Sunday, October 20, 2013

From the Mouths of Babes

My 4 year old has been teaching me a few lessons about her education lately. Mainly that I need to chill out and have a little more faith.
This is not what we tried to teach the kids, but it felt like this to me!
Exhibit #1: As much as I have loved our classical homeschool co-op, I have had the hardest time teaching the science experiments to my class of 1st and 2nd graders. Let's just say that trying to do demonstrations on astrophysics to 6 and 7 year olds is not high on my priority list. I've struggled with science my whole life. I have a lot to learn myself before I can synthesis many words/concepts they'd need to follow along with the experiment (let alone make a hypothesis). Luckily, the point of the demonstrations is not that they "get it" but that they understand the scientific method. A lot of times I have to cling to that fact and know that singing "Purpose, Hypothesis, Materials, Procedure - clap- Results, Conclusion" to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel may be the only successful thing that happens during the 30 minutes of science time. We've done these demonstrations for 7 weeks and have 17 more to go. I have cringed at the thought so many times and said to Justin on multiple occasions, "Why are we trying to teach this stuff to 4 year olds? Both your daughter and wife are not benefiting from something over our heads!" I found out a few days ago that I needed to take the word "daughter" out of that sentence.

One particular experiment we did 4 weeks ago used a pencil, thumb tack, and posterboard strips to demonstrate how we can still see Saturn through its rings because they are made of ice, rocks, space debris, etc. This week as we were headed to bible study my daughter picked up a sweet gum ball she had left in the garage after a walk with Justin. She held it by the stem, started spinning it and said, "Hey look! It's Saturn! I can see through its rings!"

It was then I decided to stop grumbling about the science experiments. 

In that moment in the garage, it was very clear to me that what I cared more about was ME looking stupid and not getting it, not my daughter or my students. Assuming that because I can't always teach it well, it's of no value to anyone. I was totally doing what I swore I was going to fight against -- projecting my educational baggage of not doing well with science onto my kids. I want them to be curious and awestruck by the complexity of God's creation; griping about His handiwork won't inspire wonder in my girls.   

Exhibit #2: Justin was listening to some podcasts from a Desiring God Conference on C.S. Lewis the other week and suggested that now was the time to start our girls on the Narnia series. We had talked about wanting to do it for a long time, but after a book club meeting, a friend (our parents' age) encouraged us to start now when she saw we had checked all the Narnia books out from the library.

I was a little skeptical because I didn't know if trying to read a British series to a 4 year old would go over well. I didn't want to start something and not be able to finish it because we wanted it so badly for our children and them not want it, too. I didn't grow up in a house where read-alouds were "a thing" and the few times I have been in the presence of read-alouds it just felt constraining. I know this sounds bizarre coming from an English teacher who loved taking Performance of Literature in college and reads to her children every day. However, for our own books, Justin and I both prefer to be "silent" readers. We might read a sentence or paragraph that catches our eye and then discuss the book afterwards. I just wasn't sure if read-alouds were going to be "our thing" now.

Once again my skepticism was proved unnecessary. As we were reading The Magician's Nephew (we decided to do the series chronologically), we'd stop after a page or so and ask our daughter what was going on. We were genuinely surprised when she gave a wonderful 4 year old synopsis! We really thought she might get weighed down by some of the British idioms or some of the longer exposition. In addition, there was a lot of wiggling, so we didn't know if she was actually taking in anything or just wanted to amuse herself by having us reading to each other! Since we started, she's been telling strangers about Polly and Digory and has asked to read more about them at several bedtimes.    

All this to say, I do not think that making science connections and being able to synthesis information is a particular trait for my 4 year old. Kids are capable of so much more than we often give them credit for. For all of us who chafe at the unfamiliar and see the big picture (while having a hard time seeing how the details add up to it), we need to take a step back and a deep breath.

God uses the mouths of babes to humble us and slow us down. Our children point out how much we can overanalyze things for them when, in a lot of ways, their needs are very simple. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tired Teachers in Tennessee

This video from a "tired teacher" in Tennessee has been making the rounds on Facebook. I first noticed it when my cousin, who is an educator in a nearby county in Tennessee, posted it. She is a "tired teacher" too. 

If you are a current or former educator, you need to watch this to know that there are caring teachers out there who represent your drive to educate others well. I applaud this teacher's well- reasoned and experience-based response without resorting to namecalling or yelling. Her tone and her body language really seems to indicate she's just very worn down by the system. Who can blame her?               

The ills she speaks of were part of our decision to homeschool and part of my decision to leave classroom teaching. Many of my college classmates (education majors) have had similar experiences like the ones expressed in this video that led them to leave the classroom to pursue other career paths or homeschool their children.   

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this video.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book on a (Really) Big Problem

This is my book review for Disciple Magazine. Justin often gets sent Christians books from publishers for his job and after seeing previews from Kevin DeYoung's blog and having read several of his previous books, I was greatly looking forward to getting my hands on Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book on a (Really) Big Problem. As a mom, I know how crazy busy life can be, but it's not often I hear in our culture "it's okay to be busy, but make it the right kind of busy". Most mom blog posts I see on my mini-feed are either profuse excuses for us (it's okay we didn't clean the house today/feed our kids veggies today/take the kids to Disneyworld today), don't-judge-me-because-you-don't-know-me, or the you-get-a-gold-star-for-being-such-an-epic-mom. Not many of them offer what DeYoung does -- a gracious challenge (through conviction) for people to use their time well in their homes and communities.

           Crazy Busy delivers on its subtitle—it is a mercifully short book on a really big problem, barely over 100 pages. Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung has written enough books, posted enough blog blurbs, and given enough sermons to know that to talk about the ubiquitous problem of busyness in 500 pages would be unhelpful to many readers. This is specifically why he focused on writing a “how come” book rather than a “how to” book. You probably won’t come away from reading with an action plan, but rather with some convictions about pruning family schedules and checking your motivations for activities and commitments. For those who may want these ideas fleshed out in more detail, the book’s intentional brevity may be its major flaw.
       If you have read other of DeYoung’s works (Just Do Something, What Is the Mission of the Church?, Hole in Our Holiness, etc.) you’ll know that he has an gift for being terribly funny and at the same time terribly serious (he’s quite blunt about Biblical truths). It’s a hard thing to pull off as a writer, but it’s become DeYoung’s trademark and it’s why people appreciate his gracious teaching style.
            Crazy Busy deals with a cadre of issues that plague those of us who see the world with “Western lenses”—personal pride, stressing out about our kids, obsessing over our gadgets, lack of rest, not setting priorities, striving after what God does not expect of us. Obviously some chapters hit me harder than others, but each certainly gave me a lot to chew on. For instance, in Chapter 5 he says our “daily goals” too often involve just keeping the plates spinning long enough to survive. The goals are unstated (we would never admit to others we run on mediocre or bare minimum), but our lives can often reflect those “goals” every day when we mismanage our time and priorities.
            We don’t want this to be us, but DeYoung says our expectations are low because our motivation for being busy is usually wrong—we tend to be much more man-centered (appearing to be important and sought-after) and not Christ-centered (laboring well with a focus on eternal things, which may or may not get noticed by others). His graciousness in calling readers to reflection and repentance shows in how he pinpoints our errors while also giving a healthy dose of “I’ve-been-there-man” to let you know the struggle to recapture your time for the Lord is worth the fight.
            For all the things Crazy Busy diagnoses on how we got here, it’s not a guilt-induced exercise on excising things from your life. As an extrovert myself (like DeYoung claims to be), I feel like I am always on the go whether I want to be or not, so it was comforting to for him to remind me that it’s okay to be busy, but be busy about the proper things! He encourages us to build discipline and rest into our lives (and into our children) so that we can rightly prioritize what God prioritizes within the limits of who He has gifted us to be.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

One Year Blog Anniversary!

On October 9th, it will have been one year since I began this blog. How much things (and I) have changed since I started it! Thank you all for coming along my family's educational journey and engaging with the material posted. I've had some great discussions with many of you on Facebook and other places and I very much appreciate the encouragement!   

In honor of my year of blogging, I'm pulling some of my favorite blog posts (favorite by content or being well-received by you guys) from the archives and will post one a day on Facebook until the 9th!    

So what might I cover in year two of my blog? Here are a few educational things I see myself still wrestling with this year. Some are brand new themes and some are themes I have hit this year, but you will see them fleshed out a bit more:

- Rethinking my educational philosophy (what to do with those worksheets...)
- The merits of recreational sports for children (as opposed to "Upward" type programs)
- The value of seeing EVERYTHING as cross-curricular (i.e. not having to force it!)
- The perpetual myth that only teachers are qualified to teach their children
- What role a dad should have in his child's education
- Our attitudes toward marriage and child-bearing (sounds controversial, eh?)
- A much needed follow up on "mean girls"
- How to incorporate a family reading time
- Cyber/Cellphone picture bullying
- What being involved in a community can look like for all types of schooling
- The value of conventional testing and rubrics 
- Classical method of learning
- Church youth group's role in education (oh snap!)
- More Charlotte Mason
- More book reviews for all ages and genres (those seem to be pretty popular!)

Anything else I need to wrestle with? I love to hear your suggestions for what you'd like to see here that involves education! As always, please contact me if you're interested in writing a guest post or if you'd like for me to consider you blog or a post for a discussion and link up. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Part 5: Talkin' 'Bout My Education -- Heading Back to North America

This is the continued story of my friend's international experience with homeschooling and ministry from the early 90's. If you've been keeping up since Part 1, you know what an eye-opening experience it was for her and her family! Enjoy this month's entry:

Tim & I graduated from the PCYM, and our season of outreach travels began in earnest. We traveled to a number of countries with teams made up of students and the children of the parents. Our particular team had a number of single young people (from Germany, India, The Faroe Islands, Fiji, Australia, Egypt, Canada, and England) and four couples with children (USA, Wales, Denmark, and Ireland). During our travels, we continued the homeschooling of our children, which proved an exercise in ingenuity! One memory I have is while waiting in an airport in Finland for our flight to Latvia, I was working on simple math with my son. I thought we had over two hours wait, so we had settled on the floor in a corner to work. Just as my son began, the airline announced our flight was ready to board, BUT! It had changed concourses due to a fuel spill, and we had less than 20 minutes to get to the new boarding platform! We quickly hopped up, and as all of our Team rushed along the concourse to get to the new one, my little guy was faithfully calling out his answers to the facts I was asking! Needless to say, we created quite a stir, and as we arrived breathlessly at the new boarding zone, the flight attendants clapped for us all making it, and most especially for my son as he excitedly exclaimed handing his ticket to board, “Do you know 1 times 1 is always going to be 1?”
We returned to Scotland in August and began our next level of training as Interns. I elected to school my child in the mornings and then send him on the afternoon activities with the children of the new students. The Internship lasted a full year, and we saw three schools of students come and go during that time, enjoying shorter outreaches as leaders.
Being on staff gave us more liberty, and we added in Boy Scouts as an activity my husband and son joined. The entry into the British Scouting program is called the Beavers, and my son loved it. It took some getting used to see the Scoutmasters in their kilts, but we weathered the cultural differences! I also was able to join a local homeschool support group. There was one other mum who was a Christian, and the rest were members of various beliefs from Baha’i, Judaism, witchcraft, atheism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. This group provided me not only with an avenue to share my faith and convictions, but it also solidified to me that Christians are NOT the only ones who choose not to turn the education of their children over to the government.
Living in a massive Manor House with anywhere from 90 - 125 people allowed for some unique experiences. During the winter months, dry rot was discovered under the floorboards of the ground level, and the workmen were having to pull up floors everywhere to kill the offensive mold. Because Stanely House was several hundred years, the bathrooms were marble with mosaic tiles, lead, stained glass windows were everywhere, and the entire house was paneled in solid mahogany, so the national historic society got involved. One of the biggest sources of the dry rot was under the room where my son slept and began tearing apart the flooring of the first floor hallway where we now lived. Because of the danger of the toxic mold when exposed to air, we had to keep windows opened; my son and I were homeschooling in our room as the snows blew inside by the open windows (a small gas heater was kept by our table and we dressed very warmly)! Chalk that one as a unique experience! The Manor House had a series of tunnels and hiding spots, and the children had fun playing in them after supper and before bedtime. During the weekends, there were no classes, and many students and staff signed up to use the room of washers and dryers. When a machine was broken beyond repair, I asked the director of the schools if we could have them for the boys to take apart to learn about simple machines. It proved to be a really great science project, and it was always fun to see the little guys climbing all over the machines with tools, taking them apart as the fathers explained the mechanics. Homeschooling at its best!
Our internship was drawing to a close, and we were once again in the midst of the process of finding where we were to go. We received invitations to join YWAM bases in several countries that allowed homeschooling. The years of homeschooling in Scotland had been such a sweet respite, and we had loved every minute of it! With time running out, we received an invitation to join a newly devised, “Think Tank,” of King’s Kids leaders in the Vancouver, BC, Canada area...could the Lord be moving us back to North America???
That will be disclosed in the final entry...
Stay tuned for next month!