F is for Fun

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

pack muleI almost didn’t want to write about this topic. It seems so “master of the obvious” to suggest one should have fun to combat or prevent stress. But then I realized I need to write this post for myself because, obvious or not, I missed the memo.

A few days ago I mentioned that I tend to cut out eating and sleeping to keep myself on schedule. That’s true. I eat standing up while teaching or in the car driving or in any other way that prevents me from “wasting” time on something so trivial as food consumption. If I can’t multitask my breakfast or lunch, I probably just cut it out all together. As far as sleep goes – I simply don’t allow myself the opportunity to rest or nap, no matter how exhausted I am, because I simply can’t afford to be so unproductive.

But you know what got thrown out the window long before eating and sleeping? Fun. I rarely give myself the privilege to just let go and have fun. But that’s absurd! Fun is not a privilege. Fun is a part of life. We are supposed to have fun and enjoy life. Responsibility is well and good, but it is not all there is. Responsibility should be tempered by privilege. Work should be tempered by leisure. They are two sides of the same scale. Life is made of both. Sadly, my scale is freakishly unbalanced, and it has been for a long time. It’s no wonder I’m so stressed out.

Fun is not optional, and I’m going to stop treating in as such. As I work to create better boundaries in my life, I’m going to ensure that fun is always on the agenda. I’m not saying I’m going to throw all productivity out the window, but I am definitely going to be reevaluating just how much “productivity” is actually required to have a productive day. In fact, having fun is productive in it’s own way because it keeps me emotionally and physically balanced.

I firmly believe that kids deserve to have fun every day. That’s one of the reasons we homeschool. I want my kids to have a childhood and to enjoy it to the fullest. I don’t know how I missed the obvious correlation that adults need fun too. I haven’t grown out of my need to have fun – that’s not part of human development. So I’m going to start having more of it.

Honestly, choosing to not have fun is an affront against my human dignity. If I just stay busy, busy, busy, and never stop to enjoy, have fun, and see beauty, I’ve reduced myself to some kind of labor animal. I’ve made myself a pack mule. I am not a mule, and I’m going to stop treating myself like one.

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D is for Dance Party! :)

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

image

Pencils down. Let’s have a dance party!

Don’t you feel better just hearing that? I know I do!

Turn up the music. Push the coffee table out of the way. It’s time for some fun.

My oldest son has always been just a little too cool for dance parties, but the other kiddos will jump around and be silly with me. Even my “too cool” son hangs out with us and laughs. (with us, not at us – I promise!!) In less than five minutes everyone is happy and laughing and having a blast. Five minutes after that, everyone is getting worn out and is about ready to call it quits. Five minutes after that, everyone is sitting down – or sprawling out – with a big, exhausted smile on their face. The power of the dance party is amazing!

I love a good spontaneous dance party. Now, I’m going to use the power of the dance party for double good.

When things are getting too tense… More accurately, when am getting too tense… When I can’t bear to hear someone sound out one more word… When the toddler and her incessant interruptions are about to drive me insane…

…I’m calling a time out and we’re having a dance party. I’m even going to put a sticky note in our school room so that I don’t forget that a dance party is always and option.

I’m starting to realize that I’m not stressed out because I don’t have the tools to not be stressed out (Wow! That was a lot of negatives. Did you follow that?) I’m stressed out because I don’t put the tools I already have to good use. If I could see an eruption on the horizon, but stop and put everything on hold for a dance party, I’m pretty sure the eruption wouldn’t happen. Nerves would be calmed. Tensions would be eased. Restlessness would be relieved. And, after everyone catches their breath and grabs some water, I think it would be possible to get back to work with a much better outlook and attitude.

So it turns out that “D” isn’t just for dance party; it’s also for deciding to use the tricks and tools I already have to combat, and maybe even prevent, stress.

Why the Kids Love Memory Work

Success Kid - Memory WorkLast week, I wrote a post about all the reasons I love memory work. My final reason was that the kids love it. Initially, I thought this was one of my weaker reasons. If I made all of my decisions based solely on what the kids like, our days would be full of pizza and paint and mud and water guns and….well, you get the idea.

BUT

When I step back and think about it, it makes perfect sense that my kids would love memory work.

  • We all like to do things we’re good at. Because memory work builds on a child’s natural skills and abilities, it is something my kids feel they are good at.
  • We all like to be challenged. When the kids initially look at the content they have been assigned, it can seem daunting. We break down the material and take it one step and a time, moving forward bit by bit.
  • We all like to feel the thrill of success. When the kids master new material, their confidence soars. It’s visible. Sometimes they dance or cheer or jump. They know when they’ve mastered the material, and they revel in that accomplishment.

Thinking about it from this angle only reinforces my love of memory work. And it makes perfect sense why my kiddos love it too.

 

Seven Reasons I Love Memory Work

Andy and Jack "on set" for their first memory work video.

Andy and Jack “on set” for their first memory work video.

This year, we’ve added memory work to our daily homeschool schedule. I thought we would like it, or else I never would have added it to our schedule, but I had no idea just how much we would LOVE IT!

We’ve memorized things in the past, but this is the first time we are deliberately memorizing large chunks of sequential information. To help us with this endeavor, we purchased a curriculum, which I absolutely LOVE. It meets so many of the goals I have, especially in terms of educating my kids with a “big picture view” of history and the world. One of the components of our curriculum is a timeline. It contains 144 events beginning with ancient civilization and continuing through modern times. Fostering a big picture view of history and the world was one of the driving forces that motivated me to educate my children at home. The timeline we are memorizing offers the skeleton of our “big picture view.”

Curriculum aside, I have very quickly become a huge fan of memory work in general. Here’s why:

~1~

Memory work builds confidence in my little learners. My boys are so proud of themselves when they master something new. They’ve even started a video series over on our family blog to show off what they’ve been learning.

~2~

Memory work provides instant gratification and, thus, immediately reinforces that learning is valuable. Usually, I actively work to train my kids that instant gratification is not what provides the most happiness or benefit in life. However, when dealing with something intangible (and, perhaps, invaluable to busy kids) like “education,” it’s nice to receive an instant reward. That instant reward motivates the kids to keep moving forward in their educational journey.

~3~

They know what they learned today. When my kids are asked what they learned today, they actually have an answer. In years past, it didn’t matter how engaged my kids were in our daily lessons. When Josh asked, “What did you learn today?” the most common responses were, “I don’t know.” or “Nothing.” That drove me nuts! It made me feel like I had completely wasted my time all day. I know that’s not true. And, when the kids were prodded, they would eventually produce and answer. But, now, they immediately have a response. That makes me feel good and it reinforces in their minds that they really are learning.

~4~

To show off to skeptical family members. This may be petty, but I really like that the kids love to recite their memory work. It has silenced many of our family members that were vocally opposed to our choice to homeschool.

~5~

Memory work builds on the natural strengths and abilities of young children.  Children are sponges. They inadvertently memorize all kinds of crap while they are young. It’s how they are wired. It takes little to no effort for them to memorize a lot of nonsense. We’re simply choosing to use that power for good.

~6~

Memory work provides a solid foundation for future learning. I know some people use memory work in isolation, so to speak. They have their kids memorize and memorize and memorize, without providing any context or supporting details. I think a case can be made for this type of education, but it’s not the way I choose to use memory work. As we’re memorizing, we follow whatever rabbit trail the kids want to take. If they’re interested in learning more, we learn more. BUT, whether or not they are interested in a particular topic today, one day, they will have to learn more about these things. We humans learn by forming associations in our brains between things we already know and things that are new to us. Because so many topics will already be familiar to my kids, they will be able to tackle future lessons more quickly and in more depth than if they were being presented with the information for the first time. For example, last week in science, my kids were memorizing the 9 major phyla of the animal kingdom. We watched some videos to supplement this, but, overall, they just learned the information and moved on. When they are older and start learning more advanced biology, they will already have a great framework to build on and fill out. It will make future learning easier and allow them to explore the topic more deeply than if they were being exposed to the material for the first time.

~7~

The final reason that I have fallen in love with memory work is: The kids really like it. Certainly, this is not the basis of all my decisions when it comes to raising and educating my kids, but it’s a huge help. They love it, so they are excited about it, and they want to do it. There is no battle to get them to work and learn. Memory work is the goal toward which we work every day. When our morning bookwork becomes tedious, I remind the kids, “We need to hurry up and finish this, so we can move on to memory work.” It gives them the motivation to keep moving forward.

 ~~~~~

Just for the fun of it ~ since it’s Friday and I just happened to have 7 reasons I love memory work ~ I thought I’d link up with everyone else over at 7 Quick Takes Friday. Have a great day!

The Homeschool Laptop!

One of my pesky kids using my machine to do his schoolwork.

One of my pesky kids using my machine to do his schoolwork.

Exciting news from our little homefront: We got a new laptop – “The Homeschool Laptop!” This means that for all of the kids schooling activities, computer-based curriculums, and other academic internet exploring endeavors, there is (FINALLY) a machine in our house set aside just for these tasks. Among other wonderful things, this means that my laptop has finally been returned to me!

Ok, so my laptop isn’t really mine per se. Or at least that’s not why we purchased it. It was supposed to be the family laptop, but, after a couple years of graduate school and blogging and other miscellaneous activities together, I’ve grown quite fond of my little machine, and I don’t really like to share it.

I tried using the iPad for my personal machine, but it’s just not really my thing. I’m not sure what’s different about using the iPad vs. using my phone. I do a lot of “interneting” (That’s officially a word. I decided just now.) on my phone, but I don’t like writing blogs or emails or anything that involves extensive typing on it. (Extensive being oh, you know, anything more than like two sentences.) Same goes for the iPad. Typing is a little better on the iPad if I break out the wireless keyboard, but..well I don’t know why…the iPad just doesn’t float my boat.

All of this rambling about my computer preferences is leading up to a point and that point is – I haven’t been around a lot lately, but I’m hoping that is about to change.

Now that my laptop has been returned to me, I should be able to use it whenever I want. Before we got the new laptop, anytime I might want to sit down to write a blog or do some other form of “extensive typing,” some pesky kid was on my machine. Since that pesky kid was usually diligently doing his schoolwork, I couldn’t very easily kick him off, so I just had to wait. But, by the time he was done, it never failed that the baby needed me or it was time to cook something or clean something or yada, yada, yada. The moment had passed. The ship had sailed. And no extensive writing had been done. Sad story.

But the page has turned and the new chapter is looking happier.

I have my beloved machine back at my full disposal – to use how I want and when I want. Which means I should be blogging more.

Woohoo! :)

Our Homeschool: What We’re Using This Year

Josh & Andy watching Jack work on his Spanish lessons.

Josh & Andy watching Jack work on his Spanish lessons.

I saw another mom write a post about what curriculum she was using this year for each of her kids. Her post was a sponsored post so she was getting a little something from at least some of the companies she mentioned. I thought it be fun to write a similar post, both for the sake of my weak memory and just in case you’re curious what we do during our class time. No sponsorship or endorsements here – just the products I chose to use after lots of research and weighing what I know about how my children learn best and how I teach best. I’d love to say I’ll write a post about why I chose each of these products, but we all know how well I follow through on promises like that. So, for now, here are the products and curriculum we are currently using:

ANDY (3rd grade):

Teacher Lead Courses:

Spelling: All About Spelling

Latin: Prima Latina: Intro to Christian Latin

Memory Work: CCM – a classical memory work program that covers 8 subject areas: Religion, Latin, History, Science, Math, Timeline, Geography, and Great Words.

Andy holding Soph while he puts his vocab words in ABC order. He likes to hold her to break up the monotony of tedious activities.

Andy holding Soph while he puts his vocab words in ABC order. He likes to hold her to break up the monotony of tedious activities.

Workbooks:

English: English 3, Seton Press

Vocabulary: Vocabulary 3, Seton Press

Reading Comprehension: Reading 3, Seton Press

Reading: Faith and Freedom Readers and anything that piques his interest. We read a lot during the day. We also have family story time before bed, during which Josh reads from a chapter book to the family. Currently, we’re reading the Narnia series. We’re almost finished – we’re about halfway through the Voyage of the Dawn Treader – so it’s about time to start thinking about what we will read next.

Maps, Charts, Graphs Level C

Handwriting: Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level 3

Manners & Health

Computer lessons/programs:

Spanish: Rosetta Stone, Homeschool Edition

Math: Teaching Textbooks

Catechism: Faith and Life, Online Edition


Jack (2nd grade):

Teacher Lead Courses:

Spelling: All About Spelling

Latin: Prima Latina: Intro to Christian Latin

Memory Work: CCM – a classical memory work program that covers 8 subject areas: Religion, Latin, History, Science, Math, Timeline, Geography, and Great Words.

Jack showing off a picture he drew.

Jack showing off a picture he drew.

Sacrament Preparation: First Communion Catechism, New Catholic Picture Bible

Building Good Character: God Made Me to be Part of a Family

Workbooks: 

Math: Math 2, Seton Press

English: English 2, Seton Press

Reading: Faith and Freedom Readers and anything that piques his interest. We read a lot during the day. We also have family story time before bed, during which Josh reads from a chapter book to the family. Currently, we’re reading the Narnia series. We’re almost finished – we’re about halfway through the Voyage of the Dawn Treader – so it’s about time to start thinking about what we will read next.

Maps, Charts, Graphs Level B

Handwriting: Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level 3

Catechism: Religion 2, Seton Press

Computer lessons/programs:

Spanish: Rosetta Stone, Homeschool Edition


2014-05-06 09.28.17

Ben playing with the magnet set.

Ben: (pre-k)

Miscellaneous letter and number coloring sheets printed from the internet.

Any story he wants to hear.

ABCmouse.com

Preschool Prep DVDs

The Real Mother Goose

God’s Rules for Me

Lots of puzzles, manipulatives, and other educational toys of the “Melissa & Doug” variety.


We’re also participating in two co-ops this year. The primary co-op uses the CCM material. Each week at co-op, the kids get a good introduction to the memory work for all 8 subjects, then we practice the memory work at home all week. They’ll also take an extra science class and an art class there.

Our second co-op is much more casual. Our primary purpose is allowing our kiddos to form faith-based friendships from a young age. The kiddos learn about virtues, memorize prayers, and have a lesson pertinent to where we are in the liturgical year. Then, they have lunch and play. I don’t know if the founder would appreciate this simplistic description, but it’s kind of like youth group for elementary kids.


So there you have it – a glimpse at our formal lessons for the year. It’s not uncommon that we’ll put everything on hold and wander off on some tangent, sometimes for a morning or sometimes for several weeks, but that’s the beauty of schooling year round. We have ample time to tackle all of the formal lessons listed above, but without feeling so much pressure that we can’t follow a whim to dig into a subject that we weren’t planning on covering. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, I LOVE homeschooling!

 

Year-Round Schooling & Individualized Learning

Jack gluing leavesThe more I think about why we school year-round, the more I realize just how much it benefits us. After writing my last post, it occurred to me that schooling year-round is the reason I have been able to educate my children at their own pace, which was once of my initial priorities when we decided to homeschool.

Having the whole year at my disposal makes it much easier for me to teach at each child’s pace for each individual subject. If we schooled on a more traditional calendar, I would really struggle with this. I know my personality; I would be pressuring myself to complete all of our books by whatever date we had designated as the end of the year. This would likely result in me rushing through material and getting frustrated when we had to slow down to facilitate understanding. I would be a slave to the lesson plans to ensure we finished everything on time. As it stands now, we work through each book until we’re done without arbitrary deadlines dictating our pace. Some books we finish much quicker than anticipated, others take longer.

Let me give you an example of how this has played out for us. With Andy, who is currently a second grader, we started homeschooling kindergarten in September 2011. He had completed kindergarten by March 2012. We took several weeks off and jumped right into first grade in April. (This is how we initially fell into the pattern of schooling year-round. I had to decide what to do with the extra time we had inadvertently incurred, so I decided to make the most of it.) With his first grade books, I gave him complete freedom to move at his own pace. He completed some material in only a couple months, most took the “standard” amount of time (about 36 weeks), but a couple books took several months longer. Because he completes different subjects at different times, at one point this year he was simultaneously working on 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade material, depending on the subject.

Andy with abacus This works out really well for us because it eliminates so much frustration. He’s not stuck doing work that is too easy for him for a designated number of days, nor am I getting frustrated trying to force him to master a concept in an assigned amount of days. More often than not, we find ourselves to be ahead of where he would be if I were to enroll him in school. Right now, he’s working on second and third grade material, but by mid-summer it will all be third grade. By utilizing the whole year, he can move more slowly on some subjects yet still come out either ahead of or on track with a more traditional schedule.

Just to be clear, I don’t allow him to move forward in one subject while ignoring another more difficult subject. He has to complete all assigned work for the day before he can do extra work in any other book. He usually gets ahead because he loves the subjects that are considered extra at this age. For example, science and geography are two of his current favorites, but they’re only designed to teach 2-3 times each week. He often choses to work on these every day. Sometimes he’ll choose to work on one of the subjects he really enjoys during our afternoon quiet time. With all of these extra lessons, he completes the content of the curriculum much more quickly than it is intended to be completed. Once he completes a book, he gets to choose how to move forward: progress to the next grade level in that subject, go back and explore something in more depth, or take a small break from that subject to lighten his overall course load. If we were trying to make our learning fit into a more traditional 36 week timeframe, we would miss out on this freedom.

I can’t tell you how elated was when I realized that Andy was working on material spanning three different grades. It’s really important to me to educate my kids at their own pace, and this was a giant affirmation that I was doing something right. I really believe that the individualized education I am providing is only possible because we school year-round. If I were schooling on a more traditional calendar, I know I would also trap myself into material that corresponded to the grade level we were “supposed” to be working on. Year-round schooling allows us to progress at a natural pace for each topic, for each child. I really, really love that!