Friday, February 27, 2015

I am NOT Okay With THIS

My kids LOVE Legos. I mean, love! They have three GIANT tubs full of them and hardly a day goes by that they are not dumped out all over the floor. And they especially love the mini figures. For those of you not up to speed on your Lego terminology, that's the people. They love, love, love to play with the little guys. The line up the pirates to fight the Star Wars guys and the hobbits to invade the knights. I've found minifigs in the van, on the kitchen table, and even in the shower.

Given that my kids love them so much, it should come as no surprise that I thought about getting them some for Christmas. Since I have a Prime membership, was my first stop. I searched "Lego mini figures." Lego Movie guys. Super heroes. Star Wars. The Simpsons. The Simpsons? Really? Hmmm...and then there it was at the bottom of page 1: the "Lego Walter White Cooking Figure - Breaking Bad."

I honestly had to look twice to be sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was. You see, I don't watch Breaking Bad. I haven't seen one single episode. But I'm not a social pariah and I do have a general idea about concept of the show. It's about a high school chemistry teacher who becomes terminally ill and then, along with a former student, decides that making and selling methamphetamines is the way to secure his family's financial future. It's an interesting concept and millions of Americans watched the show. It was on cable and if grown adults wanted to pay money to watch that, I'm okay with it.

What I am NOT okay with is someone creating and marketing drug dealers as toys. The "cooking" figure is in a hazmat suit and holding a blue crystal. He's not baking a cake or grilling burgers. This dude is "cooking" crystal meth. You can also buy the companion figure, Jesse, also in hazmat gear and holding his own blue crystals. In fact, they have what appears to be the entire cast of the show available, right there in the sponsored section on Amazon. It wasn't hard to find, buried deep in pages and pages of other Legos or only when specifically searched. Nope, it was right there, on page one, under "Toys and Games."

Yes, I know, these are probably not created with little kids in mind. The target audience is adult collectors. I get that. I do. But I'm still NOT okay with it. Kids are drawn to Legos. They are toys. If Uncle Billy has one on his desk, a shelf or a keychain, the kids will notice. And they will think it's cool. Meth dealers are NOT cool.

I am NOT okay with this. I have seen what meth can do people. I have seen little girls watch their daddies arrested and taken from them. I've watched the effects of fatherless boys growing up while their dads were in prison. I've seen beautiful women become toothless, wrinkled messes and seen addicts neglect their kids to the point of losing them to foster care. Glorifying drug dealers, even fictional ones like Walt and Jesse, through kids' toys is just sick. It's sick.

As far as I can tell, these figures are not produced by Lego but rather by a company called Henchman's Bricks using real Lego parts. and Henchman's bricks, I am NOT okay with this.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Haircut

There are times in parenting when all you can really do is laugh or cry. This was one of them.

My daughter was three years old and my oldest son had just turned five. The baby was sleeping and the back yard really needed mowed. It was almost 5:00, time for the boy I was babysitting to go home. We had tee ball that night. I was coaching the team and needed to be there by 5:45. But still, there was just enough time for me to get the back yard mowed. Half way through, the mom came to pick up her son. We said, "See you at the ball game in a little while," and I left the kids inside while I finished. Ten minutes later I came back into the house. 

Both kids are standing in the living room, with the light of the evening sun coming in the picture window behind them. I'm hot, sweating and in a hurry to get cleaned up and ready for the game. My son, is his most helpful voice says to me, "I put it all in the trash for you, Mom." What? What did he put in the trash? Then I see them. He's holding my scissors. 

I shift my gaze a foot to the left and I see her. My beautiful, curly haired daughter is standing with a wide grin on her face. I gasp. Half of her hair is gone. Gone. In its place is a mini-bang mullet that not even a mother could love. And bless her, my little darling looks up at me and says, "Don't I look beautiful, Momma?"

Now, I know that the right thing to say there would have been "Yes," but I just couldn't make myself. The words, "No. You look horrible!" came flying out of my mouth. Her little face fell and I quickly recovered and added, "I mean you are beautiful. But your hair looks horrible!" 

Eli immediately knew that his plan had gone south. Without hesitation he leaned his head forward and said, "She cut some of mine, too." When I looked really hard, I could almost make out one patch where he was missing a few strands. Not enough to notice and certainly not the equivalent of what he had done to hers!

At that point, I took the scissors, sent them to their room and called my mom. She laughed. She ALWAYS laughs. It's her number one coping mechanism. And she made me laugh and reminded me that hair will grow back. And she said not to kill anyone and not to scream and that she would be there to get Abby in a few minutes so I could get Eli ready for his ballgame. And she told me to grab my camera because I would want the pictures later. 

And because my mom gives the best advice, I took pictures. These pictures. 

And then I made her brother bring the scissors and get in the pictures, too. (He had had a bike wreck the week before, thus the beat up face. I promise, it was not haircut related.) He almost managed to look guilty in this one.

By the time we took this one, I was able to laugh a little. Obviously, Abby was not traumatized by the event. Shortly after this, her Nana came and picked her up. She brought her to the ballgame rocking the side ponytail. I was mortified but she just enjoyed the attention. 

The next day, I was able to get her in at the local salon. This is where the poor stylist had to start from. 

And this is where she ended up. Abby loved it. 

And by Christmas it had turned into quite the cute little bob. 

None of my kids have ever cut their own or each other's hair again. I think it was the threat of 100 spankings that prevented further escapades. And the constant reminders that you have to have a license to cut other people's hair. And the hearing of this story about a million times in the seven years since it happened. 

That day, Haircut Day, I had only a few seconds to decide if I would laugh or cry. I'm glad I chose laughter that day and I'm glad I took my mom's advice and took pictures. I don't ever want to forget these little stinkers!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Big Red Box: A Homeschool Win

Sometimes it's just so hard to fit it all in! Math, science, religious studies, handwriting, history, geography, foreign language, art, music, writing, poetry, non-fiction, fiction, health, PE . . . the list goes on for miles! Lately I've felt like there may be some gaps in my kids' learning. Not huge unfathomable canyons, but just some little things that we might be missing out on. After trying out many different approaches with not much luck, I finally came up with an idea that seems to be working. 

It's not one of those amazing, "wow!" kind of ideas, but it is one of those ideas that made me go, "Why didn't I think of that years ago?" 

We go to the library about once a week, or at a minimum, once every two weeks. Usually I just let the kids get stuff for them and I get stuff for me, and we go on our merry way. A couple of weeks ago, though, I got an idea. I would let the kids pick out their own books but I would also pick out some things for them. I browsed the non-fiction section for things I thought they might be interested in and took home a huge stack.

When I got home, I found an old plastic milk crate that was empty and decided it would be a great container for these books. I plopped them in, then hit the shelves at our house for even more books and filled it up. Then I implemented a new policy. On school days, the kids MUST read from the "Red Box" for at least 30 minutes each day. 

Right now, there are books on Greek mythology, classical art, a road atlas, karate for kids, the Negro baseball league, Samurai, WWII, the Constitution, Christmas, dragons, the Underground Railroad, the Avengers and more. There are some easy readers and even some old Kids Discover magazines. Some of them are read every single day (mostly the mythology and Avengers right now) and others haven't been touched yet.

On Monday, we'll head to the library, return most of these and pick up some new ones. Some will stay for weeks and others will never be seen again. Some will go away for a while and come back in a month or two. There are books on different reading levels and different subjects. They can easily be traded out.

The best part of this is that my kids are LOVING the big red box. They haven't fought me on this even once. The big ones read to the little ones and they are picking up books they may have never given a second glance to on their own. I'm calling that a homeschool win!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

There's No Crying In Baseball

You guys. Seriously. I don't cry over sporting events. Rarely do I have enough invested in a team to care enough to have an emotional response to wins or losses. Even when my own kids are playing, I can usually shrug things off with an "It's just a game" attitude.

As Tom Hanks so famously said it in "A League of Their Own," "There's no crying in baseball!" But this year, I have cried over the Kansas City Royals more than once. How could I not?

I grew up here in Kansas. And yes, the Royals are technically from Missouri, but no one here cares about that. The Royals are our team. I was just a kid in 1985, when they won it all, and I grew up with George Brett and Bret Saberhagen as my heroes. For a while, I had a dream of becoming the first girl to catch for the team. Considering that I won't even catch for my 11 year old son now, there is no way I would have ever been able to make that happen, but every kid growing up has a dream and wearing the blue and white was one of mine.

My dad watched the games and he even took me to my first MLB game. I was somewhere around 10 years old. We had cheap seats, high above left field. The Royals played the Yankees. I don't remember who won or lost that day, but I do remember looking out across the stadium at the flags and seeing the World Series Champs 1985 flag proudly flying.

I haven't been to a lot of games in my life. We're a couple hours from KC and growing up, my family didn't spend a lot of money on such frivolous things as attending Major League Baseball games. But if you asked us, we were Royals fans. We wore George Brett jerseys and had his autograph on our gloves. He was our favorite because he was great, but also because he was loyal. He spent his entire career in Kansas City and the love he had for the team and for the town were evident. For what it's worth, seeing him be excited about the Boys in Blue this year was a total bonus.

One day, in the fall of my senior year of high school, my dad spontaneously picked me, my sister and my friend, Laurie, up from school. He drove us the two hours to Kaufman Stadium and bought us tickets to George's final home game. Watching one of my childhood heroes round the bases a final time (in a golf cart, no less) is one of the best memories I have with my dad.

A few years later, I married into a big sports family. Unlike me, they're not native Kansans, but since he's been here for most of his life, Vance faithfully cheers for Kansas City sports teams.

We gave up cable over a decade ago but Vance has faithfully listened to the Royals on AM radio for years. This year he was able to live stream the playoff series for just $10. Like most KC fans, he can't stand the TV announcers, so he mutes them and still listens to the radio. Because of this, we don't watch together. I can't stand that high pitched hum that comes with AM radio but he doesn't even seem to hear it. So this year, I "watched" the games on my phone, via the MLB Live Update. I always knew when to check the score, as I could hear Vance screaming, "Yes!" on the good plays and "NOOOOOO!" on the bad. For the first time in a long time, there were more yeses than nos. More often than not, those games lasted way past bedtime and my poor husband went to work tired but happy.

My husband loves sports, but 2014 was a big year for my oldest son, too. This year, he decided that baseball is his sport and for the first time, was a part of a competitive traveling team. The confidence it built in him was phenomenal. He also played in our local rec league, which was another great experience for him. This summer, after playing for six years, my son fell in love with baseball. In July, he attended his first two MLB games on back to back nights at The K. It was perfect. That first night, the Royals took the lead in the division. They won again the next day, and E was there to see it. Those games solidified his love for baseball and he'll be a Royals fan for life.

For the last two weeks, my kids and I have walked around the house, the park and the supermarket singing the Matthew West version of "Royals." If you haven't seen it yet, you need to.

Did you see that catch Moose made where he literally fell into the stands? He says he never touched the ground. The Royals fans weren't about to let that happen.

And then there's Salvy Perez, who started an amazing 158 games this year. As catcher. There's no quit in that boy. (I say boy because he's like 24 years old. I'm almost 40, so that makes him practically a preschooler in my eyes. That's how it goes when you get old.)

There are a thousand more reasons to love the 2014 Royals. Try this link for some of them. I don't think you can read it and walk away anything but a fan.

So, while I didn't even think of crying when they lost, I did shed a couple of tears watching highlight reels. This is the team we've waited decades for. These are tears of joy and pride. Thank you, Kansas City Royals. You were worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

3 Myths About Homeschoolers That You Should Stop Believing

Having done this homeschooling thing for a while now, I have found that there are some common misconceptions the general public seems to have about us.  I'd like to take a few minutes and clear up three of those myths for you.  (These aren't universal truths, as I'm sure you could find families that do fit these stereotypes. But the homeschoolers that I know don't and I would bet that most others don't either.)

1. We don't care about public education.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While most of my kiddos are not currently attending our local elementary or middle school (we actually do have one in preschool there this year), the majority of kids in America are going to public school. With the exception of a handful of homeschoolers and about three families who send their kids to private Christian schools, all the rest of my kids' friends go to public school. Most of their cousins and their fellow Scouts go to public school.  As do our neighbors and the kids on their ball teams. The kids we know at church and my own kids' friends as well. I have many, many friends who are amazing public school teachers. To even imply that I don't care about any of these people is absurd and to be quite honest, a little insulting.

2. Our kids are unsocialized.
Pa-leeze! This is such an outdated misconception. This week we had a back-to-school party for just our homeschool friends. They couldn't all attend, but we had over 20 kids and a dozen parents there. (If everyone we invited had come, that number would have more than doubled. And that's JUST our homeschool friends.) They swam, played games, jumped on the trampoline and a few of the older ones were even a little awkward around members of the opposite sex. Sounds pretty normal to me.

3. We somehow have more patience than other parents.
I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times I have heard, "I would homeschool, but I don't have the patience." And what, dear friends, makes you think that I do? Seriously, I lose my temper way more often than I am willing to fess up to. And don't even shake you're head and think to yourself, Maybe, Kelsy. But I bet you've never (insert your worst parenting moment here). Because short of things that would land me in jail, I probably have. And because the nature of homeschooling puts me in close proximity to my little dearies more often than some other moms, I probably lose it more often.  Don't believe me? Ask my kids. Wait. Scratch that. Don't ask my kids. They might tell you the truth.

The reality is, we're just normal people. Yes, we choose to teach our kids differently but our sameness is much bigger than our differences.  We all care about other people, even the ones who are not just like us. We all want need friends and meaningful relationships with others. Homeschool moms blow it with our kids and have to ask forgiveness (from them and from God) just as often, if not more so than other people do. So home, public or private schooled, let's all love each other and give each other a lot of grace.  We all need it. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kelsy Crutchfield's Busy Busy Life

I just read an advice blog that said, "Stay home as much as possible.  Not having to be running all the time is a gift you can give your children."  Sounds like good advice.

And you know what?  It probably is.  For some people.  For some seasons.  But right now, my life is pretty busy.  And by pretty busy, I mean it's full to bursting!  We have baseball, VBS, church, scouts, friends, family, parties, sleepovers, dance class, summer camp, swimming pools, and a million other things.  And you know what?  I LOVE IT. There are days when we all just need a break from it.  And we take those.  We stay at home and in our pajamas for entire weekends when it's necessary.  But for the most part, we are a family of goers.  We leave the house and we live our lives in this crazy, messed-up, lovely world.

I love this busy life.  It's crazy but I have no doubt that it's right where we need to be.

It's hours in the van, countless dollars in gas, and a lot of time away from home.  It's breakfast at McDonald's and supper at Pizza Hut.  It's hard to get the laundry done and impossible to even think about meal planning.  It's exhausting.

But it's also hours in the van with my family.  Conversations we might not have otherwise.  Time when we can't get away from each other and life gets real.

It's hot days on hard bleachers building relationships with people we have come to love.  It's being a part of our community and supporting each other.  It's carpooling and helping each other out.  It's sharing sunflower seeds and taking pictures together. It's building friendships that will last well past this season.

It's 90 degrees out and kids on a slip and slide.  It's moms drinking Pepsi in the shade and sharing their lives together.  Water gun fights and learning how to deal with people. Greeting the new neighbors with smiles and chatting with the ones who have lived close for years.

It's life lessons and disappointments.  Winning, losing, not getting to play, making the great catch.  They're all important things to experience, both for our kids and for us as parents.  Scraped knees and kisses on boo-boos. Not getting the water gun you wanted and having to wait your turn to run down the slide.

It's teaching kids, my own and those in my community, to live life in a way that reflects the love of Jesus.  It's showing that following Christ happens not just in a "church," but in our everyday lives as well.

It's serving others.  Staying an extra 15 minutes so that someone else doesn't have to stay an extra two hours. It's dropping by with a casserole and sending a card to friend who is struggling.

My life?  It's busy.  It's crazy.  It's exhausting.  And I wouldn't change a thing.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sometimes It's Hard to Remember

Oh, Pinterest.  A place to make you laugh, cry and be hungry all in the first 10 seconds.   A while back I came across a pin that was something along the lines of "Someone else would gladly have what you are complaining about."  It was pretty much a thought for mothers who are having bad days with their kids.

And it's true.  I know it's true.  I know that there are people out there who struggle every single day with infertility.  I realize that there are mommas out there who have lost their babies and would give anything, anything at all, to simply hold them one more time.  I know this to be true, and for those mommas, I am so sorry for your hurt.  I know that it is real and it is heavy and it can be all consuming.  I have myself mourned for a child I never got to hold.  I have watched people I love mourn the loss of their children.  It is the worst thing.  The very worst.

But just knowing that other people wish for the happy, healthy children that I have sometimes isn't enough to make the crazy go away.  Sometimes, dealing with the every day reality of having and homeschooling four kids is just hard.

Hearing the little man with whom you have just had a 20 minute struggle to put on his shoes and get his butt in the van call you the "worst mom in the whole wide world" sucks.  On a long day, it might be enough to push you over the edge.  It might cause you tell him to look for another mom because you are resigning from the position.  It may not be your best parenting moment.

When your Tigger is extra tired and extra bouncy and backtalks you in public and then bursts into tears in the buffet line, the last thing on your mind is gratitude.  The first thing might be wanting to burst into tears yourself or to go crawl in a hole and hide.

When your boys act like boys and your furniture looks like it belongs in a frat house, it's easy to forget that these little men are gifts from God.  Holes in the dry wall and rips in the couch cushions can be enough to make me wallow in a "woe is me" kind of pity party.  "Poor me.  I'll never have nice things. If I do, they'll just ruin them!"

In that moment when your daughter first rolls her eyes at you and you realize you are now raising a pre-teen girl and it's not all going to be sunshine and roses, it's easy to forget the blessing that children are.  It's easier to remember the mess of hormones that come with growing up and all the mess that entails.  And the funk.  Oh, the funk.  The funky attitudes and the funky smells are enough to make this mother question her own sanity.

It's easy to forget when I'm tired, hungry, stressed, and/or single-parenting because my hard working husband is on the night shift.

But it's easy to remember when the little man looks up at you and says in his sweetest voice, with his cutest face, "Hold me, Mom."  When Tigger wraps his arms around you and cries into your shoulder and says that he's sorry and he just wants his mommy to hold him for a minute, then you remember.  When your not-so-little girl willingly shares a secret with you, trusting you to keep her confidence, you know why you do this parenting thing every day. When your growing-up-way-too-fast tween looks at you and out of the blue says, "I just love you so much, Mom," you wonder how you ever thought furniture was important.  In those moments, you remember.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review: The Usborne Book of World History

The Usborne Book of World History by Anne Millard, 2008 edition

I bought this book for the 2011-12 school year based on the recommendation from Sonlight.  Sonlight uses it as part of their Core B+C curriculum.  They pair this book with Hillyer's A Child's History of the WorldGeography Songs and the Bible.  I use it with my first and third graders.

The history aspect of Sonlight's Core B+C is focused on ancient civilizations, starting with the earliest settlers in Mesopotamia to the late twentieth century, roughly ending around the Vietnam War.  This book in particular chronicles life on the planet through about 1914, or right before World War I.

Each pair of pages in this book are a "chapter" about a certain time period and place in history.  There are no photographs (for obvious reasons!) but there are detailed, colorful drawings that depict the people and places well.  A warning for the easily offended; there is a LOT of nudity depicted in this book.  In accurately trying to depict the cultures of ancient people, the authors did not put clothes on people who probably did not wear them.  There are well over two dozen pictures of naked folks.  This doesn't bother me or my kids, but if it does you or yours, this is NOT the book for you.

There are also many violent scenes. Pictures show a gladiator fighting a bear, Christians being thrown to the lions, and soldiers with spears through their chests.  This visual history is not for the faint of heart.  They don't shy away from mentioning human sacrifices, executions (Mary, Queen of Scots is shown with an executioner about to chop off her head with an axe), or the horrors of war (there is no mention of sexual slavery or rape).

That said, this is a very interesting and well done book.  While this would not be a good stand-alone history text, the information given is excellent but brief.  They cover Joan of Arc in less than 40 words and a picture of her burning at the stake.  Obviously, there is more to her story, but this is a good introduction.  That's basically the truth of the entire book: It shouldn't be your only history text, but it is certainly a great supplement to one.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Packing for Camp

This year was my oldest son's first year to go to Boy Scout camp.  He was gone for an entire week and had the time of his life!  Over the next seven years, as he progresses through ranks and eventually becomes an Eagle Scout, I have no doubt that we will learn a thousand useful things from this organization. For now, though, I just want to share the one that has been the most useful for me, the mom, so far.

Packing for camp.  The BSA guys have this down really well.  Here's what I've learned from them along with a few tricks I've picked up on my own.

1. Forget the suitcase.  Pack in a hard plastic tote with a snap-on lid.  It's waterproof, stackable and will keep bugs out.  If you get a clear one, you can easily see through it and know what is inside.  Be sure to get one that is thick enough to stand up to camp use.  Thin, brittle plastic will do you no good.   A tote is especially helpful if you are tent camping and have a greater chance of rain or wildlife getting into your stuff.

If you will be using traditional bedding, you can include your sheets and blankets in the tote as well. For church camp, we were even able to fit my son's pillow in the tote, reducing his entire week's luggage to one container. If you have bulky bedding (like a sleeping bag) and can't fit it all in the tote, stick everything in a large trash bag.  This keeps sleeping bags and pillows together and makes it easier when transporting them.

2. Gallon size Ziplock baggies are the perfect size for packing each day's worth of clothing.  As he gets older and bigger, we may have to rethink this, but for now, we can fit a pair of shorts, shirt, underwear and socks all in one baggie.  As a mom, this is beneficial for many reasons.  First off, I can rest easy knowing that his clothes for each day go together.  I wouldn't want him tramping through the woods in a mismatched outfit.  :) Even better, this keeps the clean laundry separated from the dirty stuff.  If the clothes are still folded in the baggie when he gets home, I know they need to go back to the closet.  The rest gets dumped in the washer as soon as he walks through the door.

Toiletries get put in the baggies as well. Soap, shampoo, deodorant, along with a washcloth, toothpaste and a toothbrush are all packed together in a single bag.  Now, whether or not my tween boy ever gets them out while he's away from home is entirely out of my hands.  But at least I know they are all packed together, readily available if he does decide to use them. Please son, use them.  For the sake of those of us who have to ride home with you at the end of the week, please use them!

3. Include an empty trash bag for the dirty clothes.  If you can get all of the smelly, wet, and crusty stuff to stay in one place, you'll be better off.  Don't even look at it.  Just dump the entire thing in the washing machine with an extra bit of Oxy Clean.

4. Use a day bag.  It can be a simple messenger style bag or a large backpack or whatever is best for the type of camp your child is attending.  In it, pack useful things your kid may need to have close at hand; a flashlight, a journal, a pen, a Bible, bug spray* and sunblock.* (*Be sure to put these in a Ziplock as well.  No one wants their bug spray all over their pack.)  You can either have your child carry this to camp with him or put it in the top of the tote.

5. Pack a water bottle, even if it's not on the list.  If you can find one that snaps or hooks to the day pack, that's a bonus.  Dehydration is killer at summer camp. Be sure your child knows that WATER is what he needs to be drinking, NOT soda pop.  My kids have been to three different camps this summer.  Each place had its own rules on food and drink and some were more lenient than others about what I would consider healthy habits.  I made sure to stress the importance of proper hydration at each place, and to make sure my kids were having water at each meal (and in between).

6. Write your kid's name on everything!  Every towel, shoe and piece of clothing that you want to return to your home should be labeled. Things at camp tend to get thrown on the floor, left at the pool, and thrown under the bed.  If that random t-shirt someone pulls out of the corner has your kids' name on the tag, you'll probably get it back.  If not, well, probably not. If it's something you really, really don't want to lose, like a ball glove, musical instrument or expensive eyeglasses, put your phone number on it as well.  (On a side note, we've had more than one ball glove returned to us after someone found it, saw our name and number on it and called.  It's worth the twenty seconds it takes to write it on there, I promise.)

7. If you have to send medication OF ANY KIND with your kids, be sure to hand it directly to the adult responsible for it.  Don't just assume that your kid will remember to turn it in to the camp nurse once they get there. Having taken 22 kids to camp this summer, I can assure you that they will probably forget.  If it's a prescription, send it in the original container that has dosing directions included.  For OTC stuff, use a Sharpie and write your child's name and dosage directly on the bottle.

8. If camp will include water of any kind, you might want to include a simple drying rack.  I picked up a couple of these at Dollar General last year. I think they were around $1 each.  As a counselor at kids' church camp, I hung them in our shared bathroom and encouraged all of the girls to hang their wet swimsuits on them.  This kept the water out of their bunks and in one place.  Before bed each night I wrung out the suits and they were mostly dry before we had to put them back on the next day.

Veteran campers and packers, what have I missed?  How do YOU pack for summer camp?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Unsolicited Advice For Beginning to Homeschool

So, you're thinking about homeschooling?  Awesome.  I'm always up for adding more families to the homeschool community.  Here, in the order that they came into my head, are a few things I think you need to know before you start.

1. Your house is going to be a mess (almost always).  

Seriously.  Unless you are one of those crazy, organized, super moms like my sister, if your house is filled with little people all day, every day, it's not going to stay clean.

Books will be found on every conceivable surface of your home.  Under the couch? Yep. In the fridge? Had that happen once.  In the bathroom?  Duh.  Stacked on end tables and on the kitchen counter? Of course.

Art projects will dominate entire rooms of your house for weeks at a time.  Toys will take over your living room floor.  Laundry will go undone and you will wonder if you will ever see the kitchen sink without dishes in it.

People are messy.  Accept it.  Some people might tell you to just let the housekeeping go while the kids are little and learning at home.  And while that is fine in theory, it is impossibly hard for most people to accept.  My advice?  Let some of it go. Decide what you can live with and what you can't live without and go from there.  If you absolutely must have a clean kitchen before you can work, then clean your kitchen.  If not, let it go.

2. You will hate it (sometimes).

There are days when I would love nothing more than to walk a child the six blocks to our local elementary school and enroll his little butt into the public education system.  These days are usually the days when I'm already tired, hungry or hormonally imbalanced.  Or days when the kids are tired, hungry or in the mood to test boundaries.  Admittedly, those days are fewer and further between now than they were at the beginning of our journey, five years ago.

Now that I'm a little more veteran in this, I have figured out how to cope on those days.  Coping looks like a lot of things in our house.  Sometimes it looks a lot like a nap and other times it looks like a trip to the pool.  It can also look like housecleaning (see #1) or shooting my kids with the sprayer from the kitchen sink.

3. You need to figure out what your homeschooling philosophy is.  

Research.  Learn about unschooling, classical education, co-ops, spirals, and all the other buzz words.  Decide which one best fits with your family.  Try it.  But there's one really, really important thing you need to keep in mind.  Are you ready for it?  Here goes: Be prepared to change 100% of your plan.  Really.  You might think you want to unschool in the beginning and realize six months in that you can't stand giving your kids that much freedom.  Or try a structured co-op and realize that you can't stand being that controlled by someone else.  And you know what?  That's okay. You're not locked in.  You don't even have to wait until next year to change.  You can do what works for your family, even if it's not what you thought it was four months, six weeks or two days ago.  Which leads me to the next point . . .

4. Don't go crazy when the latest curriculum catalog comes in the mail.  

You really don't need all of that stuff to teach well.  Especially when your kiddos are small.  With a few exceptions, most people could teach through elementary school with a library card, a computer, a printer, some paper and pencils.  For my now seven year old, we use a ton of stuff from the library, homemade flashcards, an old abacus, workbooks from Dollar General and a copy of "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" that I got on for less than $8.  That's it.  The math workbooks were under $10 total.

My older kids have math texts (we use Saxon) that we are actually able to share with another homeschooling family who has a child a year ahead of my oldest.  Our kids are currently in 7th, 6th, 5th, and 4th grade math texts. We bought the 4th grade book, but have been abundantly blessed to be able to borrow their books for the other years.

Over the years I've bought some other things but generally speaking, I don't think things have been that much better in the years we spent more money.

5. People will question your decision.  You need a plan dealing with this.

It may seem silly, but you will be amazed at how many people will weigh in on your decision to educate your kids at home. I've been asked by Wal-Mart checkers, dental hygienists, my 80+ year old neighbor, public school teachers who understand, public school teachers who don't know me and think I must hate them and the system they represent, waitresses, complete strangers in the grocery store and more about why we homeschool.  Overall, the experience has been positive.  Most people seem okay with the idea for my family but almost all of them feel compelled to tell me why they personally couldn't do it.

I say you need a plan because, well, you do.  It can be difficult to come up with compelling sounding reasons on the spur of the moment, especially if you have just spent the last two hours grocery shopping with four kids in tow, are hungry and have to pee. Knowing ahead of time how you will respond is helpful.  I used to give lengthy dissertations on the benefits of homeschooling to anyone who would ask.  Now, I mostly just say, "Yep.  We do homeschool." And might add in the occasional, "It doesn't work for everybody, but for now it's working really well for us."  That, and I let my kids speak for themselves.  They all love homeschooling and can give their own dissertations on why it's the best way for them to learn.