Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wild Things

I love books about boys -- who they are, how they think and how we, as parents, can nurture them.

The latest entry into this category is Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, by Stephen James and David Thomas. I haven't gotten to read the whole book yet, but I know this is a keeper. Check this line, from the intro:

"Whenever boys are in the equation, you may have to broaden your definition of normal."

I encourage you to check it out -- and to swing by Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers on March 10 for an interview with the authors.

Friday, February 27, 2009


My sons are blessed with an abundance of uncles -- 4 on my side of the family, plus another 2 on hubby's side.

Years ago, boys were raised in the company of men. As author Michael Gurian writes in The Minds of Boys, "it is worth remembering that throughout human history, our male ancestors had two or more men at their disposal during their upbringing, especially at and after puberty -- the father and the master-tutor were the minimum. These men formed an inner circle of male care around the boy. There were also five to ten other significant males available throughout the boy's adoloscence, forming an outer circle of male care."

My boys' "outer circle" has taught them:
  • Investing and the stock market
  • Star Wars
  • Poker

They've also taught them, through example, to follow your dreams and do what you love.

Of course, they also taught my sons to say, "I do what I want!" and once convinced my oldest son he could fly.

The O Pine sounds an awful lot like my brothers. Check out what he has to say about uncle-ing here.

Then tell me: How have your boys benefited from having uncles?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Most Popular Sport!

OK, parents -- help me out. According to our poll, your sons' most popular sport is "other."

Anyone care to fill me in? What other sports do your sons' enjoy?

This, BTW, is Son #2 playing softball at our annual 4-H softball game. Daddy, himself a softball fanatic, is in the background.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Guest Blog: You Get the Kid You Need

Our guest blogger today is Jeanne Faulconer, articles editor at Home Education Magazine and a homeschooling Mom of -- you guessed it! -- boys. This particular post was an originally written as part of a thread on the HEM-Writers List. We'd been discussing my HEM article, "Fight!", which I wrote about here, and that led us to wonder and write about how our parenting style affects our boys -- and how our boys affect us. Enjoy!

I've always been a little suspicious of a purist philosophy that some parenting experts bring: "if you do this, your kids will be this way.” I always EXPECTED my kids to work their problems out nonviolently, and we constantly worked on their having the tools and ability to do this; however, the reality that I experienced was quite a shock to my system.

I'm one of those gentle souls, an attachment parenting and LLL-type, and was predisposed to thinking that I could nurture my kids a certain way and get acertain outcome. And then my kids proved different! What I now think is that nurture is VERY important - and I'm proud that our way of parenting has helped our boys know the importance of moderating and not being Lord of theFlies-ish. But I also think that nature is very important, and that kids' bring genetic components to personality and energy level and competitive spirit that will shine through despite my best efforts to promote collaboration and contemplation!

My youngest son in particular is off the charts in terms of competitiveness, high energy, persistence, etc. He has challenged me to not only nurture his artistic side and help him curb his more uncivilized tendencies, but also to set boundaries and recognize a need for providing balance when my own"nature" is much more peaceful.

I chuckle to myself every time I hear Cesar Millan say this on his show, The Dog Whisperer: "You don't get the dog you want; you get the dog you need."

At my house, that's worked kid-wise. I probably needed three highly-competitive boys to mitigate my belief that I was powerful enough to shape human nature. My third son in particular caused me to develop some perspective and interpersonal skills that I would never had developed had I not had a kidwho needed a mom with those skills - some of which have been very challenging for me to try to acquire.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I was not the most popular child in my class. In fact, I wasn't in the popular circle at all. I was way, way down the popularity totem pole and I knew it.

But what I couldn't figure out was why the popular kids were popular. I mean, from where I stood (way, way down on the totem pole) it appeared that nobody liked the popular kids. So how could someone be "popular" (i.e. widely liked) if most people secretly despised him?

Leave it to my 11-yr.-old son to answer this question for me. He's at the age where popularity is becoming a very real concept. He's not in school, but he plays on a basketball team with kids from all around town and he -- like all the boys -- are well aware of who's popular and who's not.

The difference, my son said, between the popular boys and the unpopular boys is that the popular ones have power and can get people to do things.

Ah-ha!, I thought. I remembered hearing about a books some years ago, Queen Bees and Wannabees, that dealt with female popularity. Queen Bees, it said, are usually attractive, charismatic and skillful in maniuplation.

Seems the same things apply to popular boys.

To my son, the concept of someone being popular but not well-liked makes perfect sense. The popular boy might be powerful and respected, but deep down, the boys he's manipulating may not like him all that much after all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Importance of Play

You've heard it before: play is the work of childhood. But even caring adults sometimes have a hard time seeing the value in, well, just playing.

When your son is hanging off the sofa, upside down, with a toy car in one hand and a grocery story Ninja in the other -- while you're busy putting away groceries -- it can be tempting to yell, "Put that down and come help me!"

When his play threatens to overwhelm the house with chaos (think couch cushion forts and a box of dress-up clothes strewn all around the room), suggesting a nice quiet game of checkers can seem like the perfect way to keep your sanity.

Homeschool parents, in particular, may struggle to recognize the value of play. I know I do. How do I reconcile the scenes and expectations of my childhood -- structured classes and a constant stream of achievement -- with my current reality? My boys are far more likely to spend their days with playdough, blocks, cars and odds and ends than workbooks. And while I know there's value in play, it can be hard to remember that when it looks like my boys are "doing nothing."

Enter an intriguing article from Scientific American, The Serious Need for Play. The author uses research to prove, yet again, the need for play. Free, unstructured play, she says, is crucial for emotional, cognitive and social development, and children who are deprived of play may become socially maladjusted adults.

The scary thing is that play, the staple of childhood, is in danger. According to a study referenced in the article, children's free play time dropped by a quarter between 1981 and 1997; I'd be willing to bet it's dropped even more since then.

But play -- perhaps more than anything else -- is absolutely essential to long-term well-being. A study by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation found that by age 23, 1/3 of studied children who attended academically-oriented preschools had committed a felony, as compared to only 1/10 of the children who'd attended play-oriented preschools.

Let the children play.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Super Scientific Circus

Today the boys and I saw the Super Scientific Circus with our homeschool group. It was great! Using laughter, music and an uncanny sense of comedic timing, our host, Mr. Fish, and his assistant, Trent the Mime, taught us about gravity, centripetal force, air pressure and more.

The kids were literally jumping out of their seats in excitement. When Mr. Fish said, "Well, according to the clock, we need to wrap up our science exploration," all the kids in the audience yelled "NO!!!" They wanted MORE. The same kids who are more than likely bored to tears in science class at school couldn't wait to see and hear more.

Which just goes to show -- learning can be fun. It's all a matter of finding out what interests your kids. Find out what makes them tick, and you can find a way into almost any subject. In this case, Mr. Fish used magic and laughter -- two things guaranteed to get the attention of almost every child -- to teach concepts that all too often are distilled down into a few boring sentences on a page.

The best part of his show was that it strongly encourages further investigation and learning. As a matter of fact, if you go to his web page, and click on Study Guides and Super Scientific Circus, you can learn how to stick a needle through a balloon (without it popping!), make your own boomerang and more.

Give it a try, and let me know how it works out!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

One of Those Days...

I planned to take the kids to the Building for Kids today, the awesome children's museum in Appleton that features a working crane, mini-Kwik Trip station and waterworks room. The day was free, it had been awhile since we'd gone on a big excursion, and I was looking forward to a day of fun with the kids.

Instead, we stayed home.

Sons #2 and 3 threw a fit when they found out their friends wouldn't be joining us today (due to other commitments). Son #2 then took out his anger and frustration by yelling, very loudly and not very nicely, at Son #3 when he played the piano. When I told him that it's OK to be mad and frustrated, but not OK to take that anger out on others, he yelled at me. (Again, very loudly and not very nicely.)

After settling things down, I went up to take a shower -- only to hear things erupt once again. Seems Son #4 was hugging Son #2 in an attempt to make him feel better, so Son #2 told Son 4 to hug Son #3 (which 2 KNOWS 3 doesn't like). That ended in Son #4 hitting Son #3. Cue the shrieking and yelling.

After taking care of THAT situation, I headed to wake up Son #1. Sons 2 and 3 assured me that he was already up and that they would tell him we were getting ready to go. Instead, they went in his room, sat on his bed, hit him around the head with a little stuffed animal and threatened to throw his camera at him if he did not get up.

When Son #1 came downstairs and, for no reason other than retaliation, whacked Son #2 in the head with a stuffed animal while he was making sandwiches for said field trip, I was done. After a quick phone consultation with hubby, I told the boys that there would be no museum today. Next week, we'll try again.

Of course, that meant I was faced with a long day at home with 4 crabby boys. I knew I needed to turn the day around, and fast.

Step 1) Send them outside. Yes, it's cold, but I know my boys. They needed something completely different to do, a change of scenery and a chance to burn off some energy. After bundling them up, I sent them out for 20 min. or so.

Step 2) Have a plan. I told the boys we'd have hot chocolate when they came inside. They also wanted me to read more Harry Potter, so we read aloud while having our snack. By the time our snack was done, we were back on an even keel.

How do you turn a bad day around? For some more tips, click here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guest Blogger: Talking to Teens

Our guest blogger today is my dear friend and veteran homeschooling Mom, Kristi Scorcio. As you can see from the pic, Kristi is the Mom of 3 teen + boys (and 1 daughter), and therefore is my go-to gal whenever I want to be assured that yes, indeed, all this craziness is normal.

When any of my three teenage sons come home, whether it's after a college class or a part time job or even from a movie, they usually head for the kitchen. I wander in to join them saying things like, "Did you have fun?" "Who was there?" "Did you eat?" and "Anything interesting happen?"

They respond in polite but terse answers. Instead of taking the hint and stopping the questions, I persist. "When do you work next week?" "How did your test go?" "Did you get your research paper back yet?"

Why do I keep asking them questions? Because they should talk to me!

Raising boys. Will I never learn to let them talk in their own time?

Two days later, while I'm browning the hamburger for chili or sorting a load of socks (where is the mate for this sock?) or sweeping the floor (there's the back to that earring) – they may find me and talk, in their own time, in their own way.

When one of our sons was 15 years old, I would drop him off at the community college at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, for a pre-calculus class. After the class he would get into the van, smile politely at me and then sit silently.

I grew more and more agitated until I hit upon a plan. After he had settled in, buckled his seat belt and we were headed home, I would say "What's the worst thing that happened in class today?"I would then pause, listen to his answer, comment in an accepting way and then say "What's the best thing that happened in class today?"

He tolerated this for a day or so and then when his tolerance had become maxed out, he said "Mom, what BOOK did you get THIS idea from?"

I promised to stop asking so many questions about his class and he promised to tell me if anything worth talking about ever happened. Seems he only wanted to talk when he had something important to say.

Some mothers tell me that their sons are chatty and their daughters the silent ones. Not in our house. My daughter and I can gab on for hours, especially after she's been away from home. "Who was there?""What was the movie about?" "When is the next meeting?" And she ANSWERS me. She even volunteers information and funny stories.

Don't get me wrong. These same boys, who may not be talking right now, can tell stories that make me laugh so hard I cry. At times they pour out their concerns and worries and dreams. But the key seems to be that they talk when they feel it's the right time.

Drives me crazy!

Oh, oh. I just heard one of them come home. Maybe I'll go down to the kitchen and brown some hamburger. I could sure use a funny story about now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Video Games and Computers Win!

Video games and computers won the "Boys' Favorite Toy" poll!

A lot of people would bemoan this result. After all, video games and computers have been blamed for everything from increased child obesity to shortened attention spans to a lack of connection to the outside world.

I'll be the first to admit that I, too, have worried about the amount of time my boys spend playing video and computer games. But whenever I worry, I look at the big picture and see that my boys are doing fine. They ARE connected with nature. They DO go outside to play. They're active and fit and connected with the world around them.

So now, I consider computer and video games just another learning tool. That doesn't mean that the boys only play explicitly educational video games; it means that I've opened my mind to see what they are learning and accomplishing with every game they play. Sometimes it's facts or information; other times, it's stategy and critical thinking. Sometimes, it's fun and entertainment.

Favorite games in our house right now include Command and Conquer, a long, long, LONG time favorite (they just keep coming back to this one!) and Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga for Wii.

What are some of the favorite games in your house, and what do you see your boys learning from video and computer games?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Young Dad Update

Remember the story of Alfie Patten, the 13-year-old British boy who reportedly recently fathered a child after one night of unprotected sex?

Yes, you read that right: "reportedly." Now two more young boys have stepped forward, saying it's highly possible that they're the father of young Maisie. DNA tests ultimately will prove which boy is the father of the child.

In an accompanying editorial, writer Judith Woods blames the adults surrounding the teens (children?) and she has a point. We, as adults, have a right to protect, inform and educate our sons.

If you're reading this blog, I'm guessing you feel the same way. But oh -- how I feel for the boys out there who don't have that kind of guidance. My heart breaks for young Alife, no matter what the paternity test says.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Milwaukee Musky Expo

Yesterday, Son #1 and I went to the Milwaukee Musky Expo.

I am not a fisherman (or woman) by any means. I still squirm while putting a worm on the hook, simply because the worm wiggles and squiggles and I know I'm inflicting pain on another living being.

On my own, I would never in a million years voluntarily spend my day at a Musky Expo. But with my son? It was magical.

From the time we walked into the exhibit hall, my son's eyes were wide open. He was clearly in his element. And that, for me, was the magic: I had the opportunity to see my son in a world that was his. In the world of musky fishing, he is the expert and the guide; I am merely along for the ride.

We wandered up and down the aisles, attended a musky fishing seminar by Tom Gelb (did you have any idea how much science is in musky fishing? Tom measures and records the temp at various depths and tracks the moon to decide where and when to fish), and met a number of wonderful people.

Musky fisherman -- at least those who were there -- are an incredibly welcoming bunch, eager to nurture the next generation. We talked at length to the national representative of Muskies, Inc., who referred us to the Milwaukee chapter representative a few booths over. We met and chatted with Dale MacNair, a Canadian fisherman who recently caught a MONSTER musky. A young-looking sales rep chatted with us and we learned that the 21-year-old runs his own guide service (since age 16), fishes on the pro tournament circuit and attends college, majoring in business. A fishing guide offered Son #1 a free day out on the lake when we're up North this summer, and the editor of Musky Hunter magazine said he'd take a look at an article by Son #1.

Every single one of these gentleman encouraged my son, gave him a business card, and told him to contact them if he has any questions.

Thank you, gentleman, for speaking to my son as an equal. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise, for reaching out a hand to the next generation. Thank you for encouraging a young boy's hopes and dreams and for showing him the way.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Youngest Dad I've Ever Seen

While Americans continue to talk about octuplet Mom Nadya Suleman, Brits are talking about Alfie Patten, a 13-year-old boy who recently became a father after just one night of unprotected sex.

The pictures are incredible: biologically, this boy may be 13 and obviously more than capable of fathering a child, but visually and (I'd hazard a guess) emotionally, he's just a boy. A young boy who has no idea what fatherhood means, and yet is trying valiantly to hide his fears and be a good Dad.

Parents, talk to your sons. If ever there was a story that emphasized the need to talk straight about sex, this is it. Teens CAN become pregnant after just one night of sex. It's even possible for them to become pregnant without having actual intercourse -- not to mention the risk to both teens of acquiring a STD.

You know all this already. But do your sons? As Alife's story indicates, it's never too early to talk to our sons about sex.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Salma Hayek is my New Hero

In case you've missed the controversy, actress Salma Hayek recently made headlines when she breastfed a baby boy on a UNICEF trip to Africa. The child was hungry, the mother had no milk, and Hayek, who is still breastfeeding her daughter, fed the boy.

Hayek later commented that women need to help other women, and that we all need to work together for the children. I believe she's exactly right.

None of us can do this alone; the old adage that "it takes a village to raise a child" still applies, even in 2009. To raise strong and healthy sons, we must be willing and able to reach out to those around us, and to return the favor when we can help someone else.

We've been fortunate: Our oldest son, in particular, has found a number of wonderful mentors within our community. He fishes, but neither I or his father are particularly interested or adept fishermen. But our neighbor, an avid fisher, takes him along, and so does a friend of a friend. He's fished with everyone from the 15-year-old across the street to the retired dad of one of my husband's co-workers.

These people have opened their hands and hearts to help my son; like Hayek, they're giving of themselves so that my son has what he needs to grow and thrive.

So reach out your hand -- what can you do to mentor another boy? Who can you find to help your son thrive? Together, we can create a strong community for our boys and men.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Guest Post: Sandra Dodd!

We have a real treat today! If you're a homeschooler, particularly of the unschooling variety, you may have already heard of Sandra Dodd. Sandra is the mother of three wonderful children who have never gone to school; her philosophy of life and learning involves joy and connection and can help bring peace and happiness to any family. Here, she blogs about helping her sons find their place in the world.

I have two sons who never went to school, who are now 22 and 20 years old. They are Kirby, who works for Blizzard, Entertainment in Austin, and Marty, who is still at home, has a 23 year old girlfriend, a job at a Persian restaurant, and a Jeep Wrangler he chose and is paying for himself. (They have a sister who's 17, too, but this is about boys, so I'm leaving her out of this.)

From the time Kirby was born, we gave him choices. We offered him two or more foods, let him sleep where he was comfortable, let him choose his clothes, let him veto the music in the car if he didn't like it. When there were two boys, they were Sesame Street fans, and played Ninja Turtles and Lego and ran around in costumes in the back yard and at the park with other La Leche League kids, and then other unschoolers.

They got bigger every day, as did their options. Kirby studied karate for many years, and eventually taught the children's classes at the dojo. Marty tried karate, but decided to go to ice hockey instead, for a while, and ended up roller blading and being very involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism. We gave them rides and entry fees and equipment and encouragement.

At home, we watched movies, played games, sang, built things and talked about life and fantasies and the world. They found music and movies the rest of us wouldn't have known about. They hung around collectible card shops and gaming stores. We went to medieval-themed campouts and feasts.

Time flies when so much is going on, and they were getting tall, and a little hairy. When Kirby turned 14 he was offered a real job in a gaming shop, running the Pokemon League from 8:00 to noon every Saturday. Gradually they gave him more hours and responsibility. The day he turned 16, they gave him a key to the store. Before 16, the insurance wouldn't have covered him being there alone. He worked in that store for five years.

When Marty was 15, he was offered a job working for a bootmaker, doing boots and pouches for historical re-enactment groups. When he was 17, he worked full-time in a grocery store, walking distance from our house. I loved going shopping and hearing the checkers and other workers say, "Oh! You're Marty's mom. We *love* Marty!"

We weren't doing things with the thought of getting our kids jobs. What got them jobs was that they were out and about, interested, interesting and helpful. When Kirby was twelve and thirteen, he used to help pick the chairs up after the Pokemon tournaments, and he was good at understanding rules, and was able to make other kids feel better and have more fun. He would help vacuum the shop, and help fold the monthly schedules for mailing out. When Marty was in his early teens, he would help people willingly and cheerfully at our many campouts, and at tournaments in town. He smiled and he was happy to be there.

I didn't know that just being good guys with free time could lead to jobs, but it did. Looking back, I think the best advice I can give parents of boys who are concerned that they might not become men is this: Consider them to be whole, no matter how old they are. Treat them with respect and find ways for them to be around as many people and situations as you can, and whenever possible let them make choices about how long to be out and when to go home; what to attempt and what to stall off on; what to start and what to quit.

A rich and busy life can lead to unexpected benefits, and even if nothing remarkable happens, you will have had a rich and busy life with your sons. Few parents have that. Few men grew up in the warmth of smiles and approval and opportunities to explore or to stay home.

Sometimes people ask how homeschooled children will move out into the world. Our children were never anywhere but in the world. They were present with us as much as they wanted to be. We let them be other places, without us, when they wanted to be. The world was always all around them, and they were always in their place in the world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boys & TV

I'll admit it: although my boys love building with blocks, sculpting playdough and riding bikes outside, I'm one of the parents who pushed the "video games/computers" button over there on the left. And if TV was an option -- yeah, I'll admit that's one of their favorites too.

Now, a new report comes out linking TV viewing with depression. The link doesn't seem to be what I initially suspected -- that depressed teens simply watch more TV -- but rather that kids who watch more TV are more likely to be depressed a few years down the road. Of course, that's not saying that TV causes depression, but it's another log on the "TV-is-bad-for-your-boys" fire.

The negative effects of TV have been reported over and over. TV violence may spur violent boys. TV causes/contributes to obesity. TV exposes children to things they don't need to see. TV takes aways boys' imagination.

For another perspective, though, read Sandra Dodd. My Son #2, an avid TV watcher if ever there was one, fully agrees with "Everything I Really Needed to Know I Learned from Video Games and Cheesy Cartoons." It's amazing, really, how many things he's picked up from the TV. This past Christmas, he and Son #3 were both humming The Nutcracker March -- courtesy of Tom and Jerry. He's amazed me with interesting facts and vocabulary words that should be far beyond the reach of an eight-year-old. And every time I express surprise, he just looks at me, grins and says....

"Who says you can't learn anything from TV?"

Monday, February 9, 2009

Appropriate Education

Lisa Pugh, an acquaintance of mine and a 2009 Kennedy Foundation Public Policy Fellow, recently wrote an eye-opening post on her wonderful blog, Rooted in Rural Wisconsin. Her post, The Moon Boot Parents, is about the difficulties parents of exceptional children face when trying to find appropriate education for their children. All too often, she says, parents are left with no real choices, and children are sent, with trust, to institutions that occasionally betray that trust -- sometimes in horrific ways.

That post has been on my mind a lot lately. And suddenly, it occured me that parents of boys often face a similar situation. All of us, as parents, want the best for our children. All of us, as parents, want our child's unique talents and gifts to be recognized and appreciated, and want our children to learn and grow in a supportive, fitting environment. But all too often, that environment doesn't fit our children, and we are left, wondering what to do.

Much has been written about the troubles of boys in school. (For a good summary, click here) Too often, our modern education doesn't take into account boys' innate need to move, to learn by doing and to learn according to their own biological and devlopmental clock. Yet instead of providing good, appropriate options for boys, far too many schools and teachers decide the boys themselves are the problem. A good friend of mine, right now, is agonizing over how to best help her son. He's 5 years old, a kindergartener, and already he's been to the principal's office. Numerous times. Already, the teacher is suggesting a need for ADHD drugs.

How many of you who are homeschooling are homeschooling, in part, because school was not a good fit for your son? How many of with sons in school are frustrated by the school's ability to accomodate your child's "maleness?"

We need a system of education that recognizes, honors and nurtures these innate differences. We need an educational system that reaches out to our children where they are, instead of requiring them to be something they're not.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Learning Alongside

Last night, I was priviledged to watch an amazing display of Native American dance at my husband's annual company party. It might seem an unlikely pairing -- Native dance at an office party for mostly Caucasian engineers? -- but one of their employees is Native American. His grandfather worked for the Wild Bill West Show, and it was there that his grandfather learned whip tricks, Native dance and showmanship. He passed those skills down to his sons...who taught their sons...who are now teaching their children.

He stood up, in full regalia, and introduced his family -- brother, 2 sons and a daughter. He explained some of the history of the dances, and said that his youngest son, age 3, might be joining him as he danced. The child has never been "taught" dance; there are no dance classes for Native children, he said. Instead, they learn by coming out and mimicking their elders.

Exactly!, I thought. I've been reading a book, The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life. And in this book, author Michael Gurian talks about how boys used to be educated:

"Until about a hundred years ago, in all parts of the world, our sons' primary teachers were not lone individuals in schoolrooms but families, tribes and natural environments...Right up into the nineteenth century, most boys still learned what they needed to know mainly from their mothers, fathers, mentors and hands-on work. They imitated their elders, they practiced, they learned by doing."

This little boy, three years old, stepped out beside his father in full confidence, but with the eyes of a child. While his father was intense, clearly into the dance, the child danced beside, equally on the moves, but with eyes darting around the room. Never once did I see the father whisper instructions to his child or interfere with the child's moves; he simply danced, and the child followed along. At three years old, he was learning by doing, at his father's side.

Such a simple approach, yet one so many of us have forgotten. As the line between adult and child has become ever wider, and as life becomes increasingly specialized, too many parents assume they aren't capable of teaching their children what they need to know. But I encourage you to invite your children into your life anyway. Let them watch and help you as you bake, garden, write, play sports or do whatever it is you do. Invite them to be a part of your daily life, and you may be surprised what they learn.

Now, just for fun -- a Native American hoop dance. One of the dancers performed a similar dance last night, and it was amazing!

Friday, February 6, 2009


Life Learning Family posted about obsessions this week. Reading her post gets me thinking about all the fasicinating ways our individual interests have enhanced our collective lives.

We've been through the dinosaur stage -- and because of that, everyone in our house knows how to say "pachycephalosaurus." (Granted, we say it without the English accent!) We all learned about prehistory and fossils and evolution and anatomy and the differences between carnivores and herbivores, and spent many happy hours visiting dinosaur exhibits in both Wisconsin and Arizona.

The boys also, as I've mentioned below, have been through and are re-visiting a YuGiOh obsession. Butterflies were another fascination. We all got interested in the delicate creatures when Boy #2 spent two summers chasing and collecting the critters -- a fascination that led us to hatch our own monarchs...which required us to learn how to identify milkweekd...which led us to correspond with Mexican schoolchildren.

The latest fascinations in our house are:
  • Boy #1 -- fishing
  • Boy #2 -- coin collecting
  • Boy #3 -- making and creating his own cookies
  • Boy #4 -- construction equipment and tractors

All of us, in some way, have learned something from each obsession. Thanks to the fishing fascination, I can now identify almost all native Wisconsin freshwater fishes. Coin collecting was a fun way to reinforce United States geography (I found a neat coin map to display that state quarters he was collecting), and we all learned, just the other night, that FDR is the president displayed on the dime. (Did you know that the March of Dimes took its name from FDR's call to contribute dimes to fight polio?)

The cookie making obsession is messy, to say the least, but is teaching me to be more creative in the kitche; not everything, I'm learning, has to come from a recipe.

And as for the construction equipment/tractor obsession...let's just say I'm a little sick of that one. I'm the child of an excavator, for goodness sake! I GREW UP with backhoes and bulldozers in my backyard. Between that kind of exposure and the fact that he is my SECOND child to exhibit a prolonged and very intense fascination with all things equipment (see point #2 on my post, "You Know You Have Boys When"), I am simply tired of reading the same old machine books over and over and over again. I swear, some of those books have logged more days at my house than at the library over the past 10 years!

How about you? What's the latest obsession at your house? And what are YOU learning from your kids?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Marble Run

Marble runs were all the rage at my house yesterday.

We got the idea a year or so ago, when my two older boys took a "Rollercoaster" class at Discovery World. Using simple foam pipe insulation, tape and marbles, the boys were able to explore the rules of physics. And have fun!

In their class, the divided up into teams and competed to see which team could build the most complex, most successful rollercoaster. Points were given for the length of the "coaster" and the amount of time the marble stayed on the track, with extra points awarded for each successfully navigated loop-de-loop.

They enjoyed it so much that I ran out to Home Depot to purchase a bunch of pipe insulation. Since then, they've periodically pulled out the supplies and spent hours experimenting with angles and loops.

Cheap, easy, entertaining and educational -- my favorite kind of activity!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

But I don't WANT to be Drawn In!

This story just strikes me the wrong way.

I get the school administration's point, I really do. For each child they get enrolled in the district, they get cash, plain and simple. And let's face it: local school districts are facing financial difficulties, so every dollar counts.

But the mere proposal also points to the fact that those same administrators really don't get my point, which is that I DON'T WANT SOMEONE ELSE DECIDING WHAT MY KIDS NEED TO LEARN (and when and where and how...). It clearly shows they don't understand that some of us, anyway, value independence and personal freedom far, far above "instructional materials and....other supplementary materials."

For me, homeschool isn't simply about being home, about keeping my boys in the same physical space as me. Homeschooling is about tailoring their environment to them. Homeschooling is about nurturing and supporting my boys' development, in whatever ways fit at the time. Homeschooling means my son can learn science and geography while fishing. That physics can be explored rolling marbles down the stairs. And that my sons and I can move forward or back -- or leap ahead bounds at a time -- if it suits our needs.

I, for one, do NOT want my sons to have to adhere to the one-size-fits-all public school curriculum. That, dear school administrators, is why we're homeschooling in the first place.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

YuGi Returns

My boys have rediscovered their YuGiOh cards.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with YuGiOh, it's a trading card game, kind of like Pokemon. Each card has a character with attack and defense points, or else is a spell or trap card that can inhibit or enhance the character cards. Players "duel" each other and the object of the game is to win by taking your opponent's life points down to zero.

Personally, I'm glad I could explain that much to you! The game is COMPLEX, and my boys (even my five-year-old) play it way better than I do.

My second son (pictured) is the one who got us into the game. He's always been a collector, and after he saw a friend's cards, he started collecting Yu-Gi-Oh. That led to a world of discovery: YuGiOh books and movies from the library. A YuGiOh computer game. And so, so much more.

Their dad collects football cards, so the boys are well-aware that cards have value.
They spent hours pouring over online sites such as this, researching the value of their cards and inadvertently improving their computer, math, typing, spelling, reading and writing skills. One son would meticulously type in the names of his cards, letter-by-letter, and then record their value on a sheet of paper. All of them mentally tallied life points every time they dueled.

Money skills were involved as well, as each child had to save up and make his own decisions about which packs of cards to buy when. YuGiOh also enhanced their social skills. The boys connected with other boys who played YuGiOh and dueled as often as possible.

But they wanted more; they wanted to enter a REAL YuGiOh tournament! So they went online and researched options. Turns out, a hobby shop half an hour away hosts a tournament every weekend.

We went, and it was WONDERFUL! There's nothing better than seeing a room full of boys (and some girls) of all ages -- ranging from my five-year-old to fathers in their 40s -- actively involved and having fun. These kids were animated. They were excited. They were intense. And I couldn't help wondering -- how many of these boys feel like losers at school? How many of these boys are labeled "slow," "destructive," or "unmotivated?" Because in that room, all I saw was opportunity.

Sometimes, all it takes is the right spark to light a boy's mind on fire. And if that spark comes in the form of a multi-colored trading card, I'm all for it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

You Know You Have Boys When....

  • You have 2 laundry piles -- dark, and underwear
  • You spend hours watching tractors and machines on YouTube
  • Wrestling is a typical after-dinner activity
  • Your home resembles an ammo depot -- in small scale plastic, of course
  • Your couch cushions are off more than on
  • You can mark the 4 seaons by the debris on your kitchen floor: mud (Spring), sand (Summer), leaves (Autumn) and slush (Winter)

Care to add to my list??

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Enjoy the Game!

My boys aren't (yet) big football fans -- although being in Packer Country, they all avidly followed the Brett Favre retirement/un-retirement saga with interest. But they all know who's playing in the Big Game today (go Arizona!), and I'm sure they'll sneak a peek while their Dad watches the game.

And who knows? Just like their uncles, my brothers, they might learn to multiply by watching football. My brother, Doc, had his 7 times tables down by 2nd grade, thanks to football!

For an example of some more football math, check here and here.