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.


A worthy milestone

This is what affirmation feels like.

My oldest son – now a college freshman – voluntarily brings me his essays for rhetoric and comp class to ask for my opinion.  After years of being the essay assigner, it’s lovely to be in the supportive role.  The good guy rather than the bad guy in the whole essay plotline.

I also enjoy reading his thoughts which are articulated for someone else (so I know they aren’t written just for my benefit!).  They feel more honest.

Around midnight (yes, he’s still a procrastinator – college hasn’t cured him of that), he brought me an essay which takes the position that music should be incorporated in all subjects of the school system.  Knowing him the way I do, I wasn’t surprised by his position.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, to see my own name used to surport his point that educators should be willing to try new approaches:

Having spent my childhood as a home educated student, I’ve seen up close what a teacher who is vested in her students can accomplish. My mother would constantly try new ways to interest me in my different subjects.

“My mother.”  That’s me. 🙂  I came up a few other times in the essay, although not by name.  He discussed various creative learning techniques that he’d used to help himself through difficult subjects, and as I read I thought, “I taught him that” or “I remember helping him do that.”

It’s a singular joy to hear my son appreciate his education and realize the value of what he’s been given.  There were days (perhaps years) when I wasn’t sure this would happen.

Like the worthy woman of Proverbs 31, my children rise up and call me blessed.

I wish this same moment for every educator who has toiled over a student.

Useless, indispensable plans

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  –Dwight D. Eisenhower

About this time each year, I realize that our school year is turning out completely differently than the way I’d planned it so neatly last summer.  It’s also the time I start pondering and forming vague plans for next year.  Coincidence?   Or just masochism?

I’m thrilled to find this Eisenhower quote which assures me I’m not the only one.  I need to plan each school year.  I need to research and make a schedule and chart a path.  But inevitably, during the year, we’ll discover that some plans don’t work out, and we’ll stumble upon new opportunities that I didn’t know existed.

And we turn a corner.  And another.

I didn’t plan on rifle and handgun practice, but the 4-H shooting sports class was too good an opportunity to pass up.  Not just for target practice, but for self-control and careful discipline.

I didn’t plan for my teen daughter to be a model in a fashion show, but the fundraiser for CASA (a wonderful organization helping abused children) is a worthy cause.

I did plan for her to earn college credit this year through AP and CLEP tests, but she’s failed every test, and we’ve discovered that those tests just don’t play to her strengths.  On the other hand, little brother (now 13) earned his first college credit in American History.  Surprise!

I didn’t plan to have my kids research unintended consequences of political promises, but the John Stossell essay contest offered them highly motivational prizes, and seemed to me a good way to apply both the writing and the government studies they’ve done.

We end up in places that teach my kids great things, create wonderful memories, and shape their characters toward the adults I want them to be.  They just aren’t usually the places I planned to be.

Next year’s plan includes logic, physics, and essay writing for the younger teen, and psychology and drama for the older one.  And of course, I will plan to change my plans!

Field trips – concrete benefits in the real world

My youngest son participates in a co-op biology class.  During a recent module on the respiratory system, one of the moms arranged a field trip to a medical supply company that specializes in oxygen and respiratory care services.  While there, I saw a nebulizer on display that was amazingly improved over the one my husband and daughter use to treat asthma attacks.   I knew our nebulizer was 20 years old, but didn’t realize how much the technology had improved.  Okay, I will be honest: we just hadn’t thought about it at all since our machine “worked.”

We ordered a new one from Lincare, and it arrived yesterday.  Besides being smaller, lighter and quieter than the old one, and having a handy car power chord, it actually works more efficiently (imagine that!).  Both husband and daughter have already used it and have commented that the recovery time from the asthma attack was much faster.  I’m so grateful to see my family spared physical pain.

By the way, it’s called the Mini Elite nebulizer by Respironics.  I give it two thumbs up.

Anyway, just wanted to remind homeschoolers that field trips and seeing “school subjects” in the real world are worthwhile.  Keep taking advantage of our wonderful opportunities to have our children educated in the real world rather than being tied to lengthy hours inside a classroom.  Sometimes the benefit is simply an understanding of how the subject is applied.  Sometimes the benefit is an inspiration for a career.  Sometimes it’s something immediately concrete and useful to your family.

You don’t need a co-op class to take field trips.  Whatever you’re studying, look around and ask, where does this show up in the world around me?  If you can’t think of one, a google search will often turn up new homeschool field trip ideas.  Venture forth, brave learners!

Wading in new water…constantly!

14 years into this homeschooling career, and I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes.

My oldest son graduated without the benefit of a physics class.  It doesn’t seem to have permanently damaged him (for that matter, I graduated public school without the benefit of a physics class and have never suffered from it).

But my children have never been satisfied to be just like a sibling.  I know that’s something worth celebrating, but doggone it makes me tired!  So I find myself in the positition of researching physics curriculums.  Weighing options and feeling highly inadequate to the task.  I’ve been in this position before…pretty frequently actually.  I know in the end we’ll all come out wiser, and that this is part of the commitment I made to homeschool my children.  I will consider and research every option to give them the best possible education.

I expect my children to learn new things each year.  I can expect no less of myself.

My answer to the high school question

Yesterday I shared a question from a homeschooler who is nervous about beginning high school with her 1st child.  She wondered about things like curriculum choices, but more important about character matters.  How to develop self-discipline and Biblical grounding and a servant’s heart in her child-soon-to-be-adult.  Below is how I answered her.

(BTW, we share a common faith, both being members of the church of Christ.  The book I recommend at the end can be read and agreed with by folks of most denominations, but I see several worship practices mentioned which do not conform to the Biblical standards.  It’s not the topic of this post, but I’d be happy to discuss and explain that further if anyone is curious.  I’ve had all 3 of my kids read the book and feel like we benefitted from it.)

How exciting for you!  I remember the anticipation (and nerves) when my first little boy started high school.  I was so nervous about it that we actually toured a public charter school, but he begged us not to enroll him, and we are so glad that we didn’t. 🙂

My oldest is now in college, with one in the middle of high school, and one in the same place as yours – on the verge of high school.

I think that in high school it’s important to start giving the kids more control, more choices.  Start developing their own vision for their lives, their own passions.  This is a time of transition to when they move out and take complete control, so it’s important that they learn to make decisions and make mistakes, that they learn to deal with consequences of their own choices while still at home with you to guide them and support them.

Have you talked with him yet about what he wants to accomplish during high school?  About what he’ll need to get where he’s going?  If college is in his future, start checking college websites to give him an overview of what he’ll need to study during high school to get there.  If he deams of a particular career, start finding ways to give him a taste of it (field trips, job shadowing, competitions where he competes using those skills).  Once he starts getting a taste, he’ll either develop a deeper interest, or he’ll find a new direction.

When my oldest was entering high school, he thought he wanted to be an engineer.  We helped start a robotics club and he got to help design and build a robot.  I’d never run a club before and knew nothing about robots, but I was able to find mentors and talk enough people into joining us.  Turns out my son hated it.  But in that club, he made a new friend who was interested in drama and, particularly, musical theatre.  So we joined (and eventually ran) a 4-H drama club.  Besides our own small productions, he also ended up spending countless hours at the community theatre, acting, singing, volunteering, building, painting, and using power tools.  We put him with people who were actually doing and producing what he was interested in.  His senior year, he spearheaded a full scale production of Beowulf.  He learned leadership, delegation, how to write grant applications, how to build a sturdy table, how to choreograph a fight scene, how to place each person in the best position for their own strengths and for who they got along with.  Lots of practical skills and lots of interpersonal communication skills.  That real life, in-depth study of how people work together and how personalities mesh (or clash!) led him to choose physchology as a major in college, which is he pursuing right now. 

My point isn’t to brag about what he accomplished – it’s just to demonstrate the benefits of DOING something and ACCOMPLISHING something. Don’t be scared to try new things, to take on big projects, to let your child start taking the lead.  And don’t be scared to ask others to try out a new adventure with you.  Maybe the project that excites him now won’t be what he ends up being excited about later.  That’s okay, too. 🙂  If you try something and don’t like it, it’s not a failure.  It’s an opportunity to learn something about yourself and maybe open a door to something new.  And every project will force him to learn all kinds of related (and maybe seemingly unrelated) skills because real life isn’t separated into neat boxes by subject. 

HIgh school (IMHO) shouldn’t be about just studying books.  My kids, at least, develop self-discipline when they have a goal that they’ve set for themselves and truly, truly desire to reach.  Yes, often that goal include studying books, such as when the goal is to earn college credits early.  But not always. Sometimes it pushes them to do things they aren’t normally comfortable with (like negotiating with strangers, or getting up really early in the morning, or learning to get along with clashing personalities) or that they wouldn’t do unless truly driven by internal motivation (studying and practicing harder).

Also, in our experience, the best way to develop a servant’s heart is by searching for the opportunities to serve within the field of whatever they’re excited about and doing.  For my son, that meant spending volunteer hours assisting at the non-profit community theatre and mentoring younger kids.  For my daughter who loves to bake and loves little children, that has been totally different.  She bakes birthday cakes each month to take to the local homesless shelter and children’s home for kids who normally wouldn’t have a birthday celebration.  I just have to constantly ask, “How can this skill/this talent/this passion be used to serve others?”  The same daughter enjoys photography and shopping.  Those don’t seem like “servants heart” kind of hobbies, do they?  Except that right now we’ve found an event for her to be a part of where she can do just that to help others.  An annual fashion show is held here to raise money for CASA (an organization which helps abused kids).  She gets to do photo shoots and put together outfits as part of the fundraiser, and then she will take some of the money raised to shop for things that the abused children need.  Again, I tell this story simply to illustrate that any interest or hobby can be used as an opportunity to serve others.  And again, these group activities lead to more opportunities to share the gospel.   

I recommend a book called Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris.  I recommend it with reservations – it’s written from a decidedly denominational perspective.  It should be read together with you and your child so you can point out the Biblical error.  But it’s a great book for helping teens develop a vision for actually accomplishing something – for finding a focus and purpose for their studies and for developing self-discipline toward reaching goals. 

The next four years

I think the beginning of high school is a moment of truth for all homeschoolers.  High school is big.  It’s official.  It’s intimidating territory.  It seems to be a moment when we all go through the re-evaluation of our goals and commitment.  Is this really what I want to do?  Can I do it? Is it what’s best for my child?

I waffled and agonized.  In hindsight, the choice seems obvious, but nothing was obvious at the time.

Today, I read an email from a fellow homeschool adventurer.  It read like this:

It is hard to believe that my little boy will be starting High School this fall, that he is on the downward slope of his learning at home, yet it is the hardest. I want to spend the next four years with him learning and enjoying this time.  High school was not a good time for me, and I’m very thankful to be blessed with being able to home school my children.

 I have to admit that I’m scared. I want to end well. I want my son to not be excited about being done just so he can be done with school and home.

 What I’m asking is this….

She went on to ask about subjects to choose, and how to guide character development, and how to set priorities with eternity in mind.

As hard as the decision is, “Should I homeschool through high school?”, I think the agonizing is helathy.  The planning, the questioning, the evaluating every aspect…it’s all part of the process as we express our burning desire to give our kids the best possible life.  It forces us to reach out to others, seeking what advice on what works and what doesn’t.  It’s an initiation of sorts.

Having come out on the other side, I feel more confident that I’ve considered my options and made an informed decision.