Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Learning Through Play...

I have been having a hard time lately. My energy level has been really down and things have just been going on where I feel that I haven't been giving focused energy on homeschooling. That's certainly not to say that learning has not been going on constantly at our house - but just that I have felt in a bit of a funk. We have read a lot. Chase has read to me quite a bit. Lex has had an interest in trying to read as well. I guess what it is that I usually have some sort of fun something to do - and usually everyone loves to jump in and do it with me.

Today was just one of those slow days. John didn't have a whole lot to do today so he was home. Brianna and Lex played for most of the day in her room and just seemed to be having a great time. They had all the doll stuff out and stuffed animals. I later found that they were playing "school" and in the course of this "play" Brianna showed Lexi how to do the 5x's table. She used all kinds of stickers and they colored and made pictures. They even had some old workbook type books that they did 1/4 of the pages (I think one was Social Studies ;-) and colored and read a Dover Coloring book on Fairy Tales.

Chase built a "submarine" out of a Discovery Toy building set and said the best part of his day was playing catch with Dad. He helped rake and bring in wood. All the kids had the bunnies out today. The weather was cool but a bit nicer so they played outside quite a bit. They noticed that some chickadees have been hanging out at the blue bird box they made and are hoping that someone will make a nest there.

Lex watered the potatoes and onions that we planted in the garden.

Oh and they watched a Wallace and Gromit DVD that came in the mail today.

Within all this one could look at them and think they are just "playing". But they do so much with play. Sometimes I think this is what many kids are missing with the early pre-school and such. Free time that is available to them to explore is a key component of growth and discovery. I sometimes feel that I went through all those years of public school and college and still don't know what I am good at - or what I want to do. Maybe being a homeschool mom is what I was meant to be. What if all those years of public school were preparation for helping kids discover their passions.

We had a good day - and it is nice to watch them all grow and learn and play. I am always amazed when I look over their day and see the depth of their play - the seriousness of their endeavors, whatever they may be and the way in which they simply love life!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Lego Playing Google Leaders...

A recent article by TIME on the leaders of Google made me smile. Check out the article opening...

TIME's Adi Ignatius got the Google triumvirate of Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page to sit for a talk around a table covered with Lego pieces, for which they have a known fondness, during a break at Google's recent sales conference in San Francisco. Page, who as a student built an ink-jet printer out of Lego bricks, is snapping pieces together to make a kind of endlessly ascending staircase; Brin is working on a robot. Schmidt seems too grownup for this.


BRIN: I was hoping to build a Lego nuclear reactor, but I think I have a bazooka-wielding robot.

PAGE: Hey, I know. Let's build Eric out of Legos.


See and all this time I thought Chase wasn't really listening while playing with Legos ;-) This is the latest creation an "International Space Station", complete with green alien and lizard?? We were reading the book Space Station Science - life in free fall by Marianne J. Dyson and LIFE in Space. Apparently inspiring the creation.

Actually I knew he really was listening and have figured out that especially times where he is supposed to be quiet ( like in meeting) he will be playing with something and you don't think he is really listening but then later on he will come out with something profound about whatever was going on around him. Legos are a good thing...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Learning Compassion

Yesterday we all had a lesson that none of us will forget. It is amazing the things that happen in everyday life that make you change and grow.

After our church meeting on Sunday, it was our turn to drive home an elderly man who attends meeting. I was alone with my three children, as my husband was at a brothers retreat weekend. As is our custom, we took Bob out to lunch. As we were sitting in the restaurant, Chase notes that the man sitting in the wheelchair in front of the hotel next door did not have any ankles. He kind of giggled a bit and this became for me a lecture on how one should be thankful that we all have legs and healthy bodies. We watched this man for a bit, and he seemed really close to the very busy main road and seemed to be struggling.

We finished our lunch, got everyone in the car and as I was about to drive past the hotel, I looked at the man and all of the sudden felt that he really needed help. So I pulled in and stopped and went and asked him. He did not have legs, had a bunch of things in his coat, a bag at his feet and looked a little worse for wear. He explained that he was meeting someone at the top of the hill and was trying to wheel himself up. This is in Baltimore - the traffic is horrendous and there was not much side space for him to travel on. He was going about 1/2 mile up the road. I was really concerned - I wanted to help and my first thought was just take him in the van. But I felt that fleeting concern that here I was with three children and an elderly man in my care... I often want to help people that I see looking for a ride and such, but tend to get concerned with safety when I have my children with me - or am alone.

So, I went in and asked the lady at the desk at the hotel about this man - and she was very unconcerned. I expressed that he was struggling and right at the entrance to the hotel where cars are turning and wondered if he was someone that they saw often. She really didn't have much to say, didn't seem to want to help. So I just followed my gut instinct and went back out and asked him if I could take him in the van. He seemed so relieved that I would do this. So I get the kids to move to the back seat, and this man gets in to my very high van, slowly and painstakingly, refusing my attempts to help. He said he maneuvered himself all the time - and wheels himself all over, but was just having trouble with this hill.

The kids sat in silence as I drove....and believe me, they are never silent! The man proceeded to tell them (and me & Bob) how he had lost his legs and just had the most positive outlook on life despite his infirmity. He said 'Life is hard without legs...life is hard with legs for that matter...you just need to keep a positive outlook and always keep pressing forward."

He was thankful that I stopped and said most people don't notice or care. I told him that sometimes for me it is fear that holds me back. Just because someone is in a wheel chair, doesn't mean they don't have a gun in their pocket! And especially being in Baltimore - I am not local; I don't really know where I am going. I just felt in this instance that it was ok.

The kids did not stop talking about it all day. Lexi said she thought it was scary that I took a stranger in our car. The kids watched as he struggled to get in and out of the van. We have a conversion van and so it is rather high up. He was adamant that he would be fine - and as we left he mentioned that the only thing he has not tried to do without legs was to swim - and maybe he would try. Brianna said it was really nice that we helped him and she was glad that we did. It was the first thing she told her Dad when he called. Chase noted how sad it was to have lost your legs. (No more giggling about missing ankles from him again, I'm sure)

The thing about it is that I think it did more for us, than it did for him. I have been having worries about money -and feeling lack. I had been worrying about going to lunch because we really didn't have the money, but it has become a bit of a habit to take Bob out to lunch and I can tell he enjoys being with us and enjoys the company - so I didn't want to not go. Being with this handicapped man - with such a tremendous spirit, just made me feel such gratitude. It made me thankful for the opportunity to help, because sometimes in life you feel that everything you do has selfish motives, or will benefit yourself in some way. It made me thankful for all that we have...and I certainly did not feel any "lack".

The Bible notes that "men have entertained angels unaware" - and there are times when I wonder if people are placed in your life for a reason. If angels do really give you a message of hope. If these are things that are meant to help you to see the big picture.

I do know this - this will be something that all of us will remember for a long time.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Homeschooling and Stay-at-Home Motherhood

Today John and I had a discussion about money - and worries.... As he is just starting his new business, it takes time for things to get going. Luckily we have saved a bit over the years - and are doing ok. However, I am feeling a bit sad at the fact that I seem to be telling the kids that we "don't have the money" to do this or that, very frequently. I was thinking of taking them to a play at our favorite local theater York Little Theater but even the cost of the tickets, which is comparable to going to a movie, yet far more interesting, is more than we can do this weekend. So, we wound up renting some movies using our Blockbuster gift card from Christmas - and snuggling up together with comforters and ice cream. This actually worked out better because Brianna really wanted to audition for the play that is going on at YLT - Robin Hood, but it came at a time that was really busy for us.

So - in our discussion of "how do other people do it"... we almost always come back to - "well both people work". And starting your own business may not be as financially difficult if one person is providing a steady income and health insurance while the other gets established. I know there are other homeschooling moms, who work or do home businesses and they amaze me. I do assist with college courses - for money, which helps, but there are days like today when I don't feel that it is enough.

I was reading tonight on the New American Dream website and find it really inspiring. There is an art to staying home. A savings both financial and ecological. Would you really want to cook from scratch and find things on sale, if you were working full time and trying to do it all? Would you really be trying to find interesting, cheap (or free) fun excursions for everyone if you were working full time? Would homeschooling be as free and unstructured if you faced the time constraints that one has while working? I try and remind myself that even when we don't feel that we have the material things, or extra money for entertainment, we have time and creativity that we may not have developed if financial concerns were not an issue.

I am working on not being grumpy about it. Sarah Ban Breathnach states often in her book that there is a fine line between abundance and lack. You decide each day which one you want to inhabit. There is so much abundance here and it is a good character growing experience to understand that "All we have is all we need". And God really does provide - I am certain of that.

I took Lexi with me today to the natural food store. This one has a great bulk section where you bag you items yourself (pastas, grains and things) and you have to write out the bin number on a little twist tie tag that is attached to the bag. Lex did a great job of figuring out what numbers went on the tags and writing them for me. We then went home and made homemade pizza - which was really good. Finished planting some more seeds for our garden and sat down to our movies and ice cream.

So in reality - there was much abundance in today. And despite my worries of "lack" we all got a treat - chocolate bars, Big Sky Granola and organic coffee for me ;-)

I am certain that when the kids look back they will not feel deprived - but rather full of abundance of time and interesting things that we do together and I am thankful that I am home with them sharing their days.

Although I will not be opposed to John's business taking off... and I will look back at this post and remember that reliance on God and a bit of creativity - and not money is the key to abundance...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Spring is on the way!

Yesterday the weather was absolutely beautiful! Those poor school kids stuck inside! My kids were my helpers as I continued to paint the garden fence - which I never got to finish last year. The great thing is that they love to help paint and with this job it doesn't matter how much paint they spill - it is all outside! I wish I had some photos of yesterday. With the painting and Chase in his bathing suit, covered in mud making a mud "brain".... Well, I tilled one half of the garden and last night the kids planned what they wanted to plant this year. We have some potatoes from my friend Jenny's farm - Swissland Acres, sugar snap peas, lettuce, green onions, carrots, beets, arugula (or rocket as per Jamie Oliver). We headed off to Home Depot today to get some more seeds. Inspired by a seed variety called "Bloody Butcher" tomatoes, I decided to get stuff to start some seeds indoors. The girls picked watermelon, little yellow pear tomatoes (inspired by the book written by a fellow Homeschool mom, Demian Elainé Yumei), tomatillos (love that salsa verde!), sunflowers, larkspur and lavender. I added cilantro, chives, basil and other tomatoes. The girls all had fun, planting the seeds. Hopefully they will grow out in the sunroom until it is time for them to go out into the garden. Lexi also wants to plant a tree for Arbor Day - and we decided on a plum tree... so we will be figuring out when and where to plant it in the yard.

My other errand involved trying to fix the bathroom sink. I bought a new facet - and then found out the sink needed to be replaced. And of course there were hoses that John needed that didn't come with the facet. So, back I go to Home Depot - this time with Chase, who assured me he would help me find the correct hoses. (And he did!) He didn't want me to get help from the Home Depot people - but said “Just hold me up and I will find the right one". Amazingly, I came home with the right ones! Chase wanted to see all the tools, and we must have spent an hour, where he just walked through the power tool section, looked at all the interesting tools and noted all the prices on the things he liked. He noted too that they were "expensive" which was good because he has a habit of taking John's tools and leaving them in weird places. John got him his own tool box and he has quite a few tools in them. He makes all kinds of things. The other day he nailed some broken pieces of the girl’s bunk bed into an L-shape and it became a "wooden leg". Perfect for playing pirate.

I always find myself amazed at how children really do follow what interests them passionately. I was getting bored in Home Depot with the tools. I like to get in, get what I need and get out. I hate to go back for things that John needs because I always wind up getting the wrong thing. Now I know to just bring Chase along ;-) Chase is so knowledgeable about tools and fixing things - I remember taking him to the zoo a few years back and they were doing some electrical work. He was more interested in checking out what the electricians were doing. He would squat down beside them and they would usually tell him about what they were doing. He sat alongside John when he wired the upstairs of our last house...and followed the electrician around, when he wired our pool this summer. He just absorbs it all. I am sure that whatever he does in his future he will have these amazing skills (like his father;-) to fix anything! Imagine he was instead bored to death in school. These are the days where I am so thankful for unschooling....

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Great Backyard Birdcount

We all had a great time participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Our feeders had not been full for a bit so it took the birds a little bit to find us. We made some homemade suet which so far attracted Starlings and a Grackle. The kids really enjoyed trying to figure out what birds were which. They seem to have a good sense of the birdfeeder regulars, such as the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Chickadees, etc. Since the bird count we have seen several kinds of finches as well. We spent a Saturday at the Nixon Park nature center where they had all kinds of bird activities for the backyard bird watch weekend. We watched a presentation on cavity dwellers and the kids made bluebird boxes. We have since mailed one to Grandma and have put one up in the pine trees and one near the front garden. The kids are excited because they learned that they can look at the birds and it shouldn't disturb the nest. We also are going to participate in Project Feeder Watch through Cornell. We just received our lab materials in the mail and are ready to go.

Chase has a special thing with birds. It is one of the activites where he actually will sit still ;-) For him, this is a great outlet for his interest. During the course of the park day, the kids made Bluebird Boxes: