Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Forum Notes: Toys

I said I'd post a few of the ideas I gleaned from the TJed Forum I went to recently. My grammar will not be perfect in these posts because if I'm going to have time to get this stuff on here at all it's going to have to be rough writing. Anyway, just for fun I'm going to start with the most controversial stuff I encountered at the Forum: some notes on how to provide the right kind of toys that will facilitate a love of learning in your children. I thought I knew what she was going to say-- keep your kids away from mindless video games-- but it went far beyond that, to the point where it really challenged my thinking. You may not agree with these ideas to some degree or another (I'm not even sure what I think of some of them), but they are intriguing.

She started by comparing children to irrigation water-- they are always running in some direction and if you want to nourish the seeds of learning you have to direct them to the field and not let them run off into the wasteland. I've seen my kids spend plenty of time in the wasteland, that's for sure. And I love it when I can get them out of the wasteland and see them playing and educating themselves at the same time.

So, comparing children to irrigation water, you want to open the right headgates. The right headgates will invite children to recognize real beauty when they see it, acquire refined tastes, play when they're little, then graduate from play when their hearts tell them it's time. Worthy goals, says I. In contrast, the wrong headgates waste resources, time, creative juices, and thrills (think for a minute about the wrong kind of thrills versus the right kind of thrills) and they invite children to remain in perpetual childhood. They keep them from falling in love with learning-- they keep them in love with play, and they give them a false sense of accomplishment (yeah, like the high I got when I was ten and I won Super Mario Brothers after umpteen hours of play-- I thought I'd achieved true greatness and developed many useful skills. Yeah, right! Now I am thirty years old and so busy I barely have time to brush my teeth but I am still bursting with a desire to learn and to create and I truly mourn those lost hours playing the Nintendo because I think about all the real things I could have learned during those hours that I would dearly love to learn now but I have no time. Like how to play the violin. Or how to make stained glass windows. And on and on and on.... are we really doing our kids a favor by providing them with a gaming system? I had this conversation with my Mom recently where I said "WHY did you buy the Nintendo? I mean, you guys were, like, the strictest parents in the world and you never let us have anything that "everyone else" had and yet you bought us a Nintendo! I was over the moon with joy at the time, but now I can't believe you would do that to me!" My mom just laughed and said that they just thought it would be fun for us. It was, but at what price?)

I'm totally off on a tangent, but "video games" is the first thing that comes to mind when I read the "wrong headgate" list. I personally know adults who won't grow up and can't hold a job because they're still addicted to their video games. And okay, those are pretty rare cases and you can argue that there is good in some video games but the way I've always seen it they don't get very high on a good/better/best scale.

So I've already lost the half of you that are die-hard lovers of the Wii and I'm sorry, but I must continue on so I can lose the rest of you. :)

Here are the questions to ask about toys for younger children:

Does the thrill come from the child or the toy? Does it use his own creativity and muscle or does it provide that for him? (think toy car with electronic motor versus plain toy car)

Who was the creative one-- the toymaker, or the child? Do the toys have "scripts" or can the child use them in any way they imagine?

And when you're thinking about project/craft supplies for older children, you should ask:

Are the resources used or wasted?
Is the creative object something of value?
What becomes of the child? Like, if you give them real art supplies they are working at becoming an artist, which can bring all kinds of benefits to their life. If you give them rubber stamps they are working at becoming a stamper, which doesn't really get them anywhere in terms of life skills. If they need to use rubber stamps as adults they can figure out how in about three seconds, so they don't need to spend hours with them as kids. Same with a lot of simple crafts. Compare that to something like knitting, which is highly useful yet takes time and practice and is a fantastic thing for kids to spend time on.

Now, remember, the goal here is to instill in your child a love of learning and true knowledge and to make them self-motivated to educate themselves. One of the TJed core principles is "Inspire, not Require." They do it because they want to, not because you make them. Done correctly, this is supposed to be an absolutely astounding thing, blowing the mind of any of us who are used to viewing educational progression along the public school track. The presenter gave the example of her daughter who came to her at age 7 and said "teach me to read, Mommy." She taught her daughter the basics and then left her alone. Didn't sit down and do endless word drills with her or give her "required reading" lists-- her daughter was truly motivated by an inner desire to learn and so she just took off on her own. Two and a half years later, she has just finished Ivanhoe and she loved it. She read it all on her own because she wanted to. I found that pretty impressive. I mean, I still haven't finished Ivanhoe.

So this is the ideal we're working toward-- kids who teach themselves everything they need to know because they passionately want to learn. Most kids do this with some subjects that school hasn't beat the joy out of, but can you imagine finding your kid pouring over Algebra just because it's fascinating? This is the goal of TJed. And this presenter stressed that this will only happen if you close the wrong headgates and open the right ones-- in other words, provide a carefully-controlled home learning environment.

In general, this theory sounds pretty good to me. Nothing is more un-fun than trying to get your kid to do schoolwork when they don't want to and nothing is more wonderful than watching your child thirstily drinking up knowledge on a topic they're passionate about.

However, I was a bit surprised at her list of toys to avoid. (She did preface this list with "I will probably be tarred and feathered for saying this, but...") It started with TV/video games/iPods, and pretty much anything electronic or with batteries, but it went beyond that. Remember, she said toys shouldn't have a script. She said puzzles are out because there's only one way to put them together and if you lose some of the pieces they're practically worthless. She also says to steer away from things like Legos, train tracks, Lincoln Logs, and hotwheel race track sets because they have to be put together a certain way, even though there are variations possible.

I was pretty shocked. I never thought I'd hear anyone be down on Lincoln Logs or Legos. Those are serious staples around here.

For older kids, she cautioned against having too many art supplies because they will just get wasted. She also said don't give them loose paper-- give them bound paper-- because loose paper also gets wasted because it's perceived as less permanent than bound paper. I have seen that to be true at my house. My kids will take sheet after sheet after sheet from the loose paper stack and just waste most of them but they are very careful about what they draw in their notebooks. She said don't give kids little craft kits-- have them make real, useful things that teach them real skills, like knitting.

What's left to play with after all this is gone? She told about how they purged their house of all these offending items and oddly enough it was wonderful for several reasons. First, cleanup is MUCH faster and easier because they have far fewer toys. Mom and kids are happier about that. Second, the kids will truly lose themselves for hours in creative/imaginative play. She says people come over to her house, watch her kids for a few minutes, and say "boy, I wish my kids played like that." Third, there is far less fighting and quarreling. And when other kids come over, they get happily sucked into the fun too. She told how recently she had a quilting bee at her house and there were twenty kids all playing in the other room while the women quilted in the living room. And it's not a large house. She said they didn't hear a peep out of them for the longest time and they all played very happily together for hours.

What were they playing with? What toys does she have left in her house? Plain old dolls. Plain old cars and trains and planes. Other imaginative props along these lines like plastic or stuffed animals. And simple things like ropes and sticks and blankets. Simple things they can use to role play with in many, many ways.

When I think about what toys we have that my kids actually play with, then this makes sense. One of the most popular items around here are our playsilks-- just plain square yards of silk in bright colors that they come up with about a thousand uses for. Plastic figures of animals and small stuffed animals are also very popular (remember Bean and Great Bear?) The Bilibo gets a lot of use, as does the play tent from Ikea. And every single day a furniture fort gets made with all the blankets they can get their hands on. Send them outside and they are happy for hours with nothing but sticks.

And I think all of us parents can think of something we spent a lot of money on and that the kids were super excited about at first but that never actually ended up getting played with a lot. That goes back to the idea of the thrill coming from the toy and not the child. When the novelty wears off there's nothing different to do with it.

So most of this makes sense to me. Except the whole Legos thing. My boys play a lot with their Legos and their Lincoln logs and they build really creative stuff with them. And I just can't see anything wrong with that. I know she's not saying they're inherently bad, she's just saying they're not the best thing for creating this proper learning environment. But I'm still going round and round in my head about it. I can see a single Lego set that you can only put together 3 or 4 ways as being undesirable, but I've bought my kids the old Legos that are mostly plain bricks where the possibilities are endless. I'm sure this exalted guru would approve of a set of plain wooden blocks, so why are plain Legos any different? Actually, speaking of the toys that get played with the very most at my house, our bucket of plain duplo-type blocks gets nearly constant use by all four of my children and gets used it absolutely every way imaginable. So maybe she's just talking about some of the more modern Lego sets. But Lincoln Logs?

And what about card or board games? She didn't address these, but according to her rules they are not desirable. Yet I use educational games quite frequently in my homeschool with great success. Bean is highly competitive and chess has been one of the best things to ever come into his life.

And while we use very little electronic media around here, I'm not totally anti any of it as evidenced by my last post. My opinion is that good educational videos can be extremely mind-expanding, when not overused.

Am I just afraid to go out of my comfort zone and fully embrace these ideas?

Or are they truly and unnecessarily too far-out?

I bet most of my readers would say all this is too extreme. Yet, think of Ivanhoe at 9 1/2. Sometimes you have to take uncommon steps to produce extraordinary results.

I don't know, I still haven't worked it all out yet. I'm also still working out how I feel about "Inspire, not Require" in relation to my own particular children and situation. But that's a topic for another post.

I promise all my other notes aren't this wacky and controversial. Everything else I picked up at this Forum was good, solid, enlightening, edifying and helpful stuff. But it was kind of fun writing this. I hope it gave you something to think about.

A Fun Discovery

The boys and I work a lot on the Cub Scout belt loop requirements. They love to earn beltloops and I love it that it's a ready-made homeschool curriculum. It's so great when they're so excited to learn.

Anyway, today we were working on the art beltloop and one thing led to another which led to a fun discovery for me. Somehow I got thinking about an old PBS show I used to LOVE as a kid called "Secret City" where Commander Mark teaches you how to draw. I looked it up on YouTube and there are heaps of old Secret City episodes there. I was so excited! This show really taught me a ton about drawing when I was a kid and that had a pretty big impact on me.

So of course now the boys are hooked on it too.

And of course the next step is to introduce them to Bob Ross, also a great influence on my artistic side. Gotta love Bob Ross and his "mighty fan brush" and his "happy little trees." But first we've got to get through all these Secret City episodes and learn all about foreshortening!

Happy times ahead!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Story of My Life

This just in: scientists, using scores of unfortunate lab rats and oodles of research money, have just figured out what I could have told them from my life struggles: fatty foods act like cocaine in the brain. They could have just put electrodes on me during one of my pizza or ice cream binges and saved themselves a lot of trouble.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Adventures With a Produce Co-op

A couple weeks ago I was messing around on the internet and happened across the blog of the older sister of an old friend of mine. She posted about her experiences with Bountiful Baskets, a produce co-op. That kind of thing is right up my alley so I looked into it. This last Monday I signed up for a organic basket along with two cases of organic mangoes. This morning I got up at a really terrible hour for a Saturday and drove through the dark to pick up my basket. I wasn't sure what to expect. When I arrived at the location there were lots of smiley, friendly people waiting in line with laundry baskets and bags. Pretty soon they let us into a room full of baskets of beautiful produce. I took what was allotted to me and headed out with a huge smile on my face. What with all those friendly people and all that fresh produce, the place had really good vibes.

I brought my haul home and spread it out on the table for you to see. This is what was in the organic basket:

And here are my 8 kilos of mangoes, oh joy and bliss! Aren't they cute?

Oddly enough, my sister Pineapple emailed me a link a couple days ago for another local produce co-op called Green Bee Produce. She did not know I was signed up to do this, but she's going to try to Green Bee and we're going to compare. Who knows? I might end up buying from both regularly. These produce co-ops are so cool!
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What He Found in the Basement

Bean and Fish ended up sleeping on the family room floor last night. After they got up, I sent them downstairs to get dressed. As Bean was getting dressed the girls were waking up in the room next door, so he scooped them both up and headed upstairs calling out "look what I found!"

Bean is such a fun older brother!
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Good Words

My Dad emailed me some of Emily Dickinson's poetry a few days ago. This was the one I liked best. I don't think I had ever read it before.

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.

The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king.

He Came With the Chair

The other day I came into the family room and saw this sitting on my rocking chair. I believe he is a friend of Fish's.

We just read a great children's book from the library called "He Came With the Couch," by David Slonim. My kids beg me to read it again and again-- I highly recommend seeing if your local library has it. It's about a family who buys a second-hand couch and a strange creature comes with it. It was probably the inspiration for the creativity pictured above.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Today's Broadcast

I guess I've been a little bit quiet lately. It's a lot more time-consuming to blog without Picasa and my Picasa is still not working. Sigh.

I need to write more on this blog though, photos or no. I think there are a lot of things I could share that could be helpful to someone. Like some of our recent successes and challenges with homeschool. There's a part of me that doesn't really want to put out all that detail for the world to see, but if it were to be a help to someone then it would be worth it, right?

This last weekend I attended the Thomas Jefferson Education Forum in downtown Salt Lake City. I like a lot of what the TJed people have to say, though I have not fully embraced their system for my homeschool-- I've got a kind of eclectic mix going on that is probably closest to Charlotte Mason but that is tailored specifically to my children and my family lifestyle at this time. But I still gained SO much from the TJed Forum. I carefully chose classes that would give me some solutions to some of the challenges we are currently experiencing (mostly motivation) and I was not disappointed. I have so many good ideas to try and I'm so excited about it.

I'm out of time to blog right now, but maybe I can share a few of my notes from the forum on here. I think many things would be applicable to non-homeschoolers as well.

Shiny Roo

This child just shines. The Badger took this picture Sunday night at family Sunday devotional when she was singing "I am Glad for Many Things." She was just glowing-- the camera didn't catch it all, but you can get a small taste.

Scout Fish

Tiger Scouts has been the best thing in the world for my Fish. Oh, how he loves it! He begs me frequently to let him put on his scout uniform. I love it when he does because he looks so fantastic! He earned his Bobcat award extremely quickly and at pack meeting this week he's going to get his first two belt loops.

I wholeheartedly recommend the Tiger Scout program! I know it's not easy to block out time for a parent to attend the meeting with their boy, but if you find a way it will be worth it!

Frog and Toad

Now that Bean has got to the end of "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons," he is discovering all the things he can read on his own. His favorite are the Frog and Toad stories, which are the best children's books EVER. Just ask Rabbit, who is happy to sit and listen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

An Unexpected Visitor

So, I'm walking home from church with the Rabbit and I see that my mother-in-law is out on the back deck doing something. I think it's a little strange that she's outside on a raw day like today, so when I get home I go back to the dining room to see what she's doing.

And I see about the most unexpected sight I could imagine. My mother-in-law is calmly tying a goat to the catalpa tree on the deck!

The neighbor found a loose goat wandering down the road and it ended up on the back porch of the Burrow. So we're keeping her until her owner shows up.

We do not live in a neighborhood where things like this normally happen! A couple of people around here have chickens, but this is not the sort of neighborhood where people keep goats. So this event has brought on many exclamations of surprise here at the Burrow.

We're not goat experts, but we think she looks very pregnant.

She does have a collar, but there is no owner info on it.

I wonder how long she'll be here before someone comes to claim her!

UPDATE: A friend of a friend who lives nearby and has an empty pasture came and got the goat-- she'll be happier there until her real owner turns up! But the kids aren't too happy about the goat going away.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

First Bloom

I just went outside with the kiddos and saw this blooming in the raspberry patch! I'm so excited for spring!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Whatever Happened to Cousin Howell????

Last summer I posted about Cousin Howell, who lived in our basement for several months while getting ready to serve a mission for the LDS church. I mentioned how we were running to the mailbox every day to see if his mission call had arrived yet. And then I never followed up with the rest of the story.

Now I shall tell you what happened to Cousin Howell. His mission call was delayed due to some minor health issues, so we never did get the big envelope in our mailbox. When we left the prairie he moved in with his sister, and the call came there several months later. He called us right after he opened it and told us he was going to Idaho! Woo hoo! One of my favorite places in the entire world! And you couldn't ask for better scenery. Or nicer people.

Anyway, he entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo this last week and we had the honor of picking him up at the airport and then dropping him off at the MTC. It was really awesome-- there is such an amazing spirit about that place. You can feel it even when you're just parked at the curb. There are so many missionaries these days that they don't have the families come inside anymore-- you just drop them at the curb. But it was still so cool. How many times in your life do you have the chance to drop off a missionary at the MTC?

There were lots of crying moms and crying little brothers and sisters and teenaged brothers trying to look like they weren't crying. I remember crying when we dropped my brother off at the MTC-- I was seventeen. I couldn't believe I wasn't going to see him for two whole years!!

So when we were there with Cousin Howell I tried to imagine what it was going to be like dropping my sons off at the MTC. I realized that yes I would cry because I was going to miss them and worry about them for two years, but mostly I was going to cry because I was so grateful that they were willing and able to devote two years of their life to serving the Lord. It's no small task getting a boy to that point!

We're so happy and excited for Cousin Howell! He's going to be a fabulous missionary.

Cup Art

Yesterday the Rabbit had to spend a long time in the high chair while I cut the Badger's hair. She decided to use this as an opportunity to make cup sculptures.

Friday, March 5, 2010


A conversation that took place in the car yesterday:

Fish: What's your favorite movie?

Bean: Star Wars.

Roo: Star Wars has lots of sugar in it!

I was so confused until I realized that Roo was talking about "Star Burst."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Please, Don't Let This Feeling End...

When I was in 7th grade choir we sang the theme song to the movie Ice Castles. (The title to this post is the first line of the song.) I hadn't thought about the song in years-- until we went to see the ice castles in Midway, Utah last week. Then I got it stuck in my head. But that didn't stop me from having a great time. I've never seen anything like these ice castles. The kids loved them, especially the Rabbit. At one point the Badger said "this is neat!" and from her perch in the baby backpack behind him she immediately echoed "neat!" It was the first time she'd said that word-- she does that a lot lately.

I can't believe all the fun things there are to do in Utah. I'm completely wearing myself out going to this event and that, but we're all having a blast in the process. I get so many emails about field trips and activities from the local homeschool group that I can't even begin to do them all. This is quite a change from Kansas, where I felt like a thirsty mom desperately licking a slow-dripping faucet when it came to homeschool activities. Now the faucet is on full-force and it's great! In the last week we went to a play, a special event at a museum, the ice castles, and Bean went to the Space Center-- in addition to our regular activities such as PE and choir. I feel so good when I take the kids on an outing where they have neat experiences that are fun and educational. Please, don't let this feeling end!

Okay, that was corny, but I still can't get that song out of my head!!!!!

Ogre Mountain

On Sunday afternoon we were in the vicinity of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, which is one of the newest Temples of the LDS church in the Salt Lake valley. Oquirrh is pronounced "OH-ker." I drove up around it so the kids could get a good look. As we were driving up to it, Fish asked me very seriously, "Why is it called the Ogre Mountain Temple?"

They wanted to get out, but I told them it was too cold. They begged, so I let Fish and Roo out for the perfect photo op. But it was too cold and I couldn't get them to open their eyes and look at me because the wind was pretty fierce.

I did get a pretty nice picture of the Temple by itself though.

Grandpa Time

The Rabbit just loves her Grandpa. Whenever he walks into the room, she breaks into singing the chorus of "Angels We Have Heard on High." I'm not kidding. Toddlers are so delightfully bizarre!

Today when Grandpa sat down on the couch with a bowl of food she came and sat down right next to him on a wadded-up blanket in high hopes of getting a "BITE!" She was not disappointed.