Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blink

It's a stealth move, you know, your kids growing up. One moment you're hunched over, grasping their tiny hands as they precariously navigate their first steps, and the next you know they're traipsing around college campuses, discussing the merits of a large school over a smaller one. It takes my breath away.

 I have no regrets. Sure, there were (and continue to be) plenty of things I am doing wrong. I second guess myself at least once a day, and I realize he still has a lot of growing to do, but after this final year, the bulk of it will happen away from me. Realizing my time with him in my home full time is nearly over, I decided to spend some of it college hunting Kansas style!

I grew up in the great state of Kansas. It is still, to this day, the prettiest state in the Union to me, with its waving fields of wheat, inspiring horizons, and blazing sunflowers. I love it!


A Kansas farm pond

 So, in the early, early morning, my son and I loaded up and headed out to Kansas, to Grandpa, and to new possibilities.
He's faking it. He's not awake.

 The alarm startled me awake at 3:30 A.M., and 30 minutes later we headed to the airport. By 10:00 in the morning we had landed at the new airport in Wichita, Kansas, and Grandpa was ready and waiting for us. We caught lunch in Yoder, a small Amish community. The tempting scent of home-cooked food made our stomachs rumble uncomfortably as we waited for our meal to be delivered. I gobbled up a hot roast beef sandwich that reminded me of my younger days.
After a satisfying lunch!

 All that sustenance was needed, though, because we had a full schedule of activities that began first thing in the morning with a visit to Bethany College. Bethany is a small Lutheran liberal arts college situated nicely in my hometown of Lindsborg, KS. Back in the day when I was a high school student, Bethany wasn't even on my radar for two reasons:  1. We couldn't afford it, and 2. It was exactly two blocks away from my childhood home. I wanted to spread my wings and fly away, and that's exactly what I did when I decided to attend The University of Kansas (tour stop number 2).
Before the tour
Bethany pulled out all the stops, and my son loved the experience! He especially enjoyed visiting with Dr. Melody Steed, Assistant Academic Dean for the college about the things he particularly cares about- books and World War II!

Jacob enjoyed the campus, but he especially loved feeling like his presence mattered. He appreciated the care and time put into his tour and how it was personalized just for him. I enjoyed seeing Bethany through different, younger eyes. Rather than seeing it as a small, limited, and claustrophobic college, I saw it for what it really is, an opportunity to live and learn in a small town that values its Swedish heritage, its rich history of art and music, and its quality education.

Day two brought college tour number two and a dramatically different experience, for this time we traveled east to tour my and my husband's alma mater, the fabulous University of Kansas.

Lawrence, Kansas is located all the way over on the eastern side of the state, and to get there we drove on I-70 through the Konza Prairie and the Flint Hills. The prairie is maintained by Kansas State University. To me this is some of the loveliest land in the nation with its rolling hills, expansive skies, and stunning sunsets. Seeing it again made me positively giddy, and I couldn't help but imagine a stately Indian topping a ridge on horseback. Time hasn't changed the land.

Time has certainly changed Lawrence, though! The campus was undergoing a lot of renovation. My dorm, McCollum Hall, is slated for demolition later this fall. Jayhawk Boulevard is torn up, and scaffolding obscures the view of many stately old buildings. Nevertheless, it remains one of my favorite places on earth!

Here's a view of my old hangout, Watson Library, complete with construction!

Wescoe Hall, the sight of many of my larger survey classes, still ugly as always.

Strong Hall, venerable and stately.
The Burning Bush as photographed from inside the library of Smith Hall,
where I had many classes in Religion.


McCollum Hall. My room was the one directly above the trailer.
Library table in the
stacks where I
studied.

And library table on the floor where I studied.

Memorial Drive, overlooking Marvin Grove and the Campanile Bell Tower


 The highlight of the day was without a doubt visiting with my instructor from my own college days, Dr. Mary Klayder! This wonderful woman is who ignited my passion for English, and because of her I switched from being a psychology major to English and never looked back. She was one of my instructors for my British Summer Institute Experience (1990) as well. I love her still!
Such a treasure to share Mary with Jacob! It's a dream come true!
We met Mary in the Student Union. As busy as she was, she took time out of her schedule to do lunch. She and Jacob chatted novels as we reminisced about the days when we were each younger. It was a special interlude for me, and Jacob really enjoyed it as well, as he feels he has come to know Mary as a friend by the way I have talked about her through the years.

All too soon it was time to leave. A final hug and wave good-bye and we were back in the truck and exploring the town. I found my old apartment and snapped a shot of it.
It was the basement one. Yeah, it's ugly. That's student
apartment living for you.

 We drove past Joe's Doughnuts. We didn't stop. We made it to Mass Street and to Mecca- the Yarn Barn of Kansas! This store was there when I was a student on campus, but I wasn't a knitter. In the time since I picked the craft up, I've been dreaming of visiting, so of course we made time for it!
Spinning wheels, spinning wheels...

And more spinning wheels!

And of course lots of yarn!

 It was almost too much for me! In the end, I picked up three skeins of a locally dyed merino that I will likely knit into a shawl. When I wear it, I'll think of our special day together.

Soon enough it was time to head for home. We were both tired, but the day had been a beautiful one.

So where will Jacob end up? It's too early to tell, but I think he's leaning towards a smaller school experience. He had favorable impressions of both schools, and I know he would do well in either place. He's got time to decide. I say, it's a special time- enjoy the journey!


Monday, July 20, 2015

Block Scheduling on a Budget

We are a busy society. There are simply so many things to DO. As a homeschooling parent who has a life outside of homeschooling, I find it challenging to fit everything I need to do during the week into a manageable chunk of time. Adding to the chaos is the fact that two of my children have specialized learning needs. One has ADHD, and my other is dyslexic. These two conditions necessitate me being involved in the day-to-day lessons more than perhaps most middle school/high school parents need to be, but it is my reality, and I have learned over time to embrace it and work with our differences. One of the ways I maximize efficiency is by block scheduling.

Block scheduling is a method whereby I schedule our days into distinct time slots ("blocks") that help keep us efficient. While it works very well in our family, complete with all our special needs, it also functions quite well in homes where there is only one computer or other resource that must be shared by the family members or homes where there are a wide variety of age differences and many children. While there are many methods for accomplishing the scheduling, I need to thank my dear friend, Jeni, for showing me this method way back when my oldest (now 18) was in first grade.

Here's what I do...

  1. I begin with a notebook and a pen. I take each of my children and write down the subjects they are studying for the year. Once I do that, I put an asterisk by each course that will require my one-on-one time with them. Finally, I assign the amount of time that is to be dedicated to that subject each day.
  2. Once that is done, I assign a color to each child as well as the shared resource (in this case, me).
    I purchased these cards from Walmart for less than $2.00

    I always make the shared resource the brightest (and I like pink!).
    In this case, I am hot pink, my daughter is yellow, and my son is green.
  3. Next I count out the right number of cards for each color for each activity. A full card counts for 60 minutes, and half a card counts for 30 minutes. By checking the asterisks and the time listed, I can quickly determine how many pink cards are needed, and the same is true for the yellow and green cards.  
    The cards have been counted!
  4. Beginning with the shared resource, I start out by writing the subject on each card and put the child's initial on it so I know who is working with me. For instance, both kids are doing Fix-It this year. Through the years I have learned that my ADHD child works best with minimal distractions, so even though they will be doing the same course, they will be doing them at separate times. Each child has a card showing "Fix-It," but with their own initial on it. Since Fix-It only is scheduled for 30 minutes, I cut the card in half.  
    Cutting the cards in half for 30 minute classes.

    Labeling the cards (complete with child's initial) for shared time.
  5. I continue on through the colors and cards until I've completed them all. At that point, I begin to block our time in two columns, one for my son, and one for my daughter. The important thing to remember is that there cannot be two pink cards in a row or overlapping, because I can't be in two places at once.  
    Daughter's pile is on the left, and son's is on the right.
  6. I look at my schedule and ask myself questions. Am I double booked anywhere? Are the kids working on subjects that allow them to focus in different areas of their brains? Is what I'm asking of them manageable?  
Here's the tentative schedule.

7.  As a final step, before I put everything into my database (I use Homeschool Tracker), I write out on white recipe cards blocks of time in one-hour increments. I begin our day at 8:30. This allows us to eat breakfast and shower and read Bible, as well as get my oldest son off to college for the day. I lay the hour increment cards over to the left of the columns. It you look below, you will see that I stop at 11:30 and then pick up at 1:00. That allows us to take lunch and have a short break. I don't show that break graphically, because it doesn't affect the block.
Done!
I realized after taking this photo that I had a problem with lunch hour. Physical Science and American Lit spilled over into that period. It was super easy to simply go back to the blocks and shuffle them around until I ended up with this schedule...
Easily revised!
You will notice that I don't have any pink cards showing up in the late afternoon. That's because I tutor in the afternoon beginning around 3:30 in the day, so I knew all of my pink cards would need to appear before then.

 8.  All that's left to do at this point is snap a photo of it and then input it into my Tracker database. Of course, this is not a necessary step. For those who prefer, it's also very easy to simply write down the schedule in your paper planner or put it into whatever software system you prefer.
The schedule I worked up this year was fairly simple. I didn't vary it by day, as I anticipate working on all of these subjects daily, excluding our co-op day. If you had a varied schedule, and needed to schedule for each day, you would simply prepare cards for each different day. Some people work on some subjects only Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and then do different subjects Tuesday/Thursday. Block scheduling works well for that as well.

Block scheduling is effective for me in that it is concrete and defined for my ADHD kiddo, and it motivates him to finish quickly, so he can spend time before the next subject commences doing something he enjoys. It allows me to spend the time I need with my dyslexic daughter without my son having to wait around for my help. In short, it keeps us all sane.

There are many different variables you can explore with this scheduling method. One family I know blocks out the washing machine and dryer. Another one blocks out usage of the family computer. As a visual person, I have found it to be highly effective at keeping me from overdoing things or overscheduling our family. Give it a try in your family; you may find it saves you time so you can experience more margin and more peace in your own life!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Worldview Detective

Christian homeschooling parents today have a love/hate relationship with literature studies. On one hand, they understand that literature conveys great ideas and captures students' curiosity and excitement in a way no other type of writing can. Where things get challenging is what literature to expose students to. Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien are all well and good, but what's a parent to do with Virginia Woolf? Or, heaven forbid, Hemingway? Or Dickinson? These authors don't exactly espouse a Christian worldview, so should they be avoided at all costs?

Absolutely not! For it is by opening up the pages of a book, such as The Old Man and the Sea, that students read great literature that asks great questions and perhaps comes up with different answers than what a Christian worldview would reveal. One of the strongest ways to define and defend faith is by reading literature written outside that particular faith. It is, in other words, faith building. That isn't the only reason to read books like this, though.

Simply put, literature that has stood the test of time, like To the Lighthouse, or Herland, or The Great Gatsby, are great because they reveal timeless truths and still engage readers who wrestle with the same ideas that the characters do. Issues such as the value of the self versus that of society, or the equality of the sexes, or the power of love are issues and ideas that still resonate long after they were first penned by the author.

So, for parents who are uncomfortable working "outside of their experience" what resource will help clear the way? I wholeheartedly recommend Center for Lit's Worldview Detective, written by Adam and Missy Andrews.
Worldview Detective and its parent curriculum, Teaching the Classics are excellent resources to launch Socratic-based discussions with students.
Both courses are geared to the teacher, although older students would likely enjoy the course as well. DVD based, you should purchase both the DVDs and the practicum workbook in order to complete the course. It isn't enough to simply buy the workbook. Additionally, before purchasing Worldview Detective, I strongly recommend purchasing Teaching the Classics as a foundation, as the methodology used in Worldview Detective builds upon the foundation laid in Teaching the Classics.

Essentially Worldview Detective is built in four parts. The first part is led via the DVD with space for note-taking within the syllabus over defining and clarifying what a worldview is. The entirety of teaching is within the DVD. The second part provides the real "meat" of the course, the Socratic List of questions dealing with worldview. In the following third part the process is modeled where two different stories are read, and then a Socratic style discussion is engaged in by  Adam and Missy Andrews, the authors of the curriculum. The two stories are "To Build a Fire" by Jack London, and "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor. O'Connor's story must be either purchased or checked out from the library, as it is still under copyright although the London story is found in the practicum workbook. At the end of the analysis there are appendices provided that will further assist the parent/teacher that give guidance as to the major periods in English literature as well as an essay penned by Missy Andrews entitled "A Warning Against 'Christian Deconstruction.'"

I really like the combination of Teaching the Classics and Worldview Detective. It is liberating to feel empowered to select any literature I like for my students and not have to rely on "literature guides." I love how literature moves beyond a "What happened in Chapter three" mentality to a discussion focused around the bigger questions. As a woman who received her degree in English and loves literature, this has always been my method of literature study, but it was liberating to me to find corroboration of my thoughts and efforts.

As much as I appreciate and believe in this course, it isn't perfect. I wish the recording quality was better. The audio isn't as strong as I would like it to be, although it is still easy to hear and understand. That being said, though, it is the best methodology I have found out there for empowering parents from all backgrounds to read, enjoy, and discuss literature with their children.

Worldview Detective is available from either Center for Lit or IEW, and it sells for $49.00 for the 4-Disc DVD set and course practicum. Teaching the Classics is available from the same places and sells for $89.00 for the 4-Disc DVD set and course practicum.

Update:  Good news! I learned from Adam Andrews that Worldview Detective has recently undergone re-mastering, which addresses the audio qualities that I mentioned above. The corrected disks will be shipping soon.

Which reminds me... I want to assert that I have received nothing from the creators of this program. I purchased both programs on my own. I can honestly say that my views are my own and haven't been influenced by any gift.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Plans

It's summer. How can I tell? Is it by the summer storms that come crashing in on our home almost every afternoon? Is it the "pick-me" frogs singing their love song in the pond behind our home? Or is it the beach towels draped along the lanai chairs and grit of the beach under my feet as I sweep out the living room for the second time of the day? Yes, yes, and yes. But most especially, it's the fact that I am in the midst of planning for the upcoming school year that reminds me summer is at hand.

The first hint of summer appeared when I was sequestered away at the annual homeschool conference over Memorial Day weekend. FPEA, which stands for Florida Parent Educators Association puts on the largest homeschool conference in the world. It's massive, and I love attending. The past few years I helped out by working in the IEW booth. I'm a registered instructor for the company, and I love helping parents and teachers find just the right resources for their students.

It's a big booth!
The booth is massive, and many people visit it over the course of the weekend. While I am there, I also pick up some of the resources I will need for the upcoming year.

This year I'll be facilitating two classes. One will be for upper level high school students, Advanced American Literature. I'll be using the following resources for it:

  • Advanced U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons by Lori Verstegen
  • American Literature by Janice Campbell
  • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
  • The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
  • A Writer's Guide to Powerful Paragraphs by Pellegrino
  • A Writer's Guide to Transitional Words and Expressions by Pellegrino


My other class that I am planning is geared toward 8th/9th graders, and it will focus on the various forms of essays and literature. I'm super excited about this one, as I am really building this one up with my own literature selections, and I can hardly wait to get started! These are the resources I'll be utilizing (so far). There's still some work to be accomplished on it.

  • The Elegant Essay by Lesha Myers
  • Teaching the Classics by Adam Andrews (teacher resource only)
  • Worldview Detective by Adam Andrews (teacher resource only)
  • Virgil's Aeneid
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
  • "Owl Moon" by Jane Yolen
  • "Thank you, Mr. Falker" by Patricia Polacco
  • "To Build a Fire" by Jack London
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
  • The Three Musketeers by Dumas (Maybe?)
  • Girl of the Limberlost by Porter (Maybe?)
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Maybe?)
  • English From the Roots Up (Maybe?)
  • And lots of short stories and poems...
For this class I am planning on alternating weeks of instruction. On "odd numbered" weeks we will focus on essay construction (narrative, persuasive, and expository). Then, on the "even numbered" weeks, we will delve into literature with a Socratic emphasis. I'm really excited about Worldview Detective. I recently finished the practicum, and it underscored how I have approached literature study with my students already. In the Christian community, there is trepidation about approaching literature from different world views. In many cases, well meaning parents search for the Truth in a text where it really never appears. In that case, they either come up with one on their own to "confirm" it as belonging in the canon of great literature or they avoid it entirely, preferring to stick with "safer" books. This should not be! Literature is deemed great and stands the test of time because it asks great questions. Some of answers found do not reflect Christ because they were never intended to. You would find it impossible to find a gospel message in Hemingway. Does that mean Hemingway shouldn't be read? Not at all! Hemingway was a great searcher for truth, and he asks some great questions! For our high school kids, it can be a wonderful thing to read Hemingway and feel his condition, his frustration, and examine the questions he posits and the answers he comes up with. As we travel along our own life, we face our own questions and must come up with our own answers as well. It is a shared experience, even if it is not a shared truth. It can also be faith building, as it certainly helps us to clarify and define our own answers to Truth!

These aren't the only classes I'm planning, of course. I am still homeschooling, so that means I'll be figuring out science, math, social studies, and more. It's nice to have a co-op to help me along the path, especially with the science! I'll post more about the general schedule for the year in another post.

I've got about a month left to get things figured out and planned. It's a busy one with a short vacation and a college trip with my oldest to the University of Kansas. Before I know it, it will be time to delve into everything. I can't wait!