Archive for May, 2006

Hypothetical Question

May 31, 2006 @ 6:32 pm | Filed under:

If, say, you jokingly—really! no, no, not the least bit serious, and I do not protest too much, so just you hush—if you JOKINGLY published a request for chocolate at the bottom of a post, and it just so happened that you had the world’s very best friend who, as a JOKE hahahaha, sent you a giant box of Godiva chocolates—Godiva DARK chocolates—Godiva, do you hear me? that’s no joke—and a week* later you realized you had eaten the ENTIRE box except for the two cappucino truffles you saved for your husband out of the vast generosity of your heart and because he was, after all, the one who suffered the broken toe, and also because you don’t care for cappucino—if that happened (that was the hypothetical, and here’s the question) would you then announce it to millions of people the world over (or, um, hundreds at least) on, say, your blog?

Just curious.

*where “week” = “five days”


May 31, 2006 @ 10:56 am | Filed under: ,

We use Math-U-See too, but I didn’t see where there this story was going until Kathy Jo explained:

Sam (five-year-old son): “Mama, I don’t know if I do eight or nine. They both suck.”

Ahem. Alright, this one both shocked and confused me for a moment, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be horrified. I asked him to repeat himself to be sure I understood correctly– and I had. And then I finally realized what he was trying to tell me.

He’s been doing Math-U-See, and I love the way it teaches the math facts to the little guys. You see, nine wants to be ten, so when it’s added to another number, it sucks away one unit from the other number like a vacuum cleaner. Sam hasn’t completely mastered the nine math facts yet, but he’s gotten very fast at giving me the answers. So today we started the eight math facts. It turns out that eight also wants to be ten, so it sucks away two units from the other number.

Hence, when he came across the problem 9 + 8, he wasn’t sure which way to figure out the problem as eight and nine both suck.

Good golly, is that funny. An hour later, I’m still giggling.

There’s a good geography story in Kathy Jo’s story, too. My kids have soaked up a lot of geography over dinner, both with map placemats or (their favorite) sometimes I put a large world map under a clear vinyl tablecloth on the dinner table. The plastic bugs me, or else I’d leave it that way all the time. Whenever I do ditch the pretty blue cotton tablecloth for the map & plastic combo, the kids get very excited. Their peas are quite the little globetrotters. (“Mom, look, it rolled to Peru!”)

And then there’s our old pal Mr. Putty. He has become such a part of the family that I stuck him up there in the sidebar alongside all the kids. These days he is spending a lot of time in Egypt during our read-aloud of The Golden Goblet. Then he moseys to Rome. When we go swimming, somebody dunks him in an ocean: his goal is to visit every major body of water on Earth by the end of next month. I think that includes rivers and lakes. My children really love pool season.

Speaking of geography stories, Karen had a good one this week.

Comments are off

And Then There’s “Classical Unschooling”

May 31, 2006 @ 7:14 am | Filed under: , ,

Willa, one of my favorite bloggers and favorite people in general, pointed her readers toward this post at Dumb Ox Academy the other day. Faith’s blog is new to me, but I like her already. It appears we have a lot in common; like me, Faith sees good sense in both traditional classical education and unschooling. Faith writes:

I am drawn to two dissimiliar methods of home educating my kiddos. One is the structured, rigorous and time-tested method of classical schooling, complete with chanting declensions, and in depth analysis of ancient classics. The other is unschooling, following one’s bliss and trusting in the Lord to provide the pilgrim with everything he needs.

Now, I would characterize unschooling a bit differently, since my vision of “natural learning” involves a good deal of behind-the-scenes path-strewing on the part of mom and dad; and from what I’m seeing on Faith’s excellent blog, I get the impression she works this way too. This post goes on to share a terrific idea for using the fridge as an “unschooling bulletin board”:

So far the categories I have come up with are: Quote of the Week, Latin Phrase of the Week, Root Word of the week, Spelling Rule of the Week, and Math of the Week. I showed them to the kids at lunch time (I was very busy setting it up yesterday morning and they were getting curious about what I was doing!). So I showed them each category. My 11 yo immediately said, “get me a pencil and paper!” And then got some himself and wrote E=MC(squared) and posted it up. I’d forgotten science! And apparently when he and his dad were attending a baseball game on Sunday, dh had explained Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to him.

Read the rest of the post to see what Faith has chosen for her first week of Fridgeschooling. She promises to share each week’s selections on her new “On the Fridge” page. I love her first Quote of the Week. It’s from A Thomas Jefferson Education, a book I found useful and interesting, living as we do in Mr. Jefferson’s backyard. (And I have just remembered with a terrible pang that I promised to send my copy to a friend ages ago. Cindy, I’m so sorry, do you still want it? Mea culpa.) Like Andrew Campbell’s superb new book, The Latin-Centered Curriculum, Oliver van DeMille’s A Thomas Jefferson Education makes a case for an education steeped in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, with the parent serving as mentor, accompanying the student through the deep, unrushed study of a few key works. Multum non multa, as Campbell puts it: “Not many, but much.”

Willa herself has written several thoughtful and eloquent posts exploring the seeming oxymoron of “classical unschooling.” My own explanation of the concept is that classical ed informs the what, the content, and unschooling describes the how.

Because We Are Overdue for a Picture

May 31, 2006 @ 3:46 am | Filed under:

Or four.

Six weeks! She is six weeks old already! Who keeps pushing the fast forward button?

Yes, I know it’s grainy and badly lit. Yes, I know I need to spend more time studying Tracey’s advice. But look! A smile! One of thousands. She is the smiliest baby. When she is awake.


It is not all giddy lightheartedness around here. We can be solemn, too.


Sometimes we have important things to say, in a jovial manner.


Whistling is a pleasant way to pass the time.


How About “WorldLearners” Instead?

May 30, 2006 @ 3:25 pm | Filed under:

It’s time for another Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted this week by one of my favorite blogs, The Common Room. In one particularly good entry, Shannon of PHAT Mommy suggests that the word “homeschooling” conjures up an unflattering and unrealistic stereotyped image—which is the same thing I was saying yesterday!—and she wonders how people would react if she started using the word “worldlearners” instead of “homeschoolers” to describe her family’s educational-choice-slash-lifestyle.

How do you think people would react if I said, “Oh, my kids don’t go to school. They’re learning how to think for themselves out in the world. They read and write and research their interests on the internet and at the library. They travel and take field trips and, my gosh, their schedule is just so full of social activities that they simply aren’t able to spend entire days in school! Homeschool? No, we’re not homeschoolers. We’re worldlearners!”

I told Jane about this post, and she said, “That’s PERFECT!” When people ask her where she goes to school, she usually tells them we’re unschoolers, but that, too, is a loaded term that frequently meets with skepticism or disapproval. It also confuses people who’ve heard me talk about how we study Latin, math, sign language, or history.

It’s not that we need to label ourselves, but the question does come up almost daily, and it would be nice to be able to answer it with a word that really fits.

On the Feast of St. Joan

May 30, 2006 @ 4:35 am | Filed under:

In December, 1905, Mark Twain gave a speech a Society of Illustrators dinner. Before he spoke, a girl dressed as Joan of Arc presented him with a laurel wreath. Her appearance inspired him to some impromptu remarks about the depiction of the great saint in art. When he speaks of “the conventional Joan of Arc,” he is referring to the way she typically appears in paintings. In Mr. Twain’s view, none of these illustrations did justice to the real woman.

Now there is an illustration. That is exactly what I wanted—precisely what I wanted when I was describing to myself Joan of Arc, after studying her history and her character for twelve years diligently.

That was the product—not the conventional Joan of Arc. Wherever you find the conventional Joan of Arc in history she is an offence to anybody who knows the story of that wonderful girl.

Why, she was—she was almost supreme in several details. She had a marvellous intellect; she had a great heart, had a noble spirit, was absolutely pure in her character, her feeling, her language, her words, her everythingshe was only eighteen years old.

Now put that heart into such a breast—eighteen years old—and give it that masterly intellect which showed in the fate, and furnish it with that almost god-like spirit, and what are you going to have? The conventional Joan of Arc? Not by any means. That is impossible. I cannot comprehend any such thing as that.

You must have a creature like that young and fair and beautiful girl we just saw. And her spirit must look out of the eyes. The figure should be—the figure should be in harmony with all that, but, oh, what we get in the conventional picture, and it is always the conventional picture!

I hope you will allow me to say that your guild, when you take the conventional, you have got it at second-hand. Certainly, if you had studied and studied, then you might have something else as a result, but when you have the common convention you stick to that.

You cannot prevail upon the artist to do it; he always gives you a Joan of Arc—that lovely creature that started a great career at thirteen, but whose greatness arrived when she was eighteen; and merely because she was a girl he cannot see the divinity in her, and so he paints a peasant, a coarse and lubberly figure—the figure of a cotton-bale, and he clothes that in the coarsest raiment of the peasant region—just like a fish-woman, her hair cropped short like a Russian peasant, and that face of hers, which should be beautiful and which should radiate all the glories which are in the spirit and in her heart—that expression in that face is always just the fixed expression of a ham.

You can read the whole speech, which takes some good-natured shots at the illustrator of The Innocents Abroad, at BoondocksNet. Mr. Twain’s book about Joan of Arc can be read at Project Gutenberg.

Why Homeschool?

May 29, 2006 @ 8:43 pm | Filed under: , ,

I always appreciate it when someone who isn’t familiar with the real whys and hows of homeschooling takes the time to try to get a handle on the subject. That’s what Elizabeth of Table for Five has attempted to do, after encountering a few of us wacky homeschooling folks here in the ClubMom blogroll. Since Amalah linked to Elizabeth’s post and mine in her roundup today, I thought I’d further the discourse by responding here.

Elizabeth writes:

I don’t know why this topic gets me so worked up. Whether or not someone Homeschools their kids has no bearing on me, or my family at all. I just know that whenever I read a description that starts with “So and so is Homeschooling her four children…”, I wonder, why?

I could write a book in answer to that question, but for now, I’ll restrain myself and just give the short answer: Why not?

It’s a great way to live. We’re just like other parents: we want our kids to be happy and informed and decent and pleasant to be around. We want them to grow up to be good people who can take care of themselves and others, fulfill their obligations, love and be loved, and enjoy the work they do to earn a living or care for a family. And, having pondered and researched, we’ve come to the conclusion that home education is the right way for our family to pursue those goals.

Sometimes it strikes me as funny that in many fields (business, technology, medicine, to name a few), the ability to think outside the box is seen as an admirable quality, an asset; but people who think outside the box when it comes to educating their children are often viewed with some suspicion.

Amalah jokes about skeptics assuming homeschoolers “are turning their children into anti-social, overly-sheltered hermits,” and joking aside, I think that’s actually quite an accurate characterization of the skeptics. A lot of people do think that. It’s a misconception that makes some of us chuckle as we watch our children run around with a passel of (not necessarily homeschooled) kids at the pool, the playground, the dance class, the karate class, the soccer team, the…you get my drift. I’ve talked about this before. Most homeschooling bloggers have, at one time or another.

But I appreciate Elizabeth’s openminded attitude. She acknowledges that she “didn’t realize how many different alternatives there are to traditional schooling” and seems to be making an honest effort to educate herself about the possibilities. I think the huge range of options often comes as a surprise to people. A lot of folks hear “homeschooling” and envision dining rooms converted to mini-schoolrooms, with a cursive alphabet poster above the chalkboard on the wall, two or three little desks in a row, and a big round clock ticking off the minutes as Mom (that’s Mrs. Mom to you, kid) gives a spelling test. And that scenario does exist, in some homes—but it is just one of myriad possibilities, and probably not a common one, truth be told. An awful lot of homeschooling happens on the couch, in the garden, in the car, at the concert, in the kitchen, at the museum, in the library, across the dinner table, at the beach. We are out and about; we’re busy in the world; we’re learning from doing and digging and smelling and reading and encountering. We are mix and match; we are taste and see; we are get your hands dirty; we are amble and dash; we are show and tell; we are watch and listen.

Elizabeth mentions a few of the many educational methods—Charlotte Mason, classical ed, correspondence schools, Montessori—and there are of course many other options as well. I’ll return to this topic in a future post. For now I want to focus on some of the other questions Elizabeth raises.

…I do have to question whether or not the education a child receives as a result of some of the more alternative methods of homeschooling will translate into an ability to handle college, or life in the working world. Should a child really be allowed to decide for themselves how and when to study, or whether to study at all? What happens when they get to college? I know none of my professors ever wanted to “observe” me and then allow me to choose for myself what to study. Won’t these kids have a hard time transitioning into a set schedule of classes and subjects?

It sounds here as if Elizabeth is referring to unschooling, which is a hard word to define but generally boils down to allowing kids to follow their own interests rather than telling them what they must learn when. Unschooling generates a lot of controversy even among homeschoolers; many structured, scope-and-sequence-following homeschoolers express the same concerns as Elizabeth. Unschoolers have thoughtful, reasonable answers to these concerns, and they have practical evidence of success as well. Autodidacts do very well in college because they enjoy learning and are used to taking responsibility for their own education. Nowadays, many college admissions offices recognize that home-educated kids make exemplary college students: they are eager, articulate, and self-motivated. Also, one mustn’t assume that an unschooler never encounters a schedule or classroom until his first day of college: these kids are taking classes at community college during their teen years; they are doing internships or volunteering at the the animal shelter, the newspaper, the nursing home, the ballet studio. They are running their own landscaping businesses and home bakeries. A non-traditional schedule doesn’t mean they don’t keep any schedule at all. Giving a person freedom to choose how he will spend his time doesn’t automatically mean he will waste it—far from it.

Elizabeth asks:

And what happens when they get their first job? Are there employers who give their employees a choice of which report to write first, or whether they should return a client’s phone call or take a walk outdoors first?

Well, yes. Lots of them. All the employers I’ve ever known actually preferred their employees to be self-motivated, to be able to juggle a variety of tasks without being walked through every step. As a staffer at Random House and HarperCollins, I had a big ole pile of work—manuscripts to read, reports to write, cover copy to write, filing to do, writers to call, copies to make, galleys to proof—and my boss sure didn’t tell me what order to do them in. That was part of my job: knowing how to prioritize. And how about now? My job is to hit my deadlines. No editor is looking over my shoulder, tsk-tsking when I leave the computer to play Scrabble with my kids. Or how about my mother? She works out of her home office for a company in another state. She can decide when to call the client, and when to take a walk. As long as she meets her obligations, everyone’s happy. Self-motivation, like innovative thinking, is an asset.

What I find most interesting about concerns like those Elizabeth has shared is that the doubts about the wisdom of home education seem to contradict themselves. On the one hand, there is the worry that the parent is too controlling, sheltering the children from contact with different ideas; and on the other hand, there is a fear that the children are not controlled enough: they are given too much freedom to choose their activities or structure their own time. Perhaps the reason such self-negating concerns arise within a single mind is because there are so many ways to educate a person, so many ways to live. And most people’s concerns do seem to have more to do with social and cultural matters than educational issues. Almost everyone acknowledges the advantages of one-on-one or small-group learning experiences. No, most people’s misgivings are about social issues that really have more to do with parenting styles than instructional methods. In any event, I think open and rational discourse can lay such misgivings to rest, and so I appreciate it when people like Elizabeth ask questions and go looking for the answers. If there’s anything a homeschooler approves of, it’s autodidactism.

Updated: The discussion continues in the comments—some great stuff there, like this remark by Julie:

“What I think helps me understand educational choices the best is trying to get behind the criteria we use to make those choices. If we believe that we aren’t naturally inclined to learn, won’t be interested in science or math unless someone requires it, if we see foreign language as a college prep hoop to jump through rather than for the joy of speaking to natives of that language, or if we consider mythology and classic literature too difficult and boring for the average kid apart from requirements, we will think homeschooling a risky proposition.

“However, if we begin by examining all the things we eagerly learn as adults, how we teach ourselves about politics, religion, cooking, gardening, accounting, writing, painting, parenting, biology (sex and child bearing), and more due to our keen interest and time to learn unhurriedly, we might be able to trust or imagine that kids would flourish if given a similar opportunity with involved parents who invite the world into their homes and share it with their children.”

In Which My Mattress Springs Heave a Sigh of Relief

May 29, 2006 @ 11:38 am | Filed under: ,

Our neighborhood pool opened on Saturday. So far we’ve clocked a good seven hours there, and that’s not even counting today; we aren’t going until Wonderboy gets up from his nap. We really shouldn’t be going at all until we make tomorrow’s planned excursion into town for new swimsuits: my kids have been a pretty ragtag bunch at poolside this weekend. Jane’s suit is too small, and the other two girls wore out their suits through almost-daily use last winter. And I don’t mean at a pool: I mean right here at home. I don’t know what it is about a swimsuit that gets my kids so excited, but all winter Beanie and Rose kept wanting to get into their suits and “go swimming” on my bed. Maybe they were inspired by my blue comforter.

They’d swim for hours, burrowing under the sheets and calling it diving. They fished for the stray socks that always seem to accumulate at the foot of my bed. (This drives my husband nuts—the accumulation of socks, that is, not the girls fishing for them. What can I say? I go to bed with cold feet. Sometime in the night they must warm up and I guess I kick them off. Whenever I change the sheets, socks go flying everywhere. Or they did, until the swimming game started.)

My pillows are the diving board, and this has not been great for the pillows nor the bedsprings. But there’s no denying it’s great for the kids. They’re in their own blue heaven, two little Esther Williams minus the bathing caps. You can almost hear the soundtrack of cheerfully splashy music behind them. They float, they thrash, they chat with fish. They dance with mermaids and they shriek at sharks. They adorn themselves in seaweed (more socks) and take rides on passing whales.

The last time it rained, they spent the whole afternoon this way. Later, after dinner, I called them in to take a bath. Their faces fell.

“Do we HAVE to?” wailed Beanie. “Baths are boring. There’s nothing to do!”

I guess the sharks only live in the bedroom.