Saturday, March 31, 2007

When Do I Have Time To Read?

When talking with friends and also with homeschoolers, we often talk of ideas or opinions about thing we heard about on the news or read someplace. Basically since my first child was born I have been challenged by my friends and acquaintances to explain how I find time to read. Most can’t understand how I find time to read. They want me to explain exactly how I was able to find the time to read. And one friend asked how I was able to sleep at night since I was made aware of various controversies or problems in the world—didn’t those issues keep me awake at night?

Here is a summary of my reading history from the time I became a mother until now.

When my oldest was a baby he was a “marathon nurser”, wanting thirty minutes on each side. To boot he’d fall asleep at the end and if I attempted to move him he’d wake up and want to nurse again. There were many days in his infanthood where I plunked my butt in a comfortable chair and just planned to be there for a couple of hours, for the duration of first, his nursing, and second, his nap. Since at the time we had regular cable television and since the pickings were slim, I read a lot more books and magazines in lieu of television.

Back then I was having problems with breastfeeding and my baby was turning out to be more challenging than I had imagined. I soaked up books and information about how to breastfeed the right way, normal ages and stages of babies (wondering if what my son was doing was normal as it was so much harder than anyone had ever told me). I read a ton of parenting books to try to help me figure out how I could survive motherhood.

Later I began the process of becoming an accredited La Leche League Leader (a volunteer lay breastfeeding counselor). Their application process mandated a lot of reading of specific books and after my accreditation I also had to stay current with the latest news about breastfeeding, nutrition, childbirth and parenting issues. I also attended conferences about breastfeeding and parenting and heard great lectures from some speakers and my interest was so piqued that I would read the books they had authored afterward. That was all very exciting for me. I would devour books and I was excited by the ideas and information held within those books.

During that phase of babyhood and toddlerhood I also was reading some fiction books. However I suddenly was not finding enjoyment reading Stephen King novels because as a new mother with children, the latest book that featured drive-by shootings of children while they played in their front yards was not entertaining. King was my favorite writer and it killed me to not be able to read his books any longer. I also rejected an Oprah book club book which started out with the drowning death of a two year old (was that “Map of the World”, I think it was). Some other books were no longer interesting as they portrayed the verbal, physical or sexual abuse of children and that was not entertaining either as I was trying to carve out a more ideal childhood for my son.

When baby number two arrived it got harder to read. As a baby he was a sprint-nurser, being done in less than fifteen minutes flat. He was not a long-sleeper. He didn’t want to be in arms much. He wanted to be awake, alert, and in the middle of the action with his older brother. The little squirt was sitting up at five months by himself and crawling at seven, walking at nine months and running before eleven months, and navigating stairs as an adult does at thirteen months. Yes, I was always kept on the run. There was not a lot of reading going on.

Then my older son was having some problems and I realized through reading books that he was having food sensitivities or food allergies or food intolerances (pick the phrase you prefer). I read a ton of information on that but it was not fun and also I spent a lot of time dealing with parenting a child who was having behavior and physical issues due to foods consumed.

When I did read, I was reading about homeschooling and psyching myself up to do it, and trying to convince myself that if I did homeschool: 1) I was capable and 2) my children would turn out normal. I will admit I felt a bit odd reading about homeschooling older children when my own children were not even that age yet, I thought of myself as a bit of an “armchair homeschooling mother”.

I also focused on learning how to teach a child to read. I didn’t just read the directions that came with a curriculum; I researched the whole phonics vs. whole language debate and formed my onions. I did this reading mostly while sitting down on a couch with the kids playing at my feet or in the room. To be honest I was worried about my ability to teach my child to read and so I educated myself about how to do it. It didn’t come easily for my older son but he did learn to read, then I was able to let that “project” and that “anxiety” go.

When I began homeschooling my older son the time for reading was reduced further. As I added in a couple of outside classes I began to experience that thing where the mother is busy driving the kids from this appointment to that appointment (which I hate). I think of myself as a lot more than a plain old chauffeur and I resent my time being spent in that way.

There were some times here and there when I’d find a good escape novel. I will confess that on some days I did nearly nothing except read while the kids played happily all around me. We ate, they played, and I read. When my husband would come home from work I’d announce that we were going out to eat or having take-out pizza or Chinese as I was too busy reading to have planned and prepared dinner. My wonderful husband would not complain. Actually it was great to immerse myself in a good book so deeply that I could blow off making dinner, and I was happy that my marriage was so stable that I could do that without any complaint from my husband!

Right now with my children in first and fourth grade in our homeschool I will be very honest and will say that I have not been reading much or at least not reading a lot of books cover-to-cover. I have had a hard time finding good fiction that truly serves as an escape novel. I have tried a few books and abandoned them. Some which people love, I find very dry and can’t get into the story. Others are too heavy and depressing for me to continue with—I figure a novel is to entertain or to escape into not to further bring negativity into my life. Still other books seem so light and easy to read that I feel that my brain cells aren’t even working and it becomes a mental effort to force my eyes to move across the page and to force myself to sit in that chair and to just read that book. The worst of all, though, is when I can predict the outcome of the book when still in the beginning, then I get curious, suffer through the book and yes, find out I was right about the plot, but no satisfaction is felt.

I like to read nonfiction about issues that makes me think and helps shift my paradigm about my views. However lately some of this has been too much to take. I don’t have the mental energy to handle it. We’ve been living with some very stressful things in our family including two relatives with Cancer, one is dying. The health of both of my grandmothers is declining and that is hard to grapple with. My husband and I have also spent our time helping one or the other relative. The continued unemployment/no income thing is completely draining at this point (it is a topic I try not to mention in my blog).

So now when I try to read certain nonfiction I find I can’t do it because sometimes it is making me even more stressed out than I already am. I am telling myself that I can’t fix all the problems in the world so why should I become more informed of some of them? For example, why continue to read books about education reform in America when nothing is changing and things are just getting worse? We are homeschooling and I need no further proof (to build a case) about why I should want to stay away from public school. However on the other hand with this family situation the way it is who knows, maybe we’ll be forced to put our kids in public school if I have to go back to work and then what? I’ll be really miserable having been informed of the problems in public school and knowing my kids would be in there!

The talking heads on television and radio are upset that mainstream Americans are not more educated about current events and American politics. Well, it is downright frustrating to stay informed about and it takes time and effort to find the deeper information to help make sense of it all---and to do that all the while we are living out the rest of our lives. It is one thing to be a radio talk show host and have ones job revolve around a small information topic and to know a lot about that topic. It is another thing entirely to not be a radio talk show host and to have a whole life to lead plus somehow spend hours per day reading many newspapers and books and keeping on top of a small topic. (Those people are ignorant about lots of things; they specialize in certain topics, like current events and politics.)

So what is the point of me being an expert on politics or world governments? The problem is that once a person understands something on a more deep level, it becomes clear that most of America is ignorant about that topic, thereby adding to the continuation of the existence of that problem. Also when we realize that politicians might have a deep understanding of the problem but they choose to not act to make positive changes, it is downright maddening to me. So this is why I choose to not spend a lot of my time watching television news or reading books or other media about those topics. I just can’t handle the idea of being informed about something which I am powerless to affect change with.

I have many books that I own which technically are on the “to be read” list. I can’t say pile because they are not in a pile; they are on the shelves, on many shelves. These are both fiction and nonfiction.

In an effort to have some fun and to enlighten myself about something that is my personal interest rather than a topic that some other person thinks I should know, I have been reading books on the history of certain types of art and about the lives of certain artists that I am curious about. I have been reading a lot of books about certain art techniques and I have been spending time making art using those techniques. (Hooray, actually using in real life, the things I am learning in books.) I have been reading about teaching myself to draw and am spending time learning to draw by practicing it. I have started a few different types of journals and write in them. I also have been reading the published journals of some artists.

It has bothered me that in my formal education at public school and in college that I was not required to read certain books that are classics. It has gotten to a point where I am a bit afraid of fictional works that are labeled classics. I think it is based on the fact that I now know that so many students are forced to read these, but I was not, so in some way I wonder if I am too stupid to read them. It bothers me to know and hear some people referring to classics in an offhand way, with a common knowledge and I don’t get it as I have not read that book. One example is when Jeff Probst was talking about the concept for the reality show “Survivor” and he said it was based originally on “The Lord of the Flies”. I had no clue what he was talking about.

So I have taken some baby steps. Last year I read “Lord of the Flies”. I was very capable of reading it, which was a relief although the book really upset me, it was so well written that it just really hit me to the core of my mind and I could not shake the images or the story from my mind, even when I wanted to. Then last month I read a classic that I have heard a lot about -- “Catcher in the Rye”, which I found a very easy read and blew through very quickly (and I enjoyed it to boot).

Let’s not also forget that I am teaching my children as I homeschool them. I am exposed to what they are reading and I am doing the family read-aloud’s. That takes up my time and that is a type of reading that I am doing.

Well at this point it is true that I don’t have a lot of time to read books. So now I am in the place that my friends and acquaintances were in, seeming to not have enough time to read all the books that I’d like to read. I now pick and choose carefully. I stop reading a book if it doesn’t seem worthy of my time. I have also reduced my magazine subscriptions to only those which I want to read cover to cover. I browse through The Wall Street Journal and read the articles that appeal to me.

So now the truth is, I am reading less than I used to!

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The Saturday Review of Books Is Up At Semicolon

Semicolon has published the March 31, 2007 edition of “The Saturday Review of Books”.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Highly Recommended Book For ALL Parents: Discover Your Child’s Learning Style

In the area of education, there are just a couple of books that I think that every parent should read. I am talking about EVERY parent not just homeschooling parents.

Specifically, I mean parents of young children, hopefully before Kindergarten, I wish they would read and use this book. However sometimes there are parents of older children, children anywhere from elementary school aged through middle school aged, whose children are having problems in school and/or with homework—they can benefit from reading this book, too.

And of course every parent who is even considering homeschooling or pulling a child out of school should read this book as one of the very first research steps, in my opinion. Even a parent who is considering homeschooling should read this book, as it will help them whether they do decide to homeschool or whether their child enters or stays in school.

The book is called “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style: Children Learn in Unique Ways—Here’s the Key to Every Child’s Learning Success” by Mariaemma Willis M.S. and Victoria Kindle Hodson M.A. These two women were school teachers who realized after working with children for a number of years that the way schools are set up to teach is basically the same structure since compulsory public schooling began about 150 years ago. Yet these two teachers knew that since 1850 many new things have been learned about psychology and the brain. The theory of learning styles had emerged and according to the authors, only 10-15% of people are naturally suited to learn in the style used in American public schools. So we have all this research and knowledge about the way children learn yet most of it is not being applied by the schools in a way that will help the child be a successful learner.

The authors then set to work to write this book. The primary audience for this book is the parents of children in school. Yes, the authors feel that even if a child goes to school the parent should be aware of the child’s learning style and the parents should also know their own learning styles.

With an awareness of the child’s learning style the parent can better work as an advocate for that child. The parent can help the child with homework in a different way, to help the child learn and achieve success. For example if the parent is trying to explain a math problem a certain way (by the parent’s own learning preference) but the child’s learning style is something else, then the awareness of this hopefully would lead to the parent communicating in a way that is more closely matched to the child’s learning style. In this way not only will the child learn more or easier but the relationship between the parent and the child will be improved.

Another important way that this will help is when/if the school staff says negative things about the child, the parent can realize which parts of that are connected to a mismatch of the learning style and the classroom or teacher vs. being either a suspected defect with the child or blaming it on behavior issues. One example is that certain learning styles may exhibit signs of what is now diagnosed with ADD if the classroom environment is teaching to a very different teaching style. A simple example is if the child is bored in the classroom they may daydream and may be accused of not paying attention.

One key thing which I feel this book makes clear is that children and people are unique. We are not all the same and we cannot all educationally thrive the same way when put into a classroom, mixed all together and taught in the same way. It is natural for children to be interested in some topics and not in others, or to have natural talents toward certain subjects or to seem to be unable to learn certain other things. It is unfair to judge a child as a person based only on their experience in the classroom.

It is a shame when a child is mislabeled or made to feel inferior or defective because their unique, natural abilities and talents are a mismatch with the school teacher’s or the classrooms’. I know many adults whose lives have been impacted by their experience in the classroom, having accepted the label of “dumb” or “unteachable” or some other label.

And today’s children seem to be getting a lot of different labels such as with diagnoses of ADD, ADHD, or with various “learning disabilities”. The percentage of “special education” students has risen dramatically, can it really be that so many of today’s students are “abnormal”? I don’t buy it, but that is another big topic for discussion that I will leave for another day.

The authors want every child to have learning success. They don’t want a child to be damaged in any way by attending school. I am in full agreement with the authors on these ideas.

The book is not always kind to American public schools. It is more of a book that says “this is the system we have and it doesn’t seem to be changing so here is how you can help your child survive and maybe try to thrive in this limited environment”. One source of frustration with the schools is that given all the different kinds of learning styles and personalities of the children it is just not possible for one teacher to teach to all the different types of kids in one group together and have a great experience for everyone. Now, if the students were tested for learning styles and grouped into classes by learning style and then the curriculum and teaching was geared toward that, then it would be another story.

The authors want the parents act in a role like a coach with their children’s education. They want the parents to be on the side of the child, rooting for them and helping encourage them on their path. If a parent is aware of a problem they want the parent to help the child overcome that problem.

This book is also useful for homeschooling parents. Although it is not written only for homeschooling parents and although it does not evaluate a ton of curriculum choices, products, or books, this is the best learning styles book that I’ve read, it is my favorite. Using this book will help the homeschooling parent make plans and goals for homeschooling as well as give some source material to help guide you when making purchases of books or curriculum as well as helping you select which outside classes or events would be best for your homeschooled child.

The book sells for a full retail price of $19.99 and as of today it sells for under $14 on Amazon, and within that book are tests. The tests are to be photocopied before being used. As I said before, both parents are advised to take the test. The children who can read are advised to read and take the test themselves so the parent does not impose their beliefs onto the test. There is also a different test in the book for preschool aged children. So the book can be used also with a child as young as the age of three or four.

What you do is read the introduction to the book. You then take the tests and figure out the results. Then you can read the chapters that pertain to your test results. After you have wrapped your brain around that, you can read the chapters that pertain to working to have your child have educational success or go back and re-read the introduction. If it is applicable to you family, there is a long chapter on learning disabilities and another on how to work with your child’s teachers. Please feel free to take your time with this book and to give you time to digest the information and to think about it. You need not read the whole book if the whole book does not apply to your family. You need not read the entire book in a span of a couple of days.

Since test results change over time the book is one to keep on your shelf and to re-use in the future. If you have forgotten some information or if your child is struggling with something, pull it off the shelf and re-read the sections pertaining to that child’s learning styles.

If you are a homeschooling parent and you are getting ready to attend a homeschooling conference, reviewing the information would be a good idea as it may help remind you of what materials and curriculum to look for and which to stay away from. Of course this information is also useful when you are making goals and plans for your upcoming academic year.

I first read this book in 2002 and in these last six years have tested my older son four times. After having read nearly the entire book in 2002, I have re-read sections of the book each time I tested my children.

At under $14 this is one of the best investments that you will ever make as a homeschooling parent.

And if you are a parent of a schooled child this (less than $14) is just a fraction of what you will pay for one session of private tutoring—go for it and buy this book and use it! You will be happy that you did.

Note: Writing this blog entry was inspired by the fact that last week I spoke at a homeschooling presentation on the topic of how to design your own homeschooling curriculum in the classical style for children roughly in grades 1-4. I had only 15 mintues to speak and say what I felt was most important. After thinking long and hard I decided that one foundation is to know the child’s learning style and also that the homeschooling parent should have an awareness of their own learning style and preferences. After thinking about how important I feel this is I figured this would make a good blog entry.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My Boys and LEGO Play, The Importance of Play

My kids and their LEGO play is the subject of this post as well as a little information about the value of unstructured, child-led play.

The first sets we bought were the big bins of random pieces which were intended to be used for play in which the child would use their own imagination to make creations with. I bought the first set when my oldest was five years old. When that son was five he was still very much into playing with his wooden train toys and LEGO was just a small part of his play. At age six my older son really took off with playing with LEGOs. The first real way he played with them was by creating things from his own imagination.

Later I added in some special sets only sold through which included, for example, many flat plates such as are good for the bottom of a car, and a big bunch of axles and wheels to make cars or other rolling vehicles with. There was also a set of about 35 “community workers” that yielded a lot of interesting little people including astronauts. Back then my goal was on the focus of original, creative play rather than buying kits, many of which had movie tie-in’s. That was back when I was trying to have play be all about my children’s own imagination rather than acting out scenes from movies or books, especially those which were not the type of shows, movies or books that my young children were exposed to at the time.

We have been open to anything and everything that is for sale in a big box at a tag sale or a thrift shop. Those bins are usually not only inexpensive but treasure troves of old, unique pieces.

As my children got older they were exposed to some things like Harry Potter and Star Wars. Since by that time LEGO was their favorite toy it only seemed natural that they’d beg for LEGO kits corresponding to those topics.

We have bought and received as gifts, many different sets obviously based on what LEGO was manufacturing at the time. Yes, that did include movie and character tie-in’s such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Batman. Other sets are of the LEGO City line such as police vehicles, cranes, and construction trucks. We also own a small amount of the LEGO trains which run on electricity which are only sold through

I was shocked to hear (yes, shocked) that an acquaintance of mine allows her son to make a kit only exactly as specified then it is to remain 100% intact and played with. When he is done with it (the longest went one full year), she herself takes it apart and stores it in zip lock bags, with the original box and the original directions in very neat shape. She said she intends to resell them on eBay to collectors. I had never heard of such a thing being done before, especially with a young boy. She said she did this from the very first set he ever got through now, when he is ten years old. They are free to do what they want, I am not judging them, and I was just surprised. The mom did say that he played a little bit with free play from one small bin of LEGOs he had from the Creator line.

But compared to my friend, I am a sloppy Mommy. No, actually, what I have my kids do is to let them use their imagination and to play in freedom. Whether they are creating their own things or doing pretend play with finished kits, it is all good. After making a kit the way it was intended, they can do whatever they want with it. They end up all over the floor and in bins.

I want my children to be free-thinkers, creators and leaders. I don’t care so much if my children get a lot more use out of their LEGOs based on their unique original play after the original set crumbles apart. I want my kids to think outside of the box. I also am most concerned that the LEGOs are used and loved rather than trying to preserve them for future resale.

At first I used plastic sheet protectors and a three-ring binder to neatly store the directions in. I thought if the directions were all in one place it would help my sons find them. However when the three inch wide binder was full I replaced it with a sturdy box. All I ask is that the directions go in the box rather than ending up all over the house or in the trash bin.

In February I bought two rolling cart things by Sterlite with three deep drawers for about $14.75 on sale at Wal Mart. These have helped matters much. The smaller bins and drawers we had been overflowing.

As I’ve shared before, I do limit the LEGOs to being stored in one area of our living room. While my kids do play with their finished products all over the house, I try to corral the pieces to one place in the house. I am sick of stepping on little pieces in every room and also once the vacuum cleaner sucked up a piece and broke something inside it and it cost $40 to have it repaired!

These are some things that my children have constructed on their OWN, not following directions. I am sharing this to show the variety of things they made.

Various new people, different outfits and hair styles than LEGO designed themselves
Cars and trucks of many shapes and sizes
Race cars, like dragsters and NASCAR type cars
Space vehicles for rolling on planet surfaces
Flying space vehicles, rockets, space shuttle type things, etc.
Newly created vehicles that my children imagine might appear in a Star Wars movie
Hybrid vehicles such as a car that also flies into space, a car that turns into a boat
Houses and buildings of various sizes
Robots (many different sizes up to two feet high)
Large command center for little homemade LEGO robots
Jelly bean dispenser thing
Treasure chest to hide treasure in
Submarines that they do submerge into water
Boats that they do try to float
Time machine
Goblet of Fire (as in Harry Potter’s), which leaked when liquid was added
Aircraft carrier about three feet long
Passenger airplane over three feet long with interior designed as well
Trains, unique designs that go on the LEGO train track
A bank for LEGO coins aka “studs” like in LEGO Star Wars video game
A Transformer ™ (didn’t transform though)
A big worm that transforms into a wheel
A spinning top that did work
Guns, of various sizes, a BB gun/rifle like one to space ray type guns

Each of my boys plays with their LEGOs by themselves as well as together. When friends and relatives visit, if the guests want, they play with the LEGOs, too. The only problem with cooperative play or group play that has happened is when a special thing that was created is being played with by another child and my child worries that it might be destroyed.

We have also had some children who intentionally destroyed LEGO creations as they think it is fun and hilarious to smash a LEGO creation and see the many pieces go flying in many directions. Those children are usually NOT the ones who normally play with LEGOs in their own home and they seem to show no understanding for how much work goes into making something out of LEGOs and why smashing it to bits should only be done by the creator of the project.

One day recently a boy came over to play and used our LEGOs to design his own submarine. He cried when he had to leave as he didn’t want to leave it behind. My heart broke and I nearly gave it to him to take with him. The boy didn’t want to go and I finally agreed to save it for the next time he comes over. I didn’t know what else to do. (It is still waiting for him to visit again.)

I can’t tell you how many homeschoolers have said that their boys (and some girls) had LEGO as their main toy for many, many years. These parents claim to have bright children who grew up to be smart adults so, hey, if free-form play with LEGO is one way to get my kids to that same end then I am all for having a zillion LEGOs in the house!

Actually the most important thing for me is that both of my children have plenty of time for free, unstructured play. They love LEGOs and they choose to play with LEGOs. I don’t make lesson plans around LEGOs and I don’t force them to use the LEGOs. (We did do the Junior First LEGO League but that was more about a project and research, about a concept that then had a model built of it with LEGO. That was also a short-term project that had nothing to do with the hours of free play that my children have.) So as long as my children want to play with LEGOs they can play with LEGOs and I’ll grant them the freedom to use them however they want.

Did you know that play is considered the work of a child? There are a few books on the subject specifically of the value of play in childhood—free, unstructured play, not forced play supervised by adults.

Children Developing Imagination and Creativity
I once gave a presentation about how to help a child ages 3-5 develop creativity and imagination. I did a lot of research on the topic at the time. The bottom line was free play and exposure to certain kinds of open-ended toys as well as allowing a child time to play and not doing or saying things that can squash creativity is what a parent should do.

An interesting twist that I learned was that everything that it takes to provide a child with the optimal atmosphere for developing their imagination and creativity is also the foundation toward not just book smarts and success in school but it is also what most colleges and employers seek. Giving a child time to play in an unstructured play environment with certain types of toys (and avoiding certain others) helps them become creative and develops their imagination which also is linked to logical thinking as well as the ability to think outside the box, to imagine things differently and to pave the way for the child to be a leader rather than a follower.

So as far as I’m concerned any and all child-led play with LEGOs is “all good”.

This post was inspired as a reaction to my feeling horrified at this news story which I blogged about yesterday.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An Example of School Teaching Gone Wrong

There sometimes comes a time when a school teacher will take a normal childhood play activity and try to turn it into and educational experience. At first the idea is, hey, let's take a toy they like and use it in a lesson and maybe then they will have fun while playing with it but we can try to have some education that we want them to know to be learned in the process.

The extent to which this should be done and can be done varies. In this case the school banned the children from playing with LEGOs in order to teach a certain lesson.

At some point the teacher can morph it into something very much different than the original, innocent, normal free-form play that the children did and instead, make it a forced, mandatory lesson which is so far from the original reason for playing with that toy, that a child might even come to hate the original toy. Can you imagine that the fun would be taken out of that play at that point? I can. Some or most children can. But some teachers seem unable to fathom this. Or perhaps they are so excited about teaching some concept or content that it gets to a point where they don't care if the kids are having fun anymore, it is more about getting that message across or that concept taught, period.

If you don't think this does happen or can happen, here is a real life example for you, from a current story in the media. This example is from an after-school program which was overseen by teachers who refer to their situation as an “early education classroom” called Hilltop Children’s Center, with eight year old’s in a wealthy suburb of Seattle, Washington. This school is inspired by the pedagogy of the Reggio Emilia schools of Italy.

While at first the LEGO play was free play in nature, after some children accidentally broke the LEGO town, this was stated:

When the children discovered the decimated Legotown, they reacted with shock and grief. Children moaned and fell to their knees to inspect the damage; many were near tears. The builders were devastated, and the other children were deeply sympathetic.

Note that the reaction of these children is normal and typical with any big creation that many hours of work was put into.

At first the LEGOs were banned. Then later, rules were put in place which have much bigger real life lessons behind them. The goal is to teach the children these more important lessons. So the LEGOs are no longer just for free play, they have lots of rules around their use.

I take exception to the lessons that were being taught. While some were good in general, others smacked of communism and socialism to me.

I'd like to tell these teachers to go shove their lesson plan and to just let the kids play with the LEGOs any way they choose.

I also have been seeing some negative ramifications of over-involvement with adults onto children's social experiences lately. I would like kids to be able to fend for themselves in a safe environment with minimal adult oversight. An example of this would be normal child interaction during free play with LEGOs. Parents and teachers should step back and let the free play happen. That includes negotiation of who gets to use what piece, what piece is best for what task, who can use the LEGO plane and what businesses should appear in their LEGO town.

Here is the article on the Rethinking Schools website which was authored by the two teachers in praise of their own actions with the LEGOs and fully explaining their aims and goals about the use of LEGOs in their classroom.

Here is the long article dated Winter 2006, on the Rethinking Schools Online website, so you can read the lessons they were teaching, how they restricted the LEGO play and more. I will spare you long quotes from the article, you really should go read it yourself to believe it.

Hat Tip: This topic was brought to my attention today by my husband who read this article dated today, from an op-ed piece by John Miller, published on the National Review website. As I was writing this blog entry, FoxNews on television reported the story as well.

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Carnival Of Homeschooling Week 65 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 65 was published today by Alasandra.

There are over 40 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, too).

I have an entry in this Carnival.

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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First Robin Spotted March 22nd

I was elated to see the first American Robin of the year in our yard on March 22nd. I had my camera handy so snapped these photos.

It then flew to the safety of a tree and I took this shot from below.

So spring officially arrived on the calendar on March 21 and on March 22 I saw this Robin so on nature's calendar as well, spring has arrived in my neighborhood. And that is something to be happy about!

Some Thoughts on the Children’s Book Publishing Industry After Having Finished Reading the Book “The ABCs of Writing for Children”

I finished reading the book “The ABCs of Writing for Children”. It is a terrific book for anyone interested in writing for children, illustrating children’s books and also would be interesting for those who love children’s literature.

The book is compiled of snippets of quotes from 114 different children’s authors and illustrators. The topics are divided by chapter.

I have really enjoyed reading this book. It is a great book to read before going to bed as it is inspirational and interesting and not a stressful read.

Before I read this book I was a picky consumer. I read a lot of children’s books to my family and I don’t want to waste my time or theirs on twaddle. I also began writing customer reviews on Amazon (for no pay) in 1999 (again, just for fun). I liked gathering my thoughts about a book and publishing them. To date I’ve reviewed 300 books on Amazon, over the last eight years, to me that is not a lot. When I began writing the reviews there, Amazon did not give much information to the consumer. I relied on other customer reviews to help me understand what a book was about and so I thought I was doing the same for others with the reviews that I wrote.

In 2006 I attended a conference about children’s literature and heard six children’s book writers and illustrators speak. I realized then, for the first time, how long it can take to write and also to illustrate a book. I will admit that I had no clue, for example, that an illustrator may take six solid months up to more than a year to make the artwork for one children’s picture book. I didn’t know any illustrator ever spent that much time on their part of the picture book creation process.

One of the speakers that I heard speak was Bruce Deegan. From Deegan, who works closely with the author, Joanna Cole, on the Magic School Bus books, I learned that the illustration job is much more than just making the art. I learned about how the number of words on the page is limited and how sometimes getting the illustrations to match the text and to all fit on one page can be a challenge. I learned that tweaks in text in the editing process might alter the illustration, too. I learned that the flow from one page to the second page on spread must not just flow well but complete a thought. What can be covered in that topic must fit on the one or two page spread. Boy, was it a lot more complicated than I ever imagined. I mean, I always knew when I thought an illustration didn’t seem a right fit for the page but I didn’t notice what of the good illustrations made the book and story flow better. While I have always appreciated beautiful art in children’s books I will admit that I hadn’t realized how much thought goes into what seems to be more basic children’s book illustrations.

Reading this book “The ABCs…” has given me a different perspective on the children’s book publishing industry. I learned a bunch of new things that may influence the way I write reviews. I now hesitate to be as harsh as I sometimes have been. Or perhaps instead, while I may have though a book was mediocre, I may now appreciate the good of it and appreciate all the work that went into creating it and getting it published and give kudos for that alone. At this point it seems that to have done all the work to write the book, to illustrate it, to get it actually published is saying something.

Then again, there are books out there that are just plain average if not junk (twaddle). There are boring stories and stupid stories. Frankly I don’t understand how they got published after reading all the personal accounts of how hard an author worked to get a certain wonderful book published. I am surprised at the number of rejections that the writers get, yet so many persevere. Then again, I guess I’d blame the publisher and the editor. If a publisher has it in their mind to publish something on a certain topic then I am sure they can find someone to write and illustrate that book even if readers or other authors, illustrators or publishers would not think it was good enough to be published.

To boot I read several times that $5000 is a common fee for a children’s writer to be paid. The pay is obviously higher for those who write bestsellers and go on to write more books which the publishers beg to be written. However the idea of someone working for six months to three years to create the text for one children’s book is daunting to think that all they may earn is $5K for that work. It doesn’t even compare to what an entry level job in the normal workplace pays, such as a cashier at McDonald’s would earn more! Additionally, beyond the time spent creating the book, the author must spend hours trying to get their book published, or have the money to pay an agent. After reading that I have come to the conclusion that those who write for children do it mainly to create and out of the love of the work!

The book also explained some other things that I didn’t know about the children’s book publishing industry. I learned the typical way that an author would write a children’s picture book and submit it for possible publication. It explained (although I knew this) that the author doesn’t have a say about who the illustrator is and often, how they interpret the story (unless they are also the illustrator). Repeatedly they said that the text should tell about 50% of the story and the illustrations should tell the other 50%. This left me confused as if I am just the writer how can I have a vision for the story yet not include all of that in the text if the text is all the publisher will see?

It was also made clear that some children’s book authors resent the parental oversight of the books that the children read. There was a chapter on censorship which basically covered parental objection to books used at schools and present on the library shelves. Of course the authors all thought that most times the challenges were wrong and misguided. For example, not liking that a book was banned as the word ghost was in the title or that the book was about ghosts. Those authors clearly have a passion for their story about ghosts but have no respect for the choices of some parents to not expose their children to ghost stories. Where is the tolerance? I found it lacking. If I were to write a book I’d feel strongly that what I wrote is a good thing but if someone objected to the content I’d say “that is your prerogative”. Period. I respect other people’s choices, other parent’s decisions about how to raise their children, even if I parent differently. (My recent discussion of the subject of magic in children’s literature is one big issue with parent’s choices and censorship.)

The book got a little more serious when the topic turned to the content of the book, specifically about mature themes and problems that children can have which are written about in children’s books. This is the part of the book that got me thinking and where it turned from being “good bedside reading” to being “food for thought”. This was a small section of the book but the topic still has me thinking.

It was clear that the authors have their own agenda and they feel the children have a need for being exposed to certain kinds of material. Putting certain topics into the books is not done for amusement or for shock value. It seems to me that they do it as it is what some children really experience and they feel that if just one child is helped by reading the book, then it would be worth it. In one story the author had written of a child who was sexually abused. She met a girl at a book signing and later found out that she was being molested by relatives and that her book was the first time she had read about the issue and then sought therapy and help her and to stop being molested. The author stated she felt her book was worth it due to it reaching some children.

My perspective as a parent is that perhaps not all children need to be exposed to something so serious and innocence-shattering (especially if they are young) if a percentage (20% by some estimates) are the ones who will experience childhood sexual abuse (by the time they are 18). Also speaking as a parent I would not like it if a school in which my child was enrolled in was pushing the reading of a certain book when I thought the content was not something that I wanted my child exposed to.

Another issue is the availability of children’s books to children such as in libraries where the child may connect with the book without a parent’s intervention or chance of censorship. This is the parent’s problem or prerogative, I know. But the fact is that kids can sneak or they can accidentally stumble upon certain books or content in books even if that content is not right for their age or maturity level. I can see on one hand, how an author would want to have certain topics out there but on the other hand once the book is published it may also fall into the hands of a child who is younger or not yet ready for that content.

(Confession: I snuck and read certain books from the public library and the school library, and as thirteen year old I bought books with my own money at the local department store, that my parents didn’t know I was reading, which were intended for older teens or adult audiences! Also, though, they didn’t monitor what I read and gave me full freedom to pick what I wanted to read there were some books that I did intentionally not tell them about which I know they would have not allowed me to read.)

One other comment about the book, I read it cover to cover. I want to share that the books flow was a bit backward in order of content, in my opinion. In the beginning I felt uplifted and interested. I was motivated and the sense I was getting from the book was to just write, try it, and go for it. The feeling was so strong for me that I almost stopped reading the book at that moment to try to write a children’s book. I would like the book to END that way not start off that way or leave me feeling that way in the MIDDLE.

However I kept reading the book, wanting to read it cover to cover right then. At some point the feeling was more grim, that it is very difficult to get a book published and that even after the work of writing it is done (or illustrating it), it can take years of self-promotion to try to find a publisher. After publication also, the writer and/or illustrator may spend many hours and months doing marketing and self-promotion. The idea that a person JUST writes or JUST illustrates is not an accurate picture if actually being published or actually making lots of sales is desired. So at that point in the middle of the book I thought, “Oh forget this! Getting published is nearly impossible!”

And by the end of the book, the content was talking about all the other great books out there that a person could or should read and learn about topics X, Y, and Z, I felt overwhelmed and had that feeling that I was not ready to write until I bought about 100 more books on the craft of writing and learned everything in them.

Now as a contrast. I will throw in that right before I read this book I was more than half way through the new book “Chapter After Chapter” in which the author said the opposite thing, so I had that going for me and I want you to know this tidbit also. We readers and potential writers were warned by the author Heather Sellers to not get hung up with buying or reading a zillion “how to write” books. So instead of taking the advice in “The ABC’s…” I am going to take the advice of Sellers and pick a small number of crucial, great books to read and to use, and then I am going to STOP reading about how to write and just write. Period.

I will also say in case you are curious, why did I stop reading “Chapter After Chapter” if it was so great? The reason is that I first bought “Chapter After Chapter” and began reading it, then bought “The ABCs…”. I was so pumped up and excited by what I was reading in “Chapter” that I stopped reading it in order to read specific information about the children’s book writing craft and industry. Now that I’m done with “The ABC’s” I am going back to finish “Chapter”.

I wrote more about “Chapter After Chapter” in this past blog entry.

Back to “The ABCs of Writing for Children”…it is a very good book. If you are at all thinking of writing a book for children this is a must read. If you are a lover of children’s books such as perhaps a librarian, teacher, homeschooling mother or a parent and want more information about the industry this would also be an easy read which is entertaining.


P.S. Today while editing and revising this blog entry to prepare it for publication I had a brand new book idea. So perhaps I’ll investigate that as an alternative to my other ideas! Hooray!

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Narnia Paper Dolls, Free Online

I get a good number of hits on my blog from people looking for paper dolls for the Chronicles of Narnia. Some specifically want free stuff while others, I am not sure, could be looking to buy a book.

They find my blog as I had written about seeing a movie trailer and going to a Narnia promotional event at my public library back in December 2005. The library staff was giving away movie promotional materials and one thing we received was some paper dolls.

Recently while decluttering I came across these old papers from December 2005. I found the URL by seeing the website on the sheets that my kids had been given, and then I checked to see that the site is still available, and it is, so here is the link for the free Narnia paper dolls. These paper dolls are on the special website for promotional materials for the movie "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" which was released in theaters in December 2005.

You can print off these paper dolls, for free, from the Internet. I imagine the best thing to do would be to load your computer printer with cardstock paper and then to print them onto that. They are meant to be colored in by children. After your children color them you can cut them out and they can play with them.

If you are looking for a book that contains the paper dolls which is a more high-quality type product, I found this children's book online at Amazon. Presently, it shows as out-of-print with the least expensive copy selling for $90.09 through an Amazon Marketplace seller. The ISBN is 0694010782 and it shows that the book was published by Harper Collins and the author is C.S. Lewis with Mary Collier as a co-author.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Christian's Thoughts on The Subject of Magic in Children’s Books

For years, I have been trying to wrap my mind around the objection that some parents have to allowing their children to read books, see movies, play games or anything else that has magic in it. (Examples: not playing Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, no Harry Potter, etc.) Specifically I am also interested in this when the parent is Christian and has religious reasons cited as their reason.

I corresponded with another homeschooling mother named Sonya via email about this topic in November 2006. I met Sonya through an online chat list whose discussion topic is about children’s books. I specifically asked to hear from someone who could explain this objection to magic in children’s literature and other media. Additionally I was curious about objections of some Christians to The Chronicles of Narnia books, while other Christians love the series and the message that the books carry. Sonya wrote and we went back and forth a bit.

Sonya has given me permission to post her long explanation of the topic of the objection she has to exposing her children to magic in any way, shape, or form.

I respect every parent’s right to make decisions that are right and best for their family. I respect other people’s choices especially when they are well-thought out instead of being made willy-nilly. I also respect people’s religious choices as well.

Sonya gave me new insight and some things to ponder. I also appreciated the Bible quotes as I can reference them and ponder them on my own to see if I reach the same interpretation.

With that said I do believe that we all have the right to agree to disagree.

In case you are wondering, at this point in time I still allow my children to read books and access other materials and media which include fictional representation of magic for entertainment purposes.

Sonya’s long note gave me so much to think about that I still don’t feel up to writing a long opinion piece to address all the points that she brought up. I am sharing Sonya’s writing with you in case you are wondering also why some parents have issues with magic and censor magic, in fiction books, other media and in games from their children’s lives.

Editorial note: my spell checker caught a few spelling mistakes and I did correct those. The format and content of Sonya’s writing was not edited in any other way. I left the Bible quotes spelled as Sonya spelled them rather than changing them as the spell checker advised. I did remove Sonya’s last name and the phone number to her residence which she shared with me and invited me to phone her to discuss this further if I wanted.

My original email to Sonya was this:

Dear Sonya,

I would love to hear your thoughts.

My husband and I were just discussing this last week. We know that while some people on this earth believe in real magic and believe they are truly witches practicing their religion of paganism or Wicca or whatever they call it, we believe they are practicing an unreal and false religion which does not exist in reality. We know the Bible speaks against ‘magic’. While the witch may think what they are doing is real we feel what they are doing is not real, it is not effective, their spells are not doing anything, etc. etc.

We are practicing Christians (me, Protestant) and my husband is a devout Catholic. We just still don’t understand how a make believe story involving magic could be going against the Bible if we feel the magic is fake and not real and is pure fiction.

We also feel that if we were to prevent our children from hearing new and old stories with magic in them (i.e. Cinderella and all the various countries versions of Cinderella that go back thousands of years) that we would be saying that the magic they do in the books is real and therefore magic is a real thing that can happen in life.

One last thing some of my friends believe the way you do, some are Protestant Christians and some are Catholics. I see some of the children becoming very angry and feeling left out and also resentful of their parents for not allowing certain things. For example one mom freaked out when a homeschooled boy came over for a playdate in her home with a pretend magic wand and another time she got angry when guests/children were reciting Harry Potter’s spells. (I wa there and witnessed this.) I know we can’t do things just to please our children but I wanted to just mention that sometimes this can be the first seed of anger in a child’s heart that forms into resentment and I fear later, into rebellion when they are a little older (the oldest that I know in this situation is 10). I see the anger in the children but the parents seem blind to it as their own personal convictions are so strong.

(I did read a long article once on some site, can’t remember if it was Vision Forum or Sonlight, but I still couldn’t get the point of it. I also read some of the anti-Narnia talk by Christians online and still just can’t get it.)

Can you help us understand?



Dear Christine,

I would be happy to share with you why we believe what we believe. :0)

I suppose the first point would be to address the foundation of what we all believe. It is common in the Christian world to think that "magic" is not real and there is no real power in magic. We know however from the Bible that magic is indeed real and added and abetted by demonic powers. Whenever one is using a power that does not come from God, it is a power that has come from Satan.

Let me give some references for this. First, we know that magic works because when Pharaoh’s magicians met Moses, they "copied" all of the initials signs of power that God had given to Moses. When Moses threw down his staff and it became a snake, Pharaoh's magicians threw down their staffs and they became snakes, etc. Now of course their power was limited and not nearly as powerful as God's power....hence Moses snakes ate up their snakes, and they could do nothing against the plagues that the Lord brought.

Exodus 7:11
Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.

Exodus 7:22
And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.

Exodus 8:7
And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.

Here is where their powers began failing
Exodus 8:18
And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast.

Exodus 8:19
Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

These magicians were not powerful because they merely preached a false religion.

These magicians were powerful because they showed signs and wonders to the people. They were not "all powerful" but they did exhibit some form of power in the form of magic.

In the New Testament we can look at this scripture is Acts 16

16And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:
17The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.
18And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.
19And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,
In Acts 8
9But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:
10To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.
11And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

When one looks at these scriptures one notices several things. In the first, by casting out a demon, the "power" of this woman to practice divination was gone. She had no power of her own, it came from Satan. That she DID have power is evident in the fact that her masters were angry at Paul and Silas because now they could not make money from this woman.

And in the second story in Acts 8, Simon the sorcerer was very highly regarded and listened to because they thought he had power from God. In fact, he had "bewitched them with sorceries." He was a powerful man. He was using Satan's power to create "magic." He was, as the definition of the word "magic" implies, "using various techniques, as incantation, to exert control over the supernatural or the forces of nature."

So for this discussion, it is first necessary to establish the fact that magic is real. It has power and its power is evil.

When I was in my early teens we knew a youth who was very into the Tolkien series as well as Dungeons and Dragons. He told us that as he got into the higher levels of Dungeons and Dragons, that demons began appearing to him. He thought this was very cool, until they began to try to take his sanity and his life. He was not a believer of Jesus of course and had no idea of how to protect himself from them.
My husband and I know that demonic forces are real because we have both had personal attacks. In my husbands case his parents called him after he was moved away from home, because there was an indentation of a body (no real body that they could see) rolling around on his bed. He went into the house and cast the demon out and it left.

Remember, it is Satan who has rule and authority in the present world because of the Fall. He even tempted Jesus by offering to give him back the world if Jesus would just fall down and worship him. He could never have offered it to Jesus unless by rights it was first his. Satan loves to be worshiped, to be feared and to show off his as it is compared to God's.
When we were in Haiti for our honeymoon, my husband and I both felt the spiritual oppression of the entire island. Haiti is known for its witchdoctors and sorcery...and believe me...the people are scared. The witchdoctor’s spells are REAL. The produce REAL results. And they kill people who do not know how to fight this unknown enemy. Yes, it is false in the sense that they are not worshiping God. But the thing they are worshiping does have some power. Now, Jesus said that he gave US authority over all demons and principalities and power of this present age.

Luke 9:1
Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.
Ephesians 6 says
11Put on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
If spiritual wickedness was not real, if Satan's power were not real, why would the Lord warn us that we are in a battle? That we will have to fight with the powers of darkness in this world.

Now, over Christians, I do not believe Satan has any power other than his "wiles..." which if you research that word would be "mind games," or a "road to the mind." If he can get us to think that what is good is evil and what is evil is good, he has gone a long way to conquering us. Indeed in the last days it says that people will call what is evil good and good evil and we see it happening right now. Homosexuality is "good" and those who want to display the 10 commandments are "bad." We are not doomsdayers, but we do see this type of thinking increasing.
I myself could easily have been snared with magic. I remember one day I was reading one of my favorite Dragon series (I loved fantasy) and I heard a voice in my spirit say "Sonya, I want you to look at the cover of this book you are reading." What? I thought? So I looked. Evil personified was the picture on the front of the book. I thought, this is silly, I've read these books for years, why I am being so creepy about this? Again, the Holy Spirit said "Just look at it you think this is what I want you to focus on? The word says..." and something like this scripture came to my mind:

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I argued with the Lord for some time. But Lord, these books all have the good person overcome evil...isn't that good? And He responded " whose power are they overcoming evil?" This went on and finally, as I looked at the book I was halfway through reading one last time, I went and got a box and put every fantasy book I owned into it. The next day they were out of my house. Now, this may have just been the Lord's word for ME, not other people. I do not condemn those who read fantasy or watch magic movies or read magic books. I will tell them why I believe what I believe if they ask me though.

Another reason the Lord showed me to get rid of "magic" things was because it created a longing in me to have a power that I do not possess. An almost coveting and wishing that I could have these things happen, that a fairy godmother would come and make it alright, that a good witch would come and destroy all my enemies. For me, I needed to look to the Lord for my salvation. I needed to be reading about how the Lord redeems and saves his people. And instead of dreaming for power, I needed to walk in humility so that I would be ready when He wanted to work through my life or touch someone else's life. I needed to study the real thing, not a fake thing. Now, that doesn't mean that I read no fiction. I read Christian fiction that will uplift and encourage me to be of more excellent character, to be kinder, to be more loving, to withstand trials, etc. And I might read a fiction from a non-Christian perspective these days, but not very often. More often than not it saddens me.

And then one more thing. Sometimes, the books/movies with magic give Satan way too much credit and make it way too scary. The "Lord of the Rings" is an example. The creatures in that movie were terrifying! I saw it because I enjoyed it growing up, but could not watch the second film. God says that Satan is an angel of light. He is beautiful (or once was and still can appear that way). If our children are always looking for evil to be ugly and easily recognizable, they will be led astray much more easily. Even sin is not always ugly. Sin can be filled with pleasure...hence why so many fall into its trap. I did not really know this growing up. When sin came to me, looking like pleasure, I did not recognize it as I should have. I knew right and wrong but not WHY to do or not do things. I really made some heinous mistakes and fell into many ugly sins.

Now, to address your concern about children being angry that they are not allowed to do some of things that other children are doing. Yes, it is very sad that some families have an overreaction to various issues. I would imagine this family may possibly have anger issues in their home in other areas also. And if their children are angry, it may be they are being authoritarian. (Which one has to be when they are little, but as they grow, one can move to influence through their relationship and not just authority. Not that one never uses authority, but just less as they get older).However, there will be many issues in every home where parents must take a stand, regardless of what the world does. Would we let our children be intimate with the opposite gender just because "all the kids are doing it?" Of course not. But we must let our children know "WHY." Giving them the moral reason why helps them to reason it out themselves, rather than just making it a command (authoritarianism) from Mom and Dad...because I said so. It helps them to think morally as opposed to just acting morally. I would not expect my children to be upset about this issue because they know why we believe what we believe. But if they do at some point in the future get upset at some rule we have made for our family, it is important that they know that we love them, that our rules don't always have a logical/moral reason but we try to not be unreasonable. And that some things are just our preference, but they still are part of our rules. And when they have their own family, they get to make their own rules for their family.

So how would I handle it if a child came over to play and began to recite Harry Potter spells? Well, let’s see. First, depending on the child, I would sit down and discuss with him/her why we do not do that in our home. Why we believe the bible says that even pretending to practice magic is not a good thing. (would we want our children to pretend to be drunk, or pretend to kill someone?). And I would let that child know that when they are in my home, they must follow my rules. That I love them and would like to let them have the freedom to play. That every parent has different rules and if my child went to their home, I would expect my child to follow their parents rules.

Now, I have nephews who Looooove Harry Potter. I have a sister-in-law who is a white witch and say she works with "Jesus Christ" to heal people. (now she thinks she means our Jesus, but she really works with a spirit/demon, whose name is "Jesus Christ.") So do I get angry at these people? Of course not. I love them dearly. Nor am I afraid of them. I do have the responsibility to protect my children though. My girls do not play with the nephews out of my sight and everyone is fine with that. It is just wisdom anyway since they are boys and mine children are girls. We would never let my sister-in-law baby-sit the children (she's a couple hours away anyway), but we don't freak out if she wants to hug and kiss them at family gatherings. The love my girls can give her may someday bring her heart to Jesus. If she gave them a talisman for good luck or health or something we would thank her and then go home and throw it away. We are not here to offend, but to love and speak truth in love if someone should want to listen.

I know even some of my family members who love the Lord dearly allow their children to see Lord of the Rings, watch Mary Poppins, and other various things. And some think that if one does not read the literature that is "classic" then ones children will be deemed not well rounded. We will surely read some of the classics, but there are some that do not sit well in my spirit and I believe are unnecessary. I remember when I was in school I refused to read a book in which the children are shipwrecked on a desert island and cannibalize each other. The book was about 1/4 inch thick. My teacher instead gave me Moby Dick to read, which was about 1 inch think. I didn't care. I had stood up for my beliefs and I felt the Lord's approval for my decision.

Another lady from this list emailed and asked me how I could possibly deny my children the delight of reading the "Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe." Yes, I did read this growing up. It might be some day we will decide that this alright, but for now, I remember my great fear at knowing the Witch had the power to turn people into stone. At the same time, I remember walking into closets for years and hoping that I would walk into Narnia. It created a desire that could never be fulfilled. What I want my children to long for is Heaven and the recreated earth as it will be when the Lord returns. I don't need the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to teach them that, although I am sure the Lord uses what He wants to in people's lives.

Satan has been telling us since Eve "oh, it's not that bad....that's not REALLY what God said/meant." And we believe he still does that today. Many will say, "Oh, but it's a GOOD witch and that makes it okay," or "it's not really real, so that is alright," or "it's just using their imagination." All children have an incredible imagination if given love and the right environment. I don't mind if my children imagine, as long as they don't desire things that can never be obtained.

I'm sure there is more to be said on the subject, and I am certainly not an expert by any means. Just a mom wanting to follow the way I feel the Lord leading me to the best of my ability. I may be wrong. If I am, I pray that the Lord will show me and His grace will cover my children. In all of life however we must above all know WHY we believe what we believe and seek and pursue that which is excellent and that which is right. Most things do have a moral implication and a right and wrong attached to them. If I am right, then the fruit of these decisions will be known in about 15-20 years. If I am wrong, I pray the Lord shows me long before then! :0)
Thank you for sharing with me your beliefs in such a gracious and non-judgmental way. I hope I have been able to reciprocate. May God lead you in the way He would have YOU to go. :0) Feel free to call me anytime...agree, disagree, or ask more questions. It really does help me to talk to others, even when they are not of the same viewpoint... it makes me examine my why and I am always open to listening to opposing viewpoints. (I removed Sonya’s home phone number from this spot.) Although this was probably waaay more than you really wanted!

God Bless you Christine,

Sonya S.

PS...a few more verses below

2 Chronicles 33:6
And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

Micah 5:12
And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers:

Deuteronomy 18:10
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.

I then thanked Sonya for her long and thoughtful response. I then asked her if I had permission to post what she wrote on my blog and she did grant it. In closing she wrote this:

Dear Christine,

I am so glad that you were willing to write and share what was on your heart.

I don't think I've ever written it all out before and it must have been the Lord that prompted you to write.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Typical Pattern in Our Homeschool: Older Son Resists My Guidance

This is a typical story of a homeschooling dynamic between me and my older son (age 9.5). I am finding this pattern repeating over and over especially in the last six months. At this point I suspect this is a stage, perhaps a stage of normal boy development.

Here is the pattern.

Left to his own devices my son takes the easy way out of something. I will use the example of reading. On his own he reads for pleasure (hooray!). However it is mostly comics and children’s magazines (Boys Life and Highlights). He also loves to read catalogs (LEGO, Boy Scout equipment), instructions/directions for toys etc. and idea books for things like what a person can make with LEGOs.

Left to his own for “reading practice” he picks easy books. He sometimes even picks picture books! I had to say “you have to pick a chapter book from this shelf” and presented him with a shelf. He got going on the Boxcar Children series and won’t stop. Well I am worried at this point that he needs a push to read harder materials.

The Library Director suggested “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper. I owned it already and gave it to him. He said the first chapter was like a recap and was confusing. He said the second chapter was making a bit more sense. Then he came to me a little while later to say he read the cover and realized that this book is the second in a series. I verified this online. He said he felt it would be better to read the books in order. I agreed. I was surprised that the Library Director didn’t realize that, she later told me she didn’t realize it. This second book had won the Newbery while the first in the series did not, and I guess that is why it is so popular and why it was on a reading list that the Library Director used to guide me toward that book.

Anyway I needed another book quickly. I ran to the closet bookshelf and pulled off “Ace, the Very Important Pig” and “The Twenty-One Balloons”. We were packing for our trip so I didn’t have time to look up reading levels or anything.

On the day he was to read I presented him with the two books and let him choose. He was angry with me and went into the spiel again that he likes the Boxcar Children and why can’t he just read those?

He chose “The Twenty-One Balloons” after declaring he didn’t want to read a book about a pig. (He has loved other stories written by Dick King-Smith, so that is why I thought he’d love “Ace”). “The Twenty-One Balloons” is a fiction chapter book “juvenile literature” with 192 pages and white space on the page and a decent sized font. However that didn’t stop him from complaining. “How many chapters does it have?” He announced he prefers ten or less chapters. He seems to worry of the number of chapters. He then critiqued the font and said he likes the font size to be larger. “Tough”, I said. (Boy, can I be mean or what?)

(His eyes have been tested and he sees 20/15 in case you are wondering, so nothing is wrong with his eyes.)

I told him that “Twenty-One Balloons” is a very good story and many people love it. He sulked and went off to read it. I helped my younger son with his math. I later found out that my son did not do the reading but stared out the upstairs window at the cars driving by for the full 45 minutes that he was supposed to be reading.

He also drew a picture illustrating his anger toward me and drawing a diagram of my grandmother’s house and where we all were in the house. Me, my younger son and my grandmother were all smiling in the downstairs part, and he was pictured as angry and upstairs, and saying he didn’t want to be alone upstairs reading by himself. Yet he refuses to read anywhere where a person is talking as he says it disturbs him. He expects and wants us to sit by him in total silence while he is in close proximity to us yet he is undisturbed, a nearly impossible request. I take that opportunity to tell him that his request is unreasonable and if he were in school he be tortured by all the various sounds the other kids make and what goes on in the building for sounds! Saying that seems to do him no good but I say it anyway as I want him to know he has it pretty darned good around here in his homeschooling environment).

So anyway he did begin reading the book the next day. (I waited for the bad mood day to pass.)

On the second day of reading he suddenly exclaimed with true glee (I am not exaggerating): “This book is great!”. I took the chance to remind him that I’d not put a totally boring book into his hands as I take time and effort to find good books for him to read.

On the third day he loudly called out in the middle of the reading, “This book is GREAT!!!”.

The fourth day we didn’t do our homeschooling lessons, and he picked up the book on his own in his spare time and read it.

The fifth day we were returning home (driving 500 miles in one day) and he told me he was putting the book in the car near his seat as he planned to read it on the ride home at points when we were listening to music (we had planned to alternate music with listening to the audio book Harry Potter #5).

So there you have the typical pattern in our relationship as mother/son and teacher/student. I have a plan, he resists it and says he doesn’t like being told what to do. I tell him he will like it and he says he’ll hate it. He tries it, he loves it and he is happy, then he asks for more like it.

I am not a perfect mother or a perfect homeschooling “teacher”. My son is not perfect. I share this story to tell of a typical circumstance and of this little thing that comes up and how I dealt with it and how it resolved.

Since this pattern has repeated many times over ranging from books I chose, to classes I picked and signed my son up for without his prior consent and for swimming lessons and other things you would think by now that my son has learned to trust my judgment and to not be resistant, but so far he has not learned from his experience.

My husband and I remind this son of this pattern each time it comes up, not to say that I (the mother) am right (yet again) but to try to show him the careful evaluation I do of books, classes, etc. and how I know not only something will be good for a child in general but that I know him well and I know he will like a certain thing if he just gives it a try.

One goal here is to teach my child to try new things and to not just stick with the easy and familiar. A person doesn’t know what he is missing unless he tries it. A simple example which has also panned out for this son is trying new foods. He absolutely hates it when he finally tries a new food and finds that he actually (gasp) likes it. He wants to be right and he wants to not like the new food.

This is yet another example of why unschooling does not work for us. This son tends to stay only with the familiar, resisting exploration of anything new or different, even when self-guided. Despite what some happy unschoolers say, I can report from my son’s experience that unschooling does not work for every child or at least in every stage of their life. (Unschooling worked fine for my son up through most of his Kindergarten homeschool year.)

Everything in our family is done with consideration of each of our children’s unique needs and desires. Both my husband and I are flexible about certain things, much more flexible than many parents seem to be. There comes a point though, where we put our foot down and where we make the rules and set the limits and also ask our children to stretch their horizons, whether it is to try a new interesting opportunity (rowing with the Yale crew team) or trying a new food or taking a new homeschooling class. It seems the older the children get the more we are using our own discernment to help guide them.

We have used attachment parenting with our children from the day they were born. There were many times in our children’s lives when others judged us for doing things differently and outside of the mainstream (co-sleeping, breastfeeding and attachment parenting are some examples). We followed our hearts and I researched and found information to support our decisions so our choices were not willy-nilly and out of left field.

While in my son’s younger years we were very child-led in our family, as our children get older, we are not 100% child-led with regard to our choices. There are certain things like educational plans and goals that I feel are best left in the hand of adults. Perhaps with another type of child a more child-led learning environment would be fine (unschooling) but with this child it would not work and in fact at a certain pint in the past it has failed for this son. In the case of his reading instruction, the way I am applying my parental guidance is by finding good or great books and putting them into the hands of my children. It is also about me taking a book of a certain reading level and having my son read it in order to advance his reading ability.

By the way I just checked the Lexile scale and publication date of these books, in case you are wondering.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene duBois: 1070L, (Newbery Award Winner),published in 1948
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper: 920L(Newbery Honor Winner), published in 1973
Ace the Very Important Pig by Dick King-Smith: 850L, published in 1990
Boxcar Children, various titles: 430-650L publication dates range from 1940s to 2000s

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Book From My Childhood: The Cricket Winter

Today I am yet again looking up Lexile scales on books that we own. This project is about half-way done and is taking me hours and hours.

I am working on yet another box which has all kinds of fiction chapter books in it, most from library sales.

I just came across one called "The Cricket Winter" by Felice Holman and there was not a Lexile scale for it. I noted then that this is a Dell Yearling book as so many were when I was a child and my mother would let me buy books from the Weekly Reader (was that what it was called?), that little flyer they'd send us home with from public school and that we'd have to bring back in with our cash money to place the order with our Language Arts teacher.

I remember also the book fairs. The school made a big deal about it and the children were paraded past all the books. The parents were pressured to buy books as it was a fundraiser. I wanted many books but my mother limited me as our budget was tight.

So anyway I saw the cover and thought, "I think I read this book when I was a child.". I opened the cover and there inside was my mother's very neat penmanship with my maiden name written out in pen. I bet I was in fourth grade when she bought this as I have a lot of books that we had bought when I was in fifth grade, those have my own sloppy fifth-grader penmanship and also my team number (my school class team number); I had written it there in case I lost the book at school, so it would return to my homeroom--number 2B3 was my homeroom number. The number is odd as we had a brand new open classroom building, that could make another whole long story. Also when in fifth grade, I used to write the date I bought it so those 5th grade books all say 1977 or 1978. So this book most likely is from fourth grade from 1976 or spring 1977.

(And it is odd also that now my mother's handwriting is shaky and not so good looking, while here is it perfect with that style they taught back in the early 1950s.)

As I have shared before my parents are packrats and I still have/they still have some of the books from my childhood. It is interesting to see what I was reading back then. Some have made it from my parent's attic over to my own children's book shelves. Some remain still in my parent's attic on my special book shelf.

When I was about ten we started going to a used book shop to buy books and I had full control over which books I'd turn in for store credit, so what books I read are lost to me now as I got rid of them. I did save some of the books, my most favorite ones, and this was one of them.

I can't wait to read it again and to have my boys read it.

I see that this edition with illustrations by Ralph Pinto, in a typical chapter book format is out of print. Currently this old edition of the book is selling used on Amazon for as low as 49 cents. (The cover price of the old edition is 75 cents!)

However the book has been re-released in a new format with new, more sweet illustrations.

It is fun coming across my old favorite books sometimes.

From the back cover of this 1974 edition...
"In words as fragile as silk thread, Miss Holman weaves her story with comments on the nature of boys, crickets, and life in general, creating a pattern both whimsical and grave...The work is delicate, but strong." -The New York Times Book Review

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