Monday, April 20, 2015

Boys, Men, Warriors, and Duck Tape

Raising boys is an interesting pastime. I did not grow up with brothers, and my first 9 years of motherhood were spent raising girls. Then I had 2 boys in 3 years. That certainly changed the dynamic of our household! Now my sons are 7 and 9, and I have learned a LOT in the past few years!

One of the major things I have grasped is that the behaviors that sometimes drive me crazy right now are the behaviors that a great man (a great leader) needs. Men are designed to protect, defend, fight, and rule. It's part of who they are, and it's a good thing!

Century after century of world history demonstrates the need for warriors, defenders of freedom, fighters of injustice, and dragon slayers. Without these valiant men, where would we be? Where would America BE? The answer: it wouldn't even exist.

So, as much as I would like to have my little boys sit down on the couch with nicely combed hair and clean shirts, reading science books and quoting dates and timelines, I also need to let them act like boys. Because in that behavior, they are preparing for who God made them to be. They desire to wrestle, compete, fight, climb, jump, and yell.

Sometimes my house feels like this:

Mel Gibson as William Wallace


They pick up any object and turn it into a weapon. Swords are their favorite. But any object will do for swinging around and fighting imaginary dragons.

Beowulf (source)
It's easy to see that this is not a new thing. In biblical times, warriors were valued highly to defend the common people. God commanded the Isrealites to defeat entire armies with the sword. 

David and Goliath



So, you see, boys are just acting normal. Unfortunately, our society does not encourage this kind of thinking or behavior. I wrote about this in more detail in Displaced Warriors. If we do not encourage manly behavior in boys, we will continue to destroy our chances at raising a generation of real men, and we are desperately close to that even now.

Now, it's all really nice for me to say these things, but how does it translate to the real world? Well, there will be lots of noise and action. And weapons. But there is lots of passion, too. I see real excitement when my boys learn about a new book or story that involves a hero they never heard of. Give them lots of things to read, and not just superhero comics.

The Bible is a great place to start. Ditch the cartoon kiddie-Bibles and let the boys hear and read the real stories. David, Samson, Moses, Joshua, Caleb; there are so many exciting stories of warriors who served God. The only Children's Bible I really love is The Childs Story Bible by Catherine Vos.

History is packed with real stories of heroes, and literature adds even more. For every classic tale, there's an easy version for the young readers. My boys have some favorites (and these change constantly): Eric the Red, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Treasure Island, stories of samurai warriors and ninjas, Ivanhoe, Lord of the Rings, and Saint George and the Dragon. We recently read The Great and Terrible Quest and they couldn't stop asking for "one more chapter!" My favorite abridged versions are the Classic Starts Series. But full versions are not out of the question. I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: let younger children listen while you read the unabridged versions, or get the audiobook for them to listen to. Later, when they grow older, they won't be afraid of classic books.

What do these stories have in common? I saw the best description in this article Toward Understanding the Moral Imagination, or Why Fairy Tales Are Necessary, that said, 

Good is good, evil is evil, and good always triumphs over evil.

When boys grow up with the conviction that they are powerful and strong and can by all means defeat evil, there is no stopping what they can do! C. S. Lewis said, "Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage."

What else do we do to encourage the manly attitude? Ahem....costumes. When a boy dresses like his hero, he is reborn. There is no other way to put it. 

Shopping for weapons at the Fur Trader's Rendezvous

A Hobbit

A knight

A jungle hunter

A ninja

Cowboy, cowgirl, and Indian

Cousins protecting the princess


As often as possible, when we discover a new hero, we try to assemble a costume to let the boys "play." And we recently downloaded The Battle Book at Warfare by Duct Tape. This is a great starting point for ideas. After a little more online searching, I found this DIY post


And from there we went wild. It was so much fun, that I decided to teach a class at our homeschool co-op for a bunch more boys! Here is the result of 10 weeks' crafting:





It was a wild, fast-paced class, but I think they had fun! We made swords, daggers, sheaths, helmets, breastplates, shields, and gauntlets. A few kids made axes and throwing stars with their free time. Instead of giving you a list of links, I'll share my Pinterest Board with all the DIY links, real weapons pictures, and even some ideas we didn't get to (like bows and arrows, and armor made from foam). 

Now, I know that not all boys will grow up to wield swords, so to speak, but the spirit is the same. Warriors and fighters take many forms: fathers, pastors, teachers, coaches, and world leaders. If they grow up knowing that good is good, evil is evil, and good triumphs evil, they become men who know they can change the world. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Louis L'amour was an Unschooler {and a Giveaway!}

{affiliate links included}

As I've mentioned before, I am a lifelong fan of Louis L'amour. I have read ALL of his books, which are mostly westerns, and include a few works of historical fiction from other time periods. I'll talk about those in just a bit.



But first, I want to recommend his sort-of-autobiography, which basically illustrates my premise. He was an unschooler before unschooling had a name. This is from the cover:

"...his decision to leave school at fifteen. While his contemporaries attended high school, L'Amour skinned cattle in Texas, worked as a circus roustabout and a mine caretaker, won small-town prize-fighting exhibitions, hoboed across Texas on the Southern Pacific, and shipped out to the West Indies, England, and Singapore as a merchant seaman. Wherever he wandered, his pockets were always bulging with books."

If you've read his books, you know with what detail he describes locations, geography, people, and historical fact. Every full-length novel includes a map. You KNOW when reading that he actually walked the places he describes. His westerns make you feel like you're there. He was self-taught, and experienced. And he had a real knack for storytelling. Combine those qualities and you have the makings of an award-winning writer.

Of course, I have been sold on his books for years. But when I picked up his book Education of a Wandering Man, as a homeschool parent, I was fascinated!

Here are just a few quotes by L'Amour:

The idea of education has been so tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume there is no other way, but education is available to anyone within reach of a library, a post office, or even a newsstand. 

No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself.

Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation for all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness. No one can "get" an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with methods of study and research, methods of pursuing an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue.

It is consistently reiterated that education begins in the home, as indeed it does, but what is often forgotten is that morality begins in the home also.

My own education, which is the one I know most about, has been haphazard, a hit and miss affair that was and continues to be thoroughly delightful.

I do know that when I was in the fifth grade my father told me he would give me a three-volume History of the World if I would read it. For the next few months, when my father came home, I would sit on his knee and tell him what I had read during the day.

This is all from Chapter 1! I think you see now the incredible story that is about to begin with his life. When L'Amour finally settled down to write books, they were amazing! Some may ask, "How did he get by without English I and II? He didn't stay in school long enough to write a research paper, or learn Advanced World History!" The incredible point to be made here is that learning doesn't just happen in a school room.

"...school was interfering with my education."

Anyone interested in education should read this book. Teachers, college professors, superintendents, and parents will benefit from this incredible story of an out-of-the-box type of education (know in the homeschool community as "unschooling").

And then go on and read his novels.

I mentioned his westerns. They are wonderful. Clean language and exciting stories. The Sackett series is extremely popular, but I love them all. Many of his stories include a character being stranded in the desert. L'Amour speaks from his own experience, outlined in Chapter 8. There are stories of Indian raids, battles, and scalpings. L'Amour's own great-grandfather was killed and scalped by the Souix. Numerous fist fights take place in his stories, and he describes each move from his own boxing experience.

Aside from westerns, there is a fabulous medieval tale called The Walking Drum that just may be the best display of L'Amour's extensive knowledge in world history. I first read this one as a teen, and then again as a young mother. With that first child, I knew this would be future required reading for all of my children. My second teen is currently reading it.

The Sackett series begins in the 1600s, tracing the Sackett family from England to the New World, where they settle and move further west with each generation. At least 4 books cover this period: Sackett's Land, To the Far Blue Mountains, Warrior's Path, and Jubal Sackett. Those are on our high-school reading list, as well.

Ride the River is about Echo Sackett, a teenage girl traveling alone in 1830.

Read these to yourself, read them to your kids or have your kids read them. If reading is not pleasureable, get the audio version. We own almost all of them on Audible.com, and listen to them regularly. The narrations are top-notch. If you don't use Audible yet, oh-my-gosh what are you waiting for?  Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

*Note*  Louis L'Amour uses very occasional humanistic references, and in a couple of books discusses the belief that "we all worship the same God, just different in name" in books that involve American Indian beliefs in detail. It is not overt, and he does not "preach a doctrine" but as a homeschool mom, I appreciate this kind of information up front.

Now, for the fun part! Because I have two copies of Education of a Wandering Man on my bookshelf, I'm going to give one to a lucky reader!

Here are the rules:

For every

  • comment telling me if you've read Louis L'Amour's books
  • share on Facebook
  • share on Pinterest
  • share on Twitter
  • subscribe to 400things
you'll earn 1 chance to win. Leave your comment below telling how many entries you've earned. I will draw a winner on May 1!

Before you go, one last link: on education. I also write (okay, it's been awhile) about Laura Ingall's profound impact on our culture, society, and my own education at Prairie Sense. Hop on over there and read about another interesting take on learning.




Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why I Oppose the Tim Tebow Bill



In Texas, the Tim Tebow Bill is working its way through the State Legislature. It promises equal UIL participation for homeschoolers. On the surface. But it has problems. In a state where there is zero regulation for homeschooling, the bill actually inserts a testing requirement for students who participate in UIL. 

I do not support this bill, as I do not support regulation in homeschools. In a letter to the members of the Senate Education Committee, I shared why. I'm sharing that letter with you today. 

Texas is my home state, and I am thankful for the freedom we enjoy to Homeschool without regulation. Every single school day in our home is a joy to me, because I am spending the short years of childhood watching my children learn and grow.

As you are aware, Texas homeschools fall under the definition of private schools, giving us 100% freedom to direct the education of our children. No testing is required, no state curriculum must be followed. I believe that at some point in the future, the Tim Tebow Bill would lead to a loss of these freedoms. Right now we are THE BEST state in the country in which to Homeschool, and many, many families have made Texas their home state simply for this reason. It’s that important to them.

There are many Homeschool families who oppose this bill, because we all believe that it will lead to questioning of our curriculum, “passing” grades, and how we spend our day, all of which will lead down a path to regulations that we currently do not have. It will not take long for the parent of a public school team member, a public school teacher, or a coach to question the fairness of allowing homeschooled children to participate in UIL activities while not being required to follow all public school rules (curriculum, tests, etc.). This will open a new discussion, which will eventually end up in Austin as a bill requiring more intense scrutiny of how homeschoolers educate their children.

How do I know this? Two reasons. First, in the first year of our homeschooling in Oklahoma, my parents were arrested on charges of truancy. Who called the police? A local school official. Second, I am a local contact for families in my area who are interested in homeschooling their children. I get calls and emails of all sorts from new or current homeschooling families telling of trouble with the local school district. The majority of public school officials are not friendly to homeschoolers, but see them as a threat to their funding. The passage of the Tim Tebow Bill will most certainly heighten this problem.

I do not want or need a state curriculum or outline to educate my children. Many may see this as my having something to hide, but it’s actually quite the opposite. In fact I welcome any who read this letter to visit us in our Homeschool to witness how homeschooling benefits children.

Texas history is not limited to one grade level in our home. When we planned our last trip to the Alamo, all of my children learned Texas History together. We read several books together, including “A Time to Stand.” In that book we felt the determination of the Alamo defenders, the desperation of knowing that help wasn’t coming, and we all cried when the Alamo fell. But we thrilled together when Sam Houston and his band lead the battle of San Jacinto and captured Santa Anna. After these moving stories, we visited the Alamo as a family. It just happened to be the 175th anniversary of the battle. When we walked inside, the entire building was filled with funeral flowers from all over the state. Our family felt the respect, the awe, and the sadness inside that place as we stood where the defenders stood and fell. When we came around to the little room where Susannah Dickerson had huddled with her child, listening to the sounds of battle and knowing that her husband was among the dying, the tears flowed freely.

We did not use a textbook, and no one took a test. Neither was necessary, because they lived the story through real books and walking in the Alamo. Some books we read were far above the “reading level” of my younger children, but they were a part of our “curriculum” because they are exciting stories.

This same type of education takes place over and over in our home. If one child is slow to gain math concepts, we spend as much time as necessary to gain mastery. One math book might take a year and a half, and the next one might only take 4 months.

One of my children had the hardest time understanding pi, so we spent about 3 weeks on what the math book considered a one-week lesson. I sat by my daughter as she worked problem after problem, always with my help, until she understood it. On the very last day of that lesson, she said, “I finally understand, Mom. I can do this page alone.”

Another child has an advanced level of comprehension in every single subject (and every extracurricular activity he tries). He typically moves ahead in his work, even catching up to his older brother and sharing some lessons with him.

One of my children (age 9) has such a desire for learning that every new thing fascinates him, so as soon as he discovers a new topic, he follows every rabbit trail he can. A love of tigers led him to study where they live in the wild, which led to a fascination for Africa, which led to a desire to read maps, which led to an obsession with a high-school geography book, which led to an interest in the layers of the earth which all made sense because he plays Minecraft. I don’t even know what grades all those things would be taught in a public school, but it doesn’t matter, because he studied them all voluntarily. Again, no textbook was involved and no test was required. I knew exactly what he had learned because he kept telling me. : ) All of this was done alongside math, spelling, cursive, reading, and history.

I could go on, but you get the idea. This concept is not new to homeschoolers. THIS is why we in Texas highly value our regulation-free homeschools. The joy of learning is so exciting to witness in our kids when not hampered by a list of do’s and don’ts, grade levels, and passing requirements. Not every family structures their education like our family, but that’s the beautiful part! Some families DO use textbooks, tests, and standardized testing. Because they can, not because they have to.

This bill is not all it's advertised to be.There are a few common arguments against this bill, which I will address:

We pay school taxes. Why shouldn't we use the school in exchange?

Fred Watt, a homeschool dad and homeschool sports coach, answered that question best in his own analysis of the bill:

"I find it highly ironic and in fact a bit hypocritical that so many homeschoolers -- those of us who are quick to self-identify as conservative Christians, and profess a strong affinity toward a strict constructionist view of the Constitution -- would be jumping on the bandwagon to push something that effectively amounts to . . . an entitlement!"
My family pays $200 per month in school taxes for a school we don't use. I don't like it. I'd rather put $200 per month into my homeschool, But taxes are a necessary evil. For the county taxes I pay, I'd love to submit a request to have my gravel county road paved nice and smooth. But that's not how it works. The senior citizens down the street pay school taxes; what do they get out of it? Nothing. Because it's not an order form for goods and services. It's how government operates, whether we like it or not.

We live in a rural area, where there are no homeschool teams.

My short answer: start one. Every other homeschool team/association started with just one parent who was willing to do the work. These homeschool teams and groups are not limited to the large cities; our tiny community has a homeschool sports association, started by parents who wanted to give their kids a team sport. They went on to compete against public and private schools and even win tournaments. Just do a quick Google search of Texas Homeschool Sports Associations and you'll see that this is not a far-fetched idea.

My reeeealy personal (and controversial) opinion is that those who support this bill are not of the first wave of homeschoolers in Texas who fought for their freedom and value it highly. They are of the second wave who may not share the same convictions for homeschooling their children. Some of them do it because it's easy to do in Texas without realizing that this was not always the case. Some choose to keep the option of public school open for the future because they are flexible in their opinion of education options. 

That first wave (to which I belong) remembers that it was a hard and scary decision to do what no one else was doing, to be ridiculed by their own family members, to fear (and sometimes suffer) arrest, to stay indoors during school hours because any neighbor or passerby might call CPS, and to keep an attorney's phone number near the front door in case that dreaded knock should come. THEY (WE) are the families who oppose this bill because THEY (WE) know that freedom is precious, and for Texans it's like living in the promised land. We want the freedom, we have the freedom, and we will fight to preserve that freedom.

The one answer I don't have: Why the Texas Homeschool Coalition is pushing this bill so fervently. I cannot figure that out. But I disagree with them on this issue and I will reconsider my free recommendation of their association to the homeschoolers I speak with constantly.

To read about my parent's arrest, click here. To read about my family's part in the 1986 Austin TEA Party, click here.  As you can see, I take this very seriously. : )

For more on why this bill is not good for Texas, start here. Sign the petition and share, share, share.



Monday, September 29, 2014

Busting the Socialization Myth - Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, I attempted to show that homeschoolers are definitely not suffering from a lack of socialization. Rather, they experience a level of social interaction that produces the kind of people I think everyone desires.

I attempted to prove that homeschool kids don't actually live under rocks, possessing only Bibles, granola, and slingshots. We do actually go out into the world and interact with other humans. A lot. But since we are homeschoolers, a lot of our time is spent at home, with our families.

And this is actually the perfect training ground for social interaction.

Interacting with family members gives ample opportunity for kids to learn how to relate to others, while in the forgiving and comfortable environment of their own home. They learn by waking up and greeting family members with a good attitude, eating breakfast cheerfully (even if oatmeal is NOT their favorite), looking people in the eye when carrying on conversation, speaking in complete sentences, completing tasks alone or with others, and hundreds of other incidents while under the instruction and observation of parents who love them and desire their best.



They learn to properly greet a stranger at the door, answer the phone, discuss a favorite book, ask (and answer) questions, listen patiently to a toddler (or any sibling) ramble on about a "boring" topic longer than they'd wish, and when to put their phones away and be present with the people in the room. They don't disappear to their rooms when company comes, but sit around the living room and join in conversation with the adults.



But there are a couple of other things that people confuse with the need for socialization: the fear that homeschool kids might be weird or immature.


Nicholas reads about Tigers with his safari hat, because every day has its own costume.

I actually know plenty of people homeschool moms who are afraid their kids will be weird. But what they're doing is buying into the very same thought process that if you aren't just like all the other kids out there, you're still doing something wrong.

Some of you want your kids to be super smart, super talented, and graduate at 15. But you want them to look and act like all the other kids. It just doesn't work that way. The reason it seems that kids raised at home are "weird" is just because they are different.

But consider: they are literally developing their own personalities without the influence of a classroom full of children in which the leaders determine what's cool and what's not. They get to be who they are! Isn't that what everyone, the world over, tells us we should do??? Be Yourself. Unless what you are is not pre-approved by the cool kids. Then don't be yourself. It's just too weird.

This excellent article "Why are homeschooled kids so annoying?" hits the nail on the head. "And what do I mean by “annoying”?  I mean what people mean when they say that homeschooled kids are annoying.  I mean kids who ask too many questions and know too much information and like certain stuff and refuse to like other things and don’t care what other people think about their silly hobbies and their know-it-all-ness."

If your kid recites a list of dinosaur facts a mile long for fun, embrace it! If your daughter reads and writes for 8-10 hours, be thankful! Bug collections, Rubik's cube obsession, castle drawings, electronics tinkering, perfecting headstands in the living room, dabbling with endless pasta recipes...they all spring from your child's inner person. It's who they are, or at least developing who they will become. And the end result is going to be someone who has explored all the different little rabbit holes until they found their main path to adulthood. They will have traveled that path without ridicule, teasing, peer pressure, and bullying.


In the meantime, maybe they will wear some weird stuff, or tell you "cool things about wolverines"  till your eyes start to cross.


Maybe you'll walk into a room and see your daughter doing schoolwork while it looks like she's playing Headbanz. Maybe your son will only wear camo for the next 18 months of his life. Maybe your son will carry around a thick book of geography, memorizing everything he can about the jungles of South America.

Maybe your daughter will wear a sock sticking out of her pants every day because she's a wolf and the sock is her tail, and she plans to grow up and be a "baby wolf scientist." My cousin did that as a little girl! But you know what? That same cousin is now 20, pursuing a political journalism major in college, and producing a talk radio show in Washington D.C. in her spare time. Yeah. I'd say she's pretty normal. No; actually, she's above average. And she was raised at home, socialized under her parents' protection, and has turn into a very likable young adult. My just-turned-18-year-old daughter was asked to be a shift manager at the local Starbucks, before she reached the age to be eligible. Her boyfriend's boss tried to promote him to manager at the fast food place where he works, before he turned 18. All three of these kids never set foot in a public school, and did not receive the indoctrination socialization that the world out there mistakenly desires for them.

What about immaturity? Again, I think the wrong label is being slapped on a lot of kids who are actually innocent. I know a LOT of  kids who are an interesting mixture of innocence and maturity. They are overjoyed with simple pleasures and love to laugh and have fun and play like kids, but they have a level of maturity that makes them responsible, understanding, and smart kids.

Childhood innocence is something to be treasured. And it's the very thing that's missing in that holy grail of public education call socialization: it's the exact opposite of innocence. The innocence of children is snatched away, not only by peers, but by the school's teachers and curriculum. I don't need to remind you what's being taught to very young children in schools that is far ahead of their ability to understand, let alone need it.

So, please, moms and dads who are afraid that your kids will be messed up because they are raised at home: quit listening to the "experts" (seriously, though!) and let wisdom be your guide.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path. Proverbs 3:5-6

Be patient through those years where your kids are kinda different from the other kids. Love them, support them, encourage their interests, and wait. If you raise your children yourself, God will bless your efforts a hundredfold!

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