Creating a Set of Experiences

Have you ever heard a word or phrase that seemingly “stuck” with you?   That conversation that you psychologically cannot turn loose?   The words are obviously meant to marinate, but the “why” isn’t apparent in the moment.   I had this experience a few months ago when I ran into a former coach at our youngest daughter’s Upward game.

You’d need a bit of background to appreciate what transpired in what was a  brief, but transformational, conversation.   Our daughter has been a cheerleader in our Upward sports league for a few years, but one year she decided that she really wanted to play basketball.   Mind you, she’s never touched a basketball before.   I was also a bit nervous about her running with the predominately male teams, even those where the boys were equally unskilled with the ball.   Our youngest is more of a “girly” girl, and I saw the potential for what might happen the first time she got shoved harshly or knocked down.   Though I had doubts that she would enjoy the physical contact associated with basketball, I did seize the opportunity to enroll her in Upward’s mini-basketball camp.   This would allow her to experience basketball without the commitment (read $$) for a 6-week stint that we would have all dreaded.    

Less than 10 minutes into the mini-camp, I saw the tears fall.  She’s in line to complete the first drill with a group of boys who, though they possess varying levels of skill, are all more prepared than she to do what is being asked of them.    “I can’t do it!”   “I don’t know how to do this!”   “I don’t want to do it!”  She’s wailing to a coach, who is consoling her as she explains that she’s not played basketball before.    I’m resisting the urge to be Mom-to-the-rescue and lovingly usher her to the car, relieved to check this experience off the list.   In the meantime, the coach takes her to the side and begins with a dribbling lesson.   He was so patient and encouraging until our daughter came home excited about the next basketball season.   “I’m going to work all summer long so that I’ll be ready!”   His commitment was that, if she worked on her dribbling skills, he’d put her on his team and help her continue to build her skills.   

When fall came, I asked our daughter if she wanted to play basketball in addition to cheerleading.   She quietly said, “No, I don’t want to play basketball.”   I didn’t press it too hard given the increased fees.   It worked out well; that same man didn’t return to coach during the season.   However, I did see him briefly during one of the games.   He explained in details that I no longer recall why he didn’t coach during the season, and I began to explain that the youngest didn’t stay consistent with her practices as the summer wore on, and that she’d decided not to play basketball in the fall.  His comment was, “That’s okay…” and from there, he began to talk about how our lives are a set of experiences that may or may not translate into long-lasting changes (or something like that), but that at least we can say that we tried whatever was the task of the moment.   Though my life bore witness to this very fact, I confess that I’d never thought about the kids’ activities in that way.    My husband and I were far more intentional in what we introduced into their lives, and we generally invested in activities that would have longer-term value.   As one example, dance was never a consideration as a career in our minds; it does, however, teach discipline, self-respect, self-love, and an appreciation of the grace and gentleness that accompanies the culture of dance.   The fact that their years of classes might hold the potential for college scholarships wasn’t a bad deal, either.   I fully realize that we perhaps sound anal-retentive to some, but time and money are precious commodities around here, so we’ve never haphazardly allowed any new venture into an already jam-packed schedule.   Instead, we’ve evaluated each opportunity in terms of its ability to lift Jesus and grow more intimate with Him, and to come against low self-esteem and low self-worth.

So, I’m still thinking about this set of experiences concept when a dear friend and I have this same conversation just a couple of weeks ago.   She’s sharing this wonderful epiphany about who she is, who she’s not, and growing comfortable with each of those realities, when she spoke of her own goals when homeschooling her children.   Her words were, “All I’ve ever wanted to do was to give our kids a set of experiences that they could use…”  (There was other eloquence behind this but the uncanny-ness of hearing those exact words a second time struck me such that I don’t remember the rest…)

When I’m in the throes of planning for the kids’ education, I cannot help but reflect upon my own experiences, especially now that two of our kids are in high school.   I thought at times that I did not receive a good education, as I would define it.   I worked hard at what I was given to do and reached for more than what was required of me to do.   I graduated salutatorian with a 3.96 GPA.   But I was so far behind many of my classmates from other states when I went away to college.   It frustrates me now because had I realized how under-prepared I was for higher education, I might have made different decisions in terms of my major.   Then again, God knew all of my shortcomings and used them to develop toughness and persistence, so who am I to question His plan?   Nevertheless, I now find myself not far from 50 (a recent birthday puts me that much more in touch with my ever-encroaching mortality) and committed to developing myself as a scholar.   In short, though I was not given the best formal education, I am determined to get the best informal education my time and attentiveness can afford.  

Ultimately, this is the goal for our kids.   I sat during spring break and planned, to the best of my abilities, the rest of our school year.   I listed every planned interruption, gave us some days off for holidays, recital preparation, etc.   I fought frustration and angst as I thought about how close our older daughter is to leaving this home and forging her own path.   It occurs to me that not all of my plans will become reality.   She might not have the opportunity to read every book I had planned in these remaining 12 or so months with her.  I can see right now that there is coursework that will go uncompleted.   All my own insecurities began to surface about how prepared is she—really.   That’s when the purpose of these words began to sink in.  

 All I can give our kids is a set of experiences–experiences that will hopefully, prayerfully, plant seeds of passion and desire for more within them.   Books create experiences.   Trips are experiences.   Conversations are experiences.   Competitions are experiences.  Relationships are experiences.  

Not unlike any parent, I am at times in awe of our kids’ conversations based upon some of what we’ve studied here at home; I am also stunned sometimes by statements they make when it’s obvious that the brain wasn’t engaged when the mouth opened.   “You remember when we talked about that?”   I’ll say, totally dumfounded.   “Oh, yeeeeaaaahhhhh,” is the general response.   Oi.   But at the day’s end, whatever is their education leaving this home, with its peaks and valleys, may their set of experiences create in them a hunger for more experiences.   That would define a good education.


“Feeling” What you Read

‘…thoughts–just mere thoughts–are as powerful as electric batteries–as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison.   To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as l3etting a scarlet fever germ get into your body.   If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.’     Frances Hodgson Bunett, The Secret Garden

Boy, what a blog break, huh?  It wasn’t intentional.   I’ve been here, there, and (mostly) everywhere, but I’d not slowed down to complete this post that I’ve been crafting for weeks.   In the meantime,

I completed an online interview for Lyria’s website in celebration for Black History Month (link to come later).

I wrote an article for Heart of the Matter Online that will hopefully encourage anyone who’s struggling with staying the course.

I’m working hard on a partnership that has come my way with   Please stay tuned—we (in conjunction will offer a free product give-away during the month of February!

Where I’ve been the most is in bed—sick, along with the kids.    We are fighting with everything we’ve collectively got to stay well amidst weather that gives us a high of 60-70 on one day, with a high of 40 just a few days later.   With the kids dancing and sweating, those quick in-and-out-of-doors trips are just enough to keep one or more kids coughing, sneezing, and/or blowing a runny nose.

 When we’ve not been battling colds, we’ve been doing lots of reading.   I’m reading From the Mixed-Up  Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler.    Though we’ve had this title on our shelves for years, it’s a first time reading it for the family, and we all are appreciating a 12-year-old’s perspective on being treated so unfairly and deciding to run away.     Our son is reading through The Flames of Rome as a part of his history of God’s kingdom curriculum.   This is a masterfully told fictional novel of Christianity at its earliest stages, its impact on the Roman government, and the consequential persecution of both Jews and Gentiles.   Yet, it is told with all the non-subtleties of any tale of ancient Rome, and I can’t help but think my son has probably gotten a full introduction to all those scenes I make him change the channel from when I see this same stuff on television.

Every now and then we must back up from the product and pay attention to process, asking ourselves the question “why,” as in “Why do we use this curriculum?”   “Why are we reading this book?”   “Why do we need to learn this?”   Actually, some would argue that the latter question comes more from our children ( or does it? 🙂  )

The oldest and I recently found ourselves at the point of asking “why.”  From the oldest’s perspective, ancient history is all about war, and medieval history is all about knights and monsters (Grendel, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, etc.)   Yes, oversimplification is sometimes a problem in our home as well, but I’ll get to it later.

The whole “why do we have to read about monsters” discussion originated when we opened, or rather, downloaded, “Beowulf.”    I honestly believe that she’d passed by me while I was trying to watch the movie—unsuccessfully, I might add.   I had one of those “never judge a book by the movie” moments.   In a matter of a few minutes, the oldest passed by, decided that the movie was too gruesome for her, and blew off anything associated with the word Beowulf.   Great discernment, but also a tad judgmental, perhaps?

Anyway, rather than feel unappreciated after pouring, blood, sweat, and tears into her syllabus, I answered her question with a question: why do you think we read these books?   Her response was a regurgitated academic “feel good” statement that she’d heard from me, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.   I want her to know that she’s getting an education that, in traditional school systems, would only be afforded by the well-heeled or those that are considered gifted or talented.   I pray that she does understand that there is a body of knowledge that comes from being well read, from the norms of our culture, to our sense of good and evil, from  social class and structure, to language that gives us common understanding.    As I’ve said to the older kids before, when you encounter phrases in the media like “Et tu, Brute?” or “ ‘tis a far, far better thing that I do…” or “a man apart,” “but if not,…” or even the more chronologically recent “hoodwinked and bamboozled,” they have historical significance.   And though life doesn’t require you to be a walking reference book, it makes sense to understand language in its context.    That beginning normally leads into my own thoughts about relationships with words and ideas, but I’ll spare you (smile).   But after she shared her thoughts, we were able to look at all of our work from a different perspective.

The problem with oversimplication is that it allows us to dismiss ideas.   We can diminish medieval history down to stories about knights and monsters.   If we back up a bit past the story that modern-day media would present, we can read “Beowulf” for what it is—a story about what happens to a crude, warrior society that encounters the gospel of Jesus Christ.   The tale has far more meaning when presented from that angle.

When I was younger, we had a saying that indicated that someone had said something you could relate to: I heard that.    You had to swirl that “heard” around your tongue a bit and then hit the “that” hard, but it was a clear signal that you heard something that resonated with you.    Now the kids say I feel you.  Though I’m the first to sometimes question a classic, I do understand that a book—a good book—should make you feel something.      Through Odysseus, we each begin to think about our own trials on the way to discovering who we are.      Through Hrothgar we learn to represent Christ even when it means that we are indeed a peculiar people.   I could think of others if it weren’t so late.    However, I think you get the point.   And like the quote above from The Secret Garden, a good book should leave us with something uplifting to think about, something that aligns itself with Philippians 4:8.        After stepping back to have this whole “why” discussion with the oldest, I was re-energized about what we’re reading, with an even clearer understanding of why we’re reading it.   Yeah, I feel that.

Great Reading, Good Times

Several years ago, I read a post from one of the most inspirational bloggers I know, Linda Fay, who writes so practically about how to “do” a homeschool with a Charlotte Mason approach.    In this particular pearl of wisdom, she used a food metaphor to illustrate the difference between a Charlotte Mason homeschool full of living books versus an environment with workbooks aplenty.    The living books approach, in her analogy, was like serving a bowl of rich stew with fresh baked bread; the workbooks, then, were the equivalent of starvation-like rations and water.     I remember confessing that, at the time, I was somewhere in the middle—fish and a salad was my position on this culinary continuum.       

I’m curious: how much time do you spend reading to your children?   I’ve seen so many guidelines as to how much time is ideal, but I also know that many homeschooling parents have to operate within what is practical.    Earlier in our homeschooling years, I can remember hearing an “expert” state, with a confidence that was intimidating for us mere mortals, what she felt was appropriate in terms of reading to children.   “I want you reading to your children for at least one hour,” she says.    I thought this was totally unrealistic for a mom with my responsibilities.    In fact, as an aside, I’ll confess that when our oldest was entering school (pre-homeschooling), I was so fascinated by her mastery of the computer until I all but forgot the value of a good book!      Fast-forwarding a few years, this same question surfaced in a homeschool group to which I belong that focuses in on high school-aged children who are college-bound.    The responses were similarly intimidating.    One mom stated that she gives her child a list of 100 books going into freshman year with the expectation that they will be finished by the time of graduation.  

Experience has taught me that there are sometimes very valid reasons for workbooks, so I certainly don’t knock anyone’s choice to use them.   In truth, the oldest would probably love the opportunity to fill in blanks and insert whatever is appropriate to create a page that is flawless in appearance; she’s my “perfect Paula,” in Cathy Duffy terms.    And yes, I’m still in fish and salad position, or maybe a fish (soup) stew, but largely by choice, not by ignorance.     I’ve found that, as the years go on, there is no better opportunity to learn than with the seeds planted by rich, living books.   So each day, I make a point to sit down with each of the kids one-on-one and read a few pages together.   TwaddleMeNot, with her beautiful little girls (and brand-new son) speaks of having snuggle time with her preschoolers.    I’ve found that bigger ones need time, too, even if it looks a bit different.    (It’s hard to snuggle with people that are even bigger than you).   We also have one or two books that we read as a group; this becomes the fodder for narration Over the last couple of months, in the midst of all the peaks and valleys that make homeschool what it is, we’ve had some experiences worth capturing, and I thought I’d post them here.

I talked a while ago about my perspective on The Wheel on the School, a book that the youngest and I shared.     Without totally spoiling the ending, I’ll just say that it took approximately 250 pages of a slightly-over-300-page book to actually get the wheel on the school.    I won’t even talk about the task of getting the storks on the wheel.    BUT, in the end, it truly was a delightful tale of the power of a community coming together to reach a common goal.   The moral?   Everyone adds value, and a body of wisdom—even the smallest children—and the task cannot be completed without each person’s willingness to connect or to hold back, and to be sensitive as to when to do either.

Now we’re on to The Secret Garden, a classic that moves quite a bit faster.    I couldn’t get my oldest to get interested in this one, although she and her brother enjoyed the movie.    The youngest, however, wants to punch the main character for her impertinence, and almost waits to see how contrary Mary will be on a given day.    I, on the other hand, recognize as a parent that noooooobody took the time to raise Mary, much less love and nurture her ; she is the product of what those around her have failed to do.   I have to wonder, though, are mistreatment and neglect of children the theme of every English classic deemed worthy of a place on a child’s reading list?   Classic or not, I would no more expose my child to a wealth of these books than I would expose them to a wealth of what’s currently considered appropriate children’s television—broken homes, immature dads, exhausted moms, obnoxious kids.    And that’s only the sitcoms that promote “traditional family values.”      From The Water Babies, to The Secret Garden, The Tale of Despereaux, Oliver TwistUnderstood Betsy—geesh!

Speaking of movies, I was thrilled that the older two watched LOTR: The Fellowship of the Rings for the first time, and actually confessed that they liked the book much better.   They refuse to watch The Two Towers (and won’t let me watch it, either!) until we finish the book we’re reading now.   We’re getting there, but I’m in no hurry; I suspect the movie might be a little bit scary for me with the increased presence of Gollum.    My own “Gollum voice” is creepy enough—I cannot imagine staring at that face for more than two hours.   Of course, just when I was so pleased and proud of my ability to make my voice slither like a creature sliding down the wall, Gollum becomes Smeagol, more mousy and high-pitched.     With my deeper tones (I’ve been told often that I sound like a female DJ), I’m struggling with making my voice squeaky.

Our son is loving Treasure Island, and my treasure is that I get to watch him enjoy a true “boy’s book,” (at least in my mind).    At the Heart of the Matter Online’s recent conference, Susan Wise Bauer suggested to never give a child an assignment based upon a book that the child truly enjoyed, and her thoughts are making more sense to me as I listen to him; a project at this point would squelch his enthusiasm.     Incidentally, she also spoke of book reports having little value for a child’s long-term educational process.   So, was my whole elementary school experience a wash?   I’m just saying.

My oldest is quirky.   As much as she gets on my nerves, I’m sure I’ll miss her terribly when she moves on.   Today she was away from us taking the PSAT—for practice this time.  She spent the morning at a public school for the first time ever.    I prayed much of the morning in order to combat my anxiety; what will I do when she leaves?   The time with her grows more precious to me as the days go by.     Just tonight—at 9 p.m., mind you, while we’re finishing the day’s reading, she was telling me what books her other high school/ homeschool friends are reading.     We talked about different classics, or the lack thereof, after we finished the Aeneid.    Thank God that Virgil writes in a much more straightforward manner than Homer, with far fewer extended metaphors that detract from the main story.   What I’m most pleased about, however, after a dubious beginning of the higher grade studies, is that she is finally buying into her education, and getting excited about what she is learning.   You know something else?   She might not read 100 books in four years, but when I actually backed up like David and took a census, her four-year count will be between 70-80.    Quality counts for so much more than quality, but you could do a lot worse on a high school reading list than 80 classics.

Is every day a walk through literature heaven?   Certainly not.   In fact, this post is a composite of the year this far—it’s been too long since I’ve participated in the weekly homeschool meme.   We may not have rich stew and warm, fresh-baked bread, but there’s thick fish soup here.     Great things are happening over good books, and I’m so thankful.  May God continue to bless you with good times, too.

The wrap-up of the wrap-ups, 2009-2010

This post, almost a week after our summer has begun, is the epitome of how our end of the year has gone.      Sally said it all in her comment about being DONE (with the capital “d”) as defined by her.   The only problem is, other schedules dictated how my year ended.   With plan A, I would have had another week to think about how to celebrate.  Plan B was that I tested when I wanted to have school, and I had school when I thought to test.    And I think that’s the problem: given my lack of spontaneity, it’s taken me a while to realize that school is over.     Even in terms of my posting, there were other things I wanted to say and do, but time got away from me, and now I can’t help feeling like I missed a great opportunity.   I should have done one more homeschool wrap-up.   Then again, I’m one of those people who will forget to put something on a list, so I’ll do it and then write it down so that I can cross it off.    Talk about an obsession with closure.

I was reflecting upon the year, especially the first semester when everything seemed to just click, and it occurred to me that this was too good of a year to not do anything to celebrate in some way.   So, Friday night after the older two’s team practices, I used the Starbucks gift card that the tester’s parents gave me, and I bought everyone Frappucinos.

We had a good, if not great, year, even though I experienced my usual end-of-semester burnout, and I didn’t get to list the last bit of icing on the cake—a hodge-podge of happenings—so I’ll list them here.    By the way, how do you capture your school year each year?    When I was more of an avid scrapbooker, I always reserved a page (or 2 or 3) in my scrapbooks to serve as a recap of our year.   




 I know other parents who get their pictures neatly posted into Squidoo; personally, I’m working on getting more logged onto my blog, and more pictures taken in-the-moment (you’ve probably noticed), such that I can remember it all and use it well.

The youngest, after requesting to learn more about the human body, began Apologia’s Anatomy and Physiology.   Personally, I think it is far more difficult than some of the other elementary level texts, but I also realize that between General Science and Biology she’ll see the human body at least two other times.    We’re not on the hook for “nailing” it just yet.   Here’s a picture of her edible cell—Jello with Twizzlers, Starbursts, Skittles, jelly beans, Jawbreakers, Fruit Roll-ups.    Jeannie Fulbright needs her behind whipped for that one (smile).




 After thoroughly enjoying A Cricket in Times Square (although the youngest hated that the cricket chose to leave just as things were going so well), we began The Wheel on the School.     It’s a slower book, but poses a profound question to a teacher (in this case, a parent) about what can happen when a child is curious.    This post, from a public school teacher, addresses the nature of the book better than I could.   We found this while surfing to find out what is a wineball.

This wasn’t my year to focus in on my son, so I don’t have as much to write about his finish, except that it was stellar.   His turn in coming in 2010-2011, when I think the oldest will have gotten into her routine with high school.    He was happy to finish his year of poetry with this bit of eloquence, which looks simple enough, but he had to meet a number of assignment requirements in terms of rhythm, rhyme, etc.

Inside of the cold season,

The rain, the snow and the hail

Falls to the ground.

Now in the blooming season,

Plants start, not to fall to

The ground,

But to come to the surface,

And come around.


The oldest did complete both her projects-on time, in spite of an internet outage for 24 hours.   I see in her one who gets tons of energy at the last minute.   It is disturbing, and it’s not me, but I know a number of people who function in this way and are wildly successful.    I was most skeptical about one of the projects, designing the ideal high school according to Socrates, as reflected in the ideas of Plato’s Republic.     Not only was this a more difficult work to read and comprehend, but I didn’t know how she’d put the work in with such time constraints to show, through words, that she “got it.”   At the end of the day, it wasn’t her best work, but she understood the ideas expressed, and moreover, the idea behind every teen/ high school movie she’s ever seen—why the popular kids are constantly recognized and become increasingly popular, why the others fade into high school oblivion, and why there are segments and cliques—recognized cliques with boundaries– in the first place.   I thought to post her work here, mistakes and all.   Hmmm…..we’ll see.

When I look at the kids relaxing, when I notice myself sleeping a bit later with no guilt, it’s hard to embrace that the year is over.    Seems like we ran full steam for so long until this abrupt stop is taking a minute to get a hold of.    Now comes my favorite part: planning (and purchasing) for the year to come.   Hope you’re enjoying this season as well.