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When my daughter Nga was 15 we went to Dexter, Michigan and found the house I lived in when I was 3. I took the picture below in an attempt to recreate the photo of me that is sitting (or was sitting) on my father’s desk for as long as I can remember.N at Dexter House

The photos were taken at approximately the same place along the road. A lot changes in 40 years.
Road to DexterHouse
Dexter House had been an antebellum mansion outside Ann Arbor in the small town of Dexter; it was divided into university housing for nearby U of Michigan and had supposedly been a stop on the underground railroad.

I have known this fact my entire life although I don’t remember when I first heard it. I think it must have been when we lived there, and that my mother explained what that meant.

I doubt I understood the concept of slavery, or escape, or race for that matter. I know that when I was in 3rd grade I did not understand what “colored people” were (that was the term used then). I know this because I can remember my friend Dodo (yes, Dodo, short for Dorothy) talking about someone’s “colored” gardener and the image that invoked of a person with skin like a book’s endpage– a swirling kaleidoscope of color.

This is not so much a beautiful evocation of the natural tolerance of children as of the rigid segregation in which we lived, inasmuch as I never ever encountered people of other races. I can remember vividly in fact, because it was so rare, the few non-whites I met growing up. The housekeeper at my school, the Hindu girl in fourth grade (also the only handicapped child I encountered), the three black girls at Haverford Junior High.

My kids knew from a very young age that there were different races, but they didn’t exactly understand what that meant. They knew their father wasn’t white, but since Asian people are essentially invisible in our society, and you never really encounter the terminology, they used to tell people that their dad was black, which people found very confusing. When Nga was about 6 she asked me one day, in her high piping voice, why we were the only white people on the train we riding. Everyone on the train laughed, especially since Nga is not, in fact, white.

I believe I told her that it was smart people who ride the train, and has nothing to do with the color of your skin.

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Education at Home

Reading

For the past year and a half, I’ve been homeschooling my daughter. She’s now eight and in “second” grade. Most days we don’t follow a strict routine, and that works well for us. We manage to fit in all that we need to and I try not to stress about missing something that will impede her scholarly growth for the rest of her life. For example, last year we studied Martin Luther King Jr. for the entire week leading up to MLK Jr. Day. We went on virtual tours, watched him speak, and talked about the things that have and haven’t changed since his famous speech. But when I asked her this morning if she remembered who he was, she couldn’t recall. I know she knows – that the moment I pull up a photograph of him or play “I Have a Dream” that it will all come back to her. Maybe not in detail, but the important concepts.

The amount of information that children absorb is amazing. There have been those days that I feel are a complete failure; that I’m positive she hasn’t heard a thing I’ve said, but then she’ll do something like recite a poem we’ve read word for word. At this point in her education I’m not so concerned if she can’t remember the word “adjective”, but that she understands how they are used in a sentence.  The things I do worry about have more to do with the fundamentals: can she write her numbers in the correct direction, or can she tell the difference between a “B” and a “D”. I worry if she understands the concepts of basic math like addition and subtraction, or that she can pick up on the main ideas of a story. I love that she wants to know everything about a skunk (and will gladly teach most people many things they don’t know all about them) or that she’s passionate about science and art. And while I don’t necessarily worry that she’s 100% on track with what the common core, I still make sure she’s learning what she can, at her own pace, about all those subjects.

stopwatch

Using a stopwatch app for a race to write properly

To me, that’s what homeschooling is about: finding a way to teach your children at a pace that’s comfortable for them while trying to make it enjoyable. I like to think of education less like a checklist or a puzzle and more like a montage that can be put together from different angles. I want her to have a love for searching for information. I hope that teaching her in a more creative manner compared to a linear approach will give her a better chance to find answers to the world’s problems. I want to help her become a thinker.

While public education can be effective and wonderful (both Hubby and I went to public school and I think we turned out just fine), it’s just not for us right now. I want to be more involved with and in control of my daughter’s education to be able to tailor it to her needs. How do you help your children achieve a love for learning within or outside of public or private school systems? What educational styles and techniques do you embrace?

I can also be found at Unearthing this Life, Twitter, Pinterest, and a smattering of other places around the interweb.

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peppermint 2

The holidays used to be rush, rush, rush for me. It wasn’t unusual to find me shopping during the last few days before Christmas for last minute gifts. While I wasn’t a devoted enough planner to shop on Black Friday or a good enough procrastinator to wait until Christmas Eve, I was still great at getting a lot of shopping completed. Since my daughter came into my life I came to view the holidays completely different.

She was born 3 days after Christmas, and I have to tell you that the Christmas she was born was the best ever that we celebrated. We didn’t do any of the traditional stuff. We didn’t go visit family or plan a big meal as I was hesitant to travel an hour away from our hospital just days before our due date. And so, the Christmas day was spent with my lovely husband, and only him. Presents were opened leisurely and dinner was served when we were hungry. Phone calls were made and well wishes were given. I don’t recall exactly now, but we probably napped or played video games. One thing I do remember is taking photos of my pregnant belly and being full of bliss.

That day put it all into perspective. The season leading up to the holidays aren’t for procrastinating or shopping for the perfect gift. And while family will always be dear to me, having to rush to three different households in one day is just no fun. Regardless of religion, the holidays are about quality time with loved ones. Not this rushing about stuff that we’ve all come so accustomed to.

The next 8 years have only reinforced my opinion. Thanks to my daughter’s birth I became unwilling to travel to each and every in-law and distant relative’s home between Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It was too much stress for the three of us. Sleep schedules would get out of whack as well as my own sanity. We learned to spread out the well-wishing of the holidays over the month. The Kid’s birthday would have a small celebration on the day of, between the three of us, and a bigger party after the first of the year.

The month leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve has become a slow-down time for us. I focus more on her needs as well as making memories for her. She and I make crafts together to celebrate winter and the holidays. We cook, watch old holiday specials, look at holiday decorations, and school less. We also spend long dinners talking to friends and family, but not out of obligation – because we want to. I’ve limited my budget as well as the number of people I buy for. Fortunately the people near and dear to me seem to enjoy the things I make for them. They understand our point of view of the holidays, in part because I refused to try to keep up with the status quo. Making a month–long holiday makes for a lot less stress and for a lot more appreciation.

For now I’ll be holding my baby girl’s hand, looking at the marvels of the season, and enjoying our time together instead of rushing around trying to buy the best presents for all those that I love. And later on when those long, cold, pensive days come knocking on all of our doors we’ll be wishing for the sparkle that the holiday season brings to winter, and recalling them with our own little twinkle in our hearts.

Jennifer can also be found blarging at Unearthing this Life.

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stream

Now that the heat is going away, we are spending even more time outdoors. I find it extremely important to teach my daughter about the environment around her, and how to take care of it. This morning we went for a hike on the nearby Natchez Trace. This is the second official “hike” she’s gone on with me and I was afraid we’d already taught her poor lessons about nature. Thanks goodness my sister came to the rescue. She’s been going to school for, well, years – I call her the tenured student. She’s studied geology, teaching, and biology; she’s worked as a tutor, homeschool teacher, nanny, camp counselor, nature guide; and she’s more patient than I have been as of late. If it wasn’t for my sweet sister, I’m not sure I’d have the desire to take my daughter back on a hike anytime soon.

trailhead

So what could be so hard about taking a six year old hiking on a nature trail? She got upset when I told her she could not take home some leaves and sticks to save in her nature box. The girl talked and talked and talked, then talked some more, as we were hiking – interrupting all the conversations we older gals would have. She wanted to stop at every water crossing for snacks and drinks. It was a special treat for her, but it was frustrating to stop every 15 minutes for a break. We quickly learned that we’d have to work around the Kid’s desires. I don’t feel the need to leave her at home for these shorter hikes, but we quickly found some tools to keep her interested in the world around her instead of the “plans” she’d made. Ahh, it’s tough having a perfectionist as a child, but even more difficult when you’re a perfectionist and idealist yourself!

rock table

My little sister, she who is seven years younger than myself, she without her own children, she who’s been going to school for just this thing for, well, forever… she showed me how to manage my own daughter on a hike and I love her for all of it! In my excitement to spend time out in nature, exercising my tired bones and spending time with my sister, I’d forgotten that part of the reason of taking my daughter with was to teach her something.

quartz

  • Get them thinking about the world around them by engaging their brains.
  •  Ask children about what they see.
  • Why would a plant grow in one place instead of another?
  • Why should we cross streams on rocks instead of tromping through the water, overturning every rock we come across?
  • Why is it important to stay on the trail?
  • What can your children see that is significant of the season?
  • Count the different sounds you hear.
  • birds, bugs, water, wind through trees, raindrops, sticks breaking, nuts falling.
  • Have the children guess what could be making those sounds. What type of bird do you think is singing? Do you think that squirrel is angry with us? And so on
  • Can you imagine why it would be so important for an animal to have good senses?
  • Why is it important to take only photographs and memories with you?
  • Imagine someone coming into your house and moving all of your food and furniture around. How would that make you feel?
  • Even items that aren’t food for animals can be food for other things like mushrooms, trees, and so on. The circle of life affects all organisms.

yellow 

Having my sister with us on our hike today gave me insight of how to teach my own child about the world around us. What techniques and tricks do you use with children when out in the wild?

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I have four sons ages 24 to 3

I am the mother for the first time of a 7 year old daughter.  She is my one and only girl…she is so precious to me.

I have found myself increasingly aware of the real pressure our society is trying to place on my daughter.  As I see magazines in the check-out lines out the market, see programs on tv, or read the women’s catalogs that come to my home, I am dismayed by the pencil thin women that stare back at me.

Did you know that the average girl teen girl gets 180 minutes of media exposure a day of media exposure as opposed to 10 minutes of parental interaction?  I personally find the completely disturbing and disheartening.

I find it strange that with what seems to be an epidemic of children who are now overweight that all that is thrust into our faces are women the size of a stick.

What ever happened to moderation?

Why are there not more women in the media that are of normal healthy body proportions?  Even the toys little girls play with have unnatural and unattainable proportions.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40% of nine and ten year old girls have attempted to lose weight!

WHAT?

When I was nine all I thought about was getting home from school so I could go outside and play!  I didn’t even know how much I weighed as we didn’t have a scale.  My mom made sure I ate healthy food and I made sure I got enough exercise on my skates, bike or climbing my tree…of course it wasn’t labeled exercise back then, just a kid playing.

When I watch PBS with my kids there are monsters on Sesame Street that come on and tell kids the importance of exercise.  Since when did kids in the Sesame Street age demographic need to be reminded to get off the couch and play?

I know this is a rambling post and I wish I had the answers…I do not. Just concerns at how out of whack we have become as a society.  Just concerns I have for my daughter’s generation.

As a mom I can not possibly hope to shield her from every young bone thin starlet.  I cannot cover her eyes in the grocery store from every magazine.  I cannot even control all that she watches on tv once she is old enough to see it at other people’s houses.

All I can do is make sure I offer her healthy food choices.  Give her lots opportunities for active and healthy play.  I can model good behavior and not obsess over my own weight.

And make sure the she knows that God makes women in all shapes and sizes… that the body He gave her is perfect for her.

There are countless articles, books, and resources about girls and body image.  I found this one at WebMD particularly interesting.

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids, and…a camel!

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Fun on Winter Nights!

There is so very little that I enjoy about Winter but one of my favorite things to do is to star gaze during Winter. A few Christmases ago, my family got a telescope. The kids’ name was on it but everyone knew it was really for me (is that wrong of me? Wait…don’t answer). I grew up in the middle of nowhere in a place where there was almost no light polltion, whatsoever. I looked up plenty and, I suppose, appreciated the variety and sheer number of stars that one can see from a dark location. But I never really appreciated that viewpoint until I moved to the city where viewing the Milky Way or even seeing the Big Dipper can be a challenge at best. The fact is, though, I live in the city. While we try to do many things as if we live in the country, some realities are inescapable.

star_gazing_002

So viewing stars is not easy in the city. But, it is certainly possible. Not only is it possible, it can still be prety awesome if you work at it. One thing that makes the Winter particularly appealing for stargazing is that the typical Summer-time haze is not an issue. Although the air is crisp, it is incredibly clear. Without haze, light pollution has a less significant effect. Just don’t lick the telescope in Winter.

star_gazing_001

One of my most favorite things about Winter viewing is that a number of planets are available for viewing without waiting until the middle of the night. It gives us a chance, as a family to spend time together, gazing into space and pondering life, all before the kids’ bedtime. Well, I probably do more of the pondering than my kids do, but they will follow suit in time I am sure. So, back to the planets…Saturn is spectacular in the Winter-time. My telescope is not terribly powerful, but it is plenty strong enough to allow us to gaze upon Saturn and see, very clearly, its rings. Of course, our view of the rings is nothing like that you will see in the magazines, but I was in awe the first time I saw it with my own eyes. It takes quite a bit for the kids not to run a mile a minute, but when they saw Saturn, they were silent.

I am no astronomer and I do not have all sorts of star charts mapped out in my head. Rather, I use a most excellent program called Stellarium. Stellarium is a free program and is written for Windows, Mac and Linux. Within the program, you set your viewing location and the program shows you the “current” sky. You can alter the time setting within the program to find when a particular planet will rise or explore stars and nebulae visible right where you are located.

If you are looking for an excellent way to spend time with your family this Winter, consider spending a few dollars on a telescope (mine is from Orion and was under $200). Download Stellarium and prepare to be dazzled by the wonders you will find!

Warren can also be found at My Home Among the Hills writing about the adventures of life in WV.

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hands3As I was posting about our grape harvest on my blog last week I was drawn to the pictures of my children’s hands…

These hands were busy picking…

And then popping grapes into mouths…

It got me thinking about all the things my childrens’ hands do each day…

All the wonderful things they have learned to do on the farm…

 

 

hands2

My kids’ hands know that grapes grow on vines, planted in the ground, tended and harvested in the warm sunshine…

eggs shirt

They know how a warm egg feels fresh from the nest…and know to be quick to avoid an irate hen!

wash4

rabbit5

They know that bunnies are ohhh so soft…and camels…well not so much!

blackberry picking6

Those hands have been scratched by wild blackberries…but have found that their mouths thought it was worth it!

potato2

They have dug potatoes that they themselves had planted…

tomato napper3

Those hands have snuck tomatoes from their mama’s bowl right in the garden…and felt no guilt whatsoever!

pumpkin soup6

Little kids hands are good at gutting pumpkins…especially when the pumpkins are from their very own patch!

eat watermelon9

My childrens’ hands have learned to care for animals…and that camels like watermelon!

muddy9

They have learned that the sweetest gift can be a wildflower…both to their mama and all the beneficial insects that they hold in the garden.

blue breakfast1

As little as they are these hands know that blueberries do no grow in cartons on the grocery store shelves…

frog2

And if you hold really, really still you can watch a tree frog breath as it sits on your thumb!

 

Yes it is amazing what little hands can learn…

It will be even more amazing what these little hands will do in the future to nurture and take care of the earth that they have grown to respect and love…

 

And sometimes eat…

Yummy, dirt good mama!

If you say so Baby Boy!

fun10

Kim can also be found over at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids…and a camel!

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Perhaps one of the most atypical things our family does that clearly lands us in the “not dabbling in normal” category is the way we educate. Or rather self-educate. You see, our family follows a type of learning sometimes referred to as “unschooling” or “life learning”.

For us, “life learning” means supporting our individual personalties, learning styles and abilities in a limitless, diverse, hands-on and creative way. It means creating in ourselves a desire to learn from everything we find interesting that crosses our paths and continuing to grow throughout the entirety of our lives. It means enjoying life to the fullest and exploring all it has to offer.

Life learning isn’t for everyone but lifelong learning should be! As our ever-changing world challenges our capacity to evolve, the need for self-motivated and interested learners grows stronger. We need to know how to roll with the punches, how to expand our lives in ways meaningful and useful to us and how to use our self-motivation to stay ahead of the game. I’m here to share ideas on how to apply the principles of life learning to your life and your family - no matter where you are or what you do, no matter if you’re kids are in public school or homeschooled, no matter what your budget.

I’m sure most of you are here because you’re already lifelong learners but we could all use a bit of inspiration along the way. Here are my ideas for cultivating lifelong learning in yourself, as well as those around you:

1. Natural Learning Takes Time

John Holt said it best: “Birds fly, fish swim, people learn.” It’s what we do! And in an ideal world, this wouldn’t change. But in our fast-faced, often stressful life we lose touch with our natural desire to learn. The “shoulds” take over and our passion for knowledge dwindles as a long list of things we need to do overwhelms or exhausts us. This leaves us with little energy, time or desire to explore new and exciting things.

Creating balance in our lives by eliminating sources of stress or simplifying our lifestyles may be necessary to defining our time or priorities. In order for learning to flourish, we need to create a lifestyle that is peaceful, joyful and conducive to nurturing our growth. This will look different to everyone but prioritizing, downsizing, saying no to too many commitments, and proper self-care all come to mind. But as this principle is really an article in its own, I’ll let you chew on your own solutions to creating a balanced, nourished and joyful life. ;)

2. Find Your Style

All of us have a learning style. Many of us probably didn’t realize our own until we were teens or adults. One of the best things you can do for yourself or those in your family is to know your learning styles and apply them. I’ve never known learning styles to be changed so knowing and working with your brain is a huge advantage to lifelong learning. The main styles of learning are:

  • Visual: You need to see to get it. You think in pictures and things such as diagrams or photos help you the most.
  • Auditory: You like to listen intently. You may close your eyes or stare at the ceiling to block out distractions around you as you take in the words. You like to read things aloud to really understand them.
  • Kinesthetic/Tactile: You’re a do-er. You have to touch it, move it around or get your hands in it to really absorb the information.

Most of us are some combination of those three and can use any one of them to learn. But we tend to lean heavily on one style of learning. There are numerous books on the matter and online sites and tests to help you determine your or your children’s style of learning. Perhaps you’ll find you’re better off watching a how-to video on YouTube instead of reading the manual. Or maybe your child needs less verbal instruction but instead benefits from hands-on activities. Once you know your own best way to learn, start applying those principles and see how much easier the learning happens.

3. Create The Right Environment

The “right” environment is going to be different for everyone. Some people may require a creative mess around them, while others need things free of clutter and as simplified as possible. For some, bright colors may stimulate and inspire, while others need darker tones. Depending on the members of your household, perhaps you’ll will need a bit of everything! Something that helps is to create personalized “zones”. A desk with a lamp, a bean bag next to a low shelf, and a table with loads of creative objects are just a few zones that may be conducive to different people.

Other than zones, colors and decorating tips, one thing that applies to every household is to create a “rich environment” by filling your space with interesting and diverse things. Books of all types, a telescope and microscope, dictionaries, a thesaurus, computer games, a direct link to Google, craft and art supplies, building materials, quality tools, maps, board games, hiking guides, Fact or Word-of-the-Day calendars are just a few ideas. Place almanacs, or funny fact books in the bathroom (try Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader). Decorate your fridge with magnetic poetry. Get creative in creating your own version of a “rich environment”.

4. Ask and Answer Questions

Anyone who’s been around a four year old knows how many questions can be asked in a single day. ;) But as we get older, we slowly begin to ask fewer and fewer questions. Sometimes it may be because we work out the answer internally or privately. Or perhaps we assume we know the answer. But sometimes it’s simply because we just stop asking! The great thing about ourselves is the more we self-feed, the fatter and hungrier our brains become. Likewise, the more we share our knowledge with interested folks, the more inspired and inspiring our lives become!

Engagement is a crucial key to lifelong learning and engaging through questions and answers with those around you or online will help feed that mind. So, don’t hold back. Engage in conversation with new people and allow yourself to be open to pondering or further researching new ideas and answers that come your way. Leave Google open to define new words you stumble across online. Or keep a list of things you want to learn.

Those of us with children, neices, nephews or neighbor’s kids can easily turn this principle around. Instead of telling the child to “look it up” understand the great honor they are giving you in turning to you as a source of knowledge. They are, essentially, “looking it up” in your brain! Answer that question! If you don’t know the answer, engage the mind of the child by finding the answer with them - head to the map and search out Argentina together, pull up Google to find out which animals are green, flip through the dictionary to find the definition of chary, or enjoy an interesting documentary on Ancient Egypt with them.

One last great way to engage our minds or our children’s minds is to ask (them or yourself) “What do you think” or “Why do you think that”. Talking aloud through ideas and thoughts, and brainstorming new ones never fails to lead to some amazing conversations and realizations.

5. Honor Your Passions

Too often we justify putting off interests because we believe they aren’t practical or are a waste of time. But lifelong learners know that every interest is valid and every passion should be supported. Most of the best learning happens when you’re insanely passionate about something and give yourself time and space to explore it to your hearts content.

Give yourself permission to delve into studying Mongolian battle fields, organizing your magazine clippings or collecting teacups. Support a child’s interest in horses by introducing them to a local breeder, adding to their stamp collection, or helping them design their own video game. Remember that all knowledge is valuable and allow your life to expand beyond the common. You just might be surprised where the road could lead you!

6. Allow Time To Process

Every one needs time to process information. Mindfully working regular mental down-time into your life gives your mind a chance to absorb the things it’s been given. Many people feel guilty over any form of “idleness”, thinking they should be doing something productive. But balance is needed in all areas of life and our minds needs rest, just as much as our bodies.

For some this downtime may be quiet walks in the evening or early morning, meditation, playing a simple game like Solitaire, keeping a journal, or even vegging with a movie or TV show.

7. Find and Set an Example

We all need a little inspiration. Surrounding yourself with people who interest or challenge you in a positive way could be seen as another way to create a rich environment. No one wants a friend who discourages our desire to grow. And finding a friend who is just as interested in starting a book club or participating in a Civil War reenactment as you are is just plain fun!

Whether you have children or just know children, you are an example to each one. Let them see you learn new things, even (or especially) if you struggle. Let them hear you asking questions, honoring your learning style as well as your passions, retreating to your “zone” with your favorite book or relaxing in the garden. Invite them along as you plant beans or bake bread. Accept their invitation to learn about fairies or Star Wars side-by-side with them. Listen and engage in their conversations.

Showing them with your words, tone, interest and actions that their thoughts, passions and ideas are important to you is perhaps the most important thing we can do to support a passion for knowledge in our children.

What things do you do to support lifelong learning in yourself or your family?

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Chaos

Originally published by emphelan

My life, my house, my children are in various states of chaos. These days when I am suppose to write about parenting or household subjects, I find myself lacking in items to share. My husband and I, our parenting skills are what some people call organic. We had children young, we weren’t prepared, my husband comes from a severely abusive household, and I have always lacked the correct maturity. We probably allow our children to get away with more than we should, Picture 149but no one is hurt, they are all rather sharp, and happy most of the time. They are polite, say ma’am and sir, hold doors open, allow the girls to board the bus first. . . they are old school gentlemen. But they do fight, and rough house, and behave like the typical boy. I so need a mud room.
planting child
My house is always in a constant state of a tornado victim. Either we are gutting a room, rearranging a room, or my boys have overran a room. Currently we are dealing with all the above and my going through things. My organization skills are lacking.

Right now our chaos is encircled with the fact that we are down grading homes. As my regular readers know, my family of 5 is moving from a 3 bedroom, 2 bath mobile home on 5 acres, into a single room ( not bedroom, read ROOM) camper on 120 acres. Eventually we will move into a 2 bedroom house, with a total of 7 people. And some day a new house of our own on the land. We have to condense 12 years of togetherness to fit our new accomodations. The stress that this is creating is close to engulfing our lives. But in the chaos we find moment of clarity, like my middle son’s enthusiasm to hunt bobcat with his long bow once we move.

I am probably the last person that should ever give advice to others on parenting and household skills. But I do know when I see the chaos get out of control in other peoples parenting. We have some how found a way to be in the midst of chaos yet have the structure we need to fill our boys lives with the important lessons helperand the love they need. I do not allow the chaos to cause me to neglect my boys, nor my husband.

If you find yourself in the middle of chaos, don’t forget that things are not as important as you family. And if those things seem to be pushing your family out of the picture, becoming too important, get rid of them. Things are not worth loosing your closeness with your family over.

In any chaos is a glimmer of structure, no matter how small it might be, grasp it and hold on tight. The insanity might swirl in madness around you, but your children and love ones will be an anchor if you so allow.

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last month, i mentioned a few curriculums i like and a few book series that i have in my possession and use from time to time. this month, i thought i’d mention a few things we use that are not necessarily considered ‘proper’ for education plus i’ll go more into using our everyday experiences on the homestead as life skilling.

games are a lot of fun. it’s a great way of sneaking education in without the kid knowing it. my daughter at 4 loves to spell things out. she’ll ask me to spell words and she’ll write them on a piece of paper or on a mini chalkboard (laura ingall’s style) that i picked up at michael’s awhile back for about $6. we don’t always play games in their tradition sense though. for instance, dominos is great for counting. we draw one out and count the dots. scrabble tiles and bananagram tiles are great for that beginner speller…she calls out a word, i spell it out loud and she pulls out the tiles and spells the word. the games we play with and use most are:

wildcraft (cooperative board game)
uno
dominos/mexican train
gardenopoly
clue
uncle wiggly
scrabble
bananagrams
pictionary
twister
sky travelers (cooperative board game)
walk in the woods (cooperative board game)
match up games (we have two – ‘i never forget a face’ and ‘life on earth’ the pictures are lovely)

all these games offer different learning lessons and even a bit of physican education (have you ever tried to play twister with 3 or 4 kids???) math, spelling, art, cooperation, deduction/logic and botany are just a few of the things we learn from these games.

we also are fortunate enough to have a really great mexican restaurant in our town that is run by a mexican family. while we don’t get to go out to eat often, when we do, the waiters always speak in spanish a bit which gets my daughter’s attention. we usually spend the entire dinner discussing how to say various things in spanish. i sincerely believe that learning by a variety of means is the best way to learn. at home, we have muzzy spanish, rosetta stone spanish, as well as reading rods alphabet book (i found these at a library book sale, i need to find the actual ‘rods’ that go with them). we also watch dora or diego a few times a week and we have a dora cd-rom and another cd-rom for spanish learning. my daughter gets frustrated very quickly hearing one version so switching it up works well for her. i don’t feel like she learns much, if anything with dora but it gets her interested in the subject so i let her watch it.

the kitchen is a great place to learn math. since she can’t read yet, i will read her the recipes and have her count out the measurements of ingredients. we talk about doubling recipes or halving them as well. when grocery shopping, we compare prices of items to get the best deal. if i were more budget minded like i should be, i would start with a budget and we would work it out from there with our list of needs/wants. in the future, i’ll probably do this as well.

all my kids get equal treatment. they all learn to do laundry, dishes, help clean the house, take care of the animals and help out around the farm as needed. they all have cooked at some time or other (all except the 2 year old but i’m sure that will change soon). i do not refuse to teach any one of my kids a task simply because they are a specific gender. all the older ones can shoot a gun and all the older ones have their own assortment of pocket knives.

i include everyone in gardening. we discuss how much food it takes to feed our family and how much we would need to put away to keep us fed for a cycle of seasons. each one of these tasks teach the children to be more self sufficient and to know what’s important in life. if they only learn one thing before they leave the nest, it will be how to take care of themselves and others if need be.

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