, how did that Play Dough container get mixed in with the Lincoln Logs?? Um, probably the same way a Cheeto mysteriously landed in my make-up case.
This is us, good little citizens, following the government's "No Child Left Behind" standards. (Snicker.)  We elected Charlie as general contractor.  Thank goodness the boys could de-code his bossy babble!
During our 45 minutes of unscooling, the boys' self-innitiated tasks incorporated the following tools:
                                      1.  Mathematics
                              2.  Physics
                              3.  Teamwork
                              4.  Communication
                              5.  Enthusiasm
I know that many of you use curriculum guides as I do, and following those guides with their lesson plans and schedules can offer consistency and a sense of confidence, knowing that we are meeting all of the standards of learning for the particular grades that we are teaching.  HOWEVER, if I may make a few suggestions.....

1.  Don't be afraid to drift away from the guide on occasion.  Doing so may actually make your classroom time more efficient when you come back to the curriculum.

2.  Be confident.  You don't have to have a death grip on the curriculum, and your teaching support group/mentor shouldn't make you feel that way either.  You can still offer your children an enriching educational day or week without the use of your daily texts, tests and workbooks.  Begin by centering school around something that they are interested in.  For example, this is how I followed the boys' lead on a Lincoln Log themed day with a few enrichments:

After thee boys finished their Lincoln Log masterpiece, I sent them outside for a 20 minute recess.  During that time, I wrote down a few ideas to extend the lessons for the day with their creation as the inspiration. 
- MATH: I wrote a few story problems for Andrew and George that were appropriate for their grade level. We also reviewed skip counting, grouping, multiplication and division at the white board. 
- LANGUAGE ARTS: I printed an embellished lined paper from the internet for them to write an essay on about their cabin.  We reviewed words that signal order of events (first, next, then, finally) before they began writing.  Andrew was required to use a certain number of adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases.
- ART: We reviewed how to draw with perspective. After practicing at the white board, the boys used the techniques they had learned in a former art lesson to illustrate their essay. 
-  SCIENCE: On You Tube I found an example of an individual who built his own log cabin using only a hand saw, axe, froe, tape measure, level and hammer.  The boys connected this to our visit to Independence, Kansas where we saw a replica of the original Little House on The Prairie. 
- HISTORY:  We read a brief summary about the invention of Lincoln Logs online. 
- READING: I read the boys a book we had on hand about Abraham Lincoln who lived in a log cabin during his youth.  We were finished with school by 12:30 p.m., and the boys loved it!
-  ORAL REPORT:  The boys summarized their school day for Steve at supper time.

3.  Let you children take the lead!  Each one of your children can get involved! Take a one week "vacation" from your normal routine and center all of their subjects around something that they are interested in.  The internet has a wealth of information, printable worksheets, coloring pages and field trip guides.  Don't be afraid to call up the "experts."  Many garden centers, dairies, banks, athletic departments and food specialists such as bakeries are more than happy to give tours to individual families or small groups. 

4. You don't have to create huge projects for everyday.  Choose a couple of "stand-outs" such as a beautiful craft, exciting science experiment or special outing that the kids can look forward to.  Otherwise, supplement your subject matter with library books, music, poetry or coloring/activity pages.  There are a lot of science and craft ideas and links to other websites on Pinterest and No Time For Flash Cards.

5.  You don't have to stray completely from your normal curriculum.  Choose a few subjects that you would like to incorporate into your thematic lessons, and keep the remaining subjects on schedule.

6.  One thing I love to do is to interview my kids about their projects.  They love to hear their voices and/or see themselves on screen (we use Quicktime on our Mac).  It's a great memory-maker for everyone, and can be shared with family and friends.  

7.  Remember, not everyone learns through the textbook, worksheet, take-the-test method.  So, taking a creative approach to learning with more hands-on activities may help your students who resist traditional methods of learning return to the standard curriculum with greater focus.

8.  If your two day weekends are turning into three and four days, you find yourself hiding under the covers from your children, or you are in search of your white flag of surrender, then it may be time to step away from your current routine and try something fresh and new.  

9.  Don't forget to document your new "adventure" if the state you live in requires detailed record keeping.  Photocopy your lessons plans, your children's work, and take a few photographs of your outings, craft projects and/or science experiments.

10.  I feel that having a number 10 here would really round out the list, but I'm out of blogging just pretend that there is something super-instighful written here!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Awards ~ It's Time to Say Thank You

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine, Tara May, left a sweet little note on my Facebook wall. I still had all that goobery sleep in my eyes and not yet washed down the necessary number of cups of coffee to turn the lights on "upstairs," so when I first read her message, it didn't sink in. This is what she said:

"Good morning lovely lady :) I was given a blogger momma award by one of the blogs I follow...One of the rules was to share and give out my own awards. You know I had to give you one and share you with other blogger mommas. Thank you for writing and sharing it with me, you know you are AMAZING!!! It is in my post today ♥"

After moseying over to her blog, "It Happens at Your House Too," I about choked on my bagel. She had nominated me for the Sunshine Award!  I'm such a blogging novice, I didn't even know that blogging awards existed.....well, I did know that there were trophies for the big girls like Pioneer Woman, but not for the wee-ones like me. I started blogging with the intention of sharing our family stories and pictures with my family and friends, and to record a little life story for my sons, since I am such a scrap-booking looser.  (Honestly, the scrap book section of Hobby Lobby makes me dizzy.  Meandering the isles overflowing with layers of paper and stickers fills me with an overwhelming feeling of indecision.  And, indecision often causes me to eat chocolate to the level of gluttony, so blogging is a much safer option.  TMI?? Sorry!)  Anyway, I never really thought that anyone else would actually care to read what I write!

Then, last week, another fellow K-Stater (they're the best!!) sent me a surprise.  Kate from "Somewhere Under the Rainbow" was kind enough to mention me on her blog as the recipient of the Liebster Blog Award.

I decided today that it's time to come out from under the rock of sheepishness and say "Thank you."  Thank you to my lovely friends who so kindly thought of me, and thank you to everyone who has given even a precious minute of their day to sit down in front of my stories and actually read them.

The Liebster Blog Comes With the Following Conditions:
1. Choose five up and coming blogs with less than 200 followers to give the award.
2. Show your thanks to the blogger who awarded you by linking back to them.
3. Post the award on your blog.
4. List the blogs you gave the award to by linking on your site. Leave a comment on their blogs to let them know you awarded them.
5. List five random facts about yourself.

My Five Liebster Awards:
1.  Melody at "Blossoming Joy."  I don't remember how I stumbled on to Melody's blog, but I truly appreciate the spirit of love and joy she gives to her family, to her vocation, to homeschooling and to her faith.  She has no idea I read her blog, but I love it!

2.  Tara at "You Know It Happens at Your House Too!" is an amazing friend of mine.  I LOVE her philosophy of "keeping it real" every day - she makes me laugh out-loud, and shares in the bliss of farm life and raising 5 kids with me.

3.  "Southern Fried Catholicism" gives me a dose of honesty with a twist of humor, and keeps me thinking about my faith.  I love it!

4.  Katy at "Come What May" is a wonderful friend I met through homeschooling adventures while living in Kansas City.  She is an INCREDIBLE inspiration, the wife of a husband who is faithfully serving our country overseas (Yay, I love our military!), the mother of 8 beautiful kids, a dedicated homeschooler and a sister in the Faith.

5.  Debi at "Bella Maria Mom."  I recently started reading some of Debi's posts.  She is a fellow Kansan and shares her wisdom as a wife, mother and Catholic with humility and joy. 

Rounding out the Requirements ~ 5 Random Facts About Myself:
1.  Let's start with an honest one: Even though I blog (usually late at night), I honestly don't read a lot of other blogs very faithfully, because I don't want my boys' most fond memories to be of me parked in front of my Mac...and because I spend most of my "free time" smooching Charlie's cheeks.
2.  Even though I have a degree in education, and I love to teach, if I could go back to college I would study horticulture.  I LOVE plants and flowers so much, that when we lived in Kansas City, often times when out for a jog, I would stop and visit with strangers working in their yards.  People love to talk about their plants! I really miss that.

3. Having Fibromyalgia since the age of 19 has taught me that Love is always stronger than pain, and the scripture verse from Philippians 4:13 is a powerful truth, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!"

4.  I have a little obsession with the following books and movies:  Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice.  My boys snicker at how much of the movies I can quote!

5.  After a long run (10 + miles) I am supposed to "recover" with something healthy like a banana or yogurt, but I always drink a cold beer and eat potato chips, and that will never, ever, change.  Well, the running might change, but the love for beer and chips - Never!!!   

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Love Headbands

Today I yelled at my kids.

Not the "I raised my voice to get their attention" type of yell. This was a yell, yell.

And, then, to make matters worse I also said crap.

Then, I slammed the bathroom door, stepped on a Lego and said crap again.

It wasn't pretty.

I staggered through the day with horns on my head and warts on my nose, the only thing missing was a cape and a broom.  Lovely.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law saw my white flag of shame and surrender waving from across the yard, and came over to watch the boys so that I could go for a run and get some perspective.

And, that really is when I really know God loves me - when He gives me some perspective - carefully, yet lovingly positioned right between the eyes. BAM!

For me, the Father's love is NOT just experienced when I feel successful as a mom: my house is tidy, the kids are sweet, my hair is behaving and supper is devoured with smiles, veggies and all.  It's when I'm trudging blindly through my sinful ways, in deep need of rescue, and He reaches down into the muck and wipes the pride from my eyes so that I can see life, reality and my shortcomings more clearly.

That's when I know He loves me.  That's when I know His Mercy.  That's when I know I get to begin again.

Running doesn't take me away from my problems, it takes me into them.  It helps me get a handle on things and strengthens my resolve to choose a different and better path.

That day, before I knew it, four miles of gravel road were behind me and my vision (thankfully) had shifted....

Our family loves to play the game "Headbands."  It produces more side-stitching laughter than any other game we've ever played.
We had played it the night before my "eruption", so happy thoughts of our time together was fresh on my mind.
I knew that I needed to apologize to the boys for losing my temper, but I thought that maybe I would support my apology with a little lesson on virtue, sprinkled with some humor and humility.
I made three giant cards with cue words on them, words for the boys to wear like a billboard for me to read, reminders of my resolution to EXERCISE PATIENCE....

KEEP PERSPECTIVE (look Mommy, I found what you were looking for, a little perspective! It goes great with my cracker!)...
They thought this was very funny.

The next day I was grocery shopping with all of the boys, and a very kind woman approached me and thoughtfully explained that she had been watching me with my sons, and that she appreciated hearing positive encouraging words instead of yelling.  I wanted to tell her about my eruption, the yellow headbands and my new favorite wine, but I just smiled graciously and winked at the boys.

Thank goodness they forgave me, and they still love me, warts, horns, big yellow billboard headbands and all!

Monday, April 16, 2012

From Pop Guns to Paintball

A few years ago, having just moved into a new neigborhood in Olathe, a friendly neighbor ventured over to have a visit with me.  I remember it was a beautiful spring day, and I was enjoying working in the yard while the boys chased each other around the house decked out in coonskin caps, engaging in a series of battles with their cap guns and rifles from Bass Pro Shop.

This kind neighbor made it her mission to inform me that day that she disagreed with boys having toy guns because it encourages violence.  She went on to explain that swords were okay, but guns were a "no-no." (Um, okay, that makes perfect sense, since sword fighting is a completely non-violent engagement. I mean, let's not be unreasonable here.) Standing up from my freshly planted hydrangea, and configuring my most tactful response, I happened to gaze across the street only to see her son narrowing his sights down the barrel of his carefully crafted tree-branch rifle.  I'm not sure if he was aiming at my little Davy Crockets or his mom. 

Thanks to the little squirt's rebellious honesty, no response was necessary.  I think I may have invited her to sit on the porch for a little therapeutic margarita.  Isn't it fascinating how you can raise boys in a home void of cable television and video games, and they still, no matter what, will fashion an impressive artillery collection out of popsicle sticks and tree branches?  Go ahead, give them chess pieces or a basket of crafty things - they will still find a way to turn them into a weapon.  Crazy, huh?

God has wisely wired into the nature of every man an instinct and desire to provide and protect, and those instincts begin at birth, and will quickly be followed by a coon skin cap and pop guns. Or tree branches if your mom hates pop guns.
The youngest of my tribe still love the costume box overflowing with capes and badges, spurs and plastic pistols. But, the older two, especially Benedict, are ready to move on to more skill-oriented adventures, such as hunting (which they are amazingly good at) and paintball.  Yep, you read me right - PAINTBALL!!
A couple of weeks ago, he asked a bunch of his friends to come out to the farm for a paintball war.  It was kind of a late birthday gathering.  Steve and the boys crafted an amazing course at the site of an empty pond just east of the farm.  The surrounding trees, stacks of hay bales and a few old rusty oil barrels made for an excellent course.
All of the boys were divided up into two teams.  
At first, everyone was content just to hunker down behind the hay bales and shoot from a safe place.  
Then, to my surprise, the first one to break out into the open was Benedict, my often shy and very reserved oldest son.
I was delighted to see him bolt out from behind safe cover with so much skill and determination!  I think his friends might have been a little surprised too!
The first game of "Capture the Flag" was just what the boys needed to set the pace for the rest of the afternoon.  After that, everyone was ready to engage in the battle!
Even the dads couldn't resist a father-son shoot out!
I'm not so sure that this dad knew exactly what he was in for....
He had some not-so-pretty battle wounds to show off afterwards. (I love that after 11 years, he still feels that one of his great priveleges in our marriage is to impress me.  So charming!)
I was very thankful that Steve built a holding area for the spectators and those who were sitting out.  It took the risk out of taking pictures for me as well.
 The set up gave us a front and center opportunity to watch the boys in action.
Despite being surrounded by friends, Benedict was more than happy to have his brothers along for the ride, especially Andrew...

who wasn't afraid to get out there with the "older guys."
He also wasn't afraid to climb up the pond banks to the reload station ready to be awarded bragging rights for the most paint ball hits in one battle!
There is so much joy in making it paintball or pancake breakfasts.  I have a mental scrapbook packed with events such of these, overflowing with gratitude and joy.
 After two hours of intense competition, it was time to surrender to the snacks.
Everyone gathered round for bowls heaping high with happy - buckets of cold ice cream and a plethora of tasty toppings suited everyone just fine.
Charlie was my dose of sugar.  We kept him close.  No coonskin cap for you, yet, honey!  But soon, all too soon, I know you will want to wear one too!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Celebrating Easter ~ 2012

Oh, how I love, love, love Easter! 
It is by far my favorite season in the liturgical calendar.
I love all of our traditions, old and new.  Transforming creamy white eggs into brightly dyed gems, waking early Easter morning to see five sleepy yet smiling faces eager for their first treats in 40 days, and hearing them shout, "Happy Easter! Yay! Lent is finally over!
The crown of thorns we made to represent our sacrifices during Lent is cast out... 
and triumphantly replaced with the jeweled crown, created for our King victorious.
I love seeing my little men clean and dapperly dressed in their Easter attire.  But, I must confess, serious attire and serious celebration does not mean serious disposition as you can see in this pic! We send our kids to the St. Dominic statue for time-out.  Kidding! The contrast between gentlemanly threads and the usual sight of dusty wranglers or sweaty athletic apparel is a sight so special only a mother can appreciate its delight.  I consider it an Easter miracle that they all managed to remain dressed during church (it's oh so tempting to loosen those ties and abandon those sport coats!) and (praise the Lord) no one snuck out the door and into the suburban with white sport socks on!

I love diving into the journey of Lent leading to Easter, the mystery and intensity of God's love for us made visible through Christ's passion, death and resurrection, and the beauty of the liturgical experience at Holy Mass throughout the Triduum.
I love contemplating the beautiful courage and strength of Our Lady.  Her journey alongside Christ from humble birth to sorrowful death is one to embrace in our own times of suffering.  Knowing that she stands beside her Son in heaven, and in loving adoration prays for all of us to know and love his Most Sacred Heart more deeply is a sure comfort.

I love how nearly every Good Friday that I can remember the weather has been overcast and cloudy with a moon hanging heavy in the sky weaving in and out of clouds sheer grey.  And, then, the sunshine of Easter Sunday illuminating everything new - flowers in bloom, buds bursting from tree limbs, the sparkle in the eyes of the children, the shine on their new shoes, the hope in our hearts as we sing "Hallelujah, He is risen!"

I love seeing other parents gently folding their own children into the faith, into the outstretched arms of Christ.  Those parents who give of themselves through time and thoughtfulness to teach in simple and incredibly creative ways inspire me to give more, to yearn more for a deeper Lenten and Easter experience with my own family. 

That gift, the gift of knowing God as Father, and trusting Him to father us as parents and allowing Him to Father our children is THE gift we give our family this Easter.  When we show them that Christ's love is bigger than the bunny we show them truth, we show them a glimmer of heaven.

I love how merciful God is, how infinitely wise and patient he is, providing these opportunities - Christmas, Easter and other celebratory feast days so sweetly spaced throughout the year for me to reexamine my life, to reevaluate everything, to receive the grace so desperately needed to gather the little bit of courage I have tucked inside so as not to give up, or become complaisant, lukewarm or content in my relationship with Christ.  The courage to press on toward heaven, and to live every day in relationship to Easter, to the cross, to the resurrection, to His triumphant reign in Heaven and in my heart.
Finally, I LOVE the celebration we have so often enjoyed with family and friends on Easter Sunday.  Everything - the food, the wine, the thoughtfully crafted decorations, the freshness of laughter and fullness of spirit, the captivating smiles and roaring energy of the mini-ones, running around the yard with chocolate stained shirts and sticky grins.  It's a big yummy day in so many ways for all of us!
While Charles reveled in the discovery of freshly cut grass....
The older kiddos savored the day's beauty around a campfire they insisted on building themselves.  
So, build they did, and stories did they share and smoke did they smell of, and memories did they make.
This is Henry's "Whoa! Dat's a big fi-yar!" expression.  He's a bit tribal.  I love that about him.  All the big kids elect him to be the runner and beggar.  He runs with so much purpose, pulling up droopy Wranglers and stomping big strides in the dirt with his boots.

"Mom, we need more snacks."  "Okay!" I say, offering him armloads of crackers and chips and absolutely nothing healthy or void of artificial coloring or flavoring.  "Hey Hen, take it easy on the candy," I preach.  "It's getting close to bed-time."  "Mom, I already know dat!" he says as he moseys away with his loot, chocolate wrappers stuck to the bottom of his boots.

Perfect.  Absolutely perfect.
The movement of the fire reminds me of the flames or our faith, at times they feel so small, and then, they rise up like Christ at the resurrection and burn deeply, burn brightly, a light for all to see.

~ Happy Easter! ~

"O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep."
St. John Chrysostom - Paschal Sermon