altThe Brainy Bunch by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding (Gallery Books, 2014)

Facebook, like smartphones, can enslave or empower.  Or both at once.  At the moment I'm feeling grateful to Facebook, and the friend who posted a link that eventually led me to this Today Show feature about the Harding family and their book.

As most of you know, education has long been my passion, particularly the education of young children, and most especially my belief that most children can learn and do so very much more than we give them the opportunity to achieve.  It will thus come as no surprise that when I heard of a family where seven (so far!) of the children had gone to to college by the time they were twelve years old, I immediately ordered the book from our library, and finished reading it the day after I picked it up.  If read with an open mind, this is a book that can blow away a number of stereotypes and presuppositions, and not just about education.

Although a large number of homeschoolers are Christians, including many who have spectacular records both academically and socially, as the movement has grown there have slso been examples of less-than-stellar achievement, especially in academics.  It is unfortunate that when many people think of "Christian homeschoolers," it is the latter example that comes to mind.  The Harding family is a stunning counterexample, especially since The Brainy Bunch bristles with buzzwords that set off alarm bells:  Mary Pride, A Full Quiver, Josh Harris, early marriage, Michael and Debi Pearl (at least they label the Pearls' book "a bit legalistic"), creationism, the Duggar Family, and others that might send some running for the hills.  But hang on—they also mention John Taylor Gatto, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, unschooling, and the Colfaxes, quite on the opposite end of the spectrum (inexplicably leaving out John Holt, however).  Mona Lisa and Kip sound like people after my own heart, able to take the best from many sources and leave aside what doesn't work for them.  In any case, the family deals a clean blow to many prejudices, including that of the college student who once told them, "Children in big families have low IQs."

The Hardings insist, however, that their IQs are strictly average; their children are not geniuses.  This bothered me at first, as it seemed almost a reverse boast, as if there were something wrong with being smart.  But I think I know why they make this point, and it's important.  There are a surprising number of people who have gone to college at an extremely young age (here's a list of the ten youngest), but they are generally prodigies with super-high IQs and extraordinary skills.  This does nothing to encourage most families to believe that early college entrance is possible for their children.  Or desirable.  Despite its title, The Brainy Bunch shows that this higher-level work is well within the grasp of the average student, and why this is a good idea.

Some might even say the Hardings started out as a below-average family, or at least one with several strikes against it when it came to predicting their children's academic success.  Kip and Mona Lisa were high school sweethearts who married in their teens.  After high school, he went into the military and she started having babies.  Lots of babies.  Their life was not easy, requiring many moves, and times of great financial hardship.  And yet here they are, with their children not only college graduates but successful at a young age in many fields:  engineering, architecture, medicine, music, and more. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 14, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Edit
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For some time we double-dipped in choir, singing for two different churches.  We've only been back a couple of times to visit what I might call the secondary church, but we seem to be perpetually on their mailing list.  Recently I received an e-mail promoting their Youth Choir, which included the following paragraph (emphasis mine).

Elligibility for the Youth Choir is not based on age or grade in school. We welcome participants who are confident readers (grade two-level minimum) and who have the support of their families in making a commitment to attend rehearsals regularly and to be faithful in singing at the 9:00 am service on the third Sunday of each month (September through June). The Youth Choir also leads the singing at the 5:00 pm service on Christmas Eve.

This may not seem radical, but it is.  One of our frustrations in an otherwise positive experience with children's choirs is that choir placement was nearly universally made by age and/or grade, independent of musical or emotional maturity.  One choir director told me frankly that she wouldn't have it any other way, because age/grade divisions are unarguable, and she did not want to be in the position of telling one family that their child was ready for a higher-level choir and another family that their child of the same age was not.  Given that the director in question was a dedicated, self-sacrificing volunteer, I could hardly argue.  But that didn't make the situation any less frustrating.

It's not just children's choirs that have this problem.  Age discrimination is one of the few forms of prejudice still acceptable today.  Grouping by age has never made sense to me—as if the most important factor that any group might have in common is the year of their birth.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 29, 2014 at 7:18 am | Edit
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Janet was clipping Joseph's fingernails.  When one of them suddenly spun into the distance, Joseph burst into song:  The burden of my nail flew away ... I am happy all the day!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 6, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Edit
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There are a thousand things I could write about related to my trip to Switzerland, but time is short and people at least want to hear something, so to appease both them and L'il Writer Guy, I'll mention one thing that has struck me while observing Joseph's and Vivienne's speech patterns.

Joseph, who is less now than a month from his fourth birthday, was clearly delayed in his speech when I was last here, nine months ago.  Maybe, as I wrote then, "different" is a better descriptor, but in any case he was not as verbal as the majority of children his age.

Today is a different story.  Where he is in terms of "average" I don't know, but his speaking ability has clearly exploded, from understanding pronouns (saying "it is mine" rather than "it is Joseph's," for example) to being able to answer questions about the past and the future.  It reminds me again of how tricky it is to decide when a problem is best solved by intervention (and the earlier, the better) and when it is best simply to let the child develop in his own way, at his own pace.  We'd heard a variety of advice, from simple exercises to a radical diet; no doubt each would be appropriate for some situations, but in this case, trusting and waiting were the best medicine.

There's no doubt that Vivienne is developing differently.  At 29 months she is nearly as verbally competent as Joseph.  She has a good grasp of pronouns, speaks fluently, and works with determination and persistence to correct her own vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.

All this is hardly news; even within a single family, children develop differently.  What makes it especially fascinating for me is that all this development is taking place in two (or more) different languages, and that, too, differs from one child to another.  Joseph was slow to speak each language (though he clearly understood both English and Swiss German extremely well), but now is fluent in both and never mixes them up.  He can translate from one to another (a very different skill from just speaking) and to some extent from French and High German as well.  Vivienne, on the other hand, mixes the languages freely and with enthusiasm, chattering one moment in Swiss German and the next in English, pulling words from the other language as the spirit moves her, a happy experimenter.

I'm reminded of the two types of computer programmers I've observed:  one who meticulously plans every detail, "measures twice, cuts once," and whose programs often work the first time; and the other, who works iteratively, putting forth one version after another and converging on the solution.  Both approaches work, though each kind of programmer frustrates the other kind no end.  Not that Vivienne and Joseph experience any of that sort of frustration in their speaking.  But it's a good analogy of how it seems to be working for them.

Enough.  It's past bedtime again—but L'il Writer Guy is happier.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 10:23 am | Edit
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It's still worrisome that our president does not consider directing the education of one's own children to be a fundamental human right, but today I'm offering thanks and respect for the Department of Homeland Security's decision to allow the Romeike family to stay in the U.S. "indefinitely."  (Previous posts here and here.)  That decision is not as satisfying for legal precedent as a positive court decision overturning the administration's efforts to deport the family—on the grounds that Germany's heavy-handed anti-homeschooling laws are not sufficient reason to grant asylum—but the Supreme Court refused to review the case.  The TSA's decision, while still leaving the Romeikes in a somewhat tenuous position, at least also leaves them safe in their Tennessee home.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 10:53 am | Edit
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"I don't want to eat" has almost never been a problem in our family!  Nonetheless, this article on ending mealtime battles caught my eye, and it has some wisdom in it, so I'm passing it on.  I can sum up what I like about it in a couple of quotes.

It's dinnertime and my 4-year-old son is deep in play. When I announce that dinner is ready he makes his own announcement: "I don't want to eat, Mommy."

I tell him five words that avoid the food battle that he wants me to engage in: "You don't have to eat."

This is the rule in our house but it is followed by a second rule that everyone follows, regardless of wanting to eat or not. I tell him that family dinners are about being with family, and not just eating, so we all have to sit at the table.

What I like most about Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding, is it gives parents and children very specific jobs in the realm of feeding. Parents are in charge of deciding what is served at meal time, when meals occur and where. Children get to be in charge of choosing what to eat and how much from what is offered to them.

So when my children complain about what I make for them, I always remind them that they can choose not to eat it. And I make sure to include at least one or two items they are likely to accept. This gives them some control, melts away the tension, and makes them more likely to try it....

This strategy puts more onus on the parents to make sure all the food offerings are nutritious:  if the meal on the table includes chips and soda, a strategy of letting your children decide what and how much to eat from the offerings appears a lot less wise.  Nor would I include anything not part of the family meal among the offerings, i.e. no chicken nuggets when the rest of the family is eating chicken tikka.  But letting them choose proportions (including nothing) from a good meal sounds like a reasonable strategy for giving children autonomy within secure boundaries.

I wonder:  if I had not been required to eat a portion of everything served, would I have learned to like vegetables sooner than I did?  Very early on I developed the tactic of swallowing my vegetable bites whole, with great gulps of water, like pills.  (Peas are particularly easy.)  My parents were willing to insist I eat the veggies, but would not go so far as to require me to chew and taste them.  If, instead, they had simply been offered as part of the meal, and I had observed my parents enjoying it all, might I not have tried them now and then, thus developing the taste for certain foods that eluded me until later in life?  I'll never know, but I like this strategy better.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 7:25 am | Edit
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Our anthem for today, November 3, 2013:  assisting our cherub choir with The First Song of Isaiah (Jack Noble White, Belwin CMR 2247).  (This video is not us.)

Despite the indisputable cuteness of the kids, the most amusing part of the service was one of the hymns:  Praise to God, Immortal Praise.  No, there's nothing funny about the hymn itself, but the bulletin contained a rather unfortunate typo, leaving the title short one "t."

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Edit
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It was a busy day today so I'll try to make this quick.  Jonathan, having been given permission to come visit me any time after 7 a.m., was at the door as expected, and Noah followed soon thereafter.  The rest of the household isn't officially up until after 8:00, so this means giving up precious time by myself—time I only have first thing in the morning or last thing at night.  But it is oh so worth it to have that time for uninterrupted conversation with my oldest grandchild(ren)!

After breakfast it was time for morning chores and preparation for the Bible study that meets here on a weekly basis.  Noah made us tea (there was also coffee) and then while the meeting was going on, he and Faith beta-tested my newest educational PowerPoint shows.  Suddenly it was lunchtime, then time for afternoon chores, and soon it was time for the boys' karate lessons.  This is a new activity for the family, something Jonathan has been wanting for at least two years.  He and Noah are in the same class, which I was able to observe.  Noah does very well; Jonathan in amazing in his focus and the grace of his movements.

We didn't quite have time to get dinner cooked before it was time for Faith's karate lesson, so she and I went there together while the rest of the family ate.  Hers is a "tots" class, so I wasn't expecting much, but she showed the same determined focus and grace that Jonathan has.  When one of the other parents there commented that the "little blond girl" was blowing away the other, older children with her skills, I pointed out that she has the example of her two older brothers to follow.  As I said yesterday, the educational value of older siblings is tremendous.  Although Joy is not yet old enough for any class at the dojo, she insists that she is also learning karate, at home—and so she is, for her brothers and sister teach her.

Immediately after Faith's class we had handbell choir at church—which is fortunately just across the street from the dojo.  They are always gracious and let me ring with them when I come to visit, and I have a great time.

Finally, we were back at home, where Faith and I had a late dinner, and everyone indulged in homemade coffee ice cream (made with coffee left over from the morning's Bible study) smothered in homemade "Magic Shell" chocolate topping.

And now it's late again—but if I'm going to enjoy the privilege of early morning conversations, I need to grab computer time at night.  Tomorrow we will enjoy an early celebration of Heather's birthday; those of you who know us both will understand that part of the "celebration" will be staying home!

Noah had yesterday's Quote of the Day; now it's Joy's turn:  I love Grandma in our house!

I love being here, Joy!  We all miss Dad-o, however.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Edit
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The process whereby a child learns to read continues to fascinate me.  Three months ago, Noah, who had just turned seven, demonstrated great progress in learning to read.  But he was not yet a reader.  Back then, he did a good job of making his way through his simplified, beginning readers.  But just now he read to me Curious George Gets a Medal, with its much more advanced vocabulary and structure, and he read fluently, nearly effortlessly, and with great expression.

Similarly, in the time between two years, four months and two years, seven months, Joy's language abilities have exploded.  In that time she has made the transition from two-word phrases to full, mostly clear communication, including correct use of pronouns.  Amazing.

There are advantages and disadvantages to large families, but surely one of the greatest is the example of older siblings.  I'm certain Joy has no idea that her youth should hinder her keeping up with her big brothers and sister.  Her size, maybe:  Jonathan executed a neat vault over the porch railing, and Joy announced that she was not going to follow suit because she would get hurt.  Quite fearless, as a rule, she knows the difference between courage and foolishness.

Quote of the Day, from Noah:  "Grandma, I think you're old enough to wear tie shoes now."  To which I responded, "I'm old enough now to choose to wear Velcro shoes because I like them better."

Bedtime.  It's been a long but fun day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Edit
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Once again I apologize for the lack of meat in recent posts.  I'm intensely involved in a couple of projects with deadlines, and when that happens, other things requiring sustained thought get put on hold.  It's not that I haven't had any opinions lately!

Our choir anthems for Sunday, September 29, 2013:  Holy, Holy, Holy (Robert Clatterbuck, Hope Publishing Company, C 5470).  No YouTube video, so the link takes you to the anthem on sheetmusicplus.

And I Choose You (Deboarh Governor, Beckenhorst Press, BP1789).  I only wish we could have had Janet playing the oboe part!

These two are what the choir did; there was also a wonderful soloist, but I don't have his music to enter.  What made this service special is that in addition to being regular Sunday worship, it was also a wedding of one of our choir members!

There are plusses and minuses for this not-so-common practice, but one difference I thought particularly wonderful was that despite all the usual pomp and circumstance for a wedding, it was crystal clear that this service was not "all about the bride."  Nor the couple.  It was a joyous sacrament taking place in the midst of God's people worshipping him as usual (almost).

Oh, and the reception was catered by our very own Chef Jessica.  We are fortunate to have her in charge of many of our church meals, and if I ever need a caterer here I know exactly where I'm going.  Not since Heather left Ascension in Pittsburgh—she served there under a deacon who was a professional chef—has church food been so amazing.  (I really, really like church potluck dinners.  But Chef Jessica serves the most amazing Middle Eastern food!)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 11:34 am | Edit
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Here's Vivienne's storyJanet's hereJoseph's hereStephan's here.

Voting closes in about an hour, I'm afraid, but it's worth a try.  You can vote for them all; probably multiple times, but I don't like ballot-box stuffing.

Correction:  Voting closes October 13; it was submitting the stories that had to be done by today.  But vote now anyway; you'll be surprised how soon a week will pass!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Edit
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Yesterday I published Joseph's entry in the Seats for Switzerland contest; now it's Janet's turn.  Vivienne's will be up soon, I hope; we've been having some trouble with it.

Thank you for your votes in favor of getting the cousins together!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 8:34 am | Edit
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Seats for Switzerland is a contest run by Swiss Airlines for uniting separated loved ones.  To win, you must tell a convincing story and be chosen by a combination of voter participation and judges' decision.  You also have to be a resident of Switzerland, or you can bet we'd have written our own stories.  Instead, we're publicizing those of the people we want to be reunited with.  Here's is the link to Joseph's story, where you can cast your vote for him.  (It's easy; you only need to provide your name, an e-mail address, and agree to some non-threatening "terms and conditions.")

Y'all know I generally don't like the "vote for me in this contest" idea—but this is for our grandkids!

I'll publish links for the rest of the family when they're up, so you can vote for them, too.  :)  Thank you, thank you.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Edit
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alt alt

Better Than School by Nancy Wallace (Larson Publications, 1983)

Child's Work:  Taking Children's Choices Seriously by Nancy Wallace (Holt Associates, 1990)

These stories of the education of Ishmael and Vita Wallace have been high on my list of favorite books since our own homeschooling days.  Recently I re-read them both, confirming my suspicions that the Wallaces—flying by the seat of their pants in an era when homeschooling was almost unheard of, and often illegal—discovered many of the principles now refined in Project-Based Homeschooling.

The last time I read about the Wallaces' struggles with onerous regulations and imperious school boards, I noted how blessedly out of date it was, for although there are still those in the United States who would make homeschooling illegal again if they could, for the most part homeschoolers here can rest in the knowledge that the right to direct the education of our own children is recognized in all fifty states.  This time, however, I read those parts of the books with renewed interest, since Switzerland, while much more advanced than the U.S. in some areas, is woefully behind us in this.  Some of the Wallaces' experiences and arguments may turn out to be relevant, or at least to give inspiration.

Don't you just hate it when you read an inspiring story from the past and have no idea what happened to the characters in subsequent years?  With Vita and Ishmael, at least, that question can be answered by visiting their Orpheo Duo website.

Here are a few, somewhat random, quotations.  You really need to read the books to get a good sense of the story, however.

Walking into the meeting knowing that we had a majority [of the school board] on our side was a lot better than not knowing what to expect, but I guess I really wanted more than that.  I wanted the whole board to admit that we were doing a terrific job with our kids and to be interested in our approach to education.  After all, there was a lot the public schools could have learned from us.  What disturbed me the most was that not only were two of the board members completely uninterested in what we were doing but they seemed to want the kids to go to school no matter what.  When I wrote about this to John Holt, he responded with some very insightful remarks that I'll never forget.  "One of the saddest things I've learned in my life," he said, "one of the things I least wanted to believe and resisted believing for as long as I could, was that people in chains don't want to get them off, but want to get them on everyone else.  'Where are your chains?' they want to know.  'How come you're not wearing chains?  Do you think you are too good to wear them?  What makes you think you're so special?'"  (BTS, 114-115)

 (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 6:57 am | Edit
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I need to ponder this a lot more.  I think I've just been struck by lightning.

From Jen at Conversion Diary"The Mental Neat Freak."

When Joe came home that evening, I was at my wits’ end. I was mentally fatigued to the point that I felt like I was on the brink of a breakdown, and could barely restrain myself from yelling at everyone about everything. When Joe asked what was wrong, I snapped, “I’ve been doing nothing but working ALL DAY. I JUST NEED A BREAK.”

It was kind of awkward when he reminded me, “Didn’t you spend half the afternoon at that nice salon?”

Oh.

I stopped whining immediately, per that law of the universe that states that you’re not allowed to complain about anything for at least six hours after you’ve had an aromatherapy scalp massage. Yet I still felt miserable. No matter how many times I admonished myself to FEEL GRATITUDE NOW, I still walked around in that red-zone state where I desired a break like a drowning man desires oxygen.

...

The big moment occurred when I was trying to explain to my friend why I did not find the salon trip relaxing. “What would you have rather been doing?” she asked.

I knew the answer immediately: “Writing.”

...

[F]inally, after digging my way through piles and piles of words, I hit the core of the issue: “It brings order to my brain. It’s like…there are all these things that happen in my days that make my mind feel — I don’t know how else to describe it — messy. Like I’m surrounded by chaos, but on the inside. And it keeps piling up and piling up, to the point where sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.

...

Just like with physical space, it is possible for your mental space to get “messy.”
Again like with physical space, it is critical to your sense of peace and wellbeing to regularly clean up your mental space.

...

I think the biggest insight, though, was this:

Just because an activity is relaxing doesn’t mean it’s good for helping me regain a sense of internal order.

There's a lot more to the article, so if this resonates at all with you—or if you know someone who seems inexplicably stressed by a life filled with activities that you think should be relaxing—do take the time to read the whole thing.  I suspect this is a major reason why programs such as Mind Organization for Moms and Getting Things Done are so popular:  they recognize the debilitation caused by mental chaos.  What "Mental Neat Freak" adds is recognition of the need to identify and deliberately choose activities that promote clearing of mental clutter, which may or may not be connected to organizational activities.  Jen, for example, has so far discovered the following activities to be very helpful:

Writing
Jogging while listening to music (oddly, it has to be both — one or the other doesn’t do it)
Reading a well-written book

Nearly everyone could be helped by MOM and GTD, but mind-chaos-taming activities are clearly many, varied, and personal.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 7:13 am | Edit
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