Tuesday, October 23, 2007

An Amazing Life

In saying goodbye to a wonderful person I am amazed at the things she was able to accomplish, even in death. She was always a rather unassuming person who was quietly smiling in the background not wanting to interrupt or contradict someone simply to express her opinion. Unless, of course, they were talking about one of her children. Then watch out! She would quickly jump to their defense and protect them to the end. Isn't that what we would hope to find in a mother?

Yet, I found this in a mother-in-law. A woman who's kindness and gentle spirit was always so constant that if you weren't careful you would easily not notice it and trample it underfoot. Yet it remains and so does she, in our hearts. Looking back over all of the acts of graciousness that Kathy extended to me I am overwhelmed.

Even as her family gathered together to comfort one another she was there. She was the one who gathered her children to the feet of their father reading the Bible in search of the verse she last read. She was the one who brought together a father and son, as he showed him how to tie a tie for the very first time. She was the one who reconciled estranged relatives at a time of sorrow. All of this she did in death. Now you might be able to imagine all of the good she did in her life.

In Memory of Kathy L. Dills
April 6, 1944 - October 6, 2007

"Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us; our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life."

Albert Einstein

Sunday, October 14, 2007

MacHomer: Shakespeare 2007

I realize that initially this sounds like what it sounds like...Shakespeare with a side of fries and a large Coke. Shakespeare for the masses. I guess it kind of is but it was a great way to introduce some of Shakespeare's works to my 9 and 13-year-old boys. Let me begin at the beginning and explain how we ended up at an event called MacHomer.

Towards the end of summer I "assigned" my oldest son the story, Othello, available through Scholastic and retold by Julius Lester. Tim came back and said that it was slow and he couldn't get into the story. Now, I am all for abandoning a book and I encourage my boys to give a book a chance but if they find that if they have a choice in the matter and they are not drawn in by a story, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with setting it aside.

This did not mean that I gave up on it so I decided that we would use the book as a bedtime story. It was interesting how that worked out. Tim has gotten to the age where he will opt out of a bedtime story and read on his own while I read to my younger son, however, we had the opposite situation occur. Nathan eventually, I think by chapter five, had decided to go read on his own while Tim and I continued with this book as a read aloud. It was a wonderful experience that Tim and I shared as we read this story dealing with the major themes at the heart of Othello; passion, doom, and racism.

If you ask either Tim or I about our favorite part in the story, we would probably recall different scenes where deceit and revelation were at the heart of it. But if you asked us our favorite 'funniest' part we would both definitely giggle and have the same scene and lines come to mind. I won't go into detail here but it was a selection where Desdemona is describing her desire for Othello. Oh my! It was so much fun to go in each night to read another chapter of Othello, Shakespeare of all things, to my teenage son. He would literally beg me to read just one more chapter each night. We finished the book and we both absolutely loved it.

Did I mention that I am not a big Shakespeare fan? I am now. If you find a way around the language and get to the heart of his stories they are fantastically twisted. Unfortunately my experience with Shakespeare was a 9th grade lit class where we were shown the 1968 film, Romeo and Juliet. Please, it was so corny and contrived that I knew I would never bother to read one of his books. Did I also mention that on many occasions I am proven wrong? This was one of them. Thank goodness. My only other Shakespearean encounter was with Hamlet starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close; "If it were not so, you are my mother!" (A line I constantly quote...I don't know why...it just sounds so over the top).

Okay, moving on. After Othello I then went to the library and promptly found various classic Shakespeare "revisited" picture books by Bruce Colville and illustrated by various artists. They were all beautifully done and I found that this time it was Nathan who was more interested than Tim. We went through these books at bedtime until we had a fairly good introduction to well known Shakespearean plays.

Now it's confession time. I'm not a perfect mother. I know, I work very hard at convincing you otherwise but it simply is not true. My children have seen The Simpsons. At first it took place without my knowledge. Then I found myself being asked if they could watch it at home or worse yet, they would ask me to come watch a particular episode because it was so hilarious...they had already seen it. It's true; I was sucked into the world of yellow people with their random and timely cultural references. There were definitely episodes though where I would say, "...not appropriate" and the TV would go off but by the summer of 2007 we were all too familiar with the Simpsons. This knowledge was helpful and enhanced the experience of MacHomer. If you're not a Simpsons fan just think for a moment about the fact that that 'cartoon' has been in existence for over 20 years!!

Time for the final act. In the local newspaper I noticed an ad for something called, "MacHomer" showing at the McIntyre Hall. Well, well, well. High class meets low class. This could be a train wreck or brilliance. I put my money on the later, literally, tickets were $30 bucks a pop! I asked my husband if he would like to go and he happily opted out. So, I asked the boys if they were up for a "fieldtrip" to MacHomer. Nathan was all over it but Tim was a little more reluctant, the saving grace for him was that somehow the Simpsons were involved, "D'oh!!"

We went to it, we saw it, we loved it! Rick Miller is an incredibly talented actor who does over 50 character voices from the Simpsons and incorporates everyone into the play, Macbeth. He mixed it up with puppets, video, and acting. If you get the opportunity to see it I would highly recommend it. At the very end of the play he then launches into the Bohemian Rhapsody done with 25 of the most annoying singing voices of all time. You can check this out on You Tube. The singers he's done in the past are different than the ones he did recently. He must update and keep current. Of course, the boys loved MacHomer and the finale was just icing on the cake.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Teacher Talk...

Over the 4th of July my family and I went to a BBQ at a friend's house. At the party there were two other teachers. Soon, as we began to talk about schools, kids, and teaching, a couple of things happened.

First of all, as we discussed these various topics, I noticed that they inevitably began to break out in abbreviations specific to teaching. My husband just sat there with a blank look on his face with the occasional glance my directions to guage whether I knew what they were talking about. It doesn't seem to be good manners to do this in mixed company but teachers are no exception to this exclusive lingo and are just as guilty of using abbreviations and leaving innocent by-standers in the dust.

They mentioned EFL, ESL, ADHD, ADD, EBD, TOEFL, TESOL, and IDEA, which just stand for things that most people have heard of before but are not surrounded with on a daily basis that they have to resort to the use of abbreviations. Okay, that is just one thing about our conversation that I was going to mention, just an observation really. Teachers are not immune from bad habits. The other discussions that we had I feel more strongly about.

One lady there had just received her first teaching job for the coming fall and asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was going to home school my boys. She rolled her eyes and then proceeded to tell me all about how she could never do that. Her children would never listen to her and accept her in that role as teacher. I should mention at this point that every time one of her three children approached her she would immediately say, "Go away, this is the adult area." They would try to tell her something and she would dismiss them and repeat her mantra. However, every time she wanted a refill on her wine glass, she would quickly summon her oldest daughter and remind her to "fill'er up!" So, on that basis alone I would have to whole heartily agree with her about choosing not to home school her children. Although, I would beg to differ with her about her ability to teach her children. Whether she realizes it or not, good or bad, she is teaching her children.

This teacher then began discussing her new job and that it was working with special-ed preschoolers. She said she had shared with the principal at the school that she had mostly worked with intermediate grades in her student teaching experience. She explained a little bit of her "no-nonsense" approach to him and she said that he told her not to change a single thing in her teaching style. His thought was that these students will need to learn how to behave in a strict and highly structured classroom setting eventually and this was a great time to start that process. She continued on about the reading programs that she was going to use and how she spent an entire week coloring pictures for folder activities. My first thought was, "Oh, those poor kids." My heart was breaking for the possible (ineviteable) frustration that they and she would likely experience. Then I had to consider that it is her first year teaching and hope that she soon realizes that she needs to find out where her students are developmentally to ensure that her expectations are age and ability appropriate.

I left the party shaking my head thinking about how often times parents are unable to choose one teacher over the other and knowing that teachers are not all equal. Sometimes, (I'm guilty of this), we tell ourselves and our child that we just need to get through the school year, that we'll survive it together. The idea that a child would be handed over to someone who had their own agenda in mind without considering the child's needs first for their growth and learning was a sad thought and only reinforced my decision to home school my boys.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Why We Chose to Homeschool

Why would someone choose to homeschool their children? Why would a child want to homeschool? For our family, the decision to homeschool came from knowing that it was the best way for our children to learn.

Homeschooling...the images that this one word evokes in different people is amazing. Tell a family member or co-worker that you are going to homeschool your child and the eyebrows go up and endless advice and cautionary tales of socially incompetent homeschoolers are given.

Although, if you look into the subject, there are findings that say otherwise. Consider ERIC, the Education Resources Information Center of the U.S. government, which has published multiple articles on homeschooling. Here's an excerpt from one which examined several studies on homeschool socialization: "According to the findings, children who were schooled at home 'gained the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to function in society...at a rate similar to that of conventionally schooled children.'" The researcher found no difference in the self concept of children in the two groups. Stough maintains that 'insofar as self concept is a reflector of socialization, it would appear that few home-schooled children are socially deprived, and that there may be sufficient evidence to indicate that some home-schooled children have a higher self concept than conventionally schooled children.'"

Now consider the fact that I am a licensed teacher who decided to quit her teaching job at a private school in order to homeschool her own children...hmmm. Looking back I'd have to say it was a long time coming. Many of the courses taken in college had us look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the American education system. Deep down I knew that this system was not the very best that I could offer my children, even in a private school setting.

It is interesting to look at the history of compulsory education and the rise of homeschooling. "In 1964 John Caldwell Holt published his first work, How Children Fail. A teacher, and an observer of children and education, Holt asserted that the academic failure of schoolchildren was not in spite of the efforts of the schools, but actually because of the schools." Making the decision to homeschool is probably one of the most important decisions you can make for your child.

I believe attitudes are changing. Homeschooling is gradually being viewed in a more positive light as homeschoolers continue to outperform their peers in a variety of venues, however, the stigma of being a social incompetent is one area that is more difficult to overcome, despite the research. Public schools, however, are having to acknowledge the existence of homeschoolers as seen in their establishing "learning centers" as a way to connect with homeschoolers and provide learning opportunities. Yet there remains the mentality of traditional schooling "what was good for me is good for you" and this continues to dictate over common sense.

From the experiences we've had in a traditional school setting and making the conscious decision to put our kids first, our family has decided to homeschool.

To make this whole thing official we decided that every school needs a name and ours was no exception. The boys and I considered various names for our school such as, Unique Horizons, Mt. Views Learning Center, and The Learning Connection. Tim and Nathan, however, were very thoughtful in considering a number of factors and finally decided on Spring Meadows Academy.

Their teacher is their mom, who has a B.A. in Elementary Education from Western Washington University with an endorsement in reading. Although Tim and Nathan are "just kids" they are incredibly bright, talented, and opinionated and Spring Meadows Academy is a place where they can blossom!

Nathan's Native American Button Blanket

Nathan's Native American Button Blanket
Eagle patterned button blanket designed for beauty and warmth. To see more pictures of how he made this click on the picture above.

Rick Miller - Bohemian Rhapsody