Sunday, December 29, 2013

What I am Reading

It is a bit ironic that at this point in my life I feel very distant from the church I once considered my second home.  Yet, at this very same point in my life I feel like I am learning and growing more in my faith than ever before.  

Things led me to distance myself from my church (not the church).  Decisions were made that breached our goal of living the faith.  New people brought on with visions that differ from mine and little snippets of conversations overhead here and there that were mean and spiteful.  I realize that these reasons have to do with me.  What I feel.  How I feel.  They are not even rooted in my faith practice.  I know that faith is not about me.  

I have never understood why if you enter a Baptist church, you will find Bibles under every chair but if you enter a Catholic church there is not a Bible to be found, only misselettes, with little snippets of Bible scripture for each mass.  They are not in context.  They are not chronological.  It is up to the Priest to connect the two readings, one from the Old Testament and one from the New, together and through his homily, give us an undertanding of why they matter, or should matter, to us as we try our bests to live a Godly life.

This September the girls and I joined a non-denominational Bible study that met weekly.  Readings were assigned and the questions that tested our understanding of the scriptures were due each week.  We did this together, usually on Monday nights.  We read or listen to the Bible, answered the questions and worked the memory the verse.  Our study covered the 70 year exile from Jerusalem.  We learned more in those 8 weeks than I did in all my years of catechism, where we learned a great deal about the church, but hardly anything about the Bible.  I began to read the One Year Bible my Aunt had given me years ago.  When the weekly lessons would call for just a few chapters and verses, I would read them all.  

But once again, an institution of religion got in the way for me.  I learned that the girls were participating in faith practices that differed from our Catholic practice, and I made the decision to leave the group.  

However, now that my interest in the Bible was piqued, I could not just walk away from all I was learning, so in true homeschooler style, I choose to educate myself until I can find a Catholic Bible study that will allow the girls to participate.  

The girls and I began another 8 week Bible study but put it on hold until the New Year when we would have the time to devote to it.  I love these booklets and thought the theme of Heroines of the Bible very fitting for the three of us girls to dig into.  

I discovered the author Andy Stanley and loved the simple read: Since Nobody is Perfect, How Good is Good Enough?  Loved this book.  It answered so many little nagging questions I had regarding the variations on the thought that there are many ways to get to God like this one:

“So many gods, so many creeds, So many paths that wind and wind, While just the art of being kind Is all the sad world needs”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I went on to read another of Mr. Stanley’s books: The Best Question Ever.  This book made Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 5:15-16, come alive. 

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 

These words can be a guidepost for our lives, if we stop in our process of decision making and ask ourselves the question, Is this choice wise?  Simple, yet profound.

I am ringing in the New Year with Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.  I have begun my own list of 1000 gifts, in a journal, not on the computer.  I wonder how long it will take me to list them all?  Not coincidentally, this book is also based on the teachings of Paul, specifically his teaching of thanksgiving, of Eucharisteo.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Romans 1:21  ESV

I pray that I find my way back to my church.  I pray that I can overlook the new policies and procedures and view them as annoying, restrictive and burdensome, but not as barriers to my participation in the community.  I pray that I can continue my own personal development, further my own understanding, deepen my own faith, and the faith and faith practices of my daughters.

Friday, December 20, 2013

more than the subject at hand

We are really not a lapbooking family.  I have always loved the look of a lapbook, where everything you have learned about a particular subject is summarized and housed between the covers of file folders, but there is just so much printing and cutting and pasting.....

That said, we are really enjoying our Periodic Table lapbook.  Perhaps because the girls are doing it with a friend.  We are not rushing through it. There is no “due date”.  We have been working on it at home and taking it on the road.  We worked on it at Yale’s Peabody Museum and this week we worked on it at the UCONN Library, after a failed visit to UCONN’s Museum of Natural History.  I was shocked at how tiny this museum is and how misrepresented it is based on the university’s website.  I was bitterly disappointed I rescheduled a trip to NYC due to the snow and ice, cold temps and crowded subways.  We should have just braved it and went....

...However, learning in a university library is a cool experience in itself.  My girls have ventured into the libraries of Sacred Heart University, Yale University, Quinnipiac University and UCONN.  They have attended programming at Fairfield University, Yale, Western Connecticut University and Southern Connecticut University.  I want them to attend a college or university when they are ready.  I don’t care what the name of the institution is, or how others perceive its status.  I don’t care if they do a trade program or spend some time at a community college.  I just want them to understand that there are many, many options out there to gain a skill, trade, degree, or certificate that will allow them to pursue a talent, interest, or career.   It may be art school, or music school, or a 4 year institution. They might unschool their way to a degree by choosing a university that will allow them to design their own major.  Maybe they will do an internship or apprenticeship.  Who knows?  By visiting these different schools and gaining an understanding of the feel, the culture, the programming, and the degrees offered, they are learning first hand that not there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to learning (as if they did not understand that already!).  

Our work may be focused on the Periodic Table, but in reality we are always learning far more than the subject at hand.

Monday, December 16, 2013

James J Peters VA Medical Center

You can’t teach compassion and you can’t teach empathy.  You can’t make your child volunteer.  You can’t force them to do small things with great love. All you can do is offer them the opportunity to serve over and over and over again and hope that someday the profound effects of their efforts will be realized and they will understand the true meaning of compassion.

A homeschooling family in New York organizes a yearly trip to James J Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York through the husband’s organization, The Nam Knights, whose mission is “to honor the memory of American Veterans and Police Officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, to assist Veterans and Police Officers in their time of need and to promote community awareness through sponsorship and participation in various fundraising events.”

This year the coordinator’s wife Michele, a homeschooling Mom, posted an invitation on our Connecticut homeschooling yahoo site.  After asking my family if they would like to participate, we began planning and preparing for this visit.

We held a card making open house and spent an entire day constructing handmade cards to give to the Veterans.  Some of our card ideas came from Pinterest.  Others came from DoodleDrawArt.  All were lovely.  I printed off a verse from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day to adorn the inside of the cards, and we all signed our names.  

My father, whose father was a WWII Veteran and whose son is a Veteran of Afghanistan, generously donated hats and tee shirts from his business as gifts.  As I packed these items into bags to transport to the VA, it occurred to me that my girls are now mature enough to understand that on this very special day, they will be Santa.  They will spread Christmas joy and cheer.  Just like little children wait in anxious anticipation of the arrival of Santa Clause on Christmas Eve, some of the Veterans in the Bronx anxiously awaited our arrival, because for some, it would be the only holiday visit they would receive.  

We pulled into the parking lot behind several FDNY firetrucks and police cruisers with lights flashing.  Santa stepped out of the firetruck and greeted us all with a smile and a wave.  A smile and a wave.  That is what my girls were told to give the Vets.  Over and over they were told that the biggest gift we can give someone is our smile.  We smiled.  We smiled when we wanted to cry.  We smiled as we read the newspaper postings on the door of an Iraqi vet, who was probably the same age as me, who will never leave this hospital because of a traumatic brain injury he received while serving our great country.  While serving for my children and me.  I smiled when an elderly Navy Veteran recounted to me his struggle with leukemia and pneumonia, and how recently, his legs just stopped working.  I smiled when I wanted to cry because in his story I felt the presence of my Grandfather and understood how suddenly these men and women need to share their lives, their experiences, and their stories with someone who will listen.  I smiled when I wanted to cry at the woman who came to visit her husband and share a meal with him before wheeling him back to his room.  I smiled at the nurses and thanked them for their service. This hospital was not a sad place.  It was full of joy, and smiles, and love.  The nurses knew these men and women.  They knew their backgrounds.  They knew how they served.  They shared their stories with us and they allowed us into their space.  

Grace, who has been given a gift of service, took lead with a cart, and went with Santa into the rooms of men, some whom were very close to meeting God.  She smiled.  She wished them Merry Christmas and she never lost her composure.  She amazed me.  Then there was Lilah, who was a bit quieter, a bit more reserved, a bit overwhelmed at the magnitude of the event, but who still mustered up the courage to share a beautiful rendition of Carol of The Bells on the piano in the community room.  

This day we were Santa.  I hope that we are offered the opportunity to visit these service men and women again, after the holidays have passed, when the decorations are taken down and packed away and when these Veterans need a reminder that 

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Periodic Table Part 2

My girls have become quite intrigued by chemistry.  Not being tied to a curriculum allows us to follow the interests of the girls.  We have hit the pause button on oceanography for a few weeks to pursue a study of the periodic table.  Actually, it is not so much a pause, as a “look how these two areas of science fit together so perfectly” moment.  The study of the ocean’s water will make more sense when the girls understand what elements and compounds actually make up the water samples we are testing.

In a recent post about our construction of the periodic table, a blog reader commented on the resources she used with her sons when introducing the periodic table.  She provided the link to a free lapbook and recommended several books as well!  This is why I keep blogging.  This is why I share how we are approaching education.   I was not aware of these resources and with a few clicks, the books were sent to me via Amazon, and the lapbook was downloaded and ready to print.

I love these books.  My girls love these books.

We could have read the book, then completed the lapbook as a “final project” but that is not how we roll.  Not when we have a museum of natural history less than a half hour away.  Nope.  Instead, we took the freshly printed lapbooks, our newly constructed periodic tables, and our books to the museum and plopped ourselves down on the floor smack dab in the middle of the Hall of Rocks and Minerals.   

The girls were tasked with finding as many elements that fall into the different categories of the table.  Since this is a small display they were only able to find six, but that is six elements that they were able to view and understand in a personal way, much more so than if they simple read from the book.  They now want to venture into New York to visit the Hall of Rocks and Minerals at the Museum of Natural History.  I wish it were at the Met.  I really dislike the MNH......

*I recommend these resources because I love them, not because I received any compensation to do so.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Doodle Draw Art

Through the magic of Instagram, my girls have discovered the YouTube channel Doodle Draw Art.  Simple, short drawing tutorials.  I used the snowflake tutorial with my writing group Friday.  Six girls ranging in age from 8 to 13 all created the most beautiful snowflakes in their writing notebooks.  This became their prompt.  I always give them “invitations” to write.  What is your ideal snow day?  Write about a favorite winter storm.  Does your family have any winter traditions? Describe the first snow of the season.  

I love combining art and writing.  I ask the girls to pay close attention to their internal dialogue when they are drawing.  What are you thinking about?  What does the drawing remind you of? 

Our writing “warm ups” can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes on average.  We then move on to our core writing projects.  The older girls are working on finishing up an epic collaborate piece, and Grace has just a few edits left on her longest writing project to date, a fictional story inspired by her own life, about adopting a rabbit.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Don't Ask Me What I Want to Be, Ask Me Who I Am

Why do we ask kids “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, especially if what they want to be is something that they already are.  Lilah had a dream to operate an Etsy shop.  At first she thought she would sell baked goods.  However, I was a bit leery about selling food, dealing with the health department, and catering issues, etc.  Plus, selling fresh food would mean that our lives could possibly revolve around orders and that could be problematic.  She then came up with the idea of selling her handmade bows online.  This I could say Yes to!

Last summer Lilah became an entrepreneur.  Like most entrepreneurs, capital was required to start her business.  She was gifted many of the supplies needed and she used some of her own savings to purchase others.  She turned the back room (my former art studio) into her workshop.  There are many nights when I am getting ready for bed and she is still at her table, glue gun in hand.  

She made several sales this fall.  Some to other Etsy crafters like Keillee @ Homeschool Girls (whose handmade knit items are wonderfully creative) and Jenna @ LearningAlltheTime (whose handmade earrings are not only adorable, but very well made), some to fellow Instagram friends, and some to complete strangers.  There are also teens who are crafting for a cause, like Ductanddonate2, who sells craft items and donates 100% of her sales to Boston’s Children’s Hospital in support of her sister who receives care there.  These children are not waiting until they hit a magic age that quantifies them as an adult.  They are not waiting to graduate high school or college to pursue their dreams.  They are doing what they want to do now and taking the future as it comes, one day at a time.

What does a child entrepreneur learn?
Business Math: pricing, shipping costs, operational costs, profit/loss, supply cost, tax.
Marketing: online marketing.  Lilah’s Instagram account, LAcrafters, recently hit 1,000 followers.  Thankfully it has been a positive place for crafters to meet and share ideas and feedback.  There have been a few learning opportunities as well in handling negativity and just plain mean-spiritedness   Out of 1,000 followers, I have only had to delete 2 from her account.  
eCommerce: Lilah designed her Etsy shop. She created the logo, continually updates new listing and removes sold items.  She monitors feedback from purchasers and cross posts on Instagram.  
Photography: Sometimes I forget that the pictures she posts on Instagram are taken by an 11 year old child.  She has an eye for composition, lighting and editing.  
Quality Control: She cannot sell everything she makes and has offered seconds at discounted prices.  
Internet Based Instruction: She uses Youtube to learn to improve her sewing skills, fine tune sculpting techniques, and learn how to rainbow loom.  
Branding: She has her own signature wrapping and sends a personal thank you note and a business card with each sale.  
Responsibility: Each sale must be shipped within 3 business days.  Of course she relies on me to get her to the post office on time but she must have her order ready.
Independence: Mom and Dad will not finance this business venture.  We gifted her some of the start up costs, but now that she has experienced a very successful first craft fair, she has funds to invest in her own business, and money to put into savings to cover entry fees for future craft shows.  We now operate on a 50/50 rule, 50% saved and 50% to be used for supplies and personal spending.  
Confidence: You cannot put into numbers or give a grade to the degree of confidence that comes with experiencing failures and successes.  Confidence is something that comes with completing registration forms, learning new skills, improving a skill that was a struggle, speaking to customers, explaining products, and researching opportunities to grow her business.

Who knows how long this will last.  Right now crafting is her passion.  Perhaps it will turn into a passion for photography or sketching, or she may revert back to her other interest, baking.  She may try something entirely new and close her Etsy site in favor of pursuing other opportunities.  However, she will never look back and think that she was not old enough, or capable enough to do something now.  She will realize that one does not necessarily need to wait to achieve a dream, follow an interest, or learn a skill.  With support, opportunity, and determination, a child can be what they want to be at this very moment.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Periodic Table

I learned a long time ago not to plan too rigidly and to allow for the possibility of spontaneous wonder.  When our SoundWaters science program ended we decided to stick with the theme of science Mondays.  Our friend joins us for the day and we spend the morning working on Discovery Works Oceanography and the afternoon doing something out of Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study.  

preparing slide of Long Island Sound water sample
comparing pH of Long Island Sound water sample...

with pH level of tap water.

The first investigation, or experiment, involved testing water samples from Long Island Sound to determine how ocean water differs from tap water.  They tested the pH levels of each, the salinity of each, evaporated water samples, and examined the salt crystals under a microscope, and wrote a formal lab report.  

It was during the salinity test that the definition of parts per thousand (PPT) was discussed.  We used a online site from San Jose State University Geology 105 class - General Oceanography, to help us understand this concept. This definition reiterated what our book showed graphically as the 

Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany;
SVG version by Stefan Majewsky

mineral make up of sea water.  It is hard to understand this without understanding the Periodic Table of Elements.  Any introduction to the elements has to begin with Dr. Sheldon Cooper singing the element song:

which led to They Might Be Giants video of Meet the Elements:

which led to a spontaneous “extra credit” assignment.  Not too long ago I realized that students in school are motivated to go above and beyond the class syllabus with extra credit but homeschooled children don’t have or necessarily need the same motivators.  Lilah would scoff at an "A".  To her it would be just an arbitrary letter.  Occasionally I toss out extra credit projects for things like Razzle gum (Lilah’s favorite) or an ice cream cone (what they wanted for this project).  The task:  create the periodic table of elements, color coded by classification of element, and then list each element by name.  

The girls dug into this project.  I expected it to be an over the course of the week project, not a sit-here-until-it-is-done project.  Two hours later, they each completed a beautiful Periodic Table of Elements.  We had a fabulous discussion about how some elements stand on their own, like silver and iron, and others are combined to make things like salt (NaCl) or water (H2O). 

I wish the elements were introduced to me this way.  I struggled my way through high school chemistry.  However, this made sense.  They got it.  Already my brain is spinning with what to do with this new information because it is just too cool to leave this new understanding tucked away in a science binder.  I think we need to take this Periodic Table of Elements out into the world......I foresee another “field trip” in our near future!

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...