Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Old Dog Learns New Tricks

I get such a kick out of homeschooling. I don't know who learns more:  the kids or me! This year my sweet gal is taking a photography class at co-op, and it's taking me out of my normal track in life. I'm having such a ball going over all the nuances (and we're only in week 2!) of our respective cameras. Since she's dyslexic, I'm reading the book out loud to her. One of the modes she was working on was the macro setting. I pulled out some shells for an object study and let the shooting commence. I could hardly stand just watching her. I wanted to yank the camera out of her hand and take my own photos! Rather than doing the very unseemly and immature move, I went and gathered my own and got started on my own camera exploration. It was my favorite five minutes of the day!
A close-up of a shell

A close-up of coral
I played around some more with my little camera, a Canon PowerShot Elph 130 IS, a simple point-and-shoot camera and found that it had a color boost. It really made the photos of the shells pop once I turned it on!
Without color enhancement

With color enhancement
The book she's using for the class is Better Photo Basics by Jim Miotke, and we have found it to be useful as well as readable for the neophyte. I'm looking forward to the next lessons!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

In Celebration of the Socratic

Our family has been on the homeschooling trail for quite some time now. In fact my oldest is essentially finished with homeschooling and is happily exploring the excitement of dual enrollment. When I first began the journey I knew nothing about homeschooling save what was encompassed in the term, namely schooling at home. I merrily set up my pseudo-classroom, complete with American flag and blackboard. My tiny pupil, along with his toddler brother and baby sister, reported promptly to our home classroom directly following breakfast where we opened our morning (in kindergarten the essentials didn't take long) with the Pledge of Allegiance. That out of the way, we would proceed through the three Rs with diligence if not delight.

We survived this one year. It's not that my son wasn't learning, precisely. He was advancing just like he ought. It's rather that some element was missing. We weren't having fun! As we approached the end of his kindergarten year, I started investigating more about homeschooling and greedily gobbled up whatever tidbits I could find about educational theory, especially related to homeschooling. I ate up philosophy as championed by Charlotte Mason, a 19th century British educator who among other things, espoused short lessons, "living books,", narration and dictation, and regular time out of doors for nature study. I seized onto these ideals like a sinking ship and threw everything I had into the CM approach. By and large it worked marvelously well. My son enjoyed his new time out of doors, although he was too squirrelly to sit still and sketch the flowers or rocks or bugs we would find, and his shouts of delight at being out of doors would drive all wildlife far from our view.

Along our journeys my son did what all children do. He asked lots of questions. "Why is the sky blue, Mommy? How can the airplane stay up in the sky, Mommy? How does a skid steer work, Mommy?" All of these were par for the course of a 7 year old's interest. His questions, along with those of his younger siblings, drove us to the library for answers, and we would happily digest the content of dozens of books. So frequently did we frequent the library that the librarians would have books held in reserve for us as we trundled up with our book cart, just knowing that my children would love them.

In the early years the book cart was heavily weighted towards construction equipment and airplanes. While our more formal lessons encompassed the traditional subjects of math, reading, writing, history, and science, our less structured time was spent in "delight" pursuits. Eventually, we started to marry the "delight" into the "compulsory," and we ended up with a hotch-potch of educational pursuits. Under girding it all, though, was the question.

Admittedly, I didn't know that the exchange of questions and discussions was Socratic in nature until much later down the path. All I knew is the kids and I enjoyed our morning together sitting in the living room engaging in conversation. That's really all it was, but it opened up a rabbit-hole of opportunity to seek out answers to our "I wonder..."s. Really nothing was off limits. Matters of faith, technology, current events, literature, history - all of it was fair game for discussion and introspection. Eventually we got round to the great philosophers and we learned about Socrates. Imagine my excitement as I read about Socrates' philosphy with the kids, and we learned about Socratic teaching!

In a nutshell, Socratic teaching emphasizes the question rather than the answer. It empowers the student to think for himself, allowing him to wonder, imagine, and dream. It allows for exploration of ideas and information. It is personal and reflective as well as communal. It occurs fabulously well in dialogue, and works well across the age and experience continuum. It trusts the student. It goes beyond the multiple guess/fill in the workbook approach.

As the children have grown and matured, so has their questioning. My oldest has stretched his interests to encompass current events as well as literature and matters of faith. My middle guy has grown increasingly interested in scientific matters such as bio-genetic engineering and its ethical concerns as well as computer engineering. My youngest is exploring symmetry and architecture and enjoying all things Mark Twain. These pursuits have grown out of a natural, God-breathed interest, and I love that they experience enough margin in their lives to explore these concepts. Truthfully I not certain they could if they had taken a more traditional approach to education.

This year we are participating in a formal co-op for the first time. In it the parents partner up to share course instruction, and I am the high school British literature facilitator. I am so looking forward to the opportunity to facilitate discussion Socratic-style and hopefully spark some questions for my students as we enjoy great literature from Beowulf to Shelley to Shakespeare, sprinkling in a little Saki along the way. I'm looking forward to seeing how the kids react to Shelley's monster, a line from Byron, or some humor from Wilde. And hopefully along the way, they will find that literature is a gateway to something special, a communing with the author and a journey into his world. I can't wait!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lonely Places

I am busy. I suspect you are, too. Modern Western society values busy-ness greatly. The busier we are, the better we tend to feel about ourselves. Our self-importance inflates. And there is so much busy-ness to choose from! Work, school, children, church, friends... they all compete in our psyche to win a place of prominence in our lives. I am no different from anyone else. There are days where my head is still spinning as our family (or the few who are home at the time) gathers around the table to consume a cereal supper because I was busy with something else of self-proclaimed importance. These past few years, though, I have been waging a quiet war with busy-ness, and along the way I have even won a few battles.

As a Homeschool Mom, my battles tend to center around kids, education, and church. With three kids, there is always an event to attend or math to grade. My condition isn't unique. Parents of traditionally educated children struggle with homework, work, and conflicting schedules. The battle rages and we grow more and more exhausted and discontented. Our marriages suffer. Our health deteriorates. Our peace erodes. Before we know it, we are in full-blown crisis mode, either ill or relationally damaged.

The symptoms of stress are many and varied. They affect multiple systems in our body and have far-reaching consequences. Among the most common are:

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Stomach Problems
  • Insomnia
  • Chest Pain
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Feelings of unworthiness/self-esteem issues
  • Forgetfulness
  • Disorganization
  • Depression
  • Focus Issues
  • Fear
  • Reliance on chemicals (alcohol to sleep, caffeine to wake up, sleeping pills, etc.)
  • Weight gain
  • And so much more!
Quite literally, stress kills. It kills joy. It kills relationships. It kills the body. It kills the soul.

A few years ago, I read a fabulous book. Entitled Margin:  Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Richard Swenson, M.D. 

Dr. Swenson went into great detail about the consequences of living margin-less lives, the above list being only a small smattering of issues. Our busy-ness is killing us as a culture in more ways than one. I suspect that it is in large part responsible for our approximately 50% divorce rate, our educational challenges, and our healthcare crisis. It rips people and relationships apart. It is a battle I wage within myself that I lose more times than I care to admit.

When I find I am acutely struggling with something, I find that the Source of Comfort is critical to me. I open my Bible and search for wisdom. This past week at church I was reminded in the sermon of these words:

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."

Jesus serves as a model for how I should deal with stress and busy-ness. Immediately prior to this verse, Jesus had healed a leper. The news was out about Him, and people were constantly coming to Him, seeking to be healed of their illnesses. He had so much work to do, and He loved the people who came to Him. He had an authentic heart and passion for people, yet He pulled back from their very real needs. He pulled back to the Source of His strength and communed with His Father, not once, but often.

When we withdraw from the busy-ness of our lives, when we allow the opportunity for the voice of God to come, we open ourselves up to healing and hope. How can we nurture others when we run around empty and uncertain ourselves? In short, we can't. The faster we go, the greater we fall. The center cannot hold. Much as we appear to want to be, we are not gods.

I truly want this new school year to be a blessing to my children. I want my husband to feel loved and respected. I recently purchased a book, Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie, that I am looking forward to reading in my quiet time. Along with the book, I'm journaling again. 

I hope you can reach out and grasp a little rest for your weary soul. Start small, perhaps five minutes or so a day. Claim it and look for ways to create more. Read. Write. Rest. Another of my favorite books is One Thousands Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp. As you build this new habit, may it become a source of blessing and renewal and by extension bless those you love!

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” 
― Augustine of HippoThe Confessions of Saint Augustine
Have tea, will journal!

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Flora, Fauna, (and Family) of Colorful Colorado

I love traveling. In the act of stepping outside the familiar I feel free. Last year's trip to Scotland with my husband is a perfect example. The two of us explored the country freely, unencumbered by our regular commitments to community and family. This year we were blessed to bring our entire family to Colorado, one of my favorite places on earth!
That's what I'm talking about! This Colorado view of Blue Lakes is stunning!
The first time I saw the Rocky Mountains I was 7. Mom, Dad, my sister, and I drove out for a family vacation. This flatland Kansas gal was overwhelmed and amazed when I saw the mountains for the first time. Through all these years, they have stuck with me. Many people prefer the mountains in the winter, when they are snow covered and somnolent, but I prefer them in the summer, alive with color and movement. Maybe that's because that's how I saw them initially, but I am always stunned into silence by the beauty of the mountains. With all the hiking, geocaching, rafting, and horseback riding, we were able to enjoy a great deal of the flora and fauna of the mountains, and I'm excited to share it with you!
Leafy Bracted Aster

Indian Paintbrush

Blue Columbine, the state flower of Colorado

Geyer Larkspur (I think)

Best of the worst. No idea what it is, but it looks like a pussy willow. I'm sure it's something else, but I couldn't identify it.

Cultivated in Breckenridge, CO.

Another cultivated flower (poppy) in Breck.

Alpine Golden Buckwheat? Again, not sure.

Yellow Columbine

Cultivated Pansies

Yellow Columbine
While the flowers were absolutely stunning, there was plenty of animal life to enjoy as well. The most exciting glimpse we caught was of a female moose. Unfortunately, no photos were captured, as it was extremely fleeting, but I was thrilled nonetheless!
The back of Flame, my trusty steed!

My cutie on her horse.

Another cutie with his horse!

This deer was photographed sporting a tracking collar
near the trail head for Mohawk Lake.

This little guy was found downtown in Breckenridge, along the river.

A yellow-bellied marmot! Found at the trailhead
to Mohawk Lake.

Mountain Goats! Found at Blue Lakes Monte Cristo.

And Mountain Goat Fiber to spin, collected caught
in the branches near tree line.
Yes, we saw many beautiful animals, including a fox, lots of hummingbirds, a bluebird, and the ubiquitous magpies of Colorado Springs. One bird I found on a hike I wasn't able to identify.

The biggest blessing of all was to share in all these adventures with my family. We met Brett's family in Breckenridge and enjoyed making memories through all our adventures and food. Lots of yummy food!
Waiting to eat at Relish.

An unexpected treat in Leadville, High Mountain Pies!

With two tables and one small counter, we took up 2/3 of the joint!

I hope I can return there some day! It was
fabulous food!
Towards the end of the trip, we drove down out of the mountains and headed to the lovely city of Colorado Springs where my daughter and I remained a few extra days to spend time with my sister and her family.

Sis and I

 My sister suffered a nasty accident less than a month previous and had just come out of surgery to repair her ACL and meniscus. Thanks be to God the ACL was successfully repaired, but the meniscus was not salvageable. Instead of the hiking we had planned on, we ended up spending a lot of time in wonderful conversation in her living room. It was therapeutic for both of us. While the kids cavorted we caught up on life. It was a great time. We did manage to do a small bit of car sightseeing, and Sis drove us to the incomparably beautiful Garden of the Gods. There was a storm building, and I managed to capture a few nice photos of it.
Garden of the Gods.
After our tour, we were able to pop through and see Glen Eyrie castle, which is managed by the Navigators.

Glen Eyrie
Our alpine adventure is over now, but the memories will last forever. I'm so thankful to have a loving family on both sides. I'm thankful for the time we were able to share and the experiences we were able to savor. And I can hardly wait to return!
Cone flower from Mom's seeds in my sister's garden.