September 24, 2014

I *heart* our homeschool group

I haven't said much about our non-religious life lately.  There wasn't much to say, fortunately.  Recently though, I met a lovely lady through a secular co-op that Dimples is attending.  After talking to her for a while I picked up on her dislike for the other co-op in the area because of their religious  leanings.  Funny Girl is attending that one for her Chinese class, but she hadn't said anything about it being religious.  I'd met the teacher and exchanged emails with her a couple of times and she never mentioned anything religious to me either.  So I just figured she was one of the teachers that didn't make it a big deal.  Well, I was (sort of) mistaken.

I asked Funny Girl if they pray before class and she said that the teacher does and at the end.  I was kind of surprised she hadn't mentioned it before.  There are only two students in this class.  Funny Girl told me that she and the other girl just sit there and wait patiently for the teacher to finish and then just do their lessons.  I kind of surprised myself by not being all up in arms about this.  I think part of the reason is because I feel comfortable with our friends and family to just be myself.  I want the kids to grow up knowing and experiencing all kinds of things.  I'd rather talk to FG about why the teacher chooses to pray than remove her from the class.  And the other reason I wasn't that concerned is that this teacher seems pretty great.  FG is loving her class so far.  I couldn't remove her over something that clearly isn't even bothering her.   So until something really strange happens, FG will continue to take this class.

But back to the secular co-op, I just have to say again how lucky I feel to be part of our homeschool group.  We might still homeschool if we'd never found them, but it wouldn't be nearly as comfortable.  I also have the most amazing family and really all of my friends from all parts of my life.  I don't know how it happened, but we've just never experienced any of the difficult stuff that so many other atheists have with their family and friends.  I'm so grateful.    I'm looking forward to getting to know the new families that joined the secular co-op.  I hope they will feel welcome and comfortable enough to be themselves too.

September 7, 2014

Moody Day Meditations

Most days I love homeschooling.  Today is not one of those days.  Today seems to be particularly about debate and outright refusal.   There have also been a lot of sibling squabbles, bossing around, and yelling.  

It might seem like every day should be fun and easy.  After all, we unschool so the kids should always be doing things that they want to be doing, right?  The reality though is that humans don't always want to do the things they said they want to do.  And as much as I want them to learn what they want, there are things they must do around the house too.  So most days are a combination of fun and head-butting.

I'm pretty tired and we have a full week ahead of us.  All of those classes I mentioned before start in full swing tomorrow.  I think we are all nervous about the unknown.

Fortunately we had Family Dharma night to look forward to this evening.  This is when Geshtro and I go to the local UU and spend two hours practicing various meditations.  Usually on family night there is some sort of craft that we also do with the kids.  In the past we've made keychains, drawn mandalas, and decorated prayer flags - among other things.  Tonight we brought Dimples for the first time and she said she loved it.  There will be a 20 minute meditation before her classes in September so I'm really glad she enjoyed it.

Since SweetPea's birth, I've felt really emotional when I meditate.  I suspect I have some really deep feelings that I have not fully processed.  Actually, I don't suspect.  My anxiety levels being what they are, I'm sure I have some things going on.  I always leave Family Dharma night wanting to go back every Sunday, but by the next next I feel too busy or tired.

I'm glad today is over.  I bet I'll be back to enjoying our days tomorrow.  For tonight, I'm ready for bed.

August 30, 2014

Family Nights

Friday evening is our family time.  Obviously we are together all day, every day, but usually we aren't all doing the same thing.  We don't even eat meals together, which might seem odd.  It's just that it's never seemed all that important to have family meals when we are already connecting at various points throughout the day.  Personally, when I finally get a chance to sit down (well actually I rarely even sit - usually I'm standing at the counter) I just want to eat in peace.

So we come together on Fridays.  First we have a family meeting where we talk about anything going on with ourselves or the kids that is effecting all of us.  We talk about what is coming up in the next week.  We read our family rules and goals list.  And then we play games!  

Tonight we played Fluxx.  It's a game where the rules change with every card played.  This was our first time playing and it was really fun.  There were quite a lot of skills needed for this one.  You have to pay attention because the rules change constantly.  You need to stretch your memory when the rules start piling up.  There was a decent amount of simple math involved.  Of course you need to think about strategy too.  And there are several different versions on top of the original.  I can see us expanding our Fluxx collection over the years to come.  

On other Fridays we've played all sorts of games.  We rotate who picks for the week.  Geshtro usually picks Wii games where we have to take turns, usually battling in Super Smash Bros.  The girls often pick Just Dance games much to the displeasure of the males in the house, but they still give it their best.  B is a fan of card games.  I am more eclectic in my choices.

During the summer, when the girls and I spent so much time at the pool, we skipped our family nights but I missed them.  Sometimes it seemed like more trouble than it was worth to get everyone together after a busy week.  We've been back to our normal routine for a couple of weeks now and I'm so glad.  With all of the new things coming up in the next year I think Fridays will be more important than ever.  Even when you homeschool and work from home, there is value in setting aside time to do things together.  

August 24, 2014

Small Stuff

One of the most important things I've learned as a parent is that nothing stays the same with kids.  I may have a picky eater as a toddler that grows into an adventurous eater and then right back to picky. The one who insists they won't learn to read may also be the one I can't get to go to sleep at night as they finish book after book.  What they won't ever wear for years suddenly becomes the only thing that they will wear.  And on and on...

Figuring this out has given me a little bit of stress relief.  Now I can just sit back and wait for whatever the current difficulty is to pass.  Of course, not without addressing any actual issues, but  I'm definitely getting better at avoiding unneeded worry or arguments.   This is one reason why unschooling works so well for us.  I can count on my kids wanting to learn the so-called difficult or boring subjects when they are ready.

Right now all of the kids are in some interesting learning curves. FunnyGirl feels the need to know more math.  She thinks she's not good at it, but actually she's pretty fantastic with numbers.  We play games on the iPad and I'm going to introduce her to some of our math stories this year.  Last year she thought she was a terrible reader and now she's reading a book a day.   I wonder if she'll be interested in studying the times tables?  Geshtro wasn't, but FunnyGirl likes memory games.

Geshtro is getting into programming.  Right now his interest is in learning what he needs to know to create characters for M.U.G.E.N.   I'm all for it.  So far he's learned a little bit of Java, C, and now he and I are doing a course on Swift (the new programming language from Apple).  He's done quite a bit in Scratch too.  The way he picks up these languages is pretty awesome.

Dimples really wants to be able to read as well as her sister.  She's not quite there yet, but it's just a matter of time, honestly.  She's got an insatiable appetite for words so we've been working on vocabulary lists.  Whenever she comes across a word that she doesn't know, she asks for the definition.  We keep track of her words and I quiz her to see what she remembers.  Her retention rate is pretty excellent.  

And finally SweetPea.  As a baby it seems like every single day is another leap in her abilities.  At 21 months she's just started to dabble with words.  She knows a lot of signs, so we've been able to understand a lot of what she needs already, but finally she's ready to use her own voice. One of the cutest things is her "no".  Despite that being the favorite toddler word, SweetPea's is so totally sweet that it's hard to hold it against her.  She rarely says "no", instead she goes "unh-uh".  Precious.  But while the actual words are coming along slowly, you can teach her new signs easily.  She's become a master at mimicking and creating new words with her hands.

There are so many little bits of wisdom I want to give my kids when they are grown, but I think this one may just be the most important.  It's like that saying to not sweat the small stuff because it's all small stuff.  It really is.

August 19, 2014

Blog Resuscitation?

Some friends and I were talking about how we've all basically stopped blogging but that we all had thought about starting up again.  Life is busy, but maybe I can manage it.  While many, many things have happened since my last update, for the most part our lives are the same.  So rather than catch anything up, I'll just start from here.

Our new school year officially starts on Sept 1, but we got going early.  The three older kids are all taking classes this year.  Geshtro takes computer coding with Start Code.  FunnyGirl is taking Chinese at Summit Academy, and Dimples is taking some co-op classes in Sept and also has indoor soccer lessons.  Both girls do rock climbing once a month.  We still unschool so this is about as scheduled as we get.  Our days still consist of mostly reading, housework, and mindfulness/meditation activities. 

We haven't become religious, so not much has changed there.  The older two girls are starting to ask more questions about heaven and what happens to a person when they die.  FunnyGirl is big into ghost stories so she has her own ideas about an afterlife.  I just answer their questions as they come up and listen to their ideas, then we talk about what they currently believe and move on.

I took a couple of coding classes this year and I'm working on a couple of projects freelance.  I'm hoping to make a business of it eventually, but with my very full plate it's just baby steps right now.   B is still plugging along at work.  Lately we've been dreaming more and more about our move to Canada.

So there it is, a boring update.  Not sure it's the breath of life I was going for, but I'm making dinner too (one that all of the kids are refusing to even try, as usual) and trying to figure out why I can't get another blog to point to the correct domain.  I used to be better at multi-tasking or perhaps that was just wishful thinking.   Gonna hit publish now and hope I feel inspired to keep this thing alive.  We will see....

September 10, 2013

What homeschooling looks like when you are planning a trip to Disney

We are those crazy people that take a trip to Disney every few years.  We've been more times now than is reasonable for a family that does not live in Orlando, but we do love those theme parks.

Since all of the kids are old enough to appreciate more than just the rides, I am preparing them by reading the original Grimm Brother's fairy tales and the tales of Brer Rabbit before bed each night.  With Geshtro, I am reading Tom Sawyer.  He also recently finished The Sword in the Stone. With Dimples, I am reading the Disney Fairies books.  I plan to read Mary Poppins as well.  That may be all I can fit in before our trip, as far as reading goes.

We also took a trip to The Wren's Nest, the home of author Joel Chandler Harris, who wrote the Brer Rabbit stories.  While there, the kids were questioned about their knowledge of the Civil War.  It's something we've briefly talked about, but not really delved into.  I thought now was as good a time as any to learn something new.  I found a book we had on our shelves about Frederick Douglass which Geshtro is reading.  He pointed out to me that his life "didn't seem too bad for a slave".  This sent off some warning bells in my head, so we have been supplementing that text with his Wikipedia entry.  Also I found one of his autobiographies for the Kindle is free.  He'll be reading that one next for a first hand account of a slave's life.

The two books that Geshtro are reading have led to some discussions about the term negro and other more derogatory terms.  He wasn't familiar with those words, so after an explanation we talked more about current language that is still used and it's effects on the people it is aimed towards.

Tom Sawyer has sent us off to re-listen to The Radio Adventures of Doctor Floyd and the episode where they are transported into the book.  In one episode Dr. Steve says he thought Tom Sawyer was a song by Rush.  This, of course, has us looking up the video on YouTube.  Geshtro wanted to know if the song or the book came first and after explaining that, we found this little blurb of information about the song.

In the December 1985 Rush Backstage Club newsletter, drummer and lyricist Neil Peart said:
" Tom Sawyer was a collaboration between myself and Pye Dubois, an excellent lyricist who wrote the lyrics for Max Webster. His original lyrics were kind of a portrait of a modern day rebel, a free-spirited individualist striding through the world wide-eyed and purposeful. I added the themes of reconciling the boy and man in myself, and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be - namely me I guess".

 It's more than just history that we are learning here though.  In preparation for the walking that we will do while at Disney, we have begun taking family walks.  This necessitated our buying new tennis shoes for each of the kids.  Up to this point, our kids have mostly worn Crocs or other various slip-on types of shoes.  They were all pretty ignorant about how to tie shoelaces because of this.  So we have been working on those skills as well.  Besides shoes, we are also creating a new habit of family togetherness and fitness.

On this trip we will able to take advantage of the free dining plan, so we have set up several dining reservations.  To get ready for this, we talk daily about proper table manners and etiquette around meals that are not prepared as they are used to or that they do not like, and how to handle those situations.  This is a big one at our house since SweetPea is allergic to milk and I've been making more and more vegan meals.  Many new foods are being introduced and old favorites are being adjusted.  There is a lot of complaining at mealtimes.

And these are just a few of the ways we are getting ready for our trip and learning from the experience.

September 9, 2013

The Wren's Nest

The Wren's Nest is the home of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the collection of Brer Rabbit stories.  I'd been wanting to visit his home for a while since the kid's are big fans of Song of the South and the ride based on the movie at Disney.  We visited the museum in Eatonton a couple of years ago.  For this trip, we got a group together and booked a storyteller as well as a tour of his house.

Our storyteller

The Tar Baby

Mr. Harris' desk at the AJC

Brer Bear

Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit

Our tour guide


July 12, 2013

Summer book - The One and Only Ivan

We are reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  I found it when I was looking for books similar to Wonder.  I wouldn't say it's similar, other than the reading level, but they both have very interesting covers.  I don't know who came up with the phrase "Never judge a book by it's cover."  That's silly.  I will almost always pick up a book that catches my eye.  That's how I found my favorite author of all time.  How could you not pick up a book that looks like this?  Although, the updated cover is even better.

So Ivan is a gorilla and this story is written from his point of view.  It's a fictional story, but it's based on a real gorilla.  You've probably heard of him, especially if you are in Atlanta since he lived at our zoo for 16 years.  He died last August at the age of 50.  Before he was at Zoo Atlanta, he lived in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington.  His real story is fascinating and you can read the highlights at the Zoo Atlanta website.

Another story within the book is about Jambo, a gorilla that stood over a boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure at a zoo.  He was badly hurt, but while he lay unconscious, Jambo protected him.

We are only a short way into the book, but it's inspiring a lot of good discussions.  Do animals know when they are in a zoo or a mall?  Do they miss their natural habitats?  Is it o.k. for humans to put animals on display?  What does the sentence, "A good zoo is how humans make amends." mean?  And what does it mean when Stella (the elephant) smiles sadly in response to Bob's (the dog) question about why she and Ivan aren't in a zoo?

Kids ask the most amazing questions.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest with them.

July 8, 2013

Fourth at a lake

We hadn't been to the lake house in two years so when the opportunity arose we jumped at the chance. The girls and I were just coming off an intense week staying at my parent's house and I had one day to get things together before we were off again for a three day trip to Lake Sinclair.

Things didn't start off very smoothly.  It was pouring rain when we dropped off B, FunnyGirl, and the dog at the marina so they could take the pontoon across to the house.  It would be another 45 minutes before the rest of us joined them by driving around the lake.  The rain had stopped, but the water at the house wasn't working.  It was already 4pm, would we be able to get someone to come out there this late in the day?  If not, were we willing to stay the night with no working bathroom facilities?  We had plenty of water to drink so that wasn't an issue.  We got the well pump guys on the phone and they said they could be there in a couple of hours, but depending on the problem they might not be able to fix it.  We decided to stick it out.  Good thing we did too.  It was a simple fix (though they had to work in a downpour) and we had water again by 7:30.   Yay!!  Still we had already talked to the kids about the possibility of going to the bathroom outdoors.  Surprisingly, none of them was against the idea.  I think they might have even been bummed when they never got the chance to try it out.

We had a few more mishaps, including B falling off the dock but fortunately there was nothing more serious than a couple of bruises.

Check out those new swimming skills!
SweetPea loves water.

Max enjoys the lake from the dock these days.

The rain continued off and on for the whole trip, but when it cleared the skies were magnificent.  When it wasn't raining we got to swim or go out on the boat.  When it was, we got to watch as the storms moved across the lake.  Once the winds were so strong we had to struggle the shut the doors.

Sometimes we swam in the rain too.

Our second day we were joined by B's mom and step-dad.  The girls got to go fishing then.  Dimples caught two little ones and FunnyGirl snagged one right before we had to go.  We don't keep them because we don't eat them.  Letting them go is just as much fun as catching them, I've been told.

It was the Fourth of July, but we didn't go out onto the lake to watch fireworks.  We could see plenty from the porch and the kids weren't that interested anyway.  I think they are a bit spoiled by Disney fireworks that are synchronized with music and water.

Chillin' while we wait for the rain to pass.

Boats are perfect for napping.
Swings too.
SweetPea is getting used to our constant travels.  She can be very clingy when she sees me, but she's getting better at recognizing her grammas.  Granny got about two hours of her all to herself while I got a much needed break.  

Photo by Granny

 There is always plenty of cool stuff to see at a lake.

As usual while we were there B and I started talking about what it would be like to live at the lake.  It's not really a possibility right now, but maybe one day.  At least we can visit whenever we want.

June 29, 2013

What homeschooling looks like when you aren't in your own space

I could probably do a whole series on what homeschooling looks like with the various stages of a baby.  I don't really have time though, because of the baby.  I've got just a minute or two before she really loses it as it is.

This week has been particularly complicated because we are staying with my parents, who also happen to be taking care of my Gramma.  She recently had a stroke and is trying to get back onto her feet.  There is a lot of drama around all of that and unfortunately most of the burden for her care falls to my aunt who lives with her.  This aunt never had kids and isn't used to dealing with someone who is dependent (not to mention stubborn as an ox.)  Anywho...

Another of my aunts is also here for the week.  She's visiting her mom (Gramma) and also giving my girls swimming lessons.  So it's a jam packed house and a jumbled mess of early mornings (at least for us), swimming afternoons, community dinners (all vegan so far!), and too late nights.  My kids aren't used to having to go to bed early enough to accommodate an 8am wakeup.  Four days in now and I've got some cranky kids, a cranky me, and some cranky parents/aunts/gramma who are learning how to deal with new situations from the stroke.

Did I mention a cranky baby?  She already doesn't want me to put her down (ever) in this strange house.  We've been spending several nights a week here for the entire month, but she is clearly not as comfortable here as she is at home.  The last two nights she screamed for a while really late after everyone had gone to bed.  This alarms my parents, but I'm used to it.  She did this a lot at our house.  It's just the first time they've had to experience it.  I tried to tell them it wasn't pleasant.  Unfortunately, we have to stick it out to get the swim lessons completed.  Maybe tonight will be better.

So what homeschooling looks like right now is all of us trying to deal with situations that we are not comfortable in and don't want to be doing.  We will be here another few days and then have holiday plans of our own.  By the end of it all we may need a full week to decompress.  I went to my very first group therapy on Friday and one of of the moms asked me what is was like to be home with the kids all of the time.  For the most part it's just our normal lives and we don't know anything different.  However,  we each have our own space and routines.  The more we are away, the easier it is to see just how important they are, not just for me.  The kids need this space too.  FunnyGirl is especially struggling and I see a lot of myself in her.   Even SweetPea wants her toys, her familiar rooms, and her daddy.

I think sometimes I forget that kids are just as complex as adults.   You can't just throw them into things and expect them to act perfectly.  And they can't always explain what it is that is bugging them.  I know plenty of adults that can't do that either.