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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bite Sized Morsels

I helped lead my Sunday School class this last week.  When I do that, I get to choose what we talk about.  So, I usually try to pick something that really speaks to me.

Normally, I go poke around the Proverbs 31 Ministries site and pick one, but this time, someone had posted one on Facebook that I really connected with.

It was called An Uncluttered Woman, by Gwen Smith.

To really paraphrase here, it talked about simplifying life.  It talked about facing the 10 bazillion things we need to do each day and being left dizzy and sick.  She referenced Matthew 6:33 about seeking God and the devotion closed with this prayer:

Dear God, Thanks for reminding me that I can always come to You and trade in my exhaustion for Your rejuvenation. Please bring order to my day and establish my priorities according to Your will. Teach me what it means to live a Spirit-led life and show me how to become an uncluttered woman.
In Jesus’ name,

Trading my exhaustion for rejuvenation sounds fantastic!!!

However, I still have a tendency to twirl around every which way and see all the needs to be done.  I get overwhelmed, both mentally and physically. 

So, what do I do?  Nothing.  

I sit and watch NCIS reruns and think to myself, I will just tackle it all....later.  When later does come everything is worse than it was before.  I get overwhelmed and depressed and give up again.

It is a vicious cycle.

The "uncluttered" part of the devotion reminded me of the decluttering that we had to do before we sold our houses.  Boy, oh boy, was that a pain in the butt.  We packed up at least half of what we owned and put stuff away or threw it away.  The counters were clear.  The toys and books were put away out of site.  Dishes and pots and pans were not allowed to stack up in the kitchen, because you never knew when that call for a last minute showing would come.  We always had to be prepared, or at the very least "almost" prepared.  

The kids came to dread the words "show ready".  But, you know what?  It was also sort of wonderful. The house looked great.  It felt great.  Cleaning hardly took anytime, because it never got really out of control and super messy.

We learned to do silly things like:

Make our bed as soon as we got out of them.

Load the dishwasher right away.

Fill the sink with soapy water and just wash those pots/pans, even if there were only 2 - instead of 20.  

Not let the kids have free reign when playing with any and all of their toys.

Wipe those spatters on the bathroom mirrors.

Don't let the toothpaste get hard and crusty in the sink.

We were able to tackle the little things before they became big things.....and it made things easier.

We talked about the beauty of decluttering and simplifying in my Sunday School class and the fact that even though we all know how great it can be, it just still seems so overwhelming.  One of the ladies spoke up and reminded us of the story of how to eat an elephant.  One bite at a time.

I can handle that, I think.

But, then I start looking around my house (that has gotten completely out of control since my thyroid surgery.)  I mean MY room is an actual mess.  That hasn't happened in this house since we moved in.  But, once again, it has become the place to put the stuff that nobody knows where it goes.

I felt like I was standing in the middle of my life whirling and twirling and seeing all the stuff that needed to be done.  Dirty windows.  Lesson planning.  Mopping the floor (but first scraping the sticky goo off).  Curriculum choices.  Dirty light switches.  Organizing school cupboards.  The blue tape that has been on my wall, marking studs so I can hang some of my family heirlooms.  It has been stuck there since....hmmmm......probably February. (I am sort of funny about not wanting to make too many holes in my walls when hanging pictures - so I try to be really sure before I commit to hanging things!) Then, I started thinking about not reading my Bible everyday anymore.  I thought about not eating right and gaining all my weight that I lost last year back.

Once I started looking around, I saw thing after thing after thing that I should be doing and decided that one bite at a time might be too much.So, I have decided that instead of taking on my world one bite at a time, I am going to do something else.

You know when you take your kids out to DQ for ice cream and they get a cone.  Pretty soon, there ice cream is just dripping and melting down the sides, so you swoop in and grab the cone and take the quick lick and swipe around the edges and hand it back to them to finish quickly?

I am going to do that.  Take things one lick at a time.  Swooping in, taking care of the immediate melting mess and move on.  LOL

So, I decided that I was going to start Monday.

And, I did.

I decided to start by cleaning off the chair in my bedroom....and the pile of clothes that had magically appeared there.

You see, when we got back from our road trip at the middle of July, I never unpacked my suitcase.  I just plopped it on my chair and when necessary, I dug stuff out of it.  Then, when I washed clothes and didn't feel like putting my stuff away right away, they were just added to the suitcase on my chair.  Sometimes when I took my clothes off, I would toss them there too and not into the dirty clothes - so then I wasn't sure what was dirty and what was clean.  Then, I went to visit a friend and she gave me some hand me down clothes - for me.  Yay!  Onto the chair/pile they went and what didn't fit there went onto the floor nearby - so the shadow from the pile on the chair didn't scare me in the middle of the night.

At one time, I had had thoughts of decluttering my closet and going through my wardrobe before I put those things away....which is why everything just sat there.

So, I decided to take it in bite sized morsels....or, my new way....a quick lick around the sides....and just put everything away.  I got out a stack of hangers and put them all away.  As I did this, I kept getting sidetracked by competing thoughts:

I should just go through my closet now.

Look at all these shoes.  I should go through those too.

Hmmm....what are in these bins?

Why do I still have so many sweatshirts here in Georgia?

Wow!  I need to vacuum.

I should rearrange my furniture and put the chair on the other side of the window.

I think you get the general idea, but I kept reminding myself not to get overwhelmed and really and truly just do one small portion of the work I had waiting for me.  So, I hung up all those clothes and put away the suitcase....and walked away.

It felt great.  Yes, I will still need to do all the things that I mentioned above - get rid of clothes and shoes.  But, it is okay that I didn't do it first.  I did manage to easily find 2 shirts that I wanted to give away to charity.  Yay me!  The other ones that will require more thought, or me actually trying stuff on to see if it fits/looks good are going to have to wait for another day.

That was my first attempt at really just giving myself permission to just do a little bit.  It is a foreign concept for me.  I am used to jumping in and getting stuff done and if you are around me when I am in the zone.....look out.  But, I haven't been in the zone for a long time.

But, really, I have had great success so far this week, reminding myself just to take a lick or bite (if I have time/energy) of whatever job is waiting for me.

Just washing pots and pans - and not having to wipe down every surface and clear off the island.  Or, just clearing off the island and wiping it down, but not loading/unloading the dishwasher.  Or, just tackling the pile of books and papers next to my chair....only next to my chair....not every single stray book or pile of papers that exists around here.

Yes, there are still a LOT of things around here that I need to get done, and even though I have 6 kids and there will just always be some sort of chaos surrounding me, things are getting done.  And, really, I will never have a spotless house, nor do I want one.

But, things are getting done.  Little by little.  It just makes me feel better.  Makes me feel like less of a loser.   Bite by bite.  Lick my lick.

Even if it is something stupid like putting my own clothes away.

Yay me, right?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Conversation - Review

I was recently given the chance to read the book from Classical Conversations, called,  The Conversation - Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education, by Leigh A. Bortins

I will admit that I have had a long distance fascination with the classical education approach for years now.  Part of my problem is that I could never quite explain what an actual "classical" education was to people, or, quite frankly, to myself.

So, I would sort of dance around our educational goals and plans with a little bit of classical "stuff", but revert back into my comfort zone of how we "normally" did things.  I still happen to think my kids are getting a fantastic education, but, it could be better.  I could help them think and understand things more deeply by using the classical approach.

There were even some statistics quoted in the book that really hit home for me.  It was centered about SAT and ACT scores with different educational backgrounds.

Public schools - students scored  73 points below average
Religious schools - students scored 44 points above average
Homeschoolers - students scored 72 points above average
Independent schoolers - students scored 117 points above average
Classical schoolers - students scored 274 points above average

Okay, even though I am not a person who focuses on standardized tests, nor do I feel they actually accurately show the actual "smartness" of the people who take them...I also don't feel that you can ignore them completely either.

And, I am sorry, but those results cannot and shouldn't be ignored.  274 points above average!!!

The first two chapters in this book finally, at long last, helped define what a "classical" education is for me.  I found them equal parts scary and exciting when I thought about this approach with my own kids.  Then, I really took a step back and acknowledged what a complete foreign concept it has become to educate in this fashion.

The author sprinkled numerous examples in the book about life with her sons (even where she wishes she had done things differently).  But, where I found it the most helpful and inspirational was where she shared the real life examples of how this educational style/approach has worked for her boys.  Early in the book, she was sharing how one of her sons filled his days from his studies of history, philosophy, and physics, holding a part time job,  also playing rugby, attending church, and doing volunteer work.  One sentence in particular jumped out at me at the conclusion of all the "stuff" he has done.  He does these things because he loves life, not in order to earn a degree.

Especially as my oldest finishes high school, I realize how badly I want him to be able to go out and create an exceptional life for himself.  Not just do well on tests.  Not just get straight A's.  Not just get accepted into a college.  I want him to look around and taste and see that life is good and his life shouldn't look like anyone else's.  It should be unique to him and who God created him to be.

I knew I was going to like the author, Leigh Bortins, in the first chapter when she started talking about the idea of adolescents in today's cultural mindset versus the last generation, or before.  In generations before, teenagers would be expected to take on adult responsibilities (her example was to run the family farm for a week while the parents were out of town), but, in our generation, teenagers (and beyond) are coddled and our limited expectations have created the stereotypical, irresponsible, disrespectful, difficult...teenager.

One other point the author makes in the first chapter hit home with me. She was talking about real life opportunities and the fact that school (sitting in a classroom with a bunch of other people their
exact age) doesn't show them much of anything about how real life is going to work.  So very true, isn't it?

I liked what she had to say about being a confident parent and that we end up reverting to cultural conformity when our confidence is shaken.  Oh, so true.  When we are feeling unsure and vulnerable, it is much easier to just go along and do what others are doing.  It does take courage and confidence to walk a different path.  I have tackled the first step in deciding to homeschool my kids.  Now I just have to get the courage up to move towards a classical education.

In this book, I found little bits of information that I knew from my own experiences to be true.   Bits like this one..."When I was in public high school, I didn't have time to build decks, travel, work and contemplate ideologies with my classmates.  I completed my assignments and went to a selective college and promptly discovered that I had never learned how to learn.  I had never been expected to do more than regurgitate information found in textbooks.  I had been trained to find answers rather than understand problems.  I want our sons to be able to do both."

The author also talked about the notion that getting into college is most parents goals for their children.  I have long thought that college isn't for everyone....but that is another blog post for another day.    She talked about finally being able to switch her focus for her boys from getting them into college, to having the larger to goal of raising virtuous men.  I totally understand what she means, and I do want more for my children than for them to be great regurgitators. You know?

Classical education attempts to understand things through vocabulary, dialectic (clear reasoning) and rhetoric (wise choices).  The main portion of this book explained how the rhetoric portion of the classical education actually works.  All about conversations and expressing truth.  About recognizing and tackling faulty arguments.  To  be able to defend and carry the truth onto others and to separate truth from the lies and manipulations.  As I read this section, I just kept thinking about the rhetoric that the media and society is spewing about Cecil the lion and the Planned Parenthood videos....but that too, is another blog post for another day.

Ms. Bortins, in the biggest part of the book, breaks down in each chapter how to tackle different subjects in a classical manner.  Using examples from literature that we are probably familiar with (classically educated or not).  Like the Scarlet Letter of Dickens A Christmas Carol.

I liked her chapter on Speech and Debate with a classical education.  She talked about how we all need to practice these skills, because they are necessary and they scare us.  She recommended having your kids start practicing speaking formally in front of people/their peers by age 4 or 5.  I can just see the deer in the headlights looks I will get from a few of my kids about that one.....although some of them will eat up the opportunity to speak to the masses!

The goals and reasons that she spoke of for the importance of speech and debate reminded me of my pageant days and all the prep that went into knowing about current events and being able to discuss and form opinions as well as support my arguments...and be able to state them out loud.  As fluffy and unimportant as some parts of pageants were, that was a nice side effect.  I guess I was sort of a classical educated beauty queen!  Emoji

I will just touch on a few more points that stood out to me from this book.  In the chapter on a classical education through math, even though her point had nothing to do with math.  She said that she had noticed that looking at homeschoolers, especially those who homeschooled through adulthood, is that they all like talking with their children.  Just a simple point.  Has nothing to do with math.  But, it is so true.  I do like talking to my children. I like having real conversations with them, even about the hard stuff.  Now that D-man and A-girl are away from home a few days a week attending classes outside of our home.  I am not able to talk to them as much as I would like.  I miss that.

We have dabbled in Latin studies at our homeschool and Ms. Bortins has inspired me to do more than just dabble with it.  I am actually, as we speak, digging out what I already have and researching other options for L-girl to tackle this year in 8th grade, and finding ways I can fold Latin studies into class for the younger set.

She sort of wrapped up her book with a discussion on the goal of graduation and beyond.  I am paraphrasing here, but it went back to her earlier thoughts on her goals changing from college admission to raising virtuous men.  She stressed the fact that it isn't "too late" to get started with a classical approach.  I loved her family saying "Work hard, play hard, and sleep hard."  Good goal for all of us.  College isn't the be all, end all.  It is a small piece of our life and time.

She ended the book by giving some hands on games and application tools you can use to get "The Conversation" started with your kids.

I liked this book.  Yes, at times, I will admit I was a little bored.  Yes, at times I was inspired and encouraged.  There were even a few times when I was scared and wanted to run away and not think about making changes to how we do things.  But, in the end, The Conversation  inspired me to make some changes.  Yes, I will start small and build from there.  It is a start.  I will carpe diem.

You can get a copy of The Conversation, on sale right now, for $12.00

Take a look and see what other TOS Reviewers thought about The Conversation.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Funtastic Unit Studies - Review

Ooh, this was a good one.  This time, we got to try out a book called Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers, by Funtastic Unit Studies.

I know.  A mouthful, right?

This is always a hard time of year to really get kid buy-in on these review thingies that I do.  This was one that I was more excited about than the kids.  Then, I got the book and things flip flopped.  I wasn't ready to tackle things and the kids wanted to.

Eventually, we all got on the same page and I am happy to report, I HIGHLY recommend this for homeschoolers.  (Honestly, you non-homeschoolers would love it too, as long as you let yourself enjoy it and not let it make you feel like you had to do more school at home).

I will also admit right up front here that I didn't use this as intended this summer.  But, I am planning to use it as it was intended for this school year.

So, what that means is that instead of doing things from the book, in order, as presented.....I jumped around and picked the stuff that appealed to the kids and I at that moment.   The units are intended to be used in order because they build on each other as you go along.  All good stuff.  Good intentions.  All that jazz.  But, as the author noted in her Note to the Reader section of the book, "homeschooling parents are inclined to go their own way..."  and, I did.  Ha!

Okay, so what is this book all about?

The book is written by Sue Kilbride, a homeschool mother who also just happens to have a degree in biology.  It has 20 Chapters of different units.  The first 10 chapters are intended for the younger students (ages 4 to 7) and the next 10 are for the slightly older students (ages 8 to 13), from the simple - Our Senses, to Insects and Their Kin, to Chemistry Fun and Force and Motion.  Really from simple to complex.

I will say that when I first cracked open the book, I got scared, because I saw this:

Yikes!!!!  I understand the reason that it is all written there in one place so you know what you need.  But, it sort of back fired on me because it made me put off starting because I didn't want to tackle the seemingly endless materials needed list.

But, then I actually took the time to read the list and found things like: three bowls, lemon juice, small cups, glue, crayons, empty prescription bottles, a blindfold.   Whew!  Okay...normal things.  Not hard to find chemical compounds that would require hazmat suits!

So, I breathed a little easier and turned the next page, which is where I was completely sold on this book before we even did a single experiment or hands on activity.

It is so well organized...thorough....and simple.

Honestly, before the kids even did anything, I just sat and read through the units.  I was at some practice or rehearsal or something and thought I would just get a head start on what I had coming.  I just kept on reading.  I just kept on thinking...."genius idea!"  Or, things like, "I can totally put that together.", "They are totally going to have fun learning this."

Really...and that was just reading through the lessons.

Each lesson has a basic concept/theme.  For simplicity's sake, let's take the unit on Senses.  Obviously, the goal is to go through teaching your students about all 5 of their different senses.  Easy peasy.  Duh.  Right?

Sort of.

This one started out fun with making our own actual, real potato, "potato head" person.  (somehow I don't have pictures of them) Then, I read Goldilocks and the Three Bears and they had to pay attention and see how often and which senses were mentioned.  Then there is a part of the lesson on taste (suffice it to say salt and sugar...look alike, but don't taste alike!)

Then we moved onto the sense of touch.  This, like many to come, had an interesting hands on activity.  This one involved little pins in cardboard and how your body perceives touch on their hand versus on their upper arm.  (I am not going to give too much away - but this one was really interesting).  A few more different hands on activities involving touch followed along with the old story of the Blind Men and the prove that sometimes you need more information than what is right in front of you.

From touch we moved onto sight and the different parts of the eye.  Hands on activities for this portion where things like a game of "I spy".  Finally, we moved onto Sound and did a cool activity where we used the same size/type of glasses and filled them with different levels of water and made note of the different sounds they made.  They even suggested taking a "sound walk", where you really paid attention to all the sound and noises around you that you tend to tune out and ignore.

Our last sense covered was smell.  This one had an interactive story where you created little smelling jars and as you read and got to certain points of the story, you took a whiff.  Sort of like "smell-o-vision"....except this was more like radio theater.  Cool concept though.

That pretty much wrapped up the Sense unit.  I left out some of the activities, but wanted to give you a general sense of how to work through each chapter.

(Our water - sound, he is NOT supposed to have his hand inside of the glass!)

In looking ahead to the Animal Ecology chapter, it teaches about habitats/biomes and one of the activities is for me, while the kids are sleeping, to hide one of their stuffed animals.  In the morning, I will tell them their their animal has gone on a trip to visit various biomes around the world and will be writing to tell us about their travels.  Don't worry.  The letters have already been written.  You can choose to actually mail them to yourself or just put them somewhere in your pretend mailbox. Seriously, how fun is that?

I am TOTALLY in love with this one.  Even the chapters for the younger kids weren't completely made fun of by my older kids.

Like I said, this summer, I did not follow this unit study the intended way, but, school is starting up and this has made the cut for a full-time part of our curriculum.  I plan to go through chapter by chapter as intended.  Even though I didn't get to the higher chapters (that are intended for the slightly older students), I actually think it will work well for even my youngers.

For example, looking ahead at the chapter about Insects.  No, V-girl probably won't be able to name the groups that insects are classified in (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species), but she will at least hear the words and you never know, the mnemonic device just may stick to help her remember that.  The activities range from the simple "insect hunt" to creating a plastic egg exoskeleton, to one that involves the purchase of meal worms (gotta be honest - that may not happen at my house).  But, you get the idea about how the lessons are definitely adaptable for the different ages.

Again, totally loving this one.  Even though the initial materials list scared me, it is so simple and complete...and real, that I have to whole heartedly recommend this one for you.

You can get your copy of Funtastics Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers for $16.95

Take a look at what the other TOS Reviewers thought of Funtastic Unit Studies.