Saturday, January 30, 2010

What is an Education? -Essays of Montaigne

"The greatest and most important difficulty of human science is the education of children" -Montaigne

You've probably noticed that I'm really working hard on learning what an education is so I can make sure that my children get one.  The Essays of Montaigne had some really great insights and confirmed to me that we're heading in the right direction (although I still have a long ways to go in figuring it all out).

My favorite Essays were "Of the Education of Children" and "of Pedantry".  I loved his comparisons about what an education is and what we often think of it as.  He compares the mere memorization of facts to the ability to exercise judgement.
"[I] prefer manners and judgement to mere learning" 488
"Whosoever shall narrowly pry into and thoroughly sift this sort of people, wherewith the world is so pestered, will, as I have done, find, that for the most part, they neither understand others nor themselves; and that their memories are full enough, but the judgment totally void and empty." 456

The Thomas Jefferson Education book talks about how often, in school, we are taught what to think, but that leaders need to learn how to think.  Monaigne talks about how there's nothing so grand about being able to memorize information and spit it back out.  He reminds us that even parrots can do that.  In order to really learn, we need to digest the information, we need to make it our own.
"[See] if he has made it his own, taking instruction of his progress by the pedagogic institutions of Plato. 'Tis a sign of crudity and indigestion to disgorge what we eat in the same condition it was swallowed; the stomach has not performed its office unless it have altered the form and condition of what was committed to it to concoct."491
He discusses the best kind of things to study.  This is very much in agreement with the 4 phases of learning in TJED.  Core phase (or the foundation to a good education - what an education should focus on for about the first 8 years of life) is learning about right and wrong through work, play, home and love.  Here's what Montaigne says about it:
"Methinks the first doctrine with which one should season his understanding, ought to be that which regulates his manners and his sense; that teaches him to know himself, and how both well to dig and well to live.  Amongst the liberal sciences, let us begin with that which makes us free" 516
"One asking to this purpose, Agesilaus, what he thought most proper for boys to learn? 'What they ought to do when they come to be men'" 467
He also discusses some ways to own what you learn or to learn how to think:
"We take other men's knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle and superficial learning.  We must make it our own." 450
Through reason:
"If he embrace the opinions of Xenophon and Plato, by his own reason, they will no more be theirs, but become his own.  Who follow another, follows nothing, finds nothing, nay , is inquisitive after nothing."493
Narration (saying things in your own words):
"I would not have [the teacher] alone to invent and speak, but that he should also hear his pupil speak in turn."
I try to do this with the kids by asking them what we talked about the previous day when we're starting a lesson and I encourage Rock to ask them what they learned about when he gets home from work.

Hearing a variety of ideas:
"so the several fragments he borrows from others, he will transform and shuffle together to compile a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment: his instruction, labour and study, tend to nothing else but to form that." 494
This is an important reason for our family reading time every evening from the classics and for our discovery time.

"I could wish that Paluel or Pompey, those two noted dancers of my time, could have taught us to cut capers, by only seeing them do it, without stirring from our places, as these men pretend to inform the understanding without ever setting it to work, or that we could learn to ride, handle a pike, touch a lute, or sing without the trouble of practice, as these attempt to make us judge and speak well, without exercising us in judging or speaking." 496
This reminded me of the importance of going on field trips and nature walks and experiments.  We can't really make things our own if we haven't experienced them.  It reminded me of when we read a children's version of the Epic of Gilgamesh last year and Gilgamesh was going through a dark cave for 3 days.  We had recently been to Timp  caves and they had experienced the total darkness in caves, so this part of the story came alive to them.

Observing people:
"Let him examine every man's talent....By observing the graces and manners of all he sees, he will create to himself an emulation of the good, and a contempt of the bad." 
I try and want to teach the kids that we can not judge people because we do not know their experiences or what is in their hearts, but we can notice the results of their behavior or we can guess what those results may be, and learn from their mistakes as well as their example.

Careful reading:
"In this conversing with men, I mean also, and principally, those who only live in the records of history; he shall, by reading those books, converse with the great and heroic souls of the best ages. 'Tis and idle and vain study to those who make it so by doing it after a negligent manner, but to those who do it with care observation, 'tis a study of inestimable fruit and value."
This is what I'm trying to do with the books I study - I get so much more out of them when I sit and write about what I've learned.  Also, when we're reading books together, I try to pause and ask a question that might cause the kids to reflect on certain principles.

"Human understanding is marvelously enlightened by daily conversation with men, for we are, otherwise, compressed and heaped up in ourselves, and have our sight limited to the length of our own noses."  510
I love this justification for book clubs and for discussing principles I'm working on, and issues, with people around me.  I always learn a lot as I discuss what I am learning with others.  I'm going to try to read more of the books that my kids are reading so they can discuss them with me and they can learn more.

Observing the world around us and our place in it:
"But whoever shall represent to his fancy, as in a picture, that great image of our mother nature, in her full majesty and luster, whoever in her face shall read so general and so constant a variety, whoever shall observe himself in that figure, and not himself but a whole kingdom, no bigger than the least tough or prick of a pencil in comparison to the whole, that man alone is able to value things according to their true estimate and grandeur.  This great world which some do yet multiply as several species under one genus, is the mirror wherein we are to behold ourselves, to be able to know ourselves as we ought to do in the true bias.  In short, I would have this to be the book my young gentleman should study with the most attention." 512

I love nature, and I can't help but pause and marvel at the grandeur of it if I take the time to look around me once in a while.  I need to take the kids out in it more - even on the cold days there are so many beautiful things that we are missing.

Of course, the best way to know ourselves is through sincere prayer, study and meditation so we can see ourselves as God sees us and so we can communicate with the source of all truth.  I read from a talk by Elder David A Bednar this morning:

"We perhaps might be inclined to rely primarily upon our individual and collective capacity to reason, to innovate, to plan, and to execute. Certainly we must use our God-given abilities to the fullest, employ our best efforts, and exercise appropriate judgment as we encounter the opportunities of life. But our mortal best is never enough.

President Young testified that we are never left alone or on our own:

'My knowledge is, if you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, every man and woman will be put in possession of the Holy Ghost. … They will know things that are, that will be, and that have been. They will understand things in heaven, things on the earth, and things under the earth, things of time, and things of eternity, according to their several callings and capacities.'

Learning to love learning equips us for an ever- changing and unpredictable future. Knowing how to learn prepares us to discern and act upon opportunities that others may not readily recognize. I am confident we will pass the test of learning what to do when we do not know what to do or how to proceed."
Montaigne got me thinking about the difference between wisdom and learning.  I want my kids to be wise.  Unfortunately, too often in school we worry so much about memorizing facts which we later forget.  I do want my kids to memorize certain things so that those things will be available for them to recall when they need them (scriptures, times tables, wise poems, important documents) (Hmm... I'm thinking I might right a post about certain things we do to help them memorize things without requiring it), but much more importantly, I want them to learn how to judge what is of value.  To me, this is learning how to think.  I want them to differentiate the fluff from those things that really matter, and then seek for those things with all their hearts and minds.  If they can learn to do this, nothing will hold them back from reaching their potential.  They will find a way.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Discovery Time

 This post is part of my thoughts on educating the kids.
On my original schedule I had called this "Mom School", but I'm calling it "Discovery Time" now to help me keep my goal in mind.

I mentioned in this post that I don't like to require my kids to learn things, and that I have bought into the philosophy that the most important thing I can try to teach them right now (besides a moral foundation) is to love learning.

One way for me to do this is through the TJED principle "You Not Them" which means I show them how exciting it is to learn by working on my own education.

 "Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

  Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

  That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you." -Doctrine and Covenants 88:78-80

I've been trying to work on this by reading the Great Books, practicing the piano (don't ask me how I"m doing on that one lately), writing about what I learn, memorizing things I like, learning about things the kids are interested in (I know more about praying mantises now that I would have ever thought I'd care to know), and learning about things I want them to be interested in (like reading a book about trees so I could talk about them as we hike).   I'm also trying to learn a little more about the people we read about in Story of the World.   I check out short (okay, children's) biographies from the library and read those myself.
"There are few things more fulfilling and fun than learning something new. Great happiness and satisfaction.... come from this ... Lifelong learning can increase our ability to appreciate and relish the workings and beauty of the world around us. This kind of learning goes well beyond books and a selective use of new technology, such as the Internet. It includes artistic endeavors. It also includes experiences with people and places: conversations with friends, visits to museums and concerts, and opportunities for service. We should expand ourselves and enjoy the journey" -Dallin H. Oaks

I really haven't been doing a great job on making these things more of a priority lately.  I have to get back on the ball (I was doing good before Christmas break) and set aside at least 1 hour of study time for myself when the kids are studying (so they can see me doing it) and for at least on hour after they go to bed (so I can get some uninterrupted study time in there).

Discovery Time is the time that I share what I've learned with the kids.  Here are some examples of what I mean:

-I was looking through the educational children's videos at the library and I came across a series of videos about different artists.  I wanted us to learn about different artists, so every week I check out a video and a couple of books about one of the artists, and then for Discovery Time we read the books and watch the video.

-Sometimes it helps me to look at the elementary school curriculum to get an idea about what some fundamentals are in education.  I recently saw that 4th graders are learning some basic chemistry so I got a couple of basic books about chemistry and we'll sometimes do an experiment for Discovery Time.

-I have a CD that puts the times tables to classical music.  Each time table is set to a different musician.  Bud is working on his 3s times tables.  The 3s are set to Bach, so I decided to learn more about Bach.  We have a video about him, a couple of books, and his music.  The other day we all laid on the floor with our eyes closed and listened to one of his songs.  Then we all drew the images that came to our head while we were listening.

-The kids love Bill Nye the Science guy, so I might check out one of his videos about eyeballs, for example, and a book or two about eyeballs.

Basically, my goal is to expose them to a variety of interesting things so they can start to see how exciting the world and the people in it are.  They will want to know more.

Unfortunately, Discovery Time seems to be one of the first things to go when I'm short on time.  I'm going to make sure I get my morning started on time so that we are able to do it most every day.  It's really such a fun part of our day!

Monday, January 25, 2010

This Made my Day

I had to jot this down so I can always remember it 8)

We were discussing Patronus charms as we cleaned the kitchen after dinner yesterday (what? You don't discuss pretronus charms at your house?) and the kids were talking about what kind of Patronus each of them would produce.  Just in case  you don't know what that means, in a patronus charm an animal comes from your wand and the animal usually represents some of your characteristics.  The kids were deciding what kind of animal would come out of each of their wands and from some of their friends'.

"Coral and Anna would have a flamingo because they are girly."
"Micky would have a mouse because of Mickey Mouse."
"Baby Ray would have a pig because he eats so much."
"Bud's would be a praying mantis because he's fast and he likes praying mantises."
"Bazinks' would be a panda since he likes Kung Fu panda."
"What would yours be mom?"

"I don't know, maybe a beaver since I like to stay busy?"

"No, Hermoine's is a beaver."

"Oh, I don't know then, hmmm..."

Bud replied, "I think yours would be a bird."

Me: "A bird?  How come?"

Bud: "Because birds are so responsible for the baby birds in their nest."

Awwwww!  I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day!

Expecto Patronum (Patronus Charm)

Pronunciation: /ɛksˈpɛktoʊ pəˈtroʊnəm/ eks-PEK-toh pə-TROH-nəm
Description: Conjures an incarnation of the caster's innermost positive feelings, such as joy, hope, or the desire to survive, known as a Patronus. A Patronus is conjured as a protector, and is a weapon rather than a predator of souls: Patronuses shield their conjurors from Dementors or Lethifolds, and can even drive them away. A Patronus "cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so Dementors can't hurt it."[15] The conjured Patronus protects the witch or wizard that summoned it, obeys his or her commands, and fades away shortly after it is no longer required. When conjured, a Patronus appears silvery, ethereal, and semi-transparent. Improperly formed Patronuses range from momentary formless bursts of silvery mist, to poorly-defined forms that are easily defeated or quickly dissipate on their own. A full-fledged (or corporeal) Patronus takes on a fixed animal form that is often significant to the witch or wizard casting the charm. Patronuses summoned by a particular person have been known to change, although this has only been observed in the books in cases of unrequited love, such as Tonks' and Snape's respective Patronuses. In these cases, the new Patronus takes on the form of an animal associated with the love interest. Rowling has said in online interviews that Snape was the only Death Eater to be able to produce a Patronus. According to her this is 'because a Patronus is used against things that the Death Eaters generally generate, or fight alongside. They would not need Patronuses'.[16] According to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the Charm is also the only known defensive spell against Lethifolds.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Few Changes to our Morning Devotional and my New Books!

I went to a few classes at a homeschooling seminar yesterday.  One of the classes I attended was about teaching your kids through literature.  She gave me some great ideas like "come along reading" when a child reads to you while you get other things done.  I also liked the idea of putting poems and other things I want the kids to memorize up on the bathroom walls for them to look at (instead of the blank wall).  She gave us several book recommendations.  She talked about the importance of letting kids have their own books and not  just getting them from the library.  I loved this because I've always wanted a small home library filled with classic literature, but I sometimes felt unjustified buying books since I knew we could get them for free at the library.  I have found there are several books that we just need to own and I was glad to have her validate that for me.

Something she said that was indispensable to her was a graded reading set (like Childcraft or Bookshelf for Boys and Girls).  She specifically recommended "My Book House" as her favorite.   She recommended buying it on ebay or checking thrift stores.  So guess what I did during the lunch break?

The first thrift store I checked did not have the set, but I came away with about 20 other classic books and spent about 20 dollars.  I went to one more thrift store just to quickly check if they had any of the books in the My Book House series (I figure I could slowly gather the books as I came across them).  They had the ENTIRE set except for #10!  I got them all for 20 dollars!   You can imagine my excitement!

I've been looking through them this morning.  I love the content!  I've decided that I'm going to read from these stories during our "fiction" section of morning devotional (even though some of them are historical stories).  We had been reading from Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book, but we're about half way through it and I'm not loving it.  If anyone knows why the Andrew Lang books are supposed to be such great classics for children, please let me know.  They are a collection of many different fairy tales from a variety of authors, so I can see why they might be important, but a few (well, most) of the ones I've read are quite gruesome and really long.  I'm thinking I might skip all of the Andrew Lang books in our Good Books study plan. At least until we run out of other short stories and tales to read that I like better (like the ones in the My Book House series).  I have really been impressed with the other books on the Good Books list so we'll stick with it, but I'll just skip the Andrew Lang books for now.  Maybe I'll change my mind when I'm wiser :-)

Another great thing I bought was some coloring books.  I've mentioned how my kids like to color during devotionals.  I got some of the Dover educational coloring books and told the kids that they were very special books and in order to color in them, they had to do their best to color them accurately (like the real thing).  The books have small pictures of the real thing and you color a large picture of your own.  They're pretty cool.

One more thing that I decided to incorporate into our morning devotional is a poem recital.  We already memorize a hymn by singing it everyday until we have it down and a scripture (the Articles of Faith for now).  I like to read a poem everyday, but I think it would be good if we chose one to recite as well, until we have it memorized.  I've tried to explain to the kids that when we memorize something it's like putting great books inside our head that we can open whenever we need encouragement or advise.  I want to carefully select encouraging poems that they can think of when they need them.

Here is a great poem that I recently memorized (recommended by my very wise friend, Lara):
If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!
I love it.  It was so great to memorize it because I got so much more out of it.  Quiz me on it next time you see me!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Power Struggles vs Agency

This post is part of my thoughts on educating the kids

Whenever I talk to someone who is having a hard time getting their child to learn something, I've noticed that it's usually because they are involved in some type of power struggle.  Kids do need to learn obedience.  It's hard to know when to let kids exercise their agency and learn from their mistakes, or when it's better to teach them to be obedient.

How do we know when to insist on obedience and when to let them practice making choices in their education?

I've chosen to let the kids practice obedience when it comes to chores and family work.  I have decided to let them make their own choices when it comes to their education.

Why in the world would I do such a thing on something as important as their education?!?

Because I want them to love learning.  Because I want them to develop a passion about the things they learn.  Because I want them to take responsibility for their education.  Not to mention,  it is a power struggle I CAN NOT WIN.

Sure, I can make them memorize certain dates and names.  I can make them practice their arithmetic.  I can make them memorize vocabulary words and practice penmanship.  But is that an education?

When I first heard Oliver DeMille (author of A Thomas Jefferson Education) say that our current educational system is based on a myth - namely that a person can educate another person - I wasn't sure if he was right (about it being a myth).  Why can't someone force someone else to learn something?  Isn't that what tests and grades are for?

Then I thought about my own experience.  I got good grades through most of school (except for a couple of years when I decided I didn't care)  so why didn't I remember anything?   The only things I recall are the things I was interested in and wanted to learn about.  Unfortunately, I wasn't interested in a whole lot of things.  I liked rocks and plants so I still remember some of those names.  I recall zero history from high school (even though I love it now), I remember some math that I found interesting, but for the higher level math - I mostly just learned to plug in numbers to get a result - I had no idea why I was doing it - I didn't care to understand it at all.  I absolutely had the education I had chosen - regardless of what the teachers taught.  I was just good at taking tests.

If you're having a hard time believing that you can't force your kids to learn something - think back to your own education.  Do you really remember anything that you were not interested in knowing?  Do you remember the answers to all those tests you took?  I sure don't.  I realized Oliver DeMille was right (at least in my case).  My kids are going to get the education that they choose.  There is no point in having a power struggle that I am going to loose.

So how do I get my kids to learn anything if I don't require it?

Another interesting thing about my education was that  the subjects I remember caring to learn something about were the ones in which a teacher was very inspiring.  In other words, I don't think I had an inherent love for rocks and plants, but those teachers found them fascinating.  Their excitement rubbed off on me and I wanted to learn all about rocks and plants.

The mediocre teacher tells.
The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates.
The great teacher inspires.
          --William A. Ward
When I first read about the leadership education principle: Inspire Not Require, I thought (as most people do at first), "Okay, I'll be inspirational, but I will still require a, b and c."

It turned out that those things which I required where the ones that the kids were most resistant to.  Spice would sometimes cry when it was time to do math.  I wasn't sure what the big deal was.  I knew she could get it.  She is a smart girl.  I just thought she was being lazy.  Then one day I heard her tell someone that she hated math.  I wondered if I was taking the wrong approach.

Later, I went to yet another Thomas Jefferson Education seminar.  Again, I heard the principle, and again I knew it was true.  I decided I would really give it a shot.  I would not force my kids to learn.  Instead, I would inspire them.

Doing this is not so easy, but it is a LOT of fun.  I've heard Oliver DeMille emphazise that it's NOT Ignore don't require - it's Inspire Not Require.  The Leadership Education book has some great insights about how to do this.  I'm just a novice and I have a whole lot to learn, but in the short time that I've been doing this (or trying), I have seen some great things happening.

Here is one example:

I had tried all sorts of different ways to get Spice to practice piano.  I tried bribing her with suckers if she passed off a lesson.  I tried a sticker charts with prizes.  None of these things were good enough motivators.  She resisted my efforts to make her practice.  I even tried telling her that it was her talent and her responsibility, but I didn't mean it.  If she went back to not practicing, I would try a different tactic.

Finally, one day, I decided that it really was okay if she never learned to play the piano.   There are many great, talented people out there that don't play music.  I told her this, and she could see that I really meant it (I did).  She told me that she wouldn't practice it anymore.  The next day, she practiced for two hours!  She decided that she wanted to learn.  I guess she realized that no one else was going to make sure she learned and the thought of never getting good at it was enough to motivate her to try.

When a child decides that they want to learn something - they not only learn it, but they learn it quickly.  Why do we spend so much time teaching a child basic arithmetic?  When they decide to learn it - it goes so fast!  I've seen this with my kids.  Bud hasn't done a math worksheet in months (although, I should mention that Spice has - with no promptings from me).  Today he was playing with a calculator and talking to me about negative numbers.  I asked him to subtract 9 from 7.  He immediately responded, "Negative two".  I asked a few more questions and he understood the concept very well.  I'm sure this would have taken me quite a while to explain if he wasn't ready to hear about it.  We use math all the time in our daily lives (I also get a lot of math books disguised as stories from the library) so the concepts come quickly as they see them.

I don't require the kids to learn certain things in a certain time frame.  I do talk to the kids about their goals and counsel them on what they need to do to achieve them and then I work hard to inspire them.

I really think that everyone comes to a point in their life when they realize that their future is in their hands.  No one else can take responsibility for it.  I think my kids are starting to understand that.  Sometimes they don't choose what I want them to choose for their school day.  It takes a great deal of effort for me to let them.  When this happens, I ask myself why I want them to study that particular thing.  If I have a good reason (sometimes I don't), I do all I can to inspire them to want to learn it (I'll go more into this when I talk about Table Time).  We've had some great experiences so far.  I'll try to share some on my blog as we go along.
"If the purpose is to train leaders, it’s important not to force the young person through their learning experiences. Force in learning kills the spirit, dampens the passion and destroys the zest and life of learning. Force trains followers, not leaders. …Inspiring, in contrast to ignoring and forcing, means finding out what the students need and then creatively encouraging them to engage it on their own—with excitement and interest." -Oliver DeMille 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Love Winter

I really, really do.  I love that there is a white blanket over all of the yard work. I love not feeling like I "should" be out and about.  I love that it gets dark early and we don't feel like we have to be out, but we can snuggle in bed and read and talk.  I love cuddling by the fireplace with the kids and reading stories!  I also love the occasional snow-ball fight.  Yesterday it snowed all morning and then it got sunny in the afternoon - it was a perfect day for playing in the snow:
Little Miss:

The boys:

Bud making a snow angel:

Bazinks trying it too:

Throwing snowballs:

Jumping in a snow pile:

Some of my favorite kids' quotes lately (I wish I could remember them all - I have to do like my friend, Joanne, does and write them down when I hear them!):

Rock was complaining about a how I got lucky cards when I beat him on "Ticket to Ride".  Spice corrected him, "Remember Dad, like Hermoine always says, 'it is in the wizard, not the wand.'"

We were watching a movie about the ancient Aztecs.  The narrator asked, "Who built these magnificent structures?  Where did these people come from?"  Bud replied, "Their mothers."

We were reading about Henry V and when I read, "He is one of the most famous English kings because a man named William Shakespeare wrote a play about him", Bud clapped his hands and excitedly exclaimed, "We know him!"

Bazinks sat on the couch and opened up a book to look at, and, out of nowhere, as he opened up his book, he carelessly said, "Mom, I like singing AND fighting."

I was reading to Bazinks from a Children's Book of Mormon about when the Lamanites buried their weapons of war.  He looked a little worried, then he looked at me and said (as he nodded his head and put on a wise face), "we like to fight with pretend swords, but that's okay 'cause we're just..." and he pretended to move his sword in his hand.  I said "Prentending?"  He said, "Yeah, we're just pretending." I thought it was cute that he cared.

Rays latest quotes:
(Spice recently got a digital camcorder.  If anyone knows an easier way to upload videos to a blog from a mac without having to upload them to youtube first, let me know!  I had just changed Ray's diaper, that's why he's half-way dressed)

A poem Spice wrote about not being able to to play in the snow:
I Wish I Could Be Out There

The wind is talking loudly
The snowman's hats are off
I am inside cleaning up my stuff
I wish I could be out there
talking wish the snowman new
and spying on it too.
I wish I could be out there
making big snowballs
But my mother sais to stay in side and do my chores of wiping down the walls
Oh how I wish I could be out there doing what I please!
I don't care at all if I catch a little sneeze!
Oh the winter wonderland looks so really fun and grand!
I wouldn't want to be at the beach playing with sand!
The beach is really got and the snow is really cold
but I wouldn't want to go from snow even when I'm old!
Here she is "being out there":

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is it Reasonable to Believe in God? - Mere Christianity

Every once in a while I read a book that is so good that I get a little upset.  This happened to me the first time I read a Charles Dickens novel.  I was 20 or 21 years old and I read Nicholas Nickleby.  I marvelled that there could be such writing - such thoughts - such wisdom out there, and I hadn't been aware of it until I was in my twenties!

So I read a second Charles Dickens novel (Great Expectations) and I marveled again because I realized that the first time wasn't a fluke!

Later, I read Jane Austen books for the first time - I found that there was a whole world of these great minds out there - great thinkers who wrote their thoughts on paper and their words were sitting on library shelves - waiting for me to discover them!

Why did this upset me?

Because it had taken me 20+ years to find them!  I knew I could have been much wiser in my youth if my mind had been opened a little by these wise stories.  As I read them, I knew they were books everyone ought to read, so I wondered why I didn't know how important they were.  I knew it was my fault - I was used to all the watered-down versions of great writing that you get in text books, and that's what I had chosen.  I'm sure I read a few classics in high school, but I skimmed them just enough to get a good grade - I didn't realize what they had to offer.  After all, I already knew everything back then.

Once I realized what I was missing, I felt determined to get it!   It's too bad I didn't realize it when I was younger though - I had a lot more time to read them!  Now, as a busy mom, I'm plugging away at them - slowly but surely!  However, I'm probably getting more out them now than I would have back then anyway. 

I just finished Mere Christianity and it was one of those books that upset me.  It was just so good and I hadn't known until now!  I saw the great need for this book in our world, and felt sad that it sits on shelves - untouched by so many who could really use it (I feel the same way about the Bible and the Book of Mormon - these histories speak to our Spirits and witness of their truth.  Mere Christianity is the type of book that opens your mind and allows you to let truth enter, so your Spirit can be uninterrupted by the clutter of preconceived notions about what truth "ought" to be).

I especially enjoyed it because I was talking to a friend about atheism recently.  She mentioned that she thought a person could only come to believe in religion through their feelings, and since feelings couldn't be trusted - a person could not really know that there was a God.

I wanted to explain that it not only feels right, but that it also makes a lot of sense if you really take the time to ponder and think about it.  Not too many people will put this kind of mental effort into life.  It is easy to go through the motions in life without stopping to examine them very thoroughly The truth penetrates your heart, but it can also penetrate your head if you can manage to get rid of some pre-conceived notions and really try to seek what is real.

That is just what C.S. Lewis did.  Mere Christianity puts those truths in a very logical and clear way.  He lifts the fog from our minds for a minute.  C. S. Lewis was a very intellectual atheist who became a very intellectual Christian.  He not only explains how it is very reasonable and logical to believe in God (as many great thinkers have), but takes it a step further and shows how it is also reasonable to believe in Christ.  I'm not saying that an atheist who reads it will suddenly become Christian.  You need both your mind and your heart to go that far (you can talk yourself out of anything if you really want to - no matter how much sense it made to you at one time).  I do, however, think that a person who is being kept from believing in God because certain things don't make sense to them, will have an enlightening experience if they choose to read this book.

If I tried to write my favorite quotes, I would be writing down the whole book, so I will have to settle for writing down a few of passages that I liked.

On judging:
"It is as well to put this the other way round.  Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we reagard as fiends.  Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say , of Himmler?  That is why Christians are told not to judge.  We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material.  But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.  Most of the man's psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked....We shall then, for the first time, see everyone as he really was.  There will be surprises."
On choice:
"People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing'... I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before..."

On anger:
"One man may be so placed that his anger shed the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at.  But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both.  Each has done something to himself which, unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it.  Each of them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again: each is in the long run doomed if he will not."
"Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse---so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable.  But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be."
 On science:
"Science works by experiments it watches how things behave...Do not think I am saying anything against science.  I am only saying what its job is.  And the more scientific a man is, the more (I believe) he would agree with me that this is the job of science---and a very useful and necessary job it is too.  But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes---something of a different kind---this is not a scientific question.  If there is "Something Behind," then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way.  The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make.  Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe.  Is it not plain that the questions, 'Why is there a universe?' 'Why does it go on as it does?' 'Has it any meaning?' would remain just as they were?'  Now the position would be quite hopeless but for this.  There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation.  That one thing is Man.  We do not merely observe men, we are men.  In this case we have so to speak, inside information; we are in the know..."
Obviously, I could go on and on - it's all wonderful.   If you haven't read it - read it!  I'm thinking I need to read the rest of his books...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What About Socialization?

This post is part of my thoughts on educating the kids

(The pictures are from a field trip to the railroad museum with our Little House group last week.)

One of the first questions people have for me when they hear that I am homeschooling is, "What about socialization?"  I must admit, that was one of my (and Rock's) biggest concerns when I first started thinking about homeschooling.  Our assumption was that if you send a child to school, they will learn - through trial and error - the appropriate ways to act in social situations.  So if they act in a way that is socially unacceptable, their peers will let them know it through their negative responses; and if they act in socially acceptable ways, their peers will let them know it through positive responses.

This seems to make sense, but I began to wonder - what about all those socially inept people that I knew in high school?  Not just the kids that didn't know how to make friends, but also those who made friends by being mean to other people?  Neither of these behaviors are "good" socialization, but we had all been going to school for 10+ years.  Shouldn't we all have picked it up by then?

I took a class on "Childhood Socialization" in college.  I remember thinking, "These socialization skills are pretty important to have and pretty important to teach."  The instructor would give different scenarios of a child interacting with a group in incorrect ways and how to teach that child to do it in appropriate ways.  The importance of role-playing with a child was stressed so that they could learn appropriate skills in a safe environment.

The class was mostly full of teachers-in-training.  I wonder how many of those teachers use the socialization teaching skills they learned in that class.  There is just no time for it!  I doubt there are too many teachers who have time to watch all of the children during recess, look for socially inept behaviors,  then take those children aside and role-play with them.

I came to the conclusion that trial-and-error learning in a school environment probably isn't the best way for a person to learn social skills.  For one, it's not very safe.  A child who goes out of his comfort zone, and is rejected, will probably not venture out of their comfort zone again for a while.  The progress is very slow.  Also, children often don't realize that it is their behavior that is being rejected.  They start to think that there is something wrong with them instead of changing their behavior.  Another reason is that their peers may not be exhibiting socially appropriate behavior or reacting in a socially appropriate manner.  Instead of learning good social skills, kids end up learning the wrong way to behave in social situations.

In my opinion, there are really two things a person needs in order to have good social skills - empathy and experience in the manners of their society.

If you really think about it, a person who is able to see things through another's perspective and empathize with how other people feel will probably not do things that other people would find innapropriate or embarrassing.  They will also be able to gauge by other people's expressions how other people are reacting to what they say so they can say appropriate things at the appropriate times.  Not to mention, empathetic people are kind and loving, so people want to be around them.

How does one learn empathy?  I think the best place is in the home.  Learning to get along with your family members when you see them constantly, is much harder then getting along with friends that you don't see on a regular basis.  See this post for an example.   Learning to love and see others as Christ sees them, and to not judge them, is best practiced in a place where you can be reminded of it often, and also be forgiven when you make mistakes.  Another great way to practice empathy is playing make-believe - using our imaginations to experience things through another's perspective!  Also, reading good books helps us see things through a variety of perspectives.

Experience in Social Customs and Manners
I do think opportunities for children to interact with people outside their immediate family are important.  They need to practice being empathetic with a variety of personalities.  They also need to see and experience appropriate behaviors in a social setting outside their family.  They need to step out of their comfort zone once in a while and make some friends.  The questions then become - when and how often?


When they are ready.  When they feel safe in who they are.

Spice, my 10 year old, used to be very, very shy.  She did not talk to anyone outside our immediate family until she was about 5 years old.  Forcing her to be social, only made her retreat further into her shell and fear social situations even more.

She is still reserved in social situations, but she is not insecure.  If she has something to say, she will say it.  She gets up in front of hundreds of people at church to share her testimony without any promptings from us.  This inner confidence she now radiates did not come from learning to climb the social ladder at school.  It came because she has an understanding of who she is.  She does not need other's approval to feel good about herself.  She is more willing to venture out now that she feels safe.  I'm not saying that she would not be very, very sad if people treated her rudely.  This has happened, but she feels more sad for the person, after she has some time to think about it, then she does for herself.  This does not happen very often though, because Spice is very kind.  People like to be her friend.

How often?

No child needs 8 hours a day, but some may be okay with a few hours a week, while others may need more practice if they are struggling in a particular area.   Parents know their kids.  It's especially good if parents take time once in a while to observe their kids interacting with other kids, then later coach them, if they saw something the child could have done better.  This is a thousand times faster than learning through trial-and-error!

Kids also need more social time and practice as they get older.  That's one thing I love about homeschooling.  I can tailor how much social time is needed for my children and gradually increase it as they get older.

Right now, we go to a "Little House" group twice a month (we're all reading the Little House series together - we discuss the readings and do activities around them once a month and go on a field trip once a month).  Spice is also involved in a book group for girls her age.  The girls read a classic and then get together once a month to  discuss it, have an activity about it and play.  Spice is also in "Activity Girls" at church so they get together for activities twice a month.  Bud will be starting scouts next month.  When the weather was warm, we went to a park day once a week.  They play with the neighborhood kids about twice a week.  We also attend several homeschooling events when we hear of them.  We switch babysitting with a family once a week - so they look forward to playing with those kids.  I might be starting another weekly thing next week.  I'm still trying to decide if it's something that we want to participate in.

I do think the socialization thing is important.  It's another reason why I homeschool!

More pictures:
Getting weighed on the cargo scale:

Learning about guns:

Bazinks posing with his favorite gun:

He kept saying, "Mom, I want a real gun"
He must take after his Papu (grandpa)

Ray was too busy exploring the stroller to care much about the museum:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Starting the New Year

Oh, wait, you mean it already started without me?

Yesterday was my first attempt at really getting back on schedule.  It went okay - I did get up at 7:00 instead of 5:30 so I skipped exercise and writing (consequently, this is going to be a very short post).   We cleaned the house from the usual Sunday wreckage and I thought we stayed pretty much on schedule until I realized it was 4 o'clock and we were about 2 hours behind schedule.  I'm not sure how that happened.  Oh well, at least I tried- which made it a good day anyway. I take comfort in the following words that I read this morning:

"This is an important matter to consider at the start of a new year—and every day ought to be the start of a new year and a new life. Such is the wonder of faith, repentance, and the miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.... Keep your eyes on your dreams, however distant and far away. Live to see the miracles of repentance and forgiveness, of trust and divine love that will transform your life today, tomorrow, and forever. That is a New Year’s resolution I ask you to keep."  -Jeffery R. Holland
I did manage to get up a little earlier this morning, but not as early as I would have liked.  I was up late reading a book that I started last night and that I need to have read for book club tonight.  How did I manage to not get anything read over Christmas break?  I don't know.

Maybe, I should get back to my good idea about having only one New Year's resolution: I can surely" keep my eyes on my dreams" and slowly work on getting there.  

Since everyday is the start of a new year and a new life - today is going to be all about re-establishing the habits that we lost during our 3 week vacation time and then seeing if I can manage to finish Mere Christianity on time!  SInce I'm already off to a less than perfect start on my day, I'm going to take comfort in the fact that every hour is also the start of a new year and a new life!  Since that's bound to be imperfect as well, maybe I should remember that every moment is the  start of a new year and a new life!  That ought to keep me going!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Little Miss!

I was going through Little Miss' clothes the other day and I noticed several were too small for her.  I looked at the tags.  They said 4T.  I thought, "Hmm, that's weird, my kids tend to be small, that's kind of strange that a 4T doesn't fit her anymore."  Then I realized, "Wait, she's going to be six in a couple of weeks - of course a 4T doesn't fit her!"

Well, the time has come.  My baby girl is six years old.  What an amazing little girl she has become!  She is so good!  So kind!  So Tenderhearted!

Something that astonishes me about Little Miss is her perseverance.  She likes a challenge and she'll keep at it until she triumphs!  That is how she learned to read.  I have a book called "100 Easy Lessons to Teach your Child to Read".  I asked her if she wanted to learn and we started Lesson 1.  After that, she wouldn't let me forget her lessons.  Sometimes, she'd get frustrated with herself and I'd tell her to take a break and we could try again later, but she wouldn't hear of it.

Lately, she has decided to read the Harry Potter books.  I tried to get her to read something a little easier.  She struggled with words and I, again, told her her to take a break and go back to it later, but she insisted on reading it.  She does read easier books once in a while, but she is now on the second Harry Potter book and she keeps plugging away.

With her persevering nature, she loves to work on puzzles.  I've seen her her work on them for hours.

She also loves making projects that take a lot of time and patience like jewelry, melting beads, and aqua dots.  She made all these in one sitting:

She has decided to teach herself to draw.  She avoided it for a long time because her sister was so good at it, and she couldn't do it as well, but she's becoming a good artist as she keeps on persevering.  Here are some of her late drawings.

Her letter to Santa:

While I'm at it, here's the Bud's and Spice's letters as well:

(The top said: Dear Santa, I want a gecko please.  and if you can't git me that please git me a race track)

Little Miss also has an amazing memory.  The other day we were getting ready to play "Memory" and even the older kids said, "Little Miss will probably win because she is really good at memory games!"  In the mornings, when I ask the kids what it was that we read about in Story of the World last time, she is always the first to answer and remember the details of what we read - even if it has been a while.

She is so filled with goodness that she seems to sense the beauty around her more deeply.  A while ago, we were walking around the neighborhood and I pointed out a beautiful flower.  She responded, "That flower makes me think of how much Heavenly Father loves us because He made us such a beautiful flower." She sees the world in such a simple and beautiful way.

Her most admirable quality, I think, is her compassion toward others.  I've seen her shed tears when someone in the family was sad about something even though it had nothing to do with her.  She tries her best to make Bazinks happy, even though he can be very hard to please at times.  It makes her happy to share her things.  One drawback to this willingness to give and to love is that she doesn't quite understand why others are not as giving and loving sometimes.  This can hurt her tender feelings.  I hope she learns to understand other's limitations and to not take them personally.

On her birthday morning we "woke her up" (in reality she was getting really tired of waiting for us!) with a birthday song and presents:

Here is what her cards said:
From Bazinks:

(it's a picture of him with Little Miss)
From Bud:

It read: Happy Birthday!  I love you so much and more

From Spice:

It read: Happy Birthday!  I realy hope you have a great birthday!  I love you so so so so so much and way way more!  You are the best sister in the world.

From me:
Happy 6th birthday!  I can't believe it's been six years since I got to hold you in my arms for the first time.  You have become such a good, kind, smart and loving little girl!  You make the people around you so happy with your sweet laugh and smile!  You are so kind and always willing to share your things to make others happy!  You are so soft and cuddly!  I wish I could hug and cuddle you all day!  I hope you have a great day and always remember that I love you till time never ends!
Little Miss likes to tell me that she loves me "'till time never ends".  I'm not sure where she came up with it, but I love it.

From Rock:
Love you ____ - Have a great day!  You are awesome!  Love, Dad

We ate M&M pancakes for breakfast and then she played with her new toys.

In the afternoon, we had her party.

Due to the fanaticism there is in our household about Harry Potter, Little Miss decided she wanted to have a Harry Potter party.  It was a lot of fun.

First, the kids got sorted into their houses (surprisingly, everyone got placed in Gryffindor.)

Then they all got their school supplies - a notebook, a pen and a wand (a paintbrush).

We had a big Hogwarts Feast.

They then got to go to their first class - Defense Against the Dark Arts - taught by Harry Potter (Bud) himself.  He had them write down some spells (if they could write) and then they paired up and practiced them on each other.  Bud really has those spells down!

They then went to Potions class.  They got to mix dragon tears, mixed unicorn hair, dragon blood, and other such things into their frosting to decorate their cupcakes.  I told them to be careful with their mixture since even the sprinkles had special properties.  I then had to tell them the different properties each color of sprinkles had - red made you fall in love, orange made you happy, green gave you good luck, yellow made you sleepy, etc.  They were careful to choose the right combination.

After that, they needed to find they key to open their safe at Gringott's bank.  We had a scavenger hunt - the clues were taped to each of the movies.  When they found all six movies, they found the key.  We opened the safe and they each got 7 galleons to go spend at Hogsmead.

We then decorated our shopping bags to get ready to shop at Hogsmead.

Spice thought of great names for the different candy available at Hogsmead.   She was also the one in charge of working the register.

After that, Little Miss opened her presents and we ate our cupcakes.

I think she had a great time.  I love my Little Miss "till time never ends" and back!