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Clashing Colors September 26, 2007

Posted by Laura in Family.
5 comments

If you ask Rachel, pink goes with EVERYTHING.  (So do flip-flops and anything that sparkles).  I’m not so sure of this color combo, though.

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Lydia doesn’t mind.  She just wants to know if she’s on the football team or the cheerleading squad.  Should she be revving up the crowd or crawling toward the end zone?

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Meet the Flock, part 7 September 25, 2007

Posted by Laura in Farm.
3 comments

HB

(This was taken last January. HB was about 10 months old).

Each spring, either by hatching eggs or a batch of day-olds, we’ve had a new crop of chicks. This guy is about a year and a half old now. He had an identical twin brother but he disappeared while we were on vacation.

HB is a Welsummer- an uncommon variety that is known for producing milk chocolate colored eggs. The eggs are very striking nestled in a carton among white, cream, and light brown ones. The breed came from the Netherlands.

(Welsummer cockerels have beautiful rust, mahogany, and beetle-green/black feathers. The females are mostly brown with some rust and brown two-tone feathers at the neck.)

HB is gutsy if nothing else. What he lacks in sense, he makes up for in chutzpah. As the dogs and cats eat, he relentlessly bobs and weaves, worming his way past their heads to eat right out of their bowls. Animals MANY times his size. Predator animals! They edge him out, he comes back from the other side. The dogs growl, he ignores. They finally snap and chase him and he scoots only just out of their reach and then comes directly back. He’s got some nerve.

But here’s the kicker- HB stands for Half Blind. That’s right- he can only see out of ONE eye, so when he is on the right side of the dogs, he has to rely on hearing and luck to avoid the jaws of the behemoths!

He is so pushy that he actually chases the cats away from their bowls. We have to stand guard while the cats eat or they won’t get a thing. I pick HB up and throw him as far as I can. He’s back in a flash. I’ve often wondered how brassy he’d be if he could see out of both eyes!

Nosy Animals September 21, 2007

Posted by Laura in Farm.
4 comments

Okay, I couldn’t resist the obvious pun.

(‘Mator puckers up for a kiss).

  Nothing is safe from his nibbling- shoelaces, pockets, shirt-tails, elbows.  Not mean, mind you.  He just doesn’t want to miss out on any hidden treats or go unnoticed.

(Not to be outdone, Woody comes in for smooch). 

Well, okay since this is Woody, it was more likely a bite.  We are seeking a new home for Mr. GrumpyPants.

 

But as long as we are on the topic of donkeys-

(Shall we dance?)

Even though Woody isn’t nice, we’ve been reluctant to get rid of him since he is Buzz’s only equine buddy.  Woody bullies Buzz a lot, but they also play, race around, and pull each other’s scraggly winter coat hair out- a chimpanzee grooming kind of thing that’s odd to watch.  Since we can’t let the kids in the pasture with Woody for fear of him kicking them, we have been looking for a new home for him.  Ideally, we’d get Buzz a nice jenny to keep him company, but we don’t know of any for sale.

Objections to Homeschooling II September 19, 2007

Posted by Laura in Faith, Family, Homeschooling.
10 comments

What about “socialization”?

 
Let’s begin with definitions of the term.  Here are some from dictionary.com:

 

socialization-  1.  a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity

                             and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to  

                             his or her social position

2.      the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture; “the

                              socialization of children to the norms of their culture”

 

socialize-  1.  to make fit for companionship with others; make sociable

2.      to convert or adapt to the needs of society

 

To be truthful about it, some of these definitions make me very uneasy.  The idea that my children should “acquire personal identity” or “adopt the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture” sets my teeth on edge.  We certainly hope that neither happens.  Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)  To me, that means the “norms, values, behavior” etc. of our culture should NOT be the standards to which we aspire.

While these definitions are worth careful consideration, I don’t think that they quite get at the heart of what detractors of homeschooling mean when they say that children outside of the mainstream classroom won’t be “well socialized.”  I believe that their concern is that homeschooled children will lack the ability to interact “normally” with their peers and adults.  They somehow think that not being in an overcrowded classroom means that they won’t get out of the house or interact with others.  The detractors imagine that homeschooled children will be unable to carry on conversations, make eye contact, and read nonverbal cues.  My personal experience has been much the opposite.

I cannot say that I have never encountered a homeschooled child who is painfully shy, lacks manners, or has trouble making friends.  But I can personally say that I have found the rate of those problems to be lower among homeschoolers than in the general population. 

In my years in public and private schools, I saw a lot of things.  I had all kinds of personality types in my classroom.  And I saw a good bit of what I would consider “poor social skills,” so being one of many in a classroom isn’t a panacea.

We are members of a county-wide homeschool group that gets together for field trips, cook-outs, art programs, spelling bee type events, and so on.  We also participate in a once-a-week enrichment and tutorial group (I teach two classes while our children take a wide range of wonderful courses- more on that later).  Contrary to what many worry about, the homeschooled children I have come in contact with handle these social situations quite well.  In fact, their manners and interpersonal skills almost always exceed the average children I encounter in public. 

I suppose that opponents assume that homeschooled children are rarely around their peers if their academic work is done at home.  I can’t really think of many homeschoolers of which this is true.  At the very least, they are at church in Sunday school, Awana, and similar programs at least once a week.  They also have regular get-togethers with other homeschoolers at the park, on bike trails, or at playgrounds.  Quite a few are involved in some recreation league sport like soccer.  Many take lessons in horseback riding, musical instruments, or dance.  And let’s not forget things like 4-H and Boy/Girl Scouts.  I know I feel like we spend a lot of time involved in activities that require me to pack everyone up and drive for 30 minutes.  There is no shortage of opportunities for children these days.  The greater challenge seems to be limiting activities to a reasonable number.

So, what makes a child “well socialized”?  And if it is constantly being in a very large group that makes a child “normal,” then why are there any children in our schools with problems?

Why We Homeschool, part 6 September 17, 2007

Posted by Laura in Faith, Family, Homeschooling.
6 comments

The Work of Young Children is Play

Left to their own devices, children come up with very creative and educational ways to play. (I should stop here and say that I mean children that are encouraged to get off the couch, turn off the TV and game systems, and use their imaginations. We’ve all heard studies about the shocking rate of obesity in children and the dangers their sedentary lifestyles may lead to in adulthood. I’m talking about the children that still play the way we did).

On a rainy day, they can look at a set of dining room chairs and a blanket and suddenly they are pioneer kids from the Little House book series. They see a fallen branch in the back yard and become pole vaulters or jousting knights or javelin throwers. A box of costumes can keep them busy for hours. And this “play” isn’t just a frivolous way to pass time. They are learning and solving problems and loving every minute of the education.

Our nation’s schools focus on concrete and measurable work. They have to do that to prepare kids for standardized tests and to create grade reports. Test-taking and documenting progress are necessary to prove proficiency and prepare kids for higher learning, but we don’t feel time allocated to those goals leave enough room in the average public (and private) school day for other important things. Children really need time to invent their own games and play creatively if we want to foster their creativity. Certainly time must be spent teaching them to read and write and add on a regular basis, but we must not overlook the importance of play (for young children especially).

The school day is typically from about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those hours break down roughly this way: 1 hour for lunch and recess; about an hour altogether of lining up, going to the bathroom/getting drinks, walking from place to place, etc.; 30-45 minutes of an art, music, or physical education type class; and the rest of the time is mostly spent sitting (quietly, if the teacher is lucky) at a desk for passive instruction or independent seatwork. There aren’t many opportunities for collaborative work- discussion and exploration. Once the children get home from school, most will have homework that may take up to 2 hours. Dinner comes along, then baths, and bed. Most children won’t engage in much creative play on a typical day.

Homeschooling meets our children’s needs in a lot of ways. One of the benefits we see is the increased time they get to spend in informal learning and exercise (play). Since I work one-on-one with each child, I know how each is progressing and can tailor our formal school time accordingly. If Benjamin knows all the vocabulary words from the story already (which I can assess quickly), I probably won’t make him look them all up and write the definitions. That wouldn’t be the case if he were one of my 25 students. Skipping that task just freed up half an hour. With two students, we don’t line up and wait for everyone to go to the bathroom- more “found time.” And so on. Benjamin and Rachel get far more creative play time this way.

As I mentioned before, there is a lot of value to the ways they play also. We don’t have any video game systems and we restrict television (the kids “earn” their carefully selected TV shows by working for tokens they use to “buy” them). What we do have are several large storage totes of toy instruments, puppets, costumes, Legos, chess sets, and other similar toys and games. Benjamin and Rachel put on puppet shows of their own creation. They pretend they are gladiators, astronauts, vets, and so on. They build castles (Rachel’s have princesses in them while Benjamin’s have dueling knights 🙂 ), play with clay, make marching bands, and do origami. We enjoy watching them almost as much as they like playing.

Besides the “free play,” I try to provide plenty of exploration time with materials we use for lessons. In the school classroom setting, the time is broken into small increments that are allocated to particular subjects. Science (when it’s taught) may only be from 1-1:45. During that time, if the teacher is going to attempt an experiment, she must work quickly. She needs to introduce the lesson, give background information, and then instructions. The students probably will need to be put into groups and then take turns using the materials since most likely there won’t be a set for every child. Each child’s turn will be only a couple minutes at most. Enough time to spark their interest but probably (hopefully!) not satisfy their curiosity. Our kids frequently “play” for hours recreating and extending the lessons after “school” is over. We think that’s great.

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(We took our home-made marble tracks outside so we could have more room. We should have anticipated that the chickens would want in on the lesson, too. We kept having to chase them to get our marbles back- that’s why the end of this section of track is now in Benjamin’s lap.  I believe Benjamin is saying, “Go away, chicken!”).

The kids tried out different designs of marble tracks to study gravity and momentum. Although they had a great time doing it, they learned a lot- gravity pulls things down toward the ground (not uphill); if you put a hill in the middle of the track, the marble may not have enough momentum to make it over the top; the heaviest marbles go the fastest and travel the farthest off the end; centrifugal force will keep a marble on the track around a curve if the track is tipped sideways. They made configurations with loops in them and were able to get the marbles to go all the way around without falling out. They found out that the higher the top of the track is, the faster the marbles are going when they reach the end. They also invented a motor skills game where each held an end of the open track. They lifted or lowered their side to allow the marble to roll back and forth, but tried not to let the marble touch their hands. I only occasionally prompted their thinking or discoveries. They were naturally curious and constructed almost all of their own learning.

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(Here is the game they came up with- the object was to get the marble as close to your hand as possible without actually touching it. The game was easier or harder depending on how much slope was in the track).

It doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment or expensive toys to entertain kids. I got a few foam pipe insulators (the kind you may put on pipes coming out of the water heater) in the plumbing department for about $1.25 each. I cut one in half and left the others whole. The kids used different kinds of marbles (light plastic, medium glass, and heavy steel) to test out their track configurations.

The Waiting Room Read-Aloud September 16, 2007

Posted by Laura in Faith, Family, Homeschooling.
4 comments

This past Friday, we had a number of places to go- the orthotist to get Lyddie’s helmet refitted, Grams and BePops for lunch (and to deliver corn for the birds and squirrels), gymnastics, Tae Kwon Do, and finally soccer practice (these work as Physical Education credits for us). Among those other things, we were trying to fit in our academic work. There was no one else waiting in the outer office at the orthotist’s when we arrived. I wanted to take advantage of the wait to cover some school, so I picked up reading On the Banks of Plum Creek (in the Little House on the Prairie Series) where we had ended the previous day.

A few pages into the chapter about the decimation of every green thing by a swarm of grasshoppers, two older ladies came in and sat down. I wondered if I should stop reading so that we didn’t bother them. I decided to keep an eye out to see if they were annoyed and just kept going for a bit. They had a couple sentences of hushed conversation, then were quiet. A minute later, one asked the other something, but she didn’t get an answer. She repeated it. I heard the second lady say, “I’m trying to listen.” I kept reading.

A few more minutes passed and a couple came in. They too had a few words of conversation and then fell silent. I periodically stopped to explain a word to the children. An excerpt from Exodus chapter 10 about the plague of locusts God sent on Egypt was in the story. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that I wouldn’t be allowed to read or teach this in public school probably.

About two pages from the end of a chapter, the receptionist came around the desk and called us to come back. One of the two older ladies said, “Oh no! Now I won’t know how it ends! I wish someone would still read to me!” Everyone in the waiting area chuckled and the receptionist made a comment about how she had been enjoying it, too. I could hear the conversations about the story line and their own memories of being read to. It went on for a couple minutes as we gathered up our things and went across the hall to our exam room. That just really tickled me pink. I hope our kids still have such fond memories of reading together when they are grown.

The cows came home! September 15, 2007

Posted by Joe in Farm.
3 comments

When our two cows decided that it was “in their best interest to explore other opportunities”, we called our neighbors and asked them to keep an eye out for them. We also mentioned it to a few friends from church who live nearby or who have relatives that live nearby.

One of those friends, Lindsey, teaches horseback riding. She has teenage students learning the skillful art of western riding on cutting horses. Lindsey volunteered to bring her students by last Thursday morning for a search and rescue operation.

They arrived around 7:00am and unloaded their horses. We told them where we’d last seen our beautiful heifers, how to identify them, and where we wanted them should the students find the heifers.

Riding students search for our missing heifers.

They set out on a mission to find our missing livestock. Undeterred by a light rain, they continued their search for over three hours.

Alas, they returned sans heifers. The students had looked most everywhere for the wayward bovines but they were no where to be found.

Benjamin wanted to help search for the heifers. Maybe next time.

Rachel want to be Benjamin’s partner.

Our heifers were still on the lam. (Laura and I watched a 1950’s tough-guy movie the other night with lots of phrases like “packing heat” and “on the lam”).

We were, of course, a bit discouraged by this point. The heifers had been gone for 4 days, without a sighting from anyone.

Then, while talking with friends after our worship service on Sunday morning, Lindsey approached us with a big grin on her face. Her uncle had just called and he had our heifers. They had found and joined his heard about 3 miles aways. Fantastic!!!

By the time we got home (we live about a mile from our church building) and changed clothes, Lindsey’s uncle was pulling up the driveway with our heifers in his cattle trailer.

So, the cows have come home! Not exactly of their own volition, but they are home nonetheless.

Giddy Goats September 13, 2007

Posted by Laura in Farm.
5 comments

Snap! Crackle! Pop! and ‘Mator are now about 7 or 8 months old. They’ve still got a lot of “kid” (pardon the pun) left in them. We’ve been on the lookout for a big cable spool for them to play on. It’s kind of the equivalent of a goat jungle gym. I spied one outside the local electric co-op recently and I had to grab it! (Did I mention that I was in the minivan with several cartons of ice cream when I saw it? And the spool was too large to fit inside the van? And I couldn’t load it by myself anyway? I called Joe and he and Benjamin drove the 15 miles to come get it in the “farm truck.” Oh, the lengths we will go to for these silly critters!).

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The next day at lunch, we got it unloaded and ready for the goats to use. We nailed some shingles onto both ends to help wear down their hooves when they played on it and to keep the wood from rotting as quickly. Then I had the idea to “walk” the spool to the pasture. But credit for the idea is about all I get because I couldn’t stay up and I’ll spare you the pictures of me trying.

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Joe however was a natural.

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The goats had to thoroughly check this new thing out.

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But they soon got the hang of it.

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And Pop! is not above shoving her friends off and then looking down on them. She LOVES to be Queen of the Mountain!

The Great White Deer Becomes the Great White Ghost September 12, 2007

Posted by Laura in Farm.
2 comments

If you’ve followed our blog for any length of time, you have no doubt noticed our fascination with an albino deer that has frequented our little neck of the woods. He was just beautiful and so striking to see in the pastures close to the house.

I mentioned to Joe on Saturday evening that I hadn’t seen Albie (the name I gave him- yeah, I know- kinda dumb) in about a week. Sunday morning I noticed a pack of dogs down at one of our ponds next to something white. Figuring it was a chicken they had caught, I went down to chase them away. When I got about half way down there, I could see it was Albie instead. (I hollered at the dogs anyway since we need no predators of any kind hanging around).

When Joe woke up, we went down together to check for signs of poaching. From the look of things, Albie had probably been down 1 1/2 – 2 days. He was right beside a pond that has been reduced to just a few inches of water. We couldn’t find any sign of injury, so we felt pretty sure he had not met with foul play. (Hunting season is a couple weeks off still and albino deer are protected in Tennessee anyway). Some folks at church mentioned that there is a disease killing off large numbers of deer this year. I found an article that explained.

Since he had gone down at the edge of the water (and we HOPE to get some more rain to fill the ponds back in), the deer had to be moved to prevent the water from becoming tainted. I had to run to the grocery store to get missing ingredients for our church potluck supper, so after morning service Joe and Benjamin got the dubious honor of dragging Albie to his final resting place while he could still be moved.

We’re a bit sad that we won’t be seeing him anymore, but we are grateful for the experience of having him here for a season.

On a lighter note- Joe asked me Sunday night if 15 years ago I ever would have believed the life I now live. He said, “Do you realize that this morning you got up before dawn, fed a bunch of animals, and then put on knee boots to go down and investigate a bloated dead deer before going to Sunday school and service in an ultra-conservative church?” I admitted that I would not have been able to imagine that. My, how things change!

Why We Homeschool, part 5 September 7, 2007

Posted by Laura in Faith, Family, Homeschooling.
6 comments

No Child Left Behind?

If you drive around and look at schools nowadays you are likely to see a ring of portable classrooms skirting the main building. They are there because the school has far more students enrolled in it than it was built to contain. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for elementary grades to have 25 or more children per class. That means that one teacher has the responsibility to teach that many children to read, add, and so on. That is a monumental task.

Think back to that time you taught your child to ride a bike without training wheels. It took your one-on-one attention for days probably to help him get that one skill mastered. Now consider trying to simultaneously teach it to 24 more.

Most are really excited and want you to help them first. They continue clamoring for your attention while you try to get the first one started and make it very difficult for anyone to hear or concentrate. You get that one going and turn your attention to the next only to find the first one upside down in the bushes crying.

One or two of your students have never seen a bicycle before, so you have to start way back with explaining how a bike works, what a kickstand is, etc. A few of them are on the young side and don’t have the motor skills or coordination to pedal yet, but they have to show proficiency now because the mandate says they do. It will reflect badly on you if they don’t. A couple tried to ride before and fell off, so they don’t plan to ever try again. Then there are three or four who have known how to ride a bike for two years and they’re bored. And because they are bored, they are getting in trouble.

So what do you do? You are only one person and you’ve got LOTS more to teach besides this. You can’t hold everyone up until the last few stragglers finally get it. You’ve gotta move on. Maybe they’ll get it later. Maybe not.

These are the challenges and decisions facing an elementary teacher. She is stretched so thin and the money just isn’t there to decrease the student/teacher ratio. The best she can do to assess the progress of individual students (besides grade papers) is to have “small group” instruction. She’ll probably need a good supply of dependable parent volunteers to keep order among the rest, though. That gives her a better feel for what skills they have mastered, but doesn’t really provide much more additional time to go back and reteach to the struggling individual.

What if it is my child that is getting left behind? Would I know? Does the teacher have the time to give that kind of feedback so I’ll know I need to work on this at home? My personal experience and observations from Benjamin’s class are that the teacher has her hands full “putting out fires”- keeping the kids with behavior problems from tearing apart the classroom, getting band-aids, filling out paperwork for the special ed department and the like. Somewhere in there, she plans and prepares the materials for her lessons. She’ll make sure to contact Jack’s parent to let them know he doesn’t even know his alphabet yet, but compared to that problem, another child’s low math test grade may not even show up on her mental radar.

What if my child finds this very easy and begins to find other things to occupy himself? He may need more stimulation and challenges than he will get when the “average” children are the ones on which she has to focus. Chances are he will put his energy into activities which will just make her job more difficult. That’s not going to work out well for either of them.

Our goal in teaching children should be to educate each one. The teacher would certainly like to, but she can’t tailor her teaching to so many varied levels. It isn’t possible. As a result, she’s got to concentrate on that large “average” section and hope for the best. No frills, no waiting.

When we teach our children at home, one-on-one (or close to it), we know exactly how each child is progressing. We can take the extra day to practice adding money using decimal points and skip the review of ordinal numbers. Each child works at his own pace, really masters the skills, and is challenged by the material.

We have consistently finished a grade level’s work weeks before the end of the year and can spend time working on projects of our own choosing and lots of field trips. In my experience, public schools rarely get more than ¾ of the way through the text books and have little time allowed for individual exploration.

I don’t mean to say that public schools are “bad” or that we think less of people who choose to enroll their children there. That’s not the case. And many of the concerns I mentioned are far less problematic the older a child gets. A middle school student should be able to tell his parents if he is struggling. He understands how grades work and what they mean. He is able to work more independently since he has lots of experience with what is expected of him.

For financial reasons, lots of people have no choice about how their children will be schooled. Others think that personality clashes would make homeschooling an impossibility. Some rightly feel that a conventional education would best prepare their child for the career they anticipate for him. There are many children whose learning challenges can best be addressed by trained professionals in the venue provided by their tax dollars. We know that homeschooling is not for everyone. And if God is calling parents to use public schools, then they can count on Him to have the child’s best interests at heart. (Jeremiah 29:11).

Most kids do fine and have dedicated teachers doing their very best. There IS a lot of learning going on there. Most folks we know have chosen where they will live just so their children will be in schools they feel good about or they drive them to and pay for private schools. I think Benjamin learned a remarkable amount in public K considering the size of his classes, but God has laid it on our hearts to play a more integral role in our children’s education right now.