Monday, July 29, 2013

Volunteering: a small act done with great love


A person that that actively takes on a task, responsibility, or project on his or her own accord without needing to be assigned, ordered, or told to do so. Often a volunteer is not paid for the work that they provide. For example, a volunteer may desire to work at a company's charitable events with or without pay and may even request to do so without being asked or told to.
2. Act of taking the initiative on a task, responsibility or project. This could be as a response to a request or by making the initiative to do so. For example, a group can volunteer to research an issue as a response to a request.

I do not believe that children should be forced to volunteer.  Isn’t that by definition an oxymoron?  Forced Volunteerism?  Many high schools, including the ones in my town require volunteer hours for graduation.  In my research, I discovered that with 60 hours of volunteer work, students can earn half a credit.  I wonder though, half a credit of what?  When you are forced to go somewhere, share your time and perhaps your talents with others for no payment that is an internship or just free labor for the place of business.  Wouldn’t those children be better off working a summer job, saving money, and gaining life experiences?  I believe they would.

Volunteering has to come from a place within yourself.  It is inherently intrinsically, not externally, motivated.  Otherwise, it is not volunteering.  Our family has always found fun things to do that are often initiated by the girls themselves.

We have:
  • organized beach clean ups
  • collected over one thousand books for local childrens’ charities
  • baked for community dinners
  • held a tag sale and used the money to purchase books for a local school
  • donated baked goods to local community groups
  • participated in a food drive through Girl Scouts that collected a tremendous amount of food for a local food pantry
  • donated time as a counselor at Vacation Bible School
  • collected children’s jeans that were sent to Haiti
  • painted the youth room at church

These matter because they were not mandated by either Greg or I.  When we find opportunities to work together as a family and we ask the girls if they are interested, they usually say yes!  When they approach us with an idea that they would like to develop, we usually say yes!

We recently were asked to run the monthly church sponsored dinner at a residential homeless facility in the city next to ours.  This was a big deal for us.  The girls had only attended one other dinner there and as for myself, well, I have only gone three times.  Thankfully I partnered with a friend and together we planned the menu and split the shopping.  Our daughters spent a few hours the day of the dinner baking corn bread and three kinds of cake.  

I asked my sister and my nephews to join us.  

When children are invited into the process, given an opportunity, expected to perform tasks well, and guided, rather than managed, they are able to do far more than we give them credit for.

These four children ranging in age from 10 to 15 prepped the food (chopped vegetables, cut watermelon, poured drinks, made a tossed green salad, assisted in the making of black bean pasta).  

The arranged the serving counter.

They cleaned up after themselves.

The greeted.

They served.

They were thanked and blessed.

This is exactly what Mother Teresa meant by her quote, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”  Love is never forced.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summer Reading

Our library, like many others, has a summer reading program where children log the books they read over the summer and receive prizes based on the number read.  The number.  Not the quality.  Quantity over quality.  

Lilah is on book #4 of Harry Potter.  

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - 309
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - 341
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - 435
                                                                1085 pages and counting.  This is just Harry Potter.  She has also read a few other smaller books like Number the Stars.  Will she reach the “magic” number of 8 books to receive a tee shirt and a certificate signed by the mayor?  You bet she will.  I will allow her to fill in the remaining slots with graphic novels and she will count the two audio books we just completed.  

When will we start looking at things a bit differently, valuing quality over quantity?  How about reading programs based on pages read?  Or how about a choice of reading books from leveled book lists, the number decreasing as the reading level increases?  How about rather than just log a book, the child creates a video, a book report, a poster, a blog entry, a bookmark, a dust cover, or how about they have the chance to tell other kids why they loved the book they read?  Get kids invested in the process, let them have input into the project, and the results can be astounding.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing Group: Grammar

I love the book First Language Lessons for the well trained mind by Jesse Wise.  Lilah and I worked in it every day when she first came home.   It is basic grammar taught in a fun, hands on style.  

I believe that many of these lessons can be easily adapted to fit the older child who needs to review or how has just been introduced to grammar.  

We began writing group with a review of verbs, specifically linking or helping verbs.  The girls were given the directions to cut out two or three pictures from magazines that they found interesting.  They glued the pictures into their journals and wrote a sentence about the picture.  They were introduced to the concept of diagramming a sentence by boxing the verb and the helping verb.  

A list was added to their journal.  They discovered on their own that the helping verbs changed depending on the tense of the sentence.  To vary their sentences, they used different tenses.  

It was a fun mini-lesson adapted from First Language Lessons.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writing Group : Zine

Fridays are officially my favorite day. Fridays bring out the best in me.  I wish all days could be like Fridays.

Friends of the girls come every Friday between 7:30 and 8:00am.  Their dad drops them off on his way to work and they spend the day with us, until about 7:00pm when I return them to his worksite.

By 7:00 I am up, showered, dressed and something yummy is ready to be popped into the oven.  I have a huge lunch in the slow cooker - this was a yummy whole chicken simmering in a dry spice rub.  The back room/studio is readied for writing group and I feel energized.  

I mentioned to Greg that I would love to homeschool someone else’s child in addition to my own because it upps the accountability factor.  I could get out of bed at 6am all summer and have baked goods on the table at 7:30 and a full nutritious meal at 1:00pm but when it is just the three of us, sometimes I sleep in until 7:00 or 7:30 and the day gets away from me.  Breakfast is cereal and I may not shower until an hour before we have to run out the door to guitar lessons, or a dog walking job......

I spent a great deal of time during the heat wave indoors planning our upcoming school year and thinking about what I can do to offer the girls some fun choices in writing group.  Lately I have been getting lots of emails from blog readers about two topics: art journaling and writing group.  I offered up a challenge to the group - respond to the inquiries with a Zine (a handmade mini-magazine) about how to begin and run a writing group for teens/tweens.  This was a spark that quickly ignited a flame of energy.

The studio was like a conference room.  There was planning, sketching, discussing, and creating.  Informational writing is very different from creative storytelling and the process is much different.  At times I stepped out of the room to let the energy flow and the process play out.  

I anticipate that this project will take three weeks.  Copies will be made and the girls will visit locations in town like the library and independent book stores to inquire if their zine may be left for patrons to take free of charge.  

More pictures to come as this project unfolds...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Beach Nights

Beach nights have been something that we have treasured for three years.  They are magical evenings spent in the company of friends...some new, and some old.  They are the highlight of our summer.

Friday, July 19, 2013


This reminded me of my brother.  
Puts the North East heat wave into perspective....

Origin unknown.  Saw this floating around Facebook.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vegan Gluten Free Gift of Yumminess!

Lilah had the opportunity to bake a cake for my Aunt’s annual pool party.  My Aunt had requested a chocolate cake that would meet her dietary restrictions.  

Lilah modeled her cake on her 10th birthday cake from Carlo’s Bakery in New Jersey (home of The Cake Boss).  She felt she had the skills to make a comparable cake only hers would be vegan and gluten free!

Hours were spend creating a modeling paste from sugar, coconut oil and soy milk which was used to make the girls, the seaweed, and the beach blanket.  She used this same paste and a gumball to create the beach ball.  The only “artificial” ingredient was the blue frosting.  She simply ran out of time to try to create something with organic ingredients.  

Covering the cake and the crumb coating of frosting is a layer of fondant.  This was a brilliant addition because not only did it provide a smooth surface on which to build her beach scene, the fondant could be peeled off when the cake was being enjoyed and none of the brilliantly dyed blue water was consumed!

I estimate about 5 hours went into the creation of this cake.  It was her best work yet!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Homeschooling High School

I rarely comment about curriculum until October or so.  There is so much buzz on the blogs right now about new texts, new curriculum, and new programming that I have fallen victim to being caught in the current and swept along thinking that everything program we planned would happen and every text I bought would be used.  In our home, this is not the case.  Often programs are not as great as I thought they looked on paper, books were not used and we tend to fall back on our tried and tested resources that work best for our family.

We will be incorporating some new things into our homeschool this year but I am not sharing them yet.  Look for them around October.  One thing I do want to share is a book I just finished: Senior High: A Home-Designed Form + U + LA, by Barbara Edtl Shelton.  It is just what it claims to be, a formula for homeschooling high school.  

This book gave me piece of mind in a way that no other resource has.  As I sat with my coffee still warm in my favorite mug and my dog curled at my feet I felt as if God was speaking directly to me telling me that I can see this journey through to completion.  What began as a trial basis four years ago has grown into a way of life that we are not ready to abandon because the challenges of homeschooling a teenager seem insurmountable.

The challenges are not insurmountable.  In fact, I don’t need to make many changes at all to how we homeschool.  What I do need to do is become a much better record keeper.  Since the state of Connecticut does not require any mandatory reporting, I have been lax at keeping forms, tallying the number of days we devote to learning, and how many hours we spend on certain subjects.  I was always confused by this because if we watch a really great documentary on a Saturday is that a day of learning?  If the rest of the day was spent outdoors riding bikes, walking the dog, visiting with friends and family, do I not count the learning that took place?  I have always been thankful I do not have to prove 180 days of “schooling” took place, even though I believe our number would be greater.  

I have the opportunity to use 8th grade as a test run for the systems I put in place for Grace to homeschool 9th through 12th grade.  With the forms that are put forth in this text, I could take that Saturday and count the 2 hours that were spent learning towards a specific content area, like science or social studies.  Bike riding could be placed under PE and if the girls were helping to cook a meal, that time would fall under Home Economics.  I am working under the premise that 120 hours = one credit.  We can meet those hours whenever and wherever we choose.  

For fun, I have been keeping records of what we have done just these past few weeks.  So far this summer we have 30 hours of art journaling which would be filed under Fine Arts.  60 hours = 1/2 a credit.  Pretty Cool.  Add to that the time we spent at the Lang Lang performance and West Side Story and the hours add up quickly (I do not count travel time).  Each activity is recorded and dated.  This I do already, I just used a notebook rather than a specific form for each subject area.  

The benefit to this is rather than having a 11th grader who is frantically trying to put together a transcript for the 4 years of high school, I will have proof that the hours for each credit have been met, and in fact, she has met the requirements of each grade level.  We will use a college prep high school requirement standard as our spine.  I will use a content model for subjects such as math and science (when the course/book is done the credit is issued) and time model for the other areas (when 120 hours are reached, the credit is issued).

The girls will have transcripts may that differ from their schooled peers.  Their electives may include things like Bible Study and Meteorology Internship and Cake Decorating, but that is exactly why we are continuing on in this journey, to take advantage of the unique opportunities that come with learning outside of a school system.  

This book is a tremendous resource.  I have marked it up, emailed parts to Greg for his opinion, and shared it on Instagram.  I have read other books on homeschooling high school to educate myself if this is the best choice for our family and for my girls.  This book is the best I have read.  I know that in the upcoming weeks, as I finalize our plans for the fall, I will come back to the pages I have highlighted with post it tabs over and over again.  

I realize that high school is a big deal.  I am blessed to know families whose children graduated as homeschoolers and went on to attend colleges such as Amherst College and Smith College (and they never took a formal math class!).   I know others who have had sons join the military and others who have become entrepreneurs at a young age.  I know that with time and effort and consideration, my daughters can thrive out of school.  I hesitate to say “at home” because in this upcoming year our tentative schedule of activities will take us out of the home 3 out of 5 weekdays!

As I develop the forms and put together Grace’s 8th Grade Binder, I will share how to do this in upcoming posts.

**This is NOT an affiliate post.  I received no compensation or product for this posting.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Art Journaling: Girls

Oh these girls.  These girls who each see life through their own unique lens.  They can take a model, created by Lilah, and turn it into something different and wonderful.  

Planning for this group can be a challenge because they never want to all do the same thing.  The girls who want to come up with their own challenge browse through Pinterest and my old art journals until they find something that strikes their fancy.

It was interesting to use oil pastel twice in the same week.  I prefer using them on a smoother surface, like the Gesso’d board book page.  The paper in our sketchbook is very heavy and textured.  The oil pastel has a completely different look and feel.  

Two coats of Krylon Acrylic Spray were needed to seal the pastel and provide a surface to write on.  Interestingly, I had an easier time writing on the sealed pastel in my sketchbook than in my board book, but I have no explanation as to why...

Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...