“Travel schooling” : learning to relax

Many home school families have been amused by the term HOME schooling or HOME education, because, well frankly, we are not quite home as much as others may think.  We drive to co-ops and extra classes, drive to the parks, to social groups, and drive to countless field trips.  Perhaps we ought to call it car schooling?  But that concept might be for a different post.  Once or twice during the school year our family embarks on a major trip across country or states to visit family.  As we are out of our routine for one to three weeks, I never like to just take off all that time from academic work.  I am still quite caught up in counting the number of “school” days and making the most of every learning opportunity, besides the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult for my boys to jump back into books and studies when they have had a lengthy hiatus.  As I type these words in to my iPad, we are munching pretzels and sipping cranberry juice on the airplane while on our way back from family and friends in Arizona.  It was a successful visit in many ways.  Here are a few of the simple ways we maintained our learning while still having a fun vacation.

Make use of local museums-

While this may not always be possible depending on your budget and the affordability of your destination, museums are a wonderful way to experience new places while learning.  Although not necessary, if you can tie them in to your curriculum, even better.  This trip our family hit the art museum and science center.  On previous visits, we have explored children’s museums, geology centers and history or state museums.

Appreciate relationships as their own education-

Here is where the tired and trite socialization argument dies.  Before we officially began our home schooling adventure we comprised a concise list of all the reasons we wanted to keep our kids at home.  The freedom to travel and family closeness topped the list.  I love seeing A’s and S’s brotherly relationship solidify the longer we do this thing.  G adores being a part of his big brothers’ daily routines, and has learned an indescribable amount. Traveling only enhances this.  It is not only the relationships in our immediate family, however, that benefit us when we travel, but the relationships with everyone we meet.  This is particularly crucial for my guy with Asperger’s.  All three of my guys need to know their grandparents.  We live in a time when the value of family may be fading.  Unconditional love can be the greatest educational tool, not to mention all those extra life skills they may learn from being around different people from different generations.  Utilize them in your travels, or if you have the grandparents next door, be appreciative, and allow them to serve your family well.

Notice nature and take advantage of the outdoors-

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Regardless where your journeys take you, there will be something new to see and explore.  Taking advantage of nature centers, hiking trails and parks only makes sense.  It can be as simple as photographing and observing the diversity in our world to something more intentional.  One year we spent two weeks walking about my parents’ neighborhood identifying various cactuses – saguaro, ocotillo, prickly pear, organ pipe, cholla, etc.  One of S’s favorite memories is chasing (and catching) lizards around the Sonoran desert.

Travel lightly-

Packing textbooks and heavy curriculum is not what you want to do.  Traveling with kids can be stressful enough. Simplify.  On this trip we packed The Story of the World, volume 3 by Susan Wise Bauer, and our read aloud, which currently happens to be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  That’s it.  We read the Bible together, we practiced our copy work, we watched a couple of science videos, and did some random math practice.  Supplemented by our museum trips, it felt like just the right amount without providing too many stressful expectations.

Let go.  Come to terms with taking days off.

Honestly, I only “counted” two-thirds of our travel days toward schooling.  The rest of the time I let the guys just be.  They laid around and watched far more t.v. than is usually permitted.  They played in parks, and threw rocks at each other in the backyard.  They ate far more desserts than was typical.  They relaxed.

Now, we are back in the Midwest buckling down once more to studies and winter.  Though leaves are sparse, we love them.  “Travel schooling” allowed us to go from summery hikes to craving peppermint mochas in a single day.  It was a wonderful break.

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Pulling Tolstoy off the shelf

Pulling Tolstoy off the shelf one day I flipped through Anna Karenina while waiting for my son to collect his shoes. The hefty volume opened easily, and I was a little surprised to discover the following:

“You’re very, very funny,” Darya Alexandrovna repeated studying his face tenderly. “Well, all right, it will be as if we never spoke of it. What is it, Tanya?” she said in French to the girl who had just come in.

“Where’s my shovel, Mama?”

“I am speaking French, and you should do the same. “

The girl wanted to do the same, but forgot what a shovel is called in French; her mother told her amd then proceeded to tell her in French where to find the shovel. And Levin found this disagreeable.

Now everything in Darya Alexandrovna’s house and in her children seemed less nice to him than before.

“And why does she speak French with the children?” he thought, “How unnatural and false it is! And the children can feel it. Teaching French and unteaching sincerity,” he thought to himself, not knowing that Darya Alexandrovna had already thought it all over twenty times and, to the detriment of sincerity, had found it necessary to teach her children in this way.

My thoughts instantly applied these words to my own parenting and home education. Living and teaching educational and moral integrity are a great concern to me. So often I fall prey to comparing myself to others, or even worse, comparing myself to unrealistic ideals, which live solely in my own head. In the end, my children may be the ones to suffer. Instead of allowing them to explore their own, genuine interests, I demand standards which do not honor who my children really are. I want to be authentic, full of integrity. I want to love my children for who they are, allowing them to pursue their own fields of study, despite the fact that they may be far from my own. Relationships before arithmetic. Sincerity and strong moral character before chemistry. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8.

What parent doesn’t want their child looking to them with love and respect? First, I need to show them the same love and respect, perhaps in even greater quantity. Even if it entails encouraging the compilation of Hogwart’s spells. Or let’s say, baseball statistics.

As I speak and live for my children, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14.

Sliding Tolstoy back on the shelf, I help G tie his shoes.

DR. BONES (and other things nominally related to the Halloween season)

About five or six years ago Dr. Bones, an approximately two-foot tall, plastic decorative skeleton, entered our family.  Well, back then he was just Mr. Bones.  Apparently he has since completed his doctoral thesis, because the boys have conferred upon  him the title of higher learning.   Here he is two years ago relaxing with A watching a bit of television.

Watching a game with Dr. BonesHe graces our door at this time of year, the bones from his femur to his metatarsals swaying and clattering eerily against the front door at the slightest provocation, like a gentle breeze.  We hesitated to bring him out of his garage hibernation when G was a baby, thinking perhaps it would scare him.  Instead, early exposure must prevent fear, or in other words, it might be that someone cannot be afraid of something unless they are told they should be.  Either way, Dr. Bones has always been a great friend to G.  He takes him off the door periodically and they play board games or just sit in the pop-up tent together.  Dr. Bones is someone who entertains us for the month of October.

Last year he became quite useful when we  studied human anatomy and physiology.  We used Apologia, if you wish to view the curriculum here.  He allowed us to label him with sticky notes.  Patiently, he sported signs which read, “Cranium,” “patella,” and “ulna, radius.”  Although this year A and S are concentrating on astronomy, G still likes to get out a few of our books for kids on anatomy.  This layered Scholastic find is one of his favorites.

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The other day Dr. Bones aided us in our research of the skeletal system.  On our metal-topped kitchen table we laid out the magnetic pieces from our Greggo Magnetic skeleton kit.  You can take a look at it more closely here.  They also make a wonderful kit for the human organs.  photo 1 (1)

Dr. Bones acted as the model for G to connect the bones in the correct order, orienting them in the right direction.  Once completed, we named and pointed to several of the bones I knew he recognized.  Then, they left to go play in the family room.

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An Unfortunate Epilogue:

Even in the midst of typing these words, G has brought to me the severed head of Dr. Bones.  An investigation still ensues.  I am attempting to re-attach it, experimenting with a couple of kinds of glue.  The prognosis does not look good.  I fear we may need a gruesome sign: R.I.P., Dr. Bones.  But how do you lay to rest an entity who was even originally a lifeless skeleton?  He served us well.

Happy Halloween.

Changing

The sky shone a brilliant blue, showcasing the scarlet leaves of a few red maples in our neighborhood.  The persistent breeze blew huskily in bursts chasing the great wisps of clouds across the sky.  Four-year-old G was riding his scooter as fast as his left leg could propel him down the street.  He would periodically zigzag across the sidewalk, never decreasing his speed, fueled by a genuine enthusiasm for the autumn gusts and the piles of crunchy, dried leaves collecting in random patches.  Another rush of wind would shake the branches, tear leaves from their stems, fling my hair upward and cause dozens of individual leaves to dance across the street toward us.   They crossed our path in an ecstatic state, frantically attempting to reach a spot to rest in safety.  And G was off again with a laugh.  He would only stop as a particular leaf caught his attention.  Leaving his scooter for mere seconds, he would remove the leaf from the swirling masses.  “For my nature journal,” and off again he zipped way ahead of me.  Knowing his conscientious nature, I was assured he would soon pause and wait for me to catch up with him.

This time his leaf discovery elicited a larger reaction.  “Mama, this leaf is two different colors!”

“Yes, it is.  It must have been blown off the tree in the process of changing.”

“It’s BEAUTIFUL!” he breathed and returned to his autumn dash.

We are in the process of changing our colors, too.  Grace is what holds us together, even after we are tossed through the air by gusty winds.  Once we have made that decision to follow Jesus, we are being transformed.  Even now we “are being transformed into the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18.  The trees in autumn reflect God’s glorious planning.  They do not change their hues instantaneously, but the leaves closest to Him begin their gradual transformation.  From the tips of the trees to the center, and finally the lower branches reveal their inner, earthy glow.  They beam yellow, gold, orange, red, scarlet, even flicker in browns.

God has even created the trees to be transformed in a graduated fashion, in their proper time.  His grace extends even to us.  Our acceptance into the love of God is immediate, change commences instantaneously, but is a slow, painful, even tedious process.  We glow half in greens and browns, yellows and oranges, some of us struggling to find our reds, desperate we may never fully transform.  Grace is in the autumn.  I just pray that we may find the aching process as beautiful as G does.

Now, we grow imperceptibly.  One day, however, it will be all at once, and we will not know of any other beauty.  We will be complete, all aglow with the brilliance of Christ.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of any eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

I Corinthians 15:51-52

G's leaf collection
G’s leaf collection

A Trustworthy Saying

Spring is about renewal, resurrection, the hope of youth, emerging offspring, green vibrancy, rebirth.  It is about rain replenishing nature, warming skin, hearts and minds.  So, what is autumn?  Is it the harbinger of death, and gloom?  Is it chilly days threatening frozen temperatures, the death of leaves and trees?  Is it a symbol of the year’s finality, even the end of our days?

Autumn also represents a kind of hope, a burgeoning glimpse at the reincarnation of nature.

You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.

John 3:7-8

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

John 12:24

So, nature applauds rotting plants and biodegrading leaves, and we applaud the sacrament of baptism, a submersible decision to die to self.  Thus, it explains our joy even when we witness the break down of chlorophyll and the slow, steady disappearance of vibrant greens, even when the rusty leaves glow from their branches.  Their branches, bare, protrude awkwardly, reaching out to nothing in particular, haphazardly underlining a gaggle of migrating geese in the October sky.  Even so, we thrill with its beauty.

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And so, it explains a child’s joy, an irrepressible giggle bursting forth as he tumbles and spills across the dead, dried leaves. They serve not so much as evidence of death, but as a reminder of an ever-renewing promise.

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Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,

we will also live with him;

II Timothy 2:11

Ancient Words

Do you have a favorite Bible verse?  If you do, chances are it may begin something like, “For God so loved the world…” or  ” I can do all things through him…”  Beautiful verses.  From the time I was relatively young, however, one of my favorite verses peculiarly has been Daniel 1:4.

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz…to bring…young men….showing aptitude…and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.  He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.

Could there be anything more thrilling than studying to mastery the language and philosophy of an old and exotic people?  It sounded so romantic…in the literary sense.  I had always aspired to be involved in something equally exciting one day.  Except, I already was.  I may not have ever deciphered Hiitite code or Babylonian writings (although that reminds me another trip to the Oriental Institute may be in order), but as a Christian and daily Bible reader, I pore over ancient Hebrew and Greek texts regularly.  Perhaps not in the original language, but I am certainly familiar with their texts, and have even memorized pivotal lines from their pages.  I know many of you are more studious than I in your Bible reading and spend substantial amounts of time absorbed in its message.  I do not take access to this knowledge for granted.

Our minister launched a theology reading group a few months back.  We have been reading a relatively academic book on our own and meet monthly to discuss it.  To paraphrase him, if our study of theology does not result in doxology, it is in vain.  In other words, our looking into scripture should not be strictly cerebral.  Application is imperative.  It should inform the way we live out our lives.  If you are interested, here is the book we are currently wrapping up.

In opening the Bible, somehow we are able to live in harmony with ancient texts.  We, in the post-modern world, are inextricably tied together with these ancient and holy words through threads of oral tradition and the rites of ancient mythologies.  Something from my ten-year-old self thrills with this privilege.

The forms of kingly annals, wisdom literature, psalms of ascent, biblical poetry and the like are not foreign to my contemporary sensibilities because at an early age I heard them repeated.  They were recited and memorized, not with cold, analytical study, but so that they would retain their original fervor from the time they were initially pronounced.  Here is my challenge as a parent – to create a biblically literate culture for my own children to grow up in.  Living out our faith somehow breathes life back into “obsolete” documents of the distant past, and imbues them with significance.  Because of this, the Hebrew (and Greek) scriptures, their poetry and ancient civilizations have never been completely foreign or irrelevant to me.

Holy words long preserved

For our walk in this world

They resound with God’s own heart

Oh, let the ancient words impart.

 

Words of life, words of Hope

Give us strength, help us cope

In this world, where e’er we roam

Ancient words will guide us home.

 

Ancient words ever true

Changing me, changing you

We have come with open hearts

Oh, let the ancient words impart.

 

Holy words of our Faith

Handed down to this age

Came to us through sacrifice

Oh, heed the faithful words of Christ

 

Holy words long preserved

For our walk in this world

They resound with God’s own heart

Oh, let the ancient words impart.

 

Ancient words ever true

Changing me, changing you

We have come with open hearts

Oh, let the ancient words impart.

- Michael W. Smith

Books with Bridges

Mysterious and inviting they call to us.  Monet painted them.  San Franciscans and New Yorkers venerate them.  The Midwest covers them.  They connect us to land, carry us over shallow and deep waters.  They tie land from one side of the gorge to the other, unite towns and communities.  They erase the distance between people’s hearts.

Bridges fasinate us.  G particularly loves them.  We have walked out of our way to cross them, thrown rocks and sticks from off their edges, used them to set out on adventures into new worlds, and  traversed them simply to see what lie on the other side.  Bridges hold both a charm and an excitement.  Below is a carefully thought out list, some of our favorite books and stories honoring that most common of man-made tools, the bridge.

BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

    

A Full Hand by Thomas F. Yezerski – When nine-year-old Asa helps his captain boat father drive the mules along the canal, he makes his first “full hand.”  Traveling through Pennsylvania and New Jersey during the fall, Asa learns not only about mules, inclined planes, aquaducts, bridges and locks, but also about the courage of his father.  He, then, is able to imagine his own future, alongside bowls of beef stew.


Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel – Although some find this classic to be culturally insensitive, I am not sure I agree.  Lyrical and repetitive, this tale is meant to be read aloud.  Children are encouraged to memorize the oldest brother’s long, ridiculous name, as well as the route across the bridge to the “old man with the ladder” who ultimately rescues both mischievous brothers from the well.

The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wise- G and I just finished a fun week and a half with activities we created based on this classic.  From counting Ping’s cousins, to creating a construction paper duck with moveable wings, we loved this stubborn little waterfowl.  Living on the beautiful Yangtze River, Ping decides he does not want a spank on the back for being last up the little bridge to his home on the wise-eyed boat, so he hides.  Was it a good decision?  Will Ping ever find his family and the wise-eyed boat again?

Bridges to Cross by Philomen Sturges – My only non-fiction book on this list, this is a wonderful way to introduce preschool and early elementary-aged children to the amazing world of engineering.  Featuring famous bridges from throughout the  world, the illustrations are created surprisingly with layers of torn paper – a built in art project idea to accomplish on your own!

 

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne- Read the heart-warming classic and then go play Pooh-sticks off a bridge.

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson - A chapter book written for tweens, this is a beautiful story of friendship and family, the joy and freedom of imagination, and the importance of nature in growing up.  It is definitely a story for older children as death plays a role in its pages.

BOOKS FOR ADULTS

Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather- Published in 1912, this first novella by Cather describes the conflicted Bartley Alexander, who as an middle-aged engineer begins repairs on a bridge in Canada.  His conscience plays havoc with him as he is tossed between loyalty to his wife Winifred and his former lover Hilda Burgoyne.  Cather presents to us  America as she emerges as a powerful, creative, industrial force, and the American psyche, sure of who he is neither morally nor innately.

 

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric- The most celebrated novel in the Serbo-Croatian language, it spans three centuries.  From the bridge’s construction in Bosnia’s Visegrad at the height  of the Ottoman empire to a period of a swiftly changing Europe during WWI, the bridge is the central figure of the novel.  Ivo Andric, Bosnian writer and distinguished Yugoslav diplomat won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 for this masterful epic.  Death, loss, and revenge all occur on the bridge itself or near its gates.

“Thus in all this fresh storm which had burst over the town, overturning and tearing up by the roots its ancient customs, sweeping away living man and inanimate things, the bridge remained white, solid and invulnerable as it had always been.”

 

 

 

Happy Autumn!

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Fall, leaves, fall

by Emily Bronte

                                                         Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

                                                         Lengthen night and shorten day;

                                                         Every leaf speaks bliss to me

                                                       Fluttering from the autumn tree.

                                                       I shall smile when wreaths of snow

                                                       Blossom where the rose should grow;

                                                        I shall sing when night’s decay

                                                       Ushers in a drearier day.

According to the calendar, this is the first day of fall, the autumn equinox.  September is often full of golden light, blueness of sky, gentle weather and hints of the crisp, spicy air to come.    A asked me yesterday, “Why are you obsessed with trees?”

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How can we not be?  Love every leaf.  Happy Autumn.

Family Devotions in Three Steps – Part 2

bumgardner2013:

Pleasantly surprised to have stumbled across this blog recently, I wanted more people to see these practical words of wisdom. From a mom who has continued teaching her children from Central Asia to the Midwest….

Originally posted on Endeavors Of Excellence:

Scott and I struggled with Family Devotions.  I’m a trained teacher.  I knew how to throw a lesson plan together in split seconds.  Scott would start something and I would explain to him all the pedagogical reasons that was not good.  (Blogging on wives respecting husbands will come later. )  It seems obvious to you, but this did not create harmony and a spirit of wanting to grow together.  When we felt guilty enough, we started again.  Never really knowing if we were doing the Devos “the right way.”  Always unsure of ourselves.

Here’s the deal.  If you loving God and your family, and you are reading or telling the Word of God to your family, you are doing Devos “the right way.”  There is no one way.  That’s the enemy’s false guilt to get you to stop.

Today is today.  Choose today to open God’s Word with your family.

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Grace, Theology and Autism

Inaccurate theology.  Sometimes it is a conscious choice.  There were times when intellectually I knew my feelings didn’t make sense nor were they based on my understanding of God through Scripture, but something in me felt I had been jinxed with a child on the autism spectrum as a direct result of my past experience with it.  If someone had asked me if this were true, or even if I had asked myself, I might have laughed and said, “Of course not.”   And intellectually I never really believed this, but some latent fear lay brooding, feigning a dormant state, some primordial superstition hid behind a stronger faith that perhaps it was true.  Perhaps if my mother-in-law had never been a special needs preschool teacher with the Department of Defense….Perhaps if I had not known so many people with autism…Perhaps if I had not read so many articles….

My husband and I saw the signs.  We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis.  It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected.  If I had not been so well informed on autism, then I never would have given birth to someone on the spectrum.  There.  Fleshed out in a sentence – cause and effect -  in all its explicitness, it looks utterly ridiculous.  And yet…there are times when we operate this way, aren’t there?  If I pray a certain prayer, use special words, God will answer me….If I fall asleep praying, tomorrow will be ok… If I ignore a pain in my chest, it will go away… If I stop thinking about something bad, it will just disappear…. If I think about happy things, I won’t have problems… Have you ever felt yourself reverting back to humanity’s ancient cultural myths?  Out of desperation, helplessness?  The visceral takes over not because we are not intelligent enough, or faithful enough, but simply out of fear.  It is the knee-jerk reaction of humanity to hedge our bets.

Praise be to God for his grace and understanding.  I thank God that he does not always take my every random thought and fear too seriously.  I am thankful that he allows me from time to time to try something on for size, even at my most ridiculous, and gently helps me disrobe and discard the illogical and theologically unsound thoughts.  He provides grace to dress my thinking with something finer, something more beautiful and clearly from him.  An accurate vision, a heavenly help.  Grace in the providential stream of our lives.

Because, of course, the fact is that God did not bless me with a son with Asperger’s because I had accumulated enough autism run-ins, but rather he blessed me with the gift of preparation.  Slowly, over time I was afforded opportunities to learn about people with differences.  My mother-in-law was a huge asset particularly when my son was smaller and guided me through tips on occupational therapy and sensory sensitivities.  As an undergraduate, years before children, my husband and I were employed by Group Living in the tiny college town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  (Laugh if you want; the towns exists.)  It is an amazing organization which allows developmentally or physically diabled people to be a vital part of their community.  Group homes are offered for those needing more attentive care.  Regular visits and life-skills training are provided for  those who are able to live independently.  Group Living also runs and operates a very popular breakfast and lunch place called The Honeycomb, serving quiches, sandwiches, salads and American fare.  The Beehive also employs Group Living clients in the second-hand shop similar to  the nation-wide Goodwill stores.  Many of the clients we worked with had autism.  I remember attending as an undergrad a training session on autism.  There, in the mid-90s, I first heard of Temple Grandin and her squeeze box.  I am so thankful for these moments.  And for the wonderful people I worked with there.

One of these people was also my neighbor.  Sammy Landers and his caretaker lived in the apartment below my husband and me.  He was moody, enjoyed being alone, and spoke very little.  Yet he was one of my first encounters with autism.  Sammy is an artist and is featured in this wonderful blog post from last year.  I have one of his pieces which was presented to us as we left Arkadelphia.  It currently hangs above my four-year-old son’s bookcase in his bedroom closet.  Another touch of grace- this one in purple marker.

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Honestly, the issues my son struggles with are not severe, just daily.  He is easily frustrated, gets caught up in rigid thinking, becomes easily obsessed with a topic, but also has phenomenal memory, is exceptionally perceptive about others’ feelings, and has a deep longing to be helpful.  Grace has not only given me a greater appreciation for the preparation I have received over the years, but also for my son himself.  What would I change about him if I could?  What would you change about anyone whom you love?  And here is another theological inaccuracy – by God’s grace, my son will be fine.  Perhaps all these careful lessons are not to help shape him, but me.