Thursday, June 25, 2015

That Familiar Tug

     Thirteen years ago I felt a tug. My husband felt it too. I was forty-seven years old with four children ranging from ages eleven to twenty-one. I hadn't felt this tug since before the birth of my last baby. But here it was, happening, and I knew it instinctively. The Red Thread was pulling me again.

     This Red Thread (as the Chinese legend goes) is tied, by the gods, around the ankles or pinky fingers of those who will meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. We all have at least one red thread. Feeling the tug of this thread, we are destined to be in relationship with each other regardless of time, place, or circumstance. It may stretch and tangle, but the magical cord never breaks.

      All babies are miracles; my biological children have red threads wrapped all over them. These threads have definitely been stretched but they've never broken. The Real Deal is that there have been times when a thread got so thin and so threadbare that I could almost hear it snap. It didn't. Looking back, I see that the thread wasn't even close to breaking; it was only stretching to let growth happen. You see, if this Red Thread is wrapped up too tightly around your child, he can't grow. Stretching is inevitable, no matter how painful it may be. Eventually, the thin thread becomes a strong cord. This is happening in my life right now... finally.

     Today we're celebrating the birthday of "tugger" number 5. She is twelve today. She is growing into a smart, beautiful, interesting, and yes - a complex work of art. The thread is starting to stretch a bit, and it even is getting somewhat tangled now and then, but I now know something that I didn't know the first time around. It will never break no matter what. It's way too strong.

As three days suffice to cover certain trees with flowers, six months had sufficed to clothe her with beauty. Her April had arrived. Les Miserable-Victor Hugo

     Child number six also has a birthday soon. We felt her tug while in China in 2004. As soon as we got home, we recommenced the process and returned to China in 2008. She is quiet, deep, creative, sensitive, and her thread hasn't stretched or become too tangled up yet. She is stingy with her smiles, but when one comes, my heart swells.

A smile is the same as sunshine; it banishes winter from the human countenance. Les Miserable-Victor Hugo

     Maybe some of you are feeling a tug. It very well might be someone on the other end of your red thread kicking his feet and waving his hands to get your attention; asking you to open up your heart in another relationship. I think that in the end we only regret the chances we didn't take.

     Don't ignore the tug...


It always seems impossible until it is done. Nelson Mandela

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Getting Rid of a Stumbling Block or Why I Opted Out of Testing

     I have to admit it. Our homeschooling journey has been sailing fairly smoothly over the last couple of years. Naturally, being a product of the public school system and having experienced it four times with my now-grown children, it has taken me a little while to change my education paradigm. I no longer feel that being in "school" for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 180 days a year equals a well rounded education. I see that children need to be free to move along their own path at their own speed, all the while being constantly given worthwhile, interesting, and important ideas to feast upon.

Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving.

I've learned that a few good, like-minded friends are far more beneficial than navigating the sea of hundreds and provides a healthier "socialization" environment. I have seen, first-hand, how important it is to keep family ties stronger than peer ties at this young and impressionable age. But I kept tripping over one stumbling block... end-of-the-year standardized testing.

     Why did this testing not sit well with me? Well... for three days our children would sit in a room and fill in little circles answering questions about information taught to other children their age in public school. Hey, wait a minute! We homeschool, right? Our curriculum is different than the public school's. Granted, our girls do test well but the tests asked questions about things they had not learned during that particular school year, especially in science and social studies. They would leave the sessions feeling somewhat defeated. When the scores came in, I would feel the need to change my teaching method in order for them to obtain better test scores. (That's my type A personality showing itself.) It was just plain crazy.

     So this year we didn't have our children tested. I feel that the testing was not beneficial to the girls in any way what-so-ever, in fact, I think that it was a hinderance; maybe even an offense.

An offense, we know, is literally a stumbling-block that trips up the walker and causes him to fall.   

     Instead, we assembled portfolios documenting our homeschool year and enlisted a licensed teacher to review and evaluate our progress. Now we have two beautiful folders full of all we accomplished during the past nine months. Our evaluator, who is an experienced educator in a private school setting, appreciated our schooling method. It's always nice to get some strokes for work well done. Stumbling block gone!

     For those of you entertaining the thought of a portfolio evaluation, I encourage you to do so. For those of you with children who cope well with standardized testing, then I encourage you to go that route. But for all home schoolers, and even those with children in school outside of the home, I encourage you to compile a notebook through the year so you, (and your children), can visually acknowledge the progress made from all your diligent work.

Here's what we did:

     Through the year, I had the girls put math tests, diagramming samples, copy work, essays, etc., into a file. This wasn't all their work; just a small sampling. The other papers took a trip to the recycling bin. I kept track of the resources we used for each subject and a list of books that I read aloud this year. The girls kept track of their own independent readings by recording them in their commonplace books. (More about those at another time.)

     After accumulating photos through the year, I created collages showing some of the many different ways we studied. I had these printed at our local printing store. They came out beautifully and it was inexpensive. As you know, many learning experiences have no paper trail. (Those are the best!) This was great fun to do. I also included a page of miscellaneous pictures.

     Our school name, year, mission statement, and method was placed on a cover sheet. By creating this and having it in my view daily, I was constantly reminded as to why we do what we do. It helped me stay focused.

     Each three ring binder has a cover for each girl which includes her picture, name, birthdate, grade level, and school year. I added a couple of weekly schedules.We put them all together using page protectors and dividers, separating each subject: math, language arts, science, and social studies. I also included the table of contents for the math curriculum.

     This was very simple to do and I'm pleased with how they turned out.'s what I'll do differently this year:

   1.  I will take more pictures of everything we do. I certainly covered what is required, but I want to record more memories to look back on. Additionally, I will take pictures of projects and artwork so I don't feel that I have to keep all the originals. (Less stuff in the basement.)

   2.  The girls are keeping an ongoing list of their independent readings year round. I didn't have them start this until January of this year.

    3.   I will update my resource list continually through the year instead of waiting until the end.

    4.   Finally, I plan to create more organized and attractive weekly planning sheets, ones I won't be embarrassed to post in my blog!

     The Real Deal about keeping a yearly portfolio (and writing this blog) is that it keeps me focused and intentionally moving forward everyday. While I won't be around to see the "end product" of our daughters' training in life-long learning, I can see and actually hold the end product of each home schooling year.

     So I leave you today hoping that I gave you some encouragement on your journey. Don't let a day pass without creating moments that you will joyfully remember. Melanie

I'm linking up with Trivium Tuesdays. You'll find some great stuff there.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Don't Dumb It Down

     This is a worthwhile piece about the importance of reading quality literature to children. By reading classic, timeless books, I improve my children's comprehension levels while giving them the tools to read, understand, and enjoy classic literature. This is a gift I give my children daily. (Not to mention what it does for me!) Our next read aloud is Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne. By the way, the Real Deal is that my eleven year old independently reads and comprehends these weighty books better than I do, but I'm working on it.

Please read the article here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hard Pressed and Loving It

We've been compiling a pressed flower notebook. These pictures do not do it justice. The effect is quite beautiful and delicate. What a fantastic activity for the summer! By adding to it through the year, we will have a pressed flower book highlighting each season. Some of the plants are a challenge to identify, but the search is half the fun!

Here's how we do it. During our nature walk, we pick whatever draws our attention, making sure to stay away from our neighbor's prized blooms. We study our treasures at home and try to identify them by use of a flower guide book and the Internet. Then we place the flowers between folded paper, put them in a heavy book, and place under a basket full of weighty this and that.

They become flat and dry in one month. The flowers shown above were picked in early May.  Flowers and leaves picked and pressed today are tucked away until July.
We then glue the pressed flowers onto watercolor paper using rubber cement, date the page, and label the specimens with their common and scientific names. (We do the best we can.)  Matte board makes a nice sturdy cover. We may decorate it, but then again, we may not. A pretty ribbon ties it together and can be untied to add more pages.

Separating the pages with tracing paper is a nice touch and helps keep the flowers intact.

The Real Deal is that I had no idea how to do this when we started but it has become a favorite activity with our girls. We will continue it through the year, making a beautiful keepsake as we improve our powers of observation, and gain some knowledge about the plants of each season.

Happy picking!