Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Homeschooling Looks Like for Us.

In history we are approaching the start of the Civil War. We are reading Lincoln: A Photobiography. It is very good. As expected it has great pictures and spends a lot of time on Lincoln's early years. Hilde especially likes the series of pictures about the progression of Lincoln's beard. I like learning more about his family.

In our house, we do "school work". Every day the girls have a set of work to accomplish: math, grammar, reading, history, cursive, vocabulary and science. Then we have "learning". Learning has a much broader definition than "school". Maeve and Hilde learn during their schoolwork, but it doesn't stop there. One of the great things about being their teacher is being able to connect there lessons to our family life. We actually enjoy learning; geeky I know. Learning takes place through out life, not just during school.

Since Daniel found out that we are studying the Civil War, he has been bringing home DVDs for us to watch. If you work in Newark you can get a library card, so he did. Even more geeky I know.

All the history Daniel has ever learned has taken place post school years. He will be the first one to say he was an adult before he realized that history was interesting. He was a junior in high school before he knew that England was an island. This is particularly tragic since he was a "gifted" student all his life. Somehow he managed to do enough to get good grades and promptly forgot everything.

Anyway, we have been watching great history DVDs from the History Channel and PBS. Kudos to these great documentary makers, they do make history exciting.

One video that Daniel and the girls watched was about Sherman's march to the sea. I haven't seen it yet, I had a previous engagement.

When I arrived home the girls and Daniel were eating in the kitchen and the conversation went like this:

Maeve: I think Sherman is my favorite general.
Daniel to me: We watched Sherman's March to the Sea this morning.
Me: Really, Sherman is your favorite general?
Maeve: Yes, I even like him more than Robert E. Lee

At this point I was starting to worry about her Machiavellian tendencies. I hadn't seen the video, but I was a history minor, I had a reference point.

Me: Well, why do you like Sherman so much? You know even thought Lee fought for the Confederacy he was a great man.

I didn't want to let on that her choice was troubling me.

Maeve: He was very smart and clever and in the whole march he only lost 600 men.
Me: Yes, true but he also let his men do some not nice things to people who were innocent bystanders.
Maeve: Yes, well the troops had to eat.
Daniel: He did let up on the burning when he reached North Carolina.

At this point I was really starting to worry about Maeve and Daniel.

Hilde: My favorite general will always be George Washington!

That's my girl! Good 'Ole George, war hero, President, humble. The man who freed his slaves after he died, well before it was "fashionable". Mythological father figure of our country. I would much prefer if Maeve chose someone like that.

As an aside, Hilde likes the colonial period and the Revolutionary War better. She loves Williamsburg and asks at least once a month when we are going again. So, her affinity for Washington has to do with the fact that she likes the time period. She is learning to like Lincoln too. We will see what she thinks of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond and Gettysburg. I have a feeling they are not going to measure up to Williamsburg.

Me: Well Maeve, I don't think generals could do that today. Since there is so much media coverage of wars, I am pretty sure he would have gotten in trouble.

Daniel: Funny, they mentioned that in video. Apparently Lincoln and Grant "lost" Sherman's whereabouts. So that when asked they could say, "We have no idea what is going on." Sherman justified his men's actions by saying he never ordered them to be so violent in their pillaging.

Some things never change.

Daniel: The movie even said Sherman might have been crazy, really crazy.
Maeve: Well, crazy is helpful when you are general.

Out of the mouth of babes.

So, we went on for a few minutes eating and discussing Sherman and war and media and the meaning of innocent civilians. We even talked about how Sherman's march was kind of like dropping the bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. No one thinks it's right, but it did help end a war that was going to drag on a lot longer.

All this took place around the kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon.

This is what I consider real learning and this is what school looks like at our house.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Yesterday, I tried to have a nice, quiet day. I cleared the schedule so that it was a slow, calm day. The girls and I needed this for two reasons. First the weekend was crazy. (More on the later) It was so crazy that I didn’t notice until Sunday evening that Maeve had a cold and Hilde was headed in that direction. So, we hunkered down Monday morning with tissues and books and looked forward to an uneventful day.

After lunch I realized we had to venture out of the house because we were two-thirds the way through the last box of tissues. We got dressed and headed out to the car. That’s when we noticed this-
Yes, snakes in a tree.

Snakes were nesting in the tree, right next to the garage. Two snakes watching us. It was bizarre.
Even more bizarre when you consider the fact we live in New England. Maybe they have snakes in trees more often in say, Arizona. It seems like a desert, rugged, rural kind of phenomenon. Definitely not something you see every day in suburban Rhode Island.

Later in the afternoon I browsed the news and realized that a more tragic bizarre thing happened in Woonsocket Monday morning. An ordinary man going about his regular routine was shot and killed while he was depositing money at the local Citizens’ Bank. It happened at 11am less than a mile from my house. I heard the police helicopters and thought they were life flight going to the hospital. Bizarre and a little scary.

Then later that evening, Daniel made a decision that he has been wrestling with all weekend. We managed to discuss the pros and cons of the issue and I managed not to steam roll a decision out of him. I actually backed off and decided to be happy with whatever he chose. He made the decision and there was no drama, no second guessing and no badgering. This seems ordinary but in our house it’s bizarre, but in a good way.

So, on a day that I set out to have a nice, quiet, uneventful day I realized that in my world there is no such thing as an ordinary day. Each day brings wonder, adventure, tragedy and decision in its own unique way.

It makes me wonder about tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

To Arms! To Arms!

If you are related in any way to a girl between the ages of 4 and 20 something, you will know who this is:

Let me re-phrase this. If you are a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, of middle class income, you know who this is. It is Felicity Merriman of Williamsburg. She is a horse lover, friend to Elizabeth Bennet and fledgling patriot. She is one of the historical characters sold by American Girl. In fact, she is one of the original American Girls.

(American Girl being the superior doll company. Far better role models than Bratz and less harmful to the self-esteem than Barbie. )

She is beloved by generations of girls who learned about the American Revolution by reading her books. She taught us how to be a friend with someone who has differing political opinions (Elizabeth). She taught us that grandfathers are the best people in the world (We cried buckets when her grandfather died.). She taught us that animal cruelty is wrong (She saved Penny). She taught us how to love our enemy (Jiggy Nye). Finally, she taught us what is means to be a patriot and that colonists could be ladies too. (Tea lessons anyone?)

She is also being retired by the Mattel after Christmas. Say it isn't so!

In our house this is treason. Treason I say! How can you have an American Girl Doll company and not feature the American Girl who was present at the birth of our nation?! It's an outrage. First, they retired Kirsten, the pioneer doll, now this. Are the American Revolution and Western Expansion passe? Who's next Kaya? Josphina? Molly?

How are girls going to learn their American History? We need these dolls and their books (and their over-priced nightgowns, riding outfits, bedroom sets, pets and accessories)because even if it is all a profit-driven marketing strategy, it inspires girls to read and to want to learn more about the girls who lived in this country before they did. These dolls really do open windows that no text book ever could,

I used to be able to justify the expense, mostly because Grandpa and Aunt Janet pay for it all, but recently I have begun to contemplate a boycott. Just like Felicity boycotted tea to protest the tax, I should boycott American Girl. I should decry their marketing strategy.

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Felicity or give death!"

Maeve and Hilde are all for this protest. We are united against this injustice.

As long as it is after Christmas and Grandpa and Aunt Janet have purchased all the Felicity items Hilde requires and Maeve gets that tap dance outfit before American Girl black lists us.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


One of the most beautiful things about learning at home, is the ability to end the day with something fun. Yesterday evening the girls and I took a walk after dinner. We used Wednesday an “as ease-into-it day”; which means we only did math and reading.

During the walk we talked about uniforms, spelling curriculum, science curriculum and goals for the year. (Another great thing about learning at home is that my children have a say in what books they use and what they study.)

One of Maeve’s goals is to read the dictionary. She’s a girl after my own heart. I poured over my family’s collection of Funk and Wagnall’s when I young. They had lovely brown leather covers with gold writing, thin pages full of stuff to know.

One of Hilde’s goals is to write a biography about Maeve. So, she spends a lot of time taking notes and saying, “I have to write that down before I forget it.” Also, just like me. I have pages full of ideas for this blog, books and articles that over the years I have half written in my mind. One day I’ll get to those.

All this goal setting got me to ponder what my goals are for home schooling this year. I have goals set out for each girl. The things that I would like them to accomplish, but I hadn’t thought of what my goals for me would be. This is a big deal because this year, I have space to do this. I recently stepped down from my part time job in order to focus completely on my household. Home school is the biggest commitment I have and now that I have time, I really want to be intentional about what I am learning from this experience as well, as what Maeve and Hilde are learning.

So, here they are:

1. Finish the year. It is always good to start with an easy one. This may seem like no-brainer to most people. However, in our house we have a tendency to let the year fade away, instead of really finishing. This year, I want to start well and end well. I want to get to June and say “We finished! Let’s hit the beach!”

2. I want to go slow. I am not interested in covering vast amounts of information in a short amount of time. Now that I am at home full time, we have time to go in depth with any area of study. If we want to spend 5 weeks talking about rocks, we can. If the girls want to learn how to make bandages like they did during the civil war, we can. If they want to then spend some time learning about how medicine advanced during the war, we can do that too.

3. I want to spend more time encouraging and less time correcting. Now that mornings are reserved for school, my brain is reserved for school too. When I am stressed by the long to-do list waiting each afternoon, I tend to rush my kids. Rushing then translates into being frustrated and correcting harshly. This year I want to allow my girls time to make mistakes and to be able to finish a lesson without their mother being aggravated because it. Gentleness and kindness will rule this year.

4. I want to remember the power of shared lessons. Sometimes, I want Maeve and Hilde to just go and do their work all alone, by themselves. Then I remember the power of a shared lesson. Yesterday, I wanted to review our American History so far. So, I created a list of events that we have studied and put them on the white board out of order. Then we sat together and Maeve and Hilde put them in order. They loved it. They kept saying things like, “I remember the Aztecs!” “Oh, I love Lewis and Clark!” “Remember when we went to the Alamo?” They had so much fun working together. More importantly they had fun remembering together all the things we have studied. Shared memories are the best memories and I am glad I get to be a part of my girls’ school memories.

5. I want to remember that love what I do. I love teaching my girls at home. I am privileged to see them learn new things, to conquer math skills, to add new words to their vocabulary and make 3D models of the earth. Most parents hear about these things anecdotally. I get to be there, first hand. When the light of a discovery or the click of connection happens, I am there and it is awesome.

6. I want the girls to know I love what I do. I want Maeve and Hilde to know that there is no place I would rather be. In the past I think I have failed here. I like to do a lot of stuff and my attention is easily diverted to other things. This year, I want them know I am choosing them and that I want to be home with them more than any place else.

7. I want to learn percentages. This also sounds like a no brainer but I never really learned how to do percentages correctly. You see, I skipped 5th grade. I started 5th grade, went for 9 weeks, then did 3 weeks of both 5th and 6th grade, then transitioned to all 6th grade. This was great, I don’t regret it, but it means I missed some math. You see by the time I got fully integrated into 6th grade, they had finished their review and moved onto new math. I didn’t stay in 5th grade long enough to get anything new. So I have holes in my math. I think I have compensated well, but it would be nice to fill those in. Luckily, Maeve is just finishing up 5th grade and I sneaked a look at the next couple of lesson. They include percentages. I am sure she will share with me.

8. I want to go more places. We are studying the Civil War through modern times this year. I am convinced the best way to teach history (and science) is to be where it happened. This means carving time for field trips, loading up the car and hitting the road. It means not rushing but taking time at each site to really experience it. The biggest trip planned so far is to Gettysburg next month. Gettysburg is so full of history that you can feel its importance when you drive through the town. I want to soak in things like this with my girls.

9. I want to be home more. This seems counter to the last goal, but I mean be home in a more simple way. I want to go out only when I need to. It means bundling my errands so that I have out of the house days and at home days. So that I am not always getting into the car every afternoon and running errands. It means cooking whatever is in the pantry instead of going out to dinner. It means enjoying our home and seeing the beauty inside of it; instead of always going somewhere for entertainment. It also means no longer avoiding chores by going somewhere, which may bring some much needed order and cutter-cleansing to the house.

10. I want to be fully present. I don’t want to miss a thing. Maeve is in 6th grade. I have 7 more years until she leaves for college. Hilde leaves in 9. Time goes too fast. They were potty training yesterday. I don’t want to wake up and have them gone. I want to fill this year with memories I will hold onto in the nursing home. I want to build the stories that Maeve and Hilde will tell their children. I want to see all the little miracles that happen every day and connect all the dots. I want to live in grateful expectation and go to bed knowing that I was fully present to the beautiful life all around me.

11. I want to be more intentional about our faith. Our faith is the glue that holds our family together. It is the glue that holds me together, daily, sometimes hourly. Up until now faith has been more caught than taught in house. I want to change that. I want to read our Bibles together. I want to pray together. I want Maeve and Hilde to ask any question and we'll figure out the answer together. I want my girls to sing "On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." and know what it means and mean it when they say it. Maeve would be starting Confirmation if we were in a traditional church. It makes me miss traditional church. I think it's time we solidify all the things we talk about around the girls by talking about them with the girls.
Maeve and Hilde both got new Bibles this year and they excited to read them. I want that to last past this year.

This is a long list. I will have to post it on the refrigerator so I don't forget it. Everything important in our house is on the fridge. Next to grocery list and under the meal plan for the week, will be this reminder to open my eyes and see that life if bigger than groceries.

Thursday, September 2, 2010



Rancher (or farmer or winery owner) in the Texas Hill Country (preferably Kerrville, Ingram, or Hunt but willing to accept Comfort or Boerne), who needs an Oracle Business Intelligence Architect and Developer, to provide commensurate salary and relocation for Developer’s family of four. BI Developer willing to work with Oracle Suite of products and to use Paramedic skills as the ranch’s first responder. (Also, not afraid of hard physical labor.) Children willing to provide free farm labor in exchange for unlimited access to horses, chickens and goats. Wife willing to chronicle this experience from farmhouse porch and paint rancher and ranch life in a flattering light. Said wife also willing to split profits from movie rights of book based on our adventure.

Serious applicants only.

Please reply to