Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘school’

The Right to Read

I’ve written before about Goldilocks’ reluctance to read. Until very recently, it absolutely baffled me. Honestly, I anticipated that all my children would be voracious readers. They’re my children, after all. And Papa Bear reads even more than I do.

While I anticipated a number of potential obstacles and challenges along this parenting journey, reluctance to read was never one for which I prepared myself.

Which just goes to show.

But Goldilocks is a reluctant reader, and whether I was prepared for it or not makes no difference. It is what it is.

I confess that I’ve even gone so far as to convince my kids that reading LESS than an hour a day is a sure-fire way to get Alzheimer’s in later life, and the only way to ensure good mental health is by reading at every possible opportunity. Now, I don’t doubt that there may well be some study out there vaguely alluding to something along those lines, but I really don’t think the study I read could be stretched that far.

What has been puzzling me, though, is that she likes a lot of literary pursuits. She LOVES stories, and would happily listen to me reading to her for hours on end. She loves audio books even more. She adores literature in as much as she loves to be told the old, classic tales that make English such a rich cultural experience. And it’s not limited to English, either. She loves ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology at least as much as ancient Celtic tales, if not more so. She’s fascinated my Norse mythology, too.

Moreover, Goldilocks loves the rich depth of language. She loves to unravel the meanings and origins of words. She loves to delve into the proper use of grammar, and takes almost as much delight in correcting poor grammar as I did at that age (which, believe me, is saying something).

She can read pages and pages of data on the NASA space school site, and she’s read every single comic book in the house many times over.

So what’s the problem with books? I know it’s not something I’ve done to put her off. First of all, the body of evidence tends to suggest that stories and concentration and even broad vocabularies are not the problem. (She even understands King James Bible verses!).

Very slowly, like peeling week-old goo out of a Barbie Doll’s hair, the obvious answer began to dawn on me.

Goldilocks is dyslexic.

I think the biggest part of why I didn’t put two and two together before now is that we’ve actually had Goldilocks tested for dyslexia in the past. The educational psychologist ruled it out, and referred us to an opthalmic specialist to investigate vision-related reading disorders. Of which there were none.


Mama knows best, as the brilliantly sung Tangled tune asserts. And Mama surely does.

As always, my default reaction to any new thought or suspicion is to turn to Old Faithful: I Googled it. I found a number of symptom lists, detailed explanations, and incredibly useful online assessments. In every single case, Goldilocks scored 100% for dyslexia symptoms. She has them all. Every. Single. One.

So finally I turned to the Goldilocks expert herself, and asked Miss G what it feels like to read, and why she avoids it. She explained to me that the words seem to dance around a little bit while her eyes are trying to nail them down. They swim in and out of focus and even seem to change size. It’s like they don’t want her to know their secrets, and eventually nailing them down is just too much of a challenge. So she gives up. Comic books typically have larger type, and less of it, with supportive pictures to carry the story forward when the reading gets too much.

Frankly, I’m a little ashamed of myself for not picking up on it sooner. For some reason I just thought she was being obstreperous because reading well meant so much to me.

Now I know better, and it’s time to work out a way to help her.

All suggestions are welcome!


School vs Learning

While there are records of educational institutions dating back to at least 2000 AD, the modern school system and the “norm” of sending kids to be taught while we all go off to earn is relatively new. In fact, for centuries, millennia even, most people worked in and around the home (or farm), and everything was done as a family.

Based on that, we might be tempted to think no learning occurred until we built schools and sardined all our kids into them while all the grown ups sold their souls for school fees.

History shows us, however, that this is patently untrue. The fact is that people have learnt stuff since the dawn of time. We’ve learnt to speak and to dress ourselves. We’ve learned to eat and to feed ourselves. We’ve learnt to walk and talk and socialise and cook and clean and work and even read and write. And for centuries, we’ve learnt all of this without the intervention of a single qualified teacher.

In other words, school is not necessarily the same thing as learning.

As schools evolve, many of them* seem to actively discourage learning altogether. When we took the girls out of main stream schooling, we found them so overwrought at the thought of “school” that the very word left them a quivering mess of tears. It took us months to begin to open them up to the possibility that learning could be fun.

I don’t know if this is large number of children in a class, the massive admin burden facing so many teachers, the lack of fascinating subjects for learning-challenged learners to sink their teeth into, or some diabolical combination of the above.  Whatever it may be, school certainly wasn’t conducive to learning in my children. We pretty much had to start from scratch.

Since taking them out of main stream school, so many people have challenged us about how much they learn – how much they could possibly learn – under these circumstances. They wonder how we could possibly know enough to teach our children (we did pass high school, after all. And plus: Google). They wonder how we could make our children learn.

But in truth, they’re learning every day. They learn when we make breakfast together. They learn when we discuss current affairs. They learn when they hear us run our business, and they learn as we disciple others in Church. They learn from us as we live our lives, and they learn from us as we actively invest time in their education. They learn when they help me design logos or capture cash slips. They learn when we go to the zoo or the beach or the museum or Granny’s House. Sometimes, we hardly touch an academic subject for days, but that doesn’t mean they’re not learning all the time.

They certainly haven’t stopped learning. If anything, they’ve only just begun.

What they no longer do is fear it.

*(Certainly not all – many are amazing institutions of learning where great strides are made in thought and human development)

Read Alouds Rock

I love to read. Everyone in my family, and everyone in Papa Bear’s family, loves to read. In fact, at the heart of my philosophy of education for eat least the last three decades has been the firmly held belief – nay, conviction – that when you’ve once learnt to read, no sphere of knowledge will ever be closed to you. There’s nothing you cannot know. And in this age of Google and online EVERYTHING, once you’ve mastered the ability to read and research, you really never have an excuse for ignorance.

For this reason, we have emphasised reading above every other educational discipline, since before the girls ever attended school of any kind. We were warned not to teach them to read too soon, as this would annoy the teachers and result in the girls being targets of their educators’ ire. This was terrible advice and I strongly advise you never to follow it if your children are still young enough to be imprinted with a love of reading. Start early, and never stop.

Even though our early efforts were focused more on a love of words and books than a love of reading, we nonetheless have read stories to Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood since they first came into existence – many months before they were even born. We’ve never stopped reading to them, and now reading stories makes up a significant part of our home school day.

Charlotte Mason’s method relies heavily on the use of what she calls “Living Books” for its success. These books are well-written works of art, written by individuals who took part in the even being described, or who have studied it so thoroughly that they can describe it as if they were there. We have been using books like this to study history, geography, literature and even some aspects of science. We read books about ancient mythology because they interest us, and morally uplifting tales like “What Katy Did” to build character (without the otherwise-necessary intervention of a faulty barn swing and four years of paralysis!).

We are very pleased with the results. While the girls are less avid readers than I’d like, they’re both fluent and capable readers. They love to hear and tell stories, they have rich imaginations, and they have remarkable powers of concentration and retention – especially taking into account the genetic challenges they’re supposed to face.

Jim Trelease is a dad who has discovered the joys of read alouds in his own family, and has created a whole site dedicated to getting it right. You can find out how to get the most out of reading aloud with your family, which books to choose, and the answers to most of the questions people usually have on this approach to education. Read more about what he has to say on the matter here.

Does reading aloud work for your family? What methods work best for you?

Movie Magic? hmmm…

We don’t watch a lot of TV. In fact, as far as regularly scheduled viewing goes, we watch none at all. What we watch is a few favourite series, and movies. We do watch a lot of those. In fairness, most of the movie watching happens after the kids go to bed, and we use it to keep us awake. The background noise, interspersed with moments of humour or action, works well to fight off the yawns at 11PM, when deadlines are looming and sleep seems so very appealing – and so very taboo.

In general, watching movies makes us more productive, if you measure productivity by the number of hours you spend working each day. Which we don’t. However, there are some things that just can’t be done when a movie is on. Movies use up my “Words Brain”, so that I can focus my “Pictures Brain” on creating websites. But when the work I need to do is strategy or writing work, movies are no jolly help at all. In fact, at those times it’s easy to believe that movies are designed to enslave us and squash both creativity and productivity.

With time, I have developed such a strong association between late night working and late night watching that it’s hard to do one without the other. This impacts both our family time, which typically sees me enslaved in thoughts, conversations and executions of work, and my work time, which tends to be randomly focused and easily distracted. In fact, I recently wrote an entire article without actually knowing what I was saying. (I really shouldn’t advertise that fact, and the article actually turned out really well, reinforcing my suspicion that the words I write have very little to do with me: I’m just some kind of business-wired conduit for content. I’m not sure whether or not this is a good thing).

Movies are a very affordable solution  to date night on a shoestring: we simply cook (or order curry – yummm), and cuddle up on the couch for a night of box office bliss. It’s cosy, safer than braving the streets at night, cheaper (and better for my paranoia) than hiring a babysitter, and of course the risk of allergic reaction to restaurant food is significantly reduced. But is it really connecting? I wonder.

We use movies and TV series as part of our school curriculum, too. When we were studying Arthur and Merlin, the BBC TV series Merlin gave us some great insight into both the story itself and life in those times. The White Queen, too violent and X-rated for my kids, nonetheless gave me some valuable background insights into how the 1400s in England may have been, and made it easier to convey that during our reading and discussion on the subject. There are many more examples I could give, but suffice it to say that movies make up a large part of our family time together. With our diverse learning styles and processing challenges, we seem to have found common ground huddled around a little box.

Having said that, I find my own creativity and productivity seem to be hampered by over exposure to television and movies. I write less, and what I write has less value. I hardly draw at all, and I create nothing but websites: no dolls, clothes, crafts or works of art. Not even a little garden. I have been known to stay up after I’ve finished my work, to see what happens next in whatever I was watching to try and stay awake in the first place. As someone who is already reaping the health rewards of being chronically sleep-deprived, this is a luxury I really can’t afford.

So the question is, is there value to be had in obsessive consumption of visual entertainment? And the answer is, yes – perhaps. In moderation. To see the full benefit of corporate viewing, we should always watch what our kids are watching – and watch it with them – to make sure their heads aren’t being stuffed with fluff, and to answer their questions as they arise. It’s important to get enough exercise in between all the couch-potatoing, and of course, focus on healthy snacks and balanced meals so as not to exacerbate a potential health-threatening situation. Finally, don’t sit in silence. Discuss what you’re watching, and what you’ve watched. Use it to spark interesting conversations and lively debates. Never allow values and morals to be presented without question. Whether you agree with the sentiment expressed, or fundamentally oppose it, never let it go unchallenged. Encourage discussion and critical thinking, while always teaching sound values and imparting a firm moral compass. This will go a long way towards solving many of the purported evils of too much television. Done correctly, this approach could even reverse the negatives altogether by the teaching of a reasoned response to opposing views.

Do you watch too much TV? Or too little? Do you just absorb what’s coming at you like a sponge, or do you prefer to challenge yourself, to question the logic and even use the premise of a move as an opportunity to grow? I’d love to know.

An Unschool Adventure

Last week was billing week, and exam week. Neither of those is a particularly simple or carefree time, and facing both at once proved – ahem, challenging.  Admittedly, I did have some say in the matter, and better planning would have resulted in a better week for all of us.

Even so, the trials we faced last week were eye-opening, and allowed us to realise and begin to address some issues.

Most glaringly, and the focus of this month’s “fix-it”, is Goldilocks’ approach to school. She’s doing much better than she was, and enjoys most of it. But when we have a challenging week, we tend to butt heads and each bit of learning has to be injected by force, it seems.

So, after some serious thought and prayer, we’ve decided to do a one month unschool experiment. I’ve blogged about unschooling before here, and now I’m ready to wade in and do some field research. I’ve agreed to a one-month trial. We’ll keep some of the basic school day structure, like Bible, Maths and Copywork. We’re also probably going to help a friend of the girls’ with his reading and art, so we’ll include those in every day. But most of the school day (and as much of the rest of the day as she likes) will be dedicated to learning about the things that interest her. Apparently we’re starting with woodwork and plastic injection moulding.

I, for one, am waiting in anticipation of the results.

Coco Mojo

Yesterday was a good day. Full of energy and accomplishment, it was the kind of day I wish every day was. Having worked until nearly 2AM the night before, when I had put my house in order by 7AM, I was disinclined to do any billable work. (Funny, that). So instead I “supervised” the girls as they sorted out their room. This process was made both more and less difficult by their best friend spending the day with us. She helped a lot, but the three girls can never spend more than a few minutes together without collapsing in giggles, and I didn’t have the heart to unleash Mean Momma on their hilarity.

We only started “school” around 9:30!

"Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild" has great special features, including an art lesson!

“Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild” has great special features, including an art lesson!

BFF (Tinkerbell) was visiting because she’d begged her mom to let her come and try a day of home school with us. We started by hacking open a coconut*, moved on to reading, made coconut milk, studied the Bible, made coconut ice-cream, then took a break. After lunch Papa Bear helped them to make hovercrafts to study the effects of air pressure, then moved on to an art lesson. Since we’re currently looking at identifying the shapes within objects, we decided to use the “learn to draw” part of the Stuart Little 3 DVD for today’s lesson. We drew Snowbell and Reeko, but by Stuart we were pooped. Although Goldilocks was up to the challenge of creating the little mouse, and did a good job, too.

I made the left over “dessicated” coconut into arguably the worst macaroons in the world, although they were better after I rebaked them, having dried out a little the first time around.

Papa Bear played tag with the girls out front while I made supper. They laughed and played and frequently declared, “Daddy needs to be disciplined!” This out burst was followed by well-intentioned beatings with a miniature yard broom, rendered utterly jelly-like as a result of mirth-overdose.

Dinner was delicious, despite Tinkerbell’s absence (she’d already gone home), and everyone relaxed in front of an animated movie afterwards. *Bliss*.

Why can’t every day be like this?

*More on the coconut to follow.

School Express

This week is Deadline Week. That means I’m very busy and have less time than usual for school. What I found last year was that when I gave the girls the week off so that I could earn an income, we fell far behind in school work. We ended up having to do a lot of extra work to catch up, and we had to do a pretty serious mental adjustment each time to get “back in the zone” for school. I also found that the girls didn’t relate too well to the change in routine, and would end up grumpy and fractious by the end of the week.

In short: it didn’t work.

As an alternative, this year I’m trying something I refer to as “School Express”. A typical school day takes anywhere from five to eight hours, and is pretty comprehensive. We cover Bible studies, social studies, maths, phonics, reading and some writing. It takes time.

This week, we’re doing the “Lite” version: almost as much work, but in three hours or less. We still do Bible studies, phonics and maths. We cover social studies but in a less detailed way. And we read FAST. It’s amusing trying to twist my tongue around  the ancient Hebrew names and less ancient King James English at high speed, but it makes the girls laugh and they seem to recall a lot of it, which is good.

Another solution that seems effective is to find something comparable to what we should be studying, and show it on DVD. For instance, right now the girls are watching the ballet of Midsummer Night’s Dream. When they’re done, I’ll read the story to them (the abridged PDF), and then they’ll paint pictures of it. So we get art, literature, music, history and a little bit of dance. All while I get some work done. Oh, and update my blog 😉

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