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Home School Daze (other appropriate rhyming words: Craze, Maze, Praise, Ways, Ablaze!)

Country Cousins Celebration

My sister’s and my kids on a typical home school day – dressed up for a “Country Cousins Hoedown” 1990

Blog Post #4

In the old days, those long-ago days when I home schooled our five children—back, back, during the 1Jurassic Period of home schooling, before home schooling was integrated into the educational world and accepted as a viable option as it is today—our house was bustling with creative energy and vibrant learning! (…Our kids had great creative energy, too.)

We studied all the disciplines….yup!…integrating them into a year-long theme. History, literature, math, music, science, geography, art, and more, all blended naturally via year-long themes, such as “Adventure Down the Mississippi,” “Raiders of the Renaissance Minds,” and “The Voyage of the Frugal Frigate,” to name just a few.  

Scientific inquiry was something that came naturally to our kids, making it an easy task to identify principles and laws associated with daily activities.  At any given time, our children (five to be exact—three girls, two boys) were busily engaged in dynamic and scientific learning associated with movement, gravity, heat, and potential forms of energy. 

Example #1—Kinetic Energy

ki·net·ic en·er·gy
noun
PHYSICS
1.     energy that a body possesses by virtue of being in motion.

Teaching five siblings of varying ages and temperaments can be like trying to spoon-feed soup to a troop of monkeys while riding a roller coaster. The kids were ever in motion—kinetic energy in abundance.

The proper tools and materials funnel that energy into useful occupation. Those tools were always plentiful and readily available to our children. Naturally, my best (and only) steak knives were needed to saw a refrigerator box into pieces in order to build a 2pirogue for use at the local marshy area near our house. (They wore, rather than rode, the boat; stepping into its bottomless hull, and holding it up by hand around their waists. Their free hands were needed to juggle clipboards and pencils for recording sightings of flora and fauna, to hold the orienteering compasses, and to push and shove each other and their cousins, who were also wedged into the pirogue, to insure they were all “rowing” in the right direction. Fortunately, our children were each born with an additional set of hands, or so it often seemed.)

Access to premium workspace was a must for such a large-scale, and energy-funneling project as carving out and building a pirogue, which is why said sawing took place in the most spacious room in the house—the living room. The back-and-forth motion of the knife sawing, of course, was a splendid example of reciprocating motion. The din issuing from knife on cardboard was equal to the roar of a helicopter overhead, creating the useful educational illusion of simulating real chainsaws when only using steak knives.

This activity was followed-up with an equally scientific display of pressure differential: that of suction. I ably demonstrated this necessary scientific principle by running the vacuum cleaner as quickly as possible after the completed study in reciprocating motion, restoring my front room to its former state of disarray by sucking up every particle of the cardboard shavings created by my very productive children. (All of whom had scattered at the sight of the vacuum, allowing me a few precious moments of not-so-quiet time to myself.) An impromptu and energetic lecture by our school principal (my husband) was later given to an innocent looking, but guilty group of spectators on the avoidance of clogged vacuums.

Examples of kinetic energy representing the physical prowess of our sons was particularly evident, and remains recorded for posterity on the multitude of videos they created illustrating ninja techniques, and back-flips off the block wall in the backyard. Extremely effective was the dubbing-in of sound effects to staged fight scenes  in which they clearly missed striking their opponents by a good arm’s length, yet the THUD and BANG sounds appeared right on cue—about two seconds out of sync with the action.

 Example #2—Gravitational Energy

 

  grav·i·ta·tion
   noun
  PHYSICS

1. a. the force of attraction between any two masses. Compare law of gravitation.

b. an act or process caused by this force.

2. a sinking or falling.

3.a movement or tendency toward something or someone: the gravitation of people toward the suburbs.

Not to be outdone by Galileo’s experiments on gravity at the Tower of Pisa, our boys were great experimenters in illustrating this principle of physics, dropping everything from small toys to themselves from the second floor landing. Their enthusiasm for learning was so great, they were often found conducting experiments after school hours.  

 

 

On one such occasion, I had strategically maneuvered myself into the kitchen, where I was performing my own experiments in chemistry as it pertains to cooking, when I heard an enormously loud KERTHUNK! near the bottom of the stairs. I turned to see one of the boys lying prostrate on the floor—arms sprawled out to the sides. I cried out and ran to the motionless body, heart in my mouth, only to hear laughter above me.

The boys were apparently performing two experiments at once: one on the effects of gravitation on a large, homemade, stuffed doll (dressed in their clothes), and the other following definition number 2a as listed above: “a sinking or falling.”  The sinking and falling had more to do with the condition of my heart and stomach than with Newton’s apple.  Definition #3a was exceptionally illustrated as my “tendency to move toward something or someone” standing at the top of the stairs defied all principles of gravitation and speed.  In spite of all the “fallings and sinkings” I’ve experienced, I’m lucky to be alive today—and so are my boys!

 

 

If dropping dolls didn’t satisfy their gravitational objectives, dangling from the top of the stairs themselves was a good alternative. However, they did this when I wasn’t looking. (Probably one of those rare moments when I retreated into my room for a few minutes of quiet time—called “using the restroom.”)

Principles of gravitation and momentum continued as the kids were often seen zooming down an inclined plane (our street) on a “Cool Runnings” type of sail-bedecked and wheeled bobsled of their own making.  A separate scientific experiment on the effect of friction was conducted simultaneously, as they did their best to see how quickly they could completely wear out the soles of every single pair of shoes they owned in stopping the contraption.  (Their feet proved to be excellent substitutes for failed brakes. I’m happy to report that an alternate lesson about heat and friction was not lost on their feet.)

Example #3—Potential Energy

 
  po·ten·tial en·er·gy
  noun
  PHYSICS
1       the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others, stresses within itself,   electric charge, and other factors.

Our children were expert in their demonstrations of potential energy, especially when sitting at the dining table working together on collaborative learning projects. As one child used his or her power of expression to stress the importance of certain learning options (AKA bossing the other kids), the others were building up a good store of potential energy. This stored energy was later released in the form of a combination of kinetic energy, definition #3a of gravitational energy, and an arm (or fist) perfectly poised to demonstrate potential energy.

Example #4 – Heat Energy

  Heat en·er·gy
  noun
  PHYSICS
1.        Energy that is pushed into motion by using heat. An example is a fire in your fireplace.

Our next-door neighbor approached me when we were both tending our front yards one day, and with an abundance of good nature said, “We never know what is going to explode from your back yard!” I smiled sheepishly, and waited for her to explain. She continued, “ Sometimes rockets on strings come blasting through the gate, and sometimes it’s kids on skateboards and other contraptions…[such as the sail- and wheel-bedecked bobsled before mentioned]….We never know what to expect!” She was very kind and even particularly cheerful when telling me this. At first, I took it with a small sip of pride in my children’s inventiveness and accomplishments. Later, as I pondered her words, I gulped down gallons of humility as I wondered if she were really issuing a gentle warning: “I may appear to approve of the goings on at your house, but inside I am as frightened and poised for action as a coiling snake just waiting for disaster to strike my home!” Being so close in proximity to the unpredictable activities bursting forth from the other side of her fence, I’m almost certain the latter was the more correct message she intended to send. I’m sure she also heard the cacophony of noise that accompanied all our activities—especially since my sister’s six kids sometimes spent their days at our house, as we participated together in school activities. The decibel level of eleven rambunctious children was sure to have rung inside her house like a clanging bell, and probably created a ruckus all the way up the street. I was so used to tuning out incessant racket I didn’t even notice it.

 

 

 Many years have passed since the Jurassic Period of home schooling. Our kids—all of whom are grown—now tell stories about that time period that make my hair stand on end. Where was I?! Right there, at home, wearing a plethora of hats, (mother, cook, spiritual advisor, chauffeur, guardian, teacher, seamstress, piano instructor, nurse, nurturer, counselor, and on and on), and always savoring with relish their creativity and the time I spent engaged in learning adventures with our wonderful children. Although I hide the gray hairs accumulated during those twenty years, I am not about to hide the fact that I would do it all over again! It was worth every white hair, and every second.

 
 1 The Jurassic Period of Home Schooling is characterized by three special facets: (1) the time-period in which it began to take shape— for us, the early 1980s; (2) the climate in which it took place, which was relatively unstable among average parents, educators and lawmakers; and (3) the lack of state-provided resources now available to home schooling families.  In addition, a characteristic of the Jurassic Period of Home Schooling as pertaining to our family was the attempt to buck the system, and to do something creative, engaging, “brain-compatible,” and memorable. Latching onto Susan Kovalik’s “Integrated Thematic Instruction” model (ITI), currently called the +“HighlyEffective Teaching” model, we had a marvelous experience with our children.

2pirogueA small boat used in the bayous.

 
 
 

My sister Karen has developed her own Home School model, loosely based on our experiences with ITI, called *EPIC ADVENTURES, which can be found at her Courageous Beings web site. 

 + We home schooled so long ago, those from whom we gleaned so much inspiration have also retired. Such is the case with Susan Kovalik. It appears she has passed on her mission to The Center for the Future of Public Education (of which we were never affiliated). We were involved with her ITI model in the late 1980s and 1990s. It was wonderful–inspiring innovations of our own.

 *One of the innovations prompted by ITI was Karen’s EPIC ADVENTURES–which was, essentially, what we produced from year to year during our home school days. Karen tweaked it to fit her own personal agenda, created a web site, and continued our former enterprise of putting on workshops for home schoolers for many years afterward.  My dear sister, Karen, passed away in November of 2015. Her web site is no longer active, so I have removed the link. 

 
End Piece
© Copyright April 19, 2014
 

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

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A Matter of Perspective

Blog Post #3


“Close your eyes in order to see.”


Decades ago, during a cultural refinement lesson, the teacher of the class, a good friend of mine, pointedly asked me what words immediately came to mind when I thought of castles. Without hesitating, I responded that castles were Romantic. After all, there was Camelot! Chivalry! Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland! Fairy tales and legends—all filled with magical dreams and heroic ideals! Castles were, in my mind, synonymous with romance.
Knowing this would be my response, she then shared her perspective with the class. I was completely surprised! She thought castles were damp, cold, drafty, dismal, and anything but homey. To her, there was very little romanticism in a castle. I sat in stunned silence as my glittering bubble—filled with starry-eyed, quixotic visions of fairy tale castles—was slashed to ruin by her sharp sword of realism.

There was one startling difference between us: she had experienced real castles in their native lands. I had not. Our perspectives were shaped, to a certain degree, by our experiences.

On another occasion, I was visiting with this same friend and her husband when somehow we struck on the topic of fairy tale landscapes. (I know,—a strange topic of conversation for adults, but we ran the gamut with these folks.) He had always envisioned fairy tales taking place among cedar trees and sagebrush—a landscape similar to central Utah where he was raised. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Cedar trees and sagebrush? A dry, almost barren landscape? For fairytales?


I couldn’t deny him his ideal, but it sure wasn’t mine! I have always imagined fairytale settings as lush, with dark forests, ferns, mossy undergrowth, beautiful foliage, and quaint, cozy cottages. Very Disneyesque. To me, cedar trees and sagebrush provide a setting for cowboys and pioneers, not for fairy tales!

Fairy tales, by nature, are imaginary. We can make of them whatever we want. My friend is as entitled to see knights fighting dragons among the scrub brush, chiggers, and cedars of *central Utah, as I am to see them among the oaks, birches and bluebells of Sherwood Forest.


What it all boils down to is experience, imagination, and perspective. Oh! And a healthy dose of partiality. Each person’s perspective is unique to them. Without experience to provide accuracy, my imagination takes over, adapting to my preferences and dreams. Oddly enough, imagination,—which by definition, would seem to be independent of reality—becomes limited when not fed increments of real-life experience to enlarge its horizons of creativity.
Experience may give a better view of reality, but only if I choose to see it. Sometimes, I think people may superimpose their preferences and dreams on top of reality to satisfy the longing in their heart!
My sister has toured England, its motte-and-bailey castles, and stone keeps, its hedgerows and moors. Nothing detracts from her idealistic view of medieval and Renaissance times—of castles, knights, pirates, artists, and every kind of heroic adventure with a hint of romance in it. She is attuned to seeing all of life—her own included—through romantically-heroically-rose-colored glasses.


Real-life experience with castles provided clarity for me, altering my perspective. Since my friend’s lesson so many years ago, I have traveled to Italy and have seen its versions of castles, cathedrals, and palaces. I must admit, I’ve changed my opinion of castles in general. I agree with her: I wouldn’t want to live in one. Too dark. Too damp. Too drafty. Too dismal. (I hasten to add—too inconvenient!) And they are anything but homey, which is what I love. Cold, hard stone perched on a precipice, having to first hike a small mountain, then winding, narrow stone streets, only to climb a multitude of stone stairs to reach a dank and rat-infested fortress is not for me. 
Still, there is something romantic about a castle in a fairy tale setting…as long as it lives in my imagination (and at Disneyland).
  

*For the record, I have been to many lush and beautiful parts of central Utah—especially in the mountains. I know those places exist. My friend had referred specifically to cedars and sagebrush.

© Copyright April 16, 2014


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The True Measure of a Man

Blog Post #2


“Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.”
Job 27:5

My father just celebrated his 91st birthday, which has spurred me to reflect on his remarkable life. Not until recently did it occur to me how truly remarkable many of his life choices were. As a child, I was oblivious to his strong will, drive, and determination. But with each passing year, his focused effort, tenacity, self-initiated learning and dedication to family set an example even a child could not miss. 

From humble beginnings, he saw his deficiencies and worked diligently to overcome them. His mother withdrew all of her children from school when her own mother died. Because of this, Daddy became two years behind his grade school classmates, putting him in an awkward position. Because he was older and stronger than the other kids in his grade, he was a defender of the younger kids against bullies and got into scrapes to protect them.


After failing to complete an assignment during the second grade, his teacher made him stay after school to memorize the poem he hadn’t prepared earlier. He not only memorized the poem, but still recites it today: 


 “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he [started] right in with [a powerful] grin….
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!


(I have written it the way he always recites it, which is slightly different from the original.)

That was the beginning of a long and deliberate exercise in committing to memory everything from facts and figures to complicated family pedigrees.

Moving to Italy with his family at age thirteen, he spent three years in Sicily—never attending a day of school during that time. Circumstances bordering on the miraculous made it possible for him to leave Italy prior to WWII, where he was being tracked for entry into the Italian Navy. He was a U.S. citizen and did not want to serve a fascist country. Patriotic to the core, he has always been an advocate for America.

Fast forward to 1942—World War II. Daddy enlisted, and was stationed in Bermuda with the Naval Air Corps, serving in the North Atlantic Theater as a Photographer’s Mate 2nd class, and an aerial gunner. 

My Father

One of his buddies bet Daddy fifty cents that he would take up smoking before the end of the war. Guess who won the fifty cents! He never took up the habit. The dollar amount was less important than the principle involved. His iron will and the inner drive to win the bet did the trick. He also abstained from swearing and drinking—deliberate choices. It never occurred to me how remarkable this was until I was much older. 

Equally astonishing was how he spent his free time. When his navy pals were carousing in bars, you’ll never guess where Daddy was! He was in the library memorizing poetry such as Poe’s Raven. He had quite a repertoire when I was a child. On our outings, he recited poetry and sang opera arias that I also grew to love. 

He tells the story of when he was scheduled for a routine air patrol at night. A specified number of  hours in the air had to be logged by a deadline each month if he wanted to receive more pay; this particular flight would accomplish that. When the time for the flight arrived, he found his buddy—who was also scheduled for the flight—totally inebriated. Rather than leave his friend for the better pay, he helped him get home, cleaned up, and to bed, only to find out in the morning that all men on the flight they missed were never seen or heard of again. 

PB4-Y2

I have always felt the significance of this story, and the impact on Daddy’s life, and on mine! Now that I’m older, I realize how critical his choices and preparation were to the outcome. 

After the war, he set high standards of fidelity, hard work, and dedication to family for which I’ll always be grateful. Earning two college degrees without first having a high school education was a feat of sheer determination. Married to our mother for nearly fifty years before her passing, he was devoted to her and to our family. We knew where he stood because his feet were firmly rooted in living what he believed, and because he shared his convictions with us through word and deed.

My father often qualifies his stories about the war with the fact that he never saw any real “action” during the four years of his service. But in my mind, his “actions” in the navy, in marriage, and in life in general are noteworthy—deserving a medal for strength of character, compassion, faithfulness, generosity, love, and courage. He has always walked a path of individual integrity, and in doing so, has often stood alone. 

That makes him a true hero to me.

© Copyright April 7, 2014


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My First Blog Post EVER!

This is my first attempt at a blog.

I feel  anticipation–if not a little nervousness–about posting, but here goes!

Blog Post #1: Quiet and Creativity

Have you ever noticed that most of your best ideas come while doing something like taking a shower, drifting off to sleep, or driving alone in your car? In the shower, and that twilight time when I’m between wakefulness and sleep, are the best for me, probably because there are no distractions. In the quiet, or the white noise of the water flowing, my mind becomes a flutter of thoughts and ideas that I must quickly snatch out of the air and pocket before they flit off, never to be thought of again. 

Of necessity, I keep paper and pencil at my bedside and in the bathroom.  In spite of the electronic gadgets that are causing paper clutter to become obsolete, I have sticky notes stacked like pancakes, decorating every flat surface, all over the house. Sticky notes on the mirror. Stickies on my desk. Stickies on my laptop. Stickies on my purse. Stickies on the cover of my Galaxy Note.  Stickies on stickies. It’s ridiculous. Why the stickies? Because these are my best ideas! There’s something of inspiration in some of them. If I don’t write things down, and put them in plain sight, I’ll forget. I don’t want to forget, hoping they’ll bear some rare and precious creative fruit at some future time. 

For me, ideas flow better in quiet times, so I’ve learned to tune out noise. As a mother of five, it was a natural extension of the quest for serenity in a busy life, especially since I home schooled our kids–a creative bunch in their own right. Anyone who has adventuresome kids with many creative outlets, knows that noise is often a natural byproduct of unleashed creativity. 

But kid noise doesn’t compare with adult noise, which may be more difficult to regulate. Ball games, power tools and machines, car radios, hammering, pounding, drilling, and the most invasive: TV noise. We had to find a cure for the perpetual TV racket when we moved in with my virtually deaf ninety-one year-old father. The TV volume had two settings: “off” and “fire engine siren.” You can guess which volume the TV operated at day and night. My father has no real waking and sleeping schedule. Like a baby, he is often wide awake until three, and napping in the middle of the day–the TV (his constant companion) set on “siren.” 

Our family likes to gather at the old “homestead;” when my family is here, we’re twenty-four strong, (not a small group, and not a big house). Being Italian, we know how to make our voices heard one over another, all at the same time. In those first months we were living here, the cacophony of voices had to overtake the sound of the TV for anyone to be heard above the din, so the volume increased until one or the other topped-out at a fever pitch. 

To converse one-on-one with my father is also challenging, since you must repeatedly yell for him to hear you say, “Hood Sue spike the skinner?” Hood Sue spike the skinner?” “HOOD SUE SPIKE THE SKINNER?!” (Translation: Would you like some dinner?He’d follow-up with “Who’s Sue? I don’t know who Sue is.” 

Then! We discovered the invention of the century! Wireless TV headphones! Now, when Daddy dons his headset, he correctly understands what everyone in TV-land is saying. To his ears, however, we still speak a garbled version of English. Especially since he won’t take the headset off to hear what we’re trying to say. I’m still yelling: “DADDY, TISSUE SET A SNUFF?” (Translation: Did you get enough?) We’ve come to grips with never being understood the first time around. Or the second. Or the third. 


But I have to say, those headsets changed my life! The first few days, post head-set purchase, my husband, Brad, and I walked around the house in a stupor of quiet–hearing birdsong outside, and real fire engine sirens blaring on the boulevard a few blocks away. When family members came over, a look of bewilderment immediately registered on their faces. What was this new experience so uncharacteristic of Grandpa’s house? They found a new pastime: making up their own dialog for what was happening on the now mute TV. Much funnier. Much more entertaining. Just as noisy as the siren.

I love being with the family. I love the chatter, the laughter, the sound of children at play, and adults engaged in stimulating conversation. But I also cherish quiet. Being an introverted person, I need quiet from time to time. I purposely turn off the music in the car, mute the volume on the TV (a given), and go for walks without a bluetooth in my ear. I love quiet. I treasure it.

In quiet moments, I have become more keenly aware of the sounds of nature. More importantly, over time, I have learned to fine-tune my thoughts and heart to listen to the whisperings of the spirit–my own, and the Spirit of God, whose voice is a “still voice of perfect mildness.” (Helaman 5:30) It has made all the difference. 


Now, when creative energy surfaces at odd and sundry times–most of which are quiet–I grab my pencil and sticky notes, and clutter up my work space until, one by one, each precious thought and word is recorded for future reflection and use. 

Then, I can finally fall asleep.


© Copyright March 31, 2014