Chronic comparisonitis (writing and homeschooling)

Kids learn by comparison. They learn to walk, and talk, and use a fork by watching their parents. As a child grows older, they learn to read and dress themselves and drink soda (or kombucha) and eat steak (or chitlins) and watch football (or Doctor Who).

This is just how human beings are wired. We learn by comparing ourselves to others. We pit ourselves against other people, against animals, against the environment, against the stars, in our struggle for mastery and knowledge. This is one of our great strengths as a species.

It’s also one of our downfalls.

The Realm Makers writer’s conference is this weekend. It’s been out of the question for me for the past few years, but I still watch wistfully from the sidelines as all my friends get together for what amounts to a retreat. There’s fantastic teaching. There’s costumes. There’s a nerf battle.

It got me thinking about the way we writers compare ourselves to each other. The trouble is, being a writer is like rally racing. You don’t race the other drivers. You race your own best time. On the surface, we know that. But underneath, our nature is urging us to look at other authors’ writing, or their sales, or the size of their Twitter following, and wonder why ours isn’t so good.

Now, if we take it as an opportunity to learn, then comparison is fine. Everybody needs better tools and techniques–its how you grow. But so often we use it to feed our envy and pride.

I’ve been reading a stack of homeschooling books from the 90s in preparation for this school year. Every time I read one, I get monstrously discouraged. Finally I asked my mom about them, since this was the way her generation thought. These books trumpet the same things:

  • Have as many children as humanly possible (the Quiverfull movement)
  • Homeschooling is the Path of Righteousness
  • Mary Pride says that working outside the home is bad (see The Way Home)
  • Embrace the chaos!
  • We’ll make the colleges accept us!
  • Extra-curricular activities!
  • Socialization!
  • Be more! Do more! Check your blood pressure!

homeschooling-zombie-apoc

I grew up in that school of thought, and I don’t like it. Comparing myself to that, I’m the biggest underachiever on the face of the earth. I don’t want as many kids as humanly possible–five is about as many as I can manage. Homeschooling works for our family, but it’s not for everyone. Working outside the home is necessary for survival (especially if you’re a single parent).

Mom pointed out that there were women who killed themselves and their kids because they couldn’t measure up to these teachings. The Quiverfull movement is horrible and is being taken apart for the cult that it is. Too much comparison. Too much groupthink.

zootrip2-tigers
Tigers at the zoo enjoying frozen meat popsicles. They were more comfortable than the humans. It was like 110 that day.
zootrip2-splashpad
Best part of a hot day at the zoo–the splash pad.

So I look around to see what my generation is talking about in homeschooling. The big deal for us is special needs. Autism, ADHD, Aspergers, everything that can go wrong with a child’s brain. There’s a big move toward simplicity–in learning and living. People still have lots of kids, but it’s not the virtue that it once was. Instead of magazines, there’s blogs and bloggers. Many of the modern homeschoolers were homeschooled as kids, but not all. It’s a movement that has grown beyond Christians and into mainstream. (There’s homeschoolers who … GASP … aren’t Christians!)

So I’ve been grappling with not only comparing myself to others, but the clear outcome of groupthink. I have at my fingertips the thinking of twenty years ago, and the results. All I have to do is look around at my peers. In particular, the adults at Realm Makers who as kids were denied fantasy and science fiction. As backlash, they’re walking around in costume and quoting Star Wars.

I guess what I’m seeing is that life has to be about balance. Protect your kids, but not to the extreme of never letting them glimpse real life. Let them read Narnia, but let them read Harry Potter, too. (As kids fantasy goes, Harry Potter is absolutely benign. Christians scream about it, but nobody ever dissects the weirdness in Madeline L’Engle or the So You Want To Be A Wizard series.)

So I’m going to continue with my simplistic approach to homeschooling. I’m going to read aloud Harry Potter, Little House on the Prairie, Wheel on the School, and the Magic Thief.

As John Taylor Gatto points out, every teen is taught to drive a car. It’s a hugely complex task that, if done poorly, results in DEATH. But every teen is taught to drive within a couple of weeks, and they will successfully perform it for their whole lives. Why must math or grammar be any different? They’re just tools to perform a task. In real life, if you don’t know the equation to calculate the diameter of a circle, you look it up. But knowing how to look things up, and where, is the trick.

Inktober and homeschooling

A few more inktober pics!

inktober2015-8

This year for school, I had planned a very laid-back year–having a baby due at the end of November kind of throws off all my grand academic plans. I found Education.com at the end of the summer (loads of printable worksheets for preschool to 5th grade), and realized that I’d struck gold. So many customizable curriculum options at my fingertips! So we started doing those, in addition to some mathbooks and a very nice dictation book.

Then I read about Thomas Jefferson Education. It’s more or less what we were already doing–I just tried to harness it a little more intentionally. Basically, you work on your kids’ character, as well as studying things that interest them. I couldn’t ever really do “unschooling”, because my kids do much better with a predictable routine and structure–but Thomas Jefferson ed seemed to fit the sort of structured-yet-unregimented style I was looking for.

inktober2015-7

So, one morning when the kids made “aquariums” out of glass cups, with water and the stamens of flowers for “jellyfish”, I embraced it. We checked out books on jellyfish from the library, and watched documentaries, and colored pages about the jellyfish lifecycle. The kids can now tell you the difference between a true jellyfish and a false one, that the top is called the “bell”, and a full-grown jellyfish is a medusa, and how baby jellyfish stick to the rock like a plant until it’s ready to break free.

This week, because Halloween is coming on, we’re doing bats. All things bats. Every day we discuss echolocation, and bat babies, and what it would be like to be a bat. Likely I’ll be drawing bats for my next Inktober pic.

We’re still drilling math facts, spelling, writing, and all that good stuff. I also ambitiously started reading Lord of the Rings aloud, buuuuut I think I’m going to switch to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here pretty soon. LOTR might need to wait until later. 🙂

July lethargy

Can you believe that it’s already July? Out here in AZ, school starts in a month. I’ve been planning our next school year … slowly … because it’s so hot, it’s hard to function.

This is one of the places I’d rather be right now.

03684_welcometooregon_1600x900

Welcome to Oregon! From InterfaceLIFT

Barring that, we’ve hit the pool every morning before it’s gotten too hot. That’s pretty much been it for summer activities … when it’s 110 every day, it’s just hard to summon the desire to leave the air conditioning. I see why these southwest societies sleep through the heat of the day and stay up half the night. That’s the only time you feel alive, man!

I read these homeschool books about exposing kids to wonderful music and art, and letting their creativity flourish. So I get these grandiose ideas about teaching my kids the ways of Mozart and Beethoven, and maybe having somebody be a breakout music protege … and we wind up listening to Raffi for hours. (Ring ring ring, bananaphone!)

I read about letting them be bored so they invent things to do with their imaginations. What that looks like in practice is play > arguing > fighting.

Me: Why don’t you guys play the new Terraria update?

Sigh. Good intentions.

A homeschooling post

My mom recently gave me Beyond Survival, by Diana Waring–a very nice book about the nuts and bolts of homeschooling.

I’ve been following several homeschooling blogs, one of which is Simple Homeschool. They always feature interesting bloggers and teachers and seminars. Lately they had a lady posting about Waldorf education, which basically runs like this:

Arts, crafts, and science experiments until they’re 7, then workbooks.

While this sounds lovely, I can’t face the idea of arts and crafts every day for school. And what if you have a mixed crowd, with some ages doing crafts, and others doing bookwork (and being very jealous of the younger kids)?

Kind of makes me want to grab a tent and run away to someplace like this.
Kind of makes me want to grab a tent and run away to someplace like this.

The 4 AM campfire, from InterfaceLift

I commented and said as much, and the nice lady replied,

As a non-arts and crafts person myself, I took this Waldorf idea and made sure that we had nice art supplies for the KIDS (not me) when they wanted to use them. I also found that while I don’t enjoy painting or drawing much myself, I do like making things that the family can use (like baking, candlemaking, etc.) and so I’ve put my emphasis there. There’s no pressure, just take what works and discard the rest!

Which has gotten my wheels turning. I’d love for the kids to have some textile art stuff around–you know, beginning knitting/crochet kits, beginning sewing, that kind of thing. And heck, it’d be fun to get some Sea Monkeys or some Triops. I don’t think any of those things cost very much (Sea Monkey kits cost less than 20$).

This is a sea monkey, otherwise known as brine shrimp. Full grown, they're about the size of a kid's fingernail.
This is a sea monkey, otherwise known as brine shrimp. Full grown, they’re about the size of a kid’s fingernail.

So, this weekend, I think we’ll take a trip to Michaels and see what we can dig up.

Current projects blog hop

I was tagged by my Mom, Kim of Field of my Dreams. She’s participating in this blog hop, and she tagged me. So here goes!

What am I working on?

Currently I’m applying a polish draft to Chronocrime, the second Spacetime Legacy book. Hoping to release it next week!

I’m also working on painting a spiffy cover, after a bunch of pointers from covercritics.com.

How does my work differ from others in this genre?

I love taking common ideas and turning them around back to front. Like, I’ve never read a book where people manipulate time and space–with time, you can stop, rewind and fast forward, but you can do that to an object, or yourself, or a large area. Or you can scry the timeline, and peek ahead at possible futures.

Space magic is about moving stuff. Teleportation, portals, tesseracts, spatial compression, spatial waves. Great for combat, because you can jump around really quickly.

There’s also gravity magic, which does what it says on the tin–makes things heavier or lighter. This can be unexpectedly powerful, which is why one of the three known gravity mages works as a Starbreaker.

Hey, stars don’t go nova by themselves.

Why do I write what I do?

I started out by writing fanfiction. I got really good at writing within the boundaries of someone else’s universe. So when I married my husband, he had this whole Spacetime storyline. I started writing it down for him–so I’m still writing fanfiction. It’s just based on an original concept, so we own it. Yay!

Also, I happen to love books about magic and monsters in the real world. I don’t relate to high fantasy so well, but show me a werewolf running down a highway at night, and I’m hooked.

How does my creative process work?

Before I had kids, I could develop an idea purely in my head, and only write down a few key points.

But now I’m a busy mom and homeschooler! I now have huge swaths of brainpower devoted to kids–care taking, talking, teaching, and dealing out justice.

That leaves only a sliver for writing stories. So I brainstorm in odd moments and write down everything. I have pages of stream of consciousness notes. Then I write at odd moments–mostly during the kids’ computer time in the afternoon. Also at night, after they’re in bed.

I write on my iPod, and dump everything to my computer later. It’s amazing how much you can get done if you write at least a paragraph a day, or edit that much. After a while, it really adds up.

It also makes my hubby so happy. 🙂

I’m supposed to tag people to do this meme next, but everybody I know has done it at least once already.

Homeschooling ponderings

It’s monsoon season in Arizona. It’s cloudy and hot and muggy. The cicadas are going full blast, and the pool is closed half the time because of extreme overuse.

The kids have caught their usual midsummer cold. You know in the winter, how people huddle together indoors and share germs? Same thing when it’s so hot. At least it’s not ear infections!

I’m gearing up to start school in a few more weeks. My mom loaned me the first volume of the Mystery of History, and I’m so excited. This is the year I’ll get my girls reading, and things will be so much more fun.

I’ve been reading about the Charlotte Mason teaching method. Aside from narration (repeating back something you learned), which I think is cool, there’s this other thing I noticed. For younger kids, you do everything in 20 minute chunks. 20 minutes of math, spelling, etc. It’s like you harness their ADD!

Also people say over and over that if you do nothing else, read the classics aloud. I’m pondering which ones to start with. I have my favorites, but some are harder than others to read!

So yeah, just pondering educational things.

A homeschooling post

School has been rolling right along this year, so I thought I ought to chronicle how we’re doing.

My mother in law bought us a big pack of A Beka curriculum. The teacher’s manuals have a lot of busywork in them, so I narrowed it down to just the subjects I knew they needed–math and reading. For first grade and kindergarten, that’s all the book work they need.

My first grader has been working through math and phonics, and his reading and spelling has really improved. He learned to sight read over a year ago, but I always felt he lacked a good phonics foundation, and now he’s getting that. He knows his math cold.

My daughter in kindergarten is also really good at math. Both of them are better at numbers than at reading, so I’m backing off on that for a while to being their reading up to speed. For her I’m using Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons.

That book is amaaaazing. We’re on lesson 17 and she’s reading simple words and sentences. When we started, she couldn’t read at all! She’s not as driven as her brother. Although I did catch her sounding out words in a book. 🙂

My youngest, who is 3, is content to color and learn letters. I think she’ll learn to read earlier than her sister, because she has the interest. She’s wanted to read since she was born.

So that’s been how our school is going. We also play games together (Go Fish is always a favorite) and do flash cards when I’m tired of books. We look up items of interest on YouTube and check out science books from the library. The book on Gravity was a real hit.

I’m not real stressed about academic achievement. I want them to read and write, and understand math, and tougher subjects will come as they’re ready. So many things, they’re just not ready for.

Living books

I’ve been trying to educate myself about how to, we’ll, educate. This is our first year of proper homeschooling, and I want to do it right.

I’ve been reading the Charlotte Mason companion, and it talks about the importance of living book. A living book is simply the opposite of a textbook–written by one person, often historical or biographical. Paddle to the Sea and Seabird by Holling Clancy Holling are examples. I’d venture that the Magic Schoolbus books are, too.

So I’ve been pondering what else to get, and if I could even find some. Anybody have any suggestions? At this point I’m interested in picture books, because the kids are small.