This Month's Featured Resources...

Revolutionary WarScrap Crafting Lego History Latin Calendar

Friday, May 30

I'm Into Something Good (Herman's Hermits)

Healthy eating on the road can be very tricky!  It's so easy to fall into the trap of fast food and convenience foods, especially on long travel days, when your only stops are at the gas station or to pick up a quick bite.

If you have a cooler, pack it with washed grapes, carrot sticks, apple slices, or any other fruit & vegetable finger foods your family will eat for snacks.  We typically throw whatever's in the fridge into the cooler as well - any lunchmeat, veggies, string cheese, etc that we can use up for lunches.

It's almost impossible to travel with a pack of hungry boys and NOT have snacks on-hand in the car, but we buy these ahead of time, and try to stick to the shopper's guide for avoiding genetically-modified foods.  If you're not tuned into GMOs yet, you'll be very surprised to see the percentage of your food that is affected...  (These are some of my favorite anti-GMO cartoons that have popped up over Facebook recently.)
The Eat Well online guide helps to find local, sustainable, and organic food wherever you go.  Some areas will have considerably more options, but it never hurts to check!  And should you happen upon a local Farmer's Market, here is a unit study (free) to keep the kids busy while you put away your goodies.
Often, we are unable to find such places, so we hit the a local store to pick up kitchen basics upon our arrival.  By eating breakfast at the hotel and packing lunches each day, we are able to save quite a bit on eating out - and we know (mostly) what's going into our meals.  Your cooler is a great asset...get some ice from the hotel and put it to work.

One corner of our cooler is dedicated to mom's kefir and tonics.  A friend teaches classes on herbalism and creating your own tonics, and in a future post, I will be sharing her wisdom.  Just remember to that one of the best ways to stay healthy is to eat real food - if your great-grandmother wouldn't have recognized it, then don't eat it!
Our family doesn't ascribe to any particular diet, but several friends swear by the Acid-Alkaline Diet as a way to maintain health through your body's pH balance.  We are considering trying it as a way to combat allergies, but it will take extra planning to follow the diet on the road.  Do you have travel experience with this diet?  If so, we'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, May 28

Think (Aretha Franklin)

The past two weeks have been extraordinarily frustrating as I have been forced to face the facts that I am computer-stupid.  A few years ago (let's take some liberties with the word "few"), when I was in college, I was at the top of the computer / informational science game.  Everything is different now, and I realized this week that I know nothing.  So, with many missteps, I am slowly discovering new computer's a painful process at times.
"No one here knows anything.  But, I know that I don't know anything.  Like the paradox?"   -the Mentalist
What does it mean to be well-educated?  Is it about job skills, test scores, memorizing facts?  If you ask Congress these days, they would tell you that it is about developing a common core of knowledge and preparing students for the workplace.  However, teaching this way puts the emphasis on retaining information, rather than learning how to think.

Right now, our nation's educational system is being shredded by the Common Core's supporters and dissenters.  Every decade, there is a new educational push, and while I give credit to the government for realizing that the system is broken, a federal mandate isn't going to fix it.
Congress declares that standardized testing will determine which students are 'well-educated' or not.  Teachers are forced to teach around the test, and students sacrifice true learning in favor of higher test scores.  Ultimately, students receive an inferior education because of this 'teaching to the test,' and the standards are actually lowered.

"Most teachers can instantly name students who are talented thinkers but who just don’t do well on these exams – as well as students whose scores seem to overestimate their intellectual gifts. Indeed, researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between high scores on a range of standardized tests and a shallow approach to learning."  (Alfie Kohn, 2003)

As for memorizing facts and figures, this information is only worth something if it can be put to use.  If students aren't taught to think creatively and apply their knowledge, then what good is it?  (Other than for passing those standardized tests, of course.)  Another favorite of mine is that a student must be present in his / her seat for a certain number of hours each year.  How many students are present in body only?  Without engagement, there is no learning.
 Only a few short years ago, school was about learning.  Today it is about testing.  This is one of the many reasons that my husband and I decided to homeschool.  While we do use traditional curriculum for some subjects, we have opted for a child-centered 'unschooling' approach, to encourage a love of learning.

Unschoolers learn through life experiences, including travel, reading, social interaction, and family.  We center units around our current travels, or the boys' love-of-the-week (whether it be skeletons, Ninjago, or Scandinavia), and allow them to take the lead. 

As parents, we know that children will dig much deeper into their own interests than an assignment.  My son abhors writing, but he wrote a twelve-page story about being a Viking when we studied Scandinavia...of his own volition.  And they retain so. much. more. when they're studying a personal interest.
This isn't to say that traditional curricula is bad, or uncalled for, but rather that knowledge should be sought for knowledge's sake - especially in elementary school.  If you can teach your children to love learning, then they will become lifelong learners. 

It isn't about credentials or degrees.  Having both the drive and the ability to be a lifelong learner are what makes one truly well-educated.  Teach your child to love the process....however painful it may be at times.

Tuesday, May 27

I See the Rain (Marmalade)

Rain, rain, go away......... 

Ok, not really.  We desperately need the rain here in rural Oklahoma.  However, _I_ did not need it today.  Do you ever feel this way?  Plans are made, and then something comes along and up-ends everything...  Maybe everyone has cabin fever, it's a bad morning, or you just need a break from the everyday curriculum.  Or maybe, like me, all that you had planned today needed to be done outside. 

Rainy days aren't pretty, but they offer an opportunity for reflection.  Maybe, what we really need to do is take a day off from the routine, and focus on family togetherness.
Make a table fort & camp indoors
Conduct science experiments with kitchen basics
Study geography with empty boxes
Cook with the kids (it's math!)
Play hopscotch in the hallway
It rains a lot in the UK, so I'm going to take the Rainy Day Mum as a bit of an expert.  She offers 101 Rainy Day Activities to do with the kids when everyone is stuck indoors.

And remember, after the rain comes the rainbow.

Sunday, May 25

Intruder (Janis Joplin)

At the birth of our first child, my husband and I happened to be living with his parents.  Neither of us had the slightest idea what to do with this tiny little bundle that we were now responsible for, and we were incredibly lucky to have them around to teach us.
 He grew.  He grew and he grew and he grew.  (The Very Hungry Caterpillar)  And we started to feel more confident, but the game kept changing.  We no longer lived with his parents, but they were close enough to provide guidance.  Though far away, my parents were available daily, via phone, and we put that speaker phone and unlimited long distance to good use!  
Soon, he grew to be a happy, healthy three year old!  Through minor surgery, a bout of RSV and rotovirus requiring ER trips, and getting his head glued back together (he's very proud of his Harry Potter scar today), we managed to protect and nurture this little boy.  We were so confident in our abilities that we created another one!  (Learned our lesson on that one....they're all different!) 
Nearly ten years in, we still look to our parents for guidance and welcome the advice freely offered.  We know that we are good parents, but we are better parents because we seek out and listen to the wisdom of our elders.  We're far from perfect (so far, that we can't even see the road sign from here), but continually strive to better ourselves.

Years later, I watched my sister struggle as a new mom, without the benefit of a hands-on teacher at her side, and it reinforced just how fortunate we were in those early years.  She has the phone-connectedness, but there's nothing like a hands-on teacher, by your side, to boost your confidence.

Why am I telling you this?  It's because, if you are a new homeschooler, ASK for help, ACCEPT help, and AVOID self-judgment.  You don't have to take everyone's advice to heart, but you never know what sorts of ideas might be tossed out there, or lifelines thrown, if you'll just ask.

The first year is a steep learning curve, like the first year with your new infant (because even babysitting doesn't prepare you for the full weight of parenthood).  It will get easier, as you build up confidence in your abilities.  They're your children.  Just as you know what's best for their health, and how to soothe their ouchies, you are going to know how they learn best....and you're going to be invested enough to tailor that teaching specifically for them.

Thursday, May 22

Should I Stay or Should I Go? (Clash)

Our Fun Friday field trip plans fell by the wayside, as we got caught up in all of the schools' end-of-year field trips.  The original plan was to visit the Oklahoma Aquarium and learn about marine science, however we quickly realized that they were at capacity shortly after opening. 

Next, we attempted to visit the Tulsa Zoo, where there is a travelling Zoorassic Park exhibit (animals AND dinosaurs!), but it, too, was quickly filled by a multitude of emptying school buses.  (And by multitude, I mean that the kids counted no less than sixty in the parking lot.)  It was so crowded that we had to make our own cattywampus parking space...

After driving around Tulsa all morning, the natives were getting restless....and hungry.  We stopped off for a quick bite and happened upon one of those local artsy newspapers over lunch.
The Colors of Mayfest???  It said it was free, and we couldn't stomach the thought of driving all the way back home with no FUN in our Fun Friday, so we said "eh, why not give it a shot?"  What we found was a master class in the arts - glassblowing, all types of painting & drawing, pottery throwing, glassworks, leather tooling, and countless other types of fine arts were exhibited in tiny, white tents.  Four stages had live musical performances going on, and a Kids Zone offered up five or six different craft activities and an area for them to dig up fossils, and they got to keep one!
While there were numerous shopping-only tents, the kids actually gravitated toward the artists.  Many of the folks we stopped and talked with were enthusiastic about answering the boys' questions, and spent a good deal of time chatting with them. 
One of those memory booths was set up in the festival corner, and we got a little silly!

The youngest found a spin-a-wheel and won several boxes of pasta and bag full of fun trinkets from the company, which put him in a great mood for the rest of the day. 
Sometimes, you have to scrap the playbook.  Although nothing went as planned, and we had to keep leaving one activity in search of another, the weather was beautiful, the kids were happy, we had our friends with us, and the day turned out perfectly! 
 One artist the boys found particularly interesting was John Bramblitt, a blind painter who lost his sight in an accident, who was thrilled to answer all of their questions.