Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why You Should Teach Your Kids Handwriting

Photo by jppi, via MorgueFile
I've had it in my head for some time to do a post about handwriting. This post, How and Why to Improve Your Cursive Penmanship, from The Art of Manliness, covers the subject very well.  The Art of Manliness has a lot of high quality content. I recommend it even if you don't identify as "man".

Our homeschool journey with hand writing began with my mother. As a profoundly left-handed person in an era that believed that left-handedness was a weakness to overcome, she still somehow managed to acquire a most beautiful Spencerian writing style. She was grimly proud of this accomplishment, and had even won a penmanship award before she was forced to leave school at the end of eighth grade to help support her family. The teachers, she said, would hit her hands with wooden rulers in an attempt to force her to write right-handed. Even with physical pain and shame as motivators, she was unable to make the switch.

When I was born, she vowed never to let anyone attempt to force me out of being left-handed. I'm one of those people who can learn to do things with either hand without being truly ambidextrous. I write left-handed because of my mother's fierce protectiveness, and do a bunch of other things right-handed. I took my mother's life-lessons to heart. I let my kids be whatever hand they were wired to be, and taught penmanship even though it was out of style by the time we started homeschooling.

Many people, including other homeschoolers, thought that teaching penmanship, especially cursive, was an insane waste of time. A lot of people who went to school when penmanship was still taught have memories similar to my mother's, even if they weren't left-handed. Now that I have one kid in college and one kid working on her last year and a half of high school, I can say for certain that penmanship was not at all a waste of time, nor does it have to be painful. Though neither of my kids took after their maternal grandmother and her award-winning handwriting, both of them can write decently. They are the envy of their friends. It turns out that in this future of robot maids (Roomba, I Love You!) and computerized everything, decent handwriting is still necessary and in some circles, considered quite posh.

We got through handwriting lessons with a minimum of tears and a regular application of practice. We used Zaner Bloser books. After we finished those, I had each kid pick out a style of calligraphy to learn for fun. The important thing in a homeschool handwriting curriculum is to treat handwriting as an art, not a punishment. Like all art, you don't learn it in an afternoon, but when you do start to master it, the feeling of accomplishment is huge!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Homeschooling

photo by Anita Peppers, via morguefile
In the category of "things everybody knows about homeschooling", Everybody knows that homeschool is a lot of hard, serious work. There are whole systems out there that involve carefully orchestrated hours of study, prayer, and folder after folder of perfectly displayed projects and assignments. These are serious families who take education very seriously, every day. Their kids are going to get into Harvard on a full scholarship and go on to cure exotic diseases while on mission in developing countries.

Then there are the lazy girls (and boys). You'll find them sleeping in on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, they'll be doing Algebra at their desk in their pajamas. You must excavate their essay on War and Peace from underneath their pillow. Nobody knows where the actual book is. The dog might have eaten it, or Dad might have taken it back to the library.  School didn't get out at the end of May not because you're on a year around schedule, but because somebody hasn't finished their online, work at your own pace, class yet. It will be mid-July before it's finished.

It takes an extraordinarily laid back mom to admit that nobody at her house was dressed by two pm more than one day last week, especially in the face of an internet filled with pictures of perfectly groomed homeschoolers conducting science experiments and taking hikes in Kamchatka. It's easy to start feeling really inferior in the wake of all those homeschoolers with their photo ready, effortlessly orchestrated lives. And let's face it, the surprise visit from critical relatives is never going to happen on the day that everyone is out of bed at 7:00 am, building a scale model of the RMS Lusitania . No, that surprise visit is going to happen the day the kids are building a demon fortress on Minecraft while you hide in your room with a migraine.

Keep a stiff upper lip, homeschooling parents of lazy kids. Your efforts are not going to waste. Your kids are not going to be living at home forever, unable to get into college or get a real job. Take it from parents who have been there, done that, and had to buy new pajamas to replace the ones destroyed by homeschool Science experiments. Your kids will eventually learn to respond to alarm clocks and deadlines. Yes, it seems grim when you find your kid asleep with a biography of Abraham Lincoln open over their face. Keep in mind that they are actually reading Abraham Lincoln's biography, and possibly even enjoying it. Maybe you didn't get everything done that you hoped to accomplish. Maybe nobody put on real clothes all last week. I'm not judging. You've got the whole world (and those critical relatives) to judge you. I'm here to say, it will work out. Don't give up. You and your kids will be fine.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Managing Childhood

Some of my best memories from childhood involve free play in unstructured areas. There was a
photo by taliesin from
lack of parks in the neighborhood I grew up in, so kids played in the gulches and undeveloped prairie. One gulch was devoted to BMX style biking, the sides and hills worn smooth from the passage of many bike and motorbike tires. It was the most structured play available in the area, invented by kids, for kids. Occasionally someone would have a semi-serious wreck and the adults would talk about having to "do" something about it, but for all my childhood it remained. The amazed joy I felt when I finally conquered riding the bowl (a trick that involved zooming down a high-side hill and then traveling horizontally around the inside of the slick gully walls) remains with me to this day.

Try as I might, and believe it or not, I've tried very hard, it has been a struggle to try to facilitate my children being able to have similar experiences. I've always been willing to get out of the way. I have no personal need to orchestrate my children's lives.

But there are no gulches for them.

Bunmi Laditen, in her recent Huffington Post editorial, laments all the time, creative energy, and money that today's parents lavish on their offspring. I suspect, a bit defensively, that she'd classify me, homeschooling mom with an entire cabinet full of assorted craft supplies (not counting my own sewing stuff!) as one of the offenders. But there are no gulches for my kids.

When my kids were "play in the yard" age, we lived in a big old corner house in a marginal neighborhood on the cusp of re-gentrification but not there yet. I had a sturdy fence, a smallish yard with a swingset set in a big box of sand, and a large, loyal dog. The house had many windows. I could see my kids no matter where they were in the yard. In the summers, every kid in the neighborhood would come to play.

Random strangers regularly stopped their cars in front of my house and came to knock on my door to tell me how unsafe this was. According to them, anybody, at any time, could simply swoop down and steal/abuse my kids. Only in their tabloid-style news fear fests! But if that was the reaction to my letting kids play in a completely normal way, I figured letting them get lost in a gulch was likely to trigger a visit from official family services.

Digression: In case you're wondering, the worst thing that ever happened to my kids was when a door-to-door evangelist from one of the local "Bible Believing" style churches came by and tried to chat up my kids and give them pamphlets. I came out and told them to not speak to my kids without asking me for permission first. Cue a stunning selection of curse words and not nice labels applied to mom in front of her kids and the neighbor kids. Not exactly the best way to "win the neighborhood for Jesus!" I was amused, the kids were horrified, and I suspect this is one of the reasons why my now teenage daughter is a solid agnostic. Back to my point. . .

If I hadn't engineered certain experiences, my kids would have had no access to them. 

The overly fearful, tabloid shocker addicted society that we live in has shut down kids' access to kid-built dirt bike parks, hiking into the gulch and examining the abandoned, rusted out cars from previous decades, the building of dodgy earth and tree forts, the going down to the river to go fishing. I would have loved to get out of the way of my kids' play more than I did. As it was, I was riding the edge of "neglectful parent" with my kids getting to do 1/10th of what I got to do under the eye of a mom who was labeled extremely overprotective in her time.

Maybe some of us field-trip and craft-obsessed parents are doing it to keep up with the Pinterest Joneses. Some of us, however, are trying to do our best to give our kids something resembling a childhood instead of a prison sentence of school/extracurricular activity/learning camp/ rinse lather repeat. I didn't want to manage my kids' childhoods. This modern age didn't give me a choice.