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The Pile of Happy

We have a favorite breakfast around here. I’m inspired to share it with you after reading this article about Breakfast Bowls.

One of the minor reasons we choose to homeschool is nutrition. I don’t want to be handing my kids a muffin and a yogurt and rushing them out the door in the morning. I want them to wake up, eat a good breakfast, and get excited for their school day. Over breakfast we talk about our plans for the day. Some of us are more grumpy in the morning, some wake up ready to rock the day. But we all wake up hungry.

Our family’s version of the Breakfast Bowl is simple. We call it a Pile of Happy.

Pile of Happy

 

  1. Take a potato. Bake it, microwave it, boil it…whatever works for you. Squish it up in a bowl with some butter.
  2. Cook 1-2 eggs – poached, sunnyside up, over easy. Whatever. The key here is an intact yolk. We like our yolks on the slimy side. You cook your eggs the way you want them.
  3. Put the eggs on the potato.
  4. Add cheese, salt, and pepper. Mash it all around so the eggs, cheese, butter, and potato meld into a mixed-up mash.

That’s the basic. The most simple. But you can add whatever to it and make it even happier. Some of our additions have been (or frequently are):

  • Hot sauce
  • Sour cream
  • Cottage cheese
  • Bacon bits
  • Sausage
  • Ham
  • Fresh tomato
  • Spinach
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Leftovers that will work well
  • Anything else we are inspired to add

Why the name? At one point we made this for breakfast. We looked at the sunny egg in the bowl, surrounded by cheese and sighed.

“That just looks like a pile of happy.”

And so it is.

 

Minecraft

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Minecraft is the most amazing video game. It is creative, it teaches math, you can recreate interpretations of famous monuments… And increasingly I cringe when it comes up in conversation with Arthur.

I’ll put it out there right now – full disclaimer – that I don’t like video games. At all. I can play a video game for about 5 minutes and then I am so bored I would rather be doing just about anything at all. There have been a few that held my attention (Sim City…) but for the most part I haven’t ever really been interested in video games of any kind. I see that they have value, but I don’t like what I see them doing to my kids’ brains.

We have our checklists and for the most part they work…but Minecraft is insidious. I was all on board because Math! Building! Creative Play! All in a video game, but better than a shooting game or whatever. But now…

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I’ve been watching Arthur carefully for the past year as Minecraft, in particular, sunk its claws into him. I’ve watched his dynamic relationships with several of his friends reduce to almost exclusive Minecraft conversations. I’ve sat through fit after fit after fit, with the screaming and the shaking and the threatening, because we didn’t get this update or he got a mere 20 minutes of game time or this building wasn’t working. I’ve tailored his school projects because the only thing he is interested in, really deeply interested in, in Minecraft. I’ve listened as he has, weeping, told me he feels like Minecraft ate his brain and he wants to stop playing…and watched him drop everything to be back in the cube world hours later. I’ve heard him say “I feel like my body just needs to play Minecraft…”

This is what addiction looks like. I’ve had addicted friends. I kicked the nicotine addiction more than 10 years ago and sometimes I still have my moments where I miss those cigarettes and “feel like my body needs” just one light up again. This is not okay. I am scared for my kid. I think we are riding the line between obsession and addiction, and I know it’s an easy slide down into dealing with a full scale addiction. Right now, my gut is telling me I need to protect my kid to the best of my ability.

So now he hates me because we shut off Minecraft for the summer. When we made this decision and communicated it to him, he said we are ripping out a part of his soul. When we turn it back on in September it will be with limits and restrictions. Probably lots of them to start with as we find healthy ways to negotiate this Minecraft world.

I’ve started my own research. I found this interesting article by MineMum, and I will continue to explore how we can have Minecraft re-enter our home as an educational ally and game, using it to play and learn without this over-the-top obsession and addiction. I’d love to hear from other people about how they manage video game obsession and/or addiction in their families.

We have had some interesting conversations about moderation, dopamine, brains, addiction, and marketing. Hopefully this helps us build a framework for similar conversations as Arthur gets older.

But in the meantime, I’m going to be the worst mom ever.

 

 

Garden Day

I love the idea of gardening, but the truth is that I am not much of a gardener. I like getting in the dirt and I feel really good when I have that connection with the earth, and I’ve had small successes over the years. However, more and more I realize that this is not where my talents are. Canning? Oh, I’ve got that wrapped up. Sewing? Knitting? No problems at all. But gardening eludes me. And here at the new house, we don’t really have good gardening space. Several lovely trees surround our yard, leaving not really enough sun for most garden needs.

But it is so important to me that the kids know how to garden, where food comes from, and the joy of getting down in the dirt and later eating the subsequent foods.

Enter Grassroots Garden.

 

 

Locally we have a volunteer worked, 2.5 acre garden, that grows produce for the local food bank. In 2014 they grew 70,000 pounds of food that was donated to hungry people in the area. That’s a lot of fruits and veggies. There is a beautiful outdoor kitchen, a compost demonstration area, and lots of education and workshop activities. There is always lots for helping hands to do.

At the end of last summer, my family and some of our homeschooling friends decided to start volunteering at Grassroots. It has been one of the best decisions I have made as a homeschool parent.

  • Science? Check.
  • Life skills? Check.
  • Social time? Check.
  • Outside time? Check.
  • Service and volunteer hours? Check?
  • Physical activity? Check.
  • Math? Check.

We have gotten to do all kinds of fun things, and several not-so-fun things. We’ve weeded, hauled and spread leaves and wood chips, planted cabbages, learned the components of making compost and mixed up 150 gallons of compost with our hands, harvested chard (so much chard!), cauliflower, celery, tomatoes… The kids work and talk with their friends. They get bored and wander off and we pull them back in.

Mostly my kids LOVE being at the garden. Sometimes it is boring. Sometimes it is cold and rainy. Regardless, they always leave the garden glowing, feeling good about the day, even when it is maybe a little hard or boring. We can take home a little bit of whatever we harvest for our own eating and we enjoy planning what we can make with it. There is a 4 pound cauliflower sitting in the fridge as I type this.

I forgot one important thing I check off. My self-care. I’m outside, helping, gardening, talking to other homeschool parents. I’m not good at gardening on my own, but with direction from the knowledgeable folks running the garden and managing the details, I’m perfectly happy. I get dirty. My hands smell like earth. I’m a better parent.

When we started this project, it seemed like a pretty good idea. I was so wrong. It was an absolutely brilliant idea.

I’m off to look up cauliflower recipes now.

Check The List

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We all know the screen-time battles. The begging, whining, cajoling, screaming…whatever. The internal decision; If they are on the Wii I can cook dinner with out interruption…have they had any exercise? Has their behavior earned screen time? Honestly, I have a pretty deep dislike of video games, even when I see their value. I don’t play them – when I try I have about a 5 minute tolerance and then I am so bored that I can’t even focus on the game. But the kids love them. And Arthur wants to design video games, so playing them is actually a part of that process. Not to mention that possibility of cooking dinner while they play…

A couple of years ago I read this article about limiting screen time by making it “unlimited”. It made a lot of sense to me, and it took the pressure off me always being the decision maker, or setting an arbitrary time to play Wii, or even engaging in the debate.

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How this works:

Each kid has a list of what they need to accomplish each day. These lists look pretty extensive, but remember that as homeschoolers, they have much of each day at home to do whatever is on their list. Also, one of the things everyone needs to learn is time management, and this certainly helps with that.

The basics look a lot like the list from that article, especially on the weekends. After we had used the basics for a couple of months, I realized that I had an excellent tool to get some school structure and requirements into each day. So the basics are augmented with the school work that we need to do each day.

When we started, the list was pretty simple, and only Arthur had one. Cecilia was soon interested too, and we make each checklist specific to the kid; where they are at in schoolwork, skill building, etc. The list should be doable over the day, but not too easy. You can’t finish it if you spend half the morning reading Garfield. If you are up and at ’em early in the day you can finish by late afternoon, no problem.

In the beginning, it looked like this:

  • Get dressed, brush teeth and hair
  • Check in about the day
  • Living room clean up
  • Play room clean up
  • Exercise or outside play
  • Quiet time/Read something new
  • Do something helpful
  • Do something creative

We tried it out. And results!! Kids got dressed in the morning and Arthur stopped griping about cleaning his room. I stopped having to arbitrate screen time: he knew if he had checked everything off or not.

Two years later we have very different lists. I’ve added to them and taken naps off (sob). These week days they have to:

  • Get dressed, brush teeth and hair
  • Check in about the Day
  • Tidy their bedroom and school room (The Lab)
  • Clear their dishes
  • Exercise and/or outside play
  • Do a chore of the day
  • Earn “school points”

Chore of the Day: I removed “Do something helpful” and instead focused on a chore of the day. This is an age-appropriate chore that each kid can do with little help from me. “Do something helpful” had turned into them demanding a “helpful thing” from me, and then I’d have to make something up. Usually they would show up after I had done all the major chores of the day and I had nothing age-appropriate left to offer. So now the two older kids each have assigned week day chores; Monday they vacuum (Arthur does a whole room, Cecilia does the living room rug), Thursday they work together to take the sheets off their beds and wash them. No chore is difficult, but they need to be done. No chore is essential to me keeping the house clean so if they don’t get done it isn’t a big deal. I don’t have to make up chores every day, things are getting clean, kids are building life skills.

School Points: I want the kids to take initiative in their school work. I want them to go out and find things they want to learn about. And I need them to be doing some work most days that I can point to when it comes to testing time and know they will be just fine. When we started this with Arthur he was 2nd grade(ish). He was a competent reader. So I just put “Schoolwork” on the list and that was okay. But he’s getting so much more independent in what he can do. We can’t cover every subject in a day, and I want us to have lots of room to discover rabbit trails in our school and just play. So now we have a list of possible school subjects: reading, math, writing, science, handwork, Scout achievements, cooking, project specific work (related to whatever we are currently delving into). Each kid needs a certain number of school points each day – the number needed varies depending on the day and what we have going on that day. More points on days we are just home, less when we are out and about.

Arthur needs 20 minutes of a subject for one point, and he must have one writing point and one math point. Cecilia needs 10 minutes for her point, with reading and math being required. In this way, if we delve into Climate Science for an hour, we knock out a bunch of points. Or if we hunt and peck, reading a history story here, memorizing a poem there, knitting a few rows…that’s okay too. There’s structure, but it is structure that moves with our day. Just the way we like it.

On weekends the list reverts back to basics – do something creative, play outside, read something new…

But what about Simon? At 3 1/2 he wanted his own checklist. I thought about what he could do on his. It’s simple. It has pictures.

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Help Mama and Papa
  • Clean the bedroom
  • Pick up your toys in the lab
  • Exercising
  • Clear your dishes
  • Schoolwork

I don’t really care if he checks it all off everyday yet. He’s learning the system and he feels big, having a checklist like his “Bubbie”.

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Last Thing! Good behaviors! The most recent addition is a daily behavior point. Each kid has their behavior Everest. So we chose the thing that needs the most focus. Each day to complete the magical list, they need to show that they have made an effort to address that behavior point. Simon has “Good Listening” on his list. Cecilia is working on “Using her strong and clear voice” (no whining!!). Arthur is working on thinking about how other people feel and responding with kindness.

I’m not sure how this part will work, or if it will work. But it’s worth a shot…anything to curtail the whining voice, really.

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That’s it. The system we have designed. It looks elaborate. It is elaborate. But it was put together piece by piece in a way that works for us, and when it is in place it fades to simple. It is all written down, the elaborate reduced to a laminated piece of card stock. It seems to work really well for the kids. A couple times a month they are ON IT. They knock that list out by 2:00 and fry their brains with whatever Wii game all afternoon. But more days than that, they get involved and busy with life and just don’t get to everything. And that can be a disappointment, but they can’t blame me (I do make a good-faith effort every day to help them stay on track).

What about your family? What ways do you limit or un-limit screens in your house?

 

Sabbatical

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We are back. I didn’t mean to take a sabbatical. It just happened. Things got crazy. The computer for slower. Inspiration flagged. No apologies here — life happened. It’s still happening.

We still homeschool. The kids are ever bigger. The baby is 3 1/2 and won’t let me call him a baby anymore. We are done with diapers (*cheering*).

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Arthur is still dancing, sill loving Scouts, still reading obsessively. He’s getting ready for the third grade assessment test we do as homeschoolers here. I’ve looked it over and he will do just fine if he keeps his cool. He delights in reminding me that he’s about to be 10 (you know… Really soon… Like in September).

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Cecilia is recently 6. When I started this blog she was just newly 1 and barely walking. She’s in love with dance and sewing and crafting. She’s the most powerful person I know. She’s right on the brink of independent reading. The change between 5 and 6 for here has been amazing.

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Simon…oh Simon. He’s not a baby anymore. He’s equally comfortable playing Star Wars and battling his brother with a light saber, or he can put on his favorite blue velvet dress and be a princess with his sister. He’s just comfortable being him. He gets really frustrated when he is smaller, shorter, and slower than his siblings. But I’m okay with that. He gets to be my baby for just a little while longer (even if he rejects the word “baby”).

We moved to a bigger house and we have an entire, wonderful, huge room just for toys and chaos and learning. We are calling it The Lab. Having all my school stuff in one place is amazing and inspires me to new learning adventures with the kids. I also have a proper sewing room – the room at the last house was a glorified closet. It’s been a welcome change, this bigger house. So many good things.

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So here we are. All happy. All growing. All learning a lot. All the time.

Welcome back to me and I will see you around the interwebs.

Reason Three: Play Happens

Here, in the long and drawn out, slowly revealed, reasons we home school is reason number three. I keep these percolating in the back of my mind as each busy day evolves. It just takes a while, with three homeschooled kids, other posts I want to write, a ballet recital coming up… to actually put words into form. 

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”

(O. Fred Donaldson)

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Reason Three: Play Happens (and I like to watch it happen)

It was school time. Such as it is in our house; time to gather for our morning circle and discuss what we hoped to do with our day. It wasn’t a very busy day, no errands until the late afternoon and everyone’s teeth were brushed. I was about to call the kids to the table when I realized I didn’t want to interrupt school time.

What?

They had set up an elaborately organized “book store” on and around our piano. There was even a jewelry section for Sister-Bug to buy or sell her jewelry. They were recommending books to each other and selling back and forth. I scrapped our circle time and handed them a stack of play money.

In the time we would have had “school”, they taught each other more math than I ever would have in a day. Brother-Bug carefully helped his Sister figure out which number was which. They were adding and making change and having a ball. I have no worksheet to point at what they learned. I won’t be testing them on this. It was just fun.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” (Fred Rogers)

Homeschooling allows us to see the rich possibilities in each moment because we aren’t bound by test requirements or the schedules and needs of 30 kids. Our play enriches our days and allows us to watch our kids develop skills that we can then expand in more in-depth (and possibly structured) ways.

Lately Toddler-Bug has been doing his best to be involved, so now they are all learning how to include a range of ages and talents in their games. Kids learn almost everything they really need to know – like working with that range of ages – while they play. The process everything. The explore concepts of all kinds and we may or may not know what they are working on.

We have been studying “real life superheroes” recently. People like Nelson Mandela or Clara Lemlich (I included a link there because you probably aren’t familiar with the indomitable Ms. Lemlich) who have used super powers like determination, compassion, and courage to change the world. Sister-Bug has been delighted by Clara Lemlich. She likes playing “factory bosses” with Papa-Bug. He plays the cruel factory boss opressing the workers at a garment factory. Sister-Bug is Clara and runs around screaming “STRIKE” and walking out until Papa-Bug caves and gives her better working conditions. In a unique twist, the two older kids raced into the living room mid-game. There was StarWars shooting sound effects coming from Brother-Bug. Sister-Bug jumps on the couch and declares: “You can’t get me with your Podracer! I am Clara Lemlich and I AM UN-CRUSHABLE!!!” It was…perfect. And totally weird. I can’t make this stuff up and I am so glad that I get to be the audience for their creativity.

Perhaps most importantly, childhood is such a fleeting moment of our lives. In the all-to-near future they will have jobs and college commitments and bills to pay and other responsibilities that structure their days. It happens. Right now, they have much of the time they need just to be. To play. To live fully in that world of amazing imagination where anything is possible. Our homeschooling honors that.

Want more reasons?

Reason One – A Hot Cup of Tea

Reason Two – School Scheduled Around Life

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P.S. If you want a great picture book about Clara Lemlich, check out Brave Girl by Michelle Markel.

Why We Are Teaching Equality

Here in Oregon there are many people working head to get Marriage Equality on the ballot – and passed – this year. Two years ago we were excited to see marriage equality pass in Washington, where Brother-Bug’s god-mommies live. I believe we live in a time where this issue will be wrapped up and equal marriage rights will be legalized before my kids are deciding if and who to marry.

But they are learning about this fight for equality now. And I believe it is an important part of our life lessons and homeschooling.

Marriage

They are still so young and they don’t really understand that things aren’t equal and just. I know it doesn’t make sense to them that one set of god parents can get married and one set can’t.

But I am showing them, by volunteering to collect signatures and other work for the marriage equality campaign, that justice and equality make a difference. That we must all contribute to that difference.

Here’s a reason we are teaching marriage equality…
It might not have occurred to them that our sets of god parents aren’t equal. They might have gone to a wedding of our queer friends without realizing that it wasn’t a just, equal, and legal wedding. They’re little. But just as I think it is essential that they spend some energy learning about the civil rights movement and Dr. King and how people have reached so high for the idea of equality – even if they are little and it doesn’t make sense yet – I think we also need to be clear that we aren’t done yet. The commitment to and struggle for equal rights is an ongoing one. And we participate in it because we believe everyone should be treated with justice and from a place of equal rights.

4 year old Brother-Bug with he and his god-mommies’ handprints. Love is love.

Another reason…
I might have a kid who grows up to be an LGBTQ person. I don’t know that yet and likely won’t for many years. But I know that the kids are learning about people all the time, and more importantly how people are perceived and treated by out culture. Even though our circles are rich with diversity and they are friends with people of all stripes… Well eventually they are going to notice the disparity between our circles and cultural norms. The miniscule number of queer characters in their books and movies. Off hand comments (“that’s so gay” for example) that degrade another individual’s dignity. These things will tell them in subtle ways that being on that LGBTQ party list is somehow wrong. And I hope that they also remember their parents telling them that we are going out signature gathering as a family because everyone deserves equal rights. I hope that they will remember that I fought for LGBTQ equality – and always will. And that they fought for it too.

One more reason…
There were kids who were dragged to the March on Washington because someone knew they should be there. It was history in the making. And what becomes history so quickly also becomes our children’s future. They should be there in these historical moments. Because someday a small child learning about the work done for equality will come across stories about how we made marriage legal for everyone. And they will ask an adult Brother-Bug or Sister-Bug about it. And they can say “yeah…I was there. I helped…”

Here’s to equal rights. For everyone.

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You don’t have to agree with any of this. I know that marriage equality is a controversial issue. I respect your right to your opinion. Please keep your comments kind and peacemaking. Mean spirited comments will be deleted.