Saturday, October 13, 2012

Classical Homeschool: Mesopotamia Night

Classical education is one of the best things to happen to our family.
We have discovered that homeschooling isn't about the parents sitting at the kitchen table imparting their knowledge onto their children.  Over the past few months our home has become a learning community.  Much of what our children are learning either we never learned to begin with or have long forgotten so we are discovering (& rediscovering) right along with our children.  Learning has become a family affair.
Even though my dear, wonderful husband does the bulk of the nitty-gritty homeschool work with our children (I'm mostly just the language-arts, domestic arts, and fill-in gal), I hate to be left out of the fun.  In my spare time, I find myself trying to keep up with what my family is learning while I'm at work. 
Modern classical education traditionally runs in one-year cycles which repeat every 3 years.  In cycle 1 ancient history is studied, cycle 2  is medieval history, and cycle 3 is modern history.  Every 3 years and children age, the same material is covered but the challenge and complexity is increased.  We were fortunate enough to come into our Classical Conversations group during a cycle 1 year, which means we are currently studying ancient cultures.  There is a lot to cover, but we do try to do a larger project centered around one ancient culture from time to time.
Recently we had "Mesopotamia Night", which included food, clothing, writing, and games from ancient Mesopotamia (with a few modern dishes from that part of the world as well).  The picture above features lemon & egg soup (oh my, we'll never make that again!), roast chicken (cooked on an outdoor rotisserie), goat cheese, grapes, cucumbers, yogurt, unleavened bread, and peppers.  We weren't sure about the peppers, but had some from our produce box that needed to be used. 
In this post, I detailed our curriculum and resources for this year.  For the most part, my research paid off and we are happy with everything we are using.  It has all definitely set our course for an adventure in family learning. 

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Still Here

2 months since my last post!  I have high hopes to be a real blogger someday, but for now, I post when the mood takes me.  This is an update post to (hopefully) get me back on track. 

We are still on the farm!  After thinking we had buyers, the deal fell through.  My husband worked very hard this summer to pay off a few financial matters that were worrying us and I am so happy to say the matters have been resolved.  I am very fortunate to be married to such a hard working and determined man!  We were even able to catch up on tithing to a couple of great organizations this week, which has been such a blessing for us.  Although we are are under contract to keep the farm on the market until December, I find myself hoping more and more that it doesn't sell.  Yes, it is inconvenient to drive such a distance for work, shopping, activities, and just about anything, but we are trying to be smart about combining trips.   We have worked hard on our budget to make it work and things are falling into place.  There is still a chance the farm might sell and, if so, we will take the next logical step and end up right where I'm sure we are supposed to be.

I have found the best way to preserve my sanity while there is still uncertainty concerning the sale of our beloved home is to go on like we will be here forever.  That means keeping up with my farm chores.  The chickens have laid like crazy all summer and have earned me enough to at least pay for their upkeep.  We butchered all of our pigs and sold some of the meat.  I am happy to take a break from pig raising for a bit.  Our last batch had made a neighborhood nuisance of themselves by escaping on a regular basis and engaging in garden raids and knocking flower pots off neighbor's patios.  I was happy to see them go and they are oh, so delicious!  Our baby goats are almost fully grown themselves now.  I still have not taken the plunge into buying a dairy goat yet, but I'm still considering the matter.

Thanks to some naughty escaping goats, we harvested exactly nothing from the garden this year.  I have given up for the time being and joined an organic produce coop.  I never know what I will get every week, so we have gotten very creative with things we would never normally buy--arugula, bok choy, cilantro, etc.  Combined with homemade bread made from wheat ordered from the Oklahoma Food Coop, pork from our hogs, beef from a steer grazed on a friend's acreage, frozen tomatoes and peppers from my mother's garden, and a few conventional grocery items, we are eating very well (and very healthy) these days!  I've even been able to cut my grocery budget by a little bit with some couponing.

The most joyous change in our lives, of course, is that we are homeschooling this year.  After careful consideration on how to make homeschooling work in our family, I ended up keeping my 30 hour a week job and working from morning to early afternoon.  My husband does a bit of computer and phone work in the morning while guiding our children through the majority of their lessons.  When I get home in the afternoon, he heads to work and I finish up any remaining work.  It sounds hectic, but I find it less so that transporting 3 kids to 3 separate schools, keeping up with homework assignments that my kids don't want to do and seem to have no information on how to do, worrying about negative peer situations, and dealing with the relentless pressure that standardized testing has introduced into public education.  My children are thriving socially, emotionally, and educationally.  I can't express how good it feels to be able to say that.

The biggest challenge in our homeschooling arrangement has been to let go and let my husband teach out kids in a way that works for him.  I had very specific ideas on how our schedule and curriculum would be this year.  I knew I would have to make adjustments based upon our children's needs.  I didn't expect to have to totally let go of my expectations based upon my children's and my partner's needs.  I have spent the past 5 weeks thinking that our little homeschool was in total chaos and that we had accomplished nothing.  Today, I had the privilege to spend the day at home (thanks to a little girl with a fever) and was surprised to discover that not only are we right on schedule with lessons, but my kids are learning, discovering, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Yes, they do balk at doing certain tasks that require more concentration, but all-in-all they are eager to learn.  I think the joy of learning has been missing from our household for some time. 
Best of all, we are all left with more time to pursue non-academic endeavors that we enjoy.  M and I have been busy sewing dresses and skirts while my older son has been teaching himself how to make digital music.  As for my younger son, he has been trying to defeat all of the levels in his new Mario game and reading lots of dragon books.

With my husband set to graduate and start seminary this year, I have been reading a lot of theology lately.  I really feel the need for a good zombie story very soon . . .

And that's all the latest here at Dome Farm.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Farm Happenings

When my husband asked me what I wanted for Mother's Day this year, I told him I really wanted a raised bed garden.  Last year, we just tilled in a mix of topsoil and compost that we had delivered and planted right into the ground.  We did get big, beautiful plants and harvested a large amount of cantaloupes, melons, and cucumbers; however, our in-ground garden presented a few problems.  First, there is not one single spot on our property that is level.  Even after several once-overs with the tractor, our garden plot still has a slight slant to it.  By the end of the summer, rains had washed a several-inch layer of dirt into the areas between my rows and the weeds soon took over.  Weeds were a constant battle and I threw in the towel by early fall. 

So my husband and teenage son labored in the hot sun for several hours to build me a modest 4x8 raised bed.  I won't get the harvest that I did last year, but this has definitely been a year of downsizing.  Our first year on the farm, we did too much too fast and the stress soon followed.  I'll be happy with a few late summer tomatoes and peppers without all of the weeding and labor.

On a funny note, when I asked my husband if we should do anything special for him for Father's Day, he suggested it should involve me laboring in the hot sun for most of the day like he had to for my Mother's Day gift!  Needless to say, I just made him a special dinner and dessert.  Also, somebody left the gate open and the goats got out earlier this week.  My pepper plants are now little leafless nubs, but the tomatoes are intact.

Speaking of the goats, our babies are getting so big.  We started raising Boer goats so we could use them for butcher, but I have to confess that I'm emotionally attached.  I haven't had that problem with our hogs, but these girls are my sweeties.  If we remain on the farm (which is up in the air right now), I may have to switch to dairy goats.  At least they also keep the brush down so I can justify their keep for now.  The fact that we still have beef in the freezer from a friend's cow doesn't hurt either.  I can put off having to make a decision about whether my girls are pets or livestock for the time being.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Why I Am a Christian

I have been unable to write at all lately with so much transition going on in my life, but I have had several friends spurring me on to start writing again.  I am going to stay away from the chaos that is my life right now and write about religion for a minute. 

I am a Christian, although many Christians I know would be mortified that I use that word to describe myself.  I am a bit unconventional with my beliefs and I offer no apologies.  I am also married to a man who studies Christian Ministries and hopes to go to seminary and become ordained someday.  I am not your typical pastor's wife by any stretch of the imagination.  When I disagree with a commonly held belief in the church, I'm not afraid to stand up for what I believe in.  I have a foul mouth on occasion.  I have a tattoo (although I wish I didn't).  I don't think people of other religions are going to hell.  I love the synoptic gospels, but Paul really pisses me off sometimes.  I'm not an obedient wife.  I think it's okay to be gay, and not in a "God forgives all sin" way--I really think it's okay.  How I reconcile all of that with my faith is a blog for another day.

I am not always accepting.  A friend of mine recently came out as transgender.  I really had to pray about that one.  Not that I was judging her (now living as him) or weirded out, but I didn't understand much about being transgender.  I just cared about my friend and wasn't sure if she really knew what she was getting into and what being a good friend looked like in that situation.  (FYI, when I talk about my friend before he started living as male, I use she/her and when I talk about my friend now I use he/him although I still slip up now and then and he's okay with that.  I like it that my friend can also accept me as I am.)  I really had to pray about this and talk with other friends.  What I know now is this:  1.  There is scientific evidence to support the fact that being transgender is a real condition, probably caused by exposure to certain hormones during uterine development.  For some reason, that makes me feel better about all of this.  2.  My support of my friend doesn't mean my friend will be less likely to change his mind if he feels differently in the future.  In fact, loving acceptance from those closest to him probably empowers him to explore who he is wherever that leads him.  3.  Christ showed love and acceptance to everyone, especially those who did not have a place within the conventional societal structure of the day.  Being a Christian means trying to be as much like Christ as possible, so my job is to love my friend just like I did when he lived as female. 

So, why am I a Christian despite the fact that the church is really effed up right now in a lot of ways?  Here are some of the reasons I can think of:

1.  The primary reason is Christ.  Read the first 3 chapters of the New Testament and tell me that's not a guy you want to try to be like.  He came on strong sometimes and challenged those around him to be their best selves and even I struggle with some of what he said  (like to love strangers even above your own family and it's not good to get a divorce).  But, as one theologian put it, "Christ loved wastefully."  I want to love wastefully for the simple fact that if we all loved wastefully the world would be a better place.  It already is thanks to that kind of love.  It transforms the world in the best possible way.

2.  I like undermining Empire.  Christ wasn't just another cog in the machine.  He lived in a time and place where the rules for living were very rigid and the penalty for living outside of that structure was severe.  On top of that, the Israelites were under Roman rule.  The Romans were happy to let the Jews continue to live under the Law as long as nobody stirred up too much trouble for the Empire.  Jesus stirred up a lot of trouble for the rigid society structure of the Jews and for the Romans.  We live in a society that on the one hand has very rigid rules such as those Christian fundamentalism imposes on us and on the other hand tells us that God does not exist and we'd all be happier if we worked a lot more and bought more stuff.  Being a Christan reminds me that I can love the way Christ loved even if the loudest voices in my religion are telling me I need to shun those who are gay, liberal, or otherwise outside of their strict rule of  "Law".  Being a Christian also encourages me to remember that God clothes the lilies in the fields and feeds the sparrows, so I don't need to stress about how much money is in my 401k.  I don't need to buy a bunch of stuff to be happy and I can give more of my resources than I'm comfortable with because it will all be okay.  These days, our economy is set up to make a whole lot of money for a very few while the rest of us split what's left.  I'm more than happy to participate in that as little as possible. (For full disclosure, I don't have a 401k.  I have a pension. :-))

3.  I love a good story.  The bible is full of stories.  I've written before here about how I relate to the story of Jonah.  Who hasn't wandered in the wilderness, lived off manna from heaven, planted a mustard seed, followed a star?  I don't worry myself too much about literal truth and metaphorical truth because I don't think they are necessarily opposed. 

4. I need community.  My church is my community.  We have common goals.  We inspire each other to be better.  Obviously, community can be formed outside of church, but a large part of mine is there. 

I acknowledge that the church is the cause for a lot of negativity in the world right now, but I'm not giving up on her yet.  I hope that other people who don't buy into the judgment and hate will remain in the fold and become a force for transforming the church and the world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Country Roads/City Roads

We have some big decisions to make over the next few weeks and it's breaking my heart.  We are 100% committed to homeschooling our children next year and to my husband going to seminary in January.  Now we just have to adjust our current lifestyle to make those things happen.  We have wanted to close our construction/remodelling business or at least depend on it less financially for the past year or so, but that need has become more urgent in recent months.  The state of Oklahoma has started to heavily regulate how construction contractors do business and it's getting ugly out there.  Good, hardworking men (and a few women) are leaving the field because they can't operate with the autonomy they used to, which in most cases is the reason they were working in the field in the first place.  Unfortunately, the new regulations aren't really protecting anyone from anything.  Either they were put in place by some well-intentioned bureaucrat who thought he or she was protecting workers from harm or there is a sinister plot to drive the little guys out of business so the big guys can take over. 
Being for the most part a die-hard liberal, I have scoffed at my conservative friends' rants about government hindering business through over-regulation, but now I'm beginning to see that this idea is at least partially based in reality.  I certainly don't want, for example, oil companies drilling in a manner that endangers my water supply; however, the new regulations for contracting businesses and the way they are being enforced borders on insanity.  We have tightened our belt and will make it through this.  In most cases, anyone can make it through financial difficulties by doing exactly the things we are doing--eliminating eating out, utilizing library resources, seeking out free entertainment, turning the thermostat up, couponing and eating meals from scratch, etc.  These are things we do anyway so our lifestyle hasn't changed drastically, we are just more committed to these habits than ever.
The one thing we haven't done that would save us the most money is sell Dome Farm.  We owe very little on the farm compared to what it's worth thanks to my husband's amazing carpentry and remodelling skills.  We spend a lot in gas driving our children to activities "in town", attending church, engaging in service work, etc.  There are so many benefits to our family from being heavily involved in service work and community that it's hard to consider cutting back in those areas.  Thanks to recent tornadoes and wildfires, our home owner's insurance has gotten terribly expensive.  Unfortunately, it costs us a lot of money to live where we do.
We also moved here to create a more independent lifestyle, which in many ways we have.  We raise a significant portion of what we eat and could raise more given a few more years.  We heat our home almost exclusively from wood we cut from our own property during the winter. I would be fooling myself, however, if I thought that we weren't depending on "the system" (whatever that is) for our lifestyle.  We spend a lot of cash on gasoline to drive to all of the places we need to go and I hate it that the oil companies are getting so much support from us. 
We have looked at houses in town with big yards, green belts, etc. and could save significant money by moving.  We could still have a big garden and even our chickens (yes!).  My husband really wants to start bicycling again and perhaps even share one car for awhile.  There are many ways in which we could still live a semi-independent lifestyle.  Thanks to our awesome local food systems in Oklahoma, we can still have access to many locally produced foods without an acreage.
It all makes sense logically, but then I arrive here, where I am surrounded on all sides by the woods.  The butterflies have taken up residence at the end of the driveway by the hundreds.  I certainly can't bring my goats to town with me.  This place is so beautiful it hurts my heart to think of leaving.  I really don't know what to do.  I really wanted more time here in the home I love so much, but I'm willing to go where my family will thrive and be the happiest. 
We are praying about this with all of our might.  We have a realtor coming by to look at the farm.  We are going to look at a couple of houses that meet our criteria of a very large yard, enough room inside for our family, a nice bike-friendly neighborhood with lots of trees, and access to green belts and community outdoor spaces.  There are a few out there for a really good price, if I can keep my heart from breaking.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dome Farm Curriculum Fair

We are definitely novices with the whole homeschooling thing, but we have to make our best educated guess on what will work for our family and begin the process of purchasing and planning curriculum.  Our local homeschool resource organization recommends that if your children are withdrawing from public school that you purchase your curriculum before you send your letter of intent to homeschool to the principal.  Although homeschooling is protected by our state constitution in Oklahoma, schools can send the county Department of Human Services out to check up on families if they have concerns.  I don't see any reason why the school would have concerns about us--in fact, they are probably happy to see us on our merry little way.  We have always been, ahem, strong advocates for our children.  Nevertheless, I want to be prepared for any possibility, so we have already purchased all of our curriculum for next year. 

I have done a LOT of reading over the past few years on home education.  (We librarians tend do do that with a large dose of overkill.)  I can see benefits and drawbacks to all methods including Waldorf, Classical, Traditional, Unschooling, Relaxed, Charlotte Mason, etc.; however, I feel most drawn to a laid-back classical approach.  My children love to read and love anything with a narrative. Many of the classical resources are based upon stories so it seems natural to use them.  My children are also very artsy and active (labeled by the school system as ADD) and often choose in their non-school hours to knit, build models, paint and work with their hands.  Many of the resources I have chosen cater to their natural tendencies to engage in creative, kinesthetic activities. 

Although classical education emphasizes "academic rigor", including in some cases sitting for long periods of time doing tasks such as diagramming sentences, I have chosen resources, especially those for language arts, that are what I call "efficient".  What I mean by efficient is that they  thoroughly cover important topics without a lot of needless length or repetition.  Since my husband and I will both be working opposite schedules and sharing homeschooling responsibilities, I feel that efficient curricula is important for our family right now.   We will emphasize mastery over completion so we will stretch any topics that need additional practice over multiple lessons, possibly extending our home educating beyond the traditional school year.
Every seasoned homeschooler I speak with has emphasized that not everything we plan on will work and the worst mistake that we can make is to continue to use a resource that is not a good fit for our children.  I am well aware that we will have to adjust things along the way, but here is what we are starting with:

Classical Conversations is what I would describe as a coop.  They describe themselves better than I could, so I have included a link to their website.  My 9 year old (going into 4th grade) and my 12 year old (going into 7th grade) will be attending their Foundations class in the morning.  Here, they will work on memorizing certain history facts, bible verses, math facts, Latin basics, and grammar rules.  They will also have opportunities to speak in front of a group, learn to play the tin whistle, learn about geography, do science experiments, and create art projects.  We will supplement our CC experience with curricula of our own choosing, but I like having a "skeleton" on which to build upon.  I also like the social aspect of seeing the same families every week and interacting with them. 

My daughter will be using Math-U-See's Delta curriculum and my son will be using their Beta curriculum.  Math-U-See appealed to me because their techniques are largely based upon using manipulatives and real-world problems.  I have noticed that not only do my children prefer to use objects such as counters to solve math problems, my husband and I both tend to teach them with visuals such as drawings or manipulatives.  I'm hoping this method will help my daughter to get caught up in math, the one subject in which she is terribly behind.  She has trouble thinking abstractly about math, so I'm hopeful that something more concrete will help.  After she understands the concepts concretely, we can hopefully move her on to more abstract and complex problems.  I also like that this curriculum comes with a DVD lesson that we can watch together with the children. 
MUS container with all Completer and Starter blocksMy children, unfortunately, haven't memorized all of their basic multiplication tables.  They are usually so burned out after a full day of public school that it is difficult to work with them after school on skills they are needing additional reinforcement to master.  They do understand the basic concept of multiplication, but can't recall solutions with automaticity.  That makes completing math homework a very slow and tedious process.  Over the summer, we will be using Classical Conversation's memory work CDs to work on multiplication facts.  These are set to music, which always helps me with rote memorization, so hopefully this will have a similar effect on my kids.

I am in love with the Story of the World series and have listened to it on CD with my children (and a few times without) for pleasure.  There are 4 books--one on ancient history, one on medieval history, one on early modern history, and one on the modern age.  They are written in a narrative/story form rather than a textbook form and focus on the personalities of famous people throughout history.  Some of it is written from the perspective of a hypothetical common, average person as well.  Classical education is usually taught in 3 year cycles.  The first year focuses on ancient history, the second on medieval history, and the third on modern and American history.  Luckily, we joined CC on a year that will teach ancient history, so we will begin at the beginning.  We will be keeping a history timeline as well. 

Along with the basic Story of the World:  Ancient Times volume, we have purchased the activity book and I am so excited with the activities in the book.  My children love art, science experiments, and other hands-on experiences so this is the one curriculum source I am sure they will respond to.  One of the first projects, when studying ancient Egypt, is to taxidermy a chicken--not a live chicken (although we have a few of those around), but a grocery store whole chicken.  I hope I get to be the one involved with that one.
Apologia is a Christan-based science program, but it looks to be pretty scientific for the most part.  I haven't seen the biology program yet, and I have some concerns that we might have to look for alternatives the year we do biology.  We are not strict creationists or evolutionists; instead, we take a more "God as creative force acting through evolution" view.  My husband probably leans more towards creationism whereas I see no conflict between scientific fact as we currently understand it and religion.  We openly discuss our differences in opinion, so our children are exposed to debate (and a whole lot of hot air) fairly often. 

Apologia incorporates a lot of drawing, model building, and experiments, which is great for active/ADD children like mine.  It also has great graphic organizers and note-taking strategies incorporated into the student book, which will be great for any of our children who are college bound.  We purchased both the text book and the student book.  Both are necessary to really use this curriculum.  We are studying botany this year.
My daughter will be using the Institute for Excellence in Writing materials for language arts as part of the Essentials program with Classical Conversations.  I peeked at the book last week when it arrived and it looks to be very sequential and broken into small segments.  Since my children (typical of ADD-type children) are often overwhelmed by a whole project such as writing a paper, I am curious to see how a more stair-stepped approach works for them.  This was not one of my more well-researched purchases since it is part of the Classical Conversations resources, so we shall see how it works out.  I plan to look through it more in-depth next week.

Learning Language Arts Through Literature:Orange Teacher Book (4th Grade)I was all set to purchase a different language arts curriculum for my son when I ran across Common Sense Press' Learning Language Arts Through Literature series at our local homeschool convention.  I really liked what I saw, so I purchased their Orange Book for my 4th grader.  The 4th grade Orange Book consists of 4 literature studies (The Boxcar Children, The Sign of the Beaver, and biographies of the Wright brothers and Benjamin Franklin), a research project, a journaling unit, a poetry unit, a newspaper writing unit, and a book-making unit.  Like the resources from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, the units (especially the research project) are broken into small steps that culminate as part of a larger whole.  This curriculum does not have specific spelling words to study, but does have suggested words.  We will be taking his spelling words from misspelled words in his writing and using a computer-based program for spelling practice.  In my opinion, the teacher's manual is not necessary (I purchased it at the convention) and the student book is an adequate stand-along resource. 

So the above covers 2 of my 3 children.  We are still undecided what to do with our 15 year old son.  He is old enough to have a choice in the matter and is considering several options, but that is a story for another day . . .

Renovated Barn House

Lloyd Kahn's blog is one of my favorites for posts on homesteading, build-your-own, houstrucks, and all things funky.  I LOVED this post and picture of a renovated barn I found this morning. 

I am busy creating a "Dome Farm Curriculum Fair" post to share here tomorrow and at one of my favorite go-to homeschool blogs, Simple Homeschool.  They are having a reader's curriculum fair tomorrow and I'm so excited to share what we are doing to educate out of the box next year! 

Admittedly, we aren't unschooling or doing anything too radical, but it will be more out of the box than sending our kids to public school.