Thursday, July 29, 2010

My educational philosophy

I am about a quarter of the way through The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child, the book I selected to prepare to homeschool Suzi. In Chapter 3, it encourages parents to think about their educational philosophy. While the book says "there is no step number one," this seemed like a good official first step to me (I mean, aside from reading books and informally playing/reading/etc). So, briefly, here is my educational philosophy so far; I've written at length before about why I hold some of these views. Several of my points are similar to the ones in the book.

1) A child should develop the ability to solve a variety of problems in real-world situations. This involves real-life experience in using problem-solving skills and the ability to find information when needed, by visiting the library, searching the internet, or locating an expert. It has very little dependence on a memorized set of knowledge.
2) Children should have an education that caters to their strengths. If a child is obviously gifted in writing, and has a passion for it, the bulk of his energy should be put into that subject. Those subjects we love and excel in are usually the ones we develop as adults and use to do important, possibly world-changing things. Children should be as free as possible to pursue what they love, no matter their age.
3) At the same time, an education should give a child enough basic knowledge to succeed in a variety of occupations. A child may not love math, but a little of it is necessary for everyday life and certain career paths require even more. A well-rounded education is important.
4) A good education maintains a child's excitement for each new day and nurtures her natural desire to learn, think and create. Catering to a child's individual interests and learning style is key.
5) A child should have opportunities to interact with others and develop interpersonal skills--not only with peers, but with people of all different ages and backgrounds. In the real world, we must regularly interact with all kinds of different people. We learn the most from people who are different from us.
6) Children should be taught to question authority. Some of the greatest achievements in history were made because of this. A leader is not always right. Always, always question.

I may add more to it later, but I can already see these beliefs shaping how we will homeschool. My dream homeschooling situation would include lots of dialogue in the middle of living life and working through everyday situations. We will do what we love at our favorite time of the day. Some books and worksheets will be used (mostly later on of course; Suzi is three) to ensure all important material is covered. We'll probably do more learning side-by-side on the couch rather than sitting under the bright lights at the dining room table, because it's more relaxed that way. We will make an effort to attend group meetings and have playdates and go places regularly. And lastly, I will respect my children's uniqueness and ideas in a way that is not so prevalent in schools.

From what I've read so far in a variety of places, I've gathered that the cornerstone of homeschooling is simply sharing everyday life with our children. I already love doing that. The rest will follow!

Do you homeschool? What is your educational philosophy and how does it shape your day? I am fascinated by the possibilities!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Our new routine

Fairly cooperative

Naps whenever she darn well pleases

After reading on a couple of different blogs how helpful it is to have a schedule or routine, I finally decided to make one for me and the girls. I had resisted for a long time because I couldn't stick with the schedules I'd made (a la FlyLady) back before Ivey was born. With FlyLady there isn't just one routine, there are several. For me there was the morning routine, the after-work routine (because I did this when I was still working) and the before bed routine. In the book it said something to the effect of it being wise to go ahead and start the before bed routine right after dinner. Yee-haw. These routines required lists of details and just weren't my style. I kept falling off the FlyLady wagon and finally gave up, although there are many things I love about her system and still use from time to time.

Plus, routines have a nerdy reputation. I thought, I'm not doing anything that complicated. Do I really need a list to tell me what I should be doing? Isn't that overthinking it? Until I became a stay-at-home mom a year ago, I lived a structured life. I attended daycare or school from infancy to college graduation, so I had to wake up and get ready and go to class almost every day. I didn't always like it, but I did it. Right after college graduation I got a job and the structure continued. Then I quit to stay home with two little girls who frankly don't care what time it is or whether or not I've had a shower or if we're all still in our pajamas when Daddy gets home at 5:00. Some days I don't have to leave the house for anything. See how this is dangerous?

It's easy for me to get sucked into Facebook or blogs or whatever and not get my day moving early enough. I fail to get a head start on the girls, tasks pile up on me, I get overwhelmed, and then I get depressed. Not severely depressed, but too depressed to function productively. It's a day-to-day thing. If for some reason I don't get anything accomplished by midmorning, forcing myself to get started is hard. Sometimes I barely get anything done in a day (other than taking care of my girls, of course) and that's a bad feeling in the afternoon. If I am already dressed and have done the dishes and started the laundry by 8:00, it's going to be a good day!

I think the kiss of death to my previous routine-following was the idea that things should be done at a certain time. I am not going to wake a sleeping baby to do the next thing on a list. Adults can adapt to a strict schedule, but with little children it's not so easy. Also, I detest dropping something I'm in the middle of just because it's "time" to do something else. It's counterproductive and frustrating. That's why it was so helpful for me to read about the differences between "schedule" and "routine" on Amy's site. We are definitely routine people, and this time I decided to start slowly by creating a loose timeline of events around things we already do. We already wake up and eat breakfast, so I decided after that we should immediately get dressed and go for a walk or play outside while it's still cool. Our routine for the afternoon was already in place, so I just wrote it down with a couple of minor changes. Here is our new routine:

Eat breakfast
Get dressed
Go for a walk/play in the yard
Art or craft project (Suzi, not me)
Play or read
Clean up
Eat lunch
Read books
Naptime (again, not for me, just Suzi and hopefully Ivey)
Movie and snack
Play in yard/go for a walk
Clean up
Get ready for dinner

Instead of waiting until we are up in Suzi's room to read her a book before naptime while the baby crawls around, I try to read to both of them at the table immediately following lunch (while they're eating "zurt," as Suzi calls it). This is more relaxing for me, I can read for longer, and sometimes Ivey will wind down and take a nap in her highchair. This happened for the first time the other day. Today, though, Ivey apparently didn't get the memo about our routine because she refused to listen to my story and then didn't want to take a nap either. This is exactly why a timed schedule does us more harm than good. Earlier we decided to play in the yard, and while I'd only intended to stay out for half an hour or so, some clouds rolled in and cooled things off and the girls were having a great time. We stayed out for over an hour and it didn't mess up our day.

We've only been doing this a few days, but I love the effect it's having. Who cares if it's geeky? I am a geek, so maybe that's why I like it so much. The girls seem happier and I have more time to get things done. Making the effort to get outside, all by itself, helps get us moving in the morning and gives us a chance to get exercise and sunlight. Right now we do it early in the day before it gets hot, but when it gets cold late this fall we'll probably do it right before lunch instead.

I have high hopes for this new leaf we are turning over. It will be such a benefit to our getting serious about homeschooling Suzi. I haven't been able to decide which type of homeschooling to do, or even which books to read, so I finally buckled down and ordered a book to get me started. I think we will try unschooling with a dash of whatever strikes my fancy or Suzi's for this first year. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my book, which is about the first year of homeschooling. It had excellent reviews, and in my usual fashion I skipped on down to the one- and two-star comments. The complaints were that it was too unschooly and not religious enough. Bonus! So I bought it. (We are religious, just FYI, but I don't care to read about it at length in a homeschooling manual because I want whatever we do with Suzi to pertain to our own specific beliefs, which may or may not be the beliefs of that author.)

This new routine, the quickly approaching end of summer, my book that's in the mail and particularly Suzi's readiness to begin homeschooling all have me so excited! While writing this I remembered how as a little girl I used to line my dolls up and school them from old textbooks. It made my heart sing. Now I get to guide my wonderful daughter through her education, for real. I get to watch my child learn and learn with her. My heart is all aflutter with visions of pumpkin farms and plays and zoo trips and nature walks. Working together side-by-side in the kitchen. Hearing her read to me. We have so much to look forward to together.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

When the three-year-old has a hissy fit

Suzi has been pitching some serious fits lately. Several weeks ago there was a big one in the food court at the mall over Aiden not letting her ride in the front of the fire engine rental stroller. People stared--not just to see what was going on, but to make me feel bad. I could see it in their ugly, gaping expressions. Sorry, people, but I will not stop bringing my daughter out in public. Next time Megan and I are totally making them walk though. Then the other day my mom and dad took Suzi to Cracker Barrel and she reportedly threw an embarrassing fit over a $2 toy, making my dad want to sink into the floor and disappear. I am so proud of my mom for not giving in and calmly walking Suzi out of the store. Not all grandparents would do this. Tonight we were all tired after spending the day at Grandma and Grandpa's house and it was getting late, but she wanted to stay at Grandma's and play. She started hitting as we made her put her play dough away, so I took her straight to the van. She was screaming about a plastic pig she wanted to borrow from Grandma and Grandpa's house, but I wasn't about to go back because I knew the fit would only worsen. We've been in similar situations and she realizes we want her to stop screaming, so she will see how far she can push us to get what she wants. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't feel it's smart to negotiate like this. She went on and on about the pig as we drove, screeching and crying and gasping in between sobs. I felt so bad for her. I remember being there, at that age, so upset, too small to get what I wanted and unable to convey what I was feeling. Why don't they see how important the pig is?

And I throw fits too. I throw fits about toys scattered all over the house. I throw fits when I feel overwhelmed. I especially throw fits, at no particular person, when I lose stuff, because it pushes my buttons. I understand how it feels to be out of control of a situation and to get frustrated, so I try to listen to Suzi and help her when she's upset. I draw the line at hitting, though, and Jordan and I are disappointed that Suzi has picked up this habit even though we've never hit her.

I wonder if sometimes I am not understanding enough. At some point I read a book which told me to ask myself why I am parenting in a certain way. Usually I think of times when I might have reacted too harshly. The reasons I generally think of are relics from my past: Children should not hit. Parents should do whatever is necessary to prove hitting doesn't work. Jordan and I agree it is not okay to hit our children and we are proud to have never gone there for any reason. We have that going for us. Still, sometimes I feel my reactions are high in consistency and calmness but low in compassion. Where is that thin little line between compassion and spoiling, and how am I supposed to find it on the spur of the moment in the midst of such a ruckus?

Maybe I should've gone back for the pig.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dressing to impress myself

I feel pretty in my nursing bodice, geeky glasses,
self-made butterfly hair clip, and long hair
that most women would've cut short by this age.
If you disagree, please don't tell me.

Someone I love has a long, sleeveless green hippie dress that she once felt comfortable and pretty in. It gets hot here in the summer. She was happy to have found that dress and asked my opinion and I said to wear it. It looked nice. Then someone else told her she shouldn't wear that dress anymore because her arms are too fat. This same person has told her other things, too, for many years, and thinks she is helping.

Well, now the dress is the "dreaded green dress." It may not have been said in so many words, but the main point of you should be ashamed of those arms; cover them was received, loud and clear. If this is the type of advice you are in the habit of giving, please stop. You are not helping.

This morning I read a mind-stretching post over at about her rejection of the flattering outfit and it got me thinking. I am ashamed to say I have rolled my eyes at the fashion choices of women on TV and on the street. We live in the south and there are rules about what to wear here. You can't wear white shoes until Easter, for one. Tedious, silly little rules like this abound--and all probably to force women into buying six of an item they really only needed two of. I followed obediently and my bland wardrobe reeked of fear that I might wear something too out-there and, as Natalie puts it, "make too much of a spectacle of myself."

Around the time I started college, I saw Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine on television, literally chasing unsuspecting women down and berating their choice of clothing in an effort to "help" them, because you see, they needed it so badly. I am embarrassed to say I went out and bought their book. I am even more embarrassed to say that I didn't even have to look hard to find it on my bookshelf this morning after I read Natalie's post. Because at 18 years old and 115 pounds, without a speck of cellulite on me and nary a stretch mark, I just had to know what I should not wear to look pretty. The book told me all that and more. I learned, of my small boobs, "a low scoop neck accentuates a bony chest which looks more like a DEFLATED BALLOON than a swelling cleavage." It said that "skintight on a skinny top half isn't sexy, it's a DISAPPOINTMENT." It even went so far as to liken my breasts to "RAISINS AS OPPOSED TO PEACHES." Ouch, ouch, and ouch. As much as they claim to disparage only clothing choices and not one's body, those are my boobs you're talking about! I worried that I might look ridiculous in some of the clothes that I loved, and not even know it.

They handled other bodily "problems" in the same way, repeating to women page after page that certain unsightly areas NEED TO BE COVERED. They even talk about women "unashamedly baring huge arms" as though these women darn well should be ashamed. Looking at this through the lens of a few years of experience and just having read what I did this morning, I have a problem with this. And they just go on and on: "Do you really want the world to see your most HIDEOUS PHYSICAL DEFECT? Hide the buggers, for goodness sake."
"Elastic sleeves will create TWO VERY FAT SAUSAGES as opposed to one." "Anything too tight will clutch around the butt giving away the TERRIBLE SECRET of having a butt that almost drags along the floor."

I just want to cry after reading all that. Why not love the body God gave you? Why not accept the stretch marks and fat and whatnot as signs that your body has faithfully taken you through life's ups and downs? My stretch marks are reminders of two beautiful little girls I am extremely proud of birthing. A little extra fat is because I ate what I wanted, and liked it just fine, thank you very much.

I have been thinking about this a lot today and am committed to erasing the remnants of this bad habit from my life. Here are my three top reasons in no particular order:

1) It's not sexy. I asked Jordan, and together we decided that negative talk about one's own body is about the furthest thing from sexy. Nothing you can wear or not wear could possibly be less sexy than this. So what's the point?
2) This is not something I want to pass onto my girls. I want them to go shopping and see a dress they think is beautiful and buy it, and wear it like a queen. I don't want them to look in the mirror searching for something wrong, or second-guessing their beauty or style. For them to be confident in their bodies, I need to be confident in mine.
3) It's hateful. Just refer back to the bold-printed phrases above. If you look closely at a woman who is ridiculing another woman's body or fashion choices, you will see she is insecure. What Not to Wear claims that "in matters of style, you have to be cruel to be kind." No. You have to be cruel because you feel inadequate yourself, and it makes you feel better if you can project a little of that onto someone else. We scold schoolchildren for it and yet fail to recognize it in grown women.

I am looking forward to taking compliments from Jordan at face value. Smacking down my inner critic who tells me no one wants to see me in such-and-such an outfit, even if I love it. Having fun with brightly colored clothing and accessories I make myself. Wearing lipstick that's a slightly different color from my actual lips. It may seem like it's just about clothes, but these negative notions touch so many areas of life, and rejecting them for the truth will improve so many things.

Have you struggled with this? Do you still? Do you always wear what society dictates and don't mind at all? I'm curious what others think.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pretty cool guy

I meant to do a post for Father's Day, but it was a stressful time and I didn't get it done. Actually, I didn't get much of anything done. But here are some pictures of Jordan and Ivey (at the Celtic rock concert at the Highland Games).

He changes lots of diapers and doesn't complain. He holds Ivey and does the Daddy Dance to get her to sleep at night when she's cranky. He cuddles with her in bed so I can roll over, and when I've had a hard day he puts Ivey in the Ergo so I can take a break. (Jordan is better at babywearing than I am!) He brushes Suzi's teeth and "goes to work to get money." (I didn't tell Suzi he made money because I didn't want her to get the idea that her Daddy printed counterfeit bills for a living.) Last summer he was so supportive during Ivey's homebirth and then he encapsulated my placenta all by himself. He insisted on doing it and said it was no big deal.

Yep, Daddy is a pretty cool guy. We love him.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who says you don't get a trophy?

"Honey, they don't give out trophies on the way out of the delivery room!" You've probably heard this before--or at least heard of it.

During a massive decluttering effort at my parents' house, they unearthed this little gem. Yep, that's me and my stats! (I was only 6-13, what?) No, it didn't actually come from the hospital. It was a baby gift from friends who own a trophy shop, but all I could think when I saw it was ha ha! Mama really did get a trophy!

I didn't get an actual trophy for either of my girls' births, but there's a trophy in my heart and battle scars on my... well anyway. I hate the trophy argument because the point isn't recognition from others. The point is that we read, took classes, paid extra for midwives because they were better (with Ivey), waited around over a week after my due date and generally went out of our way to have the gentlest, most wonderful births possible. It's a worthwhile goal and something to feel good about--and it does matter. I have a friend who is having a baby any day now. She's a VBAC mom and definitely deserves a trophy. A big one. Her trophy would feature a pregnant warrior-princess swordfighting with a big troll in OR scrubs. I just pray every day that she will get the birth she's worked so hard and fought for.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On fireworks and our house

On the fourth of July, we watched fireworks in our backyard with some friends. For the past several years we've lived here we've been able to see the official town fireworks perfectly from our yard--the sliding glass door, if we don't feel like going out. It's lucky. I am scared of setting off fireworks myself. I mean, it is fire. My cousin nearly put his eye out once because he started to set off the next firework before the one before it was really done.

I don't know if we'll ever move from here. It's not a big house, for sure, but I think most of the time what people have is not a house that's too small, but just too much stuff. The best (and cheapest) home improvement is getting rid of unnecessary items and organizing and respecting what's left. (I was making some serious headway on that around the first of the month, but then my motivation fizzled.) Before moving here we rented a big old house, with probably almost twice the floor space of this one, and it was ten times messier. You have to clean all those excess rooms, you know. We learned that an old, big house can be a lot of trouble and decided we wanted a new one. We had this one built while I was pregnant with Suzi and there are a bunch of pictures of me walking through the unfinished house, all excited with my big belly, knowing we'd be bringing our baby girl home soon.

And then a couple of years later I had a baby in the bathtub. It would make me sad to leave that tub behind. We are hoping, one day, to add on a garage with lots of shelves and an extra bedroom over it. Maybe someday a screened-in porch. Right now we have three bedrooms and one is our craft room with a futon for anyone who wants to stay bad enough to sleep on it. After thinking about it and reading about the experiences of others, we might just save up for any improvements we make. We do want a larger family, but for right now the house we have is actually perfect. It's like chicken pot pie, and an old favorite blanket, and cuddling on the couch watching a movie, and seeing fireworks out the sliding glass door. I love it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Finish the race like you're in first place

Today I am 26.

Favorite thing from my birthday. At Grandfather Mountain they have kilted runs for all ages. Our tent was in the inside row and we had a great view of the runners as they finished up the last quarter or so of their race. Suzi cheered. "Go! Go! Go!" and, for those who seemed discouraged, "You can do it!" One boy, perhaps eight or nine years old, was in last place by a considerable margin and the race was close enough to finished that his fate was sealed. Last! Last! Everyone dreads it, avoids it at all costs. I have lived it a few too many times, particularly in footraces. But this little boy, long since passed by a cluster of his speedy peers, turned to the tents, smiled and waved to the small crowd who cheered him on. Refusing to tuck his head in defeat, like the others, as he trotted out the final few yards. Refusing to apologize for trying. He just smiled and waved like that, as if in celebration, until he finally rounded the corner.

I don't have a picture of him, but I will tuck this little memory away like a snapshot.