Saturday, October 28, 2017

Praying Consistently

For years, I struggled to pray with any consistency. I knew I ought to, and felt guilty, and tried various approaches, none of which stuck. I wanted to pray for certain people, such as missionaries and government officials, and I'd start, do it for a few days, but then forget. Before I was married, I made a big list of everyone I wanted to pray for, and went through the whole thing every morning - for about 2 weeks, when going through the same list in the same order became so boring and time-consuming I just couldn't get through it. After getting married, life encroached and my prayer life really slipped. I particularly wanted to pray for my husband and all my children daily, but I'd get sidetracked (repeatedly) and forget who I'd been praying for before the distraction occurred. I found it easy to commit to daily Bible reading, but prayer tended not to happen, or at least not much. But now, I finally have a system that, while not perfect, has helped me achieve more consistency in prayer than I've had at other times in my life, and I want to share it in the spirit of possibly helping others be more consistent in prayer, too.

The first part of my system consists of a set of 6 bracelets. I got the idea from a magazine article I read (by a mom with more children than I have!) and it's my "bare minimum" daily prayer goal: pray for my husband and 5 children daily. I have a bracelet for each person, with names spelled out in alphabet beads. I used white alphabet beads and blue and purple glass beads, which match pretty much everything I wear, so I can wear the bracelets daily. In the morning when I get up, I put all the bracelets on my left wrist. Then, even if it's a crazy busy day, I can pray for one person at a time as I do other tasks. When I've prayed for someone, I move the bracelet with their name on it to my right wrist. Sometimes the little ones will keep me on task, as E3 demands that I read the names on each bracelet (serving as a reminder of who is still on my left wrist).

The second part of my system involves a set of note cards. I started making them after buying and trying to use the book The Busy Mom's Guide to Prayer, by Lisa Whelchel (available from Amazon). The book guides you through 20 days of prayer in each of six categories: Praise, Self, Husband, Children, Personal Influences, and Reaching Beyond. A different aspect of each category was featured each day (for example, in the Husband category, different days might have you praying for his priorities, role as husband, role as father, or work). Something particularly helpful about the layout was that for each day's prayer in each category, a Bible verse was quoted, so that you could be sure you were praying out of the truth of God's word. However, note that I said "trying to use". There were items - particularly in the "Personal Influences" and "Reaching Beyond" sections - that really didn't apply to me (such as associate pastor, which our church doesn't have, or coworkers, which homeschool moms kind of don't have by definition), and things that I really wanted to be reminded to pray for more than once every 20 days (such as missionaries and friends). I also simply couldn't make myself pray the scripted "Praying the Word" prayer that followed each Scripture reference - a conversation with God in which my part is already written down for me is not appealing! So I took the basic idea and adapted it to my needs. I took a set of 4x6 note cards and cut them in half (resulting in cards that are a comfortable size to hold in my palm), with some of the halves having a part that sticks up higher than average so I can write a category name on it. I included some of the book's categories (Praise, Self, and Husband), and added some of my own, including a separate category for each child, and expanding "Personal Influences" and "Reaching Beyond" into categories including Missions, Ministries (Christian activity within the USA), Persecuted Church, Extended Family, Local Friends, Other Friends, Leaders, and Thanksgiving. On the basic cards, I wrote out verses that serve as a launching point for prayer. As I do my personal Bible study, sometimes a verse stands out to me and I think, "I should pray that for myself, or for Ari or one of the kids," so I copy it onto a note card and add it to the deck. I have verses for Praise, Self, Husband, and each of the kids, and then just names of specific people or organizations in the rest of the categories. As I receive updates from people, I can jot down specific prayer requests on their cards. Even with all those categories, if I spend a minute or two on each one it only takes about 30 minutes, which easily fits into the time I spend running 3 mornings a week. As I pray inspired by each Scripture reference, I move the card to the back of its category (or, in the case of the children, to the back of the next child's category), so my prayers are different each day and I don't get bored. It makes the prayer more of a conversation, as I'm hearing God's voice through his word and responding in prayer. Over the course of a few weeks I'm praying for everyone and everything I want to, I'm praying based on the Bible, and I'm staying on task. I'm still hoping to move more toward "praying without ceasing" - but at least I'm no longer "ceasing without praying"!

What's neat is that, by being more consistent in prayer, I can see specific answers to specific requests I've made recently. Ari and I had been concerned about one of our children having a constant sense of grievance - nothing was ever good enough for him. As I prayed for that child daily, I asked God to work a sense of gratitude in his heart. A little over a week ago, he came up to me, and said, "There are big happinesses that happen every year, like Christmas and my birthday, and little happinesses that happen every day, like yummy food, and tiny happinesses that happen every second, like having a shadow." It was so encouraging to see his attitude change as a direct result of God's work in his heart!

What have you found helpful in seeking to be constant in prayer? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

First 5K

This morning, E11 and I ran our first 5K. Ever since he started, a few months ago, running the equivalent of a 5K every morning, he's been wanting to run in an official race. But I was reluctant to get up before the crack of dawn to go to something an hour's drive away in Honolulu, at least for his first race ever. Then I saw that the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center was holding a 5K starting at the Waianae Mall, just a 10 minute drive from our house, and that it was a run/walk, not just a race.

Since getting a smart phone back in May, I've discovered a number of useful apps, one of which is a run/walk timer. I like the idea of running, but I have a special-needs left knee. (That's what happens if your car hits a tree at freeway speed and God is super-gracious to you and you don't die, and your husband and unborn baby are perfectly fine, but pieces of your kneecap are visible through the gaping hole in your knee). Almost 14 years after our car wreck, I still have metal in my knee and occasional pain after long walks, so I really didn't think I could run non-stop for any significant distance, let alone over 3 miles. I've tried running a few times since the accident, but always ended up stopping for one reason or another (pregnancy, usually, but the knee pain was annoying too). However, I stumbled upon this site, and thought it might be worth a try. When E11 started his daily long runs, I started adding very easy runs to my walks a few times a week. I started with 10 seconds of running for every 50 seconds of walking, and at that pace I had no knee pain at all. Then I increased the run times and decreased the walk times by 5 seconds each every week or two, which was a gradual enough increase that I am still not experiencing pain when I run, and I'm doing 30 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking. So when I saw the WCCHC 5K run/walk, I decided to go for it: I didn't expect to place, but with lots of walkers I certainly wouldn't come in last, and was curious as to how well I could do.

E11, of course, was hoping to perform well. He said that if he could be in the top 10 in his age group (12 and under), he'd start working toward a 10K. The race course was to a certain point and back again, so as I was run/walking toward the turnaround point I started to see the fastest people on their way back. I kept a mental tally of how many of them looked younger than teenagers, and the third boy in that category was mine! So I knew, probably before he did, that he was likely to get a medal. The course was hilly, starting out with a downhill (which meant an uphill toward the very end), but it wasn't as steep as the street I've been run/walking up and down on days I run, so I didn't feel completely spent at the end. I felt the "runner's high" during my walk breaks, and even toward the end I was eager to run again after each walk break. I ran 3 miles last Saturday and it took me 37 minutes, but with the less-steep hills I completed the 5K in only 31:25. E11 had been waiting for me long enough that he was no longer out of breath, and when the times for the first 50 finishers were posted I looked only at his results: 24:51, fifteenth overall, 1 second faster than the fastest female racer, and 3rd in his age group. I didn't realize I had finished in the top 50 overall until they posted the next page of results and I saw the 51st finisher had been slower than me. I actually came in 45th overall and 6th among women 20-64 years old (and the 15th female to finish - there are some fast teen girls out there). So without even expecting to, I met E11's criterion for deciding to start working toward a 10K. And you know what? This was so much fun, I think I'm going to do it!

Here's the young man, in the blue shark shirt and blue shorts. The envelope contained his prize: two $5 gift certificates to the farmer's market just behind me. While I looked for fresh produce for this week's meals, he bypassed the technicolor popcorn and lilikoi haupia (passionfruit dessert) and went straight for a coconut and a dragonfruit.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Return from our Vacation

We're back from our vacation! One of the best parts of living in Hawaii is that, once you get home, your surroundings whisper, "I'm really still on vacation." Ocean, palm trees, mountains... it's good to be back.

We had a fantastic time in Texas. We spent most of it at Ari's parents' place in Fredericksburg. They have a large property with a swimming pool, lake, large pavilion, and even a chapel. The children went swimming and fishing every day, while I enjoyed playing the piano in the chapel and helping B7 assemble 400- or 1000-piece puzzles. We saw more wildlife this time than we have before: in addition to deer and fish, which are usual, there was a tarantula in the courtyard, and in the swimming pool two dead scorpions and a dead rat one day, and a live frog and live grass snake another day. Friends from Ari's grad school days who live in Houston were able to come and spend part of a weekend with us, and all the children hit it off while the grownups enjoyed catching up. Then, Ari and I spent 6 days off by ourselves while the children stayed with their grandparents. We stayed in a bed and breakfast in San Marcos for 3 nights, exploring museums (without anyone to stop us from reading every caption) and riding in a glass-bottomed boat. Then we spent 3 nights in a cabin near Lost Maples State Park (named for maple trees that wandered into Texas during the last Ice Age and got left behind when the cold receded, adapting over the years to the conditions in one particular microclimate and giving Texans an opportunity to see fall colors). The hiking was great, and Ari enjoyed spending an hour or more taking pictures of turkey vultures so close you could see details on their wing feathers. We read Dorothy Sayers mysteries aloud to each other in the evenings as well as editing Ari's new book and even doing some recreational calculus!

Since we traveled back on Monday, and our logistics involved a 4-hour wait at the airport while Ari took the bus home to get our car, I packed many of our school things. We sat outside in the bright sunshine, trying to convince our bodies that it was still supposed to be daytime, and finished much of our school reading and other work. E11 left his reader, Mara, Daughter of the Nile, either at the airport in Texas or on the plane, and H5 left the first volume of I Can Read It at his grandparents' house, but we got through pretty much an entire school day except for math on Monday.

In addition to school, we had extra activities every day the rest of the week, too: we all attended Community Bible Study on Tuesday morning, I gave violin lessons on Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon, P13, E11, and B7 went to archery on Wednesday afternoon, and we did math club on Friday morning. What with getting our household up and running again (unpacking, groceries, catching up on laundry), school went on pretty late every day. Part of it is just that children have a hard time adjusting to "school mode" when they've so enjoyed "vacation mode". Little E3 came into the kitchen a few nights ago, looked me in the eye, and ordered, "Take me to the airport." I explained that even going to the airport wouldn't get us back to Oma and Opa's house, because we hadn't bought plane tickets. The next morning, while I was preparing breakfast, he commanded, "Mommy, buy plane tickets." We plan on flying back at Christmas for a big family reunion, but it's hard for a 3-year-old to understand the concept of 3 months!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

N Minus 2 Is Easier Than N

It will probably come as no surprise that homeschooling 2 children plus a preschooler is easier and less work than homeschooling 4 children plus a preschooler. Despite doing a full school schedule with B7 and H5, I've felt like I'm on vacation this week. I suppose I'm reaping the "It Could Always Be Worse" effect (see - if you keep adding difficulties, removing a few of them makes the remainder seem inconsequential. I remember when P13 and E11 were in 2nd grade and kindergarten - I didn't feel nearly this relaxed!

Adding in our Sonlight reading is always fun - it's our favorite part of school. I'm reading History/Bible/Literature B ( to B7, with H5 listening in, and this week we started Charlotte's Web and The Usborne Book of Peoples of the World. It always makes me happy when both boys clamor for another chapter! We've also enjoyed the internet links that come with The Usborne World of Animals, exploring bird calls and enjoying videos of baby animals. And after watching the science video, the boys ran off to experiment with how effectively various magnets could still pull through various materials (notebooks, the table, etc.).

I pulled out the I Can Read It series for H5, because he seemed to feel the Reading Lesson was getting a bit tedious. This series is really perfect for him. It starts out right at his level ("Nat the cat sat on Pat the rat. Nat is a bad cat!") but looks like a "big kid book": the pictures take up half the page or less, and there are several sentences per page; the stories are divided into chapters, and each book is 90 pages long. He was so excited to be able to read from the first book that, for the past two nights, he has asked to take a flashlight to bed with him so he can continue reading after lights out.

B7, after we watched The Tale of Despereaux on DVD over the weekend, checked out the book from the library and has read it twice through. Once H5 tired of doing his own after-bedtime reading last night, we heard voices from their room: B7 was reading Despereaux to H5 by flashlight. It's really neat to see B7 taking care of his little brothers like this - finding himself temporarily in the position of being the oldest shows up facets of his character I hadn't noticed before.

Yesterday (Friday) was really fun. I'm still doing math club for our homeschool group every 2 weeks, and lately we've been making our way through Camp Logic ( But with P13 and E11 out of town, I decided to review some of the ideas we've explored in the past at the intersection of math and art, inspired by the artwork of B7's I posted last week. We had more people attend than ever before - 8 different families in addition to us - and most of the children were really engaged, drawing and coloring mystic roses. I challenged them to use as few colors as possible, and one girl managed it with just 2. Others used as many colors as possible, which yielded a different, interesting artistic effect. Something that I love about math club is that because we have it at a local park, when the lesson is over the kids all go off and play, leaving the adults to chat. It's actually become a de facto homeschool support group, where we share what works and what doesn't, and remind each other that there are actually a lot of us who do this crazy thing called homeschooling. And we do it in many different ways, and all our kids seem to be turning out pretty well so far.

The letters and texts we've received from P13 and E11 show that they're also learning a lot and having a great time. They started in LA, and among other things have seen Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. P13 sent a letter describing E11 climbing down to a big rock and yelling to his grandfather, "Opa, I think this is iron silicate! It's odd on such a pale rock." Thank you, Oma and Opa, for taking over homeschooling the older 2 for a few weeks - we're all gaining from it.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Fourth Week of School

Right now, P13 and E11 are on an airplane somewhere over the Pacific, on their way to meet Ari’s parents at LAX. I’m really excited for them, but I’m going to miss them a lot! It’ll be interesting to see how the dynamics of life in general and school in particular change without the two oldest children around. I plan to do full school with B7 and H5 next week (adding in Sonlight history and read-alouds).

This past week, I added writing to our daily school lineup. H5 jumped in with enthusiasm, dispatching a letter to his cousins on Monday and updating his journal with illustrated stories like, “The ripped book is magical. Flip to a page becomes real.” (I wrote the words on the board, and he copied (most of) them). He has been working through the Handwriting Without Tears kindergarten-level workbook, and is writing quite neatly. I also added reading lessons for H5; this week focused on words using the long /i/ sound. Daily practice yields excellent results, and he is able to read sentences like, “This is mine.” It’s fun to see the satisfaction in his face as he deciphers each word.

B7 has been working on cursive handwriting. He is careful and precise, but doesn’t enjoy it! He can now write his name in cursive, as well as all the vowels and the letter B. He updated his journal, adding a second sentence with reluctance after I told him I expected a 2nd grader to write at least two. He’d far rather read a chapter book like Holes than write words on a page. Artistic expression is another story – he asked me to position 10 points evenly around a circle, and carefully connected the points in a mystic rose. He colored each small section, leading to a remarkable work of mathematical art. (I think he may have seen E11 start working on a similar project with 13 points, which he planned to complete on the plane)

E11 continued to happily produce large volumes of written material in response to science questions (though he objected to the fact that one of the assignments was a quiz). I don’t proofread or correct his journal entries, so he happily writes quantities there, and he sent a letter to his cousin, and updated his blog (which I DID proofread). He is happier to correct assignments if they have been typed in on the computer, so we have a deal where I look at his Word document and bold any mistakes I find. He tries to correct them without me telling him what they were, which is like a game and thus easier to stomach.

P13 watched the first DVD of Andrew Pudewa’s Student Writing Intensive B, detailing how to take notes on a passage or article and use them to re-create a written document, and practiced a little. She also sent a letter, updated her journal regularly, and updated her blog. While they are on the mainland with their grandparents, the only school-like assignment I have asked them to complete is a daily journal detailing their activities. Since they will be experiencing geological sites all the way from California to Texas, the educational potential in this assignment is rich. Of course, I also look forward to reading what they've done.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Third Week of School

Another week of school is over, and we’re settling into a routine. Of course, after just another week, P13 and E11 will be flying to the mainland to spend a month with their grandparents, and the rest of us will join them in early September, so our routines will take a hit – but at least we’ll have a general idea of the pattern we need to return to.
We added in science and current events this week, and everyone enjoyed them. One thing that always helps is that I am excited about both, and I like to think my enthusiasm rubs off on my children.

P13 and E11 are studying Earth Science this year using a textbook from Novare. This is the best science program I’ve used, and we’ve tried many. I described some of my reasons for choosing Novare in my “update on our experiment” post. Having used it for a full week now, I can add a few more loves. Firstly, to use E11’s words, it “doesn’t underestimate [his] powers”. The science is in no way dumbed down; the chief difference between this book and my college geology textbooks is that it explains fewer, more basic topics with greater clarity – but with the same level of respect for the reader’s intelligence. The spiritual content isn’t overbearing, but is introduced conversationally, in much the same style as the asides I would always insert when we were using secular programs, and with a genuine sense of wonder at the glory and beauty of God’s creation. The end-of-section questions don’t require mere regurgitation of the facts, instead calling for reasoning based on a deep understanding of the concepts. (For example, after the section on lunar phases, the children needed to determine what phases an observer on the moon would see on Earth during each lunar phase). On Friday, we covered the section on eclipses, a timely lesson given that we plan to wake up early on Monday morning and take a home-built viewer somewhere with an eastern horizon to try to see the sun rising partially eclipsed.
As I had hoped, the fascinating content is inspiring both P13 and E11 to write excellent responses to the end-of-section questions. Frequently, when a single sentence would suffice, E11 (my reluctant writer) is writing entire paragraphs in explanation. His spelling and mechanics are atrocious, and I have struggled with how to correct him without discouraging him. After watching some more teacher training from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, I am resolving to choose one writing concept to focus on at a time (capitalizing each sentence, spelling new vocabulary correctly, creating a “frequently misspelled words” list and proofreading based on that) and not badger him about things we haven’t yet focused on. He doesn’t always handle correction well, but I know if I expect more of him, he will be able to produce it. The only end-of-section question that really upset E11 this week was the one asking him to calculate Earth’s orbital speed, given the orbital radius. The tantrum he threw! “There shouldn’t be any MATH in SCIENCE!” I laughed and laughed. I’m laughing again now. Oh, child, the sooner you lose that misconception, the happier you’ll be! Fear not, gentle reader, he calculated the orbital speed (after an hour of moaning).

Because I already had it lying around, I’m using Sonlight Science B for B7’s science. Because it covers animals, magnetism, and light, areas he hasn’t yet become obsessed with, a presentation aimed at children his age isn’t hopelessly too easy for him. It also doesn’t take me more than 15 minutes a day (except on days we do experiments), which means it gets done! H5 occasionally listens in, so I consider it to fulfill his science requirement, as well. I’d like to add in some more advanced chemistry content for B7, which didn’t happen this week but hopefully will in future weeks.
This is the first year we are including a discussion of current events as a formal part of our studies. I considered a variety of news sources, and finally settled on CNN 10. It is a 10-minute show, available online, covering selected world and US events 5 days a week. Because it is aimed at students, it does a good job of providing necessary historical and geographical background without assuming the level of awareness of an informed adult. For my own edification and in order to add more background and commentary, I have been listening to World Radio, which gives a Christian perspective on world and US events, with frequent in-depth analysis from various commentators. After the children have watched the daily CNN 10 show, either P13 or E11 describes one of the news items to the whole family at dinnertime, which often launches an animated discussion with further analysis. For example, E11 discussed the cholera epidemic in Yemen resulting from the current civil war, which launched a discussion of water-borne disease.

Next week I plan on adding in writing. I’ll have P13 go through Student Intensive B from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, and give her assignments based on what she’s reading in other subjects. All 4 of my school-aged children will be writing letters and journal entries weekly, and I’ll have H5 and B7 work on handwriting daily while E11 and P13 do weekly blog entries. I’m also going to resume H5’s reading lessons. Right now, he is able to sound out CVC words and has read the first dozen or so of Sonlight’s kindergarten readers. I’ve been using the appropriately titled The Reading Lesson, which claims to get a child to a 2nd grade reading level by the end of the book. I’ve used it with all the older children, and we’ve never finished it: the child always takes off and begins reading fluently before we reach the end, so I have high hopes for H5 as well.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Second Week of School

Another week of school is over. In addition to circle time and math, we added exercise, required musical instrument practice, and Greek lessons for P13.

One of the results of our experiment last February was that P13 tried several languages and settled on learning Koine (Biblical Greek). I've wanted to learn Koine myself, so we're working together. We've been using Elementary Greek by Christine Gatchell. It's laid out to be used by people (like me) with no prior Greek knowledge. Each lesson consists of a memory verse (or portion of a verse), five vocabulary words, and a grammatical concept. We had completed about 10 lessons by the end of last year, and did occasional review over the summer, but it slipped off our list of priorities for the last month or so. However, neither P13 nor I had completely forgotten all the vocabulary or grammar forms, and after a few days' worth of diligent review at the beginning of each day, we're back up to speed. The pace is fairly slow, designed for children as young as third grade, so now that we've reviewed the material, we may start doing 2 lessons per week.

Over the summer, I did not require my children to practice their musical instruments on a daily basis. Instead, I presented them with goals: a certain piece (or pieces) to be thoroughly learned, and rewarded with a trip to McDonalds for ice cream. When we go, everyone gets an ice cream cone, and the child being rewarded gets two. The result was that E11 made significant progress in violin over the summer, H5 occasionally took out his violin but not regularly, B7 avoided the piano entirely, and P13, uncomplaining child that she is, never mentioned to me that I had forgotten to set her a goal, so just played piano and recorder for the fun of it. H5 earned one ice cream treat, and E11 earned 2 or 3. Now that we've started school again, I'm asking H5 and B7 to spend 10 minutes a day practicing, and E11 and P13 to spend 15 - and all 4 of them have goals to work toward. E11 spends more than his required 15 minutes, playing through all his repertoire and learning a new piece. P13 practices willingly but not enthusiastically, precisely until the timer beeps, and I can hear improvement. H5 requires my constant attention and encouragement during practice time, but is also improving. B7 has his own ideas of how to practice. His goal for the next reward is to learn the next 2 pieces in the book. I asked him to learn the first one hands separately, paying particular attention to the pattern in the left hand. If I don't swoop in and stop him every day, he will play the first two bars of the piece hands together, find the third bar difficult, go on to the second piece, play the first two bars hands together, find the third bar difficult, and go back to the first one. He complains that playing hands separately is "too easy". When I actually coerce him into doing it, he makes many mistakes, proving my point. He is impatient, wanting to hear the piece the way it will sound when he has finished learning it, and thus is unwilling to put in the time to learn it. I think that having to slow down and do something that doesn't come easily to him is good for his soul, which is why I will continue to require him to practice!

For exercise, I realized that I needed to set a good example. It's one of those things that easily moves down the priority list until we go hiking as a family and I realize, puffing to keep up, that I'm not as fit as I could be. I have the T-Tapp 15-minute workout DVD, so a few weeks ago I did "boot camp" (doing the workout every day for a week), and now I'm doing it 3 days a week. I wanted to add some aerobic exercise, and struggled to think of when to fit it in. Finally I realized that in the morning, while the oatmeal is cooking, I can go for a walk while I pray instead of sitting in my room trying to get E3 and H5 to stop barging in and asking for things. Usually Ari is still eating his breakfast at that time, and if he's gone, P13 and E11 are able to take care of the little guys' needs. It wasn't my example that inspired E11, though. 2 1/2 weeks ago at church camp, one of the speakers compared the Christian life to a marathon, and asked if anyone in the congregation thought they'd like to run one. The enthusiasm of E11's response was impressive, and convinced us to try to find a race for him to compete in (maybe shorter than 26.2 miles, to begin with). Every day this week, he has run almost 4 miles. He requested an alarm clock so he can wake up at 6am, run before the heat of the day, and make it back for breakfast by 8:15 or 8:30. Nobody else's choice for exercise is quite as impressive. P13 has a ballet lesson DVD and some aerobic exercises of her own devising, and the little guys like to walk to the playground and run around there. Archery will be starting up in September, so P13, E11, and B7 will participate in that.

Math continues in much the same way as it did last week. The Life of Fred math book E11 is using has a section called "The Bridge" after every 4-5 chapters, consisting of a 10-item quiz of which 9 must be answered correctly before going on to the next chapter. E11 hates these, because the problems lack the fun narrative of the chapters, and because too many careless errors can mean he'll have to do the next one as well. There are 5 different quizzes in each "Bridge" section, and he has thus far completed the first 3 with up to 80% accuracy (and thus, more than 80% tears). I'm hoping he rocks the next one on Monday. H5 has been working to understand place value, and enjoys playing the "Trading Up" game. This game requires base ten blocks (unit cubes, ten-sticks, and a hundred-flat), a 6-sided die, and a whiteboard and marker. H5 rolls the die, takes that number of unit cubes, and, if appropriate, trades up 10 unit cubes for a ten-stick. The game ends when he trades 10 ten-sticks for the hundred-flat. Each turn, we write the number of tens and ones on the whiteboard, and H5 reads the number. He finds it endlessly entertaining (that makes one of us), and is starting to grasp the concept pretty well.

The last couple of days, I tried starting Circle Time as soon as I finished my own breakfast (as opposed to waiting for every slowpoke to join the Clean Plate Club). This has more than one benefit. Firstly, we get started sooner, and people have less time to disperse (and to create a need to be rounded up). Secondly, since E3 is the slowest poke, starting before he's done eating automatically gives him something to do quietly while I read. E3 has seemed somewhat emotionally needy this week, so I may try finishing Circle Time by reading a story just for him.

Next week, I plan to add in science and current events. Check back here to see how it goes!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

First Week of School

This past week was our first week of school. We started with only two subjects: math and circle time. As circle time is a new feature for us, I'll describe it first. After we have cleared the breakfast table, I gather everyone to read the Bible, some devotional books and missionary stories, work on a memory passage, read some poems, and sing a song. On Monday, I received serious push-back from E11. I believe he had expected we would do circle time outside or sitting on the futon, and when I refused to move it from the kitchen table because I wanted people to be able to draw during the readings, he threw a fit. However, he then proceeded to draw a tree during the reading, continuing to add details throughout the week, and he seems to be enjoying it now. Allowing the children to draw while they listen is a successful strategy, allowing even E3 to stay at the table and pay some attention much of the time. (He still needs frequent reminders to return to the kitchen). During our poetry reading, I have P13, E11, and B7 read some of the poems. They all need to work on reading slowly, loudly, and clearly, but already I see some improvement. Having all the children together to discuss the devotional book is helpful because, although it is technically part of B7's curriculum, H5 often chimes in with a question or comment, and P13 and E11 are able to summarize and explain in ways that are easier for B7 and H5 to grasp. A real advantage to doing circle time is that, when it has ended, everyone knows that school has started and I am less tempted to do "just one more" housekeeping task (which can turn into "just 5 more") before getting started.

Immediately after circle time on Monday, I gave P13 her first lesson from Core Plus Mathematics. We investigated the physics of bungee jumping by connecting rubber bands and attaching varying numbers of nickels (5-gram weights) to the end before dropping them from the top of a yardstick. It took a bit of trial and error to find a way to effectively attach the nickels to the end of the rubber band chain and to measure the maximum stretch, but P13 devised a cone out of paper towels which she tied on to the chain with another rubber band, and I moved my hand incrementally down the yardstick until I didn't feel the point of the cone touch it when dropped. Our plotted data showed an approximately linear relationship, with the length of the rubber band - nickel cone assembly growing by about 7/8" with each additional nickel. E11 found himself drawn into the investigation despite himself, and making mathematical observations. Later in the week, he was similarly drawn into our investigation of a game of chance in which a fundraiser pays out $4 if a die shows a 4, but receives $1 if the die shows any other number. Unfortunately, this investigation was much harder to conduct with only one student, because the randomness of the results after only a few trials far overcame the general expected linear trend if you were only to look at the fundraiser's profits after every 50 trials. Had we had another 5 students or so, everyone could have played the game 50 times, and we would probably have gotten better results without spending a prohibitively long time rolling dice. However, P13's mathematical insight allowed her to predict what should have happened if we had been able to conduct hundreds of trials: on average, every 6 rolls will lose the fundraiser $4 and gain it $5, for a net gain of $1 every 6 rolls. P13 seems to be enjoying this program and it certainly forces her to think and express herself clearly. And if it can draw in my reluctant 11-year-old, that says something for it!

Speaking of E11, I gave him a lesson from Life of Fred: Fractions on Monday after P13 was done with the bungee jump simulation. He is over halfway through the book and theoretically knows how to add, subtract, and multiply fractions and mixed numbers. We read the chapter (part of a continuing story) and he worked on the problems in the "Your Turn to Play" section. Unfortunately, he seemed to have forgotten absolutely everything over the week or two since he last did math. He was trying to find common denominators before multiplying, and to add the denominators when doing addition, among other painful errors. Worse, when I tried to ask questions to understand his reasoning, he stormed off, refusing to answer. When he was ready to try again, and I tried to explain the concept using a simpler problem, he shrieked that I was wasting his time. When I tried using 2 different methods to explain the concept using the problem that was actually causing him difficulty, he again moaned that I was not making sense (without taking time off from moaning to hear any of my words, or to tell me what part of my explanation confused him). Some days, he is REALLY hard to teach. Because he had such trouble with the first problem set, I decided to give him a similar problem set every day until he mastered it, instead of proceeding to the next chapter. He was furious, because the chapters contain quirky and amusing stories, and plain problem sets don't. On Tuesday, he got the egregious result that 1/3 - 1/12 = 3/0. (He remembered to find like denominators - and then subtracted them!) With much difficulty, I got him to listen to explanations (involving pizza, or squirrels) of what was going on in each problem. On Wednesday, he got all 5 problems (covering the same concepts as Tuesday) right on the first try, with a much better attitude. It's the same pattern as over the summer! On Thursday, we went on to the next chapter (more of the story! Yay!) and he retained what he had learned over the previous days - and the same thing happened on Friday. I really need to remember (over the screaming) that just because he seems to have completely forgotten a concept doesn't mean he'll have as hard a time re-learning and retaining it as he did the first time.

B7 has been steadily working through the Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra book. This week, we were working on finding the least common multiple. B7 has epic mental math ability, but he writes like a 7-year-old, so if I ask him to write down his complete solutions, his brain gets to the correct result many minutes before his brain has time to tell his hand to write down the steps, which is frustrating for him. So I have a deal with him: he has to write down all the steps for the first problem we work, and then he only has to tell me verbally and I will write them for him on subsequent problems. At the rate we are going through the book, it will probably take 2 or 3 years to complete, but that's okay - we can wait until he's 10 before starting algebra! On days when I am too busy or overwhelmed to spend 30 minutes working on math with him, I can ask him to work on Alcumus, a math game on the Art of Problem Solving website (, which allows him to review concepts he has learned in the past and forces him to write down his own answers.

H5 is a lot of fun to teach, because he is so enthusiastic about everything. I'm not using a single, formal curriculum with him, though I'm using Miquon as a general outline for where to go next. I have ideas of concepts he'll need pretty soon, and present them using games and manipulatives. We have been using the Right Start place value cards to practice counting to 100, and playing Coin War using cards with pictures of coins I made when P13 was in kindergarten. He also enjoys using Khan Academy's "Early Math" exercises.

I'm glad I decided to start school slowly, as it allows me to work out kinks in each subject and see ahead of time what might cause problems. In previous years, when we've started full steam with all subjects on the first day of school, I've felt more overwhelmed at the end of the first week, with fewer ideas of what specific things need to change. My plan for next week is to add in music practice and lessons, P13's Koine (New Testament Greek) lessons, and some kind of physical activity for everyone. The following week we'll add science and current events (for P13 and E11), the next week writing, and when we get back from our September trip to the mainland, be ready to go full steam with all our subjects. I plan to continue making weekly updates, so check back to see how we're doing.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Update on Our Experiment

Back in February, I tried an experiment in which I abandoned our formal homeschool curriculum and merely required that my children do something (of their own choice) in subjects like math, reading, writing, history, science, etc., on a regular basis. The experiment lasted a little longer than a month, because we all enjoyed it and everyone was clearly learning.

The only thing my children (and I!) really missed from our previous pattern of school was all the reading aloud contained in our Sonlight programs: Core F with Science G for P13 and E11 (Eastern Hemisphere; Geology, Physics [and Origins - we ditched that portion of the course, but it's a story for another day]), and Core and Science A for B7 (World Cultures; Biology, Botany, and Physics). One day, I mentioned that I missed it, and everyone else unanimously agreed, so we started it up again. That covered literature, history/geography, and science, and I let them keep doing their own thing for reading, writing, and math. P is also learning Koine Greek, which she plans to continue next year.

Reading: P13 continued to read as though drinking from a firehose, E11 read various library books of interest at his preferred slow pace, and B7 pursued books about astronomy/planetary science and chemistry. B7's interest in chemistry came about as a result of our experiment: E11 had wanted to learn more about chemistry in order to understand mineralogy better, so I ordered the high school chemistry course from The Great Courses. He was interested in the subject matter, but the math was well beyond him. I worked hard to try to help him understand it, and I think if he'd had a more positive attitude toward his ability to learn mathematical concepts he could have done it, but he was unwilling to put in the effort. However, during the time he was still working on the course, he encountered the Periodic Table. For enrichment and enjoyment, I found the Periodic Table Song on YouTube: This immediately became so popular that we watched it multiple times a day and, as often happens with songs you hear all the time, we all soon had it mostly memorized. B7 started asking questions about the characteristics of various elements, and, not knowing many of the answers myself, we turned to the public library. After exhausting the children's section, we raided the adult section, and as a result B7 can now announce the half-lives of most of the radioactive elements, and when asked the answer to something like 8 x 7, will respond, "Barium." He would like a particle accelerator for Christmas. (We think a CRC handbook might be more appropriate and affordable).

Writing: Here's where P13 really shines - she writes all the time. But not only that, she decided to launch a neighborhood children's Bible club. She develops and writes up lesson plans each week, in addition to games, crafts, and a snack. During the school year she's had as many as 10 children attend her club, though it's been much quieter during the summer. So I have allowed her Bible club preparation to count as writing - if her message isn't clear, she gets instant feedback from her peers as they pay less attention to her lessons. She also corresponds regularly with friends back in New York and with relatives, as well as writing in creative and prayer journals.

E11 has a negative attitude toward any writing assignment that wasn't his idea. For this reason, I abandoned all the written work attached to Sonlight - not only the language arts assignments, but also the worksheets for science and the Eastern Hemisphere Notebook. He had to write something, so I allowed him to continue working on his pirate adventure novel and letters to relatives during the school year, but as far as I know he did almost no writing over the summer.

B7 doesn't quite share E11's attitude, but writing is not something he prefers. He finished his handwriting workbook and started learning cursive before the end of the school year, but because I wasn't giving specific assignments (do this entire page), he would copy a single letter and inform me, "I've done my writing for the day." He does label rocket parts on drawings he makes, and his handwriting is neat and careful - he'd just rather spend a couple hours reading about radioactive elements.

Math: P13 is a compliant child, but math is not her true love. She pursued her math requirement by alternating between logic puzzles and Khan Academy's Algebra 1 course. If I didn't instruct her otherwise and check repeatedly, she wouldn't spend more than 15 minutes a day. I wasn't particularly happy with the instructional method, either: Sal Khan shows you how to perform an operation, but you don't get much insight into why it's important or interesting. We'll be doing something different next school year (keep reading for my plans).

E11 was happy in theory for his chemistry course to count as math, but as it required a certain amount of algebraic insight, it made him feel stupid. This is never a good feeling for anyone, particularly for someone whose 4-years-younger brother has better mathematical intuition than he does. I am convinced of the value of a growth mindset ("If I work hard, I can grow smarter") in math as with all subjects, but convincing someone else that this is a fruitful mindset can be tricky if that someone else begins screeching as soon as he hears me start to say anything of the sort. And, honestly, if he works hard but his heart isn't in it, he will not be likely to surpass B7, who loves mathematics more than almost anything. E11 can improve and has improved, but B7's achievements are a real hindrance to him. We tried letting E11 work on Khan Academy, but had a hard time finding the right level, where it would give him problems that didn't "underestimate his powers" but that he knew how to do. Eventually I turned to Life of Fred: Fractions, and that seems to work. E11 loves the quirkiness of the storyline and there are usually only a few end-of-chapter problems to work (because busywork is Not Popular). Every 4-5 chapters there is a "Bridge" containing problems on concepts from all previous chapters, and this has been E11's biggest frustration: you have to get at least 9 of the 10 Bridge problems correct on the first try, or else you try again with another Bridge (more work!). This means he feels under pressure, and being under pressure tends to set his brain to the OFF position. Over the summer, I required the children to do math one day a week, but E11's attitude toward the Bridges in particular was terrible. I decided that if there was a type of problem that made him screech, he simply had to do 3 problems of that type every day until it no longer made him screech. He followed a typical pattern of screeching over the course of an hour while doing his 3 problems the first day, screeching for 20 minutes the second day, and doing them in 5 minutes the 3rd day, complaining, "These are EASY! The problems in the book aren't like THIS!" And when he encountered the problems in the book, someone had secretly replaced them with easy ones. Funny how that works. It may be that the magic bullet for teaching E11 math will simply be a good pair of earplugs for me.

B7, as I mentioned in the original Experiment post, showed an interest in exponents. Having tasted the problems in P13's old Pre-Algebra book, he was hooked. We have continued working through the book. He dislikes writing, so I mostly act as his scribe and only occasionally require him to write solutions himself. (Part of it is that, at the level of Pre-Algebra, his handwriting isn't neat enough for him to line up problems properly. He far prefers doing long division in his head, and is quite able to do so accurately). We have also used the Alcumus program available on the Art of Problem Solving website.

H5, freed from the requirements of any formal schoolwork, has developed a great interest in learning on his own. He's worked with Khan Academy and Miquon Math, requested occasional reading lessons, and developed a passion for paper crafts. He asks for lots of spelling help and sends his grandparents letters (mostly listing the names of family members, finishing with the word LOVE). If there is a pile of paper scraps or a roll of tape in the middle of the floor, it is generally H5's fault. He is SUPER excited to start kindergarten next year, and occasionally I wake up to his voice saying, "Mommy, can I have a reading lesson and a writing lesson and play with Cuisenaire Rods and Khan Academy and drawing and painting today?" Um, let me wash my face and put on my glasses first...

I'm glad we conducted the experiment. By requiring certain subjects but not specifying how they were to be met, I learned more about each child's learning style. We found ways of teaching several of the subjects that worked better for each child than what we'd been using before. I've used the insight I gained in designing next year's academic program, maintaining a certain amount of flexibility and with what I hope will be less academic overload than we had before.

Plans for next school year: Sonlight was the one thing I knew we'd use. We'll be doing World History Part One (Sonlight History/Bible/Literature G) with P13 and E11, Intro to World History Part One (Sonlight History/Bible/Literature B) and Animals, Astronomy, and Physics (Sonlight Science B) with B7 (and H5 listening in), and Fiction, Fairy Tales, and Fun (Sonlight P3/4) with H5 and E3. That covers Bible, history, geography, literature, readers for P13 and E11, and science for B7.

Science for P13 and E11 will be Novare Earth Science ( I chose this for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's one of very few science programs that combine a Christian worldview with up-to-date science. (I am not capable of using most Christian programs that address age of the earth or evolution - I yell at the book and the kids wonder when I'll get around to teaching them again. This was why I abandoned the "Origins" part of Sonlight Science G). Secondly, Novare focuses on integration: not teaching science as an isolated subject, but across subject areas including math, history of science, theory of knowledge, and English language usage. In particular, because E11 is fascinated by Earth science, I hope he will be more willing to complete writing assignments as part of learning science.

In addition to their science-related writing assignments, I will ask the children to complete journal entries on a regular basis, and write letters to friends and relatives. P13 and E11 have private blogs (only grandparents, aunts and uncles have the passwords) which I will ask them to update regularly. B7 will be working through the cursive handwriting book he started last year (and I'll be clearer on how much is an acceptable amount to complete), and H5 will be working through the Handwriting Without Tears kindergarten book. In addition, I've ordered (but not yet received) the Teaching Writing: Structure & Style teacher course from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, along with the Student Writing Intensive for P13. Since she's already interested in writing, I want her to have more tools to further hone what she writes.

For math, I plan on using 4 different programs with my 4 different school children. E11 will continue with Life of Fred, and B7 will keep working through Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra and Alcumus. H5 will continue to use Miquon Math, various games, and supplement with Khan Academy. P13 is ready to learn Algebra, and because I was unhappy with Khan Academy's approach I didn't want it to be her primary program. I re-read "What's Math Got To Do With It?" by Jo Boaler, and was again attracted by her descriptions of interested high schoolers working together to solve interesting, challenging problems. I wondered where I could find a source of such interesting problems - the Art of Problem Solving books have them, but because P13 is not passionate about math, the level of challenge was not something she enjoyed. I wanted something like AoPS, but not quite as time consuming. Fortunately, Boaler's book had an appendix containing recommended math programs. I found the first edition of Core-Plus Mathematics Course 1, which integrates algebra, geometry, probability/statistics, and discrete math but isn't aimed just at gifted students, for just $6 used (and the 2 teacher's guides for $6 each, as well). I love the look of it; it has the sorts of problems Boaler described. The chief drawback is that it was designed for teaching groups of students in a school setting, so class discussion forms a large component of the instruction. I tried to find others in the homeschool community who would join us, but because we live 45 minutes to an hour away from Honolulu, the people who expressed interest decided against it. So it'll just be me and P13 trying to re-create class discussions... but I still feel it'll be far better for her than staring at Khan Academy for as little time as she can get away with. And, of course, I'm still doing my recreational math club every other week, and there's plenty of animated discussion there!

Physical Education has always been a weakness in our homeschool program, mainly because I don't care for round moving objects. I plan to allow the 3 oldest to continue in archery, and to take all of them to the playground regularly, but I don't know that they'll ever learn the formal rules of baseball or football. Of course, ignorance in those areas hasn't hindered my enjoyment of life! Physical skills are E11's forte, though, and I'm thinking of finding races of some sort for him. He's the sort of kid who would love to run a 5K or participate in a kids' triathlon, so although I don't have specific plans right now, I intend to find some events and sign him up for them. Ari goes running regularly and sometimes invites E11 to join him, and we go hiking as a family or kayaking or swimming on weekends, so we're not couch potatoes.

H5 believes that a major part of school ought to be art. I've purchased supplies (construction paper, colored pencils, glue, scissors, tape) and mainly plan to sit back and let the kids all have at it. P13 often checks out art instructional books from the library, and she invites her brothers into her room to work on projects together, so I feel that's enough for now. I'm sure it would be good to do some kind of art history, but I'm not in a hurry to add more things to our schedule.

Over the summer, as I mentioned in my previous post, E11 started taking violin lessons from me. He's picking it up quickly, and H5 is not doing too badly on his violin lessons either (though E11 has far surpassed him). B7 is learning piano in fits and starts, and P13 sometimes sits down and plays something or other on the piano. My motivational strategy for practicing instruments consists of a close partnership with McDonalds: I identify a piece or set of pieces that a child needs to learn, and when the child plays that music well, we all go and get soft-serve ice cream cones at McDonalds. The child who has met the musical goal gets 2 cones. Compared to paying for music lessons, teaching my own kids and paying for ice cream every few weeks comes out a lot less expensive!

Finally, just a few days ago, I read this article: I'm going to give it a try - straight after breakfast, we'll do some Bible reading and memory verses, read some poems and missionary stories, and sing a song. I hope this will not only get us in a helpful mindset for doing school, but give a sense of cohesiveness as we're doing so many different things throughout the day.

And, although we aren't still doing the experiment I started in February, its benefits were such that if we ever start feeling overwhelmed and frustrated again, we can always ditch what we're doing and try the same thing again.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Birthday Updates

We're done with birthdays for the year, so it's time for me to repent of my blog silence over the past several months. I'll describe the cakes I made everyone and also what they're up to in general.

B7 is first in the lineup, having his birthday at the end of January. He requested an archery cake, featuring an archer shooting at a target. His birthday marked the important milestone of being old enough to join his siblings in archery class, and he was enthusiastic about it. As it turns out, he has the coordination and strength of a stereotypical geek, but he worked at his archery and improved noticeably, such that his arrow was frequently going as far as the target and even hitting it on occasion by the end of the semester (instead of consistently making it only 5-10 feet from the bow).

B7's current obsession is chemistry. When his brother E11 started studying chemistry with a view to understanding minerals better, we came upon the Periodic Table Song ( All the children enjoyed the song so much that we ended up viewing the video multiple times a day, until several of them had it mostly memorized. At this point, B7 began asking questions, and looking for library books. After exhausting the children's section, he moved on to books about the elements from the adult section, finding the heaviest (manmade, radioactive) elements particularly fascinating. At this point, he has the table well enough memorized that he uses the names of elements as proxies for the numbers from 1 to 118. (A trip through the multiplication flashcards begins: "B7, what is 8 x 5?" "Zirconium." "And 4 x 7?" "Nickel.")
H5's birthday comes 8 days after B7's, and he requested a komodo dragon cake. We had seen one at the Honolulu Zoo with my parents over Christmas, but I'm afraid my rendition didn't really do it justice. However, the birthday boy was quite pleased.

H5 continues in his relentless enthusiasm for life. He will be officially doing kindergarten in the coming school year, and several times has approached me this summer demanding lessons in reading, writing, and math NOW. He uses up paper at an alarming rate, sometimes dispatching missives to grandparents, but as often writing things like to-do lists: "Tidy your bed. Play outside." He can't read beyond simple CVC words, so I am frequently summoned for spelling assistance. He enjoys playing chess, both with himself and against opponents. Ari comments that, although he is still easy to beat, he is really trying to think through strategy in a way that B7 doesn't always do.
E11 wanted a pirate ship for his birthday in mid-March. He had a friend over, and they shot each other with Nerf guns (E11 received two as presents), ate cake, and then Ari took them night fishing. 

Unlike B7, E11 excels in archery (and just about anything with a physical component to it). He actually placed first in the Parks & Rec island-wide archery competition among under-12 boys. This summer, he asked to take violin lessons, and has made rapid progress - again, there's a physical component, but he also has a good sense of rhythm and a good enough ear to correct badly out of tune notes without being told. He climbs everything everywhere, so if I ever hear myself asking, "Where's E11?" I am generally looking up. He isn't a total bookworm like his sister, but I do often find him reading - the Harry Potter series and, most recently, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

E3 watched all his brothers' birthdays and wondered repeatedly when it might be time for him to experience a similar event. As soon as he requested a lion cake, he began badgering me, every time he saw me enter the kitchen, to bake it, already. Every time he saw me sit down at the computer, I needed to look at pictures of lion cakes for inspiration. He had to wait all the way to the end of April. But the day finally arrived, and he was glad. (So was I). We took him to the Waikiki Aquarium, using birthday money from grandparents to buy an annual family membership. He was thrilled with the experience and talked about it for weeks afterward.

E3 is a delightful preschooler, interested in helping in the kitchen and hearing stories read aloud repeatedly. He likes playing outside and finding creepy-crawlies under rocks. He is gaining enough sophistication to be included in the older children's games of pretend. He is also completely out of diapers except at night, so we are looking forward to soon seeing the last of that very long stage. About a month ago I pulled out the Sonlight Preschool (age 3-4) curriculum for what we expect will be the very last time, and have read almost a quarter of it to him already. Of course, children's books bear multiple re-readings, so if we finish before Christmas, we have only to start it over again (and again, and again). What's been most fun with this is how much my older children have enjoyed seeing their early childhood favorites re-emerge. I love reading to them, but they also clearly love being read to. It makes me happy!
We have a teenager! P13 is a natural organizer, and planned an art-themed birthday party. She did all the inviting herself, and we ended up with 5 additional girls (as well as her brothers) playing blindfolded Pictionary, making sculptures with air-drying clay, and polishing off an entire artist's palette cake. The night after her actual birthday, Ari and I asked a friend to watch the boys while we took P13 by herself to Outback Steakhouse. It was truly delightful to sit and chat with her for a couple of hours without interruptions from the little guys.

P13 shows her organizational skills in other, more impressive ways, as well. In mid-February, she came up to me and said, "I'd like to start a children's Bible club at the local park. I'll develop the lessons based on The Jesus Storybook Bible, and come up with crafts, games, and snacks. I just need a canopy tent we can set up in the park. Here's one I found on Craigslist, and I have the money for it. Can you contact the people and drive me to Kaneohe to pick it up?" The Bible club has been a tremendous learning experience for her. Although it's been quiet during the summer, with only 1 or 2 people attending each week, during the school year she's had up to 9 or 10 kids. Some of them have been troublemakers, revving motor scooter engines next to her canopy tent to drown out her teaching, and stealing her equipment. But there have been some interesting results to this harassment, as well. On one occasion, as the ringleader of the bullies started riding his getaway bicycle with some of her things, his bike hit an obstacle and he tumbled over. One of the kids in the Bible club yelled after him, "That'll teach you to mess with God Girl!" Another time, she and E11 devised a scheme to make the troublemakers regret their thieving ways: she "accidentally" dropped a box of Altoids when they were coming toward her. But instead of containing powdery white breath mints, the box contained squares of white chalk she and E11 had prepared just for this purpose. When the bully grabbed the "Altoids" and shared them with his friends, they had an unpleasant surprise! It seemed to me an excellent example of being "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16, The troublemakers inspired us to allow P13 to achieve another milestone: her own phone. Now, if trouble shows up, she can credibly threaten to call the police, and they either disappear or decide they aren't going to be trouble after all. P13 having her own phone also makes it easier to let her (and E11, when he's with her) wander around the neighborhood more freely, and to leave her to supervise her brothers if I need to make a quick grocery run in the middle of the day.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

An Experiment

Have you ever walked down the sidewalk with a toddler, holding his hand and trying to compel him to walk at a reasonable pace instead of collecting every pebble he sees? And yet the same toddler, if he decides he wants to run away from you, can be equally hard to stop. You may even wonder, “If I didn’t force him to go at my pace, would his pace average out to something reasonable? Might we get home just as quickly if all I do is keep him out of the road instead of trying to control his speed? And he and I would both be happier that way.”

That’s a picture of how I came to the conclusion that we need to try something radically different in our homeschool. Particularly this school year, with E10 and to a lesser extent B7, I have faced incredible resistance to certain activities (Latin, spelling, or strength & endurance exercises are some examples) while they want to race ahead in others (math, for B7, or geology, for E10). I have also felt a bit as though our school schedule is like one of those bucking bronco rides you see at amusement parks, which becomes wilder and wilder until it throws you off. Our days have been packed with schoolwork, but all of it has seemed so valuable that I couldn’t bear to pare it down at all. And yet I have longed for space for my children to pursue their own interests and passions, without having so many other things to do that, by the time they’re through with their schoolwork, all they want to do is stare at a screen. I realized that I have been guilty of teaching a curriculum instead of teaching my children.

So, the change. I wanted to throw off the scheduled box checking to allow for exploration, but not to throw out all structure and just allow the children to play computer games all day. Suddenly, on Tuesday afternoon last week, I remembered seeing something that could work: the record-keeping book from Notgrass ( I decided to try using this system during the month of February (which, as the shortest month, is an ideal time to try an experiment). There are 11 categories of learning, and for the time being I simply created an Excel file with space to record activities in 10 of them (the one I left out being “Relating to Others: Character and Relationships” – with 5 children in the house, this happens daily without any additional effort!).  I have ordered the actual record-keeping books, but who knows how long it’ll take for them to appear in the middle of the Pacific? For now, I print out 3 copies of the file each day, for B7, E10, and P12. Each child needs to do something from each category each day, but exactly what and how is their choice. Some activities can play double or triple duty: I have been reading B7 a history of Solar System exploration, which covers science, history, and geography (mapping where people like Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler did their work).

So far, we are all a lot happier, having a great time, and learning a lot. On the Tuesday evening when I announced the change, P12 was so happy she was literally jumping up and down. We went to the library the next day, and bought a dozen or more 50-cent discarded/donated books in addition to checking out another dozen or so to follow the children’s interests. P12 has been studying various Middle Eastern countries, learning Arabic with Rosetta Stone, and is working on writing a report on Turkey. She has also written a praise song which she intends to have her Community Bible Study class sing, made a model of the Solar System out of tissue paper, and done some watercolor painting. She’s currently exploring Khan Academy’s Algebra 1 course to fulfill her math requirement.

E10 has been reading about pirates and working on writing his pirate adventure novel. He’s also taking advantage of some of the Teaching Company’s Great Courses: “The Secrets of Mental Math” to meet his math requirement, and “The Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology” because he’s certain he wants to be a geologist. I found him a few mornings ago sitting with his notebook taking notes to help him grasp the structure of Earth’s interior and how plate tectonics functions. This is the child who shirks writing assignments, doing the minimum possible – left to his own devices, he’s voluntarily using writing as a tool to further his other goals. I’m in awe. Oh, and he asked if he could get a course “like the geology one” about chemistry, because he had a hard time understanding the chemistry in the lecture on mineral formation. And the high school chemistry course from the Teaching Company is on sale right now! Once he starts working through that, I expect it to stretch his math skills enough that it can count for both science and math.

B7 loves that I allow him to play on the playground instead of requiring “strength and endurance exercises” like sit-ups and push-ups. His arm strength is barely enough to bend a bow (he just turned 7, old enough to join P12 and E10 in archery), but I perceive a pattern similar to that of his brother’s attitude toward writing: when I specified what exercise he needed to do, B7 would do the minimum possible to allow me to call something a sit-up or push-up and do as few reps as he could get away with, but he is quite happy increasing his arm and abdominal strength through playing on the playground for an hour. He isn’t as much of a bookworm as I’d like, though he’ll happily read Dr. Seuss’s more advanced works (Bartholomew and the Oobleck, for example) to H5 and E2. I’m letting him focus less on language arts so he can pursue his true passion, math. So far, our mathematical adventures have included ellipses (as we came across Kepler’s work in his book about Solar System history) and exponents. On the way back from Community Bible Study yesterday, he asked from the back seat, “What does ‘to the power of’ mean?” After a brief discussion of exponents, he sat silently for a minute or two before asking, “So 2 to the power of 13 is 8192?” When we got home, I asked him if he felt that had been enough math for the day or if he would like to do more with exponents. He enthusiastically voted in favor of more math, and lacking a better idea, I hauled out P12’s Pre-Algebra book and opened it to the chapter on exponents. Yesterday and today, he has worked out problems such as, “How many perfect squares are between 1000 and 2000?” and “Why is (125*8)2 equal to 1252*82?” I kept asking him, after thinking he must be exhausted at doing math designed for people 5 years older than him, if he wanted to quit, but he wouldn’t stop before the entire set of problems was solved.

And the little guys? I had been doing school with H5 “to help him feel included”, but somehow had allowed that to turn into pressuring him into a daily reading lesson, writing activity, math game, violin practice, and several other things. He’s not even old enough for kindergarten yet, so I asked myself why I was pressuring him to do early academics and couldn’t come up with a good reason. So for H5 and E2, school time is play time. If they ask me to read books to them, I try to say yes unless I have a good reason, and I involve them in household tasks. With so much learning going on around them, they’re absorbing huge amounts without my needing to do anything.

I’m really amazed at how much my children are learning on their own initiative, and although I announced this experiment as being only for the duration of February, it might well be the way we do things from now on. I feel like I’ve let go of my toddler’s hand, and with only occasional nudges to keep him out of the road, he is heading straight toward home, giggling with joy.