Seeing Well

How many times have you walked into a room that your kids were “done” cleaning only to find 12 things still on the floor and beds not made? I’ll be honest, it happens here a lot. Yesterday one of my sweet kids was emptying the dishwasher. This seems pretty straightforward. It’s either empty or it’s not, right? As she walked away, dishwasher not quite empty, it dawned on me, “They don’t see things the way I see them”. I was reminded of that picture of the old woman/pretty young woman. You know the one, what you see depends how you look at it. Trying to see the world through the eyes of my kids can be incredibly frustrating, not seeing that toy that’s been in the same place on the floor for 3 days. It can also be incredibly humbling, actually noticing the beautiful drops of dew on a flower petal. What does God see when He looks at us? I bet it’s not at all what we see. Does He pause and think, “They just don’t see things the way I see them”? The plans He has laid right in front of our eyes, the beauty and worth within all of us. I wonder what things are right in front of me that I don’t see. This week I’m going to try to appreciate my children’s view of the world and I’m going to try to open my eyes to the beauty, grace and plans that God places before me.

Easy Homeschool: Your Ideal Outcome

A newly-minted grownup is entering the world to pursue their dreams. This person has been equipped by the homeschooling experience crafted by you. What tools do they possess? What kind of outlook? What kind of “leg up” do they have? Spend some time developing this picture. It will guide you when faced with tough decisions about how to spend your time.

Raising Adult Readers

My best friend growing up was the homeschooled son of a fiercely independent hippie farm lady and a chain-smoking amateur historian.  While he lived in a house full of books and insightful conversation, no attempt was ever made to teach him to read, and he showed no interest. At age 10, he spent all day in the woods with his dog, making forts and cutting things down. He could bike, swim, and run barefoot over gravel. While I could do none of those things, the scales balanced, I thought, when it came to his alarming ignorance of basic academic skills. Hobbling in his wake as we traversed all things appalling to a city boy, I entertained a vague notion that permanent damage was being done to his mind by neglecting whatever it is that one learns in 5th grade. At some point very soon, I was sure that the world would give him a spelling test (or something) and that would be the end of his prospects.

Far from the utter destitution I had envisioned, my friend now brings down a six-figure salary and reads avidly for his own pleasure. Looking back, this is a predictable outcome. Here’s what I missed at age ten: By setting an example of intellectual curiosity and creating an atmosphere of learning, his folks had imparted something much more valuable than simply how to read: they had taught him to read. Before He learned the mechanics, he had already deeply internalized the lesson.

Conversely, many of the kids with whom I attended Ann Arbor public schools show every sign of being functionally illiterate adults. They learned how to read in kindergarten and what did it get them?

Here’s a good question to ask: is it possible to grow up in my house and not read as an adult?


Now Give Me One Last Big Push

As you near the end of labor, someone, be it nurse or doctor or midwife inevitably say these words, “Now, give me one last BIG push”.   It’s what we need to hear, an encouragement that this will not last forever. I was at that point with my third child when my doctor starting singing, “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”. That’s right. I thought about kicking him. He was in close proximity. Really though, I just needed it to be over.

That’s how I’m feeling with this school year. It’s been a really good year. We’ve completed a couple of subjects, are close on a few more. Religious Ed. and Explorer’s are wrapping up. I find myself wasting my days. I’m not playing with my children like it’s summer, but we aren’t accomplishing as much as we typically do “during school”.

I think what I need is just one last big push. I need to finish up strong. Complete what needs to be completed and achieve that clear ending. I’m afraid if I let our days slowly morph into lazy days of summer that we won’t really complete the last few things that need done.

How do you achieve that last big push? Do you tighten the reigns and buckle down, or do you slowly let go of the schedule and relax into summer? I’d love to hear how other families get through the final days of the school year.

Fight this Homeschool Legislation Now!

Representative Stephanie Chang (District 6) has introduced a bill to be decided this Tuesday (April 21, 2015). Her letter requesting co-sponsorship states:

This bill would require that each person who is educating a child at home furnish the school district, at the beginning of each school year, with information about the child being educated. In addition, if a child is being educated at home, the parent or guardian shall ensure that the child meets in person twice a year with a physician, social worker, teacher or school counselor, regulated child care provider, etc.

Ms. Chang cites two severe cases of child abuse leading to death as the reason for her legislation. One is a recent case out of Wayne County involving two children who were dead in a freezer for years and no one noticed them missing, ostensibly because the parent claimed that she homeschooled.

It’s easy to look at a horrific case like this and say, “Something needs to be done!” But, legislating against homeschoolers is not the answer. Here’s why:

  1. The right to oversee and direct the education of children rests with the parent, not the state. I, as their parent, have the right to choose to put my kids in school or to homeschool them. I evaluate that choice for each of my kids. I make changes as I see fit. The state does not and should not have the legal or moral right to require that I notify or answer to them about my child’s education.
  2. It seems like a small thing, asking that we submit a form and have our kids get a physical and meet with a social worker each year, but it transfers the authority to the state from the parent. This legislation shifts the power and sets a precedent for future increased regulation.
  3. Let’s call a spade a spade. The people that Ms. Chang mentions, these horrible, horrible child abusers and murderers, are NOT HOMESCHOOLERS. They lie and say they’re homeschooling. Homeschooling becomes the scapegoat. Why validate the lie of a murderer by harassing and regulating a group of innocent people? The news is full of horrible stories of child abuse and child murder that have absolutely nothing to do with homeschooling. Child abuse is awful. Child abuse needs to be stopped, but regulating homeschooling won’t make any difference.
  1. My son (adopted out of the Michigan foster system) saw a physician regularly and went to day care, and yet somehow the doctor and workers all missed the three broken bones that were in various stages of healing when he came into foster care at four months of age. What Ms. Chang proposes is a band-aid fix. Our foster system is broken. Children are abused with no consequence to the abuser. Children are returned to the abuser over and over and over.

People call CPS because a neighbor lets her kids run barefoot, yet no one calls when they haven’t seen their neighbor kids for years on end? Wayne County, where the kids in the freezer were found, is home to 70% of Michigan’s foster kids, yet my experience with the foster system there was appalling. Legislators, if you want to protect our kids, begin by fixing the foster system and start with Wayne County.

Homeschoolers, believe me when I say that we don’t want caseworkers anywhere near our kids. Three of the ones I’ve worked with have lied in court under oath. We’ve had two great caseworkers; the others were dishonest, uncaring, and at times malicious. We saw false reports filed and policies violated repeatedly. While there are some great individuals, as a group these are not people I want talking to my children.

Legislators, don’t fix what isn’t broken. Homeschoolers are doing a great job. The test results show it. The graduated homeschoolers show it. No regulation is needed for something that is working and working well. Use our tax dollars elsewhere. For example: you could put laws in place to require prosecution and lengthy prison sentences for child abusers. You could introduce legislation to prosecute GALs who don’t do their jobs, or legislation that would allow foster parents to become a party to the case for children in their care. Creating a fair way for cases to be appealed on a child’s behalf, not just on the parent’s, would really do some good, as would better oversight of judges.

Everyone, please contact the state representative for your district before this goes before the Michigan House of Tuesday. You can find your representatives here:

The Myth of the Un-Athletic Kid

I’d like to share a worjockd of encouragement on a tough topic. One of the challenges in my workday is to help develop the physical skills of kids who have labeled themselves non-athletes. Of course, as long as that label is in place, this is a major uphill battle. It is self-image, not physical potential that holds them back. The good news?  None of this needs to be permanent, and working on it is totally worthwhile. Let’s examine.

At some point a your kid got picked last for a team on the playground or internalized the careless words or actions of an indifferent coach, and this heartbreaking moment set them on a course of disassociation from their own bodies. These negative beliefs can be reinforced when adolescents, seeking identity, are tempted to define themselves by rigid category. When kids who excel in art or academics see Athlete as a mutually exclusive or even antagonistic label, you’ve got yourself a problem.

Over time, It’s easier than it should be for parents to accept this fate. When our kids seem relatively happy and well-adjusted in their niche, one could imagine worse things than a lack of athleticism. Plus, it seems like those sports kids spend an awful lot of time and money on their activities, and who could imagine adding all of that to our plate? Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. Some piousness can even slip in at this point–What care we for the things of the flesh?

The flatulent sound has not been made that can express the contempt we should feel for that sentiment. Let’s be real. It matters if you are too clumsy to dance with a girl, too slow to avoid an accident, or too weak to help someone in trouble. Imagine the mountains not climbed, the races not run, and even the years not lived by kids who develop false and limiting beliefs about what they can do with their bodies. It is a great, and somewhat invisible tragedy that we should not settle for in our families. We were designed to be good stewards of our bodies, to figure out how they work and enjoy them. The truth is that almost everybody can do almost any physical thing they set their mind to with the proper training.

What to do if you’ve got a kid who’s more than a few steps down the un-athletic path? Start by re-framing their whole point of view with a useful distinction: a Jock is different than an Athlete. Show them that Jocks bloom early and have talent, while Athletes develop skills*. Jocks are one-dimensional and uninteresting. Athletes are smart and well-rounded. At age 30, a Jock rests a box of donuts on his beer gut and talks about the good old days while an Athletic ex-nerd competes in the Cross-Fit Games. Show them some examples of physical late-bloomers and help them see the long view. Creatively demonstrate how silly it is to allow a single snapshot of physical ability at age 9 to dictate a life of awkwardness and poor health.

It’s fine to ditch team sports if they aren’t a good fit, but never give up on the potential for athleticism. Let’s continue to make it part of the picture we paint when talking to our kids about their future, and continue to expose them to a wide range of physical opportunities. They will find something that connects.

*This idea of talent vs. skill has been huge in working with my 8 year old son who has an incredibly talented cousin/best friend. We talk all the time about how skill can eventually overtake talent, and that anyone can develop the skills they care about.


Books for Moms to Befriend

IMG_9480Sometimes homeschooling parents get so busy choosing the best books for our kids that we forget to do the same for ourselves. One of my favorite ways to unwind is a hot bath with a favorite book. This doesn’t always work out well; poor At Home in Mitford has taken at least two dips in the tub.

IMG_9494I walk by my bookshelves and see some of my best friends: the books whose worn covers I touch as I walk by, the ones that bring a smile and demand to be read every year or so. My favorites are all tame and clean. Most are Christian with a moral and open discussion of God and His plans, books in which you learn something new every time you read them. Here, in order, are some of my absolute favorites. Sorry, dads, I’m afraid most of these books will appeal more to the ladies. I’d like to hear which books everyone else enjoys, if you care to comment. What gems am I missing?

(Additional great books by the same author are in parenthesis in the order I rank them.)

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Persuasion) (Don’t waste your time reading Northanger Abbey.) P & P is my absolute favorite book of all time –Elizabeth and Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Lydia –some of the best characters ever written, plus clever banter and satire, not to mention romance.
  2. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol) A little hard to get started, but this is a must read for every high school senior. The messages about making choices and living with them will open discussions. The sarcasm and commentary on English society at the time are biting, funny, and leave you thinking.
  3. IMG_9495All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and The Lord God Made Them All) I don’t use the words “excellent” and “love” lightly when describing a book, but I absolutely love James Herriot’s excellent, excellent books. Each chapter is a separate story, yet all connect on a common thread. They are sweet, taking you back to a simpler time of small town characters you wish you might have known. The story of Tricky Woo makes me laugh to tears every time. The story of Jim’s friend who has to quit farming and move to the city to work at a factory tears my heart.
  4. The Obsession of Victoria Gracen by Grace Livingston Hill. This book is unlike any of her other works. It lacks the syrupy sweet element so common in books from the beginning of the last century. Victoria Gracen takes in an errant teenage nephew and changes life forever for him and the other “trouble makers” he attracts.
  5. Christy by Catherine Marshall. The story of a young school teacher at a mission in Appalachia. She faces struggles, strange superstitions, and finds love in an unexpected place. I love, love, love this book.
  6. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (These Happy Golden Years) I started reading Laura books in first grade and never stopped.
  7. Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John (Rainbow Garden, Star of Light, The Tanglewood’s Secret) A story of sin, redemption, and forgiveness with a nice twist at the end. It’s really written for kids, so I read it to mine and then assign them to read it a few years later.
  8. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Who doesn’t love a tale of pirates and treasure, mutiny and courage? I mean, skeletons pointing the way? Creepy and cool.
  9. At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. Father Tim and Cynthia, Barnabas and Dooley, Miss Sadie and Absalom Greer. This book has characters you wish you could meet, a good plot line, and inspires you in your relationship with God.
  10. IMG_9492Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. For whatever reason this is the Shakespeare that I laugh over and read again and again. I’m always amazed by how many of Shakespeare’s phrases have slipped into common usage in our society.
  11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I like that doing what is right at any cost is a given for Jane. Authors rarely write like that today. (I can’t believe Charlotte’s sister wrote Wuthering Heights, which I hate.)
  12. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery (Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island) As a kid I skimmed over Anne’s flowery speeches and descriptions. Now I love those parts. Then there’s her deep friendships, her love of Marilla and Matthew, her crazy yet oddly understandable escapades, and of course Gilbert.
  13. Little Women Louisa May Alcott (The Inheritance) Who doesn’t cry when Beth dies?
  14. Pollyanna by Eleanor Hodgman Porter. This book always makes me smile, so much better than the Disney version of the story.
  15. A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton Porter (Girl of the Limberlost and Laddie) She lives, learns and grows with the decisions she makes. She relies on God and herself and becomes strong and fiercely independent.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. An excellent book, this doesn’t make the top list because it is too gripping and violent, which doesn’t lead to relaxation. But, it is a powerful story with a great message.
  2. Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley (I don’t like the sequel) This is the touching and sweet story of a pastor who loses his faith and the family and congregation who help him to find it.
  3. Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark (Weep No More My Lady, All Around the Town) I’ve read all of her books and can’t put them down until I’ve finished, or sneaked a peek at the last few pages. These mysteries aren’t Christian, but Clark is a Catholic, so her books often feature mass or priests, and don’t have racy scenes.
  4. The Client by John Grisham (The litigator, The Runaway Jury, The Last Juror) I like his books. He writes an entertaining, gripping story. He’s a believer, which isn’t blatant in his writing, but I appreciate that he keeps things clean.
  5. The Enchanted Barn by Grace Livingston Hill. ( Lo Michael) These both have a bit of Hill’s more sappy elements, but are still interesting and worth reading. I like the pictures they paint of society at the time.
  6. Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin (Hidden Places) This book features the entwined lives of three generations of women. It deals with making the right choices, even when it’s not what your heart wants. I like that the main character doesn’t have a romance in her story.
  7. Escape by Barbara Delinsky (Coast Road) (Careful with her books. She seems to have begun her career writing trashy romance novels. I was pretty disappointed in her when I stumbled across a plotless book of trashy love scenes and shallow characters.) Escape is the story of a woman who steps out of her life to reevaluate what is really important.

The Unique Challenges of a Homeschooling Dad

I often wonder how many of the daily homeschooling challenges I encounter are particularly common to men. Sorting this out is tricky since our attitudes and habits, not genders, are usually responsible for our results. The many cathartic conversations I’ve had with moms in the HS community confirm that the similarities in our experiences far outweigh the differences. Upon reflection though, I believe those differences do exist, and they are worth noting.

Most importantly, the HS Dad must be aware of what we might call “bad-cop programming”. While being the heavy seems natural to a man, its effectiveness is diminished with more than very occasional use. He must cultivate a manly patience, and be willing and able to discipline his children calmly so as not to set a bad example of flaring temper (Think Atticus Finch).

The HS Dad also tends to be challenged in finding a harmonious relationship with stuff. He is frankly astonished at the amount of it that is supposedly required. A man is understandably dismayed when he receives 40 lbs. of crafting materials with the math program he orders (I’m looking at you Saxon). He does not see this as a bonus. In his consternation, he may become a reactionary, and refuse to equip himself with the most basic necessities. This is dumb. A happy medium can be found by keeping a short list of essential items on hand. This might include sunscreen, snacks, water, diapers, wipes, and extra baby clothes.

Finally, if a man makes it his business to shoulder the load of his kids’ education, he must not fall into the trap of thinking he is a full member of the mom club. His presence among them changes the dynamic, and while they are happy to include him, it’s good to be sensitive to the fact that conversation would flow through more topics if he made himself scarce from time to time. Of course, manly pursuits require his attention, and so this should be a relief to him as well.