Archive for February, 2010

Why most homeschoolers recommend at least two weeks off during the month of February:

We’re eating popcorn and apples and grapes, and going over the review questions outlined in the Story of the World, volume 3, by Susan Wise Bauer. We’re on Chapter 19, in which India collapses due to a string of weak emperors, and in which the English subsequently take control of the country, via the East India Company’s hired armies.

Me: Who decided to send an army against Siraj and the Indians of Bengal?

6-year-old: Um… the… um… the…

9-year-old: The traders?

6-year-old: HEY! I WAS GONNA SAY THAT!

Me (quietly): That’s okay… calm down… do you remember the name of the traders?

Silence. Blank stares. My 9-year-old flips her coloring page over to start doodling on the back of it.

Me: The East India Company…. Think for a second how weird that is. What if Wal-Mart got mad because we never shop there and hired an army to attack us?

They both start giggling.

Me: And who led the army of the East India Company?

9-year-old: Um…(flips her coloring picture back over to read the caption at the bottom)…Robert Clive.

Me: And after the battle, Mir Jafar became the new nawab of Bengal. But what happened when he didn’t do what the people of the East India Company wanted him to do?

9-year-old: They sent another army and attacked him.

Me: That’s right. And then what laws did the people of Bengal start to follow?

6-year-old: Ummm…. No hitting?

More giggles all around.

Me, trying not to laugh too much: No… not that kind of laws. Bengal wasn’t exactly a “no-hitting” city.

6-year-old, all excited, because this time she’s surely GOT THE ANSWER: No pinching?!?

Thus ends our history lesson for the day.

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The beginning of letting go.

Came across this interesting article on a message board this morning:

The Dramatic Rise of Anxiety and Depression in Children and Adolescents: Is It Connected to the Decline in Play and the Rise of Schooling? by Peter Gray.

It’s a bit long, and employs some psychological jargon that takes some wading through, but it’s still an interesting read. Basically, Gray says that the increase in amounts of modern industrial schooling correlate to an increase in anxiety and depression in children. And it’s not just about the school day; the control of children’s after-school hours also contribute. Here’s a quote:

In school, children learn quickly that their own choices of activities and their own judgments of competence don’t count; what matters are the teachers’ choices and judgments. Teachers are not entirely predictable. You may study hard and still get a poor grade, because you didn’t figure out just exactly what the teacher wanted you to study or guess correctly what questions he or she would ask. The goal in class, in the minds of the great majority of students, is not competence but good grades. Given a choice between really learning a subject and getting an A, the great majority of students would, without hesitation, pick the latter….

School is also a place where children have little choice about with whom they can associate. They are herded into spaces filled with other children that they did not choose, and they must spend a good portion of each school day in those spaces. In free play, children who feel harassed or bullied can leave the situation and find another group that is more compatible; but in school they cannot. Whether the bullies are other students or teachers (which is all too common), the child usually has no choice but to face those persons day after day. The results are sometimes disastrous.

When I was a kid, I went to school, and then I went home and did my own thing for hours on end. We were poor, so I had no after school activities like dance classes or soccer practices. I just went home and played. Or read. I didn’t even have homework until I was in the fourth grade.  We lived in a large apartment complex that was surrounded by patches of forest. All the kids in the neighborhood would roam the woods together, or we’d split off into smaller groups and play other games.  On summer nights, there’d be at least two dozen of us still outside way after dark, playing large games of hide and seek, or jumping rope or doing not-so-smart things like setting wasp nests on fire. And then running for it. And yeah, sometimes there’d be fights. But we all survived. When I went into therapy as a young adult, all my running around, unsupervised, late into those summer nights, was not the reason.

When I was older, our financial situation improved somewhat, and for a few years, I had a horse to ride. My mom would drop me off at the stable and I’d saddle up and ride the trails alone for hours on end. I also worked in the stables part time, and at the age of 13 was expected to be able to handle that kind of work. If I couldn’t get a ride to the barn, I’d roam the woods near our house. Alone. As a young teenager. Or I’d play by the creek with my sister. For hours and hours. My mother never came with us. She didn’t look out the window nervously to see if she could still see us. She didn’t say to us: don’t go too far. And I never once considered her inattention to my outside play neglectful.

But that was 30 years ago. Today, kids don’t live like that. They’re rarely left alone, especially outside. All of their after-school hours are filled with sports practices, clubs and other activities, and that, along with their homework is all they have time for. I never see children running around in this neighborhood (except for that pack of middle-school boys who roam the streets on summer evenings and make suggestive comments to second graders eating ice pops, that is), and I don’t let my kids roam around either (because of said pack of middle-school boys). It’s just not done anymore.

We homeschool, so I am able to provide a significant amount of free play time for my kids. But what I’m learning this year is that that’s not good enough. Here’s another quote from Gray’s article, that really drives this point home to me:

By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the chance that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and various other mental disorders.

I’m learning that my kids need more unstructured time. What I need to learn now is how to take that next step. How to stop HOVERING. I can say: yeah, I let the kids play and I don’t structure the time or the game. But those hours are still technically supervised by me. I know where the kids are. I can get to them quickly if need be. And I know my 9-year-old wants more autonomy than that. What I don’t know, is how to let go and give it to her.

Of course, the fact that my youngest is only six contributes to my inability to just let them go play. Maybe when they’re a couple years older, this won’t seem so hard. Six seems a bit young to be allowed to wander the neighborhood unattended. The best I can do right now is to take them to the park with their friends and let them get a little far away from me in a group.

Peter Gray promotes an unschooling approach to educating children. I’m not sure I can totally get on board with that. I still believe that a classical education is a good idea. My goal is to educate the kids, and still have a ton of hours of free, unstructured play time. We get our work done in three hours or less, and there is no homework. When we’re done, we’re done. But I’ve still loaded them up with lots of structured activities. Too many, I think. And I do that for the same reason I’ve always done that: because I want to make sure I’m providing enough socialization time. It’s ridiculous, I know. But I still get stuck in that trap.

This summer, we’ll be doing a lot less. And I’m really looking forward to it. Maybe I’ll work up the courage to just let them go play.

Maybe.

Laryngitis.

I’ve had this cold for about 10 days now. No big deal. Just a cold.

Trouble is: when you have a cold in the middle of a blizzard, you still have to go out and shovel snow. RegularDad did most of it. But I still had to go out there quite a few times and clear him a spot so that he could get off the street. And it took its toll on me, that little bit I shoveled. The last time I went out there, I could just tell.

So, I guess I didn’t rest as much as I should have. And now I’ve got this horrible dry cough – the kind that makes your head hurt when you really get going – and a nice little bout of laryngitis. Not a big deal, really. Just one more glitch in my February. But it could be worse, of course. I mean – it’s not like the entire country was leveled by an earthquake or anything.

But it’s quite a challenge, let me tell you, to learn that the proper treatment for laryngitis is to STOP TALKING as much as possible, when you live in a household where you have to repeat the same simple instructions (things like: put your shoes on) a half dozen times before both kids actually have their shoes on. And that’s just the shoe thing. You can only imagine how much talking I have to do when it’s time to do things like math. Or ask for help cleaning up the living room.

I’ve never been more aware of how much time I spend TALKING.

I’m considering making a bunch of signs to carry around with me. I can just wave them in front of the kids until they do what’s printed on them.

It might actually work better. Because Lord knows they never seem to hear me when I’m talking on a regular day around here. Unless the word “candy” falls out of my mouth, that is.

Besides, I think we could still count these days as school days. All that sign reading could count as “reading lessons” and “community skills” as they attempt to actually do whatever’s written on the signs. Things like: “get ailing mother another pillow.”

This is also becoming an interesting exercise in letting the little things go. Like tonight for instance. Tonight after I tucked them in, I came into my office to write a little while, and I could hear the two of them whispering every once in a while. Usually I’d call out to them to stop whispering. But tonight, I let the majority of it just go. Oh… after a half hour or so, I finally gave one call-out to them, but for me, that’s pretty good.

So, who knows? Maybe this is a good thing. We’ll see how well it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I’m off to find a very large glass of orange juice to sip on.

(sigh)

If a movie could be a song, this would be ours.

We never really ever had a song, in the soppy teenage sense of the idea. Remember how important that was? Having a song with your [insert appropriate significant-other identifier here]. 

There is a song by Alan Jackson that came close, and we danced to it at our wedding, but it wasn’t a well-known song and never got any air time, so it didn’t really work the way having-a-song was supposed to work. We’d never be out driving somewhere and OUR SONG would come on the radio and it would have meaning. We’ve never really been that soppy, to be honest. We prefer to laugh hysterically at things, rather than gaze dreamily into each other’s eyes.

So, no, we never had a song. But we do have a movie. And here’s a clip from it:

Every year, on Valentine’s Day, we cook up a few pounds of Snow Crab Legs, melt a mess of butter, and watch When Harry Met Sally.

And we laugh all night long.

It’s not just the movie that defines us, it’s the fact that RegularDad really balked at watching it all those years ago when we were still in college. It had just come out on video and we were in my college apartment and I was all: hey, wanna watch this movie with me? It’s really awesome. And he was all: Nah… it looks kinda dumb. (Like a chick-flick, he was thinking, but didn’t want to say it, is my guess.)

I had to really talk him into watching it. And of course, he finally gave in, and ended up laughing his ass off all afternoon, because let’s face it, it’s an incredibly funny film.

What a defining moment that was for us. From that point on, he totally trusted me when I said: Dude, you gotta watch this movie.

So, that’s what we’re up to tonight. Hope you’re doing something just as fun. Just as defining.

Thawing out.

We managed to get through the blizzard with only a half day interruption in our phone and Internet service. But we never lost our heat or our electricity, so I really have no complaints. I’d rather sweat out 12 hours of email-withdrawl than deal with serious power outtages.

Anyway… the sun was out this morning, and the cardinals that live in the big pine tree were flitting around before I’d finished my coffee. This is what it looked like outside my bedroom window:

After I’d had my coffee, I got everyone dressed and fed, and announced that we’d be taking another day off of school because I had more shoveling to do. And also because I’ve got a cold right now, and that on top of all this snow makes me think this is a good time to not do math.

HOMESCHOOLING SIDE NOTE: One of the most common questions we get as homeschoolers, particularly after a snowstorm, is if we take snow days or not. (This question is often following with a knowing look and an irritating chuckle, as if to say: ha! gotcha on THAT ONE, don’t I? Your poor kids will never know the joys of having a SNOW DAY.)

The answer is, quite simply, not usually. We prefer to save up our “snow days” and use them up on those first really great spring days. We call them “Nice Days”. So, while most kids are stuck in school staring out the windows in May, when spring really starts rolling in, and they’re wishing they could take the day off because it’s SOOOOOOO NICE OUT… guess where we are: At the lake. Or at the park. With Subway sandwiches. And no homework waiting for us when we leave.

However… when we get a big giant blizzard… a snowstorm that’s actually IMPRESSIVE, and that storm falls in the same week in which Mom Has A Cold… well, then… yeah… we take a snow day. Or two. Or three.

The point I’m trying to make here is twofold, actually: 1. We take days off whenever we want to. And 2. That snow-day question is actually kind of annoying, and does not make you sound nearly as witty as you think. So you should stop asking it.

Anyway…where was I? Oh yes… Thawing out. So, I went out after a while and shoveled the half-inch of snow that fell after RegularDad finished shoveling last night. I also found the mailbox:

which is always a good thing. I brushed a foot of snow off of it and dropped the mortgage payment in there. Hopefully, a mail carrier will come along at some point and pick it up. Shoveling the last of the snow off the driveway wasn’t too bad, and now our house looks like this:

and my arms are kinda sore.

RegularDad came home from work early so that he could play in the snow with the kids. I went out there with them for a few minutes to take pictures, but the wind drove me back in pretty quickly. It’s cold. And I have a cold. So, no snowball fights for me. But they were out there all afternoon, having a blast.

 Of course, not everyone loves all this snow. These guys, for example:

These guys aren’t all that impressed with the white stuff outside. Not in the slightest. In fact, they’ve made it clear that they really don’t want anything at all to do with snow. The only good thing about it, they’d say, is the way it chills everything just enough that the heat kicks on more often and the humans keep leaving fleece blankets all over the place.

Yeah, these guys are all: wake me when it’s May.

I so totally get that.

Blizzard of 2010.

Haven’t seen snow like this since the morning we flew out of Denver to move here three years ago.

Here’s a shot of the first storm we got about four days ago:

Notice how accessible and visible my mailbox is? Yeah… haven’t seen that thing all day long. Mail service is suspended anyway.

Now here’s some shots of what it looked like here earlier this morning. BEFORE the blizzard proper actually began:

That’s my 6-year-old’s snowman. She built it yesterday afternoon. Half of it’s buried underneath last night’s snowfall. We went out again for a while today, during a lull in the storm, before the real blizzard started, to get a little fresh air. The puppy messed around in some snow drifts and tired herself out nicely. But now, after several hours of actual blizzard, she can’t even leap herself out of the drifts anymore. So, we tramp down little runs for her so she can find her bathroom and then we hurry her back into the house.

And here’s what it looked like at about 4:00 this afternoon, when I went out again, to shovel out the driveway, so that RegularDad might have a fighting chance of pulling his car in:

Technically, those steps are part of my front walkway there. I’d just finished shoveling it clear. Honest.

That right there is my driveway. See the two giant piles of snow? Yeah, that was a wall of icky snow mixed with road salt blocking the whole driveway when I went out there to start shoveling. I’d gotten maybe a tenth of it done, when out of nowhere a plow truck came along and the guy driving it gave me a big smile and then plowed the whole mess off to the side for me. Dude… whoever you are… you ROCK. Thanks.

By the way, my mailbox is now buried under that pile of snow on the right. You can’t see it, but it’s there.

Of course, not five minutes after that dude who plowed my driveway for me drove off, another plow came along and started a whole new wall of slush across the driveway. I could have cried right there. But instead I just plodded on back to the house for my shovel.

But just as I was reaching for it, RegularDad’s car appeared and he rolled right over the new wall and up the driveway and parked with no problem.

Because the gods are kind like that, I guess.

The best part of a blizzard is seeing your husband arrive safely home, isn’t it?

I made beef and barley soup for dinner. Because it’s his favorite. After he ate it, he went right back out to shovel more snow. He was out there for over an hour, and just as he finished, a neighbor came walking by and said: “hey man, you want to borrow my snow blower?”

Note to self: get RegularDad a snow blower for his next birthday.

We’re staying warm in here. Hope you are, too.


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