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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

The Presidential Debates- An Educational

In this house, we LOVE election season (except sometimes on Facebook!).  We had a great time watching the first GOP debate last month (definitely the most entertaining debate I’ve ever seen) and then talking about it afterwards.

If you had asked me earlier this year, though, I would not have expected William (a 14-year-old 8th grader) to be glued to the screen along with John, Emily, and me.  It’s true that our big kids were interested in watching debates at his age, but I wouldn’t have thought William would sacrifice two or three hours of precious time that could have been spent researching one of his many obsessions about which he wishes to acquire ALL THE KNOWLEDGE to watch a debate.

As it turns out, though, he did watch the entire first debate, and had plenty of intelligent insights and opinions about the participants.  We all enjoyed talking it over and mostly agreed on who we thought did well.  Agreement on matters political is not taken for granted in this house, where the parents have opposing views on some issues and the kids have been raised to think critically and to form their own opinions, so it was interesting that we reached such similar conclusions.

So William was bitten by the bug, and he has added Donald Trump and his antics to his list of topics he researches.  For the past month he has watched videos about the Donald and has kept all of us updated on what he has learned (most recently being my source of intel about Mr. Trump’s Twitter exchanges with the Mexican drug lord who is on the lam).  William was so excited about watching last night’s debate that he did his homework WHILE IT WAS STILL DAYLIGHT, without complaining, so that he would not miss any of it.

That debate was really, really long, y’all.  Too long.  But we stuck it out, although we were too tired to hash it all over for too long afterwards.  Once again, William had opinions.  But there were a lot of people up there, and he wasn’t clear on all their names.  When he started reeling off his thoughts accompanied by his own unique descriptors, I knew I had to run for my notebook so I could record them for you all to hear.

2016 GOP Candidates, as named by William

1. Trump

2.  Jeb

3.  Young guy

4.  Jersey man

5.  Little curly ugly-haired man

6.  Sad man

7.  Woman

8.  Brain surgeon

9.  Random person

10. Old man that was not afraid to say things (clue: based on observations from the first debate)

11. He couldn’t even remember this one by the end–I wonder what that says about his chances?

Leave me a comment if you think you can guess who is who. 😉 And tell me, do your kids watch the debates? Do you talk to them about politics? Do you get upset if they don’t agree with your political views?

[2017 Update:  William was definitely bitten by the political bug thanks to the 2016 elections.  He now follows politics regularly and wants to hear the latest news when I pick him up from school each day.]

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I can’t remember, way back when I decided to homeschool Jake for 4th grade, how I came up with my social studies curriculum.  But it’s a simple one, and we don’t use a textbook.

The theme of the year is States and Presidents.  Lorelei will learn all 50 states and their capitals.  She’ll also learn their postal abbreviations and will be able to fill them in on a map of the United States.  Copying the list of states will provide handwriting practice while also aiding learning.  Of course it won’t be all rote memorization–we will discuss facts about each state as we go.  And then she’ll get to pick one and do a report on it.

We will also memorize all the Presidents, in order.  Again, as we do that, we’ll be learning a few important things about each one.  And we will discuss the events in American History that were happening during each administration.  We won’t be using a textbook because we have numerous books about the states and the presidents that Lorelei can read selections from.  And again, she will pick her favorite President and write a report about him.

Every time I studied American History in school–which I think happened in 4th, 7th, and 11th grades (at least), we’d start off strong, with the discovery of America, maybe, or perhaps the 13 colonies.  But we always ran out of time before we reached the present day.  I think we might have made it to World War II one time!  I used to page ahead in the book to pictures of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter and the Vietnam War and the moon landing and wonder if we’d ever read those parts, but alas.

So our method probably lacks a little depth but at least we will cover it all!

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That would be penmanship, but it’s going to be a daily subject in our homeschool this year. [Update: This dream died halfway through the first year, I am ashamed to say.]

In my eight years of Catholic grade school, we had handwriting practice EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Yes, every single day for eight years.  At first, this was a sorry trial for me.  I struggled to print neatly in first grade.  My teacher had a set of rubber stamps she used to mark our papers.  The Excellent stamp was unattainable.  There were only two people in the class who EVER earned an Excellent.  I only hoped for a Very Good stamp.  But day after day my papers came back marked Try Harder, when I promise you I was already trying as hard as I could!

We moved on to cursive in the middle of second grade, and from third grade on, all work had to be completed in cursive.  Because my mind moved faster than my hand, my writing was messy and full of scribbled out words.  My handwriting can still be very messy today, if I’m in a hurry.  But when I try, I can write legible and attractive cursive.  I worked hard to achieve this result.  And I use it every day, because in this law office, all envelopes are addressed, by hand, in cursive, by me.

Even so, my writing is far from the elegant script we find in old letters.  That kind of cursive is already a lost art.  But in just a couple of generations, no one may be able to write in cursive at all!  My three big kids, a product of 13 years of Catholic education, did learn cursive.  But after a couple of years, they never had to use it again.  They were allowed to keep right on printing and then eventually started using computers for everything.  They never write in cursive and sometimes I think they might have forgotten how.  The only time I see any cursive coming from their pens is when they have to sign their names to something.

William was still being homeschooled at the time he would have started learning cursive, and I was more concerned about making sure he could print legibly at that point.  While they do at the moment still teach cursive in our public schools, he basically missed it, and since he’s getting to the age where it’s all typing all the time, he may never learn more than how to sign his name, unless he wants to.  And he probably won’t, because most kids seem to think cursive is an old-fashioned waste of time.

When I was little, cursive was a Big Deal.  It was like a code.  All the grownups wrote in it, and none of the kids could read it.  The Lunch Ladies at St. Joseph School used to write out the menu for the week in cursive and tape in on the wall in the hallway.  I remember my delight when at some point during first grade I taught myself to decipher it.  I also remember how eager I was to learn how to write, so eager that I got my grandmother to show me how so I had a head start before second grade.  I was already writing my name in cursive on everything,

Lorelei learned to write her name in cursive early too, and I don’t expect any resistance from her when it comes to this subject.  [HOW WRONG I WAS] And I’m glad, because I think it’s a shame that most kids never learn to write cursive well, and that many school districts are doing away with it all together.  I’m sad not only because good handwriting is beautiful to see, but also because learning to write in cursive stimulates different parts of the brain.  It helps kids learn.  And some kids who have great difficulty with printing don’t have that same difficulty with cursive.

So handwriting practice is going to be a daily part of our homeschooling curriculum.  We are going to do a page from our book every day.  I chose a book that combines religious instruction with handwriting instruction, but we won’t rely on this alone.  For example, when Lorelei is learning the Beatitudes this year, her handwriting work for the day will be to write them in her best handwriting.  The same will go for the Ten Commandments, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, the Stations of the Cross, and other religious concepts.  But we won’t only be linking handwriting to religion.  In Social Studies, it will be state capitals, or the names of the Presidents.  And writing neatly will be important in every subject. [This did work for Jake and Teddy, at least.]

What do you think?  Is it too late to save cursive?  Does it matter?  How often do you use cursive?

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I’m not sure I’ve mentioned to y’all that I plan to homeschool Lorelei next year.  She’s going to be in fourth grade, and I’ve done that before, so I already have a lot of resources, and I’ve slowly been gathering others over the last several months.

There was one place I was stuck, though, and it’s kind of an important place!  I couldn’t find a religion book that I liked.

The religion book I used for Jake and Teddy was actually my own religion book from way back in 1976-1977. (Yes, I saved those kinds of things and I’m glad!) While it’s true that catechesis in the 1970s was a mess, this book was pretty good.  St. Joseph’s School switched to a new program the following year–I still have that book–and it was dreadful, practically content-free.  But this one covered all the basic fourth grade stuff–Commandments, Beatitudes, Works of Mercy, and more–that is still being taught in fourth grade today.

And because I was using it for William in 2011, and it was in his backpack in the living room of what we now call “the burned down house,” it’s gone forever.

So you can find anything on the internet, right?  But I couldn’t remember the name of this book.  I knew what it looked like, and roughly when it was published, and what grade it was for, that’s all.  And no book that looked like that EVER appeared, not once, in many, many months of off-and-on searching.  I even asked the school if they had a record of what book we used back then–no dice.  I conducted research on Catholic publishing companies and looked up every book that was published around that time. My head swam with publishing companies (Sadlier, Benziger, Loyola) and their various programs.  Nope.  I spent hours on this, y’all.  I really had my heart set on that book.

Surely, you ask, there are plenty of other fourth grade Catholic religion textbooks out there?  Why, yes, yes, there are.  But I didn’t want to risk an old one that I hadn’t seen before because, as I mention above, many of the ones that were around back then were just bad.  And I don’t like the modern ones I’ve seen which are too jam-packed with information and fill-in-the-blank pages.  (Honestly, I just don’t like modern textbooks.)  What I liked about this one is that it was very simple with short chapters that I could use as a starting point for further discussion.

I finally found one that seemed similar in content (by looking at a screenshot of the Table of Contents) to the one I remembered.  I thought I could maybe try to make do.  But when I went to order it on Amazon it was about $25–kind of a lot to spend for an unknown.  I searched for it again and found some really cheap copies put up by someone who did not even bother to include a picture of the cover.  So that’s what I ordered.

Have you figured out the punchline yet?  We came home from a short vacation yesterday and my package was waiting for me.  As I tore open the bag I saw not the book I was expecting but the ONE I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR.  Apparently, it was just a different edition of the one I thought I was ordering.  Some of the material has been rearranged, and of course it has a different cover.  And to sweeten the pot, it’s not written in (which of course mine was) AND it’s a teacher edition with all kinds of other good stuff at the end.

religion book

So that’s a propitious omen for my return to homeschooling.  I look forward to sharing my other adventures with you this year!

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Y’all, I really need a little help here.  I participated in an education focus group earlier this week, and I’ve been asked to get some input from YOU on the follow-up questions I’m going to post below.  I know I have a lot of silent readers here (HELLO!), but this time I really need you to speak up and answer these two questions in the comments.  Okay?

Here goes:

What does it take (or what WOULD it take) to motivate you to take action on an educational issue?  This can be on a local, state, or national level.

Have you ever worked together with the larger school community, including educators and other parents, to creat change in your school and/or school district?  If so, would you share a bit about the effort and impact?

Y’all, please don’t make me look bad. 🙂  They are actually PAYING me for this and I don’t want to come up empty.  Thanks!

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Teddy’s first year at Notre Dame is almost over.  He will be home for the summer in less than a month, and back to eating us out of house and home once more.

After we dropped him off, we didn’t hear much from him for a long time.  It was a far cry from the frequent tearful phone calls I remember making home the first few weeks after I started college, which settled to weekly–and tear free–eventually, or even the daily contact I had with Emily when she was at Spring Hill via text, email, and instant message.  Teddy texted a few times–mostly when he had questions about something–and I didn’t call him either, giving him time to settle in and get used to being on his own. He came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and dropped by to and from his Spring Break trip to Florida.  He’s always willing to spend his first hour or so back home talking to me and answering my questions, but after that he’s off doing his own thing.

But I got a real treat last weekend!  St. Edward’s Hall (Steds is what the boys call it) hosted a Mothers’ Weekend and I drove up to spend the weekend with Teddy.  Yes, I did, all by myself–about an eight hour drive not counting stops.  Of course it poured down rain, the kind of rain you can’t see to drive through, for the first several hours (why did it have to do that while I was driving in my own hilly state and not where it was flat?) but after that it was smooth sailing, especially since I made sure both ways to time things so I would not be driving in the dark (because I’m not as young as I once was!).

I made it to South Bend right around six and after I checked into my hotel I picked Teddy up and we went for pizza (it being Friday, and Lent, and South Bend not being exactly a place I’d expect to specialize in seafood) and then checked out the weekend’s first event–hors d’ouevres at the Eck Visitors Center.  This was my first chance to meet Teddy’s friends, including the three young men with whom he will be living next year.  They had just chosen their rooms the night before, and will be living in a quad on the fourth floor of St. Ed’s (most people stay in the same dorm all four years)–room 420 to be precise, and if you don’t know why they think that’s a hoot, your teenager can probably tell you.

Jake, Teddy, Kevin, and Phineas

Jake, Teddy, Kevin, and Phineas

Would y’all just LOOK at my son?  When he came home looking like that I thought maybe that was just the new thing, but then I saw all the other boys, who all look like the boys pictured above, and it became clear that Teddy is the only one doing this particular thing.

Anyway, I was tired so I had Teddy drive me back to my hotel so I wouldn’t have to drive in the dark (oh how I love love love staying in a hotel all by myself!) and we arranged for him to pick me up the next morning, when we were all scheduled to attend brunch at South Dining Hall.

After brunch, we had a free day.  I didn’t get to see nearly all the campus when we dropped Teddy off.  Y’all, the place is enormous.  And it was hot then, and the weekend was packed with required events. (Plus I have more energy now but more on that later.)  So we decided to spend the day exploring the campus. It was a glorious day for it–in the upper forties and sunny.  Also have I mentioned it’s flat up there?  I can walk for hours under those circumstances and I did.  We started around noon and kept going until after four.  Teddy calculated we walked around five miles and we both even got a little sunburned! Here are some of the sights we enjoyed.   nd 11 Starting with this, even though it isn’t where we started, because it’s what everyone wants to see, right? nd 26 Here’s a nice shot that gets the Basilica in there too. nd 47 We actually started out in the bookstore, where this was only one of many children’s books designed to indoctrinate them early!  Seriously, it is a really nice (and super expensive) bookstore. After that, Teddy pretty much walked me all the way around the campus, including quick trips inside the library and the student center. nd 49 I showed y’all Touchdown Jesus last time I wrote about Notre Dame.  This guy they call First Down Moses. Did y’all know that Notre Dame du Lac is the school’s official name?  And that two lakes sit right next to it?  Last time John and I walked around the smaller lake, and this time Teddy and I walked around the other one.

nd 28

nd 42

nd 44

Can’t go to Notre Dame without stopping to pray at the Grotto.  There was a wedding party there posing for pictures, and then a rival lacrosse team stopping to pray together after their game.

nd 13

The last thing we went to see, and my favorite thing since y’all already know I’m weird that way, was the enormous cemetery which is practically at the front door of the place.  But that’s going to get a post to itself. 🙂

So moving right along, I barely had time to get back to the hotel and shower and change for the big evening event at the Jordan Hall of Science.  We had hors d’oeuvres and drinks, heard about the latest renovations to St. Ed’s, attempted (Teddy and I did not attempt this seriously) to learn how to two step and line dance, and ate dinner.  We sat with Teddy’s new roommates and their mothers, and it was a real treat to get to meet them and some of the mothers of Teddy’s other friends.  We went back to the dorm afterwards and “chilled” a little longer but I didn’t stay too long because I didn’t want to be tired the next day for the long drive home.

The grand finale to the weekend was Mass on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. (super early for these boys who are used to Mass at 10 p.m.!)  held in the Chapel of Sts. Edward and John, which just happens to be at the end of the hallway where Teddy currently lives.  If y’all are picturing some folding chairs and a wooden altar with a cross sitting on it, you might want to think again.

ND Chapel Window St. Edward

ND Chapel Altar 2

Did I mention that about 100 mothers came for the weekend (and there are around 150 boys in the dorm)?  So all the seats were full and the boys sat on the floor.  I’ve heard people say that Notre Dame isn’t authentically Catholic and I can only assume that those people have never been there.  Father Ralph (who lives right there in the hall) started his homily with these beautiful words of St. Augustine: “You gleamed and shone, and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for you. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. You  touched me, and I burned for your peace.”   And I wish I had taped those boys belting out “Wade in the Water” at the end of Mass!

Then it was time to go home, but not so hard to leave knowing how soon I will be seeing Teddy again.  And it was great to see how at home he is and how much fun he is having, and to be able to picture him there with his friends.

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Today I watched my first Notre Dame football game as the parent of a student. After all, I’m “part of the Notre Dame family now,” (as we were reminded MANY times during last weekend’s orientation events).

Teddy's view from the student section today

Teddy’s view from the student section today

(Fortunately, the Notre Dame game was at 3:30 and the University of Tennessee game didn’t start until 6:00. My next door neighbor, a Notre Dame alumna, couldn’t understand why there would be any conflict for me if they aired at the same time! But I digress.)

I’ve grown up hearing about Notre Dame, which was always presented as the pinnacle for a Catholic student, and at one point I assumed I would go there. Then I read the Barron’s Guide which stated that there was nothing to do there in the dead of winter but stay on campus and drink beer. [edit: I am told this is accurate.] That probably sounds attractive to many high school students, but I was turned off and did not even apply.

Of course, now I’ve seen the place, and realize that as big and wonderful as the campus is, whether there is anything to do in South Bend is immaterial. I don’t have any regrets because I loved Georgetown, but I am very excited for Teddy and the adventures he is going to have.

The mystique surrounding Notre Dame is unbelievable. I don’t think there is anywhere I could have announced that Teddy had chosen that would have incited a more enthusiastic response. I had not realized myself until visiting the place just how attending a Catholic high school inculcates you with a familiarity with and reverence for the place. Teddy played high school football for the Knoxville Catholic Irish (and just last weekend, KCHS played the Chattanooga Notre Dame High School’s Irish!). The Notre Dame leprechaun was painted in the middle of the old Catholic High’s floor. Teddy wore gold and blue for most of his football career. We played the Notre Dame fight song at games when I was in high school. All the sports memorabilia that I saw at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center at the Purcell Pavilion looked eerily familiar. I told Teddy that all his high school sporting attire and t-shirts are going to fit right in (a good thing, too, since that’s most of his wardrobe).

ND purcell center detail 2

Notre Dame sets out to cultivate that mystique and to build loyalty from the moment you arrive with your kid. Once we were allowed on campus and directed to the back entrance to Teddy’s hall (St. Edward’s, the oldest one, built in 1882), we were met by an enthusiastic bunch of identically-dressed, cheering young men who surrounded our car, washed our windshield, and whisked Teddy and all his belongings upstairs in two minutes or less.

ND St. Edwards 3

As the weekend went on, we were fed every meal (for free!) in the campus dining halls (one of which features a fireplace big enough to roast a cow in and a mural of the Last Supper on the wall), offered the opportunity to watch Rudy (we were too tired), given ample time to walk around campus to absorb the iconic atmosphere, and welcomed officially via orientation events that went on until Sunday afternoon.

Saturday morning we were invited to meet with the rector and the rest of the residence hall staff in the hall chapel. Yes, EVERY hall has its own chapel and daily Mass at 10 p.m. I’m told that it’s really something to walk around campus on Sunday evenings and hearing the singing coming out of each hall. I’m not sure what I had envisioned when I pictured a hall chapel, but it wasn’t this.

ND Chapel Altar

St. Edward (King Edward, the Confessor)

St. Edward (King Edward, the Confessor)

We were welcomed, we were instructed, we were reassured about the safety and welfare of our sons. Later in the afternoon we attended a welcome at the Purcell Center for the freshman and then a special session for parents while students were meeting their first year advisers. That was the first time we heard “You are part of the Notre Dame family now” but it wasn’t the last. We heard from the President of the University, the Dean of First Year Studies, and others, before adjourning to explore the many course offerings in the different academic buildings–making John and me wish we could go back to school and major in more subjects!

We had plenty of time for exploration while Teddy was busy setting up his room and doing his own thing. We spent hours in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We walked around one of the two lakes. We visited the grotto. Teddy was only with us part of the time but he was doing his own exploring and said that his feet hurt. Seriously, how even an in-shape young person can handle all the walking necessary in that enormous place (no cars, y’all!) is beyond me.

Basilica interior

Basilica interior

View across the lake

View across the lake

grotto

grotto

On our last morning we went to the Purcell Pavilion again for a Mass celebrated by the President of the University. (Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, by the way, was very much in evidence throughout the entire weekend.) Mass was followed by a box lunch in our seats, during which Teddy joined us so that we could experience the last event together.

This was “The Spirit of Notre Dame,” and there was no doubt that it had been carefully orchestrated to make us feel part of that “Notre Dame family” and to send us off on a high note. It featured words of welcome from the Mayor of South Bend, the athletic director, the football coach, and the women’s basketball coach, followed by musical performances from the all-male Glee Club, a mixed ensemble, and the Notre Dame Band. Notre Dame has a lot of traditional songs apparently, and we heard them all. We sang the Alma Mater, and the whole thing culminated with “the moment we’d all been waiting for” (seriously, they said that, and by then it was pretty much true): the Notre Dame Fight Song.

I had never visited Notre Dame before and did not know what to expect, but to say I was impressed by the program and the place is to understate my reaction. I am very excited for Teddy, and I can’t wait to go back and visit again.

ND Golden Dome

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