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. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Time For a Change?

Since my son, now 15, was in kindergarten I have felt the call to homeschool, but I have largely ignored it.  Even before he was of school age, there were certain aspects of homeschooling that just made more sense to me--more time for physical activity, the efficiency of 1-on-1 tutoring for learning necessary skills, the family being the primary teacher, children not spending all day in what is basically a contrived, unnatural environment--the list is long and often highly philosophical.  To fully explain my attraction to homeschooling I would have to delve into my deeply held views of a mental, spiritual, and philosophical nature and I really don't think I have the energy for that today.  I'm not sure that anyone would want to read it anyway.  Let's just say I have lots of reasons why I've always thought homeschooling was a superior form of education.

Alas, I have spent 11 years NOT homeschooling.  Sound's crazy, right?  My husband was against it, citing all of the arguments society at large has against homeschooling.  As small business owners, we have never enjoyed the financial stability that others who work damn hard at "regular" jobs take for granted despite the fact that my husband has the strongest work ethic I have ever seen in another human being.  I have been afraid--afraid of discovering I couldn't handle being home with my kids all day, afraid we couldn't make it on one income, afraid they'd be odd and un-socialized, afraid of all kinds of things.  11 years is a long time to not do what your heart is crying out for you to do because you are afraid. 

When you take away all of the dogma that has been forced upon us by power-hungry folks that have co-opted this revolutionary movement commonly known as Christianity for their own gain, the stories of the bible can seem shocking relevant to our lives today.  I have been pondering the story of Jonah a lot lately.  I understand what it is like to hear a call and choose to run in the other direction.  I have tried every manipulation I can think of to help my children fit into a box that they can't be crammed into.  I have become a public school teacher myself, debated with my children's teachers, hired tutors, emailed principals, yelled at my kids about their grades . . . and still I have never felt comfortable with my children's education. At times I have thought it was just us, that we are all damaged goods incapable of fitting into a system that runs so efficiently if everyone follows the rules.  I have been in the belly of the whale.   I want out.

This year, I have devoted more time and discipline to prayer, meditation, and spiritual study than I have in my entire life.  This has fostered a lot of change in my life, both internally and externally.  There is a strength emerging in me that I find both steadying and shocking all at the same time. It is time to bring my children home to something better.  They have survived public education, but they have never thrived.

I have revealed my heart to my husband and he agrees that I can't ignore this call any longer and that he needs to join me on this journey.  We are praying about all of the possibilities to make this happen and are in the midst of some major changes in our lifestyle.  We have agreed to pray about these changes for a week, then reconvene to see how we will make this work. 

Some of the ideas that have come up in our marital "brainstorming" sessions are downright unconventional.  My heart feels lighter than it has in ages.  At my core, I am a radical and I've been playing at normal for far too long.   It was the radicalism of Jesus that drew me back to the religion of my childhood, that allowed me to see it with new eyes.  I don't have to be afraid.  God feeds the sparrows and clothes the flowers in the field.  We will be equipped to do this.  We already are.

Maybe it's time for a change.  I have been sitting in the darkness of the whale's belly for too long.  It's time to step into the light.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I came home from a long, exhausting day at the homeschool convention to discover that the mulberries are ripe. One thing I am slowly learning is that the housework will always be there tomorrow, but the harvest may not. My mother was an immaculate housekeeper so I have high expectations concerning the level of cleanliness I should be able to maintain. Of course, my mother had no use for gardens, pets, art projects, or meals from scratch. I have to make a conscious decision to put housework in the proper place on my list if priorities. So that means when the mulberries are falling from the trees, the dishes must wait.

What is the most effective way to harvest mulberries? Put a sheet on the ground, get a long pole and a ladder, and beat them out!

As my dear son said while lying in the sheet as berries rained upon him, "I can make berry-juice angels!"

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