Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Favorites: Celebrate With Joy

Now that the Thanksgiving leftovers are in the fridge we can start looking forward to Christmas, which is right around the corner. Thanksgiving and Christmas are my two favorite holidays, and I just wish they were spread apart a little bit more.

I adore the Christmas season - the music, the decorations, the lights,
the nativity displays, the cookies, the goodwill that is displayed more than at other times of the year. But I don't like the crass commercialism ( crass = insensitive, crude, coarse) , the selfishness, the stress resulting from overspending or overscheduling. So I have worked hard over the years to find balance in our family celebration of Christmas, aiming for moderation in spending & decorating and incorporating traditions that provide joyful family memories and also that direct our hearts and minds to the "reason for the season"!

One of my all-time favorite resources that has helped toward that end is a little spiral-bound paperback book called Celebrate With Joy: Transform Your Christmas Season, by Sondra Burnett.

from Chapter 1 "Celebrate":
"Celebrations are not only fun, they are wonderful teaching tools. God gave His people festivals of celebration to encourage and teach them. God wants us to teach our children His truth. We are to talk of His Word when we sit in our homes, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise up. What better way to communicate God's truth to our children than through the Symbols of the Season?"

The focus of this book is celebrating with meaning, trimming away the superfluous, and approaching the Advent season as well as the 12 days of the traditional Epiphany with joy and purpose. The 10 chapters are titled "Celebrate", "Advent...With Your Family", "Symbols of the Season", "Traditions... Yours, Mine and Ours", "Gala Gatherings", "Grateful Giving", "The Twelve Nights of Christmas", "More Than Just Recipes", "Uncluttering Christmas", and "Afterglow".

Some of the activities we have taken from this little treasure and incorporated in our Christmas celebration are the Advent Jar, the Advent Wreath & Devotional, Advent Chain, Birthday Cake for Jesus, and a St. Nicholas project.

In Raleigh, the Home School Gathering Place gets a shipment of this book every December. Owner Julia Harris knows the author and has promoted this book to the homeschool community here for many years.

There are also some free unit studies online inspired by the Advent devotionals in this book. We have done all of these at one time or another, and they are a wonderful way to teach the meaning behind many of the customs and traditions of our traditional celebrations.

A Blessed Christmas: Symbols of the Season

Good Christian Men Rejoice! : 15 Christmas Carols & Hymns

Names of Jesus

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm a Winner!

We are on a roll! First Eric wins a 4-day trip for 2 to Miami, FL ~ and now I win an e-book! Not quite as exciting as Florida, but cool nonetheless.

One By One: The Homeschool Group Leader's Guide to Motivating Your Members

This e-book was written by Denise Hyde and Kristen Falaga, two homeschool moms and support group leaders who have a blog dedicated to providing information and encouragement for other homeschool support group leaders! I have only had time to skim through the book, but it looks like lots of great information on motivating and engaging support group members, and I think it will be a great benefit to our Lighthouse leadership team.

Thanks, Denise & Kristen!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fun at the NC State Fair

I finally got pictures from my camera to my computer - via my husband's computer and a jump drive. For some reason, my camera and computer are not communicating with each other. Here are some pictures of our day at the NC State Fair last month.

First stop.... a corn dog...
then a bloomin' onion, chocolate covered caramel apple, dill pickles, grilled chicken pita, fried dough, and NC State ice cream!
Hey, it's only once a year....

these giant chicken sculptures were all over the place!

Jason likes to try his luck at the game booths

this is one of the many gorgeous quilts in the handcrafts building

baby chicks are so soft!

NC Wildlife Officers have a free target shooting range that we visit every year

I just love this "Where the Wild Things Are" garden in the horticulture exhibit. It is Max's bedroom! See the bed behind the boat?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blue Star Moms & Powder Puff Football

This past weekend was a busy one for Lighthouse Teens. Saturday morning Amanda and I joined a dozen or so other Lighthouse teens and parents, as well as other volunteers, at The Lodge Retirement Home in Wake Forest to help the local chapter of Blue Star Mothers fill care packages with goodies to send to troops overseas. Volunteers lined up along both sides of long tables and passed the boxes along assembly-line-style, adding snack foods, toiletries, books & magazines, candy, and assorted sundries. In an hour and a half we had 260 boxes filled, taped, stacked, and loaded in a van ready to go to the post office! Alex will receive a few of these boxes, with instructions to get them to soldiers who don't receive mail from back home.

afternoon was our Lighthouse Powder Puff Football Game, Family Picnic, and Dads' Chili Cook-Off! After a week of rainy weather, the day was bright and sunny - a perfect fall afternoon to spend at the park!

Pink Panthers

Purple Penguins

our cheerleaders rocked!

plenty of food to share at the family picnic

Erik P. won the Dads' Chili Cook-off in a blind taste test in which everyone got to vote for their favorite by dropping 50 cents in a jar

The "top chefs"!
Winners were rewarded with gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sometimes... You win!

My 20 yr old son, Eric, got a pleasant surprise this week when he was notified that he won the Grand Prize in the Ford Racing Street Tour Sweepstakes! While at the NC State Fair last month, he had dropped an entry in to the box at the NASCAR exhibit - he enters every drawing and sweepstakes he can find, figuring he'll hit big some time. Well, this time he did it! The prize is a 4-night trip for two to Miami,FL for the Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway! Included is airfare, rental car, hotel accomodations, $400 Visa gift card for food, VIP passes to Ford Racefest, grandstand tickets to all three races that weekend, private VIP tour with a Ford Racing representative, and 2 Ford Racing apparel gift packages! Pretty amazing, even for us non-NASCAR fans!

Eric asked Mark to go with him. He needed someone older than 25 to be able to rent a car (!), but he also enjoys spending time with his dad! So they'll have 5 days of male bonding in sunny South Florida - airboats in the Everglades, snorkeling at Key Largo, laying on the beautiful Florida beaches.... oh yeah, and watching fast cars go round and round a racetrack. :-) Fortunately Eric hasn't missed any of his classes at Appalachian State this semester, so he has some excused absences that he can use... see, it PAYS to go to class so that when some great opportunity to take a free trip to Florida unexpectedly drops in your lap, you can GO!!!
Now he just must avoid the flu until Christmas break...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Homeschool Teen Meeting

Saturday night was a Lighthouse teen and parent meeting. Since I neglected to update my personal calendar before scheduling this meeting, my own daughter was away at a pre-season homeschool basketball tournament in Greensboro that night. Since I was leading this meeting, I stayed home. Note to self ... when scheduling a support group teen activity, pick a date your own child can attend.

There are a large number of teens in our support group, but for the past couple of years we have not had anything organized specifically for them. This year I am scheduling monthly teen meetings to provide a chance for these kids to meet and socialize ( not "be socialized" - different thing ), and at the same time for parents of teens to meet and discuss the many questions surrounding homeschooling in high school. Saturday night we had 20 teens and about the same number of parents in attendance.

We started with a "business meeting" in which we discussed some ideas for upcoming activities. Then we had 2 guests share briefly about the non-profit organizations that they are involved in and how we could help.
Denise talked about Blue Star Mothers, a national organization made up of mothers of present or former US military members whose mission is as follows:
The mission of the Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc., shall be to support the Armed Forces of the United States of America and its Veterans; to advocate for America's Armed Forces and those men and women who have served their country with honor; to maintain allegiance to the United States; to educate our members and others not to divulge military, naval, or other government information; to assist and participate in ceremonies which honor remember and support our military men and women and Veterans; to honor those families whose children have died in service to our country; to assist in Homeland Security; to uphold the American principles of freedom, justice and equal rights and to defend the United States from all enemies.

Wonderful organization. Our teens are helping with their Care Packages service project this coming weekend, where we'll be packing several hundred boxes with donated items ( snacks, toiletries, DVDs, books, etc ) to send to US soldiers and sailors serving overseas.

Next, my friend Jennings shared about Ten Eighteen Inc., the non-profit ministry she and her husband started a year ago, based on Deuteronomy 10:18 - "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing." Currently they are working to raise money to care for orphans and widows in Uganda, through a couple of different local organizations that they have made connections with there. Jennings brought jewelry to the meeting that is made by women living in the Nomowongo slums of Kampala, and a number of the girls and moms were able to get early Christmas shopping done!

After this, the teens raided the snacks and set out the board games they had brought, spending the next hour and a half playing, talking and laughing. The parents went into a separate classroom and discussed high school classes, credits, dual enrollment changes in the community college system, and other similar topics. Hopefully those of us whose children have already graduated or are almost ready to graduate were able to offer some reassurance to those facing those looming high school years. It really isn't as scary as it seems!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Benefits of Homeschool Co-ops

Last Tuesday night was our monthly homeschool support group meeting, and the topic was "Co-operative Learning: Enriching your Homeschool Experience through Co-ops". Several people shared their experiences and I think we all had roughly the same message. Co-ops, however they are structured, offer a lot of benefits to homeschooling families, including accountability, friendship, reinforcement of weaknesses, and cost-effectiveness.

What is a co-op? Generally speaking, a homeschool co-op is two or more families meeting together on a regular basis to share a learning experience. Let me explain that further by describing several of the co-op experiences I have been part of during the past 15 years of homeschooling.

Multi-family Enrichment Co-opNot long after Lighthouse started in 1996, several parents met at a park to talk about meeting together once a week for parent-led enrichment classes, and the Lighthouse Co-op was born. We held a planning meeting for all interested families in our group, and sketched out a structure. We would meet on Thursday afternoons for 2 1/2 hours at our host church. Noting the ages of our children, we decided that we would divide into classes for K- 2nd, 3rd-5th, and 6th-8th grades. A room would also be set aside for a nursery for babies/preschoolers. Each age group would meet for a 1 hour class, have a 15 minute snack break, and then have another 1 hour class.
Parents then volunteered to fill in the teaching spots, drawing upon talents or children's interests for class ideas - art, Spanish, poetry, rockets, guitar, creative movement, edible science, knitting, woodworking, animal study, fairy tales, etiquette, soccer, first aid, cake decorating, essay writing, American Girls, auto maintenance, dinosaurs... Many classes were free; some ( like art & cake decorating ) charged a small fee for materials. This Co-op met for 8 weeks in the fall, and then met again in the spring with a new set of classes. It was a wonderful experience, exposing my children to a variety of skills and subjects that I might not have attempted - and lots of friendships were planted there.

Multi-Family Curriculum-based Co-op
A little over three years ago, a group of friends met together to discuss starting a weekly Co-op based on the Tapestry of Grace curriculum. This Co-op started out with 13 families but has now grown to 18 families, and meets every Friday from 9:30 - 2:30 at a local church where we rent classroom space. There is a class for each of the TOG levels ( Lower Grammar K-3rd, Upper Grammar 4th-6th, Dialectic 7th-9th, and Rhetoric 10th-12th) as well as a PreK class and nursery. Two moms act as directors, giving some leadership to the group, but basically everyone gives input and all parents divide up the teaching responsibilities for the year, with at least 2 moms per class. Every family in this co-op uses the Tapestry of Grace curriculum, using Co-op to share and enrich the learning that is going on at home during the week. The younger kids do lots of show & tell and hands-on craft projects. In the older classes, there is the addition of fact & concept review (usually through a game like Jeopardy), writing, and discussion. Once a quarter there is a Unit Celebration, usually held in the evening so dads can attend, where we culminate that 9 weeks of study with displays, performances, and maybe a meal. Unit Celebrations have included a Family Seder meal, Medieval Feast, Colonial Field Day, Shakespeare Night of the Arts, and South American Festival. 

Yearlong Academic Co-opI have done yearlong science co-ops with both my elementary and middle school kids. When Sarah was in 8th grade and Eric was in 6th, we did Apologia General Science. To keep us moving along and to make things a little more fun, we met with one other family every other Friday to do the experiments together. This worked great, and I found that not only did the kids enjoy doing the labs with their friends, but it kept us on schedule because we knew we had to be ready for " co-op day". I found another friend who wanted to do Physical Science together the following year, and we followed the same routine, working through each 2-week module on our own and then meeting every other week at my kitchen table to review the chapter and do the experiments together. When Amanda was ready for Apologia General Science, I put a note out on my support group's email list, looking for a couple of girls for a co-op, and ended up with a group of 8. We rotated homes each month, and the hostess mom would be in charge of supervising and reviewing that module. Again, the accountability was great and the girls eagerly looked forward to Co-op day, forging relationships that carried on outside of the academic setting.

Small Multi-Subject Co-opThose co-op experiences led me to pursue even more similar situations, as I saw lots of good things happening both for me and for my children. A friend and I decided to get our 2 girls together twice a week for writing and Latin - I taught writing and the other mom taught Latin. Since we both had younger children as well, one mom played with the younger children while the other taught, and then we switched. We used Write Shop for writing and Latina Christiana for Latin, which were very easy to implement this way. A year or two later, another friend and I decided to do something similar with our youngest boys. She has the boys to her house one afternoon a week and she teaches them science. Last year we added Latin as well, using the Latina Christiana DVDs. I teach art at my house on another day. This arrangement has worked wonderfully.

Short-term Co-ops   Years ago, when my oldest daughter was really into the American Girl books, I hosted an American Girl co-op at my house, which met once a week for 10 weeks. We read the books of one of the American Girl series ( Kirsten first, then Addy and Felicity - back when history and learning were still a focus of the AG company ) and talked about the stories together, then did crafts and cooking projects together, and worked on a final project to present to the parents at our final meeting - we did a concert of Civil War songs for Addy, and I remember that we made a video for Kirsten, although I can't remember what of! Although I led each meeting, the other parents helped by taking care of my younger kids and providing materials for the crafts and cooking projects.

Although a co-op is by no means necessary for successful homeschooling, our family has loved sharing learning experiences with other homeschool families in this way, and the benefits have outweighed the drawbacks ( which include added responsibility for planning, loss of some flexibility, and time commitment). Perhaps you'll want to incorporate some of these ideas into your homeschooling as well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Homemade Bread: A Homeschool Parable

Once there was a community in which most people had been raised on enriched, white, store-bought bread and saw to it that their children were fed the same. The hope was that the children would grow to be big, strong, and well-nourished so they could live productive lives and be a credit to the town. The bread was provided for the children by means of a community tax and was distributed on a regular basis to all community children irrespective of size, shape, or color.

In this town there lived a woman named Matilda, who had three children. She had given the matter some thought and had done some reading and had concluded that she could provide better nourishment for her children by making her own whole-wheat or even white bread. After further thought she decided she would try it out. Now, Matilda was aware that what she was doing was decidedly "odd" and that she might get some flak from her neighbors. She was, however, determined to provide what she viewed as best for her children.

She began to make her own bread and no longer used the Bread Distribution Service. She continued to pay the community tax for bread; and, in addition,
bought ingredients for her own homemade bread. Sometimes when Matilda and her children were seen in public during the Bread Distribution Hour, people would ask her, "Why aren't your children eating?" She tried to explain that she made bread for them and that they ate it with the family, but found that most people thought that was illegal. She begin to fear that people would think her children weren't being fed (though they looked well-nourished) and that the City Fathers would think she was an abusive parent. She began closing the windows on baking day so the aroma wouldn't get out of the house and having the children eat their bread during the Bread Distribution Hour so they wouldn't be conspicuous. She tried to keep a low profile to avoid detection.

However, rumor that there were some families making their own bread reached the offices of the City Fathers. The City Fathers decided a law needed to be passed to deal with the situation and define what was legal There arose a great debate. Some said it was basically the parents' responsibility and privilege to provide bread for their children. Others said parents didn't know how to make bread and it should be mandatory that they obtain bread from the Bread Distribution Service. There was some fear expressed that children might starve if there weren't some guarantee that they were receiving bread at home when their parents took them off the Bread Distribution List.

Some wanted the law to require that the parents go to bakers' school; some that they have required ingredients for the homemade bread, some that there be a schedule of baking days and assigned times for the eating of the bread.

Eventually, it was decided that the parents who chose to make their own bread needed to submit a recipe card demonstrating that the bread they fed their children would have at least some sort of flour, oil, and liquid. They also needed to be sure to feed their children on a regular basis.

Matilda was elated! She had been afraid that the requirements of the law would be much more detailed and demanding. She recognized that there were those in the city who were violently opposed to the home-baked bread idea and that they would probably seek to have the law changed sometime; but, for the time being, she felt much easier in mind. She was so used by this time to keeping a low profile in her baking that it never occurred to her that that should change.

This writer, however, thinks that Matilda and other home-bread bakers should let the delicious aroma out to waft over the neighborhood. I also believe it would be beneficial if the community at large became accustomed to the idea and began to learn how tasty and nutritious homemade bread can be. This would, I believe, help to counter the weight of tradition on the side of the Bread Distribution Service should opponents of home-baked bread try to change the present law. People who bake their own bread to feed their children need to work to educate the public as to the beauties and benefits of bread baking!

Author's Note: Since we lived in North Dakota at the time, where "homemade bread baking" was clearly illegal (until after we had moved away!), I wrote this response:

In another community, to the north of Matilda's, the sad situation is this: the Bread Distribution Service union is powerful, and for many years has opposed homemade bread baking. Some parents have tried it, anyway, and most would be only too glad to share their recipe cards. Some would be willing to invite the Bread Distribution Service superintendent into their homes on baking day. Some are even willing to submit their children to an annual examination to prove that they are being well-nourished on home-baked bread.

Last year the local Parents' Association of Home-Bakers made valiant efforts in the city council to get the law changed, but to no avail. The current regulation is that parents cannot bake bread at home for their children unless they hold a valid certificate from bakers' school ~ even though Bakers' School concentrates on teaching institutional bread baking, and would be of little value to parents baking bread at home.

Parents who persist in making their children's bread at home and refusing to obtain their bread from the Bread Distribution Service are highly subject to legal prosecution. In fact, five such families were recently taken to court and convicted. One of those families, like many others in the past, has moved to a different community where home-baked bread is legal. (One frustration is that the communities directly to the east, west and south allow homemade bread baking.)

But at least three of the families are continuing to bake bread at home, and are definitely keeping their windows open on baking day ~ in spite of a threatened jail sentence for doing so. Unfortunately, other families who would risk losing their jobs must keep their windows closed and continue to bake bread in absolute secrecy.

So, I would further encourage those who live in communities like Matilda's where home-baking is possible to keep their windows open so that the delicious aromas may waft even outside the community and influence other less enlightened communities to relieve the oppression of home-baked bread families.

by Ann Murphy

Wyoming Home Educators' Newsletter
Spring/Summer 1986