The Communication Game

In the basic writing course I used to teach for homeschoolers, we used a game called The Communication Game where students learn that sometimes the reader understands the words differently than what the writer meant. The kids would describe a picture to a person who couldn’t see the picture, and the listener would draw what he heard.  Inevitably, the drawers drew things the speaker didn’t intend.  They interpreted the words differently.

It’s difficult to have an open conversation when participants don’t understand the terms, when they hear something different than is meant. When I first heard the phrase “Black lives matter” my reaction was to question.  To defend.  I thought of course they matter, but no more than anyone else’s.  My inner response (even when silent) was “all lives matter.”

The most common reaction I see to a statement about institutionalized racism is, “I’m not a racist!” which shows that the listeners are feeling personally attacked, even though Individuals do not have to be racist for a system to be set up in a way that benefits one group more than another.  

It’s tough to move past defending ourselves and move into listening to what the other person is experiencing.

In the Communication Game, we teach the kids that it is the writer/speaker’s responsibility to choose words that will be understood. The speaker (in the class, it was the writer) was taught to choose words accurately and specifically.  To give context.  To use objective words rather than subjective ones. To figure out what is being heard and make sure to be understood.  Ultimately, of course, the listener has to be willing to listen rather than to assume.  Communication is a two way street.

Miscommunication in writing is definitely a bigger issue because of missing out on all the nonverbal cues. In our internet based society, people communicate through writing more than ever. Compounding the problem is communicating with people you don’t know well face to face, so you can’t interpret with personality, plus communicating in tiny bits so it’s harder to interpret in context. We start taking shortcuts like hashtags and slogans, but if those mean something different to the recipient than the speaker…communication drops through a black hole.

I’m working on trying to hear what people are really saying on this issue rather than filtering it through my experiences. I’ve not witnessed a LOT of racism (some, not a lot). And I’ve never been stopped by the police except when I was actually doing something wrong, like expired stickers or speeding, and all of those incidents ended peacefully. Others have different experiences.  This photo is helpful to me in understanding what is being said.





Driven against the wall

13620726_10153941912796888_1568557063833364784_nGod is described in Isaiah as being “a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert.”

Do you want to be Godly? Then give refuge. Look around and see who is needy and offer help. See who is suffering in the heat and offer shade. See who is battered by the storm and offer protection.

You don’t have to agree with them about who is to blame for any tragedy or share politic solutions. You don’t have to vote for the same candidate, or even post the same hashtag. Give them refuge, because they are driven against the wall by the ruthless.

Whatever you do, don’t be the ruthless one. Please don’t be ruthless. There’s enough of that already.

And my homeschooling friends, please talk to you children about this.  Let them see your grief, your compassion.  When you do an act of kindness or speak a word of encouragement or defense, include your children in that.  Tell them why you did it.  While it’s true that kids observe and absorb, they don’t always understand what they observe (especially younger ones), and they might draw wrong conclusions or miss important points.


“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

I ran across this quote from Blaise Pascal yesterday and can’t stop thinking about it.

Among other implications, clearly Pascal was an introvert.  I can relate.

I wonder how often introversion (introvertedness?) overlaps with homeschooling.  Or with great thinkers.  Or with writers.

And now my Venn diagram grows far too complex.

18 Things We Didn’t Do in 18 Years of Homeschooling

An imaginary demon whispers doubt into our hearts late at night. It tries to wrap the fear around lives that we aren’t doing things “right.” Homeschoolers tend to love their kids passionately and want the best of everything for them, so the demon has plenty of emotion to draw from. Add to our own doubts that there are plenty of real people around telling us the best or right way to homeschool. The things we must do or our children will suffer, languish and drag themselves through doomed lives blaming their parents and this ludicrous experiment.

How useful is that doubt? Those comparisons to the people who are homeschooling “right,” the “perfect” families who have it all together? Sometimes, successful homeschooling (and successful living) is about letting go, giving yourself grace, and finding your own path.

We may misunderstand what other homeschoolers actually do, and sometimes we overestimate what we NEED to be doing. It’s a natural result of the driving urges to give our kids the best, to prove that we really can parent our own kids, and (above all else) to NOT ruin our kids’ lives.

After 18 years, I am retiring from my homeschooling career. I have successfully navigated 3 human beings into confident adulthood, and I am ready to dump all the guilt and shame for all the things I didn’t do. I’m proud of some of the “failures.” I feel like I successfully avoided traps that weren’t right for our family’s culture. Some of them weren’t deliberate, but just grew from our conglomerate personalities and the busyness of life. A few, I regret…but life turned out good anyway. I don’t share these to tell you not to do them. Some of them might fit your family perfectly. They didn’t fit mine.

What pieces of guilt are you hanging on to? What is it you think you SHOULD be doing that you aren’t? My guess is that it might not be as cataclysmic a disaster as you think. To help you give yourself grace in what you haven’t done, and to understand more realistically what a real life looks like, here are 18 things that I did NOT do in 18 years of homeschooling.


  1. Write research papers before college. I list this first because people who know me best are most surprised by it. Writing is my thing. We played with language a LOT. But I never saw the value in a full-fledged, formatted research paper. Essays, sure, with research, paraphrasing, and analyzing. Research papers? Uh-uh. So far, one of mine learned to write a research paper in college (yep, he handled it just fine) and one graduated college without ever needing it (lucky girl, one big headache passed by). If that last kid needs it during college, he’ll learn it then.
  2. Make all the kids study 2 years of foreign language, even though “everyone” said they needed to for college. Okay, I put my first poor kid (aka the guinea pig) through this. He check marked it, forgot everything he “learned,” and it was nicely noted on his college admissions. It may have made admissions go a little more smoothly, but I’m not sure it was worth two years of wasted time in which he learned nothing. The second wanted to study sign language, and I decided that totally counted. Her college didn’t care one way or the other. She’s the one now testing for her interpreter certification. The third was so immersed in math and science that foreign languages never showed up on the radar. His college didn’t care.
  3. Join co-ops. It just seemed too big a commitment (and too much like school) – a full day all semester? Shudder.
  4. Go to prom. To be honest, I considered missing prom to be a benefit of homeschooling, so it really wasn’t a hard decision not to sign up for the homeschool version. If it’s a big deal to you, sign your kids up or host a dance yourself, but if it isn’t, then don’t fret it.
  5. Teach high school – at least, not much of it. Let’s face it, my main role in high school was guidance counselor. I taught a few subjects (mostly English and speech), but my kids mostly taught themselves or were taught be other people. I spent a lot of time arranging opportunities and procuring resources. And checking to see that the kids were on track. I can’t tell you how many people tell me in fear, “Oh, I could never teach high school!” Guess what? Neither could I.
  6. Follow a schedule. The more rigid the schedule we attempted, the shorter it lived. Remember that 15-minute increment schedule that was popular for a while? I never completed a single day of it, which means I actually spent more time creating the schedule than using it. Eventually, I decided not to feel guilty about that. I gave away the planning book, and we pretty much ran on routines and rabbit trails.
  7. Follow through with schoolwork over the summer. I often planned to. I often announced my intention to. But we never actually did. We were too busy adventures and doing projects (aka learning) and decompressing to do any kind of bookwork. Summers are full of memories and life.
  8. Stay true to a homeschooling “philosophy.” I loved unit studies. I read up on classical methods. I adored Charlotte Mason. I admired unschooling. I dabbled in many philosophies, and absorbed a something of value from each, but I never committed fully to any label. I still don’t have a name for what we did, but it seemed to work well for us.Cameron lounging with book 10-06
  9. Sit at desks. Just didn’t happen. We had a kitchen table that was sometimes handy. And couches. And floors with pillows. And exercise balls. And whatever else.
  10. Follow a 4-year history plan. There was that one time we spent about 3 years in Ancient Greece. And we all learned US history at some point in high school. For a few years in elementary school, we even kept timeline notebooks to add various books/people/events into their place in history as we learned about them. But we never got on a chronological cycle and covered the whole picture. There are gaps. There are still gaps in my historical knowledge (although the History Channel is helping me with that).
  11. Complete regular copywork/dictation. I know, I know. It’s the most natural way to learn language arts. It’s preached by Charlotte Mason and Brave Writer and Ruth Beechick…pretty much all my heroes. And we did it occasionally. But really not that much.
  12. Use yearly grammar curriculum. Didn’t happen. We covered grammar with a “full curriculum” twice.   Loved the 5 minute reviews of Daily Grams for one year. The rest of the time…come on, grammar is not that complicated. We played Mad Libs. That counts, right? We used words and language all the time. Turns out, my kids are fluent English speakers. One of them wrote a novel and several playscripts, and one is interpreting and learning her 3rd language. They didn’t need yearly grammar textbooks for that.
  13. Teach my youngest child to read. I pretended to. He was my baby, and I cherished time alone with him during phonics lessons. We’d gotten no further than blending c-a-t and m-a-t when he picked up a Kings James Bible, flipped it open at random, sounded out the word, “Deuteronomy” and started reading it out loud. I was thick headed and still made that poor kid sit through the rest of his phonics lessons, but I also made sure to provide tons of real books so that he could read while I wasn’t pretending to teach him how.
  14. Make the kids get up early to prepare for “real life.” A regular early morning schedule never quite materialized. Most of the years, we roused them for a late breakfast which I would linger over, reading aloud chapters of magnificent books while they blearily shoveled in cereal. We got up early when we needed to. And you know what? Once they got in college and/or full time jobs, they were perfectly capable of finding their own rhythms of when to get up and when to go to bed. Growing up, they were all late to bed and late to rise. Those late night hours can be productive.
  15. Write “reports” in elementary school or junior high. We wrote often – but nothing academically formatted. I introduced those formats in 9th grade, and they soaked them in almost immediately.
  16. Give grades. I completed transcripts for high school using a holistic approach which I believe accurately reflected real learning. (No, none of my kids were “straight A” students.) Grades are useful for tracking a whole room full of kids, but I never needed them. I was closely involved in the learning process, and there are less formal ways of understanding how well someone is learning.
  17. Use a homeschool tracker, either a grade book or a computer program. When the kids were younger, I started a few years with an optimistic binder full of planning and tracking forms. After a while, I gave up the pretense and stopped wasting printer ink on them. They looked so sad and empty when I didn’t fill in all the boxes. A few lists (book logs, subject lists, that high school transcript) were all I needed or used. No one ever actually asked to see my records anyway.
  18. Give my kids private music, dance or voice lessons. Music is as natural (and common) as breathing in our house. Someone is always singing – whether for personal enjoyment or preparing for a performance, and we all sing together in church every week. Formal lessons? None for instruments at all. My son joined a choir his senior year which met weekly, so that’s as close to formal training as it gets. You want more than that? Hello, youtube!



It’s still here!

A bounce from thought to thought today reminded me I used to blog…and I couldn’t even remember when I last posted.  Turns out, it was almost exactly 4 years ago.  Oops.   Guess I’ve been busy.

But it’s still here, waiting for me.  Can’t complain about a relationship like that.

Now I’m tempted to write…

Dropping Eggs

We didn’t dye a single egg this Easter.  Didn’t put candy inside any plastic ones, or search for cleverly hidden ones.  My “babies” are too old.  Sigh.  I did purchase a few bags of candy and throw them at my teenagers, if that counts.

So today…we dropped eggs off the roof instead.  All in the name of science.

My youngest (14) is totally enraptured by the whole idea of an egg drop competition.  He researched online, consulted multiple family members, and brainstormed multiple designs, each more complicated than the last.  The prospect of climbing on the roof each time to test a new design holds a certain appeal as well.

Our particular contest doesn’t limit the types of construction materials for the egg drop container, but it grades on a formula that rewards light weight and few parts, as well as a bonus for accurately hitting a target.  So complicated designs are out.

After a few unsuccessful design attempts, this morning Sean stumbled upon the perfect design which requires only one piece: his pajama pants.  No kidding.  He wrapped his pj pants around an egg and used the attached tie to fasten it.  Perfectly accurate.  Lowest possible pieces.  Not overly heavy.

Sometimes, science is comfortable.

Bonus, I let him climb the roof again.  Why not?


Monoculture – how do I define diversity?

Monocultures don’t exist in nature.

Last week, my kids tramped through the freshly blooming trails around Lake Arrowhead conversing with the guide about animal trails, searching for hollows in trees, and teasing one of their friends about falling into the snake holes.  They’ve joined a Texas Junior Master Naturalist class arranged during morning hours for homeschoolers.  The guide was describing a small clump of plant and insect life interacting when she made that statement which caught my attention.

Monocultures don’t exist in nature.

She was explaining how different species both support each other and also keep each other in balance.  (Strains of Lion King’s Circle of Life ran through my head…I’m sorry, I couldn’t stop them!)

But her statement sent my mind meandering down a different path.  Homeschoolers are often accused of trying to create monocultures for their families, for sheltering their children from anyone who thinks, acts or looks different from them.

Just how different does someone have to be in order to be of a different “culture” and help keep us in balance?  Does putting my kids under the tutelage of a woman who adores science and nature count as a different “culture”?  Clearly, she’s providing some balance to my weak area.  What about encouraging my previously uncoordinated child to play tennis and volleyball?  That’s adding balance to his weakness.

The group of kids standing around the guide were all homeschoolers whose families profess some form of Christianity.  Does that make us a monoculture?

Some of the kids have different skin colors – a testament to their ethnic background.  Does that alone make us diverse?

One boy there had been born in Germany and raised in Europe by military parents, returning to his “home” country of America only last year.  Sure he looks just like us, but he was raised on a different continent.  His experiences are probably much more distant from ours than the dark skinned girl who grew up in our hometown.  Does that make him diverse?

My kids’ friends from church and the community theatre attend public schools.  Is that diverse?

I once read an article which contended earnestly that all textbooks sold to homeschoolers be required to include information about a list of minorities which he deemed important for diversity.  I laughed at the very notion we could achieve “diversity” by forcing everyone to read the same information.  Apparently the irony was lost on him.  Besides, his list of minorities didn’t include interacting with Native Americans and studying their culture and history or immersing oneself in the study of ancient cultures (two things my own children spent massive amounts of time doing).  Who decides which diversity is best?

I don’t have answers.  I just ask the questions.  Time will tell how successful the culture is that we have created.

Performing, performing, performing

My kids are constantly performing.

And while performing for mom at home will do in a pinch, they actively seek bigger audiences.  Life would be easier if they were content to be properly unsocialized homeschoolers.  I had the joy of watching two of the three wrap up a learning/rehearsing/performing project this week.  The oldest opened the show Into the Woods at our community theatre, playing Jack (climber of beanstalks, slayer of giants).  It’s his lead role in a play that was NOT an all youth production.  Friday night was 18 years in the making and worth every moment.

My middle girl filmed her second ASL music video.  ASL is her passion (not the big stage like her brother), and one of her favorite ways to learn is by interpreting songs with friends.  The 4-H Has Talent competition is the impetus for completing this videos, but I think she’d make them anyway (eventually…) even without a formal deadline.  The deadlines help, though. 🙂

Crossing state lines

Positioned by the Red River in North Texas, my hometown is equally distant from the Dallas/Ft Worth Metroplex and Oklahoma City.  That’s important when searching for “big city” opportunities like, say, zoos.

While as a homeschooler, I’m free to give my kids spring break whenever I choose, I usually choose to take a break at the same time as the public schools because my husband works at a public university, so that’s when he gets a few days off.

Last year, we took the kids south to the Ft. Worth zoo.  Although both the weather and the company were fine, it was the worst zoo trip we’ve ever taken because apparently the entire state of Texas wanted to enjoy the zoo during spring break.  We pushed elbow to elbow through crowds all day, peering at animals from several rows back, and standing in line an hour just for lunch.

This year, we crossed the state line and headed north to the OKC zoo.  A wonderful choice!  Again, the weather and the company were ideal, but this time we had the run of the place.  We parked by the door and walked in without standing in line.  A few young moms pushing strollers and one small daycare group were the only other zoo patrons.  We strolled at a leisurely from exhibit to exhibit, never having to fight for a position at the rail or at a map.  When the baby elephant went through his paces in the training center,  we had front row view.  Even the sea lion show only required a short wait before we took our places…you guessed it…on the front row. 

Sometimes swimming upstream pays off!

I believe Oklahoma is on spring break next week.  Hey Okies, I can recommend a lovely zoo a few hours to your south, if you want to avoid the crowds.