Confessions of a Homeschool Mama

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I have been thinking a lot about homeschooling and our style lately. Because of Stumbleupon I have met a lot more homeschoolers than I typically meet in Bloggyland. It is fascinating how meeting all these lovely ladies (because so far they are all ladies sharing their experience) has caused me to redefine our style–not because we have changed our style but because I have met more and more people who school like we do. I didn’t know that we weren’t the only ones who avoided curriculum, who did what worked with each child based on when they needed it instead of on set standards. I have always considered us Charlotte Mason with a twist, or maybe eclectic. I have come to a realization, however, I realize that our lack of formal studies except where needed (for instance Rachel desperately wants to learn piano so I am working through a book with her, she found she needed to learn to spell and do multiplication so we are studying those, and Issac desperately WANTS to read–so Hooked on Phonics works for him) makes us not quite either of those. We do have a school room but that is for Rachel’s sake–she needs to know it is thee so she can focus when she needs to. But really and honestly, if I am being totally truthful with myself, most of their learning comes because they are interested and they choose what they are interested in. There are a few things we require and otherwise we go with the flow. Dare I say that we, despite our plans and ideals, are unschoolers? I am not sure I am ready to give it such a name but judging from the unschoolers I have met I am finding that they are the ones I am most comfortable with, they are the ones who train their kids the way I do, and I have an inkling that maybe, just maybe, that is where we fit in. I say this with trepidation–because, you know, I am a former public school teacher and I never would have thought I would consider myself an “unschooler”.

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That confession out of the way, I would like to share something with you, some of our experiences which may explain what I mean. Over the last few days, since I have been under the weather I have allowed the kids freedom from their few workbooks (what they call their official homework but which is only a tiny bit of their school day.) Saturday they don’t do those books anyway unless they want to (sometimes they do). However this Saturday they opted not to. Instead they had an elaborate game of dress up and some other pretend play, played with Only Hearts Kids, watched daddy play a computer game–discussing physics and how it work sin the game engine and solving elaborate puzzles that stump adult gamers, they then went with me to pick up some paint brushes at Michaels. While there they discovered a lady demonstrating cake decorating with Fondant. They stood for 45 minutes watching her and asking all kinds of questions about how she was doing what she was doing , what fondant was made of, etc. They then planned to try the experiment with Play-doe and later to et some Fondant to try it on. They were the only ones in a full store interested in stopping and learning. They were so interested that after helping me pick the best brushes for the best price they went back and watched her work while I checked out.

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After we finished there we headed to Target to buy a new CD player for them –they had saved up and decided to go together–trying to choose the best one for their money (they listen to audio books anytime they are in their room, that and Beethoven or swing praise). Instead of going for the fancy ones they went for a better one and chose some cell phone decoration stickers to decorate it (Target had them on sale). When that CD player didn’t work they decided to try the cheaper one instead of buying the same one or one of the cutesy ones.

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Sunday they played all day after we had church together, doing many pretend games, so many that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Today they helped me clean up the yard (we are supposed to get snow tomorrow and needed to get all the summer toys into the basement.) When my mom showed up needing help (her car battery died) we stopped, ran her to

Walmart where we returned the broken CD (Rachel explained to the lady what was wrong with it and asked for their money back so she could decide on a different one) and chose a new cheaper one and some more cell phone stickers. We also perused the 75% off Halloween stuff looking for Christmas presents for each of them (cheap dress up clothes are a great Christmas present).

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When we returned home we attacked the back again, burning all that needed burned and putting the rest of the stuff away. This prompted an impromptu lesson on fires and how they burn. The kids spent most of the afternoon trying to figure out how best to keep the fire burning without making it blaze. If you recall earlier this summer our neighbor died in a huge gasoline fire that took his house-sized garage as well as all the equipment he stored there. Since then the kids have had a great fear of the house burning down (they saw the fire–they couldn’t help it, our yard was full of onlookers and the firefighters were everywhere). However, they used this fire to experiment, testing to see how long it took different types of sticks to catch fire, what worked best, what caused a blaze, what smothered it, how to put out a fire (kick sand on it–just like on Rescure Heroes where they learned quite a bit about fire safety including how forest fires worked–you wouldn’t believe what they explained to me about forest fires during the California fires). They collected fire fuel from from our yard, from our garbage bins, from the neighbors yards, from the collection of cardboard boxes they had stored in the basement (they used them to build all sorts of buildings, race cars, whatevers). They kept at it for several hours until it started to pour down rain and thunder. Now they sit drinking hot carob and listening to Adventures in Odyssey and eating some supper they made themselves. I know Rachel plans to work on her Young Nanowrimo this evening, as does Esther. They also paused a bit to peruse the Target toy gift catalog, found a doll house that was perfect for their Only Hearts Club dolls and called Grandma, telling her they had a $10 off coupon and would she consider getting it for the two of them as their only Christmas present from her and Pappap–they knew about how much she usually spent on them and that if they shared it would be about right. They had already made a request for another Cabbage Patch doll to add to their collection from the other grandma.

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They also played several board games, including Scategories, Blockus, and Perpetual Notion in there somewhere, built several projects with their wooden marble game, last night we practiced swing dancing to Benny Goodman, read part of a Wishbone book and part of William Bennet’s Treasury of Heroes, and they did a whole lot of drawings and wrote several letters to friends. They also carried clean and dirty laundry to where it belonged, sorted the laundry, helped put the clean laundry away, cleaned up the kitchen, and did several other normal chores. These kids lead busy lives. 🙂

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Occasionally it is tempting to feel bad that they aren’t doing “real” school, that our classroom in the basement sits unused. If they are working in their books they would rather do it by the fireplace or on the floor of their rooms. And when they aren’t, they are learning to use real money, to cook real meals, to buy groceries, to clean up after themselves, to love the Lord, to love each other, to serve one another, to help their neighbors, to deal with uncomfortable situations maturly, to perevere if they want to learn how to do something, how to get over their fears and solve problems. It might mean the house is messier than it would be if they spent their time working at the school desks doing “real” school, but all of our lives are richer and fuller because of it, they get to learn by living and grow in the process, they learn things you can’t get out of books–especially problem solving, how to be social in different settings, and develop character. They learn how to stay out of smoke, how to smother and build a fire, how to serve one another. Is my house a mess, more than likely. Is it worth it, absolutely.

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Chore Wars

I don’t usually talk about our family love of RPG gaming (roll playing games)–this being a Christian blog and many Christians being unsure about D&D (which is just one type–usually we just call them RPGs) and whether it is a Christian thing to do or not. I am married to the guy behind the Lord of the Rings turned D&D campaign comic, the RollercoasterTycoon + Bowling = Fun, Chainmail Bikini, not to mention several other geek humor items that have made him a slight celebrity in the geekosphere–so of course we have geek stuff going on in our house. I mean really, his blog is at http://twentysidedtale.com –twenty sided being the dice used in RPG’s and the site itself started as a way to share the D&D campaign he wrote.

RPG’s are not, in themselves evil. Just like anything else, roll playing games can and have in the past been taken to the extreme, just as much as music, books, movies, cards, and anything else that people do occasionally for entertainment. The cool thing about RPGs is that you choose the back story you are working with. There are Christian RPG’s out there and a variety of others–science fiction, fantasy, medieval, all sorts. The only thing that makes an RPG an RPG is that you get to play another character, have some type of stats for the character, and act on behalf of that character–like being in a play except that it is free form. Point is that just like anything else there are good and bad RPG’s and I just found an awesome one.

Chore Wars.

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My husband and I have talked before about trying to develop some kind of D&D game that would let the kids play but learn good things while they were at it. Guess what, I found it, online, for free.

Instead of some fantasy or outer space setting with a big fancy story, the GM (Game Master, sometimes DM–the person in charge of the game) makes a list of chores that need done by the family. There are a variety of incentives that the parent sets and each person has their own login but can only choose which jobs to do–they have to have special permission to make more jobs.

The website allows you to set up chores for each individual room or however you like. You name the chore, choose the incentives (XP is based on time it should take instead of how hard it is, you choose how much each level will go up based on the type of chore it is, you choose how much GP (gold pieces–which can be used as a token system to “buy” whatever you like to use as a “big” incentive), the likelihood of treasure (percentage and what treasures–you can go classic D&D and give a + 4 golden mop or you can give something tangible–we went with the tangible by giving say a 20% chance of a treasure if you beat the monster–the treasure being a hug and kiss, a lollipop, a sticker just to keep it interesting), and the chance of meeting a monster–this is what keeps Rachel coming back she LOVES beating the monsters, plus you get to name them yourself–for instance the monsters in our campaign are all sin or vice related, like Mr. Complaining, Mr. Distraction, or silly–like when you get attacked by the laundry pile when you try to do the laundry. The kids are having fun with these and when they struggle to do a job instead of complaining they say they are being attacked by My. Complaining who is trying to get them to complain.

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Another cool thing is the character sheets. They look like standard character sheets but they let you see what each person has in their inventory (and let the characters remove those they have “used” or spend their money, leaving a note where it went.) Also wonderful is that it gives you a list of the updates in what each person completed so all I have to do is look at the computer to make sure Issac did his homework (he can’t read them all but his sisters help him and he LOVES getting the rewards and fighting monsters.) Best of all is that it has an RSS feed so you can keep an eye on what is getting done in your feed reader (or can if you are like us and have more than one computer going at a time.)

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Yes, you may notice that “Daddy”, who chose to make a character that looks like Gandalf, is also “playing”–he keeps checking in and loves being able to check and see what everyone got done today. Since it is online if you are in the party you can check in from anywhere (which is great for my mom and brother since my brother lives half time at my dad’s.) I am not sure how long it will last in our household but even if it only lasts for today–Rachel has done 6 hours worth of work (granted she moved faster so she could do more sooner, must fix those XP levels), and Esther did 5 hours worth, and Issac did 2 hours worth–and I didn’t have to ask–they love fighting the monsters and are even earning things for each other and helping each other do the work so they can see what they can earn. My house is clean, I didn’t have to load the dishwasher (Esther volunteered and got extra XP for it), the socks are almost all sorted (I threw that in with some extra incentives since NO ONE likes to sort socks around here), the floors are swept, the junk is off the floor, and some of the laundry is done. All without a single real life battle–though there have been plenty of battles with Laundry Piles, Mr. Distraction, Greed, Mr. Complaining, Mr. Whinypants, and others–and I am sure Shamus battled more than once with “the big boss” and “Writers Block”.

The verdict–I recommend it. It is a fun way of keeping an eye on the house work and to get kids to volunteer to help each other–I am amazed at the loving spirit that has pervaded the household–aside from the fights that ensued when the girls tried to play games with their grumpy brother –a half an hour of educational games with siblings gets 30xp, though the book reading that went on was pretty awesome–did I mention that I didn’t even have to ask????