Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dreaming Big

I have been reading Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, a book that rapidly rose to 'favorite' status for me. Which is weird, because I'm generally not a fan of books about Life's Little Lessons, or Lofty Reflections On Life - usually, I go all morbid when I am even in the same room with them.

But Pausch's book has kind of a back door in: the lecture he gave at Carnegie-Mellon University just after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Feel the morbidity creeping? ... you are free to ignore it, Randy Pausch's 'engineering problem,' as he referred to his cancer, was not really the subject of his last lecture. Instead, it was about the dreams of childhood, and how they made him into the man he became. (I tried to find this on YouTube, but it wouldn't play :-(

Reading the book got my friend Shannon thinking about her childhood dreams, which got me thinking about mine - and Luke's and Owen's, too.

When I asked Owen about his dreams, he gave them to me right away: to be a Dad, cook breakfasts, and "sleep without pajamas." At four, I'm not sure he can really give voice to some of his other dreams, which, judging by his play and the conversations he has with his stuffed buddies, include journeying as a knight and joining the Star Wars universe.

Luke dreams bigger: he wants to be an inventor of time machines and other "trans-dimensional" modes of transport, and he wants to live with the dragons in the woods behind our house.

Here are my childhood dreams:

To do a split all the way to the ground.

To play ice hockey.

To be in Narnia.

To run away and live in the woods, like the boy in My Side of the Mountain.

To be an Olympic skier or ice skater (as a transplanted Canadian, winter sports were BIG, and still are).

I look at my list now, and wonder if it can be said that I've achieved any of my childhood dreams? I am a Yoga instructor and, while I can't do a split all the way to the ground, for me Yoga is a direct result of that first childhood dream.

Ice hockey was out for me (because of my gender - no daughter of my Dad's was going to sit in stinky locker rooms with sweaty boys), but I played field hockey for five years, LOVED it and have several lifelong friends because of it.

I go to Narnia still, every time I read the series - also, I am able to escape reality with great literature all the time, and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was the original doorway into that world.

While I do not technically live in the woods like the kid in My Side of the Mountain, the appreciation for nature that this book instilled in me continues to be a part of my life, every day.

And, while I'm certainly not an Olympic skier, I love winter sports and want Luke and Owen to love them too.

I look at my list, and realize that there is a direct connection between these childhood dreams, and the grown-up I have become. It makes me wonder about Luke and Owen: will their dreams come true? And if not, will the fact that they dreamed them at all help contribute to the kind of adulthood they have? I sure hope so.

Well, those are our childhood dreams... what are yours?

Monday, April 27, 2009


A few weeks ago, the homeschool group to which we belong held a meeting about dealing with negativity from relatives or friends who don't homeschool. Interestingly, the fifteen or so parents at the meeting made a discovery: we are pretty well our own worst critics. We dread even thinking about what other people are thinking, it seems.

In this group, I opened up about my secret fear that Luke and Owen will grow up Math Illiterates, without even basic concepts to help them get through life. My really secret fear about this secret fear is that somewhere down the line, when this gross oversight in their education finally comes to light, everyone will point to me - and then the torches and pickaxes, a la Frankenstein, will inevitably follow. "Look at those two boys! They could have been accepted into Harvard... but their mother refused to teach them any math!" Much head-shaking will ensue, and my boys will move out into life unable to recite their times tables or figure out how much to tip the wait staff in restaurants. They will die, friendless and alone, because their mother didn't do her job.

At the meeting, we all reassured each other about our fears of criticism, and remarked upon how we all expect the negativity to come from the outside - but how in fact we are really our own worst critics.

The parents, especially those of older children, made me feel so much better about the lack of math in the lives of my two interest-led learners! They pointed out that, when math becomes interesting to Luke and Owen, it will take precedence. Also, they reminded me that just because a kid sits in class while math is being taught, doesn't mean the child actually learns any math. And, they helped me remember that math comes in different forms, several of which the boys love - logic is Luke's specialty, while Owen adores geometry and patterns.

It turns out, what I've really been worrying about is arithmetic - and that is why God invented calculators, which nowadays are acceptable at high levels anyway.

I went home feeling better, realizing that much of the negativity comes from my own mind, and not the outside world at all. What does come from the outside world can be addressed and dealt with so much more easily, when I set out with the positive notion that the boys are learning in the best style for them, and also that their timetables (oh, ha ha) for learning are the most important ones.

The funniest thing was that the morning after this meeting, Luke came to me asking to play Mythmatical Battles, a great card game that utilizes the multiplication tables up to nine in Yu-Gi-Oh-esque battles. We've since played Mythmatical Battles several times, and gotten a link to an awesome video game that teaches the multiplication tables, Timez Attack (with a great free download for stingy folks like me!)

Suddenly, arithmetic is in, leaving me laughing at my biggest critic - myself.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One Day

Yesterday marks the first time I've ever done something on purpose to celebrate Earth Day. I used to think that, while good in theory, the idea of 'doing' something, on one chosen day, to support the earth really could not help all that much.

But, with the kids both of an age to appreciate the problems caused by humans - and able to see the damage to their favorite wild places with their own eyes - it seemed like a good time to put this day to good use.

So, we got some friends, went out to our absolute favorite swimming hole, and picked up some litter!

From Spring 09

See that empty trash can, over on the right?

From Spring 09

From Spring 09

From Spring 09

It is amazing what thirty or so people can do in an hour.

From Spring 09

Giving us the rest of the afternoon for lunch, and play.

From Spring 09

From Spring 09

Yes, half-naked children... on April 22nd.

I couldn't only choose one of these parachute pictures to post, so here they all are:

From Spring 09

From Spring 09

From Spring 09

They were having SO much fun!

And then to top it all off, two swans came to visit:

From Spring 09

I got home and heard on the radio about all sorts of 'green' living products and advertisements that apparently surface each April, to take advantage of Earth Day. I wanted to shout at the radio that all you have to do to celebrate Earth Day is, go outside! Go pick up litter in the park!

I won't miss this opportunity again; one day can really do a whole lot for our earth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


From the time that he was very little:

From Spring 09

Owen was always going to play soccer. He used to run out onto the field during Luke's games, and has been counting the days until he was finally, finally old enough to be on the team himself.

Well, last Saturday, he was, making the cutoff by one week:

From Spring 09

He has not taken off the shirt in four days. Every person he makes eye contact with gets the full monty about soccer. All that's sustaining him is the thought of the coming Saturday, when he can be back on the "Burgundy team."

I look at that top picture and wonder where my baby went - in just a few years, he's become a soccer-playin' Big Boy!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Year in the Life

Incredibly, I am thirty-eight years old today. Part of me cannot even hear the number without cringing ("ewww, that's so old"!), but another, fortunately bigger part of me wouldn't trade this age for any other. My outlook, my perspective, my lifestyle feels just about perfect right now. And, as my Dad says: getting old sure beats the alternative!

Probably the main reason I'm so contented is homeschooling; because we do this, our kids are happy, healthy, and thriving - and I get to watch their growth and development happen.

Also, homeschooling led me to blogging (isn't that funny? I would never have had time to blog with two kids in school, I'd be too busy being the Enforcer :-), and blogging has been SUCH a great outlet and place of connection.

For my birthday, I decided to post some pictures from the last year. It's been such a good one, there's lots worth remembering!

From The Stone Age Techie

The curve of Owen's cheek - that is why I love this picture. That and his determination to feed the birds at his Grandma's Colorado home!

From Oregon for blog

Luke, the proud Oregon fisherman.

From Oregon for blog

My husband's whole family, on that same visit to Oregon.

From Summer 2008

One of Luke's first jumps off the side of the pool - doesn't this picture just say "ahhhhh"?

From Fall Blog

My favorite stuffed animal from childhood is now Owen's.

From The Stone Age Techie

I took this picture on a field trip last May, and it represents Spring in a way that not much else does.

Thanks for sharing in my birthday! Here's hoping the coming year will be a good one - for all of us, and for you, too.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why Do You Homeschool?

About a year ago, I started wondering why other people homeschool. We began because the academic pressure at Luke's primary school made him sick - but I thought it unlikely that everyone, or even most homeschoolers, had the same awful impetus that we did.

In the non-homeschooling world, the conventional wisdom is that people teach their children at home because A) they belong to a freaky religious sect, or B) because they desire total isolation from their fellow humans. Certainly around where we live, homeschoolers are seen as radically separate from their communities. In that world, before we made the switch to homeschooling, it was hard to imagine that the conventional wisdom could be wrong.

Once we started, and I learned how truly awesome homeschooling is, and how very un-radical homeschoolers are, I began to wonder: where are all these weird, unsocialized people I'd heard so much about? The homeschooling families we meet seemed so well-adjusted, involved in their communities, and generally very together that it's hard to imagine their children having the same kinds of problems Luke did when we started. With this in mind, I wondered, what made them decide to homeschool?

To find out, I conducted a survey of homeschoolers in our local email newsgroup, asking why parents removed their children from public schools to homeschool and how they feel their children fare now, socially and academically. I found out that Luke's experience was far more common than the conventional wisdom holds: all 24 parents who answered my survey, from dozens of school districts in 3 states, withdrew their kids from public schools because of problems with academics, such as the curriculum or teaching methods. Their children were bored to tears - either that or driven to aggressiveness, impassivity, or illness by school teaching methods, rules, and regulations. Many were also labeled, punished, and/or bullied, as often as not by the adults in schools to help develop a 'thick skin.'

A few parents cited religion, a few cited social/peer issues, but all placed blame squarely at the foot of the institution itself, both for what was being taught and how it was being taught.

And now, a year has gone by and I'm wondering, not just about the northeast, but about why we homeschool nationwide.

So, I have a question for you: why do you homeschool? Whether you have always homeschooled, or pulled your kids out of school to start, I'd love your input. The survey itself is seven questions long and I am happy to get responses of any length, from the brief answer to pages about each question. My plan is to spend several months getting as many families, from as many states as possible, to respond. Then I will review the responses and write a paper about the results.

To take the survey, please email me at; you will remain anonymous, in case you worry about that kind of thing, and your responses are very valuable, whether you have one child or a dozen, whether some are in school, or some were in school, or none have ever been in school... you get the idea.

Survey at

I hope you respond to my survey. I believe that schooled children will benefit from our stories, because we homeschoolers show every day that education must be shaped to fit the child, and not the other way around. If we can be open about why and how we educate our children, then we give hope and strength to non-homeschooling families everywhere. We are saying, loud and clear, that there's more to life than school, and many ways to become educated.


P.S. - If you have a blog or website, and would like to link to my "Why Do You Homeschool" button, just copy the text in this box below and paste it into your website. Thanks soooo much to Jena at Yarns of the Heart for teaching me about buttons, and for making the box o' text itself... they don't call me the Stone Age Techie for nothing, and I would not have even known where to start without her!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Saint-Emilion 1976

When Ben and I were first married - no. I must go back further.

The weekend Ben and I met, when I was twenty-five and as-yet-unbetrothed, a huge concern of my eldest relatives, I completely pissed off my Mom and extended family by opting to go to a friend's weekend-long graduation party instead of my Grandpa's 80th birthday celebration taking place in Montreal, Canada, a very long way off from where the friend's party was held.

Now if I hadn't gone to the party - Ben's best friend from life was the graduate in question - than I would not have met him. I would not have felt the earth move when we shook hands, or called my Mom after the weekend ended to say "I just met the man I'm gonna marry; how was your weekend?"

Fortunately, we held our wedding two years later to the day, and so we got to celebrate my Grandpa's 82nd birthday with all of my family together.

Then, as newlyweds, we drove up to Montreal, along with my brother Rob and his new wife, Suzanne, to visit our grandparents. It was a fun trip at the time, and now looking back more than twelve years later, it is even sweeter because it turned out to be our last visit with my grandparents that was not tainted by illness or loss. Also the visit was before babies, so we were still footloose and fancy free.

I don't know if you have a special relationship with any of your extended family, but I have special relationships with nearly all my Mom's family - and my Grandpa was the special-est of all. Going to visit with him and my Grandma, taking time out of our busy twenty-something lives, was a real treat, not the chore that you might imagine; the number of years between our ages meant only that my grandparents had lots more good stories to share than we young people did, and more gardening and cooking experience that we could learn from as well.

When we awoke on the Saturday morning of our visit, Grandpa was mortified to tell us that during the night, something had gone wrong with the pipes, and a plumber was on his way over to fix it. My grandparents were so upset, their weekend with the grandchildren interrupted by bad plumbing!

To get to the pipes, many closets were emptied; clothing and canned goods that had gone years without seeing the light of day were pulled out and dusted off. And that's when we found out that the pipe problem had a silver lining: a bottle of red wine from 1976. An absolutely superb bottle of red wine, as it turned out, from the year that I was five and my brother was three.

We said, "Wow - you guys should save this for a special occasion!" My grandparents smiled, wondering, what could be more special than this? So we shared the wine that night along with my Grandma's fantastic spaghetti and meatballs.

In the intervening decade-plus, both grandparents grew ill, and passed away, and we have had our children and watched them grow; in truth, the boys remind me very much of my Grandpa. Ben and I, and Rob and Suzanne, reminisce about them often, occasionally remembering sharing that great bottle of wine - still, I had almost forgotten about it when we helped Rob and Sue move into their new house last weekend, and found the empty bottle sitting on top of their dining room table.

From Spring 09

I asked, "is this the bottle?" My brother answered enthusiastically that yes, in fact, it was - and suddenly I was sitting at my grandparents' dining table, newly married, the taste of the wine and good food in my mouth, the feeling of being together with our grandparents fresh in my mind. I am so glad that my brother kept that bottle; it brought back not just the good memory of that weekend but also a tangible feeling of joy, that I have had such people in my life, and that they live on in successive generations.

If this is a holiday weekend for you, then I hope you celebrate it with those that you love... and if it isn't a holiday weekend for you, well then I still hope you celebrate it with those you love.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Subject Better Played Than Taught

We are unschoolers, or as Jena says, interest-led learners. This means that our kids learn about what they want to know, and they learn with all of their senses and through lots and lots of play.

Luke bounces back and forth among a few favorite subjects, right now primarily dinosaurs and dragons. He reads almost unceasingly, non-fiction for the dinos, and stories (such as Eragon or Dragon Slayer's Academy books) for the dragons, and he visits web sites to play dinosaur trivia games, watch Walking With Dinosaurs, and find out where dragon sightings have happened all over the globe. He sketches elaborate dragons while out in the woods, 'playing' at observing dragon behavior behind our house, and even uses his math skills to figure out how many weeks he'll need to save up for new favorite books about dragons and dinosaurs.

My point is, all the work that 8 year-olds need to do - reading, writing, thinking, mathematics - happens naturally in their play. And from everything I've read about interest-led learning, this continues as kids get older; the play may change a bit, becoming more abstract and about more sophisticated topics, but it's still play at heart. After all, if you really love your job, is it work or play?

Today, I read this article from yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe, about 'teaching' emotional intelligence. A growing number of educators and psychologists, worried that schoolchildren lack this type of intelligence, are calling for schools to adopt a curriculum that will overtly teach it, as the article's author writes, "just like trigonometry or French grammar."

Well, I just spluttered. And then ranted, when I read about the types of lessons planned: identifying different emotions on the faces of children in pictures, for example. Why, I wondered, don't they let the kids play a little more? Then the kids would see 'expressions' on the faces of their friends, and perhaps figure out ways to resolve conflicts - a stated goal of emotional intelligence proponents - based on their interactions during play, too.

Luke got involved in the discussion over breakfast this morning. I expressed my disdain for the idea that emotional intelligence should be taught this way - how do you grade somebody's knowledge of emotional intelligence? what would this standardized test look like? why, why do educators so like to break everything into little lessons, why do they think that's the best way to learn everything (or, for that matter, anything?) Would they use the Saturday Night Live skit about the sarcastic clapping family to teach sarcasm?...

While I ranted away, Luke wondered, why was I smiling? That question stopped me cold. I answered that it was because I was angry about the absurdity of this idea, and that combined with my anger was a feeling of (I don't know if this is a word even, but it made sense at the time) bemusedness.

I told him that my smile was a cynical one, too, because the idea of teaching all children emotional intelligence through a curriculum instead of firsthand, through interactions with others in which emotion is bound to play a part, is one that could only have been invented here - in the country that doesn't believe in down-time or recess for schoolchildren.

I thought it was so interesting that during our talk about emotional intelligence Luke wondered why the expression on my face didn't match the tone of voice coming from my mouth. And because he is attuned to emotions and a verbal kid, he's capable of forming this question and then understanding the answer. (Yes, he'd get an 'A' in Emotional Intelligence :-)

Luke's questioning, and then understanding, represented a teachable moment which any canned curriculum about emotional intelligence is bound to miss. They'll be too busy grading the children on how well they remembered the sequence of facial expressions to address questions that stray from the curriculum.

And that's a shame, because children really do need to hone their emotional intelligence; they need to cajole, question, tease, debate, laugh, and sometimes even fight.

In short, they need to play.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


For the first time in a long time, family-type, 'offline' stuff has gotten in the way of blogging - which stinks, because there has been so much to blog about!

For today, then, I'm going to send you around to some of the super news-worthy links I've seen but have been unable to address that I found out in the blogosphere. And I'm afraid that these next several days look to be at least as real-world busy as the last, giving me lots of time to wish I could get on the computer and rant, but precious little time to actually do so. Ebb and flow, ebb and flow...

First, by way of Alicia at Magic and Mayhem comes this great list of April Fool's jokes. April Fool's day has always been a favorite of mine, and reading about so many hoaxes cracked me up yesterday.

From The Expanding Life comes this article in Parade magazine, about a multi-age model being adopted in a school in Colorado and how much everyone loves it. Of course, we homeschoolers know about the wonders of multi-age education, for so many reasons - I'm hopeful that schools will catch on and be that much less damaging for the children in them. Hopeful... but not exactly optimistic, I guess, because in my more cynical moments I think that schools will probably find a way to mess this up, too. (Gosh, did I just say that? Out loud? How terribly brash...)

This next one should really be the focus of one whole post: Lenore Skenazy over at Free-Range Kids wrote recently about a school in Milford, Connecticut that has banned physical contact of any kind - hugging, patting on the back, slapping five - because somebody got kicked in the groin and sent to the hospital as a result. As Lenore points out, why not just ban kicks to the groin? Why go so far as to outlaw the pinky-shake? I mean, come on, people!

And finally, and for no other reason than because this cartoon made me laugh the hardest this morning:

cartoon archive at