Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Today's learning moments...

Today was a beautiful, unseasonably warm, exceptionally blustery fall day. I took the kids outside to play, and while I was rocking on the swing with Emmett, I looked down and noticed a Wooly Bear caterpillar near my feet. I called Max over to show it to him, and he bent down to examine it closely and said, "Can I touch it?" and I said, "Sure." He very gently felt the furry caterpillar's back. Then, "Can I hold him in my hand?" "Yes but be very careful - he is delicate and you don't want to squish him." So Max very carefully and gently picked him up, causing him to curl into a ball. Max placed him in the middle of his palm and said in a soft voice, "Hi, my name is Max." He held still long enough that the caterpillar became brave enough to start moving again and investigate his surroundings. We observed his face, eyes, and many feet, and he was nice enough to leave a tiny green pellet of poop on Max's arm, which was interesting. He crawled up and down both of our arms for awhile, and we enjoyed the tickly feeling. Max asked me what caterpillars eat and I said, "Well, I have a hypothesis." (Max learned about hypotheses from the show Dinosaur Train.) "I think that since he has green poop, he probably eats things that are green, like plants. We can look it up on the computer and learn more." I remembered I had purchased a little bug house kit to keep on hand for just such an occasion, so I went in the house and got it and brought it outside. We put the little guy in it with some grass and mulch (Max's idea) and brought him in the house, Googled "Wooly Bear caterpillars" and confirmed my hypothesis. We also learned that they hatch from eggs, and we saw pictures of Wooly Bears and of the Isabella Tiger moths they turn into. Max then included the caterpillar in the rest of his activities for the day. When Dinosaur Train came on, he placed the bug house where it had a view of the tv so that the caterpillar could watch it with him. When Daddy came home, Max told him, "I have a new friend, Dad! It's a caterpillar!" When he ate dinner, he put the bug house beside his plate. He wanted to sleep with the bug house in his bed, but I was able to convince him it would be a better idea to put him on the nightstand instead. We will either set him free tomorrow, or maybe we'll do some more research and create a more sophisticated place for him to live and keep him thru the winter so we can watch him make a cocoon and become a moth in the spring. We'll see.

Max studying his new friend.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In case you were wondering...

...this is what $64.52 worth of clothes from the thrift store looks like. Brands represented: Levi's, Children's Place, Gymboree, Osh Kosh, L.L. Bean, Gap, Old Navy, and Jumping Beans. There are 32 items of clothing here, so the average price is around $2. All are for my two boys, ages 4 and almost 1.

And my favorite find of the day is this adorable Christmas sweater vest, which was $1.

The very beginning of my path to choosing homeschooling was when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I knew immediately that I wanted to stay home and raise him, instead of leaving him with strangers all day and going to work. I had no idea how to make that happen financially, but I knew I would figure it out. I remember being terrified to tell my boss that I was pregnant because I knew the question to follow was going to be, "So what do you plan to do after the baby is born?" and I already knew the answer in my heart - and I knew it was one she wouldn't like.

The solution ended up being that I still work part time, but just a couple evenings a week and on Saturdays. This way I can work around my husband's work schedule and we don't have to worry about outside child care. This is a good balance for us, although it still leaves us with a lot less money coming in than we used to have on two full-time incomes, and now we are feeding twice as many people! I often hear other moms saying that they wish they could afford to stay home with their kids, but it's really not as hard as some would think. Our budget is pretty tight, but it works. I highly recommend the book, America's Cheapest Family by Steve and Annette Economides. (Yes that really is their last name.) I am definitely not as hardcore as they are, but this book does have tons of useful advice on stretching your money as far as possible, and implementing just a few of their strategies has really helped us. There is a whole section on shopping for clothes, which is what inspired me to start shopping at thrift stores. Sure, you have to hunt around a little, but you can find some great, barely-used, high-quality stuff. Because here's the thing: kids grow really fast. Sometimes they outgrow things they've never even had a chance to wear, or maybe only wore once or twice. And those are the things I hunt for.

Another piece of the Economides' advice I have tried to use is to make fewer trips to the grocery store each month, but buy more and stock up when you're there (so you don't have to go back again as soon). This is because for every time you walk into a grocery store, there will be a certain percentage of impulse buys. Fewer trips = less temptation and fewer impulse buys. I have found this to be very true for me, and this principle has definitely chopped a lot off of our grocery bill. They shop just once a month, but I have only been able to stretch it to about once every 2-3 weeks. The one area where I differ with them is that they are major coupon clippers and plot out their trips using store ads and buy only what's on sale. Personally, I'm just not that motivated. But at my Mother-in-law's insistence 2 years ago, I grudgingly began shopping at a store called Aldi and discovered that a) their prices are usually better than other stores' sale prices and b) their products are usually as good as or even better than the brand name stuff I used to buy. I truly have to credit Aldi with helping us balance our budget... I am a huge, huge fan.

I think bargain-hunting is a natural part of life for a homeschooling family, so I will occasionally be sharing great finds and things that have worked for me. There's a lot more where this came from...

Something I just came across...

The Voice

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
"I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong."
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What's right for you - just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.

-Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why? Part II

I have been thinking about it, and I have a few more "why's" to mention. Almost as strong as my excitement and enthusiasm for homeschooling is my distaste for the public school system. Both my husband and I agree that we are less than impressed with the public school educations we received. I remember finding most of my classes boring, tedious, and unchallenging. My younger brother, on the other hand, found it extremely challenging - he just couldn't physically sit still and focus - a problem that is often remedied nowadays with medication, but which I believe could also be remedied by just letting the poor kid MOVE throughout the day. I have read lots of stories of mothers who struggled to get their kids to sit still and listen, and then one day tried just letting them run around while being read to, and amazingly the kids were better able to answer questions about what they heard. They were actually able to focus and absorb the information better because their attention wasn't consumed by trying to be still. Having the flexibility to pick and choose tools and methods that will match my kids' individual learning styles, and allowing them the freedom to learn in whatever way is natural for them, was a very strong factor in my decision to homeschool.

My problem with the public school system is not with the teachers, but with the framework that they must work within. It's a system that was originally developed to create good, obedient assembly-line workers when the country was becoming industrialized. Not to teach people to think and love learning, but to teach them to respect authority and tolerate drudgery. There is little emphasis on innovation and creativity, rather, it's just a list of things some bureaucrats have decided kids must learn, and exactly when and in what order they should learn it. Little to no deviation is permitted. Teachers are under so much pressure to get their students to perform well on standardized tests, that the tests become the sole focus of everything, with the students cramming in tons of facts to be regurgitated and then quickly forgotten. This is not true learning. Many people are unhappy and frustrated with the current public school system, and it really baffles me when some of them think I'm crazy for deciding to reject it.

And so little of what is learned in school is actually useful in real life. I think kids should be able to function in the world after graduation; to do math, follow a budget, balance a checkbook. I know 18-year-olds who don't know how to cook themselves a meal or do their own laundry. What about acquiring marketable skills, or how to write a resume, or how to act at a job interview? I think the very most important thing a person needs to learn in their education is how to remain curious about the world, how to form questions and then research to find their answers, how to find ways to teach themselves what they need to know. Basically - that learning is not something that ends on graduation day.

I often say that the only thing I took with me from all of high school, that I use every day, is what I learned in 9th grade typing class. Well, that and my love of reading which stemmed from all the books I devoured in my free time. My very favorite school memory is of this sunny windowsill, in the back of the middle-school library, where I would hide out at lunchtime and enjoy some peace and solitude and escape into a good story. I remember actually feeling annoyed when my friends finally discovered my hiding spot, and then kept showing up there to talk to me!

Monday, October 4, 2010

This doesn't really inspire confidence...

I think it's a little sad that simply achieving "adequacy" is exciting enough to merit getting a banner to announce it!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tonight's dinner table conversation

So today we had our septic tank pumped. Max was fascinated by the great big truck in our driveway, and the whole process - we talked about the plumbing in the house and pipes under the ground and where things go, etc. At dinner, he often likes to share the happenings of his day with Daddy...

Max: "Guess what, Dad?"
Dad: "What?"
Max (very excitedly): "We saw a POOP TRUCK today!"