14 October 2009

christmas list greatness

I know it's october. And I'm against the premature celebration of holidays. Not to mention that I have a whole list of fall celebrations before we can think about christmas -
starting with the fair this weekend, then halloween, wedding of a best friend, multiple fall festivals going all the way through Thanksgiving.

Now hear this: The Day after Thanksgiving is the Proper Time to begin The Month Long Ish Celebration of the Advent and Christmas Seasons.

I'm sure I'll be opining more on exactly how one should celebrate holidays since they are pretty much the best things ever.

So, we are not in Christmas Mode.

But - Christmas is a big deal around here.

It takes much preparation, and I don't know if you know, but there are a lot of people around here, most of whom are not capable of assisting very much in preparing. So while celebrating (christmas music, decorations, desserts, etc.) is strictly forbidden until the aforementioned DAT, preparing, if the month of December is not to be ruinous, must start earlier.

With Paul in school and me being at home growing these urchins, we aren't exactly rolling in cash - So, I've got to get lists established and begin bargain hunting/assisting grandparents in picking out various items/slowly breaking it to my children that we are not getting live animals...

And today was list establishing day.

One of my favorite days ever. ever. ever. ever. It just gets better every year. My children are funny and Christmas Lists are awesome. And the combination is almost unbearably giddyness producing.

This afternoon, after rest time and before supper time, the two talking ones and I sat on the couch, me with red pen in hand (seasonal colors, clearly), and we visited, for about an hour, about their hearts' deepest, yet realistic, desires.

Rejected Items:

a kitten (this is the third year for ada brooks to request a kitten - and the third year to be rejected. I had to promise all sorts of things to Paul for us to get our one cat, Staples. Paul hates cats. Something about the cats in his childhood. We have a one cat rule.)

a kitten (rejected twice because showed up on both kids' lists. Eason is a copycat. cat. hee hee. love a good accidental pun.)

a pink pony (she said it with a smile. gotta love emerging wit in children)

a design your own soccer ball (i don't have a moral or logistical objection - just a disbelief that she actually wants one. she acquiesced, saying, "well, it just looked cool in the catalog - and you know how i love to design my own things")

a milkshake (from eason, clearly - i will make him a milkshake, but it will not be in his stocking. getting him to differentiate between perishable and nonperishable desires is a problem)

The Final Lists:

Ada Brooks:
  1. A Bicycle because, "don't you think it's time for me to ride a bike?"
  2. A Basket for said bicycle (all her idea - making her mother glow with pride)
  3. Play men so she can "design her own" food based action shots like ones seen below. She saw these photos, felt an immediate calling, gathered granola bars for a rock climbing scene and was devastated that we had no men suitable for rock climbers.

  4. Any Games "other than Sorry, because she already owns Sorry," if you didn't know.
  5. Sleeping Bag for camping out in the den (which will last until 830 pm...)
  6. Fake Flowers
  7. Tape
  8. Pipe Cleaners
  9. A Photo of our Whole Family for her room (I would have teared up had I not still been laughing so hard at the earnest desire for men to make foodphotoscapes out of.)
  10. Books - "as many as I can get - I bet Papa will get me books" (perceptive little urchin she is)
  11. This interactive map.
  12. This at home planetarium.
  13. One of these (something I highly encouraged make the final list...)
  14. Fake food for her kitchen. Food is a theme.

Eason's list:

  1. Bicycle, "So i can ride my bike wif ada"
  2. Sleeping Bag, "So i can camp out in the den wif ada"
  3. A Yellow Blanket
  4. Yellow Tennis Shoes "Like Ada's Pink ones, but, yellow"
  5. A yellow cup to drink out of
  6. "Some bad guys and some good guys - maybe monkey bad guys" (no, i've no insight here)
  7. A yellow car
  8. A train - "it does not have to be yellow, it could be blue or red or green"
  9. "Some over fings like ada"

I love my children - if you haven't guessed that - and listening to them is always a joy - but especially listening to their fairly non-materialistic material desires - if that is a possible description. It's just so wonderful to know what they want, to be on their team about it, and to get to look forward to it and be excited about reindeer and stockings and the singing christmas tree and mulled wine (okay, the mulled wine is for me, although, if i'd let him, eason would join in wholeheartedly.)

Back to Fall Time - but sale shopping and tiny-play-men-to-go-on-food hunting has begun.

put on your own damn jacket

Paul heard an interesting quote this week - "The only thing we used to expect from our children was obedience. Now we expect everything but obedience."

He and I both liked it (we're big on obedience around here - or, rather, we try to be and fail miserably many, many a day), but I got to thinking - it's not really true.

We expect them to grow up, never having to obey, and turn out to be well-adjusted adults with proper boundaries, successful relationship skills, etc. So in that sense, i guess we do expect everything.

But we don't expect them to do things for themselves. I mean - my mother still makes haircut appointments for my 19 1/2 year old college sophomore brother. There are many reasons for this development - and i'm sure i'm not even right about all of them - and i'm not a psychologist or sociologist, so i'll not opine on that topic. But if you'd like to argue that our expectations of children taking care of themselves have not dramatically dropped, call me - we'll talk - i used to teach preschoolers.

I know i've been on a kick about child-rearing and educating lately - what can i say - it's my full time job.
So... Tip of the week (hee hee... me.. qualified to give tips! i love the comedy):
Please encourage your children to be as self sufficient as possible.

It will make your life easier, their lives easier, any caretakers' (especially three year old preschool teachers') lives easier.

Self-sufficient how, you ask? Well, children can do many things that we don't give them credit for or expect from them. I think because it's easier a lot of times for us to do it rather than help them/teach them/help remedy their ultimate failures. (See Pictures for Examples of "Failures from When Ada Brooks Was Three" - Fall 2007 was an amusing and exhausting time around here...)

(resulting from "Ada Bee - it's time for school - and it's a little bit cooler outside today - not quite summer weather anymore - starting to be fall time...")

(resulting from - "Ada - Take off your Tutu and Put on Pajamas, please - it's time for bed")

This is kind of abstract, so, a concrete example - Dressing Oneself:

Paul and I are in an epic battle to get Eason to dress himself. Why? Because Collins cannot really be expected to dress himself...and we've enough on our plates. And because Eason is perfectly capable of doing it.

And because we have fought these battles with Ada Brooks and I could not be more glad. Just yesterday evening, I said to her "hey - go hop in the shower" and thirty minutes later, I spotted her out of the corner of my eye, in pajamas, brushing her wet, freshly clean hair. That doesn't just happen - it has taken MANY frustrating bath time experiences - many of which have ended in me saying, "come on - get back in the bath - your hair is still dry for goodness sakes"

But now, my life is monumentally easier than it could be - i could be bathing three children instead of two - and really, i want to be dressing one child instead of two -

BUT - My life would be easier, in the short run, if i would just dress Eason. I could walk to his room, pick out bottom half, top half, hold them up, he could step in, put arms through holes and we'd be finished. 40 seconds, tops. So, I get why it is tempting - and on sunday mornings and any other stressful/aesthetically important times, I certainly dress the boy - I'm not running a military operation over here or anything.

But most mornings, the dressing of Eason takes 43 hours. Okay, maybe 14 minutes, but it seems interminable. First, Ada, Paul or I have to coach him through picking out clothes. This is not for the sake of style - more because Eason would forego underwear, a shirt, or pants on any given day, so we have to remind him that there are, in fact, three different necessary parts to being considered "dressed". Then, I have to encourage him in the putting on underwear process. I know underwear donning can be difficult. Especially for pregnant people and two-and-a-half year olds. But, it must be done. And it can be done. So, Eas, if you have to, sit down on the edge of your bed, hold them so the tag is in the back, and put in one leg at a time.

(It's at this point I start to wonder if I'm really making a stand on the dressing thing for my own amusement. Watching his little Michael Jordan Tongue Concentration Move is fairly awesome.) He's pretty much got the shirt thing down, so that's fairly easy. But we repeat the same underwear difficulty with the pants.

And then the shoes - heavens - but, if we can find them, he can get them on.

So mainly it's just the underwear and pants. They are hard. But we're getting better. And he whines and gets frustrated, because, like most men, he'd rather not spend a significant portion of his life dressing. He knows I could put the underwear on him in 3.1 seconds. And the pants in 1.6 (they're looser). But, more and more often, I'm able to say, "Eas - go put some underwear on." (I say this a lot- because he's inexplicably naked a lot...) and he'll reappear with underwear actually on.

I am winning the epic battle. I think. I hope. I pray.

You may think this is ridiculous. And you have the right to do that, I guess...

BUT - let me take you, for a moment, to a far away place in a distant land.
Well, just to a three year old preschool room. Your child's class lines up to go outside. It's 54 degrees. There are ten students. There are two teachers. We're talking ideal proportions here - many times it's more like 20 students and one teacher. It's jacket putting on time. Which is easier, do you think? "Susie, Bobby, etc., come here so I can help you put your jackets on" or "Susie, Bobby, please put your jackets on."

So - fight the epic battles! Whether its dressing themselves, putting away their folded clothes, actually folding their clothes (one i've not yet made a habit for Ada Brooks, but it's on the short list of goals), peeling their own bananas, helping pack their lunches, making their beds, setting the table. Fight them! For your own good, for their good, and for the good of preschool teachers everywhere.

09 October 2009

i love my men

Ada Brooks goes to a two-day a week program for people in the Jackson area who are classically homeschooling their children. She does ballet, tap, gymnastics, art, music, P.E., lego building, memory work, etc. If you're interested, its called Jackson Classical, and their website is here.

Anyway, while she's gone, I get to spend good time with the boys. Reading to them, looking at pictures, playing, just visiting. This morning, I've been logging some missed computer time and while I was sitting at the computer, Eason was dressing up in various things from the dress up box and coming in to model and discuss his fashion choices.

He came out, informed me that I needed a hat, and presented me with a solution.

It's been a long time since I've put on a boy's cap, but it makes me feel romantic and nostalgic for days of courtship and flirting gone by. Makes me love my husband, whose hat it is, and my son who brought it to me. And my baby who thinks i look hysterical in it.

excellence, we hope.

I've written about why we're not settling for what people keep telling us would be "fine" for our children. And why traditional options open to us are not approaching the limit of excellence. And reiterated that I understand education decisions to be a matter of individual conscience - not something about which anyone can proclaim what is best for each family and each child.

So, what to do.

This is a decision reached over about nine months of intense investigation - which involved talking to many a family, visiting many a school, reading many an article and a short stack of books.

We've decided to classically educate. We think that this is something, like most forms of education, that can be done in a school or at home. We'd prefer to send the children to school, especially as they get older, for a variety of reasons. But right now there is not a reputable classical school available to us where we are - and with Paul in school and me at home with the younger two, we could not really afford to pay private school tuition. So, for now, we're doing it at home.

Which is hard. But not weird or scary. Our kids get out, meet people, love each other, have friends, are funny and hopefully kind, loving, generous and peaceable. We'll be reevaluating constantly on all of those topics. Especially the good sense of humor one - because what would we do with boring children. Run screaming out the door.

The classical education model has been adopted by people of all faiths and by people of no faith. Our faith does play a big part in our education - mainly because we believe God created the earth and is its sovereign. But when it comes to explaining our education decision, it's fairly irrelevant.

So what is it?
It is a belief that children's brains learn different ways as they develop. And a belief that subjects, especially history and literature, are ultimately tied together.

What is the strategy?
The method for classically educating is based on the trivium - which is best flushed out by Dorothy Sayers in the essay titled The Lost Tools of Learning. But, to summarize, the trivium is a tri-fold stage of learning from primary school age through high school age. From the time a child is four to five, they are very engaged with and able to learn and memorize the grammar of things - the basics, the rules, the math facts, the dates, etc. This stage ends around 10-12 and the child becomes more engaged with argument - He or she wants to understand the why of things - and how they all fit together - literary criticism begins, historical decisions begin to be examined, not just learned. And then around 14-15, the child begins to learn to express himself or herself. Writing and speaking are emphasized - specifically engaging in debate.

So, you take these three stages of learning to heart and base your education around them.

The method we'll be using at home comes almost straight out of one of the best books about education of all time. The Well Trained Mind. I recommend that anyone with children buy it. Or if you're just interested in education. Or if you enjoy well written nonfiction. Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, her mother, are brilliant, strong women after whom I'd model my methods any day. Their humor and joy at educating comes across on almost every page of the book.

To kind of summarize:
A truly classically educated child learns the history and literature of the whole world chronologically, repeating it in each stage.
So, in first, fifth and ninth grades, the child studies the ancients - the stories and writings of the ancients.
In second, sixth, and tenth grades, the child studies the middle ages - up through the rise of the renaissance.
In third, seventh, and eleventh grades, the child studies the early modern period. This starts with the renaissance and goes roughly through the civil war.
In fourth, eight, and twelfth grades, the child studies the modern period, which starts with the war and goes through today.
Science is done on a four year cycle as well, but not in a time system way, although the types of science do correspond with what the people who you're studying in history knew at the time -
1,5,9: Biology;
2,6,10: Earth Science;
3,7,11: Chemistry;
4,8,12: Physics/Computer Science

The math method is not as different from what one normally would do. In fact, we're using Saxon math, which is something utilized by many traditional public and private schools.

A better summary than I've written is available here - written by Susan Wise Bauer.

This is where we are - this is what we think the path to excellence for our children is. There are classical schools popping up all over the place, and we hope our children can attend one of them one day. But if not, we'll labor on - doing our best to equip them with as much knowledge as we can.
And we'll continue to reevaluate, all the time knowing that we could be wrong. Not just about what is an excellent path, but even about what is best for our children. We're fallible people. Shocking, I know.


I'm cheating. I'm supposed to be doing a ton of things - laundry, organizing Ada's first 6 weeks of school portfolio, loving on my boys, keeping Eason from killing himself or destroying property, and if I'm blogging, I'm supposed to be writing about why we're classically educating our children, even if that means doing it at home (although we're hoping it won't).

But, instead, I'm going to give my all important, should change the world, opinion on the Nobel Peace Prize.

If you're not living in a shell, you know that our dear President, Barack Obama, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

I like Obama. I often disagree with him, but I like him.

I think he could do great things. Not sure he will, but I think he could.

I think some of those great things could definitely be peace related. He could further peace on earth. He has the skill set to accomplish some level of peace - even in situations that others have failed to solve.

I think he has a mind to bring about peace - that peace is important to him.

All of these opinions would make you think that I'd be in support of a Nobel for the man.

But, apparently, the Nobel committee overlooked one tiny factor... He ain't done nothin' yet.

I mean- he's done some things - but not very many of note - well, because he's less than a fifth of the way through his (first) term as president - and America is not exactly in its best condition. He's fighting a recession at home, a divided country, and, well, he's wrong on a lot of issues. So it's not that I think we should string him up for having done very little to date.

But the man does not deserve the Nobel. It would like awarding an Olympic gold to one as soon as he or she qualifies for the games. Is it a potential prize? Giving it to him, and him accepting, is a mockery of the prize and shows the unhealthy , unrealistic worship of our President extends even to the Scandinavian hills. (Do they have hills in Scandinavia?)

So, Mr. President, if you're one of the 7 people that read my blog, please decline. For the sake of the prize, our country, your reputation as sound-minded, your political future, and for the sake of my blood pressure, please turn them down.

Mr. Speechwriter for the President, write an amazingly humble, political speech for him. Think of the brilliance!

"Don't give it to me yet, guys. Wait a few years - then hopefully, with the help of Congress, the American people and citizens of the world, I'll deserve it. But I don't deserve it yet."

Political Science students will study it for years as an amazingly brilliant move. I'll write another blog post about it.

Please, Mr. Obama, do something smart.

06 October 2009

before we go any further... Part 2.37

As I prepared to write my next installment in my explanation of our education plan for our loverly offspring, I reread what I have written so far.

And I feel the need to point out that while I sound very definite, I am only definite from my own point of view. And I'm aware that that is a confusing sentence. Paul and I are very convinced and convicted and passionate - and any number of other strong adjectives - that we've embarked on the best path for Ada Brooks and us. And we're pretty close to convinced that this will be the best path for all of our children.

But I'm far from believing that stating what I believe to be the best method of education is like stating that 2 + 2 = 4. (Barring all philosophical debates about whether you can actually state that 2 +2=4 - you can - hush). Or even that education is like most ethical decisions - murder = bad. It's not - it falls into those ethical debates that Paul and Peter encounter in the early church. Eating pork for you may be bad, but for me it's just dandy - each according to his own conscience.

We think we're right that classically educating Ada Brooks is the best we can do for her. We think we're right that we should do what is best for her educationally. And we think classical education is worthy and should be investigated and utilized by more people than currently do. But, there are many forms of education - public, private, parochial, home - and many philosophies behind those - montessori, classical, "un", traditional - and I'd argue that some are better than others, but i'd also argue that there are plenty of combinations that can and do work - and that no prescription about education system or philosophy could ever be made to apply across the board.

So, before I move into full explanation of the plan, I just wanted to make clear that it's not that I think we're right. period. It's that I think we're right for us. It's that I think we've done our due diligence in reading, investigating, praying, thinking, talking, writing, meditating and seeking guidance. We're acting according to our conscience. And our conscience has led us in a perfectly legitimate and even excellent direction.

Later: In what direction is that, exactly, you crazy lady?

04 October 2009

don't we have available to us much more than "fine"?

(side note: most females of our glorious species will know what I'm talking about when I express how frustrating it is when you walk out of your room, dressed up for one of those rare occasions (or at least rare in my life) that demands actual mascera and perhaps a doing of the hair and maybe even a new dress and you wait for a response, get none, so ask, "How do i look?" and your husband says "fine" - rrrraaaahhhhh - this is why "fine" is not an okay thing to desire for your children.)

When Bee got to be four and started to really want to learn things, it hit Paul and me square in the face that we were actually responsible for ensuring that she gets the best education that she can get. Not a fine one, but the best one. I would like to point out that we are aware, and very often reminded by our fallible children, that we cannot and should not attempt to control every aspect of our child's lives now or when they are adults. But to say we cannot control everything and so to settle for a less than great education - say a 'fine' education - is a cop out. bull butter is what it is. It is thinly veiled laziness.

Paul and I both got what are lauded as 'great educations' - because, relative to other traditional forms of education available in the areas in which we were raised, they were great. Paul went to a five star or four flag or level six or whatever rating of public schools there are - basically, they rank the public schools in our state and he went to one of the few that receives the highest ranking.

When Paul graduated from high school, he could not do calculus and what was billed as a 'precalculus' class left him so unprepared for college level calculus that my brilliant scientist husband made a C in calculus at Ole Miss, which is not the bastion of high math standards.

When Paul graduated from high school, he had never read anything by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, not to mention Melville, Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Joyce. And if you think his education was lacking dead white males because of some broader, global viewpoint, think again.

My parents paid a lot of money for me to get what is billed as a 'world class' education. And as far as equipping me to compete with and usually have an advantage over other people from our great state, and probably most from around the country, my school did a good job. But I cannot name the Presidents of the United States, have no idea when the Spanish American War took place (was it over Mexico?), can not even come close to telling you when the Byzantine Empire existed.

I am convinced that these are flaws of the current american education philosophy, not that Paul and I attended mediocre institutions, because, well, we didn't. It also cannot be blamed on us having parents who were not engaged, because they were. In fact, the only reason I write competently is that my Daddy beat the principles of writing into my head. And heavens, Paul's mother had him doing book reports whenever he was out of school for an extended break - like summer and Christmas.

Americans have come to educate our children in a disjointed manner - thinking of each individual subject to be mastered as something that can be taught apart from all others. I can remember being confused about whether Thoreau was supposed to be a person to know for English class or for History class.

In teaching history, this is a most glaring flaw. We actually don't teach chronologically - we have this idea that younger children cannot understand that which happened a long time ago, so we teach social studies - we talk about neighborhoods and families and communities and cities - and then, when they get to middle school, we teach geography and culture. And then, just when their brains have lost the amazing ability to remember facts and dates easily, we begin teaching history - but instead of teaching it in order, we teach it by region - usually starting with American (as though we can possibly be understood without understanding the Brits). And then teaching "World History" (As if there is some other kind) and often ending with "European History" (is Europe not a pretty important part of the World and thus included in World History?) and perhaps for the advanced student, we teach US Government. [Which is great, but what is often covered in that class is a more basic understanding of how the branches interact, not what would be ideally a indepth look at the law making process, stressing the constitutional law that has evolved since our country's inception.]

I know I sound mighty critical - and I am - but it's not of people, but of the system. There are champions of education in the private and public sphere that are much smarter than and care more than I do. I certainly don't believe there are just a bunch of meanies or stupidheads out there who if they just cared or if they just knew, they'd do different. I mean, really, why would we worry about our system when we're the richest country in the world. We wouldn't. But we should- we consistently slide in international rankings of education.
Have you ever read short stories or novels written in America in the 19th or early 20th century - like Little Women and such - and marveled at what the children are learning?

That's because the standards for education used to be much higher.

And we could discuss why they've slipped, but that would take so much more energy than I have.

so, post 1: why "fine" is not an acceptable goal here at the Forster home. And post 2: why the traditional avenues available to us are that very thing - fine - not great, not excellent, but fine.
Part 3: What is excellent and how do we get there?

03 October 2009

fine? really?

I've been meaning to write a post on our Education Plan for Miss Bee (and the other urchins) for a while now, but it is an endeavor. I've blogged a bit about education before - here.
That was last May. Since then, I've had a slew of conversations with people close to us - and strangers - about our decision to homeschool our daughter, for now.

These have been like many conversations about parenting - mostly awesome, on occasion fairly frustrating.

If i tried to outline all of the issues these conversations have covered, I'd be exhausted.

But the main thing I've encountered is the idea of "fine-ness" As in - "oh, she'd be fine if you did x" or "x would be just fine for your children." or "I know it's not idea, but its fine, don't you think?"

And the vast majority of the time, I agree. X, whatever x is, would be fine for my children. They'd be fine.

Fine? Really? Seriously?

Are many of us women - educated, capable women - who could go on and do many 'successful' things - are we really opting out (a term coined by Lisa Belkin a few years ago in this article for the nytimes magazine) - leaving the rat race - choosing to be at home, either part or full time - are we really opting out so that our children can experience what is FINE?

I'm not. If I were doing what is fine for my children, I'd be not at home full time - I promise. I'd be in law school, or finished with law school, or in school to be a counselor, or maybe teaching school, or in a PhD program somewhere. If i wanted what was fine for them, dear heavens, I'd pick something more along the lines of what is exciting for me -

It's not that being at home isn't stimulating. Or fun. Or what I'm convinced that I should be doing right now.

It's that if my standard for my children was 'fine' - then I could be spending some more time outside the home doing what I loved to do before the babies came along.

If all I wanted was "fine" nutrition and "fine" moral development and, of special import to this post, "fine" education, then you'd better believe I'd have more time to read, write, think, make money.

Of course Miss Bee would be fine picking among the many private and public school options in the Jackson Metropolitan Area.

But, if you've not gathered it so far, fine is not the goal at our house. Perhaps it should be (she says in a patronizing, pretending to entertain the other side of the argument for two seconds), but its not. Fine is not the goal. Not the penultimate.

Later today or early tomorrow, we'll have the second installment in an as yet undetermined number of parts series about what we do want for our children. And why that's led us down this crazy path of homeschooling.