Category Archives: Homeschooling

Giant T.V. Boxes

mangocats-backyeard.jpg
A Good Backyard circa 1960

My husband has recently been hired by a major airline. This means we will eventually move from our beloved little town, far from an interstate, to the inevitable matrix of commercialism, toll roads, and bustle inherently found near major airports. I am trying real hard not to think about this too much, so I am concentrating on getting excited about finding a house and neighborhood that I like. One with charm, neighborly goodwill, and an abundance of green spaces.

This is harder than you think. What I am finding is that most homes these days are designed for a lifestyle that does not fit our family. As I plow through online photos of houses for sale, I am continually floored by both the size and number of t.v.s found in homes these days. Page after page of living rooms with recesses built specifically for oversized t.v.s, replacing the built-in bookcases that used to be preferred. There are t.v.s in kitchens, bathrooms, even garages. Predictably, any home built after 1990 follows a formula based around current values. As I look at the architectural changes and general house-to-yard ratio from the early 30s homes to now, I see proof in how much our values have changed.

Square Feet
As our families have shrunk in both size and co-habiting generations, our houses have grown. Tremendously. 1,200 sq. feet used to be sufficient to raise a family of 6. Now, 3,000 sq. feet is a must. For a family of 4. No matter what this says about our attitude towards children, one thing is clear. We like our stuff. We need bigger houses to hold more stuff. We prefer exercise equipment to a walk outdoors. We need closets the size of bedrooms to hold our clothes, shoes, and purses. Our kitchens must be able to accommodate every gadget Pampered Chef ever made, yet I would bet the average family eats out more often than it cooks! And, of course, we need more space for t.v.s and the couches that must accompany them. Personally, I don’t want that much house to clean! Whew! It tires me out just thinking about it. But, then again, if your kids are glued to the t.v., they don’t make that much of a mess.

Windows
Don’t worry. Windows have not gone away. New homes have windows. I just have noticed that the placement is different. The windows are designed now to catch light. This is not a bad thing. Countless homes I have viewed have these gorgeous windows flanking the fireplaces t.v. alcoves. These windows run clear up to the second story. Stunning. But what is lacking are windows that afford a good view of the backyard and side yards. Bedrooms seem to favor high windows. Picture windows are out. Besides, those pesky windows, if placed low, interfere with the t.v. armoire placement.

Backyards, or lack of them
Why do you need low windows when there is nothing to look out upon? Why a picture window when you are only gazing upon a fence? Or a neighbor’s air conditioning unit? We have sacrificed green spaces and trees and a yard to accommodate all of that living space we seem to need. Never mind if you enjoy breakfast on the patio. Or that the kids have no where to build a fort, play war (hear the collective sucking in of breath), or toss a ball. We need the space to build a game room so the Game Cube playing doesn’t interfere with the big t.v. in the living room.

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A Bad Backyard circa 2000

The Great Room Concept
I’m not talking about a kitchen that is open to a family room. I renovated my 1930s servant’s kitchen to remove a swinging door with the precise purpose of opening up my kitchen. I am talking about these cavernous rooms that have open kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, and even open balconies to include the second story. I assume this is so everyone can keep an eye or ear on American Idol, even while going about their other activities. This would drive me crazy. In a homeschooling family, quiet, private space is a premium. Besides, who wants to see the dirty dishes stacked in the sink and glasses left out on the counter from all angles of the house? Oh, wait, that’s what fast food is for!

Image over Substance
My last frustration with current values is the lack of quality in construction materials. Something has to give when building such enormous homes, so I suppose real wood takes a back seat to fiberboard. Trimwork has almost disappeared. The front of a home may have brick, but certainly not the sides. And these are homes that are not inexpensive! I guess that as long as the house looks good from the street it doesn’t really matter what the inside looks like. Besides, no one will notice when must-see t.v. is on.

I know that I sound a little bitter, but seeing how our homes have been turned into giant t.v. boxes, I can’t help but worry about our future generations. Will they appreciate nature? Will they know how to have a conversation? What are the effects of surrogate parenting with Nickelodeon? We are already seeing a massive decline in the physical health of our children. Their thumb muscles are well-developed, and a few gifted ones may put that to good use by becoming excellent surgeons, but those will be the exceptions. Who will know the joys of curling up in a quiet corner and reading a book? Who will remember watching the habits of birds through a bird feeder placed outside a low window? All of these things endure, many years after the names of the American Idols have long been forgotten.

I suppose we will be looking in neighborhoods built in the pre-entertainment era. I want a backyard! A big one! I want bookshelves! A window seat! A cozy kitchen! A house big enough to find a good place to read a book, but small enough that we don’t need intercoms to hear each other. Anyone have a house like that they want to sell? Of course you don’t. You’re not budging. Is that why I only see the giant t.v. boxes for sale? *sigh*

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Our Favorite Bird Poems

We have followed these wonderful bird poems all year long. How I wished we owned this book! Check it out!

http://www.kellscraft.com/yearwithbirds.html

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Wanting your Math Reviews

It’s that time of year again…time to assess my homeschooling program and make changes.

We have used Math-u-see, Saxon, and Singapore Math. We are beginning to sound like “math hoppers” but I don’t think I’ve been crazy about a single program. I like the clear explanations of Saxon, but find it a bit overwhelming for the average math student. Singapore has been ‘nice,’ but that’s about it. Math-u-see was fun for awhile but the manipulatives got ‘old.’ I must admit I prefer programs that tend toward independent learning and have just learned about Developmental Math. The descriptions sound like it is a self-paced, straightforward program that is heavy on deductive reasoning.

Has anyone used Developmental Math? I’d love to know what you think!

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Racehorse writers/Reluctant writers

I ran across my daughter’s second grade journal today and began to panic a little. My son, nearing the end of first grade, is nowhere near the skills shown by my daughter’s writing, even at the beginning of her second grade year. I know that it can be folly to compare children but it did spur me on today to search for ways to encourage writing fluency in my son.

I really should be encouraged by the fact that he no longer grips the pencil in a tight fist. And that he is a better reader at this age than his sister was. But writing?? He’d rather go to the dentist and get his teeth filled. Much of this has to do with a little perfectionist tendency that has surfaced in him. He hates to guess at the spelling of a word, lest he be wrong!! How different this is from his sister, who can write like a racehorse, but can’t even spell her own name. (I’m not kidding…in the midst of furious writing, she has been known to misspell her name…multiple times.) Like immersing yourself in a Shakespeare play, it takes me awhile to understand her own “alternately-spelled” language, but once I get it, it all makes sense. And the stories are riveting.

I have to admit, it’s hard to look at my son writing. It still looks painfully awkward. I can see why he wants to wriggle, and shake his hands in frustration, and whine and complain. Because of this, I realized today I have been reluctant to make him write as much as he should. He never minds dictating a story to me, but to write one himself…??

I found this website and I’m going to give it a whirl: WritingFix: Word and writing games for young writers
I have also determined to suffer through a journal time every morning, no matter how much I want to stop.

It’s funny to see bits of my own writing habits in both of my school-age children. As a young child I had terrible handwriting…consistent C’s and D’s, but boy, could I spin a story!  With near perfect spelling, too!.  But what went on before I began the story?  Whining by me, cajoling/threats by the adults.  I have always had a love/hate relationship with writing.  It’s dreadful to get me started, yet I am constantly writing in my head and can’t stop.  Once it’s out…I love it again.  Strange.

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More than You Ever Wanted to Know about Vultures

Amazing how you find yourself doing things for your kids you never thought you’d do.

Yesterday, I found myself throwing my laundry basket over a stunned turkey vulture in our yard. Yep. Commonly known as a buzzard. Bald, red head. Big.

I also found myself becoming genuinely concerned for the little guy (or gal) as the day passed. I’ll digress for a moment. My son is bird lover and for the past few months we have immersed ourselves in learning about birds. If you ever get a chance to see The Life of Birds series, a BBC production, do it! It is hosted by the charming, elderly David Attenborough. You will find yourself absolutely stunned by God’s providence for the birds. His careful attention to the tiny but crucial details in a bird’s life will make you realize how big His hand is in ours. Truly, “His eye is on the sparrow…” So, after a few months of study, I too have become hooked on birds.

Now, back to Viking. (So named by my son.) We really didn’t think Viking was going to live. When we found him, his eyes were closed and he alternated between quivering and lying stone still. After placing the basket over him to protect him from any passing cats or dogs, we left the house for a few hours. When we came home, my son excitedly reported he was standing up with his eyes open. “And someone fed him some raw meat!” Huh? I walked over to Viking and thought surely my son was wrong about the health report. Flies were buzzing all around the basket. A vile stench permeated the air. But, sure enough, there was a bright eyeball looking at me through the basket. A little pile of something vaguely raw meatish was at his feet.

Okay, time to check this bird out. No, I did not lift the basket. Instead, I ran to the computer and found this nifty little site: The Vulture Society. Yes, my first thought was “A Vulture Society? I guess there is a society for everything.” But after reading about the lowly vulture, I really appreciate the little guys. They are clean birds. Their digestive juices are so acidic that their excretions are actually sanitizing. They excrete on their own legs to clean off the bacteria picked up from standing on carrion. Their heads, which necessarily have to poke and prod decaying flesh, are featherless, helping to again resist bacteria. They can soar without flapping for 6 hours. And, of course, they clean up the countryside of dead animals.

Why did ours stink so bad? One of their only defenses is to vomit up partially digested meat. This would send just about anybody packing.

When Viking started to move the basket around and stick his beak through the slats, trying to get out, I walked over to him to lift the basket. He hissed. I backed away. Hmmm, do vultures attack when scared? I hadn’t thought about that when I threw the basket over him.

Time to ask an expert. We found the phone number online of a rescuer. She instructed me to lift the basket from his backside and back away quickly. Yes ma’am. I’ll do that. Leaving my kids inside, armed with the cell phone, I feigned nonchalance and walked over to the basket (my kids were watching!), picked up a long stick, lifted the basket, and quickly backed up.

He didn’t move.

My “vicious” vulture sat there quietly and I was afraid that he was sick after all. I walked back inside, feeling quite like the wildlife rescuer in spite of my fear that things were not going to go too well. We watched him and over the hour, he began preening, stretching his wings, and finally, he flew home to the colony perched in the tall palms lining my street. We all cheered.

My son spent the evening watching the vultures soar above our yard. He was sure that Viking was rocking his wings in thanks. I love happy endings.

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Book Review: Baby by Patricia MacLachlan

My 10 year old tossed Baby by Patricia MacLachlan at the end of her bed last night. “That was sad” was her only comment.

Having an attraction to “sad” books, I immediately grabbed it and began reading it while putting my toddler to sleep. I stayed there until I finished. When I finished my side was numb and I had tears running down my face. What a beautiful book.

Patricia MacLachlan has a rare gift among storytellers. She writes stories poetically. I don’t mean she uses poetic phrases, as so many good authors do, but she composes poetically. She turns simple words, that could be read by any second grader, and makes a story that reads like one big poem. Each word is savored, never wasted. The wonderful thing is that readers none too fond of poetry would never have guessed that they just read a poem disguised as a story.

Baby (1993, Delacorte Press) might be my favorite among her stories. The author is probably best known for Sarah, Plain and Tall. Even non-readers may be familiar with the Hallmark movie version of the story. That book, although poetically written, translates well into a dramatic reproduction. Baby would not work so well.

Baby is about words and the power of words and the destruction in lives when words are withheld. Like a good layer cake, it is also about loss, pain, cycles, giving, and healing.

Twelve-year-old Larkin lives with her mom and dad on an island year round. The story opens at the end of summer, as the last summer ferry carries the tourists away until the next summer. One little island “guest” is left behind at Larkin’s home. An almost year old baby, Sophie, has been left by her mother with a note attached telling the family that “I will come back for her one day.” Sophie becomes the catalyst which brings about healing in Larkin’s family.

As the family takes in Sophie, they uncover the pain surrounding the loss of Larkin’s newborn brother, “Baby,” six months prior. Larkin’s parents never talk about him, never named him, and through their silence have isolated each other from themselves and from their daughter. The story unfolds beautifully as Larkin’s family cycles through fear of love, love for Sophie, then once again has to face loss again, when Sophie’s mother returns in the spring to claim her. During the story, Larkin discovers poetry and how words are “wondrous” and powerful, and through this power Larkin and her family find their way back from loss and pain.

Baby speaks powerfully to foster care, too. Larkin’s grandmother, with foresight, has the following conversation with Larkin:

“This is not meant to be easy,” she said, “It is a very important thing to do, for Sophie and especially for your mother and father. But it will not be easy. Do you understand?”

I understood. I did. I knew that what she meant was what Papa had said. Sophie was not ours. Someday she would go away. Another thing to miss.

“Why is it important?” I asked her…

“It is important, Larkin, because we are giving Sophie something to take away with her when she goes.”

“What?” asked Lalo [Larkin’s friend]. “What will she take with her?”

“Us,” said Byrd firmly.

“And what will we have when she’s gone?” I asked .

Byrd is silent. It takes the rest of the book for Larkin to have her answer.

I had a wonderful conversation this morning with my daughter about the book and the power of words. We were reminded of how God spoke world into being and how Jesus is called the Word made flesh. Words are ordained by our Creator to hold power…power to heal and soothe, and also power to hurt. MacLachlin’s book addresses how the absence of words can be just as harmful as the ill-used word and what blessings may flow when words are used to heal.


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Nature-Deficit Disorder? Surely Not in this Family!

I have been intrigued by a book my sister-in-law has been reading about our children being “nature deprived.” The book is provocatively titled Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Apparently, we have so little contact with nature these days, that we have become scared of the natural world and our kids are missing out from the experiences that so much of our poetry and literature is based on, not to mention just missing the joy of being outside.

I intend to read the book eventually, but she has had me thinking about it the meantime. I’m not sure, though, if I have carried the idea too far.

Yesterday, I found a dead robin in our backyard. I couldn’t believe that my bird-loving son had missed it. Just minutes earlier he was playing right where the robin lay. I called him outside to look and before I could tell him not to touch it, he bent and picked it up. I closed my open mouth and thought, “Well, there is always soap and water.”

He held the bird, rocked its loose head back and forth, touched its beak, and thoroughly examined him. He decided a burial at sea would be appropriate for the bird, so we took the bird to the nearby canal and ceremoniously tossed him in. Meanwhile, I was constantly monitoring my son just in case he was going to rub his eyes, pick his nose, or stick his fingers in his mouth.

Afterwards, hearing the soap and water running and feeling satisfied that I had let my son pick up a dead bird, I kept reassuring myself that the robin had died of old age and probably in the intervening moments that my son had gone inside and I had gone outside. He was large, and well formed, and generally healthy looking, excepting of course, that he was dead…he certainly couldn’t have died of a species-jumping virus such as BIRD FLU…could he??!

Maybe I need to just go read the book. Surely the author suggests that we interact with dead animals from a safe distance.

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