Sunday, March 30, 2014

Grassroots Education

A couple of my friends from our homeschool group are moving.  They are looking to start a Vanguard scholar group in their area when they move.  As I think about the most important advice I could give them, I decided to write a blog post about it in case it may be of some use to anyone else thinking of starting a scholar group.

Homeschooling is growing so fast and it seems to be sky-rocketing as people are better understanding the "Common Core" program.  Maybe some of my experience will be helpful to some.

1. To narrow down the focus of your group, prayerfully figure out what is most important for your children to get from their education and focus on those things. There is more out there than any one person can learn in quite a few lifetimes, don't expect your children to know it all before they leave your home.

For me, this was: 
-A testimony of Jesus Christ, His gospel and His love for them
-The ability to find true principles in anything they read, see and experience and apply those principles to themselves
-The skills to take that truth and share it in a way that changes hearts
-A love for all people, and of freedom, beauty, and order
-The ability to think spiritually, from other perspectives, creatively, symbolically and logically 
-The desire to serve

I do know tests and making money is important, but I believe if my children have the abilities and skills listed above, they will be able to quickly learn what they need for any test and be able to provide for their families.  Besides, learning to think logically often involves doing some math...

2. Decide what you want to do at home and what is best done in a group setting. (For example, for us, math is best done at home, but group discussions are a powerful way to learn to find principles and see their evidence in the lives of our peers).

3. Pray for God to send you people who you can serve and who can help you with the vision He inspired you with.

4. Set up an information meeting (look for yahoo groups or other homeschool websites in your area) to tell people your vision and to let them know you are looking for people who like your vision and would like their youth to  participate and would like to help you see it through. Then read great books together and find true educational principles you want to apply to your group.

5. Learn and focus on true educational principles (and teach them to your students)
Such as:
-The Spirit is the real teacher - our job is to invite Him to teach us
-Going to class prepared to discuss invites the Spirit into our hearts and edifies others as we share the truth we learned. (This applies to teachers, but especially to students)
-Inspire as much as possible - students learn best when they choose to do it. Never force.  Sometimes ask for obedience when you see a need that the student does not yet see.
-Writing and speaking open communication channels to others and also to God.
-You can't inspire if you are not living the truth you teach (including a love for learning more than you already know and aspiring to live it)
-Extrinsic rewards (grades, treats, social time, etc) can distract and overpower intrinsic rewards. Use them very sparingly for skill or knowledge acquisition. Never to inspire a love of learning.
-Seek an education for the purpose of blessing others
-The deeper you follow a truth, the more connections you will find.  If you go deep enough, it will connect to all subjects or disciplines of study
-Classics teach you to think. A lot of curriculum focuses on information. In this age of google, youth are right when they feel they are wasting their time regurgitating information.  They must learn to sift through the data to find the nuggets of truth that will benefit them and others. Classics help them learn to do this.

6. Only plan assignments, lessons and activities that support your purpose, don't get distracted with all of the other good purposes out there.

7. Be okay with change, you may have found the perfect system for a semester, but it may need to be changed to fit different needs the next semester.  It is okay, and perhaps for the best, for your group to looks different every year.  Just stick to the true educational principles you know and be okay with changing the application of those principles as you are inspired or see a need.

8. Remember the principle of a council. As you lead a group, choose carefully who you want in your governing board, choose those who are close to the spirit and who live the truth they know. Then counsel with them when you need to make decisions.  Remember Elder Boyd K. Packer's words, "I have a deep, even a sacred, regard for councils; inspiration is evident in them.  If ever another course has been followed, trouble has followed as sure as night follows day. If we are to meet the great challenges...we must respect these principles. The Lord has said, 'I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine."

My favorite books or sites for finding true educational principles (just remember to apply them in your own way):
The Scriptures
Teach the Children by Neil Flinders
A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille
Norms and Nobility by David B. Hicks
Educating Zion
Increase in Learning and follow up books by Bednar
D&C 88 and 93
Gateway to the Great Books Introduction
The Great Conversation by Hutchins
Teaching Videos
Teacher Training
Arm the Children by Arthur Henry King
Ten Boom Institute

The list may look overwhelming, but the good news is most of the principles are the same in each book :-)  And it is hard to apply more than one principle at a time so just get started and apply the principles as you come across them.  Then the next time you come across one, you will see a way you can apply it even better, and you can just keep progressing in your educational journey :-)

Our youth need a great education. Schools are often (not always) failing them in this. Too often they are training instead of educating our youth. I think a grassroots effort to help these youth get a real education may be the best answer to this dilemma.

I love learning about learning.  If any of you are embarking on the great adventure of building community and helping one another inspire your youth, I am happy to help by sharing my experience if I can.  I don't claim to be an expert, but I do believe there is a need for better education out there and so I am happy to help in this endeavour when possible.  Have joy in your journey!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Great Thoughts From My Kids

Spice gave taught a lesson in YW today and she asked me if she could share a not-so-flattering story about our family because it taught her a lesson about grace.  She read it to me and I loved what she said so I wanted to preserve it and share her thoughts on here.

Based on a true story:
So I was babysitting my siblings. 
(Already crazy right? ;) )
And my little brother [Gem], is such a sensitive cute little guy, and he did not want my parents to leave. 
He was literally screaming and running out into the road as they drove off. 
I kinda stood there like 'we are both gonna die, child protective services is probably on their way..."  and then I ran up to him, and I attempted many strategies (If you can call them strategies...).
I tried forceful words, I tried a bunch of bribery, I tried pleading, but when I finally got him to come back with me, he was still reluctant in his words and I barely made it inside alive ( I'm exaggerating XD).
I later realized the one strategy I forgot, was that of Love.
But as we got inside, of course I had to fulfill all my bribes, and some of them included food, and you know how it is when one kid in your family gets a piece of food, its like a bunch of ravenous wolves stampede the kitchen, and everyone has to have some. So by this time I was kind of just like "Ugh!"
And then after the bribes were fulfilled, it was time for bed. So I got their pajamas on (In more realistic terms I wrestled with a bunch of angry gorillas and attempted to slap some clothes on them.) (Maybe not that bad, but you get the idea.)
But as I read some stories, and tried to put one kid in bed, while the other was screaming around, and I tried to tuck one in, while the other was singing at the top of his lungs, or as I read a book that one wanted, the other went ballistic because it wasn't the book he wanted to read, and as I administered 50 drinks, I got more and more frustrated by the minute.
But as I settled on the bed, with a kid each arm, reading a little fairy tale, I realized that THEY were JUST like me. 
Just little souls wondering around trying to find what makes them happy.
Just wanting someone to be there for them and love them.
And as I tucked them in, and said a prayer with them, I thanked God for their smiles, and their laughter, and I prayed that we could keep this spirit always. 
And then I turned off the lights and gently closed the door, knowing that if I were to have integrity, and use Christ's grace, I needed to see and love people as who they really are, and who they can become.
Only through Christ can our hearts be changed and it is only through His grace that our perspective and life can transform.

Sweet huh? While I am preserving memories, Bud gave a talk about the blessings of the temple today.  I really enjoyed seeing how he is developing a testimony of the importance of going to the temple.

Bud''s talk:
Blessings of the temple talk: 
I was asked to talk on the blessings of the temple so here goes,
There are many blessings of which the temple gives us... For example, this week  I was able to go to the temple 2 times and do baptisms for the dead. That was a blessing for me and the dead because I'm feeling the spirit strongly while I do them and it strengthens my testimony while it gives people who maybe didn't hear about the gospel a chance to have the blessings we have and have everlasting happiness.  
The temple is also like a portal to heaven. It’s a place where God can dwell because Satan cannot be there. The  veil is very thin in the temple so you can feel the spirit strongly there.
Eternal marriage is a great blessing of the temple to know that you will always be with your family forever.  
Can you imagine how terrible it would be to think that if a family member died  you would never see them again, ever. Thanks to the temple we can have eternal families and know that after a family member dies we can see them again and be their family forever.  
There is a spirit at the temple that makes you want more of it. When you go home, you want to have more of that spirit so you try to make your home better and that's a blessing so you can have a better home. When I was at the temple I had a feeling of happiness of serving because when you do baptisms for the dead you are serving.  
The temple is also a place where people can receive wonderful insights about spiritual things. When I was at the temple I felt a great love towards every one and that is a feeling we should take home.  Jesus said “love God” is the best commandment and “love your neighbor as thine self” the second best, so we should probably do them in our home. 
The temple is a great example of what we should make our homes like. The temple is a place where Satan can't be (as I mentioned before) so he can't get to you there, so if you are having trouble making a decision go to the temple and the spirit will guide you so that you know what decision to make. Since I went to the temple I want to be a better person because I can see what I can have and the happiness I can have if I be the best I can. I think Heavenly Father created temples to grow closer to him and to have everlasting life, and various other reasons. I think we become closer to him when we go to the temple because we’re strengthening our testimonies when we feel that spirit and know that the church is true. A temple is a place where we can feel closer to God and covenants can be made.  
Someone who was not our religion said "I feel the Mormon experience of the temple has restored the meaning to that meaning to the word “temple”, I thought this was cool because it shows that our temples can even show truth in other people’s religions so if people think that that's true maybe they'll find out more about our religion and think more things about it are true and more and more. Then they'll maybe join the true church - so that means the temple its self can be a source of help to missionaries. 
I like baptisms for the dead because it's so fun to do them. I don't know why it's so fun - the other day after I just had been to the temple the day before I had an opportunity to go again with my friends from our homeschool group, but I didn't want to go because I had been there the day before and I was thinking, “Well, I just went, so it's alright to not go today, but then I thought, “What if Satan is putting these thoughts in to my mind, I am not going to spend the rest of my days thinking things like, “Well, I just did that or I just did this so I don't have to do it again.” I don't think that's a good way to think - so I went. I was glad afterward because it feels so good to be there and do baptisms and be in the temple, and I was able to receive double the blessings of the temple! So if you have a chance to go to the temple - go! Because you want to have those blessings in your home. 
 Thomas S Monson said, "In the holy temple the precious plan of God is taught, it is here that eternal covenants are made. The temple lifts us, it exalts us, it stands as a beacon for all to see, and points us to celestial glory. All that occurs within the walls of the temple is uplifting and ennobling.  The temple is a place of . It is a place of kindness and love and light." We can learn a lot of things from the temple when we want our homes be like it.

This is getting long, but he also gave a talk to the boys who were turning 12 this year (and their parents).  I want to preserve that one as well, so here it is:

Things I can do in my life to help me prepare for the priesthood-
There's the basic stuff like reading scriptures, going to church every week, pray, family home evening. Some other things are like play with your brothers and sisters, don't be mean to them, do service aoround the house, don't do video games too much, listen to your brothers and sisters.  This stuff makes you more likeable and you have a better light around you.  I'd suggest that you should read the Book of Mormon at last once and have a testimony that it's true.  This stuff will help a lot in preparing for the priesthood.   
Be obedient to your parents, if you don't then why is Heavenly Father going to trust you to be obedient to Him?  If you have the priesthood you're gonna have to be obedient to Him or else why would He want you to have the Priesthood?  And we need to take care of our stewardships like our house, our pets, our bodies, our spirits.  We need to take care of our spirits especially because our spirits have to be taken care of or how is the priesthood gonna dwell in them?  So once we do this stuff we'll be more prepared for the Priesthood. 
Now I'm going to describe a boy who is worthy to receive the priesthood, as I do this, I want you to think if you are like this boy.  A boy who is worthy to receive the priesthood is quick to give, quick to repent, pays attention at church, turns to the Lord in his need, not away from him., keeps the ten commandments.  I'm going to read them because sometimes we forget them and I'm going to change them a little:
I have no other Gods before Him
I don't make any graven image
I don't bow myself down to them
I keep His commandments
I don't take the Lord's name in vain
I keep the Sabbath Day holy
I honor my father and mother
I don't kill
I don't steal
I don't bear false witness against my neighbor.
I don't covet
A boy who can say these things in his head and have them be t   rue is pretty worthy to receive the priesthood.  A boy who is worthy to receive the priesthood isn't selfish, has a strong testimony and shares it with others, doesn't judge, is quick to obey, is respectful.  He is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.  I don't know if that sounds familiar.  He listens in general conference and lives what he hears in it.
So how much does this apply in your life?

Okay, now that I'm on a roll, I will also put one of Spice's latest poems to finish off...


A hardened soul
From fear and war
Holding back
Scarred before.

A broken heart
A weeping face
Not letting go
Nor seeking grace.

An angry one
Building his own
Walls around
With cares of stone.

A hurt and lost
Person of pride
Not willing to change
The things inside.

A softened soul
Moves past the fear
Is progressing
For God is near.

A healing heart
A smiling face
Using every day
That grace

A praying one
Who seeks solace
Building his
Lasting palace.

A confident
Person of Christ
Open to change
For what is right.

The difference comes
Just with pure love
It's found above.

It's so good to see these kids learning and understanding true principles of the gospel.  May they always remember them!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Contemplating Social Norms for Teens

I am finding that raising teenagers is a very different ball game than raising younger children.  With my younger kids, things are more simple.  My job is to make their environment clean, good, beautiful and true.  I do this by keeping out bad things and surrounding them with good.  They absorb the beauty, truth and spirit.  I lead by example and by setting clear expectations and boundaries.  None of that is easy, of course, but it is simple.

Now that I am getting to raise teenagers, I am finding that I have to find that fine line between letting them learn for themselves and protecting them from harm.That line depends upon circumstance, the child's personality, previous circumstances, the level of trust, the evidence I see around me in how others choose to parent, and of course - the guidance of the Spirit.

I usually err on the side of freedom - I don't like to make rules unless I see there is a need for a rule (besides, of course, the basic rules and standards we live by).  I have never raised a teenager before and I have such great kids that I prefer to see how they handle things before I decide if I need to step in.  I am finding, though, that they are easily taken in by cultural norms (as am I) and it is so important that we work together to find true principles so we can make correct choices about what is appropriate for them.

There are several things lately that have made me question the appropriateness of some of the cultural norms around us and have make me realize that we need firm standards to fight this prevalent tide of potentially harmful normal behaviors...

Online Chatting:
I can't even imagine what a wreck I would have been if this had been around when I was younger.  I was so obsessed with boys that I would have probably hung out by my computer hoping one of them would get online and I could "chat" him!  Instead, I had to ride my bike by his house hoping to get a glimpse of him :-)  When my kids started "chatting" their friends, it seemed like a nice way to socialize a bit and ask each other quick questions about their studies (most of their friends are in their homeschool group and are studying similar things).  I started to realize there could be a problem with it, though, when I would hear the chat sounds during study hours and even in the evenings.  I would walk by a computer and see three different chat boxes.  Supposedly, they were all studying and chatting at the same time.  Wow - impressive, right? I have a hard time staying focused on something without the constant temptations of social interactions.

This wasn't the only concern though.  My kids have many friends that are the opposite gender.  I found that these online chats gave them opportunities to talk to these friends, one on one, with no supervision, with a screen to take away some of the awkwardness of saying some things to someone face-to-face.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I never saw them say anything inappropriate or wrong.  There is a lot of pressure from friends right now to divulge "crushes" and talk about those things, and they are both very good about keeping all of that to themselves and trying to be friends to everyone.  However, they do develop closer bonds to people as they have these private conversations and those bonds can be distracting from the better things they could be focused on right now (like their relationship to God and working to find and fulfil His work for them - you know - those things that will bring them the most happiness now and in the future).

So we've had to set limits on chat and google+ time.  We've asked for their input and have tried to talk through what's best. For now, we are allowing it during "social" time (time when the kids are allowed to play with friends after school hours): after 4 until dinner (around 5:30).  We are still working on enforcing this (it's hard to stick to your good intentions when it comes to social media!) - I check on it periodically to make sure they are staying within those limits.  The last few days that this has been enforced more strictly (the rule's been around for a while, but very lax) - I have seen more focus from my kids and better study.  Of course, I had to set the example by limiting my Internet use as well, but that has also been good for me and has helped me be more present.

Boy-girl activities:
One of the things I really enjoy about homeschooling is that my kids are able to make friends with people of the opposite gender in a good, non-awkward way.  I remember when I was in school - everyone was a potential crush and people would tease and giggle about each other.  Yuck.  I really like that my kids can feel okay about talking to either gender in a friendly way.

Spice started going to boy-girl activities that were planned with her youth group around the age of 12.  Usually, these were well planned and they had good interactions and healthy activities.  Occasionally there would be one where things were not so well planned and things didn't always go as well, but we learned and moved on.  Lately, her peer group is planning a lot of activities on their own... let's all go see a movie, let's get together for a birthday party, let's get together to work on Vanguard studies, let's have a game day, let's go to a dance, etc.   At first, I thought it sounded great that they were planning their own activities and building relationships.  I know these youth, and their parents, personally and know them to have good standards.

I came to find, though, that these activities also became a distraction.  Their scholar group became much more about the social aspect of being there instead of about learning and growing and encouraging one another to find their personal missions.  Their conversations started becoming less edifying and more about what activity they could next attend and who was going to be there.  This draw for girls to be with boys and for boys to be with girls was too much.  It has become too distracting.  We recently told Spice and Bud that they could only attend activities that were planned by adults (unless it was all-boys for Bud or all-girls for Spice) until they turned 16 and were ready to go on group dates.  And even the ones planned by adults would have to be done sparingly.  We discussed the reasoning and the principles behind our thoughts.  I am grateful for the principles we all learn during these discussions and for the standards we are figuring out together.  It is hard to navigate through what is right vs what is normal.

My kids' friends sure like to hug!  I come from a very huggy family and a very huggy culture (Hispanic) so I also love to give hugs.  This last summer, we discussed some relationship principles with the youth with whom we homeschool, and the question came up from the girls of whether or not it was okay to hug boys.  "Sure!" I said, "As long as they are just friendly hugs and not romantic ones."  I have learned some things since then!

The youth started with quick little hugs as they left activities.  Then they started giving each other quick little hugs after class as well, to whoever happened to be around when they left.  Then they started looking for people to hug when they would leave.  Then the hugs started getting tighter, then longer.  Now several of them line up to give hugs before someone leaves.  Goodness! One of my friends expressed it well, "I want my son to come to this scholar group and have deep, intellectual, edifying conversations with both genders and leave with a desire to learn more. But with all of the hugging after class, I think he probably goes home thinking more about that then anything."  I think she's right.  Another friend mentioned that a hug is something she gave a boy after having gone on a few dates with him - it was a sign of a growing relationship.  I find that I am rethinking my take on hugs. A friendly "goodbye" or pat on the back ought to be enough after an activity oughtn't it?

We've been trying to figure out how to choose the music that is appropriate in our home and for their devices.  For a while, Disney music and other similar pop music was being played (when Bud inherited his dad's old phone).  I didn't like it very much.  I need good, uplifting, spiritual music to help me be patient and loving with my many little ones. I'm also not a fan of headphones around family.  We had a devotional on music and asked them to only play uplifting church music for a week.  They agreed to give it a try.  After a week, they agreed that music is a powerful tool and that we need to use it wisely.  They did want to listen to upbeat music during work time, though, and church music is just not upbeat enough, they said.  Bud was awesome and deleted some songs on his phone just because he said he knew that the principle of music being powerful was a true principle and he wanted to make sure his music was good.  I still don't LOVE everything they choose during work time, but none of it is bad and I think they are learning to make wise choices so I hope to keep working on finding the right balance there on choice and protecting the home for my little ones.

Tablets and Phones
I'm trying to figure this one out!  It is something they will need to learn to monitor themselves on eventually, but they are addicting and I know I need to be very cautious in helping them make sure they are using them for good and not to waste their time.  We've gone back and forth on time limits with their input.  Right now, devices are supposed to be off at dinner until work is done the next day (except for music during work time), but Spice often needs hers to finish something she is working on (she does a lot of writing online).  I am deciding if I should just have her do her writing on paper.  I don't love the thought of them having Internet access alone in their room at night.  Bud likes to use his for an alarm.  For now, we have taken the browser off of Bud's phone just to be safe, and have told Spice that we will see how she does with the privilege.  We do have Internet filters.  I know they could access bad stuff anyway if they wanted to.  I'm just glad they do not want to, but I don't want to contribute to tempting them unnecessarily!

I have also been surprised by the forwardness of girls these days.  Bud has had some phone calls.  We discussed that it really wasn't very appropriate to be talking to girls on the phone at his age and how to handle it when they called.  He completely agreed, but I know he doesn't mind the attention.  I just hope he stays strong when the girls start seeming more appealing to him.  Moms, please don't let your girls call boys! It is the boys that need to be seeking the girls when the time is right.  It helps them become men and motivates them to prepare to fight those dragons.  Girls are so easy to come by these days.  I wish it wasn't so.  I'm grateful for those girls who stand with dignity, even though it is hard because the "forward" girls get all the attention.  Keep it up - you'll get the guys who are worth getting because they will be willing to work for you.

Your experience
Of course, all   of these guidelines are subject to change as the Spirit guides and as we learn and grow, but it is what feels right for us and our kids at this time.  They are so good, I don't want to throw things in their way to distract them from that light and goodness.  This time in life is a great time for us to discover all sorts of great principles about governing in a family, self-government and listening to the Spirit.

Thanks for reading through my ramblings.  If you have teens, I'd love to hear some principles that have helped you in raising them in this topsy-turvy time.  Just don't tell me that this behavior is part of being a teenager and that it is normal.  I know it's normal.  Normal is becoming increasingly wrong and I am looking for true principles to guide me - not social norms :-)  I have seen the fruits of the behaviors above with some of my children's friends - these are good kids - but the fruits of some of these behaviors are not good.  I know their potential and I see them getting distracted from it.  I know they will learn from it all and that things will work out alright, but if we can find true principles to guide us - we don't need to learn from quite as many mistakes.  I love the gospel and the true principles found there.  I think we'll start studying the Strength of Youth Pamphlet more deeply as well.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts or advice :-)