Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sharing an epic story

       Humans love story.  We thrive on it.  Jesus taught w/stories and many great teachers have done the same.  We have a longing to know a place or event through the people involved.  We also love an epic story- something bigger than us.  Something grand and noble that gives us purpose and value.   That is why we love the likes of  Tolkien, Narnia,  and Harry Potter.   

Stan Williams of the Moral Premise says: 
The moral premise is at the heart of all successful story telling from ancient history right up to the modern day. We find its controlling nature in the writings of Plato, the Bible, and Aesop. We find it in English Classics from Henry Fielding on…and in the many good stories of modern stage, movies, and television.

Being able to share a grand story with others gives us a special bonding and sense of belonging.  It can be as casual as waiting in line at the midnight showing of the next movie sequel or it can be as deep  as drawing a family together with the sweetest memories.     

Stan goes on to say: While the physical, explicit story or plot line is what a movie is about, the psychological or moral premise is what the movie is "really" about.  

I believe this is how God makes us, in order to draw us into His story and to realize we really ARE part of an epic grand story where we have unsurpassable value and purpose. And so, we love the type of story He wants to write for us and I think we internalize it when we read great books. 

      Reading out loud as a family is one of the most cherished memories my children have and it is/ was a major part of our homeschooling lifestyle.  [and one of my most cherished childhood memories too, Dad]   I urge you to take up reading together in your family. Pick books that You love- the passion, interest, and love will be infectious to your kids.   It will provide the fertile soil for many a great discussion in later years.  

My husband and I loved the Belgariad series before children, so when they were old enough to understand it, but not quite old enough to read it themselves, I started reading it out loud. My husaband wanted to hear it too.   As subsequent children became old enough to appreciate the story, I read it again.  Sometimes an older kid or my husband would request it saying, "Hey its been a few years since we read that, maybe its time to read it again."    I have read many other books.  Charlotte's Web, Narnia, Black Stallion, and Harry Potter, but the Belgariad is our family story.   Don't be afraid to read an 'older' book.  The beauty of reading out loud is that you can 'edit' as you go when necessary with something you would never let them read on their own. Within reason of course.  You get pretty good at it.   

So now, I am reading the tale of Garion all over again and it washes me with memories, warmth and love and I hope to pass it all on to the current crop.  

We do love series books. One book is simply not satisfying enough. So we tend to read during holidays.  At the birth of a new baby my husband takes the week off and we all lay around the bedroom while I read.  Sometimes late into the early morning.  

Our second favorite time, and more regular, is Christmas Break. Again, Dad can usually take days off or 'work from home' because offices aren't open and everyone is more or less around to join in.   

And lastly, we read on vacation. My husband taught me that the purpose of vacation is to slow down and relax. We like to go to the beach.  We'll go for 2 hours in the mid-morning then come back to the condo for lunch and a reading session or we'll stay longer at the beach but read together on our beach towels. . We'll go back to the beach for 2 hours or so in the evening  when everyone else is  leaving to clean up for dinner.   We head to the condo as the sun is setting, eat a late dinner and read most of the night.  Oh did I tell you we were mostly night owls?

We did a similar schedule even at Disney World.  Condos are usually rented by the week, so that gives us plenty of days to see what we want and lounge around in the hotel room and read.  Don't try to see it all. 

Lest you think I have alien children, let me assure you, I do not.  Our family reading almost always included an infant, toddler or young child.   I have 2 bam bam boys. [they're older now and might not like that description but it was true] and the rest of my children were or are normal antsy, wiggly, talkative types.   It was and is hard and there's a lot of scolding sometimes, but mostly we planned well and took plenty of breaks. 

Some of the ways we coped with children too young to sit still and quiet:

1. Allow reasonable movement.  an exercise ball they can sit on and bounce. Beware of fighting over it. Maybe they switch with each chapter, the child on ball needs to be far enough away from all others to lesson temptation. 
I have a rocking ottoman a child can lay across and rock. A rocking chair would work too.  
Setting up 'stations' that they can walk to while listening helps them stretch their legs and allows them to 'switch' attention while still listening.  Especially my bam bams; they could be running circles and hanging upside down but they heard and retained every word.  I did have to keep them confined somewhat because it distracted the others, but if I was reading just to them, I let them move more. 

2. Provide snacks-  This can be a 'station.'   Christmas Eve is always hors d'oeuvre and hot chocolate. That just means ritz crackers with various toppings: sardines, sliced boiled eggs, cheese slices, pepperoni, olives, and mayo for example.  Building their own little masterpiece gives them something to do. Popcorn is another favorite.  Fondue could work.  Food that one assembles as one eats does double duty. 

3. Provide something for the hands to do.  
A small pile of legos on a hand towel for example. A small amount because digging through a large bin makes a terrible roaring noise. They are to pick out what they need before the session begins. A small hand towel helps muffle noise and also designates one child's stash and space from another's. If it's on his hand towel it is NOT for you.   
Play dough and other modeling agents are also good. It's good therapy and they can start over w/ new creations as they get bored of older ones.  
Paper and drawing/ coloring supplies are the most common around here. I like those design coloring books with all the little spaces to fill in- very time consuming. They come in geometric shapes, butterflies, leaves and many other themes.  Try Dover brand.  
One of my favorite activities is a puzzle.  You can do small individual puzzles or you can have one big family puzzle that several are working on together.  
My older girls know how to knit, so they did a lot of knitting.   
        If I am reading for bedtime though, I read in the dark using a flashlight and all children have to be laying down w/ their covers so they will be more likely to fall asleep. But that's a different goal. 

4. Take breaks. Some books are simply too difficult to put down, but when the kids are getting too restless we take a break. Everyone gets a chance to restock on food, use the bathroom, check their email, or whatever. We might reconvene in 20 minutes, 2 hours or 'after dinner,'  just depending on the situation. 

5. Switch readers.  I don't do this if I can help it. I am visual and prefer to 'see' the story in print. But I did take turns with my oldest, I think she was like me and enjoyed the long stretches of reading. None of the others showed as much interest, so I didn't  encourage it as much as I probably should. It gives the new reader something to do if they're getting bored with the station offerings and the new voice helps the listeners have something 'new' to listen to as well.  If you can relinquish control. 

6.. Allow some discussion and bantering. After a really great part everyone may be laughing and high Fiving one another, or discussing how stupid the character is being. Allow a little steam to be let off. It's like comedians learning to pause until the laughter dies down.  You need to be able to do the same. Young children may have questions about something or you may need to define a word or explain a skip in G-rated terms.  Take the time to do so.  

7. Take your time.  One of the Begariad rotations took almost a year to complete. We started it with the new baby, took it to the beach and finished the series over Christmas.  We read in-between times, but during normal busy family schedules it is just hard to get in the extended reading times needed.  I also read just to the current kids at home and that's easier to schedule as I count it towards 'school' and I don't have to compete with other adult or busy teen schedules.  I try to always have a book or series in progress to the currently homeschooled. 

NO-NOs: I don't allow electronics.  Computer games are 'stories' of their own and I can't believe they can really get into a book if they are looking at a screen, it's just not the same to me as drawing or knitting.  Nothing with a battery has always been our rule.  [and what parent doesn't want another opportunity to ban them for a little while?] 

I do hope you take an epic adventure with your family real soon!

ps. The series is now printed in two large volumes: There are also additional tales from the perspective of other important characters. We've read those too. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Teachable Moments

It seems that posting on my homeschool lists inspires me to blog. That’s a good thing! This time I was mentioning how I varied the ‘teaching moments’ by usually grabbing a chance when it shows itself.  Now don’t get me wrong, I do love to plan. I spend the summer mapping out the next school year.  It feels great and I get excited to start. [Hey, it’s inspiring]  Following through, however,  is not so much fun. Those are details that are meant for mere mortals, I guess.  Of course, I try, but its just not my forte.  My forte is however, spontaneity!
When a kid asks a question or  a child doodles on the wall. . . It’s time for a quick lesson! [Not That lesson, but an art lesson!]  I grab the closest piece of scrap paper and voila! School accomplished for the day!  String several of these together and it makes a great portfolio.   So, I thought I’d post a few photos of those more impromptu sessions we have had in the recent past and their explanations. 

I bought 'removable' chalkboard paper from a craft store. It sticks easily to the wall but is NOT removable if you keep it in one spot too long. This one is low to the floor right by the kitchen. Chalk tends to stay on the floor underneath, though there's a kitchen drawer close at hand. This way, if my pre-schooler seems interested, I can take a few minutes to work on her letters before getting back to 'chores' or school with the big kids. She is also free to use it whenever she wants.  Above: we did a few letters and then tried a word. She also had to practice making hearts. 

I have 2 good sized dry erase boards that I scored from a business closing. I have one place to hang them on the wall- so they take turns in that spot, otherwise they are leaning against various walls in the house, depending on where we feel like working in any given season.  Dry erase makes impromptu learning easy. Just grab a marker and start teaching! Change of subject? Just erase it.  Reluctant writers can't resist markers! Above: preschooler learning 'hop.'

So one morning we wanted to try that restaurant technique of squirting the pancake batter from a bottle or pastry bag.  The kids quickly figured out you could 'write' with it.  It wasn't as easy as we thought, but we made some letters and words.  We could then 'read' them before we ate them! Yum. 

The chalkboard off the kitchen:  Our youngest learned out to write her name on this. There is always a fair amount of doodling and 'artistic' license.  After writing her name, we erased parts and did them over in different colors.  Note some phonogram review on top.  This chalkboard is in our entry hall, so its also useful for party signs or family notes.  Its low to the floor  to be young child friendly and easier to just sit on the floor.

The dangers of Knowledge!! Our preschooler wanted to write my 'name' so I taught her 'mom'  She did give me an invitation to a 'show' she was planning, however she apparently couldn't resist practicing on our suede chair.  I'm a little conflicted. 1]I'm happy she remembered how to spell it and form those letters, 2]I'm disappointed she didn't use cursive.  Maybe the curve of the arm and the softness of the fabric made it difficult.  3] oh, she wrote on the furniture. . . but now every time we sit there together we can sound it out and read it!

This was cool.  We have combined several partial Risk games into one game. One set was apparently Roman numeral shaped pieces.  The kids were having some difficulty telling them apart [it was hard] and remembering their value. It inspired an entire session on Roman numerals and how they work.  Glad that chalkboard was close at hand!!  Note the numbers on top- I always start with 0.  It's a pet peeve of mine that we have 10 digits, they are 0-9 which we use to make all other numbers; not 1-10!   Using 0-9 helps explain place value and counting higher and higher. 

I also like to do 'teaching moments' while waiting in doctors' or mechanic's waiting rooms and even in the church pew.  Even if you forget to bring anything, those places always have advertisements and pens- just grab some of that paper and use the white space. [for my youngest we can play 'find the phonograms']  If I'm on top of things, we can pack lap dry erase boards, markers, notebooks and any flashcards or books we want and off we go-carschooling.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Recently I answered a post by a homeschool mom that was feeling discouraged. I thought I would share my response here as I think it may be useful to all of us. 

I think feelings of discouragement are more common than we admit.  We see those other posts, read those magazine articles or look up statistics and we wonder what we're dong wrong. Why isn't my child making leaps and bounds? Why isn't my child succeeding in that way?    It's an easy thing to slip into, but we need to be aware and watch for it.   We need to keep our focus on our own kids and make sure our goals actually fit for them. Not what we want. Not what those other kids are doing.  

While in the mean time, we should review and revisit our tools. Any other profession will have continuing education or conferences of some type. Professionals know they have to keep on top of their game.  So, why don't we? A refresher course- re-reading the book, watching the video or attending the class again- all ways we can refresh our teaching.   Our job as teachers is worth the effort or expense for extra or updated training.  

The other thing most professionals do as well- is refreshing the 'spirit'. They might not call it that. But some time reflecting on why we do what we do is also very helpful. I have loved attending the real refreshment retreats. [ ] So much so, that I also keep the program  with my notes in it for re-reading throughout the year. I highly recommend it.  If you can't do a 'real refreshment' you may want to do your own. Set aside some time where you can reflect on why you do this, where is God leading you? What is He calling you to do in this manner? What scripture verses speak to you? Mediate on Him. 

My children are never going to make those great leaps or probably ever be 'above' grade level in some areas,  but they are continuing to progress in all areas at their own personal rate. [bumpy and uneven at that] Sometimes I need an attitude adjustment to help me see how very talented and smart my kids really are. . . I have come to accept that my children and my homeschool will not look like anyone else's, even if sometimes, I need a reminder.