Author Archives: amyhopping

A Disturbance in the Force…

Wow! Talk about neglect…  I’ve missed a few weeks of blogging.  Why does it always seem like life is crazy?  I guess, perhaps, because it is.  Still, it seems like I should have a handle on things by now.  But there are times when I feel like I’m barely holding things together–like I’m grabbing at the crumbling pieces all around me and slapping them back up with a hurried squirt of glue that I hope will do the trick.  Or maybe the ‘feeling like I’m barely staying afloat’ is an appropriate metaphor.  Regardless, I think you get the idea.

My little one now not only now has 3 teeth, but she can also low-crawl.  It’s almost time to break out the baby gates!  We’ve had one birthday, and now have 2 more to go in the month of July.  Home remodels, homeschool planning, attempting to ready ourselves for a yardsale, working outside in attempt to ready ourselves for buying animals, a car dying, a class I forgot I had registered for starting…yep, it seems like things are being thrown at me from every corner. Nonetheless, I’m attempting to keep my head up and keep swimming!

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I’m currently in the middle of a combination of planning for the upcoming school year and just simply trying to get myself organized.  I attempted something of this sort last year as well, but I was pregnant and I am blaming that for my inability to get completely organized and prepared.  Now I only have to prove that last year’s failures were definitely caused by the exhaustion of growing a baby.  Of course, right now I feel like I’m putting so much more time and energy into the wee little pumpkin.  But I’m sticking to my goals.  I will do it this year!

How do you prepare and get organized?  Homeschoolers, when do you do your planning?  Do you plan every week and prepare everything such that assignments can just be handed to the children, or do you wing it?  What sort of organizational system do you use?  Three-ring binders?  Filing cabinets? Completely computerized?

Those who don’t homeschool, do you take a certain time of year to review organization of the past year and to put together a notebook of information?  Do you create a calendar of planned events and goals for the coming year?

I’m trying to get better at my record keeping (checking daily lists, marking off things done, keeping track of the hundreds of things there are to keep track of, simply reading those daily lists!).  It should come naturally to me.  Working in research required meticulous record keeping and helped get me into that habit.  But it’s been a few years (maybe more…), and I haven’t quite mastered the act of treating home like I’m at a job.  I am getting there, though.  Are you?  What helps you get through the physical and mental exhaustion in order to plan and follow through?

Here’s to you and your goals and your goal planning!  I hope you find it easier and less exhausting than I!

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Parents, Teach Your Children Well: Independence Day

Most of us love Independence Day.  I think the only complaints I’ve ever heard were centered on the dangerousness, loudness, or triteness of fireworks (but after reading this post you will understand why firework shows are not a cliche activity).  We get to spend time with our families, bonding, playing, perhaps working around the house together, visiting with friends, and learning. Yes, I did just say ‘learning’!

“Why do I need to teach my child about the Fourth of July,” you might ask.

Well, first of all, if your family is in the habit of calling the holiday the Fourth of July or some variant thereof, you should consider changing it immediately! The holiday is called Independence Day for a reason. That name–the actual name–tells us about the holiday. It implies what we are celebrating. And I think that is important. We aren’t just celebrating just a day on the calendar, nor are we celebrating a day off of work. It is not a day on which we pay homage to the grill or to the picnic. It’s not even a day on which we pay tribute to the beauty and glory of fireworks.  Do we call Christmas ‘the 25th of December’ as an alternative name? Is ‘the First of January’ an adequate alternative for New Year’s Day?  Or perhaps we can say ‘The First Sunday After the First Full Moon After the Spring Equinox’ instead of Easter?  I know–that last one is so cumbersome that we wouldn’t use it in everyday speech.  But I’m trying to make the point that it is not the day on the calendar that we are celebrating.  We are holding a celebration on that day.  And there can be more than one celebration on any given day.  But I’ll let my argument about the day’s moniker rest with that.

Independence Day is about celebrating the independence of our country, the United States of America! It is about remembering all of those who fought, with the pen and voice and weapon, so that our ancestors (and therefore us) could live in a free country. It is a day about remembering our founding documents, our freedoms, and our rights, which were given to us by our Heavenly Creator, but recognized and respected by our government.

“So, doesn’t my child learn about this in school?” Whether you are a homeschooling parent or the parent of a traditionally schooled child, this applies. You see, learning happens everywhere. It doesn’t and shouldn’t happen only in the classroom and during designated school hours. I believe it to be important that children learn that learning can and should happen during school breaks and holidays. Learning is not a chore, cumbersome and difficult. It is something that should be an everyday occurrence, and should seem easy and worthwhile. (Notice the difference between learning in general and learning a difficult subject, which is always hard work. But learning to learn the things that are easier to pick up on will make it easier to learn the things they have to work hard for.) Besides, do you know what exactly your kids learned in school about Independence Day? Ask them. Does it mesh with what you know to be true? Sometimes what was learned is not what was taught by the teacher, or perhaps your child missed what you consider to be an important part of the topic. And perhaps you just want to emphasize those things that you consider to be most important.

“But I talked to my kids about this last year!” You Would be amazed at how your child’s understanding of things changes as they mature. Some subjects, such as history (not English grammar! …but that’s another topic I’ll discuss later…), should be returned to in some manner on a yearly basis.  Very young children won’t be able to remember or understand details of our history.  This is because our history happened because of human interactions and relationships.  As children mature, they understand these interactions and relationships more and more.  Therefore, they are able to understand history and the causes of major historical events in more and more detail as they mature.  Just because you taught them something about the importance of the holiday last July doesn’t leave you off the hook this July.

Independence Day is a holiday steeped and founded in our history. Learning history in general has the benefits of knowing what happened to peoples and civilizations before you, so that you do not make the same mistakes and so that you can appreciate things such as technological progress.  Learning the history of our country helps one to be proud of where they reside, to want to better their community around them, and to understand how things came to be as they are now.  As an example, a generation that forgets the reason the Puritans and other Pilgrims first traveled to the “new” continent is also less likely to understand and value the First Amendment of our Constitution.  Those who do not understand the danger to and price paid by our ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War and the subsequent fight of our Founding Fathers to bring together the individual colonies into one large and powerful country will have forgotten the meaning of the Third Amendment to the Constitution, as well as the importance of protecting our country from infringements upon that Constitution.  In other words, in order to preserve our freedom, we must teach our history, and we must make certain that our children are learning our history the way it happened.

Each child learns differently, and at a different pace.  Some children mature before ‘science’ says they will, and others mature at a later age.  In the traditional school setting, in which your child is learning school subjects with peers of the same or approximately the same age, he or she won’t have the opportunity to fully push the limits of their understanding.  If your child is more mature in their understanding of human interactions,  you must provide them with the opportunity to learn about the human interactions that led to the founding of our country. Because they will not get that opportunity–other than choosing for themselves a library book that provides that knowledge–until the curriculum used in the schools gives it to them.  In some cases, the opportunity for learning about some subject matter will never be there, as it is not deemed important to learn in the curriculum or frameworks being used in the school.

Perhaps your child has a different learning style than is being focused on with the techniques used by his or her teacher.  This might mean that your child doesn’t understand or hasn’t fully internalized the content that has been presented.  Your child’s teacher has a number of other children on which he or she must try their best to focus on.  It is up to you, the parent, to fill in the gaps your teacher isn’t able to, whether because of a subject matter too mature for discussion among peers or because of a variance in learning styles.

Independence Day has become particularly focused on fireworks, BBQ’s, and picnics.  These things are good.  In fact, John Adams said that he wanted these sort of things to be part of the regular celebration. (I am going to use this Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, written on July 3, 1776, to help me teach my children this year.)  But as you sit on your picnic blanket waiting impatiently for the sun to go down, talk to your children.  Teach them.  Help them to more fully understand the reverence that should be used while looking upon the beauty of the pyrotechnics you are about to observe.  It is not simply a pretty show…it should evoke pride in your country and in your ancestors (even if your ancestors came to this country after it had gained its freedom) and in our freedoms and rights we utilize on a daily basis.  Having fun should certainly be part of your celebration, but learning, discussion, and remembrance should be just as important.


Mind Your Own Business!

I heard something inspiring on the radio this morning.  Of course, as someone who loves talk radio, and who listens to what I consider quality talk–why spend my time with something subpar when there are so many other things I could spend my time on–hearing something inspiring on the radio isn’t anything new or strange.  But this particular item was inspiring enough that I wanted to write about it.

Now, go back to the title of this post, and read it out loud: “Mind your own business”.  How does this phrase automatically sound when you read it?  What punctuation do you put on the end?  What sort of situation does it cause you to imagine?  Have you used this phrase before?  What kind of situation was it?  I know I automatically associated the phrase with anger and with someone snooping in my life or in someone else’s life.  I imagine telling (and have told) people to ‘mind your own business’.  I suspect most people associate it with someone trying to control aspects of your life that you are certain the control of lies solely in your hands, or someone otherwise violating your privacy.

But this morning I thought of it in a new light.  This new light doesn’t give it a different definition, per se.  But it does mean something very different to me, now.  Let’s break down the phrase into its parts and see if you feel the same.

Mind.  What does it mean to mind something?  Merriam-Webster gives several possible definitions.  Some of them are: remind; remember; to attend to closely; to become aware of: notice; to regard with attention: consider important; intend; purpose; to be concerned about; to be careful; to be cautious about; to give protective care to; to be attentive or wary; to become concerned.  Of course, this list doesn’t include the meanings that would be implied in the phrase “Mind your parents”.  But as you read through this list, it becomes apparent that minding something is taking excellent care of something.FlowerPetals

Your Own.  This is pretty clear, I think.  But I’ll mention it anyway.  Something that is your own belongs to you and not to other people.  If you combine this with the first word of the phrase, you’ll see that you are being told to take care of something that only you can take care of, because it belongs to you and you alone.

Now we’re to the last word of the phrase: business.  What is your business?  We probably all have slightly different specific definitions of this, because that specificity changes based upon our own life philosophies and circumstances.  Again utilizing Merriam-Webster, I found that an archaic definition is ‘purposeful activity’.  For phrases such as the one I’m evaluating here, I like archaic definitions.  “Archaic” definitions are historical definitions, and therefore tell us more about the original intention of a phrase.  What is your ‘purposeful activity?  Other definitions include role, function; an immediate task or objective; affair; personal concern.  So how does ‘your own business’ apply to your life?  In a previous post, I discussed purpose as a parent (see My Single Most Important Job as a Parent).  I have other important purposes that include being a good wife, taking care of our physical home, writing this blog, and preparing myself for future endeavors (see Homeschooling Yourself).  Of course, each of these larger purposes breaks down into smaller and smaller aspects, until we get to the smallest task (such as writing this post or picking up the dirty laundry off of the bathroom floor).  My smaller purposes may not be exactly yours.  If you’re not a parent (or in some child-care role), homeschooling and changing dirty diapers probably means very little to you in terms of purposeful activity.  If you’re not a model, posing for photographs probably seems like frivolous activity.  And schmoozing with the rich and powerful probably seems like useless activity–that is, unless it helps you to perform your job duties.

Regardless of all the specific aspects and tasks, I think we can all agree that preparing for the future is pretty high on the list of purposes we all have , and that perhaps it is the single all-encompassing purpose.  So, I’m telling all of my readers now: Mind your own business!  What have you done today to take care of your business?  How have you prepared yourself or your children or your home for the future?  I can tell you that this makes me think of all the things I have not yet done: the letters I haven’t sent or even written, the skills I believe I need to learn, the things I haven’t yet taught my kids, the attention I haven’t paid to my pets, the neighbors whom I’ve neglected to check in on and help in some way, the home repairs I’ve not finished yet… I challenge you to ask yourself every evening, “How have I minded my business today?”  If you can’t answer yourself satisfactorily, make it a goal to be able to do so the following day.

Of course, as I stated at the beginning, this doesn’t change the meaning.  Things in other peoples’ lives that do not directly affect you are not your business.  You should still strive not to attempt to mind other people’s business.  And why should you, when you have so much of your own that needs minding?


Busy Work, or How to Stay Sane While Your Spouse is Away

I’ve been busy.  I guess everyone could probably say that, or, at least, I hope they can.  Not being busy with something productive is pretty tortuous and can lead to some unhealthy habits (eating out of boredom, too much tv watching, et cetera).  So I hope you have been productively busy lately.  As I said, I have.  And not just with caring for an infant and trying to keep my older three kids ‘productively busy’, now that they are on summer break.  Although, that does take up a significant portion of my time.

You see, my husband is away, and I have found the best way to keep my sanity is to create projects.  And the best ones are those that I can surprise him with–the kind that make him happier and more comfortable.  He’s been gone for approximately a week and a half and I have less than a week to go before I pick him up at the airport.  I realized late last week that I hadn’t really gotten started on the multi-room organizational project I wanted to get done.  So I jumped into it; I’ve been going full-throttle since.  It’s gone pretty well and been a fairly easy task, until now.  Have you ever hit that point where all that is left is the little tedious stuff that makes your skin crawl and your head spin?  That’s where I’m at now. 

I’ve decided I need to get better at throwing things away instead of saving them.  Doing that is really hard if I stop to think about it, but if I just toss it into the trash bag without hesitating, it’s really refreshing.  I don’t need that belt that has scratches and gouges, and I doubt anyone else will want it either.  My younger kids don’t need the shoes that have half the sole worn off…even though they wear hand-me-downs a lot, those are hand-me-downs I likely wouldn’t even put on them.  Another pair of ripped and torn jeans for my denim patch pile?  No thanks–into the trash they go!  All those hundreds of drawings my kids have made?  Sssshhhh!  Don’t say anything, but, I can’t keep just saving them.  Only the really great ones get to stay, and that’s only until I make a digital copy of it.  Perhaps an incredible few might get used in a wall-art project I’ve been conjuring up for the past few months.  Some day I’ll get to that…  But, right now, I just feel satisfied from getting rid of things I don’t need and making visible progress!  It’s making my kids feel good too.  They see the progress being made and have watched me a little bit (of course, they’ve not witnessed me looking through the stacks of drawings…).  They are making positive comments and I can see an improvement in their mood.

I know when my husband comes home, he’ll be happier and more relaxed because of what I’ve accomplished.  And that will make a happier and more relaxed me, and will make for a happier household overall.  That end-result is what’s keeping me pushing through the most difficult parts of this project.

Now, if only I can get through this quickly enough to do the other couple of projects I want to get done before he comes back…

When your spouse is away, whether for a deployment, drill, other military training, or a business trip (I get to hold down the fort during all of them), do you create projects to help pass the time?  What sorts of projects have you accomplished?  Or if you are planning one, what is it?  Sometimes mine are completely kid-focused, or don’t necessarily involve a set end point.  But there is always a certain threshold at which I’ve accomplished that goal.  And then I it’s time to set another one.  It may not be easy to push through in order to accomplish a goal, but doing so will bring you incredible self-satisfaction and a sense of self-dependency that will make it easier for you to start and finish other tasks down the road.


My Single Most Important Job as a Parent

I believe that we all have a purpose to fulfill.  We all have something that we are intended to do, but that we are not predestined to fulfill that purpose.  We must work in order to fulfill our purpose. It is possible that we will choose not to pursue this purpose…that we will veer instead towards things that are more comfortable and less work.  It is possible that even if we work, we may not succeed at whatever it is that we were purposed to do.  But this should not be a cause to give up.  The mere working towards something, specifically doing your best and giving everything you have to give, is a success in its own right.

What awaits us down the road?

I wanted you to have this in mind when I told you what I know is my single most important job as a parent.  It is not necessarily protecting them and it is not even necessarily teaching them.  My job is to prepare them.  Yes, I have my own purposes.  One of my purposes is to be a parent.  I honestly don’t know exactly what my others are, but I have made a promise to myself that I will do my best at the things I do so that I can fulfill every purpose I am intended to.  But within my purpose to be a parent, I have a purpose to prepare my children for their purposes.

What does this entail?  I must protect them until they learn to protect themselves.  But I must also teach them to protect themselves, and to allow me to protect them.  I must allow them to hurt themselves so that they will learn what it is like to be hurt and how to recover from that injury, whether physical or emotional.  I must give them boundaries and rules in order to guide them until they learn to be self-dependent.  But I must teach them to be self-dependent and, at the same time, to allow me to guide them.  I must let them set some of their own boundaries and rules in order to learn to be self-dependent.  I must teach them to love being taught and to love learning from others and to be open to learning from others.  Yet I must also teach them to teach themselves, so that they will not be reliant upon others.  I must encourage them to learn things that I do not know and to learn to teach me and each other, for that is how they learn to teach others. I must teach them to be prepared by showing them preparedness by example and by preparing things for them. I must also push them to begin to be prepared on their own so that they will not expect others to be prepared for them.

Parenting requires being strong and sure in your decisions while being humble and open to learning new things. Parenting is nearly contradictory, and almost paradoxical.  Yet, it simply requires a balance of these things.  As we strive for this balance, we are preparing our children for whatever awaits them in their lives.  We can only hope that we are doing our job quickly and thoroughly enough, for their purposes in life may be many and widely varied and may begin early.

Parenting, though ultimately intimidating, especially with this revelation, is the greatest joy in my life.  Though I hope that my work in previous jobs and in my future career has and will touch people and help to

bring great joy and positivity to their lives, none of that is as amazing and fulfilling as the purpose I am carrying out in this stage of my life.

How do you view your role as a parent?  Does my explanation speak to you, or you have different viewpoint?  I want to hear from you!


This is a test of the…

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Do tests BUG you? (Or is it bugs that give you the jitters?)

Oh, actually, it’s just a test of my child’s learning this year.  And, surprisingly enough, a test of how well I did as a teacher.  Really, I guess it’s not that much of a surprise.  I mean, we look at testing scores in order to judge how well our public school teachers are performing.  So, I look at how well my child does on his or her achievement test in order to judge myself.  And two years in a row, I’ve been disappointed in myself.

We just finished up my oldest’s test today.  On to the fourth grade we go…  I was ashamed to realize, as I watched him struggle, that I didn’t do enough to help him become more comfortable with taking tests or more open to using scratch paper during the math portion, and I also found him to be weak in the same areas he was weak in last year.  Eeeeek!  My daughter, 1st grade going on 2nd, will start her test tomorrow.  My fingers are crossed that she doesn’t struggle any more than she did last year.  She’s actually pretty good at taking tests.  My nervous son is not.

It probably didn’t help that I found myself getting the jitters as we got ready and as he was taking his test.  I know from my most recent college courses that I get testing jitters big time for my own tests.  But apparently I get them somewhat for my kids’ tests too.  I bet I’m unknowingly communicating to them that it’s something to be nervous about.  I tried really hard to downplay the fact that it was an achievement test I was administering.  (We use the CAT, or California Achievement Test, which allows me to be the administrator.)  I focused on it as being a review of what we learned so that we can know where we need to focus when we start back to school.  It didn’t seem to help any.

I have to wonder if part of my nervousness comes from the fact that I feel I am being graded as well.  And not just because I see that I haven’t given enough lessons in punctuation and capitalization and that he needs more timed math practice.  It must have to do with the fact that these test results ultimately have to be turned in to the state.  I don’t know if anyone even goes over them and compares them to the previous years’ scores.  I think part of me is afraid that the county is going to call me up and tell me I have to put my kids in public school because they didn’t score at a certain level.  Don’t get me wrong; my kids are very smart and they are absolutely thriving in homeschool. It’s just too bad the test doesn’t cover science, because they would blow that subject out of the water.  That’s their favorite subject.  I am pretty certain my son did as good or better this year, if they were to be compared.  And since I didn’t get a phone call last fall telling me that I wasn’t “allowed” to homeschool, I’m pretty certain I’m in good shape this year (not that I wouldn’t put up a nasty fight if I did get that phone call…).

One giant positive is that my other 3 kids allowed us to test with very minimal interruption.  That’s saying something for a 6 year old, 4 year old, and 6 month old.  Our breaks were extended when the baby woke up and needed me.  I discovered I couldn’t carry the baby with me because her cute face and babbles are apparently too distracting.

So, this is my starting off point.  Now I know where I need to focus.  I even wrote out some of the primary and secondary goals for the coming school year after the conclusion of today’s test.  I will use this information to create next year’s plan.  And I will hope that I have corrected the mistakes I made this year by forgetting what I needed to focus on in order to prepare my son for another test.

Here’s where I ask for advice and conversation from you…  How do you fight test jitters?  How do you prevent yourself from making your kids more nervous about a test when you are naturally not calm about tests?


Homeschooling Yourself

As a homeschooling parent, I do lots of research into what curriculum and methods I should use in order to best teach my children.  I enjoy reading books that talk about the methods that work for other homeschool families, and sometimes I find excellent and helpful tips.  I have books about the theory behind various genres of homeschooling and on what specific items I should be teaching my children. Those latter books, primarily the What Your [enter grade here] Grader Needs to Know series, were very dear to me as I first started out. Now that I’m figuring out what works for my kids–and that my kids don’t have to learn a specific list of facts and content created by someone else–I’m less inclined to pull them off the shelf.  In fact, they didn’t come off the shelf at all this school year…that is, until I had a moment of panic as I thought about whether the kids were prepared to take their achievement tests.

But in addition to books written strictly for a homeschooling audience, I think that college-level text books intended for Education majors who will go on to teach in a traditional school setting are, or can be, a jewel.  I’m currently reading Comprehensive Classroom Management: Creating Positive Learning Environments For All Students. It’s a 4th edition, with a good number of mistakes that should have been caught by an editor; but it appears that there are 10 editions, so those mistakes have hopefully been corrected by now.  I received this book for free at a yardsale.  I am enjoying my reading, and even taking notes on my favorite parts.  While I’m just simply enjoying reading this text, I am hoping that I can apply some of the concepts in this book to managing my multi-age, multi-grade homeschool classroom. I know there are probably homeschool-specific books out there with advice for helping me deal with the different attitudes and personalities of my kids in the classroom.  But for now, this is what I’m reading.

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The next homeschooling-related book on my ‘to-read’ list is Homeschooling and Loving It by Rebecca Kochenderfer.  (I received it recently through a freebie deal offered by Educents, a school and learning related deal site.  Although this particular deal is no longer available, they always have a lot of enticing and valuable deals.)  I’m not certain when exactly I’ll be able to start reading it.  That’s because I’ve decided to focus my personal education on topics related to my professional career–which, yes, I will get back to sometime down the road.  In the meantime, it seems taking classes is probably one of the best things I can do.  I recently discovered www.edX.org and I have registered for some of their classes that start this fall.  Their classes are free, and the lectures are taught by professors at places like MIT, Harvard, Georgetown, and more.  You can simply audit the class, or you can complete it and earn a Certificate of Mastery.  No, it’s not college credit (unless you find a college that will accept them as an equivalent, which I’m sure exists somewhere–or soon will), but it’s proof you did the work to complete a class.  In order to prepare for one of the classes I’m registered for, I need to study basic Biostatistics and Epidemiology.  I will be using OpenCourseWare in order to do this.  For those of you who have never utilized OpenCourseWare, I highly recommend it!  It can help you gain knowledge at your own pace for your personal or professional pursuits.  There are many courses listed under the ‘Education’ heading that homeschooling parents might find interesting or useful.  I also think it will be very useful as a homeschool supplement when my kids are bit older. (My oldest will begin 4th grade this fall, so, for the most part, we’re still in pretty basic stuff right now.)

What are you doing to ‘homeschool yourself’?  Are you working on professional material?  Homeschooling parents, do read only books specifically for homeschooling, or do you, like me, enjoy books intended for traditional teachers?  Do any of you have education or homeschooling books you love and recommend? I would love to hear about them so I can place them on my ‘to-read’ list!