Friday, October 30, 2009

Applesauce Day...

If you know me well, you will probably have heard about Applesauce Day. It is an annual event--first a bit of history.

[My filled jelly cabinet with jam, soup, salsa and of course, applesauce!]

When I was a child my sisters and I helped my mom can tomatoes, peaches and a variety of other produce. She told stories of when she was a child how Grandpa would put the old canning stove under the tree in the back yard because it was cooler that way. I wish I would have asked if it was electric, gas or a wood stove.

At any rate, they would wash the jars in the back yard in tubs of hot soapy water in preparation for canning. It was a lot of work! [We just put the jars through the dishwasher.]

[Top, apples cooking; below, my son Dusty milling the apples. He put cooked apples in the top of the hopper, cranks the handle and like a miracle, the applesauce comes out the front while the peels and seeds go into a bucket to compost.]

When canned goods first started appearing in stores my Grandma and her friends thought that only lazy people would buy canned fruits and vegetables. I mean, who would do that when you could can your own? How times have changed since then.

At any rate, through the years Mom and I canned applesauce. When we moved to Kentucky in 1992 Mom and Dad would bring apples down from Michigan [on their way back down to Florida] and Mom and I [with some help from Dad and a bit from the kids] would can applesauce. We used archaic equipment and it was really hard work.

[Various friends and family cutting the apples--before you can cook them, they need to be quartered and the blossom end cut out. With back to camera, daughter in law Molly, to the left Jenny and daughter Kate, and new recruits Karen at end and Tricia in foreground.]

This continued till the year my dad died. Mom started to decline with Alzheimer's and she went to live in Michigan permanently-no longer making the treks down to Kentucky with apples. The first year she was not coming I was kind of depressed. I mentioned this to Bob--I mean it is kind of like when someone dies and they won't be at Christmas anymore--except we hadn't celebrated Christmas with my parents for years. But, when fall came, and Mom and Dad weren't there to help me do applesauce, it was really, really hard for me.

[Friends Bethel and Kenji put more applesauce through the mill.]

Bob said, "Maybe you need to modify the tradition. Make applesauce with our kids to carry on the tradition." That was good advice, except our kids were not interested at that time. Too young.
[Jenny and Kate with youngest daughter Violet in foreground, Kenji with son Kai on floor, our son Dusty [back to camera] and daughter in law Jen in Living room.]

So, I called up my friend Jenny who now has 5 children, but I think she and Keith only had two back then, and asked if she wanted to come over for "Applesauce Day." She did. That first year I think we canned about 60 quarts, split them and called it a day.

[Karen and my daughter Kari putting the applesauce into jars, ready to process.]

Since that day in 2001 the tradition has grown. This year we canned 7 1/2 bushels of apples, yielding about 62 quarts and 112 pints, plus we ate a LOT. So, here are some photos of applesauce day 2009.

[ Photos: Karen and Kai tasting the sauce. Isaac to right eating some applesauce too. #2- Some of the completed applesauce, #3 Keith reading to his three youngest kids. As you can see, applesauce day is a family event! I think it would make Mom and Dad smile.]

Take care,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dear Jill...

I received a note from a homeschooling dad expressing his frustration that he can hardly teach his two young children because each takes so much individual time. Here is part of his very good letter [names have been changed]:

"I'm finding that right now, my big challenge is coordinating things. Robin is six and her math takes a lot of time and attention. So while I'm doing Robin's math with her, it's hard to figure out how to keep Jacob busy and engaged with useful activity, without interrupting Robin's math. And vice-versa. If I'm involved in 2nd grade math with Jacob, it's hard to keep Robin engaged with something useful, without interrupting Jacob.

"Also, since both kids are young, there are constant questions and a lack of ability to solve their own I'm constantly jumping back and forth from one child to the other. I like to finish one task before starting another. That really doesn't work with home school, as in my case, I'm teaching 1st and 2nd grade pretty much simultaneously in the daytime."

The implied question is, "How can I get it all done?"

I hear this over and over as I talk to parents throughout the Midwest. I replied to this dedicated father in the following way and my husband thought I should share my response in case it might encourage other homeschooling families.

Dear Friend,

I have a couple of suggestions. First off, I would not do two separate curricula with children so close together. Please think about having them share whatever is practical, such as science, social studies/history and Bible. There is absolutely no reason to teach each one separately. When you teach children together you will not only be simplifying the teaching, but they will be learning together which will forge strong family bonds. You will probably hear them reinforcing what they are studying with each other during non-school time because they are studying the same thing.

I am not sure what curriculum you are using, but even before I used Sonlight Curriculum with my children, I combined them in many subjects. In fact, one year, I wrote unit studies so all my children could learn together. They were in 9th, 7th, 5th and 1st grades plus we had a 3 year old to make things more interesting! Obviously the 9th grader understood more than the 3 year old, but we all learned together at our own level. Just like when you have Bible study—all can join in, but each takes something different away from it.

I am not sure what math you are doing, but generally I would sit at the table and start one child off while other children worked on handwriting, or spelling or maybe just had a 10 minute break. Then I would start the other one off and sit at the table and kind of help both/all the children at the same time, going from one to another. If this doesn’t work, then schedule 30 minutes with each child while the other one is doing silent reading, tidying up their room, cleaning the bathroom, etc. If they take longer than 30 minutes, make it a two day lesson, or have them do what they didn’t get done as homework. There is really no reason for math for a 1st grader to take a 45 minutes or more. Slow down if it is too hard. You are building a foundation you can build on later, not trying to win a race.

If you are doing a traditional curriculum they are frankly a LOT of busywork because they are designed for school use. Cut out some stuff, don’t do it all. You are the teacher—you control what your children do at what pace. When you were in school did you EVER finish a text book? Didn’t the teacher skip some chapters? The books are your tools, you are their master. Many folks let the curriculum be the master and they are the servant. Don’t get into that trap. You are the master, the books are your servants. Don’t let them be in charge.

I am fully convinced after homeschooling our five children for 17 years that there are only three things to teach our children [as far as academics]:

• To be able to read and comprehend [This would apply to most subjects, even math. If they can read it and comprehend it you have done your job.]
• To be able to think critically about what they have read and form opinions [This does not mean doing the questions at the end of the chapter. This means having thoughtful discussions with your children about what they have read or what they are learning about]
• To be able to communicate back [orally and via the written word] what they know or think about a subject

They do not necessarily need to learn about every time period in history. They don’t necessarily need to learn how to diagram sentences or a lot of other things. What they need is to be able to read about a subject, understand what they have read, think about it and what the implications are, and to communicate it back. You cannot teach a child everything. Can you? I know I don’t know everything. But, if you can teach them to read and think and communicate they can approach any subject, job or situation with confidence.

I truly believe that today’s schools do not teach children to succeed because they don’t teach them to think. Yet, our whole lives involve thinking. When you get a job, no one asks you to do a multiple choice test—they give you work and expect you to be able to read the material, figure out what to do and do it.

I suggest when you have the time you may want to read “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by DeMille. He has some wonderful insights about the difference between an education like our founding fathers received and the "assembly line" education of today's schools.

I also suggest that this year you try combining the children in some subjects. I think you will all benefit. And if you are not reading good literature to your children, you might want to ditch history and just read to your children some of the Childhood of Famous American books or other historical biographies and/or novels. This could be done as bedtime reading to break up the day a little bit. You will all learn a lot and it will be much more enjoyable. If you plan to homeschool for the long haul, then I think it would be nice if it was enjoyable for you too.

Feel free to use what you can from my suggestions and toss what would not work. Homeschooling is a job. It is not easy, but it is the most rewarding job you will ever have and it will reap huge benefits.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Homeschool Blog Awards Nominations...

Nominate your favorite homeschool blog. Go here to see the details. If you like this blog, you might want to consider nominating it in the "Homeschool Mom" category or another category you think is appropriate.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Driver's Ed...

I am not an expert on teaching kids to drive. I don't have the nerves or patience it takes to get in the car with a teen and teach them how to actually keep from killing themself or someone else. In fact, when Cris was learning to drive and I was a mere passenger in the back seat I shouted out, "We're all going to die!" I couldn't help it. I really thought we were all gonners.

At any rate, my husband is an amazing driving teacher. He taught all our kids to drive.

I gave birth, he taught to drive. We call it even!

But, we did learn a great way to make sure our kids had plenty of experience on the road before we allowed them to take their road test to get their license.

We had them log 2000 miles with Bob or I supervising. Every time they got in the car to drive, they had to jot down the miles and then jot them again when we returned home. I generally felt comfortable sitting in the co-pilot seat after they had logged 1000 miles.

Let me tell you--two thousand miles is a lot! To get that many they will have driven back roads, expressways, during the day, the night, the rain and if you live in northern climates, even the snow. It takes commitment on the part of the parents and the teen, but it is time and gas money well spent. By the time you teen takes their road test you will feel confident in their driving ability.

Also, it takes the pressure and strain off the parents as to saying when a teen is ready. Instead of saying, "You aren't ready for the road test because..." you can just ask how many miles are logged and when you child reaches that mark, you take him. It is not subjective at all--but totally objective and everyone knows the expectations.

I know many states have minimum driving requirements, but even if they say the child needs to drive 50 hours, makes sure they also have 2000 miles. The 2000 mile goal is did not originate with us. Years ago my sister heard a judge say that he had observed that the most and worst accidents caused by teens were by inexperienced teens. He said that if they had at least 2000 miles under their belt they were exponentially better drivers than those who didn't. We took his advice to heart and I think it was some of the best advice we ever took.

I wanted to pass this advice on to those of you with pre-drivers. Please, have your children keep a log book, make them log 2000 miles, then take them for their road test. You will be glad you did.

Take care,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nobel Prize won by former home-educated student...

Did you see the news this week? Willard S. Boyle is sharing the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in developing the sensor that is widely used in digital cameras.

Born in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1924, Willard moved to northern Quebec when he was three years old because his father took a job as a doctor at a lumber camp.

He was homeschooled by his mother until he went to high school in Montreal. [Way to go Mrs. Boyle! ]

So, if people question your homeschooling, you can say, "Hey, the last guy to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics was homeschooled."

You can read more about Boyle by going here:

Take care,

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Craft Fair in our small town...

Yesterday there was a craft fair/festival in our town. Main Street was closed off, vendors set up tents, the potter had his wheel going, people were making kettle corn, lathe-turned pens and various other things. There was a wool booth with 4 real live sheep in attendance. This was especially popular with little kids and dogs!

I took a quick look around and bought a few things at the farmer's market and then hurried to help my friend who owns a gift shop on Main Street. The shop is actually in the dining room of her house. It is called The Front Room and she has lots of local items as well as unique and reasonable gifts. She carries the famous Prairie Kari Soap [I say this laughing, since I make the soap], Woodstock Chimes, His Gem baby clothes and lots of cool stuff.

At any rate I am still smiling when I think about some of the folks who came in. There was one young boy, I am guessing about 10, who was so enthusiastic about the Smencils that Linda sells in the shop. He was giving everyone within earshot a little education about how they are made with 100% recycled newspaper and smell cool. He was very good-natured and so enthusiastic! With his big dimples and quick smile he reminded me of Chad when he was younger, so smart and affable--like a grown up in a kid's body.

The chimes were a hit with many people trying them out. They sound lovely, and young kids as well as old men seem to love them--truly a intergenerational gift.

There were people who just came in to look, others who came just to say hi. Everyone loved the Buttered Maple Toddy Goose Creek candle Linda had burning, but no one bought one. Made in Liberty, Kentucky, these candles are wonderful and really throw the scent.

Some people tried to talk the price down on some items, but really, Linda's profit margin is not that high, so she needs to get the prices she charges. I cannot imagine trying to talk-down a shop owner, but I guess people figure "why not?" I was kind of taken back by their boldness.

I talked to some homeschooling parents who were just starting to homeschool. One lady said how much they enjoyed the book "Milly-Molly-Mandy" when she found out I was a Sonlight Consultant. Her little girl was about 8 and so sweet, she reminded me of my daughter Kari when she was that age.

At any rate, it was a great day. Lots of fun, lots of families, lots of jewelry sold.

Living in a small town is great and very rewarding, and despite my perception that I know everyone in town, I realized yesterday that I don't. It is events like this that get us out of our routine so we can encourage and get to know our neighbors. I can't wait till "Old Fashioned Christmas" when Main Street once again becomes a huge sidewalk, free from cars and commerce, and inviting us to once again get to know our neighbors.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Curses--I mean Cursive!

Does anyone care about cursive anymore?

This was the title of an article in our local newspaper and it reminded me of many conversations that I have had with parents. Do their children need cursive? Many schools have dropped the formal training in cursive, or have short lessons on it in 3rd grade and never touch on it again. Does it matter?

I am not sure. What do you think? In this computer/phone/texting culture, why do we need cursive? I rarely write cursive and my husband has printed for years. In fact, I am not sure if I ever saw him write much more than his name in cursive in the past 35+ years.

In years past cursive was important because it was faster than printing so all correspondence could be sped up if they writer wrote in cursive. But now just about everything that takes time such as work or school reports, Christmas letters, letters to the editor, personal journals and so on are done in some type of word processing program. Most of us only use pen and ink for signatures, shopping lists, short memos and a few other applications. Like many people I don't even keep a hand written calender anymore, I use a Google Calendar and print it out a month or so at a time.

The article said that cursive writing in an art that helps teach children muscle control and hand-eye coordination. I suppose the same could be said of a key board, Wii controller or text messaging. The article concluded rather lamely what one teacher says "I just tell children, what if we are on an island and we don't have electricity? One of the ways we communicate is through writing."

What? I mean if we don't have electricity, probably we won't be too worried about writing correspondance, we will communicate by talking or making symbols on tree bark or making signal fires so someone will rescue us. In that scenario I think that a wilderness survival class might be more in line. [I actually taught a seminar in wilderness survival years ago, so ask me if you have further questions.]

For my kids, I really wanted them to be able to be able to write and print legibly and to be able to read traditional cursive. Out of my five children, three learned traditional handwriting, one child learned italic cursive and one used Handwriting Without Tears [both untraditional cursive programs] I wanted them to be able to read traditional Spencerian Cursive because I wanted them to be able to read letters from their grandma. Silly, huh?

And I think any thing that instills some discipline is good.

But, I think my children's children will not need to know cursive to be able to read my letters because I type everything. And, if they do need to learn how to read it, my advice is to have them type their reports using a cursive font. They can always change the font if they need to, but if they type with a cursive font they will know enough cursive to read it and whether they can write in cursive is not that important.

I advise parents to have their children learn to communicate in a legible way and to learn touch keyboarding in elementary school. I am not sure cursive is as important as it once was, but it is not a bad thing to learn it either.

So, what do you think? Does anyone care about cursive anymore?