Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our High School Homeschool: Writing, Research, and Surviving a Flaky Mother. . .

Just to have a photo.
Around here, there are little flowers everywhere.

I wrote this this morning. It wasn't what I thought I'd be writing, but it just came out this way. The only way I am comfortable writing about our high school days is to do it as this sort of free-flowing story, just the way our days went. To try to structure and define our learning lives on paper turns it into a method or a pattern, and it makes me cold when I read my attempts to do this. So, if you will, bear with the stream of consciousness nature of these posts. I think they'll give a better picture of our learning. :-)

: : : : :

As I work through the boxes of my saved writings—the written “archives” (if you will) of our homeschooling days and years—I smile, I laugh, and occasionally my eyes will brim with tears over the memories. And sometimes I roll my eyes. Reading through the papers, I’ve had to acknowledge that, while they do give a fairly accurate picture of the ups and downs and back and forths of our days, one message is particularly loud and clear: The kids’ mother is something of a flake! (That would be me.)

Even with an educational background that gave me an antipathy for a too-schoolish orientation toward learning, even with a vision that helped guide us and keep us on a relaxed (mostly, but not totally, unschoolish) learning track, even though I found absolute delight and joy in watching my kids learn and do with such enthusiasm and energy, I sometimes did my best to derail us. My motives were honest and my intentions were good, but I was swayed not by a careful, prayerful rethinking of our aims and our learning life, but by an emotional response to something interesting, fun, stimulating, or intellectually demanding that I had read about or had seen other families do. Emotions are a gift but they do not make a wise guide.

So, while my kids were rumbling along the learning tracks, doing all that I had set as requirements and expectations (which I will explain later), digging deeply into their interests, putting great focus and hard work into developing their skills and talents, and basically living a really nice learning routine and life, something would eventually come along to unsettle me and convince me that it was time to tweak a few changes.

When kids largely determine the direction of their learning and choose their own pursuits, the learning is done with such a look of play, that it can seem that work is not being done. And learning is supposed to be hard work, right? Sometimes our learning days didn’t strike me as “rigorous” (a word that some homeschoolers threw around that could unsettle me because these moms were so smart!) enough. Because learning is fairly continual even into the evenings and weekends, breaks just happen whenever they happen (but, really, even during “breaks” or “play,” excellent learning is occurring). These relaxed school days—when math mixed with baking and writing and tree climbingwere joyful, but occasionally I would waver in my confidence that we were rolling along just fine.

Especially after days and weeks and months of watching laughing kids running in and out of the house all morning long (though I must admit with binoculars, field guides, and even notebook and pencil in hand); or seeing one child repeatedly climbing into the tree fort to do her math; or observing one or two kids tearing down the road on their bikes while wearing capes (?!) while other homeschooled kids were probably sitting at a table making great progress on their math or science; or (while gazing out the window one winter morning) observing Melissa sailing across the snowy front yard on a snow disk that was harnessed to the dog (who was being led by a hot dog hanging on a string from a stick in front of her nose); or repeatedly noticing one daughter reading while lying in the sun.

Or what about the hyper-focus I witnessed so often, on both deep and seemingly trivial pursuits? Is it positive for the kids to lie behind the couch for most of the day with the CD player to listen to various pieces of classical music? Or to spend an entire day or two absolutely enthralled reading through a box of very old National Geographic magazines (a free find at a book sale)? And should I allow my daughter to spend endless days writing, writing, writing on her story? And what about my son piling up the hours and days and weeks he worked on his remote control truck and sailboat, along with the huge blocks of time he invested in the design and construction of a remote control track and obstacle course in the back of our country property? How important to her education was it for one daughter to spend many determined, exasperated hours and days in her attempt to draw the lips (just the lips!) of one of her pencil portraits?

Periodically, I would wonder if all of this light-hearted joy and fun or this intense focus on one thing at a time, was healthy. Were we really becoming well-educated? Were our lives and learning well-rounded enough?!

Unsettled as I would sometimes become by shifting my gaze from my own vision and what was working well for my family to the rigor and very structured purpose and delineated goals of other homeschoolers, I knew then, and I am more convinced now, that well-rounded didn’t need to happen every day. In a good learning atmosphere, it develops naturally over time. To demand the appearance of well-rounded days is to interrupt passion, to short-circuit the life in a pursuit, to disrupt the very deep, focused process of learning (and of learning to learn, which may be even more important).

If kids are interested in what they are doing, if they are self-motivated, if they are guided by curiosity and wonder, then depth and breadth will come along. Because to learn one thing deeply is to learn many, many things. Learning expands—it grows deeper and wider, encompassing a broad range of subjects because knowledge is interconnected. It is coherent. It is a web, and when a child enters in and begins to explore, one thing leads to infinite possibilities.

It is fascinating to watch which strands of web the child will choose to travel. What is it in him that draws him to a particular thing, down a particular path of interest? This strikes me almost as holy ground. I see it happen, and I don’t want to touch it. I don’t want my ideas or design to mar it. I watch. Pray. Show interest. Locate resources for the learner. Listen enthusiastically. Encourage and support the interest. Make suggestions very carefully, and let them fly away unheeded if they do not strike the child as beneficial to their very purposeful pursuit. I believe it is a God-designed pursuit as I believe the child is a unique creation with bents and inclinations programmed into him by his Maker. A child’s own gifts, his own interests, his own abilities are mine to encourage, mine to enable, but not mine to control.

But I did have some learning expectations. In the early years, these three-fold expectations were simple and were meant to give the kids a grasp of the tools of learning and a strong ability to use them. Each day they were to do some math, some reading, and some writing. This was the area of our homeschooling life where I was most hands-on. I planned this learning, but it was different for each child because they all learn differently. It was light and quick and individually geared. Once the kids had the tools down well, they were on their own to use them. They could read what they wanted, write what they wanted, and learn math in whatever way was best for them.

These expectations remained part of our learning life through high school (along with others I’ll discuss in another post), and it continued to be the case that the kids could choose how they would accomplish these requirements. Take writing, for instance. The daily expectation was to write something. Write anything! Just write. But there was that force that would sometimes throw the learning routine of our home off-balance. Me.

I remember once, my young son began to draw an adorable, clever cartoon. He said it was his writing for the day. I looked at it, and I didn’t key in on the fact that the drawings were skillful and charming and that the captions were creative and smart. I don’t know what got into me that day, but instead of recognizing this as a worthy piece of writing (even one honest, well-crafted sentence is worthy!), I saw it as evading real writing, so I sharply told my son to put it away and write something. He immediately looked crushed, and my heart sank, and I was repentant. But he wouldn’t pick it back up. A great little project, derailed by me.

And once, after reading some great ideas about writing with homeschooled children, I set up one of the writing experiences I’d read about and called everyone to the table. I explained what we were going to start doing and was met with blank stares, no enthusiasm, and a bit of disbelief. I don’t know what kind of response I expected, but this was not the way our family homeschooled, so I think it was a pretty natural one from the kids. When unschoolish kids are suddenly expected to be schoolish, it can be a bit jarring and even confusing. And the writing activity was ridiculous. I almost immediately saw this, but I persisted. Should I take the kids’ attitudes as laziness? As a sign that they were only able to do what they felt like doing? Had I hurt their character by letting them have so much say in the direction of their learning?

We carried on with the writing assignment. I was only asking for one good paragraph, after all! But the writing was painful. Two kids quickly wrote their paragraphs, clearly just to be done with it. One took awhile but finally eeked out a tortured, contrived paragraph. And one—a prolific, very hard-working writer otherwise—just sat there and sat there and sat there. After a long time, the writing was produced and handed to me. I read it and laughed. It was a dead-on commentary on enforced writing! And it cracked me up. I could have seen this as “disobedient” or even as “rebellious,” but I saw it as funny and right on the mark. And that was the last time I tried to incorporate a new writing idea into our lives.

Really, what was I trying to do? Most of my kids wrote all the time, and their writing was lively, interesting, thoughtful, often funny, and engaging. It had life to it. Without using curriculums or getting instruction, the kids’ writing improved continuously. But just because the writing was such a natural way of life and it didn’t look like anything set up in curriculums or programs, it seemed like we must be missing something that was going to enable the kids to write academically and analytically if they went to college. If they couldn’t even write one assigned paragraph, how were they ever going to learn to write a research paper?

Those were honest questions, but in my saner moments I knew I needn’t worry, and now that some of my kids have graduated college, I can look back and see that this has proved to be true. We didn’t ever set out to do research in order to know how. We didn’t ever sit down to hold a discussion on literature or history or anything the kids were doing. We simply learned about our interests, and we talked about them naturally—as we huddled next to the wood stove on cold mornings, as we sat together for tea, as we crossed paths with each other throughout the day, as we gathered at the table for meals, as we worked at our chores, as we drove along in the car. It was continual. Conversation, or discussion—communicating enjoyment of the things we loved and fine-tuning our ideas and insights—is one of the most indelible, enjoyable, and beneficial characteristics of our home education.

The kind of learning, reading, digging, research, thinking, and discussion the kids did naturally every day was excellent preparation for college papers (learning how to format and cite is quick and easy work for a mind that knows how to learn). They knew how to learn very well, and they were motivated and disciplined to do it. They knew how to think through and analyze what they were learning because they had done it so naturally over the years. They knew how to honestly consider opposing viewpoints because their interest-fueled learning had been a pursuit of truth and understanding and not just a means of propping up their current views. They knew how to dig deeper (research) in order to understand more and better. They knew how to communicate because they had read great writing and had many, many motivated discussions about the ideas they had both encountered and developed as they learned.

No formal papers were ever written in our homeschool high school. No essays were assigned (though the kids chose to write them occasionally). And we did no research papers. That’s probably shocking to many people, but I don’t regret it, and the kids not only did well on their college papers, but they did so well that professors sometimes asked them about their writing background. One of my kids was asked if they had been involved in a very rigorous writing program or if it just came naturally to them. I believe the right answer is actually the former. I’m convinced that our way of learning and thinking and writing was, in the end, actually rigorous. It was not the rigor of a well-crafted program or a demanding teacher, but it was a very organic, natural rigor that rose out of the kids learning by interest and passion.

And this was in spite of their flaky mother!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just a Note. . .

Judi, this is why I moved the insect box (you noticed!).
This flower arrangement is too big to look nice (to scale with its surroundings)
anywhere but on the mantle, so it took the spot where the insect box was sitting.
Plus I shift things around constantly. :-)

(It's bugging me that the focus is mis-aimed in the photo above
and the one of the cooked dinner in the post below.
Just had to say so! :-) )

I looked over what I was going to post this afternoon regarding high school, and I don’t like its trajectory or how it reads, so, I’m doing it over. Unlike the past week, the rest of this week looks to be quiet, so I hope to get several of those high school posts up.

Are you seeing seasonal changes? I don’t know if it’s all in my mind or because I have orange flowers all over the house or because the temperature was cool today, but the air feels different. And I saw some yellowing maple leaves on the driveway. I looked up at the tree, and it doesn’t seem to be showing signs of fall, but I could swear those leaves in the driveway were changing color.

Be back tomorrow sometime, barring unexpected (and total) chaos or constant interruptions!

When Old Friends Stop By. . .

Entertainments, adventures, and diversions aren’t necessary. If all you do is sit at the kitchen table, drink a cup of coffee together, and do a lot of talking, catching up, and sharing of your thoughts and lives, it’s a special time. (I didn’t even have a coffee treat to offer them, and they didn’t even mind!)

The flower was at least 8” in diameter.
I'm not trying to pretend my little camera can shoot great flower close-ups
on "auto" mode. I'm just giving you an idea of what the flower looks like!

I answered the ringing door bell to Laurie holding this giant-petaled red flower: “I have no idea what this is, and I have no idea if it will live if you put it in water, but I had to bring it because it is so cool. I wanted you to see it.” It is cool. The middle glows neon green. The flower survived brightly through the day, but when dark came, the flower withered.

(Later--Just got an email from Laurie. She says it's a hibiscus flower. Her son grows tropical flowers, and she got it from his yard. She said, "It dies every winter and takes all summer to get its leaves then makes dozens of these plate size flowers at the end of summer into fall that only last about 2 days cool...")

They left me a little pile of vegetables: patty pan squash, zucchini, tomatoes—the makings of a tasty dinner (stuffed patty pan squash)! And they gave me three nice peaches. I love peaches. Peaches = summer and happiness.

When it came time to leave, Laurie walked over to the typewriter and said, “Am I supposed to sign this?” (Of course!) And it was quite entertaining hearing her tap out her message: “Uh-oh. I jammed the keys!” Tap-tap-tap. “Oh, no.  I did it again!” Tap-tap-tap. “Oops.” Tap-tap-tap. “How am I supposed to make this thing go back?!” Tap-tap-tap. “Oops!”

Aaron and I loved visiting with you, Dave and Laurie!
Come back soon!

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.
~John Leonard

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Random Day. . .

It hadn’t really occurred to me that autumn is creeping up on summer until I saw the fall display in the home-wares section of Goodwill yesterday. Wow. Just when it seems like summer is getting on a roll, here comes the next season, but there’s still a month to go before school starts again, and I intend to enjoy every day of what’s left of this season.

While I was at Goodwill, I found another old typewriter—a cute one that has a sort 50’s vintage space-age shape. It types great, the ribbon is in pretty decent shape, and it was super-cheap, so I bought it. Yes, I have three other vintage typewriters (even though I’ve given two or three away!), but for this price, I can share them with others or start a typewriter museum in my house or sell them for more than I paid for them.

Because this typewriter has a better ribbon, it took the place of the old typewriter that was being used as a guest book. And, by the way, the typewriter guest book idea is a hit, especially with kids (young and old). I’ve already got some pages filled with type even though I haven’t “officially” inaugurated the guest book. I love the notes people leave me or the random things they say or the conversations they have with each other. Aaron types in Danish, so I don’t know what all of his entries say, but I’m sure they’re entertaining to read (one of these days, his words will go into an online translator).

While I was chatting with Aaron, he told me to take a picture
of the teapot because you could see the whole kitchen in it.
Maybe if you click you can see better.

I have no daybook to put up today and no high school post, either, because it was a random, lazy morning, and I have quite a to-do list to cover this late afternoon. I stayed up late with Aaron last night (he spent the night) watching For All Mankind—an interesting documentary about the US Apollo moon program. I was a child in the era when the Sputnik circled the world and the US took it as a challenge, and I’ve always found the Apollo missions fascinating. I read Lost Moon before it was made into the movie Apollo 13 (the book is more detailed and more amazing than the movie, as is usually the case). Anyway, I loved the documentary footage of astronauts singing, running, bouncing, joking, and playing like exuberant children on the moon in their space suits—it was truly funny and fun to watch.

Late-night movie watching means late to bed. I got up early enough this morning (5:30), but I evaded my usual routine and started doing random things like pounding nails in the wall to put this picture here and that one there; going outside to move the sprinkler around and cut some flowers; having coffee and quiet time in the middle of it all; visiting Aaron in the kitchen while morning ticked away. . .

. . . making cream biscuits (and more coffee) so late in the morning that the biscuits became lunch. . .

. . . trying to learn to use Aaron’s way-better-than-mine camera (none of these photos were taken with it).

And now I will move along. Friends are stopping by tomorrow morning, so I don’t know if I’ll have a post up before or after they come, but by bedtime, I’ll have something posted on the blog.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Morning Notes: Books, Creativity, and More. . .

Old photo! Haven't used this exact one before, though.

I mentioned the book Goat Song by Brad Kessler in my Monday daybook. I am reading through it again and enjoying it possibly even more than last time. On Monday, wondering what is it about a particular book that resonates with a particular soul, I wrote this: “You know how the style of certain authors on certain topics ‘clicks’ with you? That was [Goat Song] with me.”

And just this morning, I ran across words that echoed mine, written by Kessler himself in Goat Song: “A book is like a key that fits the tumbler of the soul. The two parts have to match in order for each to unlock. Then—click—a world opens.”


The author’s descriptions of his life with goats and the contemplative art of cheese-making has relit a fire under me to get hold of raw goat’s milk and begin, again, to make goat cheese, only this time I’m not only going to make farmer cheese, but I’m going to make chevre. And I am excited to get started! It won’t be professionally done with the aid of a cheese shed (a “make room”) that has developed an environment abounding with the right cultures for this kind of cheese, as well as all of the equipment for making great cheese (though maybe this is unnecessary—I’m an utter novice, so what do I know?!).

Kessler’s rhapsodic reveries over the taste of his homemade cheese reminded me of something I saw a few years ago but didn’t pay more than immediate attention to because I didn’t really know much about him then. Gourmet magazine’s website has a series that I like (I don’t know if they still do this, but they should). Various famous people share their “Day on a Plate”—everything they ate in 24 hours. (Isn’t that a fun idea?!) And Kesslershared his. I read it, I liked it, and I stayed at the computer and wrote my own. My food for the day wasn’t as exotic as Brad Kessler and his wife’s (great cheese, great artisanal bread, great wine), but it was still fun to write my own little food log, prudishly nutritious as my eating was that day. I did break free from nutritional strictness by eating delicious dark chocolate, although, in the back of my mind, I know it is full of beneficial antioxidants (but I try not to think about such things when I eat).

Another book that has me gripped is, believe it or not, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. I was already really interested in learning more about cultured and fermented foods (these processes make the nutrition in foods far more bioavailable than in their normally eaten state), so this book would have been interesting even if it hadn’t been so nicely and engagingly written. The ideas in the book are streamlined, straightforward, and simply put. I’ve read a large number of books and articles about sourdough starters, but nowhere is it made so simple and straightforward as here. And being one who prefers to keep everything as massively simple as I can, I love this! I will be trying many recipes in this book. I’ll be pickling and fermenting everything in sight, making kombucha and sauerkraut and kefir and yogurt, as well as a number of previously unknown-to-me fermented foods. I’ll keep you posted.

Why, I don’t know, but I’ve been looking over some books on creativity. One is a book that I’ve had for years and love. You might know it. It’s called The Creative Habit by venerable Broadway and movie choreographer Twyla Tharp. In a nutshell, her key to creativity is to show up. Just show up. Day after day after day, no matter how you feel. When you are hit hard with troubles and trials or ennui or lack of motivation or inspiration, show up anyway. Just going through the ritual of getting yourself where you need to be is the biggest step. Step into the Jordan and it opens up. So, it comes down to making a habit of showing up. Rituals and routines are powerful. They jumpstart us and get the ball rolling, and once it’s rolling the battle is way more than half over. Twyla has many other tips, too, most of them down-to-earth, real, and practical. She speaks my language.

Another book on creativity is one I bought at Borders on the clearance shelves. (60% off the latest clearance price = some almost free books! Relatively speaking. I did get Marilynne Robinson’s Home for $1, so we’re talking literally close to free. Again, relatively speaking.) I only bought Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way because I remember, long, long ago, reading about it on the Pleasantview Schoolhouse blog. Anna added it to her short list of most influential books. It’s the one that lit a creative fire under her, I believe. Loving Anna’s blog and being amazed by her creative productivity, I wanted to have a good look at the book. This one takes a more spiritual tack than Twyla Tharp’s. It’s about battling your psychic obstacles to creative productivity so that you can get in there and just do it already!

Added later. . . I perused The Artist’s Way in the wee hours of this morning when I was wide awake but it was too early to be up and about. One chapter captured my attention, so I read the whole thing. And I have to say that I think I am going to really like this book. I wondered if it would be a bit too esoteric and not enough “feet on the ground” to suit me, but, no, it addresses the heart and the head and also challenges you to put your feet to the ground and get going. Now.

Some of what Cameron writes overlapped with what I remember about The Creative Habit:

“Creativity requires activity, and this is not good news to most of us. It makes us responsible, and we tend to hate that. You mean I have to do something to feel better?

“Yes. And most of us hate to do something when we can obsess about something else instead. One of our favorite things to do—instead of our art—is to contemplate the odds.”

“Most of the time, the next right thing is something small: washing out your paintbrushes, stopping by the art-supply store and getting your clay, checking the local paper for a list of acting classes. . .”

In other words, do the next thing, which is often small and manageable if we will just focus on that thing. We should all be living creative lives. Creativity is a gift implicit in being made in the image of God. It takes an artist’s flair to make a creative life out of what is ordinary to all of us, but I think we’ve all been given a unique eye for making the most mundane parts of life a thing of beauty. Rather than slogging along in the drudge of things, we should look to find and create beauty in all we do. If Brother Lawrence could do it joyfully with his monastery kitchen work, why can’t I?

But life is not lived only in the kitchen, is it? We have ample (endless!) opportunities for developing our (too often latent) creative gifts and inclinations. And creativity is not just about paint brushes or movie making or novel-writing. It’s a way to live.

Anyway (see how I wander so easily off my intended path?!). The Artist’s Way seems realistic, insightful, and helpful. No wonder Anna liked it.


I follow home anyone who comes by my blog and makes a comment. I saunter through your blogs and enjoy reading your thoughts and stories. And I have to say that again and again I am impressed. Impressed by your creativity and intelligence and your beautiful lives, and I’m always struck by the same thing: “Why are such smart, creative, talented people reading my blog?!”

One of the bloggers I trailed home showed up when I had a massive, temporary, flurry of visitors that came over because of a link put up on another blog. I enjoyed reading Monica's words and having a look at her Hawaiian life and watching her young boys practice their parkour and movie making skills. Fun! Monica is fit and knows her workout stuff. Having been an athlete myself and still careful to maintain a decent level of fitness, I’m pretty attuned to what is a good workout and what is not, what works a certain muscle or muscle group well and what doesn’t, what is effective and what isn’t (at least for me). I’m no expert, but I’m intuitive about these things. Yet in the past two years, I’ve developed a fitness Achilles heel. My core. I’ve always been naturally strong, but since I left my country home and all of the hard daily work I did there, my core has weakened. I’ve tried adding a series of ab and core exercises, but I can’t stick with them because they tend to make my back hurt, and none of them seem to really do more than skim the surface. Since I don’t want to do a full-on workout because, as always, I like to keep things simple, I won’t go to a gym and I’m not willing to undertake a serious regimen.

Enter Monica. I love what she has developed for an "ab workout." I just love it! It couldn’t be easier or more straightforward, and having done her exercise here and there throughout the past two days, I really do think this is going to make a difference! I’ll keep doing this for sure, and I’ll let you know how it goes long-term.

And one more thing. A beauty tip. (Haha--that’s about the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing here.) But this is not so much a beauty tip as it is a natural way to care for your skin. I mentioned the use of coconut water to soothe red, scratchy eyes, and now I’m letting you know that it seems to be a great facial toner, too. When I was looking for all-natural eye-drops, I ran across some information about using coconut water as a skin toner. Well, this is certainly cheaper than the “all-natural” toner I’m using now, and it’s even more all-natural, so why not give it a try? And, after a few days use, I think that it not only works but that it has improved the condition of my skin, and I tend to have soft, clear skin already. This is not a long-term testimonial, so I reserve the right to retract my endorsement, but coconut water seems to be a great all-purpose beauty product—for inner and outer use!

Soon I will be a walking advertisement for the coconut. I use coconut oil for skin lotion, coconut water as eye-drops and facial toner, coconut water in my fruit smoothies, and coconut milk in many of my recipes.

Enjoy your Saturday. I hope it’s as sunny (and mild) as mine.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Homeschool High School Ramblings: Our Two-Part Guiding Vision and More. . .

(I literally mean ramblings here, I’ll have you know! There’s a bit too much here, and I don’t have time to make it tighter, cleaner, and more concise. So sorry! And I promise you that I won’t always go into this explanation of why I squirm when I explain our homeschooling ways. I’ll trust that you understand my perspective and concerns and leave that off from now on.)

I really struggle with my words when I attempt to write about how we home-schooled high school. I mentioned this before, and I’ll say it again now: The spirit and life of our high school grew out of the atmosphere—values, interests, work, hobbies, past-times, and discipline—we created in the early years. And even though I recently posted a list of qualities describing the values that created our home and learning atmosphere, yours will be different even if your values and lifestyle are nearly identical to ours. That’s the cool thing about individuals and families. God has made each one truly and wonderfully unique, and as the years go by, it is a pleasure to watch, create, and enjoy what I think can be fairly called an artful life.

So, going into high school, my kids already had some full-blown interests, and the seeds of other interests had germinated. Still other interests and gifts were dormant and yet to be discovered. In other words, we were on a roll. I say this, but I also think that it’s worth attempting, at any age, to develop a poetic life—to attempt to break through duty to re-engage with wonder, curiosity, and the pursuit of a thing for the love of it.

I’ll add that some of what I was not only comfortable with, but was quite happy with, are pursuits that some of you may not be able to think of as “academic” or educational at all. How many of you, for instance, are comfortable watching your 13-year-old play “stuffed animal soccer” for hours a day? Or spending long school days building an elaborate fort? Can you see the importance of it and what is being developed in this kind of play? Can you look beyond traditional academic productivity to see a powerful creative and intellectual development occurring in play and other non-bookish-academic pursuits? How many of you are comfortable with only a minimal amount of utilitarian writing coming out of one of your children, even in high school? (Can you see that the tools and deep thinking that make up good writing are profoundly there in the child—if they indeed exist in your child; and do you know how to tell if they do?—but are yet largely undeveloped on paper? Can you believe that it can take only a month or so to come together into powerful—even lauded—writing, but it might not happen until the first term of college? Are you okay with that? Do you have vision and faith to believe it will happen?) How many of you are comfortable taking a hands-off approach to your child’s learning and taking on the role of leader, mentor, encourager, motivator, facilitator? Of largely standing alongside in the process of learning rather than only commanding from above?

But this approach does not mean that a parent stands aside and wrings his hands hoping that something is going to come of this education. And it does not mean that a parent does not lead. The parent’s role in this is not passive but is very active and under-girded by a guiding vision and educational view. So, the simple fact that my kids played stuffed animal soccer for hours should not, by itself, assuage the worry of parents whose children are busy at pursuits that seem to them like a waste of time. It’s not enough to justify an isolated pursuit—one must view and assess the big picture. And it is your own vision and educational philosophy that should assuage your unrest. We all need vision. “Without a vision, a people perish.” If you don’t have one, get one. :-)

I happen to be one who sees the glass half-full and views the world through rosy-tinted glasses. I am an optimist, a hoper, and a believer. And I saw my children’s playful pursuits as supremely important. I saw their skills and abilities and inclinations and could imagine these coalescing into something wonderful, given time. I was cut out for a homeschooling life that requires some patience, vision, and faith. Without these traits, I would have bitten my nails and worried. But I didn’t. I believed all along that my children were becoming deeply educated in ways that don’t occur easily in a schoolish environment. What I valued was not what is valued in our modern system of education, and I think this kept our educational atmosphere relaxed.

Ours most certainly isn’t the only method or philosophy of learning that can be poetic or guided by curiosity, interest, and passion. Of course not! And even the most schoolish homeschooling environment can leave room for interests to flourish, for curiosity to lead the way, and for wonder to invade the heart of a child. So, if you are happy with your homeschool and you believe your children are lively learners and energetically engaged with life and learning, then please keep doing what you are doing. Not only am I not trying to sway you to our way of learning, but part of me is tempted to sway you against it! Because even if you are frustrated with your homeschool, I might not have any answers for you. I have no idea what the situation is in your home, and when you read my words, they might translate as something far different than what I really mean. (This is why I give a lot of examples of how learning looked in our home.)

Which brings up another problem. I’ve been talking with my kids about what to say and what not to say about our homeschool, their interests and pursuits and projects, and where this all led them. And they are quite happy with me sharing about our homeschool days, though they prefer that, in some cases, I should not use names. One of my children also said that the learning life in our home was rich and deep and joyful and full of life, and it was valid whether or not the kids went to college or ended up accomplishing things that most people want to see homeschoolers achieve.

So, should I talk about my kids’ experience with college or not? Should I tell you about my children’s achievements or the honors they have earned? I understand that, for many, seeing “success” in this area is a validation of our chosen way of learning and one that gives vision or hope. But I don’t know if I can speak to that end because it was never what guided us; it was never what “validated” our choices; it was never what we were going for.

My children prefer that I speak about our homeschool days and years but not about their lives afterward because they believe that it is irrelevant—that their learning life was valid, positive, and very good no matter what they chose to do after homeschooling. And for me to speak publicly (though it is a small public I am speaking to!) of their lives now is also too personal for them, I think.

Having read my blog(s), you already know that at least some of my children attended college. But is it not valid to choose a path other than college? To choose work that offers little notice, little status, and little pay? Can this person live a life worthy of the calling of Christ? Of course! One thing I have always believed is that education is not for a career—it is for life. God does not judge us by our station in life but values how we love Him and love others. It’s that simple.

All I can speak to is the basic vision that guided us. My goals were mostly “spiritual” in nature. This is what really mattered to me, and I can only discuss our way of learning on this level:

1. I wanted my children to develop a lifelong love of learning. A lifestyle of learning where their curiosity and wonder couldn’t be contained—and shouldn’t be commandeered—but would bubble over into all kinds of interests and pursuits. I didn’t want learning to be something the kids saw as a duty to get over with so that their real life could resume. I didn’t want reading and science, history and writing, or any other traditional “subject” to become distasteful, as these subjects had with so many of their school friends. (“You’re reading that because you want to?!” or “You write for fun?!”) I wanted learning to mesh naturally with our real, daily lives—from morning to night and flowing into the weekend—as much as possible.

Loving to learn is not the same thing as having fun, though it can be extremely pleasurable. Discipline and hard work come into this, but I’ll address this later.

2. I wanted my children to have the freedom to pursue their education according to the way God made them. I was (and am) convinced that, truly, we are each unique and fearfully and wonderfully made. It doesn’t take much watching to see that children have their own inclinations as far as what is interesting and fun to do. Children are passionate learners, pursuing their interests with energy and zeal, and each child stands apart from others in his manner, personality, and inclinations. It is in school that these learning inclinations must be set aside for a more homogenized education. I did not want my children’s learning to be homogenized or pasteurized or anything else of that nature. I wanted their natural learning inclinations to be kept whole and raw and alive--the little bacteria of curiosity and interest growing and multiplying and nourishing their little brains! (Haha. I couldn’t resist making a sort of painful metaphor here!)

Becoming who God created them to be is my biggest prayer for my children—that they would know Him, love Him, follow Him, trust Him, serve Him. I really don’t care about anything else. This is my ultimate hope.

Those were the two basic aims of our home-learning, but there were also secondary aims and goals of learning (for how and what we would learn), which I will address later. I can confidently say that ours was not a dumbed down education. My children remain curious and have retained a lovely sense of wonder. They continue to pursue their interests. They are creative, philosophical, insightful, and intelligent. They have learned to think, analyze, and communicate very well. Their learning has gone deep and has spanned wide. They are disciplined. They love to read and then discuss their reading. Conversations with them are interesting, stimulating, and enlightening. In many ways, my kids have educated me. They have certainly inspired me to learn many things!

I’m leaving many holes in this post that will likely bring up questions and objections. It’s so tempting to go back to attempt to fill those obvious gaps, but I can’t say everything, and this is enough rambling for one morning!

Hopefully I’ll address a few of the holes in future posts. I have many areas to cover after today: responsibility, discipline, requirements, and expectations; record-keeping, courses, credits, transcripts, SATs, and college prep; writing and research; what I thought was important--how we chose what to learn and how we “designed” the learning; my role—what I did and didn’t do; project-based learning; the depth and breadth of this kind of learning; what we learned together in our home (what worked and what didn’t); what to do with kids who resist; our daily rhythm; etc. I won't write a post for each of these topics, but will combine some of them.

I'll be mixing a lot of other, regular posts in with these high school writings.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Early Morning Journal. . .

 (I’ll be back with the high school posts soon. My kids and I are discussing what I should share in the posts and what I should not. I don’t want to invade their privacy or open any more of their lives to the world than they want me to, so I’m just making sure everyone is comfortable. . . But I’ll have more soon!)

: : : : :

This morning was quiet and lovely. The sun didn’t make a bright and snappy appearance, but snuck in quietly with a few clouds. It set the mood for a still, contemplative morning. I took some early morning photos, and I wrote in my journal. I’ll share both the photos and the opening words of today’s journal entry here. I love the moments of morning when the sky is brightening but not yet full-on sunny.

Thursday, August 25, 2011
Early morning

“I rose at 5:00 but not with the sun because it was still dark. I was tempted to climb back into bed for “just a few more minutes,” but I know what that means (not waking again til far later than I want to be up and about), so I didn’t. Once I started to move, I was glad I was up. As usual, I enjoyed the morning silence, when muffled faraway sounds reach me across the stillness and the floor feels cool beneath my feet—extra nice on these muggy days.

“I opened windows, and the cool, refreshing air from outside quickly overcame the warm, stale air inside. When the day began to brighten, I walked through the rooms of the house to have a look, and I stepped out the open front door to welcome the sun—the front stoop is the first part of the house to be touched by morning light—but the sun is muted this morning by patchy clouds.

“Last night, after dark, I heard water running, like a shower. It took me a minute to realize that it was rain. Rain?! It had been a hot, humid day—so humid, I guess, that the sky had to dump some of its moisture.

“I like early mornings—even muted mornings like today. They’re lovely with hope and promise and God’s mercies. Always fresh and cool before the heat and noise of the day drive away the newness. But tomorrow there will be another morning to savor if I will embrace it. And I will.

“I thank God for His gifts. For light, fresh air, restoration—the daily creation of newness. For a house to call home. For little flowers and morning coffee. For books, for friends. For strength and breath. Mostly, I thank Him for His mercies; they are new every morning, and I feel it. I know it. And each morning, my love for Him is renewed and refreshed, too.”

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed
for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness.”
~Lamentations 3:22, 23


Have a beautiful day!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Our Saturday Morning Chocolate Chip Lemon Scone Recipe. . .

Two versions of our Saturday morning scones.
The one on the right is an old recipe. It was good,
but it was more floury and not as delicious as the newer one.
The scones on the left were proof that the recipe is fail-proof.
I left out some flour, and they flatted considerably, but taste didn't suffer!

As requested by Judi and Rebecca, the recipe for our family’s Saturday morning chocolate chip lemon scones. For many years, I baked scones on Saturday mornings and served them with coffee. It’s such a tradition that we all want to have them if we are together on a Saturday morning. These are all-out white flour, high-fat scones, and they are eaten with not a whit of guilt. I’ve made healthy versions of our Saturday scones, and they are good, but these are better.

I tried many recipes over the years and have enjoyed them all, but this is the final grand champion—the one that will remain our Saturday morning scone from here to the end of our days. It is a recipe I adapted from one of Martha’s currant scones recipes. It seems fail-proof. Too much flour? Not a problem. Too little flour? Not a problem, either. I even way overcooked them once. Not a problem there, either. They were still moist and buttery and flaky and delicious inside (and the outside was not charred—just overdone—so there was not an off-putting burned flavor).

 This is a mess of a recipe journal. This is where I write down
recipes I made up or adapted. It's where I put recipes I use so often
that it's handier to have in this journal than to continually go looking for
the book that contains the recipe. The scone recipe is in here, and it might
be the dirtiest page in the whole book!


(I usually cut the following recipe in half if there will only be a small crowd. I make 8 scones with half a recipe, and guess who will eat the leftovers?! Me. Hence, the half-batch.)

4 ½ c. unbleached flour
2 T. sugar
2 T. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 sticks butter (very cold—leave in fridge til just ready to cut it in)
1 c. + chocolate chips
Zest of half a lemon (for dough)
2 c. heavy cream (more if needed, plus more for top of scones)
Zest of 1 lemon, mixed with 2-3 T. sugar (for top of scones)

Preheat oven to 375. Ideally there is a baking stone in your oven. Otherwise, bake on parchment paper on a heavy sheet. Gather and measure all ingredients before starting (to keep the dough cold and the butter from softening).

Mix dry ingredients together. Cut cold butter into this by hand (pastry blender, fingers) or with a food processor (don’t over-cut—you want it sandy with tiny chunks of butter left intact). Add zest and chocolate chips. Stir in cream until just blended. Knead a few times to pull dough together, but do not overwork. If dough is too dry, add cream, 1 T. at a time.

Divide dough in half and pat into two circles about an 1” (or so) thick. Cut into wedges. Brush cream over top of each scone and then sprinkle each with sugary lemon zest.

If the scone dough has gotten warm and the butter in the dough has softened, put the wedges in the fridge for a bit before baking (it might be a good idea to do this, just to be safe). To bake, quickly place scones directly onto your hot baking stone, leaving some space between them for scone-growth. If they won’t all fit, keep the unbaked scones in the fridge and bake them in batches. Bake til golden and flecked with brown spots, Martha says for 30-35 minutes, but this is way too long in my oven. I barely go over 20 minutes.

These will puff up grandly in the oven, but will settle when they come out—sort of like a soufflĂ©, but these have no eggs in them, so it’s really sorta not like a soufflĂ©. The height of the scones in the oven is pretty, but don’t be disappointed that they settle as they cool. They are delicious. (Let me know if you try them!)

The Spirit of Our Homeschool High School. . .

Books were the center-piece of our homeschool.
More about that later, but I needed a photo for today, so it was the books!
(And, oh, lookee! It practically matches the header above. ) 

I have made several attempts to write a one or two (or even three or four) paragraph post about how my family homeschooled high school. I figure that the more you know what you’re talking about, the shorter you can make your explanation. That’s how it works, right? Well, if so, then I really don’t know what I’m talking about regarding our own homeschool!

It’s been six years since my youngest daughter finished homeschooling, and 11 years since my oldest daughter did. As I tried to write about high school in recent days, I wondered if, along the way, I had idealized our little environment and made it sweeter in my mind than it really was—if I had begun to imagine the kids as more lively, motivated, and productive than they really were. But I’ve been reading through some of my old papers, notebooks, and journals of learning (I’m pretty straightforward and honest in these!), and while there were obviously some ups and downs and less than stellar attitudes (the kids’ and mine) dotting the path, the kids really were enthusiastic learners and extremely wonderful, interesting people. In fact, it amazes me now, looking back, how lovely our general environment and spirit of learning were.

What I’m going to do is write a series of posts. Not trying to lump everything together in one coherent essay will make this much easier (and more fun) for me to write and easier for you to read (those of you who wanted to know about our high school). So, today, I’ll give just a few sound-bytes that give the long view of our homeschool, and over the next week (or more), I’ll focus on some of the details of this macro-picture. I’ll try to keep each post relatively simple and I’ll do my best to answer questions if you have them (in comments).

Before I start, I want to say that I am not trying to create a pattern for homeschooling high school. I am not arguing that this is the best way for everyone. In fact, as I read back through some of my journals and notebooks, I’ve actually wondered how this happened. How did we do it? Why did it work for us? Could we, would we, still do it the same way if my kids were young now? Can it work for anyone else? Do you have to live in the country to do this? Was this kind of learning only possible before technology began to harangue us every moment of the day? I don’t know. It’s a fast-changing world. Do people still know how to live slowly and enjoy long days of reading, thinking, and learning? Or are we reduced to distraction and efficiency?

Those questions aside, let’s get started:

We didn’t do a lot of things others do in high school. We didn’t use curricula (except for math and sometimes as a resource for science). The kids never wrote a research paper at home (or studied how to write one). There were no set schedules and lesson plans to follow. I didn’t give the kids assignments, and there was no memory work, drill, quizzes, or tests. We didn’t do SAT prep (with an exception I’ll tell you about later) and there were no AP courses or tests. We didn’t have a daily schedule. I didn’t plan the kids “courses,” learning, or direction. I didn’t teach anything. On the other hand, we didn’t totally wing it, fly by the seat of our pants, or propel ourselves by whim, emotion, or inclination. Laziness, complaining, whining, or boredom wouldn’t have been tolerated.

What we did do was learn to read, write, think, and research very, very well (and those college research papers were easy—more on this later). A lot of our learning—particularly science—was often project-based, if the kids so chose (more on this later, too). We learned all the time because it was what the kids loved to do. The kids knew our daily business was to learn, and the kids chose what they would learn and how they would learn it (most of this happened very naturally without set plans). I kept a journal of what the kids read, watched, did, and where they went, and this was the basis for creating transcripts at the end of our years (I’ll explain how we made sure we had a nice transcript at the end of high school). We did move forward with an eye toward the end (there was a guiding vision). There was a high standard of excellence that guided our behavior, in learning and in all that we did. We had a book called 10 Real SATs, and the kids did two or three of these (sometimes more) to acquaint themselves with the format and style of the test.

I’ll be touching on the ideas above, and more, in future posts. But before I close, I’ll copy something I found in a box last week. I wrote this for myself—to keep—just as Aimee (my oldest) was ending her “senior” year in 2000. At the time, I was creating her transcript and was struck that it could not possibly convey the spirit of Aimee’s learning. I think this shows the ideal spirit of learning in our homeschool, and this was largely the way it went. It didn’t happen in a vacuum, though, and I hope, by the end of these posts to have explained what I mean by that:

“As I look over Aimee’s high school transcript, I smile. It states starkly in black and white, “Botany, 1 credit.” That’s it. That’s all anyone will ever see of Aimee’s high school botany study. Everything appears so quantifiable—her education efficiently reduced to mere letters and numbers on a page. But thinking back on Aimee’s learning, I am smiling. I picture her—not in black and white but in vivid, living color—relaxed and happy, bent over a tiny flower in the field, or sauntering along the roadside, notebook in hand, carefully observing and picking wildflower specimens to draw. I see her busily pressing flowers and then mounting them on special boards to create her own herbarium. I remember a content and smiling girl routinely picking wildflower bouquets or just a single flower to place in vase or jar to brighten her desk.

“I can see Aimee building her little fenced garden area with raised beds for growing herbs, strawberries, and wildflower perennials, and then going out each morning to tend it. And sitting so often on our deck next to that garden in the clear morning sun, with a cup of tea or coffee, her Bible, and her journal at hand.

“I think back to Aimee, cross-legged on the floor, listening to Bach or to her favorite opera while creating watercolor paintings of the wildflowers she’d picked. I think of Aimee’s awe and delight at the simplest flower and remember her carefully extracting seeds from her favorite flowers in the fall.  She was never in a hurry. She never had an assignment to complete. She was never pressed to study for an exam. Botany was, for her, not information to be studied in order to earn one credit for her high school transcript. “Botany” was simply the name of a beautiful and interesting world, and Aimee immersed herself in it.

“Aimee studied books and worked hard to acquire knowledge of plant life. She created slides to study under the microscope, rendered drawings of what she saw there, and kept a notebook of her drawings, paintings, and accumulated knowledge. She took a botany-oriented course on native wildflower and perennial gardening and xeriscaping at a community college. She visited botanical gardens. She accumulated a collection of beautiful, informative, and scientific books about botany, as well as biographies of some of its key figures (Gregor Mendel and others). Maybe because Aimee’s was a study born of delight, understanding the complexity of how plants develop, grow, thrive, and reproduce only increased its beauty in her eyes and mind. For Aimee, leaning about botany was a fascinating and enjoyable endeavor and not merely a course to be completed. In fact, we never thought of Aimee’s enjoyment of botany as a course at all until it was apparent she had begun to approach a level of expertise that would merit a high school science credit. In the end, we looked over all of the reading, learning, and projects Aimee had done and realized it was enough to make it official—“Botany, 1 credit.”

: : : : :

You should know that this course wasn’t done in one semester or even in one year, but it developed over four years of high school. Aimee’s was a study born of delight that happened to end up as a credit. We’ve taken the other approach, too. The kids sometimes chose an area of study and began to pursue it with the intention of earning a credit, but the way it was approached was still student-designed and delight-led. I will share one of these studies with you. The project that resulted from one of these studies is my favorite one that came out of our home. (I’ll put up pictures of this so you can see how it worked.)