Thursday, January 30, 2014

K12 Online Public School vs. Ted Talks


Oh how I wish I could say that about our homeschool.
I have let state standards, college preparation, and overall comparison cast a shadow over the freedom I SHOULD feel as I educate my children. (My boys, after all, need to be the brightest and most talented among their peers - and I must have documentation to prove it!)
*I just threw up in my mouth a little*

This year has had me on a journey of change in this area. It's been freeing - and a little scary.

It all started at the end of last year when my brain kept saying, "HOW is one silly mom supposed to provide a comparable education to the MANY qualified junior high teachers at the school who are SPECIALIZED in their fields of study?"
I had no answer for that. I was SURE I was ruining my children for life.
To alleviate my concerns and reduce my workload, we decided to let someone else plan our school this year. We looked at the large price tags on all the curriculum and teacher support systems out there - and saw that K12 online public school was FREE. Jackpot!
It is a state accredited school provided by the government with individual teachers for each subject. Did I mention it's free?
What a deal! What a blessing!
What a HUGE MISTAKE!
For us, it sucked like a Hoover vacuum.

I have a seventh-grade boy who builds computer programs FOR FUN.
He taught himself to solve a Rubic cube - because any proper nerd should have this skill.
He watches documentaries with his father and checks history books out of the library because they are "interesting".
Obviously, he can read and regurgitate information in his sleep. (He actually does this sometimes, he is quite the talker after 10:00 pm.)
And he detested online school.

His younger brother, my very bright "man of action" who does math problems in his head because writing it all down is such a bother, also struggled. Interaction, nature, and movement help him retain information; but they were hard to come by with the K12 methodology.
  • Don't stop to take a note, or draw a picture - there is no time!
  • Don't dig deeper about a subject that interests you. How will you finish your grammar worksheet if you do that?
  • Don't talk to your brother! He is in a different grade, in a different class, and doesn't have time to stop HIS learning to interact with the likes of you!
They were achieving mastery in every subject...and experiencing slow death.
I, of course, was bound and determined to stick with it.
My boys are capable! I wouldn't have people judging us and thinking we couldn't "hack" it. 
We pressed on - and walked around with a very heavy load on our shoulders (consisting mainly of textbooks and online assessments).

Then a very wise friend asked, "How much joy do you have in your days?"

After I quit crying...we went ahead quit online public school.
It didn't work for us.
We couldn't hack it after all, and I realized I was REALLY OK with that.

Now I am re-evaluating my whole thought process about state standards and college prep...and WHY we do what we do. We took the time to jump through each and every hoop placed before us by our culture and were left wanting.
Now I have the slightly scary process of redefining our home education.
It could be a long road.

So what now?
Faith. Faith that the path will be made clear.
And JOY - lots of joy in our days.

We hope to foster a lifestyle (and love) of learning for our boys in the years we have left.
Clay and I are evaluating our own lives and seeing how we model this behavior...and where we need to improve.
We want to be more intentional with our time - even on those evenings when we all just want to vegetate. Don't get me wrong, we are still lazy; but we've been watching Ted Talks and Netflix documentaries as we snuggle up on the couch and eat thin mints.
(Shhhh! The boys enjoy the family "screen time" and haven't complained about the extra learning that sneaks in.)

*Sidenote: We love the Girl Scouts, but they are going to have to change the name of those cookies to Used-to-be Thin Mints*

We are still studying all the traditional subjects during the day; but we are definitely changing our approach. We desire to educate the WHOLE mind and not just the parts of it that are good at processing data. We have our work cut out for us.

The following Ted Talk has encouraged us along the way. It is funny. It's thought-provoking, and it is only ONE of the many talks that have been shaping our new way of thinking.
Go ahead, watch it...and join us on our journey.
We can all use a little encouragement as we try to understand our children and help them thrive.

Ken Robertson TedTalk about Creativity

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Really? Creative Writing


Explosions, guns, hunting, blood, and underwear...
These are the main subject matter in our homeschool writing club comprised solely of young boys.

"What would our children write about if they went to public school?" I queried.
"I have no idea, but I'm SURE they would be expelled for reading THESE stories," replied my cohort in writing club crime.

'Tis true. We are raising creative writing delinquents.
Although I often take a red pen to rough drafts in hopes of limiting the gross/violence factor, final drafts would rarely pass muster in an institution for the masses.

The thing is: my fifth and seventh graders are learning to ENJOY the written word.
Strong verbs, descriptive language and compound sentences are not nearly so daunting when the subject matter is engaging and makes them grunt with heightened levels of testosterone.

My kids are becoming competent, creative writers.
They will, someday, be successful when asked to draft a presentation for the 'big wigs' at work (or a college professor). If these skills are learned while creating PowerPoint presentations to convince their parents that the latest PlayStation game is necessary (for killing zombies and thriving in the future Apocalypse); so be it.
If they become proficient in drafting business letters while writing to the M&M Candy Corporation expressing disappointment with the term "fun-size" on teeny-tiny bags of M&Ms, I say, "Rock on."
If writing an accurate and detailed report about Cedar Point happens to include a description about vomit or underwear while adequately expressing the rush of adrenaline which occurred on a ride, I'll take it! A successfully written report (with details) WAS achieved.

They can deal with dry subject matter later if their future 'real-world' requires it. In the meantime, I have some fundamentals to ingrain within their cute little heads, and I have the freedom to do this any way I deem fit. Thank you homeschool!

I am sure many would poo-poo my methods.
That's OK. I'm sure I would also poo-poo theirs.
(I just wrote poo-poo in an "acceptable" way, and it made me laugh.
Sorry, I couldn't let that slide - I live with boys.)

If I risk raising delinquents, it is a risk I am willing to take.
I hardly think I can avoid rule-questioning/bending/breaking children anyway.
(I know their parents.)
I might as well use this tendency for their future benefit.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Road Rally Bar Mitzvah


Yep, we had a bar mitzvah.
Nope, we aren't Jewish.

Clay has been referring to Micah's 13th birthday party as his bar mitzvah for the past 6 months. 
So when it got closer to the actual day, I started researching this Jewish 13th birthday tradition. 
A Bar Mitzvah is an initiation ceremony for the transition from boyhood to manhood. The teen boy is required to take personal responsibility for his own spiritual walk, knowing that he must answer to God for his own choices.
Wow! What a great opportunity to challenge our son AND celebrate at the same time! 
Done!

Because we can't do anything serious without infusing a little fun, we started the party with a Road Rally. (If you aren't familiar with this phenomena of awesomeness, it's somewhat like the Amazing Race. If you aren't familiar with the Amazing Race, you need to get out more - and you can think of a Road Rally as a city-wide scavenger hunt...which requires cars.)
Clay and I had so much fun planning the day. The teams had to solve riddles, accomplish tasks, find objects...and take pictures or videos of each event. No proof? Didn't happen.

Here are some photos (and pdfs) of our Road Rally paperwork. 
My kids have already done it. I probably won't use it again. 
That's a lot of work for a "one and done" activity. 
PLEASE USE THIS STUFF and make it work for your own rally! 
(It can be adjusted to work for most towns.)
Even if you have no intention of ever doing a road rally, you may want to click on some of the tasks just to giggle about our day. (Then keep reading the rest of the blog to find out about the bar mitzvah.)


The first page of fun tasks.

You know you want to read them...
The teams had to make three cornhole shots before they could leave the "Crack the Code" house.
If you don't know what cornhole is...you're missing out.



I want to post so many of the funny videos, but I will protect the privacy of the other party attenders.
Here is a quick video of my youngest son "weezing the juice" for Bonus Points.
I know it's a tease.
(Oh well, it's not the first time I've been accused of that.)

video


The last stop of the road rally had each car picking up pizza, so we all came back together to watch the videos and eat. (Clay made a spreadsheet to quickly add up scores. It didn't go as quickly as we hoped. We learned that we should have made the teams do things in a certain order or keep their own score sheet that coincided with their photos.)

After pizza, we served cupcakes and coffee for the bar mitzvah portion of the night.
It all started out as Clay's "joke"; but when we decided to add this spiritual element to our day, he surprised me. He took the religious initiation seriously! 

Normally I am the one who gets put in charge of anything that requires speaking (or words and planning in general), but HE wanted to do this. He wanted to set this example for our son.
He poured through photos and made a slideshow. 
He chose the approach to take as we introduced this stage of life to Micah and decided to focus on the verse written on Micah's bedroom wall (Ephesians 6:10-11). It speaks of putting on the armor of God. Clay challenged our new teenager to put on his own armor instead of depending solely upon ours. My creative husband even bought Micah a Leatherman multi-tool as a physical reminder that we have many tools at our disposal, but we must CHOOSE to use them. 

I don't think Clay has ever said so many serious things at one time. (He even got choked up a bit.)
I am always spouting spiritual things to our boys. I'm sure it had a MUCH BIGGER IMPACT since Clay took the lead on this one. I'm so very proud of him.

Finally, we ended with this video. 
A teenager took part in a poetry slam and spoke about his Judaism.
He talked about how he's been "brainwashed" by his parents. 
I hope Micah feels the same way.
It was the perfect "send off" for the crowd. 
It is a powerful three minutes.




Thursday, October 3, 2013

Unintentional Hiatus

photo credit

Once in a while, I go a month where I just can't manage to finish a blog.
That month was July. No big deal.
Then came August.
August was NOT funny, witty, or encouraging.
I'm not even sure that I LEARNED anything the entire month.
sidenote: I WAS on a destructive path that would bring wonderful learning opportunities soon.
sidenote to my sidenote: I did actually write a blog about the new Online Public School K12 Curriculum that we started, but I need to make it more funny and less snarky before I post it. You may be waiting a while for that to actually happen..or I may just post the snarky one. We'll see.

Anywho, I walked around most of the month feeling heavy.
(For once I'm not talking about the scale!)
It was as if someone was sitting on my soul.
I am good at pointing everyone else to God when things get tough - but I didn't really FEEL like turning to Him. Sure, I would go through the motions on occasion. Bible study, accountability partners, and church attendance helped the fog to dissipate for a moment or two; but on a day-to-day basis, I mainly "did my own thang".

In one attempt to feel less heavy, I started inhaling eating comfort foods.
(Yes, I am noting the irony, and thinking that maybe the scale DID help with a little heaviness.)
Oddly, *sarcasm font needed* the eating didn't help.
(I'm pretty sure any stirring that happened deep inside me after munching jalapeno poppers, Kit Kats, or ice cream had more to do with indigestion than God.)
Comfort eating did more harm than good, but I kept at it (just to make sure).

I also started reading - A LOT.
I tried to escape my apathy and daily struggles with entertainment.
I picked up a book series that was a Kit Kat for my soul. Temporary satisfaction, nothing healthy or worthwhile. The characters were funny. It was an easy read; but the language, lifestyle, and libido of those quirky characters were NOT filling my life with hope or proper perspective.
Again, it did me more harm than good.
Again, I kept at it for a while...

Throughout August, we had many situations where I could have used God's guidance; but I just wasn't able to still my mind and hear Him. I tried a few times, but issues kept getting in the way.
I wanted to RUN from them.

As I ran, I quit fortifying areas in my life that had previously been strong. I gave over to selfishness and distraction in the smallest areas of my life. I wasn't connecting with God, AND I wasn't connecting with my kids or my husband. I neglected the things that are meaningful in my life and unconsciously replaced them with ESCAPE. The computer... or an audio book... or a doughnut...became my solution (which solved nothing).
EVERYTHING started to feel out of control.
Our marriage. My parenting. Our house. The boys' school. It was a spiral of crazy.

I kept telling myself I had NOTHING to complain about.
"My life is GREAT. I am blessed in so many ways!"
And then I would cry.
I was overwhelmed, and I had to admit that I was oppressed.
It wasn't LIFE that was getting in the way, it was the way I was VIEWING life.
I was numb. I was negative. I was deceived.

It had to change.
I had to make a choice...and I was finally miserable enough to make the RIGHT one.
That's how it tends to work with me.
For instance, I only start exercising or dieting when my pants don't fit, my energy leaves, and the idea of living that way seems even scarier than the effort of self-discipline. The HOPE of smaller pants and renewed energy makes it WORTH the work.
That's the point I reached within my spirit.
I missed God.
I missed peace.
I was a wreck, and I knew their was HOPE IN CHRIST - so I pursued Him.

I started confessing and emptying out all the selfishness and fear.
I changed my focus and started PRAISING God for the blessings He heaps upon me.
I started WORSHIPING God for WHO HE IS.
I kept reading God's word and filling my mind with TRUTH.
Even in entertainment, I started choosing items to reminded me that life is bigger than my difficult moments.

In the process of pursuing God (even when I didn't "feel" like it) the heavy weight lifted.
More accurately, the strength needed to carry the heavy weight was provided.
It may have taken an extra month of (non-blogging) recovery to get here, but I feel light again.
I am laughing again.
Marriage, family, and school (kinda, maybe) are better again.
So glad to be with you again,
Becky

Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Psalm 66:10-12 
For you, God, tested us;
    you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
    and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and water,
    but you brought us to a place of abundance.




Friday, June 21, 2013

Tortilla Pizza

I was looking in our fridge for something easy to throw together for lunch.
"Let's see, what on earth can I make with  tortillas, a partial bag of shredded cheese and that half a jar of spaghetti sauce that is lurking in the back shelf?"

Brilliance. That's what I made.
(a.k.a. A Tortilla Pizza)
It has less bread than a regular quesadilla and less calories than a regular pizza. 
It has TOMATO sauce on it so my boys (almost, kind of) get a vegetable!
Each kid can pick his own toppings. 
My boys make them all by themselves with ingredients that I always have on hand.

If they are still hungry after their individualized pizza is gone, I can make them eat fruit and vegetables.
I mean, they ate a "whole pizza"! (They can't even argue with that logic. Good stuff!)
I am just irritated that I didn't do this before.
(Feel free to make a comment and brag about how many YEARS you have been making these and how they have made your life so much easier...and how it's ABOUT TIME that I put two and two together and joined in the fun.)
*sidenote: My friend, Tami, told me a month  ago that she makes pizza on Flatout bread because it is thin crust and lower calorie. I thought, "I'm too cheap to buy Flatout bread." It DIDN'T EVEN OCCUR TO ME to use a tortilla. 

Cooking instructions: (Becky style - which means vague)
I broiled them to melt the cheese.
My boys sometimes bake them for 10 minutes or so on 350 (because that is the temperature the oven automatically goes to).

Now that I blogged about this...I'm off to buy more tortillas before my crew discovers the shortage and decides on mutiny.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daddy's Day

My brothers used to send me to persuade our Dad when they wanted him to buy pizza.
"Just climb up in his lap and do your thing, Beck."
They knew I had a good chance of convincing him.
It's hard not to melt a bit when your only little girl calls you, "Daddy".

I still call him that...when it's just him and me.
He has loved me too deeply for the stuffy title of "Father".
"Dad" could work, but all five of his other kids call him THAT (2 original sons and 3 newer siblings that married in).
I'm the only one who can snuggle into the term "Daddy" without feeling weird...so I play that card every chance I get. It reminds him of the girl who used to crawl up in his lap and ask for pizza...and it reminds me of the first man that held my heart in his hands.

We have a special connection, him and me...probably because I am so much like him.
I irritate him. I challenge him. I "get" him.
God is funny that way.
He took many of my father's qualities and wrapped them up in a pink bundle... then my parents named the tiny package Becky.

He is hard on himself, but he sees beauty in me. He has always made that clear.
I think I'm like my Dad so he can better see and appreciate how God made HIM.
In some ways, God has allowed me to be a mirror for my dad. I get to reflect some of his qualities back at him so he sees them from a different perspective. Sure, it's not always pretty, but Dad sees how it CAN be beautiful when the quality is filtered through pink and draped over his daughter.
I pray that he knows that those same qualities are FANTASTIC even when they are blue.
(Oh wait! God gave him a couple of boys to help with that one too!)

Dear Dad(dy), know that the pride you have for your children doesn't go just one way.
We are all so proud of the godly example that you are.
We are proud of the way that you minister with passion and energy and spunk.
We are proud of the sacrificial love you show to your family and to others. Your love runs deep.
We are proud to be like you in so many ways...because you reflect our Heavenly father into this world - and HIS qualities are the most important no matter WHICH color they are being seen through.

"Parents are the pride of their children." Prov 17:6 
Yes. Yes you are. Thank you for that.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

It Seemed Like a Good Idea...At The Time


In honor of Father's Day...

Children: Ages 6 and 8
Soccer season was blending right into baseball season, and Clay, being a good dad, was in the front yard playing both sports with our boys.
Clay, also being Clay, decided that it would be GREAT fun to pitch a soccer ball to our small children so they could hit it with their aluminum baseball bat.
Micah, our cautious and thinking child, questioned the "brilliance" (and safety) of his father's new brainstorm and refused to be the guinea pig.
Evan, the apple which fell right at the foot of the proverbial tree, jumped up to volunteer.
The soccer ball SOARED across the yard as Evan's bat made contact.
Oh, what fun they had discovered!
Micah soon decided that success had been proven and that he needed to join the crazy.
(He may be cautious, but he knows not to miss out.)
He stepped up to the plate, swung away...and his bat bounced squarely off the soccer ball and ricocheted back into his head. The resulting bump grew so big and so fast that little brother broke down into tears at the sight of it. ("WHAT happened to Micah's HEAD???!!!???")
This mother's heart sank as wails reached her ears.
My family of boys entered the house, father holding one weeping child, little brother still traumatized.
My eyes met the eyes of my beloved. Mine questioning. His eyebrows raised...and I heard his famous phrase, "It seemed like a good idea...at the time."

Child: Age 10
My youngest boy, the animal lover, desperately wanted a pet he could snuggle.
Fish just weren't cutting it anymore. With our allergies, he knew he was fighting a losing battle if he tried to push for a furry friend...so he focused on the reptile family.
A snake.
Clay caught a snake as a boy...and permanently lost it somewhere inside the old farmhouse.
Clay's parents never knew about the arrangement, but since Evan's wishes were on our radar...Clay was NOT going to repeat that particular scenario in our suburban home.
No pets at the Rassi home - except fish. Conversation over.
Clay doesn't like to be mean. He prefers to lighten a tense mood with a joke.
Knowing this about my husband, please give him a LITTLE grace when you hear what happened next. (That's what I have to do - daily - as I remember that his heart is pure even when I don't agree with his methods).
***The next day***
I was walking down the hall, Evan behind me, when he started whining, "Dad told me I couldn't have a snake! He didn't even talk to YOU. He just said, 'NO'. He said the only snake I'm am allowed to have is a Trouser Snake."
I stopped in my tracks and lifted a prayer, "Please God, let there be an ACTUAL SNAKE called a Trouser Snake."
I slowly turned to look at my son and innocently asked, "Um, what's a Trouser Snake?"
He fought very hard to stay upset (he was trying to manipulate his way into his mother's sympathies after all), but a smile peeked through his eyes as he pointed to the place in his trousers that covers the natural "snake" that God attached to all Y chromosomes.
I sighed and responded, "I'm sorry you can't have a "real" snake, but that's just how it is...and you probably shouldn't tell your friends about that OTHER snake. It is kind of like Santa Clause. We'll let THEIR parents tell them all about it, OK?"
Then I shot off a text to my other half: "A Trouser Snake? Really?"
I could almost see him wince as he realized he was "caught". His response?
"Sorry. I wanted to distract him from the pet. It seemed like a good idea...at the time."

Now, let me share with you how the previous scenarios support that Clay is actually a GOOD father:
  • Clay makes these parenting "faux pas" because he gets carried away HAVING FUN WITH HIS CHILDREN. He adores them. They are two of his very best friends...so he sometimes forgets that they don't have 30 extra years of life experience and maturity to be able to handle his humor. That's why there is grace. God gave these boys to my man. He is the VERY BEST THING FOR THEM. I'm not worried.
  • As he jokes, our boys learn to rise above each situation and look at it from a higher (big-picture) perspective. They learn that laughter can get us through an awful lot of heartache...as long as we remember where our joy comes from. It's not from following rules and jumping through hoops. Joy is not found in perfection. (In fact, their dad shows them that we can LAUGH when we make mistakes...and learn from them rather than be defeated.)
  • Clay teaches my boys to be leaders who forge their own trail, not followers staying in someone else's tiny little box. (Boxes are boring...unless you turn them into pirate ships or spacecrafts...or stick your brother inside of them...ahem.)
  • He is teaching them how to take risks - ones that require God's help to navigate.
  • They are also learning how to get back up when they (quite literally) get knocked down.
  • Clay does everything authentically, without pretense...even being a father. My boys see who he REALLY is, not a facade. They hear him acknowledge (and sometimes even apologize) if he realizes that he crossed a line. They see him mature (honestly!) in areas of his life and lead them in brand new ways. Authenticity is one of the character traits that most drew me to this mate of mine. And even if it's a quality I question at times, it's one that I want my children to model.
I wanted to honor Clay this special weekend.
I could write a whole other blog about the things he is teaching my boys about being a godly husband, but our 15 year anniversary is next month so you can read about that then.
Instead, I hope I made you laugh and pointed you to God at the same time. That is how Clay was made to impact this world - and (in my eyes) he is beautifully living out that purpose.

Dueteronomy 6:5-7 
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

(And when you play Legos with them, or when you are jamming on musical instruments, and when you coach their sports teams, or when you are wrestling in the dining room, and when...)