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First Week Back

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Look at these guys.  All ready for their second day back to school.

My eldest left for university on Labor Day weekend and my husband went with her to help her settle in (and spoil his princess by buying her a little fridge for her dorm room and who knows what else).  It’s lonely around her without her, but at least my car is more available.  The boys and I were left to our own devices for the weekend so I thought we’d start school on Monday – yes, Labor Day.  They’re homeschooled, what do they know about long weekends anyway?

We actually had a really productive week.  I made up some assignment charts (as always) but this time I added times to them.  The boys have never had a schedule that included what time things happen at.  They have always gotten up and started music practice by a certain time, but after that all bets were off and we just worked through our day.  This week I had gleeful boys telling me, “I’m done my spelling, now I have a 20 minute break!”  Not well thought out on my part – I figured the times were just there to ensure we didn’t spend too much time on one subject and that they boys would just work through their day until they were done.  It did result in some very happy boys and my Your Weekend Doesn’t Start Until Your Chart is Complete rule worked well.

By the end of the week I was feeling so good about our productivity that I was considering adding Latin or Greek back into our routine, but then I realized that the reason our week was so relaxing was because co-op, music, and French had yet to begin.  This coming week will be the true test.

Here’s how some of the things went this week.

New Things:

Analytical Grammer – Jacob (grade 8) and Aidan (grade 6) are working through this together using the DVDs.  I’ve got it scheduled for three days a week so they do video plus lesson one the first day, lessons 2 and 3 the next day and the test on the last day.  We are ignoring the Skills Support section.  I can’t say that anyone loved this, but they understood it and they completed it – that counts for something, right?

Old Things:

Singapore Math – Finally getting into the Discovering Mathematics groove with Jacob.  We did half a year of AoPS with Jacob last year before switching over to DM so we’re a little behind.  We should finish 7B by Christmas *if* thing go as planned.

Favourite Things: Reading to the kids is still my favourite part of homeschooling.  This week we read George vs. George (American Revolution) for history.  Our family read alouds are going well.  We’re about half way through Telling God’s Story and I have yet to find the controversy.  We’re into the second chapter of Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends – it’s our fifth time through this book.  We’re also reading the last book in the Inheritance series.  I cannot wait until this book is over – it feels like we’ve been reading about Eragon forever.

All in all, a great first week back.  I’m hoping this second week goes as smoothly.

Learning in Community

I was looking over my Philosophy of Education from 2007 and was hit by how much things have changed since then. Most of what is there is still valid, but there are aspects of education that weren’t even mentioned and are now vital to us. The most important missing piece is learning in community.

We are part of a vibrant learning community. I like to think I’m pretty smart and creative, but when I sit down with my homeschooling friends and we start brainstorming ideas I’m stunned by how many ideas are discussed that I never would have thought of myself. Not in a million years. Not that I’m stunned that my friends are smart and creative… That’s not really a surprise, well, sometimes – no, just kidding. It’s just that the things we come up with together are seriously fantastic.

It’s not just the planning that is raised to another level with community, it’s also the teaching. I can’t even begin to explain how thrilled I am to be able to teach writing and history and logic and not to ever have to think about science. Ever. Again. So my kids no longer have me and my shelves of science curriculum that we never use – instead they have other parents who are actually excited about science. And guess what happened? My kids love science.

Beyond the benefits of planning and teaching are the benefits of learning. I’ve been using Tapestry of Grace for years. Back in the beginning, when Abbie was doing the Dialectic and Rhetoric levels, it was just her and I for discussions. She learned a lot – she read incredible books, wrote thoughtful essays and assignments, and was prepared for the discussions we had together – but it wasn’t the same as the dynamic discussions we have at co-op. I love it when the kids start arguing about historical events or people. They challenge each other to go deeper and they offer ideas that otherwise wouldn’t have been considered.

During the last half of this year our TOG classes collaborated on a History Portfolio book that was a compilation of their work. I assigned each of my dialectic kids a different focus each week and they would bring their written assignment and often a picture. We would share our knowledge, have a discussion, and add the new work to our portfolios.

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We used the Renaissance History Portfolio as a guide, but in the end we took off the spiral binding and did things out own way.

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Students completed a variety of assignments for this project, many of which were adapted from Tspestry of Grace thinking questions.

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We even managed to do some of our own artwork.

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The kids made good use of the Internet when looking for visuals.

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It’s given them something they will keep forever. They were pretty excited about what they accomplished by working together.

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We’re part of an incredible Tapestry of Grace group. I am privileged to work with the older kids, aged 12 – 13, who are working at the Dialectic level. This year we tackled Year 2. Being Canadian, we did Units 1 and 2 and then we moved away from TOG plans and developed our own TOG-ish plans. We really wanted to make the learning memorable so we incorporated some projects into our plans.

I was most impressed by the work my students did in the Music Project. I wanted them to delve deeper into either a specific style of music or a composer from within the years 1500 – 1800 AD. They were given free reign to choose what composer or style of music they wanted to learn more about. The components of the project were more structured with some being more open-ended than others. I wanted the students to be able to decide what to focus on and how to express their learning. This is the assignment chart I gave them:

Components Be sure to include: Assignment
Biographical paragraph about the composer, or paragraph introducing the style of music
  • why is this style of music or this composer important?
  • did the composer/style of music have influence over the development of music?
  • what sort of people listened to this music?
  • how was the music accepted (or not accepted) in society? – did this surprise you?
Written paragraph
Spiritual Influence
  • what were the composer’s beliefs?
  • did the music have a spiritual component?
  • was the music used for worship?
Written paragraph
Themes
  • what ideas were communicated with the music?
  • what did the composer want to express?
Art – try expressing those themes through artwork – this can be painting, drawing, sculpting, collage, or photography
Teaching Component
  • what musical ideas or techniques were distinctive of your composer or style of music?
Video – create a video tutorial that teaches this idea or technique to someone else
Learn a new song or polish an old one - choose a song in the style you’re studying or by the composer you are studying and have it up to performance standard Video/Performance – record yourself performing your piece, we will also perform them live for each other

Originally, I also had a Music Appreciation component as well where the student had to listen to two contrasting pieces and answer a number of questions about them, but we were running out of time so I took that off their sheet.

My son, Jacob, decided to study Vivaldi.

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He used a newsletter template in Pages to put his paragraphs into and to add pictures.

My favourite part of the project was the video of a technique.  Each of the kids plays an instrument and they all developed entertaining and informative videos that teach a specific technique.  Jacob chose to teach the Baroque stroke.  This is something he was working on with his teacher as he had two Baroque pieces this year.

And here’s his performance video:

I also loved seeing the creativity in the themes component.  We had everything from decorated cupcakes to handcrafted FIMO instruments to collages.  It was great to see – especially from this bunch of kids who aren’t particularly interested in expressing themselves through visual arts.

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation wants to see gender neutral classrooms where children are free from “rigid beliefs about gender identity and expression” so that they are able fully express themselves without stereotypical language like “boys and girls” negatively influencing them.  After all, kids will soon learn, gender is “a product of the mind”, it’s not something we’re born with.  Gender can change as our feelings change and the development of our gender identity happens from birth until death.  In fact, BC teachers will espouse, gender is really a spectrum and we can feel free to explore this spectrum from male to female and everything “in between and outside of” those outdated designations.  “There are many gender identities” and “being transgender or gender non-conforming is normal and healthy”.

Teachers are being asked to “embed” this teaching throughout the curriculum.  Kindergarten students will be read fairy tales like “The King and the King” about two princes who fall in love and get married.  Grade two students will be taught how to yell, “Stop! Sexism!” every time they hear a “gender stereotype” in a typical fairy tale.  The Dress Up Centre will “encourage students to be whomever they want to, irrespective of gender”, it will stress the importance of “trying new activities”.

I’m amazed that this worldview is being implemented in BC schools without more public discussion.  I’m not sure that the majority of British Columbians would agree that gender is a spectrum.  Likely, most people celebrated the birth of a new child with, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”  And while gender certainly influences some of our behavior, I think most British Columbians also recognize that there is an equality between the genders without there being a sameness.  Girls play hockey – and well!  Boys can play the flute – I saw a very masculine teen boy playing the flute at the Penticton Music Festival this year.  Neither of those activities deserves to be given a “gender rating” by BC students.  And yet, that’s just what one of the lesson plans the BCTF wants to see implemented in BC classrooms suggests.  I thought we were past stereotyping interests.  No, the BCTF suggests that teachers hand out cards with things like, “This person has long hair.” or “This person loves hockey.” or “This person wants to be an engineer.” and then have students give them a “gender rating” of 1 to 5.  The goal is to talk about gender stereotyping, but I think this kind of an exercise is very ineffective at erasing stereotypes. Teaching students to rate activities according to gender even while explaining that those ratings are wrong and stereotypical while also teaching students that “gender is a spectrum” will naturally cause students to view their activities according to where on the spectrum they sit. This could result in students who have “gender non-conforming” interests to see themselves as less than male or less than female, rather than seeing themselves as fully female and loving hockey or fully male and loving the flute.

Why teach about gender at all?  The BCTF says, on the one hand, that they’re teaching about the gender spectrum in order to combat bullying.  Yet, on the other hand, they say it’s their role to combat gender stereotyping and “rigid beliefs about gender identity” in order to give students the “ability to fully express themselves”.  I believe it’s absolutely vital to create safe and inclusive schools for all students and families.  Every student should feel valued and safe at school.  However, I don’t think it’s the school’s role to teach my children a theory of gender that is not scientifically backed up or widely accepted by society.  My boys are boys – whether they’re kicking someone’s ass in Taekwon-do or playing classical music in a chamber trio they are all boy.  I don’t want someone confusing them with weird ideas about music being “gender non-conforming”.  What?  Nor do I want someone telling my second-degree Black belt girl that she isn’t fully girl regardless of how “gender non-conforming” her activity of choice is.  Puberty is confusing enough – I can’t imagine the angst that BC kids are going to go through when they’re told that there is a whole “spectrum” of genders for them to explore – from male to female to two-spirit to transgender and beyond!  One day they may feel like using the girls’ locker room, the next day they may be more comfortable in the boys’; never mind, it’s all good – they can use whichever one they wish.

The BCTF wants students to know that gender is a state of mind.  They write in their guide that “hormone blockers are a safe way to ‘buy time’ as the transgender teen decides whether to go on cross-hormones…This treatment is widely endorsed by family doctors, endocrinologists, psychologists, and other specialists involved in transgender health programs.”  Really?  How “widely endorsed” are these drugs, anyway?

They say that we shouldn’t worry that this teaching about the “gender spectrum” will increase the likelihood that our children will experience gender confusion and yet they also say that “the process of becoming a man or a woman is heavily shaped by our culture and society”.  So, if our culture and society are teaching that there is no such thing as a “boy” or a “girl” but that everyone is somewhere on a gender spectrum and that gender is based entirely on our state of mind (which can change at any given moment) then what do teachers think the result of that cultural and societal influence will be on the next generation?  In their own document they say that gender is not simply determined by nature, but that it’s equally influenced by “nurture and context”.  So, if the nurture and context of gender identity is now being shaped by ideas of a “gender spectrum” where “being transgender or gender non-conforming is normal and healthy” then we will have a greater number of children who struggle with gender identity issues.

We can teach love and respect and friendship without delving into unfounded theories of gender development and identity.  We can teach our kids that we’re all different, and that’s Ok, without telling them that “gender is a product of the mind”.  We can have schools where students work together, participate in activities they love to do, and are positive, contributing members of the community without promoting confusion about gender identity.

Parents of students in BC public schools need to fully understand what their children will be taught – from K to grade 12.  And parents who are considering public school as an option for their children should really do their research before making that choice.  Students are learning far more than how to read and write in school.
The BCTF has a social agenda and it’s pushing hard.  This resource was launched on the Day of Pink in order to assist teachers in combatting bullying for real or perceived sexual orientation.  Teachers are told that this resource will help “address homophobia and transphobia in schools”.  There is a world of difference between addressing these issues and actively teaching that gender is a state of mind that will change throughout one’s life.  This resource is not meant to just help teachers create safe and welcoming schools for all children, it’s meant to change what it refers to as “outdated and oppressive views of gender [that] continue to circulate in our everyday understandings of what it means to be human.”

http://bctf.ca/uploadedfiles/Public/SocialJustice/Issues/LGBTQ/Resources/GenderSpectrum.pdf – BCTF document on teaching about the “gender spectrum” in the classroom

http://www.bctf.ca/publications/NewsmagArticle.aspx?id=22917&printPage=true – BCTF article on the launching of their new Gender Spectrum resource.

New Beginnings

I love the start of a new school year.  It’s fresh and clean and no one has written “I hate math” in their math book – not that any of my kids have ever done that.  I’m usually so eager to start the new school year that we begin in earnest a week earlier than campus schools start.  Not this year.  This year there has been enough busy-ness and enough changes to warrant an extra week off.  I need the time to regroup and to plan and to sort.

We have big changes this year.  Abbie is off to high school.  Public high school.  And I’m ok with that.  I’m actually glad.  I wish that we had a group of homeschooled kids who wanted to get together to take the kinds of classes she’s taking at school, but we don’t.  And so off she goes.  I’m relieved to not have to think about upper level sciences and math.  Or French.  And she’ll be great there.

She’s also gone on an independence kick and let us know that she really wanted the downstairs homeschool room as her bedroom.  Yes, you heard that right – she asked for my homeschool room.  And I sacrificed for the greater good.  The room is now empty and painted purple.  She moves her furniture in on Thursday.  The contents of my homeschool room have been redistributed.  We’ll have a “library” in the rec room downstairs while most of our day to day supplies will be in cupboards on the main floor.  This is going to take some getting used to.

On a completely positive note, we’re doing Tapestry of Grace at co-op.  This has been an answer to prayer for me.  I have loved doing Tapestry of Grace at home, but having a group of kids for history and lit discussions is going to be amazing.  I’m also excited about the opportunity to have a hands-on projects class.  And the kids at co-op are fabulous – we’ve got an incredible group of people pooling their talents to create memorable learning opportunities for the kids.  I can’t wait for co-op to start.

This is going to be a great year.

What I’m doing today…

Finding Rest

I was asked last week whether I ever need a break from my kids.  There are usually a couple of times a year, now that they’re all older, that I have to myself.  David’s parents take the kids for a week in the summer and David ends up taking them for a couple of days at some point during the year.  To tell you the truth, I enjoy those times.  I really like the feeling of being alone and I sit joyfully in the silence when everyone is gone.

But, I also find rest when they’re here.  A break once or twice a year is more than enough for me.  I don’t need a regular girls’ night out or a vacation without my kids.  It’s not because I’m a saint or some kind of super mom or anything, either.  I think there are two reasons for this.

The first is that their best hours, when they’re most awake and alert and fun to be around, are the hours that we spend at home together.  It’s not fair, really.  Most parents have a couple of hours in the morning while everyone is getting up and getting ready for school and then they get a few hours at the end of the day – when the kids are tired and need to be driven to soccer practice and fed dinner and bathed and then put to bed so they can get up early and be out of the house on time for another day.

Instead, I’m home with mine.  The second reason hit me one day last week while I stirred the rhubarb I was stewing.  Aidan, Charlie, and Jacob were sitting up at the table nearby and I moved between the rhubarb and the children; giving a stir here, helping with a math question there, talking about when we should go for a swim, getting my coffee ready for the history discussion that Abbie and I had planned.  I breathed in the peace of knowing that I was right where I was meant to be – home – living and learning with my children.  Sure, there are days when they drive me crazy, but for the most part our days are good.

God called me to disciple my children.  He called me to teach them about Him when we rise and when we sit and when we walk along the way.  If my children spent the majority of their waking hours – their best hours – in school, the opportunity I have for discipleship would be greatly diminished.  I’m thankful for the time I have with them – the unhurried, restful time that we have together because it’s the time that gives me the opportunity to speak God’s truth into their lives. 

And I think that God knows how weak I am.  He knows that if I only had early mornings and the time between school letting out and bedtime (with the parade of tasks that need to be done after the kids get home from school) that I wouldn’t have the patience to invest in discipleship.  I’d be more concerned with getting everyone where they need to go on time, with making sure everyone remembered to bring their music books or their sparring gear, with packing snacks and lunches and permissions lips.  I know this because it’s what happens when we’re not at home together.  It’s what happens on Sunday mornings when we try to get out the door for church on time.  It’s what happens at the end of our day at home together when we have to get ready to leave for Taekwon-do and piano and whatever else we need to do.  I’m not a patient parent during those times, I’m not a particularly good parent during those times and I’m usually not marvelling at how amazing it is to watch God at work in the lives of my children (although sometimes I’m praying for just a little more patience to get me through the rest of the day). 

I am blessed.  Each and every day that I spend with my children is a gift from God.  Knowing that I’m carrying out God’s purpose for my life, as I invest in the lives of my children, sustains me and gives me the kind of rest that time away from my family can never offer.

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