I rarely read Doonesbury anymore, as I've greatly cut back on my comic reading, and get too much political ranting as it is.  But here's one I can appreciate! (Click to enlarge.)

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Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 8:57 am | Edit
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This clip about the German Forest Kindergartens showed up in my Facebook feed. (Thanks, Liz.)

It caught my attention because Janet and her kids visited one (Waldspielgruppe) and had a blast.

("What do you mean, 'had a blast'?" asked five-year-old Joseph. He speaks three languages, but misses the occasional idiom. He's also very literal, and was probably puzzling about pyrotechnics. I suggested that it means "an explosion of fun.")

Perhaps the most educational part of their visit was the revelation of do-it-yourself possibilities.

  1. Spielgruppe, whether this or one of the differently-focussed options available, is expensive, costly in both time and money. You could buy a lot of cool equipment for your home and still save money.
  2. Anyone can buy the special rain gear that allows a child to emerge clean and dry from a romp in the mud—once you know it exists and where to find it. ("There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.")
  3. The forests are open to the public, nearby, and free.

Who needs Spielgruppe?  Who needs kindergarten?

Since then Janet has taken the gang, outfitted in their new rain gear, for their own fun in the forest. Once they even met up with the preschool group and they all had fun together.

Maybe the best advantage a formal organization gives you is that, after paying all that money, you work to find time for your child to participate. But if you have the self-discipline to make it happen, don't outsource the fun!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 8, 2016 at 11:55 am | Edit
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While we were visiting New Hampshire, our son-in-law and the older children spent the better part of one day helping another family move into their new home. Their reward for this good deed was to catch a stomach flu, and bring it home to the rest of us.

One by one the children's gastro-intestinal systems gave in. Porter and I took our turns at the end, but the last victim of all was—you guessed it—Heather. I believe there is quite a bit of truth behind the idea of mom-immunity, a constitutional strength that keeps mothers going until their children are on the mend.

But that immunity finally deserted her the day after I came down with the bug myself. Since I was no longer actively vomiting, and the children—now essentially back to normal—were active and needy, I crawled out of bed to see if I could be useful.

But Jon, who had been among the first to get ill and recover, had everything under control, assisted by the older kids—especially Faith:  The Nurturing Force is strong in this one. So I gratefully crawled back up to bed.

Where I stayed for the rest of the day.

For a day all I had to do was drag myself between bed and bathroom, and thought that was a difficult enough task. The rest of the time I slept. And slept. And healed.

What a luxury!  What a tremendous blessing!  What mom ever has this opportunity?  Maybe mothers whose children are in school or daycare can get a few hours' rest, but outside of those hours they too spend more time functioning than healing. Babies need nursing, and children—especially children who have recently been sick themselves—sometimes need Mom's attention, despite the avaiability of other helpers.

Then there are those whose job situations leave them little choice but to drag themselves out of their sickbeds and into a full day's work—to infect who knows how many others along the way.

Wouldn't it be so much better for everyone if our life situations had enough slack built into them to allow all sick people the time to heal effectively?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 24, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Edit
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altThey're Your Kids:  An Inspirational Journey from Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate by Sam Sorbo (Reveille Press, 2016)

I usually ignore the suggestions my Kindle pops up for me to read, but I'm a sucker for homeschooling stories, especially at $2.99. This one both pleased me and was woefully disappointing.

The pleasure came in the second part of the book, which describes the family's experience with homeschooling. I love these personal tales, whether the author shares my own educational philosophies or not. Homeschooling stories are infinitely varied and, to me, endlessly interesting. The Sorbos' adventures are no exception.

The disappointment came, as disappointment usually does, through foiled expectations.

I had read that the inspiration for the family to begin homeschooling came because the parents' careers (acting, modelling, writing) took them on the road a lot. "Aha," I thought. This could be the solution to a problem that has been troubling me.

Because we were homeschoolers before that educational option became popular—indeed, before it became legal in many states—my lovingly amassed collection of homeschooling stories is very old. Not that anyone's personal experiences can really become outdated, but I know that those currently homeschooling or considering the option would like to hear voices from the current century.

Moreover, while homeschooling was initially primarily a left-wing, "hippie" kind of movement, it was later enthusiastically adopted by Christians who had their own reasons for distrusting government schools, and many of the more recent stories have an unabashedly religious base. Nothing wrong with that—but it muddles the issues in some people's minds.

Knowing that They're Your Kids was from a family of traditionally secular, left-wing professions, I anticipated that it would provide a much-needed, different perspective.

It doesn't. Far from it. The beginning of the book is filled with the kind of anti-public-school ranting that the more secular folks associate with right-wing extremism, and which embarrasses so many of us who still consider ourselves both Christian and politically more right than left. Especially painful is that the author, like so many others, fails to distinguish the Common Core standards from some of the highly objectionable implementations. It's the kind of diatribe that may pump up those who already agree, but will turn off nearly everyone else.

Despite all this, I certainly don't regret buying They're Your Kids. It costs more than $2.99 to buy a bag of chips!  What I'd recommend is skipping over the first part of the book and getting right into the Sorbos' story. Every homeschooler's story has a unique perspective and new ideas

I do have one more warning; it's for my readers who are trying to teach multiple levels and wrangle toddlers at the same time:  Just ignore the part where she says her three kids get everything done in three hours.  (We only had two and never finished in three hours.)

Herewith some of my favorite quotes:

“No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest - for it is part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.” — T. S. Eliot

As good a job as the educators [at the Classical Christian school] were doing, I realized Shane was no longer at liberty to pursue his mathematics to his heart’s content. Now he was on a treadmill, along with his entire class.

I realized that teachers are, in fact, traffic control cops, and so my son was simply good at being herded. “What about his academics?”

“He’s doing fine...”

“Fine” was an unacceptable accolade, when I’d seen him love learning at home.

[Schools] adopt a plan that levels the expectations, by slowing down the better performers. Although this approach may seem counter-intuitive, it’s much easier to hold back the advanced students than try to accelerate the less gifted ones.

If revered institutions don’t complete the textbooks, why was I holding myself to such a high standard? Because I’m a perfectionist… but that’s unhealthy for my kids and me. I decided that just because I have high standards doesn’t mean I must follow and complete an entire curriculum to find educational satisfaction.

Keep your eye on the ball. Learning is the goal, the textbook is just a tool.

[A]t the risk of losing them to boredom or frustration, I err on the side of caution—everything in moderation. We cover the basics until I see they understand, confident that review is coming. This way, the loves of my life aren’t burdened with my obsessive perfectionism, agonizing to complete tomes of structured learning. I’d rather we concentrate on enjoying the process instead.

Early in life I’d learned to choose the hard thing, because boredom was worse than hard work.

Sometimes, you have to do something that’s hard simply because it is hard—to practice, to build strength.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Edit
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Last year I had the privilege of reading and reviewing S. D. Smith's The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston.  I'm thrilled to report that a new episode in the adventures of #RabbitsWithSwords will be available soon.  The Kickstarter campaign for Ember Falls is almost over and has exceeded its goal—though I'm certain that if anyone wants to become a last-minute backer they will be as welcome as the earliest.

For some reason, the trailer isn't imbedding properly here and I can't find it on YouTube, but you can see it at the Kickstarter link.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Edit
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I just read an interesting article entitled, "I Didn’t Let My Kids Snack for a Week. Here’s What Happened."  It reminded me again of my puzzlement over how we got to the point of believing that children can't go a few hours without food. I've always seen that attitude as a problem. A First World problem, to be sure, but still a strange and annoying problem.

It's true that my childhood was in the dim past, but I'm certain that snacks were few and far between. Yes, there was sometimes a glass of milk and cookies when I came home from school (really!), while my mother crafted dinner and we talked about my day. But generally we reserved eating for mealtime: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eating between meals was frowned upon for many reasons: expense, mess to clean up, and above all, it would "spoil your dinner." Kids were expected to be hungry when they came to the table; it made us less likely to complain about the food.

When our own children came along, we pretty much continued the policy, but already society was starting to change. Soon you couldn't have an outside activity—from sports practices to Sunday school classes—without snacks. Parents began to feel abusive if they didn't offer food every time their children whined, "I'm h-u-n-g-r-y!" I don't think the increase in the number of children who are picky eaters is coincidental.

Spoiler Alert: So what happened when the author restricted snacking?  Win-win-win.

I’m definitely going to continue feeding my family in this way. They ate a great variety of foods, and our time at the table together was actually enjoyable.

I didn’t spend it nagging, and they didn’t spend it whining. They arrived to the table hungry, and they ate. My house is cleaner, my kids are happier, and I feel way more in control.

My children have less [sic] meltdowns because they are better nourished. And I have fewer meltdowns because there are fewer demands on me.

I'm not against all snacking. I like snacks myself. Too much. But when it deprives children of the right to be hungry enough to appreciate good food, eaten at the table with family—there's a problem.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 26, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Edit
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As I walked into a ladies' room at Animal Kingdom recently, I overheard a woman speaking to a small boy.

"No, don't go in there," she called, as he headed for the men's room.  "You'll have to come in here because you're with Grandma."

As they entered the ladies' room she admonished, "You'll have to pee like a big boy instead of sitting down, because we're not at home.  You'll have to stand like a big boy."

But there's more to peeing like a big boy than just standing up.  Soon I heard the grandmother's voice at a somewhat higher pitch from inside the stall:

"Point it down.  POINT IT DOWN!" 

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Edit
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If Today.com can broadcast this, I guess I can, too.

We've known Rebecca since before she was born.  Her husband, Erik, is the ultimate romantic, from his fairy-tale proposal to this incredible announcement of their pregnancy.

A few other people have been impressed by the video:  last I looked, it had nearly 20,000 views on YouTube since it was posted less than a week ago.

I was going to say I can't wait to see what they'll come up with when the baby's actually born ... but on second thought I'm sure that sleep will be 'way higher on the priority list than making a film.

Congratulations, Rebecca and Erik!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm | Edit
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I'm glad I discovered Kids Mode on my mobile phone: On my last visit Vivienne managed to change my display to greyscale. Kids Mode is somewhat protective.

Our grandkids are very good about taking "no" for an answer, but the question is frequent: Grandma, may I use your phone?

Joseph (5) wants to play PEAK brain-training games. Vivienne (4) is frustrated that most of the PEAK games are still beyond her but loves to watch videos, look at pictures, and use the Kids' Mode camera, sound recorder, and other features. Daniel (2) has but one desire: to watch the two videos I made of pictures of the U.S. states flashing by in sync with an excerpt from the song, Fifty Nifty United States. (Daniel is obsessed with states and loves to sing along, ending with a resounding, "WY-OMING!") Ellie (10 months) is too young to have a favorite app, but figures anything her siblings want so badly must be a good thing, and goes after the phone every chance she gets. My Samsung Galaxy S5 is supposed to be water resistant, but I'm not inclined to test it against saliva and her sharp little teeth. Her turn will come soon enough.

I'm not really complaining. The phone is an amazing educational tool and I so enjoy watching the kids learn. Hopefully they will recover quickly from any bad media-related habits, since Grandma's phone is only available when Grandma is around. I'll have to be careful, however. Eagle-eyed Vivienne watches closely as I enter the PIN that restores full control over the phone, and she's probably now beyond just changing the color of the screen. There are some games she'd really like to purchase....

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at 3:34 am | Edit
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Actually—there really ought to be a word for "daughter's in-laws."

That Phil and Barbara were involved in a protest back in the day doesn't surprise me.  But I had no idea they made the New York Times!

Here's the update almost thirty years later.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm | Edit
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altLullaby by Steph Shaw

Here's a shoutout to our very talented cousin-in-law.  (If there's a word for "son-in-law's cousin" I don't know it.)  Steph Shaw is a singer-songwriter and the mother of three adorable girls.  "Lullaby" was written with the first, recorded with the second, and released with the third.

Naptime.  It's what you make of it.

Enjoy!  And don't forget to check out Steph's Facebook page.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 6:25 am | Edit
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This is my 100th blog post for this year, and I think it fitting to dedicate it to promoting another blog, just five months old but very promising:  Blue Ocean Families.

Inspired by the business concept of Blue Ocean Strategy, the Blue Ocean Families team seeks to answer the question, How can we leave this frantic modern life and carve out a peaceful blue ocean for our families?

Blue Ocean Strategy: Don’t beat the competition, make it irrelevant.

The creators of Blue Ocean Strategy illustrate their idea by envisioning traditional markets as a bloody red ocean of cut-throat competition. They propose that businesses should leave this deadly environment and carve out untapped market space (i.e. a customer base nobody else is reaching). They call this unique market space a blue ocean and explain how to create one in any industry.

Blue Ocean Families: Turn the competition into community.

The red ocean is where we try to keep up with the Joneses and fight the mommy wars. A blue ocean family doesn’t follow the status quo, but celebrates and develops its uniqueness while living in community with other families.

Here are five of my favorite posts:

Can We Trust the Path of Learning that Our Kids Choose?

Support for Parents on the Road Less Traveled

The Cost of Creativity: 9 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Want Creative Kids

Learning to Eliminate: Cultural Context

Entertainment Rethink:  Don't Forget Fun!

(It was hard to pick just five, but then I am biased.  I suppose that in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that the founder and primary author of Blue Ocean Families is my daughter.  But that would be bragging.)

Picture the Blue Ocean. This peaceful haven is a place where just one family swims and where each family member can thrive. They have room and laughter, and time to explore and expand. They threaten no one because they chose to leave the Red Ocean and carve out space to make their very own Blue Ocean.

How do you create a Blue Ocean – a unique family culture – where each member has the freedom to thrive AND where success helps others rather than threatens them?

That’s the question I want to explore in this blog. It’s little more than a vision now, but if you find the idea intriguing, then please join me on my journey!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 21, 2015 at 9:00 pm | Edit
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After spending two weeks with our this-side-of-the-Atlantic grandchildren, I find myself puzzled.  I've researched the genealogies of both sides of the family pretty far back, and have yet to discover where the mountain goat line comes in.

I've written about this before, when a park maintenance man berated us for allowing a 14-month-old to climb freely over the playground equipment.  Now that toddler is four-and-a-half, and correspondingly even more sure of foot.  Nor are her siblings any less coordinated.

One of our favorite Maggie P. activities (besides eating M&M's) is to walk to the Outer Light.  This includes traversing a half-mile-long stone breakwater, which of course is the most fun part of the trip for the kids.  Most of the huge granite rocks are flat enough for easy hiking, but there are good-sized gaps, and some tricky spots, particularly where unfortunate ships have shoved the rocks askew.

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On this particular day, the five oldest children—Jonathan (11.75), Noah (9), Faith (nearly 7), Joy (4.5) and Jeremiah (2.5)—made the trek, along with Grandma (old enough) and Dad-o (ditto).  The three oldest had no intention of walking sedately and carefully across the rocks.  Oh, they were careful enough—but at a running pace.  I walked with Joy, while Porter and Jeremiah brought up the rear.  Jonathan had time to run out, back, and out again well before the four of us arrived at the lighthouse, but it was only short legs that held us back.  Or so I thought, until the trip back.  Jeremiah kept a grip on Porter's hand, but leapt over foot-wide fissures with ease and confidence.  Joy was completely reliable, and I only reminded her a couple of times (probably unnecessarily) that the danger was not in the rocks, nor the speed, but in not paying attention to where her feet were landing.

As we neared the lighthouse itself, Faith, who had waited there for us, informed Joy that the final stretch was a bit difficult (true).  Joy drew herself up to her full height and proclaimed "I'm four!  Last year I was only three!"—with all the indignation of a teenager's, "But Mom, I'm almost an adult!"  And proceeded to climb all over the area of jagged, randomly placed and spaced stones—with a lot more agility than her grandmother, I can assure you.  Even Jeremiah insisted on going wherever his siblings went, dragging Dad-o with him.

On the return trip, only Jeremiah consented to stay with an adult, and his slower pace was due more to his two-year-old desire to stop and examine everything (Porter steered him deftly around the dead and decaying cormorant) than to his size.  Joy threw off all fetters and flew (safely) across the rocks, behind but no less carefree than her siblings.  I thought I might catch up with her at one of the tricky spots, but she maneuvered through them with no hesitation.

I confess that I was relieved to have everyone's feet back on solid sand, but it was a great trip, and I was humbled by the exuberant courage of the young, who know that a challenge is what turns a simple walk into an adventure.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Edit
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The one good thing about living so far from our grandchildren is that their growth between visits is often dramatic, and easier to see than when one's data points are closer together.  But Nathaniel, six months old, certainly made the most of our two weeks together.  When he arrived, he was a good crawler (commando-style), but had just begun to take some wobbly creeping (hands-and-knees) steps.

Before the second week was out, he had a good, solid, cross-pattern creep, i.e. was able to get across the room and into trouble in no time at all.  And never one to rest on his laurels, Nathaniel wants to cruise!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 9:12 am | Edit
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(photo credit Stephan Stücklin; click image to enlarge)
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Eleonora Margaret Stücklin
Born Sunday, June 21, 2015, 11:01 p.m.
Weight: 8 pounds, 1 ounce
Length: 20 inches

There are five syllables in her first name; think Italian.  Our you could do what her family does, and call her Ellie.  Janet has posted Ellie's birth story on her own blog, and you can find more details there.  I'll add here a few from my point of view.

This was the first time we'd only planned a four-week stay for my visit; previously we'd allowed two weeks before and four weeks after the due date.  So I was getting rather nervous as my final week approached.  But I think it all worked out well, and don't regret having had three weeks before the birth, as I believe it helped Janet get some much-needed preparatory rest; she was exhausted when I arrived, and doing much better when the day finally came.  It was also great to have the time to be part of the family and focus on the older kids, who will remember my visit a lot more than Ellie will.

I hardly know how to classify Janet's labor for Ellie.  Was it long?  I don't even know when it started, as she went through a few days of "this may be it, no, yes, no, maybe."  Was it short?  All I know is that the end came very quickly.

My duties were easy, as the kids—my primary responsibility—were sound asleep by the time the midwife arrived.  In the interest of keeping the crowd down, however, I mostly stayed out of the bedroom, but kept my ears on the alert, and occasionally peeked in through the doorway.  Suddenly I heard the kind of moaning that means labor is getting serious, followed only minutes later by the sound of pushing!  I was through the door in a trice, in time to see the bursting of the amniotic sac and a firehose gush of fluid flying straight at the midwife.  Then Ellie's head appeared, followed swiftly by the rest of her.  A beautiful baby!  A baby girl!  And then came the most amazing placenta I've ever seen.  (I've been present for the birth of 12.  This was a two-pound hunk of meat with not a hint of the calcifications that indicate the placenta is aging.  Despite coming a week after her purported due date, Ellie was not late.)

Even more amazing was the reaction of Ellie's brothers and sister the next day.  From the beginning, the three of them—who have themselves an incredible, "best friend" sibling relationship—have doted on their new sister, competing for the privilege of holding her, covering her with kisses and hugs, professing their love, showing their concern.  Long may their joy remain!

Welcome, Eleonora!

What a great Father's Day present for both Daddy and Dad-o!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 6, 2015 at 9:21 pm | Edit
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