Monday, June 17, 2013

Preparing for Camp NaNaWriMo

I heard a lot about NaNoWriMo last November, and made a mental note to take a look at it when making up lessons plans for the next school year.  June finds me making lesson plans, so I jumped on over to the website and discovered that, in addition to the full-fledged NaNoWriMo that happens in November, there are also two "Camp NaNoWriMos."  The first session is during the month of April and the second instance happens in July.

Bluebird, reading over my shoulder as usual, latched onto the idea of writing a book over the month of July like a barnacle on a pier.  I, happy to see any interest in writing from Bluebird, have done my part to stoke the campfire of excitement with talk of new writing notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, writing parties, and a "Get 'er done" camp-out on one of the last nights of July.

Not many people appear to know about this little event, so I'm spreading the word.  The "under 13" crowd does their "camping" on the Young Writer's forums, but the "over 13" crowd gets to have fun over at the official Camp NaNoWriMo site.  Bluebird is definitely participating, and I'm on the fence about participating--I'd hate to sign up and quit because it would set a terrible example for my girl.  However, I know she'd love to have writing time alongside me.  We'll see.

The educational resources are rather good for the NaNoWriMo events.  I've printed out three months' worth of lesson plans (sign-up required, or I'd link you to the page) to help my kids understand what a novel is, how to create characters, the elements of plot, writing dialogue, and squirreling away your "Inner Editor" for the duration of the month--just write.  August will find us coming back and editing, hopefully to the point of publishing.  (Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas this year...ha ha.)

Generally speaking, I don't push creative writing; I believe it's more important to get the understandings of the mechanics and grammar of writing into their little brains at this point rather than forcing creativity--not everyone was sent to Earth to become a creative writer, but they will need to write clear essays in the future.  Penguin is not interested, so I will not insist upon Penguin participating.  Bluebird, however, is expressing intense interest in this writing avenue, so I will support her interests and be there to coach her on this rather large goal.  (There is a chance that Penguin will want to participate once she sees how much fun we're having, and I'll let her join if that turns out to be the case.  She's six--it's understandable to be a little cautious of a new thing.)

We're taking this week to go over the various concepts presented in the lesson plans, and then we'll have a little notebook-decorating activity to make the writing just a little more special.  I was hoping that some of the children in the neighborhood, or from other local homeschooling families, would want to participate, but I've only heard from one family thus far, and it's still a bit of a maybe.  Hopefully the forums are a good source of inspiration, and hopefully I can get my life organized enough to send care packages to my little writer to surprise her.  (Oh, the cuteness!)

So, yeah, July...we're gonna be doin' a whole lotta writin'.  If it sounds interesting to you, go take a look.  We'd love to hear how others are handling the fun in July.

Monday, June 10, 2013

2012-2013 End of the Year Report

I've sat down to write this post three times now; each time telling the same story, but not knowing exactly how to say what I'm trying to say.  I figure that I just need to write it down, put it out there, and close up the book.

This past year of homeschooling was different from all the previous years in that it required me to really commit to what I was doing.  Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade--I was totally winging it every year.  This year, with Bluebird being in third grade and adding in Penguin as a second full-time student--whoa.  Whereas in previous years we could move along without too much effort or consistency, this year was a huge exercise in diligence and preparation.  I actually uttered the phrase, "I'm sorry, but I'm already busy with grading and prepping that evening, can we do it a different night?"--on multiple occasions.

Which brought up the question, more than once, of whether or not this was really how I wanted to do my kids' educations?  I mean, I pay taxes to support our school district, my friends are always telling me how great our local elementary school is, and homeschooling this past year showed me how much work I'm going to have to start committing to this endeavor.  It's one thing to practice writing letters in shaving cream; and a completely different game to teach (while also learning alongside) your nine year old child the difference between nominative and accusative noun declensions.  I even found myself in a new territory of reaping criticism from fellow homeschoolers about my choice to follow a more classical education philosophy.  I've spent the past ten months in mental turmoil, constantly going over my reasons for not only homeschooling, but also choosing a more rigorous method of educating my children at home.

I've searched my heart deeply for an honest answer to these questions.  I found that I had to go to the most basic of questions--What is the purpose of life?  It was only after asking myself that question that I could think clearly about this homeschooling issue.  The answers came to my mind in the form of two separate scriptures:
"...[N]evertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God...."  (Alma 12:24)
"Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.  And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."  (Doctrine & Covenants 130:18-19
If the purpose of this life is to gain experience and prepare ourselves to meet God, and we're able to take with us the knowledge and truths we've learned in this life into the next, shouldn't my child-raising efforts focus upon those things?

Education is funny little topic right now, in that few can actually define it, and yet all are demanding a better form of it.  Is education just mastering the 3R's?  Is it vocational training?  Is it college preparatory work?  Is it the sum of knowledge in one's head?  Or a score on a standardized test?  A piece of paper stating that you've sat through enough hours of instruction to qualify for graduation?  A love of learning?  What is education?

The definition of education that I have chosen to adopt encompasses more than just book learning.  To me, "education" is the sum total of a person--their knowledge, the wisdom they have gained through their life's experiences, and their virtue.  "The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.  Light and truth forsake that evil one."  (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36-37)  Intelligence isn't a score on a test or an scholastic achievement, but the ability to act in accordance to the truths that one knows to be true.  The great measure of intelligence is one's character--work ethic, attitude, obedience, honesty...the attributes that bring us closer to God.

My original reason for homeschooling was that I wanted a more rigorous education for my children than I had received from the public school system.  I wanted them to master the grammar of the English language, learn Latin, read the Great Books, study logic and rhetoric, and receive in-depth instruction in the humanities and sciences.  I do not see what I want offered by my school district.  For this reason alone, I would continue to homeschool, albeit a little begrudgingly at times.

Fortunately, this past year of hard questions has helped me to find other reasons to continue with homeschooling, and to continue with our more rigorous approach.  The knowledge my kids are acquiring is great, but what I truly love about homeschooling is how it is shaping our family.  I am able to guide my children throughout the day, not only in academic subjects, but also in moral lessons.  For the most part, I don't have to "undo" lessons learned in a different environment over which I have no control.  Dinner conversations aren't about finding out what my kids did while they were away from me, but a continuation of what we learned earlier in the day, coupled with the added knowledge from Michael as he participates in the conversation.  I tweak lessons so that the kids will be prepared to help out with projects that happen around the house and understand the historic or scientific principles at play.  I love the culture of learning that we have in our home.

In regards to our more "rigorous" approach--diagramming sentences, requiring my children to memorize numerous historical and scientific facts, learning Latin, writing from dictation, and reading children's versions of the Great Books--I see nothing but benefit from such a workload.  We're not done with school by lunch, which seems to be the big selling point of homeschooling for lots of people, but my choice to homeschool wasn't formed on the basis of efficiency or timeliness.  (I've never been one to believe that parenting is an exercise in efficiency.)  My kids are able to finish the common requirements, as set forth by our state, in less time than they would be at the local elementary school, but I don't see that as a reason to stop.  Why not do harder work and prepare them more fully for the coming years of their educations?  Latin is immensely valuable in building their vocabularies, understanding the grammar of their own English language, and will aid them on the Verbal Section of the SAT's.  Diagramming sentences helps them understand language even better, which helps form them into more proficient writers.  Memorizing "useless" facts frees them from being tied to an electronic device so they can access Wikipedia in order to check answers about things middle schoolers should know.  A rigorous, classical education allows my children more options in the future--and what parent would set that aside if they were capable of giving that to their children?  I'm capable of teaching it, I have the resources to do so, and I believe in the power of this educational philosophy...no brainer.

But it takes a lot of work.  Hard, diligent work.  Work that you force yourself through even when all you want to do is throw the work on the fire and dance while it burns.  (Not exactly the "warm and fuzzies" I was going for when I started on this journey.)  But that's character.  It's showing up and doing what you said you would do, simply because it's the right thing to do.  I could take the easier route of sending them out the door each morning, and save myself the lesson planning, the hours of instruction, the frustration of having a very "lived-in" house, and the lack of funds (because, in addition to giving the school district $900 every year, I also spend a small fortune to buy our own curriculum and supplies)--but is that really what I want out of this chapter of my life?  No.  Having lived the way we've lived these past few years, struggles and criticism included, I have grown to appreciate what we're doing with our children; this intense scholastic and moral education is so good for them, and good for both Michael and myself as adults.

Honestly, I've felt like a failure for most of this last year.  I'm teaching a subject I do not know (Latin), my workload increased, and my former safety net of support kind of turned on me because they think I'm asking too much of my children.  However, I'm thankful for all those trials because they forced me to sit down and really think out this decision and weigh my options, and come to know the truth for myself, outside of others' opinions and advice.  I've grown closer to my Heavenly Father as He's guided me through these questions and helped me understand my personal mission a little bit more.  I don't have all the answers, but I have what I need to continue on with my journey at the moment.  Classical homeschooling works for us, and it's perfectly fine for people to disagree because I know this is our personal truth.

So, come next start-of-the-school-year, we'll be sharpening our pencils (a LOT of 'em) at home once again.  Next year will see us with a 4th grader, a 2nd grader, a Kindergartener, and a very active preschooler.  It will be another year of serious commitment to this educational decision, but I'll be all the wiser because I know that it's going to ask more of me, which I wasn't prepared for this last year.  We'll grow some more, struggle a little bit, and, hopefully, get to the end of the year amazed at all we've accomplished together.  I'm proud of us; it was a year that asked a lot, and we rose to the challenge.  We are able to do hard things.  Go Team Brooketopia.  :)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bedtime Brownies

Bluebird tried to make Cake Pops with brownie mix, but the brownies turned out too moist for crumbling.  Therefore, a large pan of brownies sits upon the stove-top, wafting its chocolate-y fragrance throughout the house anytime someone walks past.

Penguin came upstairs, well after bedtime, and caught Michael munching a brownie.  "Can I have a brownie?" she asked.

"Sure," he replied.

"Hey," I said, "it's already nine-thirty and she's got to get up at six-thirty tomorrow!"

Penguin beamed in my direction, "Well, I'm not tired.  As you know, I'm extremely capable of storing large amounts of energy."

Michael and Penguin now sit at the table, enjoying their bedtime brownies.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Break

Today marks the two-week mark of our summer break.  We've done absolutely nothing.  Nothing.

I've tried, multiple times, to write up an end-of-the-year report, only to be annoyed by not having anything really astounding to say.

My power cord to my laptop gave up the ghost, which makes blogging difficult.  This post is coming to you via Michael's computer, of which I'm not the biggest fan.  (Replacement power cord needs some tweaking before it's serviceable.)

We've woken up late almost every day and I've fought the urge to completely freak out about it.

We've played with water.  A lot.

There's been some watercolor painting, at which I kinda totally rock.

We bought new sandals on the last day of school; our little way of saying "Bring on the summer!"

I caught some pioneer-killing fever that was rather awful, and I'm now mending from a lovely bout of food poisoning.

We planted some flowers, raspberry shoots, one watermelon, and a blueberry bush.

I've mended a lot of clothes, and I'm trying to sew a dress for Junebug.

I've doggedly marched on with Bluebird's mohair shawl.  (It's not a lot of fun to knit with alpaca and mohair in sunny weather.)

I tried to learn how to play Plants vs. Zombies with a controller.  It wasn't pretty.  Michael has suggested we don't do that anymore.

OK, we've done stuff.  None of which was on the "Summer Fun To-Do" list.  I'm working on the swimming, hiking, and artsy stuff.

Bluebird wants to participate in "Camp NaNoWriMo" in July.  I'm trying to organize something with the locals to make it a big event.  That'd be fun, right?  She's really into writing right now--she's making up "character cards" for her book so she can keep track of their names and attributes.  I'd like to run with this as much as I can.

We have lots of artsy stuff lined up for the next two weeks, and some pseudo-swimming.

In August, we'll have some seriously awesome visitors.  SERIOUSLY AWESOME.  Sometimes I start shaking with excitement when I think about it.

At the end of May, I didn't want to talk about homeschooling ever again.  Now I'm craving some personal time with next year's lesson plans.  It's weird how that works out every single year.

I still haven't cleaned up the homeschool room.  Sigh.

That's it.