Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Ice Storm: Reverting to the Simple Life

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We survived our worst ice storm in Maine thus far.  Our yard is an icy wonderworld and we just regained power the day before yesterday after nine days without.  It was a difficult adjustment, especially not knowing how long we’d be without electricity.  After about 5 days I gave up hoping it would come right back on and starting making the best of it and working hard to organize our new lifestyle.  It actually make life more simple.  No internet – no emails, facebook, youtube, Ted Talks, internet banking, library checks, shopping, etc. It’s amazing how insidious the internet had become in my life.  Yes it makes some things easier but is it really all necessary and beneficial in the long run?  When it was all said and done, our needs seemed pretty simple:   Water, Food, Light and Warmth.

We woke up daily with water on our mind.  Water management was the utmost topic throughout the nine days.  Our closest neighbors, who are off the grid, shared their drinking water with us.  We visited my parents 45 minutes away three times to shower, do laundry and fill up our 18 gallons of water for toilet flushes and we also melted quite a bit of snow.  I did the dishes once per day and cracked out the birthday plates/napkins/plastic silverware to lessen the dish load.

Food was a bit of a trick.  After 2 days we put the fridge food in coolers outside where it fluctuated between frozen solid and thawing.  Everything in the deep freezer in the unheated workshop amazingly stayed frozen solid for 9 days.  So every time we needed something from the ‘fridge’ we had to go into the woodshed or the porch.  I tried not to do any cooking at first but with a propane stove the only excuse was that it created too many dishes.  But once I got into the ‘doing dishes once per day’ routine I didn’t mind the huge pile up too much.  When it was time, we heated up about 2 gallons of water.  One for washing and one for rinsing.  Maybe the dishes weren’t pristine, but luckily it was rather dark.  Cooking supper early in the afternoon, before darkness set in, made it much easier. I could just heat things up later.

Which brings us to light.  Whoever created headlamps must have been a solitary soul because wearing a headlamp blinds every being in your sight. I missed the lamp shades and grew to be irritated by our bright flashlights and camp lights which shone so brightly.  I learned that using Mark’s work light, shined up at the white corner walls and ceiling gave us the most reflective light.  I took down all the paper snowflakes my kids had taped to the windows and removed the Christmas Tree early as it was blocking a window of light. Having snow outside was very helpful in reflecting in lots of light.  But after 5pm it was dark outside and we found that winding things down early worked well, and we went to bed all at the same time.  We did read to the kids for a while before bed with the camp light behind us.  Because of the light situation we ended up sleeping more, which I think is natural for this time of year.

As for warmth, the wood stove heats the main part of the house and sends enough to the bathroom and kids’ rooms to keep the pipes and kids from freezing.  The wood is from our property, cut and split by my husband, which is something he works on throughout the year.  It was definitely colder in the kids’ bedrooms and they didn’t play there during the day.  We had Christmas morning up in our bedroom which is above the wood stove so the warmest place.  But at night the kids were snuggled in with extra blankets and didn’t complain.

Everybody kept talking about generators and what kind we should get and how much we need one.  However I am at the point in my life where I don’t want to find new ways to use fossil fuels.  I want to simplify and we did well enough without.  Well enough so if we ever had to go without for longer it would be OK.

And despite the fact that we are the last to get power back, we still have the desire to stay out here – where sometimes we cannot even get out our road.  Some may think we’re crazy but I think we are the lucky ones. To survive and thrive when mother nature throws her hardest curve ball gave me a pretty good feeling and strengthened my connection with nature.  And to live where the water is pure, the air is fresh, and it is quiet and beautiful makes the hardships all worth while.

 

Are Homeschoolers the Real Education Reformers?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAre Homeschoolers implementing real education reform right now?  I think the answer could go both ways.

There isn’t any doubt that public education in the U.S. needs major reform.  But with over 50 million kids, more than 3 million teachers and close to 100, 000 public schools, education reform is, at best, daunting.  How can changes be made within a system this big? Slowly.  This is not something that is going to happen overnight.  This is where homeschooling steps in.

I have a son who is dyslexic.  He attends the Children’s Dyslexia Center twice a week, practicing the Orton-Gillingham method, and has completed the Davis Dyslexia Orientation Program and Symbol Mastery.  Though he is homeschooled, I did have him tested through the public school system because I needed to understand his reading difficulty and was confused about the learning differences between him and his siblings.

Though both Dyslexia Programs he’s been involved with accepted him as fully dyslexic, the public school did not recognize this.  After several days of testing and and two meetings, the school officials would not even use the term, “dyslexia”.  They recommended further, neurological testing, said that true dyslexia is extremely rare, and suggested a “drill ’til you kill” method of learning sight words – for four hours every day.  Anyone who loves a dyslexic (or is dyslexic) would cringe at this shockingly out of touch recommendation. Though this may seem extreme, ‘shockingly out of touch’ could also describe the one-size-fits-all curriculum and testing dominating our public schools today.

With our homeschool program my son is involved with creating websites, building video games, writing and playing music, mentoring a robotics club, making pottery and acting as the IT person for our family.  Reading and writing?  Still a huge challenge for him but he practices regularly and is making progress.   If he were in school right now, at his age he would be expected to be “reading to learn”.  I would be spending a lot of time advocating for longer testing times, use of a reader device and other methods that are not currently being used in the local school.  Heck, they wouldn’t even SAY he has dyslexia.  Once they do they will no doubt be required to spend money they don’t have for special services.

I can continue to homeschool him and meet his needs with a homespun curriculum that is saturated in technology, science and math – things that interest him.  Things that will enable him to excel in life and not feel left behind.

His education has certainly been reformed to something that works for him.  We are fortunate to be able to offer him a home school.  But  every American child should have an education that fits their needs.  This is what public education must work towards.  How long will this take?  In my son’s case, it was too long to wait.

Are homeschoolers the true education reformers?  On a single, one-child-at-a-time basis, yes  because a child can be removed from an unsuitable program and receive a tailor-made curriculum, immediately.  But also no  because homeshcoolers, other than churning out young adults who have had their educational needs met, do nothing to improve the general state of public education, which still needs massive reform.

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Creating Your Homeschool Community

20131205_14-blogInteracting with other homeschoolers is an important key to making homeschooling work successfully. Having families with which to share your experiences can benefit parents as well as kids. Most homeschoolers are pioneers – by that I mean they’ve never experienced homeschooling in their life and they are blazing their own trail.  And, as homeschool pioneers, we are not faced with just one trail.  There’s an infinite number of types of homeschooling and just as many different resources.  So each homeschooler you meet is undoubtedly going to have a lot of ideas.  There are many ways of reaching out to meet other local homeschoolers.  Here’s a few:

Contact the local public library. The children’s librarians are the folks who see homescholers on a regular basis. They can put you in contact with experienced homeschoolers in your area. Often times they have a homeschooler’s book club or special reading time. If not, you can ask them to start one.

Peruse the natural foods store. I’ve found this to be a mecca of like-minded families. Ask the owner to hold a cooking or nutrition class for homeschoolers. Or, if there’s a small cafe inside, you could start an informal weekly homeschool brunch.

Start a local homeschool co-op.  Put flyers up in your area for a homeschool co-op for kids and parents to meet at a local park or other public place.  It can start out small and be geared towards a specific type of homeschooling (i.e. religious-based or unschooling), or just open to all.  A co-op can mean anything.  In my experience it means taking turns having families come to your home or meeting for a hike or field trip on a regular basis.  It could also mean having a public space and offering classes taught by local volunteers or parents.  Basically it can be anything that your group needs.

Start a Lego Engineering Club.  Bring Legos and the kids will come.  Some spaces that may work for clubs include a local community center, a church or someone’s home. Having a weekly Lego Club for kids can create a much-anticipated time for social fun and building.  Engineering and science topics can easily be worked in or the kids can design their own curriculum.  The meetings can be followed by a playdate at the park or a field trip, making for a memorable day, every week.

Check out online resources. You can google ‘homeschool’ and your town or form your own local YAHOO group. This website has a few ideas as well: http://www.smarttutor.com/homeschoolers-theyre-out-there/