Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What is Conversion?

This topic probably deserves to be a very long and scholarly post, but it's not going to be. Still, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on a topic that I've been thinking on for a while.

I've noticed that there is a large degree of misunderstanding between people of faith and those who choose a more secular path. It's usually the ol' "science vs. religion" stuff - if you believe in science, how can you believe in God? That one question has been debated so much that it's gotten quite old and I don't wish to go into it today. (Hint: science and religion are quite compatible)

But there is one thing that I wish the non-religious understood about the religious. We're not sheep, blindly following the strongest personality in the room. Nor have we found that being told to think is easier than thinking for yourself. That idea is laughable, given that it has become so unpopular to believe in God in our current culture.

Here it is: We believe in God because we've had experiences with the divine that have profoundly affected us in ways that nothing else can. Sometimes we are reticent to share these experiences with the world at large because of their sacred and personal nature. I, for one, am in no hurry to have something that is so important to me mocked, ridiculed, and dissected in the court of public opinion.

As much as I dislike actually attending church, I can promise you I would absolutely not kill myself over it if I didn't really believe with all my soul that there was something to be found in Mormonism that wasn't anywhere else. Instead of scoffing and rolling their eyes, I would hope that instead this would make others stop and wonder what there could possibly be about Mormonism that makes me stay. And not just stay, but really put forth effort to be active and devout.

This is conversion: those spiritual experiences where you have touched the cosmos, felt the fires of heaven burning in your eyes and in your heart. We, the God-fearing people of this world, cannot forget it, nor will we abandon it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why I Will Teach Cursive

I feel very strongly in favor of cursive.

I've heard all the arguments against it: kids don't need it, texting texting blah blah blah, outdated technology, waste of time. None of these arguments hold a drop of water.

You know what's a waste of time? Standardized tests. And not just that - if pressed, I could present you with an extensive list of stuff that is a bigger waste of time in school than cursive.

I, myself, do not use it to write, and the state of my own penmanship is the source of much ridicule, to be quite honest. I'm sure the legibility of my handwriting would be much improved if I went back to cursive. But because I learned how to write with it when I was a kid, I know how to read it.

Cursive isn't like high school geometry; I haven't had to write any geometric proofs since 1998. I've had to use my knowledge of cursive as an adult in real life: transcribing old documents, indexing for family search, reading through my Grandma's notes. I'm actually pretty good at it, too, if you want to know.

Being able to read and write cursive is an extension of literacy and should be treated as such. Not being able to read cursive at all makes you functionally illiterate when it comes to a large corpus of work.

And then there is the issue of reading historical documents like the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Magna Carta. The ability to read cursive gives people a crucial link to the past. Not having that ability, and taking steps to ensure that the population never acquires it, has overtones of Orwell's 1984, where the protagonist works very hard every day erasing and altering newspapers and people. If the next generation can't read anything written by human hands, suddenly the past becomes inaccessible. I don't know about you, but I find that quite alarming.

I mean, for Heaven's sake, have the Powers That Be not read Muggie Maggie

And then there was this interesting piece from the NY Times discussing the cognitive benefits of cursive. Apparently, it's good for your brain, too.

The Engineer will finish his handwriting workbook soon. I asked him flat out - do you want to learn cursive now, or wait a year and work on other things first? I showed him some examples of cursive and he was really intrigued and wanted to try it out immediately. So as soon as our new workbook arrives, we'll get to work on that.

Yeah, this is why I homeschool. I don't like faceless legislators making the decisions about what my kid learns in school.

Plus, today we got to take a break in the middle of the day to run around and fly kites.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

First Grade - Sept 2015 Homeschooling Update

Folks in our neighborhood started gearing up for "back-to-school season" around the end of July. I did think, for a moment, of officially going "back to school" with our kids in mid-August, when our school district begins classes, but I decided not to wait.

I like the idea of year-round schooling, but in practice we did take quite a bit of time off in the summer due to multiple factors: more friends available to play, Mommy's morning sickness. We still did a lot, all told, but we definitely scaled it back.

We've been going pretty strong for a couple of weeks now for our official new school year, and we're doing all kinds of fun things. The Engineer is in first grade, and The Cookie is doing pre-school. I switch off working with the two of them over the course of the day. After completing one task, I'll let one have a break to play with legos or color while I work with the other child. It's been a good system so far and keeps them from getting burned out.

First Grade

History: I started doing ancient history with the Engineer last year, in kindergarten. It was more of a "check out this picture of a Greek Temple," kind of thing. We are still working our way through the ancient world because a) there is a lot of it and b) the kids kind of like it. He gets really into it and asks a lot of questions; I covered more material with him on the ancient Maya than I did when I was learning about the Mayans myself in 8th grade. The Engineer was most fascinated with the fact that the Mayan language was completely lost after all the codices were destroyed. We tied it back to reinforcement of our religious values with some discussion about why it was so important to Lehi and Nephi that they have in their possession an example of their written language so their descendants would retain some literacy.

Since the end of July we've covered the Celts, the Mongols, and the Mayans, and now we're learning about the Aztecs. Yesterday's discussion included an analysis of how Cortes won against thousands of Aztec warriors with only like 500 guys. I did mention the Aztec practice of sacrificing prisoners of war, but I chose to exclude the part about heart extraction and possible cannibalism. We can go over that when he's older. After the Aztecs we'll talk about the Incas. I don't do any "tests," so I honestly am not sure how much he is retaining, but as long as he continues to enjoy it, we will continue to do it this way.

I don't use a set curriculum for history because I prefer to keep things open-ended. We have a lot of history books of our own, but we also get a lot from the library. I like to use YouTube as a supplement, because of the insane number of documentaries that can be found on it.

Science: We're more or less using the Well Trained Mind method for this one. We're going through the Animal Kingdom, but not in any particular order. We did worms over the summer, and since July we've also done mallard ducks, leafy sea dragons, alligators/ crocodiles/ gharials, and now we're learning about snakes. The Eingineer has a certain fascination with elapids, so we've spent extra time talking about the black mamba and indian cobra (Naja naja). We've already spent one whole week on snakes, but we're nowhere near "done," as it were, so we'll probably go for another week more. I'm not sure what we'll do after snakes, because I let the Engineer choose. Maybe frogs or something, I dunno.

Aviation: I chose not to fight it. The airplane obsession is now an official subject in school. The Engineer's primary teacher at church is an actual pilot, and he was good enough to give us some magazines and a large number of books when he was de-cluttering. BEST PRIMARY TEACHER EVER. "Aviation" is a little haphazard, but includes some study of these materials plus YouTube documentaries on WWII fighters. I know it has been really effective, though - If you have about an hour of your time, you should ask my kid what he knows about the Grumman Hellcat. My neighbor was joking with me that The Engineer will be one of those kids that gets his pilot's license at 15. Yeah, probably, if he keeps this up. He's not aware that I have made this an official part of school - he thinks that he is getting a prize for being so good when I let him watch a History Channel documentary on the Spitfire. Muhahahaha!

These three subjects are technically just for the Engineer, but the Cookie tends to sit in on the discussion, as well. He asks questions and is happy to watch the YouTube videos and look at the pictures in all of the books with us while he sits on my (ever shrinking) lap. More so than his brother, the Cookie is not afraid to ask questions and will often respond to any inquiry with, "I don't now, but maybe we can look it up."

We still use workbooks, etc, for math, phonics, and handwriting. He's not really quite so excited about those. In fact, he said very petulantly just two days ago, "I don't like school! I hate it! I only like science and history!" He dutifully did his work, however. There is so much more I think all of us would like to cover on a given day, but there comes a point in the afternoon where he is just done and I know it would be counter-productive to ask more of him.

The biggest development: My kid is finally reading! I don't know what happened. I got tired of fighting him on it so backed off for a while, and during that time he must have finally decided that being literate was in his best interest. After reading a quantity of Doctor Seuss I ask him, 'Was that so hard?" and he shakes his head with a smile. Ahh, so proud, so proud.

I am using the same curriculum for the Cookie that I used for the Engineer - Explode the Code phonics and Singapore kindergarten math. The Cookie is younger than the Engineer was when he started, so we're going super-extra slowly. I also print out a lot of fine-motor control worksheets, and we practice writing his name. I'm super laid-back about it.

Music: I wanted something that could just be for the Cookie, since the Engineer has his undying passion for airplanes. Technically music is just for my middle child, but my oldest sits in and enjoys it, too. We've started looking at the instruments in the orchestra, starting with the string family. My mom used to teach violin and has kindly allowed us to have some child-size violins for the children to (gently!) play with and explore. I found an excellent series of YouTube videos from the London Philharmonia Orchestra that has been of great interest to us.

A neighbor of ours was a french horn performance major at the local university, and she very generously allowed us to come to her house and gave us a presentation of her instrument. The Cookie was looking forward to that for days and days, and he was able to make an actual musical sound come out of it when given the opportunity.

There are more instruments in the world than just the ones that appear in your normal orchestra, and thanks to the power of the internet we've been able to see and listen to music from the carynx, sitar, and banjo.

The Toddler 

My Sheildmaiden, age two, has her own "school." This is a series of blank notebooks that she can color. This also involves a lot of stickers. She loves doing her "school," and is very proud of her work. When she's not doing that, she plays with whichever sibling is not currently working on a task of his own.

With so much else going on in our lives, I'm sure people have wondered why I have chosen to keep homeschooling on my plate. It's because I really love it. I find it relaxing and enjoyable, if you can believe it. I also find that it enriches my own education - I've always loved learning, even if I didn't always love school. I've come across the idea in popular culture that children are so limiting and being a parent ties you down and constricts your growth. I've found that the opposite has been true. Having kids, especially now that they are old enough to learn about and appreciate the world, has given me an excuse to do things that I already like to do: read, look at books, go to museums. "This would be so cool! I want to do this thing! Oh, yeah, I guess it would be educational for the kids, too."

The homeschooling life suits me. I don't see that changing any time soon.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bilateral Clefts

I am not really one for making big announcements over social media, but after some thought and some helpful suggestions, I thought maybe I would go ahead and do that.

So first of all, I'm pregnant. With The Husband being in school and living off our savings, it's just a tad unexpected. As of the time of writing, I'm 23 weeks along. Yes, we've had our ultrasound. Actually, we've had two. No, we don't know whether our child is male or female.

But we do know that the baby has a bilateral cleft of the lip. That means there is a cleft in two places. The ultrasound technician was not able to confirm a cleft of the palate, as well, but given the nature of the problem it's a safe bet that the cleft will indeed extend into the palate. The full extent of the severity of our child's condition will not be fully known until after he or she is born in December.

The good news is that cleft palate repair is one of the most commonly performed medical procedure done on children. I am given to understand that the craniofacial clinic in my state is one of the best in the country. I am also told that specialized equipment and prostheses are available that can facilitate breastfeeding. 

Obviously it's not an ideal situation, but we don't get to pick and choose our trials.

Our family is very fortunate to have a lot of love and support from all our friends and family who all wish to help, so for their benefit I'll be very clear what we need and would like:

1) Unless I bring it up in conversation, please don't assume that I need or want to talk about it. Even well-meaning people can be unintentionally insensitive, and sometimes it's best to just say nothing. I am sure everyone will have additional questions, but I would prefer not to have to answer them.

2) Your story about a cousin's friend's old roommate who had a kid with cleft palate and turned out fine is all well and good, but I would rather not hear about it. (See #1)

3) If you have in the past noticed that our first three children look like copies of each other, it would be nice if you could cease making comments to that effect.

4) We don't need anything right now, but if you feel the need to perform a gesture of kindness, I would not refuse an anonymous plate of cookies. In the future we will have to spend time at the hospital while our child is undergoing corrective surgery, and at that time, I may ask for additional help from the appropriate parties.

5) Comments are disabled for this post. (See #1)

Thank you all for your continued love and support.

Edited to add: Hugs and other expressions of love are always appropriate. I've been very uplifted by the love our family has been shown.  Thank you, everyone.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Holy Envy

I thought "holy envy" was an interesting concept since I very first heard about it. It's the whole idea that you should admire the good qualities found in religious traditions other than your own.

I first experienced something that could be counted as "Holy Envy" when I visited St. Paul's Cathedral in London when I was a teenager. The interior is exquisite and features among its murals near the ceiling inscriptions in praise of the Creator.

Up until that point, most of my experience with alternate branches of Christianity mostly involved kids at school (not my actual friends) informing me that my Mormonism was going to send me straight to hell. Yeah, like that's going to make me want to convert. (Most of my really close friends were Catholic or Baptist but we didn't tend to discuss religion a whole lot.) So my experience at St. Paul's was a formative experience for me, the concept that there were some beautiful things to be found outside my own tradition.

It's been on my mind a lot since I rejoined facebook a few months ago and rekindled a friendship with a close friend of mine from high school. She is a homeschooling mom with three kids, travels the world with her family, and is a devout Catholic.

I love the stuff that she posts on Facebook. In addition to sharing all the geeky stuff she does with her family that I, also, would like to do, she tends to post a lot of stuff that revolves around Catholicism. Stuff about the Feast of Mary Magdalene and prayer programs and attending a Midnight Mass.

Mormons don't really "do" Midnight Mass or lent, but maybe we should. Why don't we? Are there Midnight Masses to be attended in Utah Valley? Maybe I should find one and bring my six-year-old. That prayer program sounds exactly like my kind of cause. I bet I could do it. Maybe I should. I think I will.

I feel a tiny flame of gratitude that I have a friend who is so devoted to her faith, especially since we live in a society that is becoming increasingly secular, full of people who think it's cool to make snide remarks about Jesus at Christmastime. (Hint: NOT cool.) My friend inspires me to increase my devotion to my own faith. Even though plenty of doctrinal differences exist between Mormonism and Catholicism, I would hope that there is plenty we could teach each other about what it means to be Faithful and how we go about celebrating Christ in our lives. I don't foresee ever becoming Catholic, but I believe I've certainly learned a thing or two from my friend.

 Thanks, Spock Sister!*

*This is an inside joke between us from high school. I don't expect anyone else to get it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Teaching My Kid To Read: I Give Up!

Let me make one thing clear: my first grade teacher, Mr. Ceily, did NOT teach me how to read. Not even close. He taught me mostly that school was a slog. My mom was the one who taught me to read.

I didn't think much of the whole "reading" business at the time. I remember staring at the words on the page, seething with hatred. It was a hard, painful process that involved chasing me around the house with a book.

God has a sense of humor because he sent me a kid who is just as resistant to becoming literate as I was.

The biggest problem is this: I have no idea what The Engineer's actual reading level is. I don't really want to fight the kid, because I remember very well being on the other side of it. I've tried to entice him using words for things he loves. Namely, airplanes. I write the words down in a notebook and he has to read them for me. the results are surprising.

He can read, "I am a pilot," with no trouble. He can also read, "B-17 Bomber," "Curtis P-40 Warhawk," "Ailerons," and "Propeller." But he will not read, "Max the cat sat" because it is "too hard."

What, I ask you, am I supposed to do with that?

I've even tried to get him to analyze it. "How do you know it says 'ailerons?'" He says, "Because it has an 's' at the end.'"

I have a feeling that God is somehow chastening me for the sins committed by my six-year-old self.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Editing, Writing.

I've been editing my nanowrimo novel. Writing the first draft was the easy part - spew forth 50k words, job done. The editing is highly tedious but also strangely satisfying. Usually this part is like pulling teeth, but I like how it's coming together.

The truth is that it's so much easier to edit and critique other people's work, because you're not emotionally attached to it. It's easier to see how all the pieces (plot development, character development, plot holes, etc etc) fit together and play out when you're looking at it from a distance.

This is my third novel, and by that I mean it's the third long-ish piece of work that I have written that has a beginning, middle, and end. The other two are unfinished and require more time sitting on the shelf before I do more work on them. I think I've learned a bit since I made my first part of my first draft in 2004. At least, I hope so...

My protagonist is eleven, so there's no romance. It's refreshing to write about actual issues instead of troubles with boys. My main character is more worried about social pressure, internal conflict between what she wants to do and what she knows is acceptable behavior, and bullies. Kathy and Deirdre from fourth grade, this book is dedicated to you.


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