Friday, August 24, 2007

Why Older Kids Should Still Play with Blocks

After four years of college, and two years of teaching middle school students, it took having my own children to realize that older children should still be playing with blocks! I don't know how many parents actually sit down with their children and build with blocks, but as an adult playing with blocks, I realize the many thinking processes that must occur in order to build anything. Many people recognize that if you stop drawing at a certain age, when you try to draw as an adult, you draw at the level you stopped drawing as a child. Building is the same way! I found it very difficult to build what I wanted to build and realized my brain was using muscles that it remembered using at one time, but hadn't exercised in a while. How enlightening this was!!

So then I began wondering why middle school students- or elementary school students for that matter- aren't given blocks with which to build. Some children are encouraged at home to graduate to more elaborate building materials like erector sets and Girder & Panel. But many children, once entering school, have so much homework and extra-curricular activities to do that they have little time left for simple play. And any time that's left over is often filled with video games and television- hardly the best brain enhancing activities! So if the schools are not incorporating building activities into the very busy day of schooled students, is there a reason? Unfortunately, it is NOT because there isn't enough time. It's because administrators and teachers do not sit down and play blocks with their children, realizing the many benefits of this activity.

The educational system makes changes to standards based on what they think they know. Right now, the trend is to get kids in earlier ("kindergarten"), make them spend more time in school, and cram as much into them as possible in order to pass standardized tests. And unfortunately, because these tests are on paper, most of the training ("learning") is done on paper. Educational researchers who feed their information ("crap") to administrators and teachers are too busy trying to change the wheel rather than stopping for a second and using common sense, or even getting down and playing with blocks now and again.

For similar reasons, art and music programs are disappearing from schools. They "can't afford" them, or so they say, but what they don't realize yet is that we can't NOT afford them. I have a friend who teaches early elementary who has a piano in her classroom. She notices a big difference in math abilities in the students who take piano lessons from her. This is not news, and people have been arguing for years just this point to keep the music and arts programs alive and well in public schools.

I wonder how many future architects did not meet their potential because they were stifled by those who are supposed to know better. How many children grew up without the ability to think in a certain way because their blocks were taken away in pre-school? Whether you use simple wooden blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, or Tinker Toys, at least one of these (and preferably a variety) should be available for both boys and girls. As parents, we should get down on the floor and play with these toys to demonstrate to our children that you are never too old to build! In addition, when children do play on the computer, incorporate some digital building programs that will help them envision three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional screen. This will be a necessity when they grow up and find technology in every field imaginable, including architecture, and perhaps your child with his incredibly astute thinking skills will be the next Frank Lloyd Wright!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another Use for Cookie Cutters

Do you have cookie cutters in your kitchen drawers that get used once a year? We don't bake cookies here much, but we do have cookie cutters. One day it occurred to me that they would be useful for keeping food from rolling around on the plate. My daughter likes to help bring plates to the table, and if there are any round foods like peas or grapes, we always lose a few to the floor. Not to mention, if you have just washed grapes and they are wet, keeping them away from the crackers will help you avoid the, "My cracker is soggy!" dilemma. Using cookie cutters to separate foods for picky children is also a good idea. My kids don't care if their foods touch, but I know some do!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Reasons for Homeschooling

There are some well-accepted and popular reasons for homeschooling. Some are
  • safety concerns,
  • curriculum preferences (a religious curriculum over a secular one),
  • inferior educators in the public schools,
  • unnatural socialization in schools,
  • concerns of indoctrination of our children in schools, and
  • simply recognizing that a parent is the best teacher for his/her child.

When I went to our "Kindergarten Round-up" last year to learn more about the public school, some really good questions began flooding through my brain. What if Thomas got hungry in the middle of the day? What if he wanted a drink? Would he have to drink nasty water from the water fountain? Would he be given candy every day as a reward? Does the room have carpet? How can a carpeted room with 20 5-6 year olds be healthy? Will they use safe cleaners? Do they spray the school with pesticides?

I recognize that most parents would not even think about these things. But to parents like me, they all matter. Why would I provide the healthiest home possible, and then send my child to school all day? A school where they are sure to use chlorox, toxic floor cleaners, and pesticides in the classroom. Think I'm crazy? I just received a newsletter from Dr. Mercola with a link to an article stating that 80 percent of schools are applying pesticides. I live in a small town, where they spray the ball park for mosquitoes, and when a lice outbreak occurs, they "treat the room" (whatever that means) without so much as a letter to parents. People in our town still smoke like chimneys, so you can see that we wouldn't get much sympathy if we said anything!

So to my list of "reasons for homeschooling" I now add, "providing a healthy learning environment." We will learn in our purified air, drink distilled water, clean with non-toxic cleaners, and eat healthy food when we're hungry!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Algebra for Four Year Olds

A few days ago, I was sitting in McDonald's with my children, waiting for them to finish eating. Out of boredom, I developed a great little game that they have enjoyed playing. I put my hand behind my back and said, "I have 3 fingers up behind my back, and two up here (holding two up). How many do I have up all together?" My four year old looked at both of her hands under the table and set them up and counted. "Five!"
The game continued and I actually saw right there in McDonald's, my four year old "get" counting on. She finally stopped counting ALL of the fingers and started with one number and then counted on the rest. After a while, I asked questions like, "If I have 5 fingers up behind my back, and I need to have 8 fingers up, how many do I need to put up on this hand?" And of course, they both got these every time.
Now, my daughter will be five in three months. Because she has a November birthday, she does not meet the cut off for starting kindergarten this year. She is learning to read, she is figuring out missing addend problems, and her skills test all showed that she is on a 5-6 year old level (that was at age 3). Imagine if I were depending on public schools to educate my child! Not only would I have to make her wait an entire year, I know that kids coming out of our local kindergarten are not even reading. After having taught my son to read last year, I just can't imagine why children are not reading out of kindergarten! Even an average child should be able to read to a degree.
Anyway, we still play the game everyday, and my daughter loves asking ME "finger problems!" She has figured out that she has to check to make sure I'm right! And yes, we will be doing kindergarten this year, because unlike the school system, I have common sense!
P.S. I almost forgot. One of the problems I gave was to see how my son would handle it. I said, "I have 100 fingers up behind my back, and 5 up here. How many do I have up?" He answered 105, but then I asked him, "HOW can I have 100 fingers up behind my back?!" We all got a laugh out of that!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Homeschooling Others' Kids

A few weeks ago, my husband and I separated. My initial thought was, "what can I do to keep my children at home?" While many moms may have decided to head back into the work force, this simply is not an option for me. It didn't take long for me to decide to open a private school in my home. Not only would it bring in some extra income, it would allow me a tax deduction on part of our home, which is now way too big for the three of us.
Luckily, the State of Kansas is pretty easy on homeschoolers, and there are no rules against teaching others' kids in your home. This makes it easy for homeschool co-ops where parents trade off teaching different subjects. We will be starting school the day after Labor Day, and so far I will have my two (4 1/2 and 6), boy/girl siblings which are 8 and 7, and two little day care kids (brothers) who are 3 and 8 months. It is an interesting mix, but I feel it will work out well. The 7 and 8 year olds are being removed from public school, and are a year behind. That puts the 7 year old even with my 6 year old. I'm hoping to also have a 5 year old join us part time that will pair up with my daughter quite well.
God has been good to me in providing the right people to come into our school. I acquired the two little ones from my friend (a teacher) who lost her babysitter a week before she went back to work. The older two came to me through God's divine providence, and I'll share about that one day. I don't know if I will make enough to be able to stay in our house, but I know that God will work it all out by either providing the income or providing a different home at the right time.
School starts in about three weeks, and I'm slowly getting things ready. Luckily, I already have a lot of resources for all ages, including books that I ordered last year that I thought were for kindergarten but were for first, second, or third (did God know?) I will also be adding some Bright Minds books as well. We have turned our living room into our class room, which also spills into our dining room. Our new living room is the old guest room, which is on the same level and right off the dining room. We have two bathrooms downstairs and a huge kitchen for "class." How could I NOT open up our home to other children?
I'll take the first week to get to know the kids and figure out what they know and don't know. I'll combine a lot of the learning by using Five in a Row and reading from Little House on the Prairie and other classics. Science and social studies are easy to combine, and math and reading will be fairly individualized. My main priority is to not stress out over any of this and to stay relaxed. I can go overboard very easily, and I just have to remember to take it one day at a time and do what I can in the time that I have.
I also have other projects as possibilities, and if they come to fruition I will share those, too. But right now, I'm homeschooling other people's kids and trying to make sure I know what I'm doing! Wish me luck!

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Things Kids Say...

My son has provided me with some of the best laughs a mom could imagine. When he was about 3 years old, I remember working at my desk and trying to finish what I was doing before I attended to whatever he desperately needed me for. After too many, "Mommy's!" I finally explained to him that he was old enough to start learning what it means to be patient, and that I would be done in just a minute. I realized he only heard half of what I said when he replied to me: "Mommy, YOU be the patient! I want to be the doctor!"
For more funny kid stories, check out this Blog Carnival!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Homeschooling and Lice

Homeschooling is particularly wonderful for getting to spare one’s children many of the things we ourselves may have disliked in our own school experiences, such as lots of homework, bullies, and lunchroom food. However, one old standby that we can’t avoid even as homeschoolers is the threat of head lice.

Head lice are small insects that live off of human blood. Head lice do not fly or hop, but they are accomplished travelers, crawling all over the universe looking for hospitable heads on which to live. Head lice can easily be gotten from church, mission trips, outreach opportunities, spending time with friends, and at any activity that children attend. Even if you home church and home school, your children can get lice! If you don’t know what to do when it happens, it can be a long and costly battle until you finally see the end of it.

Like most parents, I always hoped my children would not get head lice. I had no plan except that I knew I would never use chemical lice shampoos on my children. These products are pesticides that are unsafe for use, particularly for pregnant women and children under two. Being a mother of six, I have spent quite a few years either pregnant or with babies and toddlers…or both! Due to the fact that head lice bite the scalp to live, when we use pesticide products on our children we are introducing these chemicals directly into their bloodstream via the open sores on their head. That combined with the fact that our skin absorbs everything we put on it was enough to let me know I had to find a safe alternative.

A few years ago I discovered head lice on my children. I was horrified! My youngest little boys got their heads shaved immediately since they had quite an infestation and I knew that they would have a hard time sitting still for multiple rounds of combing out nits.

For the older children I first tried home remedies such as olive oil and vinegar. We found both options messy, illogical, and ineffective. I realized that the bottom line was that all the live lice and eggs have to come out of the hair. A fairly simple goal! An online contact told me about a battery-powered lice comb called the Robi Comb, so I bought one and went to work.

The Robi Comb actually electrocutes lice as you comb through the hair and they get stuck in it’s teeth. We were amazed at the amount of lice we found, and how tiny and nearly transparent some of them were. Newly hatched lice are almost impossible to see, so we were very glad our Robi Comb could catch them. We followed up with a metal egg comb to get out all the eggs, and just repeated this process again and again until we were confident that all the lice were gone.

Once we were through with the Great head Lice Battle of 2004 I did some thinking and some research. I knew that I never wanted my children to get lice again, and I wondered if there was anything safe that I could use to help prevent it. Sure enough, I found that the wonderful world of herbs offers many choices for this purpose. I started tinkering around with a formulation until I finally had a product that smelled great, didn’t irritate the skin, wasn’t oily, and worked well. My husband and I eventually got started selling our Supermom’s No-Lice Hair and Body Spray in 2005 and we have been so glad to help other families find a way to prevent and eliminate head lice safely and effectively.

Author Bio:
Erica Johns is owner of Supermom’s No-Lice Advice, a business that is dedicated to helping families prevent and eliminate head lice safely and effectively. Erica is working toward becoming a Certified Natural Health Professional and also offers many more products to help families live healthier through Supermom’s Health and Wellness. Erica and her husband Dave have been married since 1991 and are the happy parents of 6 children.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Socialization of Homeschoolers

The past couple of weeks have been "VBS" time for us, first at our own church, and then at our friends' church. I worked in the craft area, so I got to see every child of every age come through at some point. I also got to see my two children, which of course was a joy.

But the second day into it, I got a call from my friend, a fellow homeschooler. "Is everything okay?" she wondered. Not knowing what she meant, my mind began racing. But she quickly filled me in. The day before, Thomas, my six year old, had gotten upset during story time. He did not want to participate in the group activity. He is GREAT at sitting quietly and listening, but when it comes to him participating in an activity that is not on "his schedule" or for which he does not know the outcome, he panics. He wants to know what, when, where, why, and how, before he agrees to take part in the "unknown" and of course, most people either won't understand this, or won't take the time to explain.

This is when I really started thinking about the way people view homeschooled children. Other parents would look at my child and immediately think, "oh, see what homeschooling does to children? He can't handle x, y, OR z!" I know that this happens. I've seen forums and blogs discussing just this thing and people talk about how "dysfunctional" many homeschoolers are, especially when they go off to college and can't "relate." Do they ever think that children were this way BEFORE homeschooling?

No, they usually want to find a reason to be comfortable with the school system. It's the easier way, the less time consuming way, and the way of the mainstream. It's easy to make a case out of one experience a person has had: "Well, when I was in college there was a homeschooled girl that quit after one quarter simply because she couldn't fit in..." First of all, I wouldn't want to "fit in" with most college activities, and secondly, it's ONE person! Basing your opinion on one person is ludicrous, and - the easy way out.

My daughter was in pre-school for a short time, and I remember asking her if she'd like to, "stay home with Mommy and Thomas?" She jumped at the chance! I already knew that a little girl had pushed her down on the playground (which the teacher didn't see, and therefore she felt there was no justice, making it even harder to get over) but she seemed willing and eager to go on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Months later, she told me, "I didn't want to go to school with those babies!" Sure enough, her pre-school friends seemed "behind" socially and intellectually but I never imagined she would pick up on this. She was ready to play with others, and they were still stuck in themselves. Imagine the torture this was for her! She is now four, and while I have held back on teaching her, is on a 5-6 year level socially, conceptually, and even in motor skills. Because her birthday is in November, she would have to wait another year for kindergarten if she went to public school. Can you imagine?!

My children have participated in dance, scouts, soccer, choir, church, homeschool groups, and other activities. They are not thrust into a classroom with same-age kids all day long with only one moderator to make sure everything is okay. While my son is very analytical about EVERYTHING, everyday his comfort level improves to where he is actually almost social! My daughter will talk to everyone who looks her way. If you want to make a case against socialization of homeschoolers, you don't want to look at my family! Because you simply will not be able to draw any conclusions, just like you can't draw conclusions on that "one girl in college..."