Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Something New

Just added a few new links to the blog, and they're for freebies :)

Both are special reports that you can download. One is called Teaching Your Children to Write, and the other is Ten Tips for Coping with Temperamental Teens.

Scroll down a wee bit and you'll see the links for them on the right side of your screen, in the section under the photo link for Life Prep.

The first report comes from my vantage point as a writer as well as a homeschool mom. The second comes from my experience living with and raising teens (we're on our second pair.)

In the name of fairness, the next special report we publish will be written by my 17-year-old daughter, and will be titled Twenty Tips for Coping with a Menopausal Mom.

Just kidding....maybe. :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More Used Homeschool Books

You may recall my summer project, a blog called Used Homeschool Books where I planned to post and sell many of the books we've used over 20 years of homeschooling.

Well, it's been quite successful, and I'm thrilled to know that some very good books are now in the home libraries of other homeschooling families. I'm down to the last few books I can bear to give up, which I will post at that blog this week. But for now, I've got a list of those that have not yet sold, in case you're looking for something specific.

New Carnival is Up!

Judy Aron is hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, with the great theme of Boy Scouts. Don't miss it!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why Homeschoolers Love Calvin and Hobbes

My family is full of Calvin and Hobbes fans. We have several of the C&H comic strip books, and can read them again and again and still laugh every time.

Over the years I've found that many other homeschoolers like Calvin and Hobbes, but I never thought about why that might be. Then I read this essay. As he puts it:

As this strip clearly shows, Calvin has nothing but utter contempt for his school, as did I for mine. Calvin’s fantasies are clearly more violent than mine. (All I ever wanted to do was stay home sick.) ....There is not a single Calvin & Hobbes comic strip that has anything positive to say about this institution. Just use the search engine in the link at the beginning of this article and type in "school." You will be taken from one strip to another where Calvin is bored, anxious, unhappy, disgusted, hopeless, daydreaming, or scared. The only school-related strips where Calvin is in a better mood have to do with recess or grossing out Susie at lunch (an episode that got Calvin & Hobbes cancelled at one local paper). His teacher is named Miss Wormwood, after the apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Think about it. That’s not a joke the average reader would get. Just what is Watterson trying to say?

I remember walking the few blocks to school on a foggy morning and pretending that the reason I couldn't see the school building looming up ahead was because it had mysteriously evaporated. I, like others who were bored or unhappy in our own school experiences and later chose to homeschool our children, relate to Calvin. Why didn't I notice this before? Duh.

Friday, July 25, 2008

When Kids are the Center of the Universe

A recent thought-provoking article at a British newspaper's Web site caught my eye. It laments the rise of the child-centered world, where keeping Junior’s self-esteem intact becomes Job 1. The large number of comments after the article makes it clear that the writer struck a nerve with a lot of people. Apparently, there’s a bumper crop of self-absorbed young people around these days.

It’s easy to bash schools where teachers aren’t allowed to correct students’ work in red pen because it could make them feel like failures. It’s natural to lament parents in the store who fall all over themselves trying to make their children like them by buying them presents (yes, I have actually seen mothers begging their child to choose a large toy. It’s an amazing thing.)

But it’s also tempting to think that it won’t happen to us when, as homeschoolers, it could easily happen to us.

I mean, homeschooling takes over your life. You find yourself poring over curriculum catalogs, spending hours on the phone signing your children up for co-ops and lessons and staying up late planning upcoming learning experiences.

And that’s just in the summer! Then there’s all the time you put in working with your children, reading to them, making sure they understand concepts they’re having trouble with, taking them to zoos and museums ….add in feeding them and clothing them and making sure they live in a healthy environment, and you can easily end up living in a child-centered world. And that’s not a good thing.

In a child-centered world, kids are the center of the universe. That’s how they come to believe that their needs are more important than anyone else’s, and often turn into adults who continue to believe that.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to maintain a balance between giving my kids what they need in order to grow and develop properly, and giving my kids what they need in order to learn that they are not the center of the universe. I haven't always been successful.

Being sensitive myself, and having been hurt in childhood by some adults, I wonder now if I protected my children’s feelings too much. As they’ve ventured out into the world of work, they’ve sometimes gotten their feathers ruffled over things that aren’t the end of the world. Maybe I should have been tougher on them.

There were also times when I wondered whether I’d gone overboard in creating a learning environment for my kids, because once they discovered an interest in something, they took off with it on their own, with no encouragement from me. Perhaps some of the time spent making lesson plans would have been better spent on a dinner date with my husband.

Oh, yes, him. That patient guy I married. He worked to pay for all the books and educational games and craft supplies, and he never complained about how much time I spent with my nose in the Rainbow Resource catalog. Sometimes I think we should have carved out more time for ourselves.

But on the other side of the scale, there were times when I managed to make my kids understand that the world does not revolve around them. We limited their outside activities so we could have time together as a family. Occasionally, they’d find me on the sofa with a good book or having fun using my sewing machine and they knew that anything they asked me to do right then would be denied. Of course they had chores and responsibilities that they had to do, whether they were in the mood or not. And then there were the evening walks-for-two that were reserved for their dad and me.

As they say, hindsight is 20-20. The end result is that my kids, while not perfect, are doing fine. But looking back, I can see that if I hadn’t struggled with maintaining a balance between their world and ours, they might not have turned out so well. That’s why even now, with only two children left at home, I keep fighting to maintain that balance. Because it’s when you’re not aware that you need that struggle between your world and theirs that you fall into the child-centered universe.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Homeschool Class Rings

Brumbemom asked me a question last week. Like me, she has a senior homeschooler this year, and they’re wondering about class rings.

My older kids were not into “school” things like that; my eldest didn’t even want a graduation party. As for dd17, she seems more interested in my high school ring (she’s into anything “vintage,” i.e. 1970s!) than one of her own.

But there are places where you can go to get your teen a homeschool class ring, including Josten’s. If your teen would rather design his or her own ring, this looks like a good place.

For more information on this topic, here’s an article you might find helpful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blog Carnival 101

Lately I’ve gotten a few emails asking me what exactly are these blog carnivals I keep mentioning in my blog.

It’s easy! A blog carnival is a post on someone’s blog that consists of descriptions and links to posts at other blogs. There's always a subject theme (ex. the subject of the Carnival of Homeschooling is homeschooling) and most of the time, the carnival itself has a theme that it’s structured around.

For example, this week’s edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling has the theme of the 12 Labors of Hercules (homeschoolers are a well-read bunch, but you probably already knew that!) So the hosts of the blog carnival have cleverly arranged the posts around this theme.

The beauty of a blog carnival is that it connects you with others who share a common interest with you. In the case of the Carnival of Homeschooling, you get to peek into the lives of others to see what their families are like, how they homeschool, what their children are learning, what they’re learning from their children, etc.

For the newer homeschooling parent, this will help you feel that you’re not the only one out there living this wonderful and challenging lifestyle, because you’re definitely not! For the more experienced homeschooler, the Carnival of Homeschooling offers an opportunity to widen your sphere of friends while also sharing the wisdom you’ve gained from your years of homeschooling.

For bloggers, participating in the carnival means exposing their blog to a larger audience than just their friends, relatives and the people who happen to find them by clicking the “Random Blog” or “Next Blog” button.

So, if you’re new to the concept of blog carnivals, why not jump in right now? Head on over to the carnival, read the posts, leave a comment if you’re feeling really adventurous, and just enjoy yourself. Everyone is welcome at the Carnival of Homeschooling.

And if you have time for any other interests beyond homeschooling (!), you might also want to visit blog carnivals about other subjects. Here’s a site that will help you do that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Power of a Diagnosis

When we got the news that our day-old baby had Down syndrome, we were completely shocked and not a little bit frightened. At the time, it felt like the entire world had shifted, and it took us a while to adjust to the idea.

But there was no question of whether the diagnosis was in error. Not only were a few of his physical features clues, but the hospital staff drew some of our son's blood for a karyotype, which indicated that Josh did, definitely, have Down syndrome.

Once we knew what we were dealing with, we and a team of medical professionals were able to discuss how to proceed. After Josh got out of the hospital, and indeed, throughout his childhood, we worked with professionals who had experience helping people with Down syndrome. All this because we had a certain diagnosis.

Over the years, it's occurred to me many times how fortunate we were to have that exact diagnosis, even though it was difficult to hear when we were first told. We know of others whose children have disabilities, but they were not noticeable at birth, and were only diagnosed after a long, painful time period during which the parents suspected something was wrong but didn't know what it was. In a couple of cases, there is still no official diagnosis, just the observation that something is wrong.

One particularly difficult diagnosis is autism. Generally (though not always), the signs begin to appear at around 18 months of age. In some cases, the toddler actually seems to regress. How painful for the parents!

There is no blood test that I'm aware of for autism, no spare or funky-shaped chromosome to blame. But now that people have become aware of autism, there has been a much-discussed increase in the rise of cases of autism, and also something new: children on the "autism spectrum."

Thomas Sowell, author of Late-Talking Children and The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late, recently wrote about the possibility that a child might not be on the autism spectrum, but instead is simply a very bright child who is also a late-talker. According to his article, this is a common combination in young children, particularly among boys.

As Dr. Sowell points out, enough of these children exist that a diagnosis of autism spectrum could be wrong. His concern is that the money the government spends to help autistic kids could be going to some kids who have been misdiagnosed, thus leaving less help for those who truly do have autism.

I can see where this could be a controversial subject among parents of autistic kids, and medical professionals as well. And my heart goes out to those parents whose children seem to have a problem, but have no official diagnosis.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Erma, She Ain't

I realize this gal is trying to be funny, but she lost me pretty quickly with her essay about the horrors of having her kids home all summer.

As I read it, I kept thinking that at some point, she would acknowledge that despite the work involved, being home with your kids can be a time of bonding, of teaching, of loving.

Nope. Just whine, whine, whine. She also throws in a little envy of working moms for good measure:

By the end of the first day of “vacation,” every stay-at-home mother is rethinking Linda Hirshman and scanning help-wanted ads surreptitiously. The working moms, meanwhile, sit in their orderly, air-conditioned offices, oblivious to the sweat and stench that accompany the sticky children of summer, and thinking wistfully of their own childhood summers spent catching fireflies in Mason jars and selling ten-cent Kool-Aid from a card table on the front lawn. Wishing that they could revisit those days, they think — fleetingly — that maybe the SAHMs have it right, and really, they should march into the boss’s office and offer two week’s notice. But then it occurs to them: If they were home now, they’d be making peanut-butter sandwiches, and consuming half-eaten crusts for their lunch. Better Ruby Tuesday’s salad bar, and joyously back to work.

Wow, the working moms I've known missed their kids. Guess I hang with the unenlightened crowd.

I think this writer is trying to imitate the late Erma Bombeck and other female writers of the 60s and 70s who made a career of writing humor pieces about life as a housewife and mother. But no matter what Ms. Bombeck wrote about her kids, she made sure you also knew how much she loved them. I’m not getting that vibe with Ms. Graham’s essay, and that could be why it fell flat with me. I mean, how else do you interpret her closing statement?

Like Steve Buscemi’s character accepting the imminent destruction of Earth in the movie Armageddon, we must learn to embrace the horror. Without summer vacation, there would be no school teachers, and we’d have to hang out with our kids all year.

Hanging out with your kids all year. Who could survive that???

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nationalized Child Care? It Could Happen

I always considered staying home to raise our children to be a great privilege, and I'm so grateful that God enabled me to do so. Naturally, I want my children to have that option once they have children (no pressure for grandchildren yet, guys, I'm just sayin'....)

So, articles like this alarm me. One of the presidential candidates has an "education" plan that involves infants:

Sen. Obama's plan begins with a "Zero to Five Plan". That is not a plan for pre-kindergarten students; it is a plan for infants beginning just after birth. In fact, one of his "Success Through Education" header statements is "A Pre-School Agenda That Begins At Birth". Sen. Obama would plunk $10 billion a year in federal tax dollars down to provide "high-quality child care" for children, to expand access to Early Head Start (is this redundant?), Head Start, and pre-school, and create a council to the president (himself) which would coordinate these efforts nation-wide.

We know how this works. We've seen it before: first it's a goal, then it's an option, then it becomes "compulsory." Isn't that what happened with vaccines, and indeed, education itself? The fact that this expensive program is part of Senator Obama's plans when our country is in such bad financial shape tells you that he is really committed to it. I don't like the looks of this at all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

There is Hope

I admit to a bias in favor of homeschooled teens. Having met so many (not to mention having several of my own), I just think they’re so creative, interesting and bright.

But dealing with government-educated teens, like the ones that have trouble taking our orders in local fast food restaurants, and those I see slogging down the street in herds with their pants falling down on purpose, has given me the impression that they’re quite the opposite of the homeschooled teens I know. And that’s not fair. The bright kids, the ones who succeed despite spending their lives in school, also exist, but I don’t see them around too much, probably because they’re too busy spending their time in more useful pursuits, like starting and teaching their own Advanced Placement classes in Economics.

That’s right, Seth Weidman of Pittsburgh, PA, believed there was plenty of demand for an AP class in Economics, but his high school did not offer one. So he created his own class by studying up on the subject and teaching what he learned to his fellow students.

And was he successful! So far, of the 18 students in his class, nine have taken the test, and eight of the nine have received their test scores. Six scored a 5, the highest score you can get, and two scored a 4. Compare that to the national average of AP test-takers (last year, less than 15% scored a 5 and a little over 25% scored a 4), and you can see that Seth was quite successful indeed.

I applaud Seth’s initiative in setting up this class, and can’t resist emphasizing that his students did better than the average American AP test-taker, who most likely took AP classes taught by a certified, college-educated, NEA-approved teacher. Ahem.

Seth’s friends thanked him for his efforts with a cake that had “Thank you, Seth” written on it and t-shirts made for the entire group that said “Weidman School of Economics” (Seth’s wearing his in the photo accompanying the article.) What a great group of kids!

Monday, July 14, 2008

What To Do When Your 12-year-old is Bombarded with Questions About His Future

It's interesting (and sometimes alarming) to watch how other adults talk to your homeschooled teens. For some reason, many of them feel the need to quiz your offspring about their future plans, and particularly about where they're going to college. (Maybe it's their way of checking to see if "this homeschooling idea" actually works, LOL.)

I saw this with my own kids, and it put a lot of pressure on them. Feeling like they have to live up to the expectations of the other adults in their lives can be a huge temptation, simply because said adults appear serious and concerned about the issue. But deciding what to do with your life, much less whether and/or where you're going to college, is a big deal, and it certainly doesn't help to have people putting so much pressure on you, especially when you're not quite 13.

That's what happened to a 12-year-old whose mother posted a question asking how to handle this pressure to the readers of "The Homeschooler's Notebook." Their responses are so good, I just had to post this link to share them with you. Just scroll down a little less than halfway, to where it says "Last Issue's Reader Question."

By the way, at the bottom of that page, you'll find a link for subscribing to the "The Homeschooler's Notebook." I've been a subscriber for years and I highly recommend it!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Musical Interlude

Just felt like sharing one of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite singers. :)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Teaching Your Girls About Money

Five years ago, Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers was first published, and since then I’ve gotten many email messages from readers who used the curriculum with their kids and were pleased with it.

Sadly, I’ve also been asked why I chose to include girls in my target audience for the book.

Now, I realize that many homeschoolers are even more conservative than I am, enough so that they plan to keep their daughters at home until and unless they marry. But to keep them in the dark about financial matters seems so misguided to me.

In the past, many women were uninformed about their finances. Men kept track of the money, and their wives kept track of the cooking and cleaning. But if their husbands died before they did (which is statistically more likely to happen), they often found themselves wondering if they were rich widows or poor widows, because they didn’t know. They had to rely on other male family members to help them find the paperwork needed for probate and figure out where they stood financially.

Unfortunately, marriages also break up, and women who are unaware of financial matters can find themselves left with children to support and no idea of how to prudently handle the income they now need to bring in. The pain of an unwanted divorce is thus compounded by the need to learn about money. It’s hard to learn something new when you’re emotionally distraught.

My grandmother raised four children as a single mom during the Great Depression, and the stories my dad told me about what she went through made it clear to me that girls need to know about finances every bit as much as boys do.

Recently, I was reminded yet again of that when I read this article about women who find themselves losing their homes because they were not knowledgeable about the mortgages they applied for when they bought them. The combination of ignorant consumers and greedy mortgage companies has resulted in some single moms also losing thousands of dollars that they really can’t afford to lose.

In the stories quoted in the article, the women now losing their homes didn’t understand that buying a home without putting any money down is a warning sign that you’re going into a loan with some danger zones. They saw it as a lucky break, when it was anything but that. It usually means that you have an adjustable loan, and in the current climate, your house payment will continue to rise, even if the value of your house does not rise (or worse, drops.) You are responsible for the amount of money borrowed to buy the house no matter what the house is now worth.

Even if her loan did not have an adjustable rate, the first woman seemed like a great candidate for a house because of her income level. She also thought she was making a good purchase because she didn’t borrow as much as she was approved to borrow. Big mistake! Pneumonia and then a broken wrist made her miss work, and she was forced to spend what cash she had paying bills. But she ran out of money, and could no longer make her mortgage payments. She not only lost her house but ended up owing the bank $32,000.

These women were also apparently unaware of how stressful it can be to have a huge house payment when you’re the head of a single income family. Had they been taught about financial freedom and the joy of being debt-free, they might have never become homeowners, but they wouldn’t have lost their homes, either. When you look at everything through the mindset of minimizing debt, you have more control over your financial situation, especially as the years go by and the good habits you’ve developed bear fruit.

Reading the sad stories about those women has reminded me yet again how important it is that we educate our girls as well as our boys about how to handle money and how to aim for financial freedom. Judging by what’s going on in our economy right now, this kind of education is more important than ever. We homeschooling parents have the time and the opportunity to do it right.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Homeschool History and Info

Last week Jamin of The Old Schoolhouse's Freebie Friday newsletter shared a lot of great links for homeschooling information, background and history. I thought she pulled together a wonderful variety of resources. You'll find her post here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Her First Job

Dd17 started her first official job last week. By official, I mean not a babysitting job, or doing work for Cardamom, but working for someone else in their place of business.

She worked long days on her feet last Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and came home tired but happy. Now she has a couple of days off before it begins again. This is tourist season, so it's constant customers along with answering the phone, mopping the floor and doing all the other things that need to be done in a small but busy retail establishment.

So far she enjoys the work, and is more than ready for her first paycheck. She says her goals are to buy an iPod and then save up for a car.

It's strange not having her around during the day, and we miss her, but we're glad she's found a job that she likes.

She had applied for a job at the public library a while back, but when she didn't get it, she marched right into town and starting going up and down the main street of the downtown area, asking each of the merchants if they needed help. No one did, until she got to one of the last places remaining, and he was about to hire new help and said she could add her application to the pile. And the rest is history.

She could have applied at the local Target but said she wanted to work in a smaller place where she's get to do a variety of things, so this is working out well for her.

It's working out well for us, too, because of all the places for the child of a chocoholic mother to work, it's a candy store, and when we visit, we get a free sample of their homemade chocolate fudge (yes, she's already learning to make fudge in their big copper pot.) Of all the skills she's learning at her new job, I put fudge-making at the very top of the list :)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Testing Your Teen's Level of Financial Literacy

Our country's economic situation illustrates what happens when large numbers of people are financially illiterate and thus fail to live within their means. People bought houses they really couldn't afford using mortgages with payments that would increase dramatically over time. Worse, many also borrowed against the home equity that developed as the bubble inflated. Now, they're losing their homes because they can't make the payments, and the repercussions of so many foreclosures as well as the subsequent decline in prices are affecting the entire economy.

Lack of financial literacy is a real problem. Public schools have failed to teach kids about money, but more importantly, many students' parents have failed to teach them about money. It is our responsibility to take the time to teach our kids about financial matters while they're young, so they will make wise choices when they grow up.

That's what Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers is all about, and I'm thrilled to be using the curriculum again, this time with my third child. This past year, she worked through most of the reading list. This fall, she'll begin with the projects. Since she just got her first "official" job (beyond babysitting), it's the perfect time to do these projects, as she'll be able to use the financial principles she's learning in her daily life, now that she'll have a steady paycheck.

I was glad to hear that some parents are teaching their kids to be financially savvy. HSLDA reports that a homeschooled boy is one of the high scorers in this year's National Financial Literacy Challenge. If you'd like to be notified about the next challenge so that your own child can take it, sign up here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fourth of July Carnival

This week's edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling has a Fourth of July theme. With the holiday weekend coming up, I hope you get some time for yourself somewhere along the way so you can enjoy the wide variety of posts for and by homeschoolers that you'll find there.

P.S. The video is of fireworks in New York City on the Fourth of July, 2005. Now that we're living in a small town, I'm thinking YouTube may be the only way we can view fireworks this year :)