Friday, March 30, 2012

Leveling Up

Well, I had to break out the college textbooks today.

It all started easily enough with a game app the kids are addicted to now called DragonVale, a simple game where you breed dragons for gold.  They spend a lot of time around here debating the best breeds and habitats, comparing who is doing better.  Then, Grayson disappeared with some art supplies and resurfaced an hour later very proud of his creation.  He had begun thinking about the different breeds of gryphon in his other favorite game, World of Warcraft.  After thinking through which gryphon breeds came first, which were more closely related, etc., he began organizing his thoughts into a detailed "Family Tree" which illustrated not only his idea of their relations, but also their unique traits.  His artwork opened up a whole new conversation between the older two kids about cross-breeding.

And then, they turned to Mom.  Their questions weren't just many, but difficult.  Soon I felt as though I were in the middle of a Biology oral examination.  I answered as well as I could and soon I was pulling out paper and a pen to illustrate everything from mitosis to DNA.  When we reached taxonomy I was exhausted.   Suddenly I remembered a wonderful treasure I had tucked away nearly two decades ago.  I raced to the schoolroom and dug it out, handing it proudly to my oldest daughter.

"This will explain everything!" I said with confidence.  She settled down with it, flipping past diagrams of mitosis, and genetic trait charts to thumb through the index at the back of the giant tome.  "Wow!" she exclaimed.  "They have marine biology in here!"  I smiled and walked away, relieved I could trust her questions to an expert for a while.

A few seconds later I hear her call out to me.  "Mom, what's echinodermata?"   *Sigh*   Thank goodness for curious children.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Independent Learners

I always hoped that my children would become independent learners by the time they were in high school. I remember sitting next to students in college who had no idea how to study, never read their textbooks unless forced to do so, and only came to class because they couldn't afford to lose any more "attendance points." These are people who are supposed to be adults! I wanted my children to have a different attitude. At some point, learning should become the responsibility of the student, not the teacher's. Our last year and a half has been unbelievable. Unbelievably wild. Unbelievably difficult. Unbelievably rewarding. And, all in all, unbelievably busy. Somewhere along the way something unexpected happened in our schoolroom - our children became independent learners. While my attention was often diverted elsewhere, the kids learned how to learn. Isn't that amazing? They began to seek out what they wanted to know. They challenged each other with difficult questions and philosophical discussions. They read and read and read some more. And they did it all without my permission or enforcement. I had all sorts of detailed plans for how I was going to teach them this independence. Now, I'm tossing them aside, exchanging them for new plans. I p,an to let them run wild. That's right, you heard me. I'm going to buy them more books, take them news aces, ask them hard questions and give them everything they need to find the answers. Then, I'm going to sit back and see what they learn. I'll be right here. I'm not far away when they need help, but I'm going to let them lead for a while and we'll see where it takes us. LilliAnn wants to write a movie script, so I'll show her how and let her loose. Grayson wants to see how much math he can conquer on, so I'm gonna hook him up and see what he does with it. Evie wants to be reading chapter books by the end of the summer, so we'll be choosing lots of books to practice with between here and there. Teaching doesn't always mean lecturing. Sometimes experience really is the best teacher. And I want them to have the very best.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

To Tell the Truth...

It is so tempting, when documenting one's life, to only show the good things. This happens often in things like scrapbooking and blogging, even the proverbial family Christmas card. I find it occurring naturally in this case simply because the good days are so good that I want to share them and the bad days are so .... blah. Who would want to read about that?!

Well, the truth is that not every day at home is wonderful. We aren't always building models of ancient architecture or creating gloopy messes in an attempt at kitchen chemistry. Sometimes we are just messy. Sometimes we are even lazy. I've honestly been amazed at how incredibly well this first year of school has gone, but still ... we've had our moments.

Saturday was one of those moments. I sat down to grade a back log of papers and discovered something amiss. A certain child had not been truthful in their work, only finishing about half of each math lesson, but trying to hide it cleverly. The principal was called in for disciplinary procedures for the first time. It was not pretty.

You see, wherever your children are taught, there will be temptation. There will be frustration. There will be mess and irresponsible behavior occasionally (I hope for your sake it will only be occasionally!) Children are growing and changing, struggling just like you and I over what is right and what is wrong and what they can get away with so that they can hurry back to the t.v. show they are missing or their favorite computer game. In the end it all comes down to a different kind of education: Teaching their hearts.

Yesterday I sat with the offender and we read from Romans 7 together. Verse 19 really struck home. "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing." Isn't this so true? What a valuable life lesson. Those words were written by a man who lived several thousand years ago, teaching people about Christ across the known world at the time, suffering and eventually dying for the cause of Christ, and yet he admits this struggle. Not only does he admit it in a letter to his friends in Rome as a means of encouragement to them, but God preserves his words (something I find miraculous in and of itself) so that I can learn and grow from it, you can, millions of others, and then, on May 3rd, 2010, I can share those same words with my child in the first steps of their Christian walk. What an amazing thing!

Life for no one is perfect. Life is hard. Even in this incredibly blessed life I am living, where I get to stay home with my beautiful children and teach them all the incredible things of life, I also have to teach them how to handle the hard things. Things like lying, cheating, stealing, laziness, etc. They are growing up and with that the lessons will get harder. Pray for us. I, in turn, pray for all of you and all of our children, that the Lord will fit them with the armor of truth and righteousness, that they may be "more than conquerors through him who loved us."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My scribble books...

My brother, the genius behind Unstressed , has challenged his readers to post a photo of their scribble books for all the world to see. "What is a scribble book," you say? A scribble book is a book or notebook of some kind for a writer to capture their thoughts, meant to be carried around with them at all times. I don't have mine at ALL times, but I do have a good stack of scribble books lying around the house. I keep one for each project I'm working on and that is where I add notes on characters or plot, draw diagrams or maps, and occasionally write entire sections of the story. This is then what I refer to as I am typing my draft.

My first book was done almost entirely in a set of notebooks. Occasionally I would sit down at the end of the day to type up my draft, editing as I went, and find myself a few hours later with another chapter or two that I hadn't started out with in the notebook.

I am currently working on a first draft of a book called A City On a Hill, which is the third book in a series. I had promised myself I wasn't going to write it at all if the first wasn't picked up for print, but lately I just can't stop thinking about this story. It needs to be told even if I am the only one who will ever read it. This, I find, to be the best kind of writing - writing done for the author's enjoyment. You can tell when a writer really loved his/her story. The characters seem more real, the action more fascinating. It never seems forced, but flows because the writer is simply chasing the story to its end.

So, when you see a notebook in my hand, you'll know I'm just chasing a story to its end.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Son is Now a Reader!

It happened like this: My mother had brought over a stack of books from her school's bookfair that she thought the kids might be interested in reading. I can't remember how they ended up in the car, but on our way to Evie's speech therapy appointment one day, Grayson sees this book with a dragon on it and picks it up to look at it. As we are climbing out of the car, I realize Grayson is reading a book. That seems strange, and then I notice that it's the book mom had bought. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. This isn't a little bitty book, but an honest to goodness chapter book (think Harry Potter 1.) He read and he read, carrying that book around with him. We found him reading at night, when he should be sleeping, we found him reading when he would normally be watching television. Everytime I turned around he was reading!!! We noticed that the book was coming out as a movie (what a coincidence!) so we promised to take him to the movie if he finished reading the book. In just a short week and a half he had read the whole thing.

"Hey, mom! Did you know there's another book after this one? It's about being a viking pirate."
"Ummm.... Grayson, I think we have that book. LilliAnn got it a few years ago, but didn't like it. It's on the shelf in the schoolroom."
"Really?! Can I read it?!!"
So, now he has read the second one - with record timing! As a reward, we went out and bought him the third book and discovered that there are 7 books in the series! Yikes! This could get expensive. But how do you put a price on my son's new-found love of reading?

"Reading opens doors" my professor used to say, and it is so true. When we learn to read we learn to find answers and information that we didn't have access to before reading. Now we can explore the world on our own, not having to wait for knowledge to be spoon-fed to us. When we read, we can be free.
As if reading wasn't enough, Grayson took it a step further.
"Mom, did you know Vikings had their own language? It looks different than ours. They used symbols."
"No, I didn't know that, honey."
"Mom, can you teach me how to write Viking?"
"Ummm..... " This is at least the fifteenth thing he's asked me to teach him in a week that I didn't know. Until this I had believed myself to be very clever, but this kid is testing me... and I am a loser. Anyway, back to the story.
"Ummm..... let's look it up!" So, we look it up on the computer. What do you know? There's a website where someone has typed up the whole rune alphabet and matched them up with the ancient Norse sounds so that you can decipher/write in Old Norse. He hurries to copy it onto blank paper and disappears.
The next morning I find a book on my desk:
How to Rite Viking by Grayson Sutherlin.

Each page was illustrated and he had included all the information he had gleaned from the internet. He had even crumpled it to make it look ancient.

Amazing! Even with the bad spelling, I am astounded by the effect this book has had on my son. This is why I wanted to be a teacher. This is why I want to be an author. Because, books do this to us! They inspire us. They make us want to know more, to do more.

I would LOVE to thank Cressida Cowell for her work. She did what I could not do.... she inspired my son to read and to love learning in a way he had not before. For that I will be forever grateful.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A New Year - in March!

This month, while public school children across the country were going off to spring break, we started a new school year. Somehow in the excitement of our first year of homeschooling, we had managed to get ahead - way ahead! I thought in the beginning that we would take a big break when we finished our curriculum for the year, but as the day approached I knew that wouldn't work for us. So, I ordered our new materials in February and we all began eagerly counting down the days till school would start again. (We are so weird!) The thing is, we just finished ancient history and somehow along the way the kids had noticed that the next items on the list were vikings and medieval Europe. This was all the motivation they needed to get busy finishing their work. They began making plans to build catapults, learn archery, write secret messages in some mysterious viking language and design a whole medieval village out of their Legos. Of course, this is music to my ears! When the books arrived they couldn't wait to dig in, so they scattered them across my bed and just had to read them right away. I almost cried (but instead I grabbed my camera!)

So, here we are in the last week of March and I now have a 1st grader, a 3rd grader and a 5th grader in the house. Amazing! I can hardly believe how much fun we have had along the way and to see them eagerly digging through books and devising new projects to take their learning farther just melts me where I stand. I never really believed it would be this good - I hoped it would, but I didn't really think it could happen to us. It did. God is good. I hope we never go back.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Homeschooling with preschoolers

Hello, again! I can't believe how long it has been since I blogged. I will try to be better. Life has been such an adventure this last year! Now all of our boxes are unpacked and we are finally settled in our home. School has continued and we are nearly done with our first year's work. I am ordering our next year's materials next month so we should begin in April. We can hardly wait! I think I can definitely say that our homeschool experiment has been a total success. We are happy and healthy, our home is clean (shocking!) and our minds are full of a lot of new and wonderful things. I can't believe how much I have been learning, too! For instance, this week we read about Alexander the Great, Socrates, Aristotle and Archimedes (just to name a few.) I knew almost nothing about all of these men. It is so embarrassing to see the gaping holes in my own education. I can't explain how I feel as I see the excitement on little faces as they discuss the philosophers and ancient kings, or as they hear and recognize some great work of music or a literary phrase they remember from our studies. It's safe to say that I am jealous of my own children.

This week we have two of my sweet nieces here with us and they are joining in with school each day. I have always wondered how other mommies do it with little ones around. They had me up earlier than usual (remind me to kiss my older ones for learning to sleep in!) and their first question was, "what are we doing in school?" Actually, now that I think about it, I believe the first question was, "What's for breakfast?" but the second question was definitely about school. So, my crew pulled it together and started school at 7:45. We tried to keep up with the little ones and they had us hopping from one subject to the next. All our work was done by 10:30!

Here's how I did it:
We started our day all together reading the Bible and singing together. Then, we split up into two learning groups. The little ones (5, 4, and almost 3) all made up one study group while the older two (9 and 7) made up the other. I sent the youngers in to watch an episode of Word World on PBS and the olders sat with me to read our history together. Then, I sent the olders to work on their writing assignments for the day while the youngers came in for a phonics and writing lesson. (We reviewed the letters M and N.) After our fun lesson, they went in to watch The Letter Factory by LeapFrog with the assignment to watch for the letters M and N. The older two then worked on math lessons, LilliAnn on her own today and Grayson with me since he just graduated to a new math book. After that, I sent the older two to do their independent readings while I taught the younger group a math lesson. We used little toy barns and animals to practice counting, adding and grouping. Then, we sorted them for a while and finally I left them to play while I looked over the finished writing assignments for the editing lesson I'll teach next week to the older two.

This was all very fast paced for me, but the kids seemed to think it was business as usual. One thing I have noticed is that my kids don't make as much mess and get into as much trouble as they used to because having school at home keeps them busy and engaged with mom all day. They just don't have as much opportunity for mischief! Then, at the end of the day, we all can work together to clean up and the house stays clean. Why didn't I do this years ago? I guess God knew the timing would finally be right this time around. I'm so very glad that it is!