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From every corner of the world of home education, I pulled images of how ‘our school’ might be – most of them in conflict with each other, and none a perfect picture of how ‘our school’ actually was.
I could see our classical school – kids neatly dressed, friends over for chess and dialectic – turning out scholars like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. I dreamed of “Lifestyle Learning,” with education tucked into every moment of the day – museum-like collections on every flat surface, illustrated notebooks for each subject, a microscope at hand in the kitchen, backpacks always ready with nature journals and good pencils.
Unit Study seemed so appealing. We could be immersed in the Middle Ages via salt dough, period costumes, Usborne books and stew in stale-bread trenchers. The Fast Track had its appeal, too. I pictured my kids pointed to The End via a series of neatly ordered lessons. The only limit to their release into freedom would be their personally chosen speed of attack. They might say things like, “If I get my Phd, will you buy me a new bike?” Their own incentives would move them forward almost effortlessly and we’d have a stack of tests and certificates to prove what they had accomplished.
Unschooling was a lot like a “learning lifestyle,” but easier yet, because it would be “delight-directed” and require no record-keeping. We’d practically live at the library. At home, I’d happen upon children engrossed in projects of their own choosing. I’d try not to point out the educational value, and keep them supplied with high-quality tools and materials in timely fashion. We’d bake…we’d travel…we’d garden…or, not.
The way it actually turned out was a strange and changing mix I called “Eclectic” to make it sound more like “Education.” New babies kept throwing us ‘off our groove,’ but in a good way. Just as I hit my stride, they all grew up and went on into college…or, not. The thing I miss most – oh, ouch…. – is reading aloud to them. I know I could have done a lot better at many aspects of homeschooling, but overall, I’ve enjoyed these years and been happy with the results. Meanwhile, I got an education along the way that is a priceless treasure.
It’s hard being a boy these days, in a sanitized, feminized environment where it’s so unsafe to run around on your own.
I just finished a list of ideas to help a mom help her boys, and thought it might be helpful for others. For what it’s worth:
A book our boys enjoyed with their dad: Backyard Ballistics…backyard explosive, potato canons and such…a real hit!
The Dangerous Book for Boys – ’nuff said!
Visits to manufacturing places…what’s available near where you are?? We have a marble factory that allows tours, and boys have historically enjoyed shooting marbles
For older boys: helping with Special Olympics…sports even for the relatively non-athletic, and such a beautiful way of serving
Chess – a game of war, strategy, and taking-territory
Martial arts, sports, gymnastics (boys-only teams, if possible)
Camping, hiking, building and playing with fires – time in nature to roam and build and go crazy and get dirty (and, yes, to get hurt) are essential
Orienteering and Geocaching with Dad and pals
Garden work, especially raising family food
Raising earthworms for castings to sell (great for houseplants) and worms to sell fishermen
Fishing, snorkeling, scuba lessons, sailing (especially if reading Swallows and Amazons!)
Shooting sports, indoors or out – target shooting, archery is even more physical
Cooking – top chefs have always been men…creative, service, demanding, skill with knives
Taking apart things – find at garage sales or buy cheapo power tools, alarm clocks, toasters, motors…
Science experiments – just don’t make it ‘school’
Woodworking projects, his own set of tools, maybe a small workbench in garage
Dog training…first, watch The Dog Whisperer videos with Cesar Milan, plus somewhere is a monastery that specializes in training dogs – would be an interesting adjunct, and somewhere hardened prisoners are being brought back to humanity by raising dogs…must research this
Plan an imaginary trip across the country by rail, trail, bike, hike, air, car…map to mark up, write off for tourist info from states, figure out budget, gas mileage, etc..
Non-electric push mower – get to work!
Work: move this pile of woodchips over there using shovel and wheelbarrow; scrub the floor with this brush; whitewash this fence, Tom! (Tom Sawyer can be a difficult read, with the dialect indicated phonetically…might be better as a read aloud…a good one for boys); tape off and help paint an actual room (start with the garage!)
Dissection! All critters and equipment easily available from science supply places…yukky, and so, awesome!
Habitat for Humanity project with Dad
Offer help weeding, harvesting, helping around a working farm/garden
Canoe trip with Dad, or guided rapids tour – water parks just aren’t the same!
Bike riding with Dad along one of the longer rails-to-trails routes, with packed-in food and water, maybe camping along the way
We all loved the K-nex Bridge Building set…great teaching material about various kinds of bridge construction
David Macaulay books, especially The Way Things Work and Building Big (BB great with the bridge building, above)
Rocket stuff…tons of kits and books available – and do watch the movie October Sky, and maybe the movie Apollo 13
Models, model trains if grandpa has a barn or somewhere a space can be dedicated
Paths – laying out pathways with rope, leveling, filling with sand/gravel/paving stones
New flower beds….lay out with rope or garden hose, then dig up, amend, plant…install borders
Get a simple bookcase from IKEA and ask him to follow the instructions and let you know when it’s done….then leave him alone to deal with it…inexpensive, might be handy somewhere
Remember that boys tend to grow ‘in tension,’ I’ve noticed 2 years physical/2 years mental…and when in one phase, the other suffers until they are more fully integrated.
Work on a life timeline together so he can see that you intend to release him into the world, that you fully believe he’ll be able to drive himself around (in 6 years…brace yourself!!!), could perhaps drive a tractor at Grandpa’s even earlier (best possible training for driving), could take a friend all around a town like Lawrence on the bus at 12, needs a class in car repair at about 15, might start his own collection of home repair tools at 13, will need to take the ACT at 16 or 17, might go ahead and take some classes he finds interesting at JCCC at 15 or 16, could sign up for the entire Adobe suite to teach himself for $20 a month if interested at around 14, would cook the family dinner once a week at 14, would take on responsibility for all the mowing at 14 and be able to offer mowing for money in the neighborhood at 15, should be doing his own laundry at 12, might get on a plane by himself for a visit to somebody at 13, could be at the next world youth day in 2020, etc…, etc…, etc… . Boys need to see that mom is excited about their growing up even though it means growing away…otherwise, they may break with mom by being awful and having her kick ‘em out!
Camera – equipment, buttons to push, creative, online gallery – professional photographer hands his kid an expensive digital camera at 5 years old: I took his advice and was so glad!
And, one of my favorites: go to the zoo (best: Omaha) and let him loose with a map, a camera, a watch, and a backpack of food or whatever he might need (and, maybe, a phone that would just be for emergency and practice answering when you call to check in, or calling you at specific times). Let the leash be short at first – see you in an hour right here, and then longer with practice…see you for a picnic lunch in three hours…can’t wait to see your day in photos, stay on main paths …maybe even, here’s some money in case you want to get something at the food place….the zoo is a great place for this!!! Much better contained than a city, or mall. I would feel entirely safe allowing your ten-year-old to do this, and it would be great training in “more freedom comes, the more confident I am you can follow directions and stay within the limits I’ve set”.
The movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; the movie Glory (never understood why it was rated R – violence, yes, not much cussing, no women or sexuality or nudity…less violent that Iron Man and the like…about the first black regiment in the Civil War – one beautiful scene among men just before battle)
Books on my list of favs for 8-12 year old boys (some have sequels, not listed, and many of these authors have other good books):
Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series
Smoky, the Cowhorse – Will James
The White Stag – Kate Seredy
Call it Courage – Armstrong Sperry
The Matchlock Gun – Walter Edmonds
Adam of the Road – Elizabeth Gray
Johnny Tremain – Esther Forbes
Twenty-One Balloons – William Pene-dubois
King of the Wind – Marguerite Henry
A Door in the Wall – Marguerite D’Angeli
Amos Fortune, Free Man – Elizabeth Yates
The Wheel on the School – Meindert Dejong
The Story of the Treasure Seekers – Edith Nesbit
Owls in the Family – Farley Mowat
Warrior Scarlett – Rosemary Sutcliff
Snow Treasure – Marie McSwigan
The Yearling – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Rifle for Walter – Harold Keith
Carry on Mr. Bowditch – Jean Lee Latham
He Went With Marco Polo – Louise Kent
Little Britches – Ralph Moody
Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
Einstein Anderson – Seymour Simon
The Swiss Family Robinson (unabridged, please) Johan Wyss
Encyclopedia Brown – Sobol
Asterix series – Goscinny
Tintin series – Herge
The Black Arrow – Robert Louis Stevenson
The Perilous Road – William Steele
The Wonder Clock – Howard Pyle
The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian – Lloyd Alexander
The Indian in the Cupboard – Lynne Reid Banks
The Bronze Bow – Elizabeth Speare
The Sign of the Beaver – Elizabeth Speare
The Boxcar Children – Warner
Everything by Willard Price!
Henry Reed series – Robertson
By Secret Railway – Enid Meadowcroft
On to Oregon – Honore Morrow
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency – Pinkwater
Gentle Ben – Walt Morey
Humbug Mountain – Sid Fleischman
The King’s Fifth – Scott O’Dell
The Hobbit – Tolkein
Twenty and Ten – Claire Hutchet Bishop
The Prince and the Pauper – Mark Twain
Escape from Warsaw – Ian Serralier
Jackaroo – Cynthia Voigt
The Voyage of Dr. Doolittle – Hugh Lofting
A Boy’s War – David Mitchell
Readers: Add your ideas in the comments box!
Monteen, from the French for ‘mountain’. That’s my mom – a tower of strength to all who knew her, but barely over five feet tall. Her mother shaped her life much differently than she, in her turn, shaped the lives of two daughters. A dark, and mentally unstable woman with a brooding, sometimes violent ill will toward Monteen, Grandmother was no model of nurture and compassion. Yet, my mother dedicated her life to understanding and helping the mentally ill. Instead of hardening her heart, she was moved to give the kind of help her mother had so desperately needed.
Supported by a deeply loving father, she poured herself into her studies and then into her work. She gave herself to patients and to students with remarkable energy and effectiveness. It often took great courage for this little mountain to stand up to violent patients with psychotic strength: drug addicts threatening to kill the next person who walked into the room; confused and deluded people who might take a nurse for a hated enemy, or an attempt to help as a threat against their lives. Even to go to work sometimes was to take risks on their behalf in gang-infested, high crime neighborhoods.
But who would there be to bring help to such needy ones if not for those, like her, with servant hearts, a sense of the dignity and worth of those so difficult to love, and a vision of hope for their wholeness? Such people as my mother follow the example of Christ, who brought light into the darkness and set captives free.
Until her death, she continued her ministry of shedding the light of understanding on the problems people face in difficult relationships and in the challenges of aging. Always teaching, part of her mandate from heaven must certainly have been to multiply herself and the value of her experience a thousand-fold. She took her message, “Don’t be afraid to get well!” seriously – allowing God to cleanse and heal her own deep wounds, and becoming over the years more and more beautiful to all those who loved her.
Monteen took, as her life’s promise, the Scripture verse Romans 8:28 : “We know that all things work together for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. (NRSV)” By the time she died, she still was no saint, but she left me and my children a beautiful example of courage and faith in the face of death. Even in death, she’s a ‘little mountain’ to me now, giving me courage to “Take a risk!” and “Give it all you’ve got.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all the little mountains in all the families I love!
Here, also, are links to every one of my posts that mentions placenta! [Read more…]
Thanks to Jill Stanek, pro-life activist, for publishing this Guest Post about the 50 Million Names Project!
50,000,000! When we reached that abortion toll, I woke up, in a way, to the horror of this ongoing holocaust. I wished then, before Internet, email, and computers in every home, there was a way to give names for all those babies. No way!