Mom Monday, Week 15 – Bring Sunscreen!

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This school year is drawing to a close – our first official homeschool year. We have only forty more days and then my son’s kindergarten experience will become a memory. Surreal.

And, it’s spring. I take that back. It’s summer already. After several days with temperatures in the upper 70s and even 80s, I feel like it is summer. Somebody on Facebook was telling summer she was not ready for it yet. She wanted more spring. Living in the South (of the United States) certainly has taught me spring and fall are short. Summer and winter seem long.

Bring Sunscreen! Mom Monday Week 15

So, as we head into the summer months, the one thing to remember is to apply sunscreen. I know you know that. I’m bringing it up because I recently had to see my dermatologist for a spot on my arm that did not look like any of my moles. She decided to remove it right then and there. It was small enough, but different enough.

My children were with me, so they got to watch a small operation. First, I received two shots to get numbed. My daughter made a face when she saw the needle come out. Then, the doctor cored the black spot – as one would an apple, with a round knife. Finally, I received one stitch.

The kids watched silently and learned a lot, I am sure. They asked me if it hurt. Then, every day, as I change my band aid and apply Vaseline to the spot, they ask me how I am feeling.

If I did not homeschool them, they may not have had the chance to witness a small surgery. To think that some people believe homeschooling means keeping the kids in the back room…

All this to say, keep applying sunscreen this sunny season. Apparently, I missed a spot. We get the lab results this week. (April 15, 2014 Update: it was benign. It’s called a blue nevus – a different kind of mole – and she had removed it all anyway.)

A Bad Homeschooling Day and What To Do About It

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Oh, such a dreadful day,

I’m glad that I spent it with you…

Such a dreadful day,

You just keep me hanging on…

Sorry, folks, I am paraphrasing a British song from a few decades ago. Sometimes we have a bad day in our homeschool. If I sent them to school, they would have a bad day there or I would have a bad day on the job and the same scenario would repeat itself. Frustration, anger, questioning how we got here, why we must endure such hardships. Blah blah.

On such days, I take a deep breath (or many) and just hang tight. Or loose. Things have a way of working out. We have everything we need to live a comfortable life – and beyond – and we have no reason to complain. See, I knew there was a reason God wanted me to live the first years of my life under Communism. I used to stand in line to get our ration of bread as a child. Surely I can handle a bit of adversity and pressure in the land of the free and the home of the – what was that? – brave.

The thing is, I have started transitioning my children from picture books to chapter books. It’s more than just good news. It’s momentous news. It’s a great beginning to a process that will last at least a year, I think. Or more. My daughter is only four. I suspect we will read picture books for many years to come.

But the thing remains, I started reading to them from Heidi and Lassie. At night, after they already had their picture books read to by daddy, after they have changed into pjs and brushed teeth and grabbed a stuffed animal to go to bed with, I go to their room and sit on a large pillow on the floor in front of the closet and read to them.

One chapter. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on how willing the little one is to pay attention. It depends on how patient I am with their behavior.

They love it. My son probably more than my daughter. He is older and can handle new words. She likes hanging out with mommy.

So I’d rather focus on this than the way this day went.

I could also focus on the fact that I planted my garden this week. It’s not finished, but most of it is there. It’s a new beginning. A fresh start. Another chance to learn how to grow vegetables, how to tend to their needs, how to put my laziness aside in the morning and water the plants no matter how I feel.

I could also focus on the fact that I gave my son his first math speed drills today and he did very well.

Or that we worked on music theory and ear training exercises and he loved it. After several pages, I asked him if he wanted to do more and he said, “Yes, more, more, more!”

Many positive things to focus on in order to look away from the dreadful day we had otherwise.

If I do have a bad day, I would rather spend it with my children and my husband – the people who love me the most and whom I love the most in this world.

I am learning to accept such days will happen. I am learning what to do about them.

What do you do when your homeschool day goes wrong?

Send me a message by pigeon carrier or, better yet, by leaving a comment below.

Mom Monday Week 14 – An Audience of One

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A few months ago, I heard a sermon about having an audience of One. We look for numbers to validate ourselves and our work. But, instead, we should consider that God alone matters – His opinion about our work counts more than anybody else’s. Have you ever been challenged by friends or family members about your decision to homeschool?

Mom Monday Week 14 - An Audience of One

It’s easy to get discouraged and feel dejected after facing ignorant attacks. The only question we should answer is, “Does God approve of my homeschooling my children?” Sadly, many of the questions we ask miss the point.

How many years did you spend on this important position? How many diplomas do you have? How much money are you making? How many children of yours still actively attend church? How many rows of veggies are there in your garden? How many friends do you have (on Facebook and offline)? How many homeschooling conferences have you attended? How many children have you homeschooled?

For those of us who blog, numbers talk. What is your blog’s ranking? How many followers do you have on Twitter? How many vendors contacted you last month?

That’s the wrong approach to anything in life, whether it is homeschooling, business, ministry, blogging, and anything in between. Working for man’s applause never brought peace of mind or lasting success to anybody.

The Bible says, ”And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” Colossians 3:23

So, you see, we have an audience of One. Whatever we do, we should do it thinking only about God’s reaction to our action. Would He like this thing I am doing now? Would He approve? Would He be proud?

Sevierville Library Used Book Sale

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Recently, I came across this quote by Barbara Tuchman: “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time.” Of course, we love books in our homeschool.

Stack of books bought at the King Family Library Used Book Sale

I bought all these books for less than $10 at the King Family Library Used Book Sale

Yesterday, I took the kids to the Sevierville Library to return some books. They had a used book sale going on, so we looked around. How can you go wrong when these books go for $0.50 or $0.25? I knew they did this twice a year or so, but had never taken the time to check it out. Wow! I have been missing out all these years.

We came back with an armful of books, many of them classics like “Heidi” and “Lassie” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” I spent less than $10.

I like the fact that they are used. They remind me of the books we used to check out as children in Romania – brown pages, corners turned, the name of a previous owner on the cover, stamps from various different libraries it used to belong to. These pages, worn out by many eager fingers, have offered adventures beyond the reach of many.

Many of the books I found are in like new condition, too. I found geography books on France and Sweden, a biography of Isadora Duncan written for children, classics by Mark Twain and Charlotte Bronte and anything in between.

The sale goes on for a few more days. The next sale starts on September 15. You want to be there, if you live in the area and like books. You never know what treasures you may find for your homeschool.

Media Talk 101 Review

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As a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I recently had the opportunity to watch Captivated, a documentary about the plugged-in world we are living in, produced by Media Talk 101, a small company dedicated to informing the public about the dangers of a lifestyle that takes a bit too much advantage of the digital age.

From the very beginning, I was impressed with how professionally the documentary was put together. The script is well written, too. The producers brought in a series of leaders in modern Christianity, as well as medical doctors and family therapists, to analyze the proliferation of screens in our lives and its effect on relationships.

This DVD costs $16.95.  The shipping is free. If you wanted to order a second one for sharing, it’s only $5. If you have teens, they should definitely watch it with you. I have small children and I did not show it to them. If you have middle school age children, it’s your decision. The movie has been approved for all ages.

I liked the images of the film’s creator in Times Square – the epitome of our fast lifestyle – in the beginning and at the end of the documentary and how they tie the message together.

Another telling image is that of a man on his cell phone in the middle of a corn field. “Where can I go to flee from your presence?” exclaimed David toward God. That might as well be our cry towards screens, which surround us no matter where we go.

The documentary begins with a bit of history and it zooms in on the advent of the telegraph. It was a significant moment in human history because, for the first time, the message could travel faster than the messenger. For the first time, people could be connected remotely without needing to walk, ride a horse, a car, or a train.

I met my husband online, so I was delighted to hear that people met vicariously as early as 1890. “Wired Love,” a love novel from that era, was inspired by a true story. Two people who met via Morse code finally met in person. Since they could not really communicate with each other and it all seemed awkward, they walked in two separate rooms and he proposed via the telegraph. How romantic, right?

The documentary is divided in five parts: Media Consumption, Content, Captivity, Battleground, and Freedom.

Want some startling stats? Today, we have more TVs than children in our homes. In some homes, there are more TVs than people in the home. American children spend over 53 hours per week in front of a screen.

Captivated Movie Review

We wonder why our youth seems so passive and unmotivated. All that screen time tricks the brain into thinking you have done something, when, in fact, you have just wasted your time and accomplished nothing.

The youth seem to think they can multi-task. That they can study while watching TV and monitoring their cell phones which, besides text messages, alerts them instantly of any social media updates. Experts agree that nobody can multi-task.

This life spent plugged into some sort of virtual reality is slowly but surely changing the definition of what it means to be a human.

The documentary recommends a series of books for further study: “Distracted” by Maggie Jackson, “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerlein, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman – among others. I thought the word “amuse” spoke volumes: amuse = a + muse, where a = not and muse = think. So next time you go to an amusement park, think again. I have never liked amusement parks and now I know why.

The documentary introduces the idea of a media fast. You know how Jesus mentioned there are some type of demons that can only leave us alone with praying and fasting? I believe that is true for the mind, as well. You try to go on a day media fast and you will see how hard it is not to reach for the cell phone or the iPad. Try a week or a month. Are you already coming up with excuses describing how legitimate your need is to log into your Facebook or email account? There’s your answer.

“Captivated” lists the physical downsides of technology: obesity, sleep interruption, hearing problems, eye strain, carpal-tunnel syndrome, just to name a few. What is alarming though is the reality that media addiction is worse than a drug addiction.

The documentary also shows a case study from a school where the parents complained their children had ADD. The principal said, “It is your decision as parents to put your children on medication. But, before you do, please take a month and do the following:

  • give your children three nutritious meals a day
  • put them in bed by 9pm
  • limit their screen time to 30 minutes per week
  • have them play outside one hour per day
  • have them play outside three hours on weekends

Then come back and tell me what you have found out.”

The parents agreed and, at the end of the experiment, came back to the principal to report that their children did not have ADD symptoms anymore.

Captivated Movie Review

The documentary also shows Shepherd’s Hill Academy, a residential facility where teens go to overcome their media addiction, which has made them out of control. Their testimonies were touching. I used to work in a similar place and it brought back memories.

Parents need help discerning what kind of content to put in front of their children, if they decide on allowing screen time at all. We are so bent these days on not censoring anything, that we have forgotten the Bible teaches we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ.

Let me paraphrase another great quote from the documentary. They said television was a vast wasteland in 1961. Well, if that is true, television now is a toxic dump. These are words from television executives and people involved in the Parents Television Council.

Ever wondered who is behind the uber-useful website (run by Focus on the Family), where you can read reviews on pop culture products from a biblical perspective? I did. Well, his name is Bob Waliszewski and he appears on “Captivated.” He encourages parents to remember that it is OK to deny ourselves and our children. We are called to take up our crosses and follow Him.

The documentary manages to present our challenge as Christians and parents today without being too preachy. I thoroughly agree with the message of this documentary. We limit our children’s screen time to 30 minutes per day. But here are some things they could do better:

  • the documentary should be heavily edited for length; do we really need to spend 107 minutes in front of a screen which tells us about the evils of sitting in front of screens? That’s an irony which will not escape those who oppose the message. My husband gave up on it after about 45 minutes. We did not show it to our young children.
  • the families portrayed in the documentary have six or more children; that’s unusual to those of us who are not of the “quiverful” persuasion; it can be a turn-off to the mainstream American family.
  • the ladies on the documentary wear very long skirts; I understand conservative circles will watch this DVD and may have paid for the making of this DVD, but mainstream Americans do not dress that way. They might feel as if they have stepped into some kind of back country compound bordering a cult sub-culture.
  • if you propose we turn off the screens, please give us more ideas about what to do with ourselves, besides reading the Bible, foraging, playing an instrument and learning new skills. Not everybody is excited about foraging and the documentary spends a good ten minutes presenting this family’s new found passion. Not everybody is musically inclined. Not everybody can read the Bible for an hour at a time. As for new skills, when one has small children, online courses are the golden ticket but oops, that’s more screen time.

For sure, as parents, we need discernment in every aspect of our parenting ministry to our children. Media is a huge one and “Captivated” will help you focus and find some solutions for your particular situation.

For all their bashing of social media, the producers have accounts there:

Twitter @CaptivatedMovie

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Mom Monday Week 13 – Pretty, Stinky Flowers

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Depending on the weather, I take a walk in the morning. Our neighborhood is 10 minutes away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – a perfect place to homeschool.

Mom Monday Series on Homeschool Ways

I did not learn the concept of a nature walk until two years ago when I was researching homeschooling and fell in love with the Charlotte Mason approach. Nature walks are my time to be by myself, with God and His creation. I ask for clarity on certain issues. He delivers.

Three pine cones, small, medium and large

Pine cones in different stages of development remind me of the growth process we all go through

The other day, I found some treasures that reminded me of a few lessons about life in general and homeschooling in particular.

First, I found three pine cones, each a different size, each perfect in its stage. Perfection does not mean the end of growth. It simply means organic matter, in its different stages of development, contains everything it needs to function well and continue to grow to the next level.

Children are that way. Perfect at every stage, they have all they need to continue their process of growing, learning and maturing. Are we faithful, like God, who sends sunshine and rain on His creation, to oversee our children’s development?

Small white flowers which smell awfully

Beautiful, stinky flowers from a neighborhood tree

Secondly, I spotted a twig covered in small, white flowers. It had fallen from a tree. I brought it home and my children put it in a small container with water. While having breakfast, my daughter kept saying something smelled bad. I could not smell anything, but children are always right.

I decided to smell the twig. Wrong move. These horribly smelling trees may look glorious in spring, but their flowers reek. Appearances can be deceiving. Let’s make sure that our homeschools look good and smell good, too. Literally and symbolically.

She Wants to Be “Mom”

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My four-year-old daughter wants to be “mom” when she grows up. That’s what she said. I asked her the other day for the first time: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She said, “I am thinking…” I started suggesting things to her. She shook her head no to each one. Then, she smiled and said, “mom.”

You mean, in spite of all my shortcomings she looks up to me? She thinks my job is fun and exciting? She thinks “mom” is a good gig? I am surprised because I grew up not wanting to have children. The culture in Communist Romania did not relish children.

Abortion was illegal, but women risked their lives to undergo illegal abortions. They preferred to die or go to jail than to have another one. Women were overworked, beaten by their husbands, and completely treated as second class citizens.

The last thing I wanted to be was a wife and a mother. And here I am, a homeschooling mom. Who spends more time with her children than a homeschooling mom? It has been quite a journey to get here in my heart.

As a child, I focused on education. That was the way to empower myself to live life on my own terms and not depend on a husband.

I studied for every subject so hard, one of my teachers told my mom during a parent-teacher conference that I make all the other kids look bad. That it is not normal for a child to have a 10 in every subject (that’s straight As in the American system of grading). That I should just pick the subjects I like and focus on those. You know, like what every other child was told to do.

The problem with that approach was that I loved Humanities. I loved to read, to write, and to study foreign languages. But the borders were closed. The same teachers who told me to focus on what I liked, discouraged me from pursuing languages. They recommended I focused on “real sciences.” They said the computer was the way of the future and languages would only put me in this category of people the secret police would keep under constant surveillance. Can you tell the year was 1985?

But doesn’t it sound a bit familiar? Don’t you hear an over-arching emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) these days? Everybody speaks English around the world, so why should American kids learn another language? It’s just a waste of time. And forget music or the arts. The world does not need another starving musician or artist. Let’s all learn to code. Code writers have jobs.

Look, I am not saying don’t learn STEM or coding. I am just saying there are parts in a child that would only be touched by music and art.

And I am certainly not advocating that children be “all-rounded” because that spells mediocrity. But let’s not focus so much on hitting certain parameters in education that we forget education is an art in itself. That learners are persons with feelings and thoughts and real desires and real talents, which must be found and encouraged.

Let’s not tell the children what to focus on. Let them read, explore, and ask questions. Show them how to arrive at answers.

Once they discover what they want to be, by all means make room. Make room for exploration and for delving into it. Make room emotionally and intellectually for their passion to flourish.

My daughter, at four, wants to be “mom” when she grows up. Sure, it might change by the time she is 12 or 18. Or sooner. For now, she is having fun with the idea. She owns her desire. How many adults do you know who own their desires? Their careers?

I am surprised that my imperfections have not given her the message that motherhood is too stressful to take on. Relieved, too.

My daughter may be right after all. Why shouldn’t she be? “Mom” may be the best gig in the world because moms get to influence the world as they raise the next generation of leaders.

Mom Monday Week 12 – Visualize Your Success

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Professional athletes, high-powered CEOs, and the world’s best entertainers know a few secrets to success: passion, perseverance, hard work, a bit of luck, and visualization – among other things. I would like to zoom in on visualization for this week’s Mom Monday post. Homeschooling moms prepare for success, too. Why not learn from these accomplished individuals?

Homeschooling moms can visualize their success especially before a stressful days

Homeschooling moms can learn from successful people who visualize their stressful days ahead in a calm, positive way

First, a definition. Visualization is the formation of mental visual images. You may have seen skiers waiting to start their course visualizing themselves on the slopes, moving their shoulders left and right based on where they see themselves being, and bending their knees accordingly. The night before a big match, tennis players and other athletes also spend time visualizing themselves at key points in the game, applying strategies they have practiced and discussed with their coaches.

Why do they do that? Their muscles are ready. They are preparing their minds. Victory takes complete dedication. Training the muscles is not enough. One must train the mind to think victory.

Mom Monday Week 12 Visualize Your Success

In the same way, a homeschooling mom should visualize herself being successful in rearing her children. I believe prayer and meditation based on God’s Word provide an opportunity for visualization. As we claim the promises of God over our children, we can visualize them accepting Jesus as a personal Savior, passing exams with high grades, and making the right choices in every aspect of their lives. But visualization is more about your own behavior.

For me, it is important to visualize myself being calm in the midst of sibling rivalry. I practice saying certain things we have established as acceptable discipline. I picture myself smiling in the most stressful moments of the day. For instance, I picture 11:30am, when everybody’s blood sugar is running low. We just finished school and violin practice and the kids have all this pent-up energy which they start using in fighting with each other.

And while all this is happening, I am supposed to prepare lunch. Maybe even accept their “help” in the process. So I visualize myself calmly inviting them to play separately. What about you? What is your most stressful moment of the day? How do you get through it?

Homeschool Parent Support Night

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Once a month, homeschooling moms in Sevier County get together in a hospitable home in Pigeon Forge. We bring something to munch on and we have a good time talking.

Sometimes there are 15 of us and the room gets noisy. Other times there are only four of us. That’s when the conversations get deeper and trouble spots work their way into the conversation. “How do you know you are doing enough?” “What if my son is two grades behind?” “How can I make myself stop from worrying?” and many other similar questions come up.

What strikes me is that homeschooling moms really have the same questions as public or private school moms. Sure, we have a few additional questions about curriculum choices, umbrella schools and dealing with negative people in our lives. Besides that, it all goes back to parenting.

“Are you already praying for your son’s future wife?” somebody asked me. I answered in the affirmative. “Since he was born.”

We don’t see each other between meetings. We are all too busy and scattered across our county to get together. Maybe we should make an effort. Maybe not. I find that many homeschooling families uphold standards they are proud of. But they are all different. While we respect each other’s freedom of choice, we just don’t want to impose our standards on others. And getting to know what somebody wants to do with their children takes time. Who’s got any extra these days?

“Who is your best girl friend and does she support your decision to homeschool?” I was relieved to find out other moms confessed they did not have a “best friend.” Neither do I. When you are married with children, there’s no time for a BFF. There, I said it. But my close friends do support my decision to homeschool. They even homeschool themselves. They just don’t live nearby. I wish they did. But life has spread us all over the world after college and now we stay in touch as well as we can.

The friendship of my local homeschooling support group means a lot to me. I get refreshed and encouraged every time. I am thankful to the hostess and the group leader who keep us all going.

Mom Monday 11 – Mommy and Me

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Can you believe one fifth of this year has become a memory already? Time flies when you’re having fun homeschooling.

The rain threatened to ruin our Sunday, but I made an effort to stay positive yesterday. I took time to play “Bible Go Fish” and “Sorry” with the kids. They squeal with delight as they tell each other to go fish. I try to focus on that and be mommy, even though I take mental notes of their counting and matching skills.

Little girl with dolly

My daughter with her baby doll

My son was reading the cards while waiting for his sister to check her cards for what he asked. These Bible Go Fish cards contain different reasons to thank God, from pets, to a loving family, to Jesus Himself. A cross-curricular activity indeed, if we needed to use education jargon to describe this game.

We even managed to take a nature walk together – a short one, when the rain stopped. But the greatest moment yesterday was watching my daughter hold her baby doll and play mommy. She received this doll from a friend last year, for her birthday. I was so glad to find a website where we could get different doll outfits for it. The back openings are large enough for small hands to fiddle with them.

Mom Monday Series on Homeschool Ways - devotionals for homeschooling moms

As a busy mother of two small children, whom I love dearly, I experience the peaks and the valleys of motherhood daily. People tell me the effort will get more mental. The problems will grow as the children grow. How I hope they may be wrong. Until then, I watch my daughter rock her dolly and pray for wisdom.