Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Some Thoughts on Education

About two years ago, I shared some of my thoughts about homeschooling on my blog. The topic has been weighing on my mind again more recently because, if we follow the traditional American educational route, Soren will be enrolling in public kindergarten this fall. This causes me more than a little anxiety.

Here are some of my concerns:

1) I am a big believer in child-centered education, meaning that the individual child's interests and readiness to learn should guide the educational process for the child. I know this isn't generally how public school classrooms are structured: there is a boxed curriculum that each child is expected to adhere to, regardless of capability or interest. There are standardized tests to pass. I don't worry that Soren won't be up to the task-- he's a bright little guy and I know he'll do just fine in school--I just worry that the structure will suck away his love of learning, turning it into a chore rather than a joy.

That said, I do believe that the public school provides good opportunities for children to learn about structure, self-discipline, and responsibility. It also provides opportunities to learn about things that they might not initially be interested in but later enjoy.

2) I don't believe that the social environment at school is optimal. You know how it is...kids learn quickly to dislike anyone who is different, to be jealous of anyone who seems "better," do what they can to blend in, act "tough" and "cool," tell dirty jokes in the playground tires. I'll admit, I want to shield my boys from this for as long as I can. Maybe that's wrong. But my job is to protect my children and I want to do it. And I ask you: Soren doesn't fully grasp the concept of modesty yet....how do I equip him to not be dragged down by bad language, inappropriate topics, and even pornography at the age of 5?

That said, I believe that school provides wonderful opportunities for a child to develop his or her identity outside the home, learn how to cope with authority figures other than his or her parents, and develop friendships independently.

So what I'm saying is, while I'm not totally sold on traditional school, I'm also not ready to homeschool my own children.

This year Soren has been attending preschool three times a week for two hours a day. He attends school with six other little people. His teacher, herself a mother of five (five!), is an engaging instructor who has created a positive discipline and educational structure in which the children joyfully learn. They read stories, they sing songs, they dance, they snack, they craft, they learn about letters and numbers, they learn about people in the community. This week they went on a field trip to the bakery. Soren adores Miss Misty and he behaves himself perfectly at preschool. He will buckle down and learn for her in a way I know I could never get him to do for me. At the end of every day the kids sing a song and Misty gives each one of the children a hug, a handshake, a high-five, or a "homerun" (all three). I love this. He's also learning to interact with other children his age. At home, we reinforce and expand on what he's been learning at school. For all this, we pay $65 a month. Totally worth it.

So what I want, instead of public school and instead of homeschool, is for Soren to be in preschool forever.

I'm serious.

And I don't mean that I want him to be a fifteen-year-old sitting at a preschool table shaping letters out of playdough. What I do mean is that I really like the concept of formal learning happening in a small group in someone's home a few hours a day, a few days a week, with that learning reinforced and expanded on at home. The time spent in school could increase over time to four or five hours a day four or five days a week, providing opportunities for the participating child to interact with the outside world on a regular basis, develop an identity outside of the family unit, build self-control, and explore topics he or she might not otherwise pursue. The small group would allow for personalization of the curriculum and for closer monitoring and control of social interactions. And during the time the children aren't in school, they can be pursuing their own interests. Imagine a group of high school aged kids who receive formal mathematics and writing practice in their school and then are left to pursue and report about their other interests. Maybe they could form a Shakespearean reader's theater! Or a science club! Or a swim team! Or an art group!

I would be more than happy to make some financial sacrifices to pay for this individualized attention and education and supplement it at home. Imagine, if one teacher taught two classes a day (morning and afternoon), and each class capped out at ten children, and each child paid $100/month for tuition, the teacher would be making $2000/month. Not fabulous, but not terrible either.

So now I just need to find people willing to teach and mothers willing to participate in an educational co-op like this. What do you think? Am I out of my mind? Should I just buck it up and send Soren to kindergarten in the fall?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Reviews

A newborn baby's mother dies of cancer the day she is born. Left to her startled and recovering-alcoholic dad, Noel, Frankie is raised not only by her father but by a neighborhood of loving neighbors and family members who rally together to support her father in his new role. The story un-sermonizingly reminds its readers that relationships, family, friends-- these are the things that matter most in life. Maeve Binchy's books always give me hope that I can be a real writer someday. They're about simple people living simple lives...but they're always captivating. If you're looking for a gentle, hot-cocoa read, complete with adorable Irish-isms, check out Minding Frankie.

A wonderfully accessible and informative book about the Neuropsychology of decision-making. Loved it. And now I know what the amgydala is!

This is the story of Doc Holladay and the Earp Brothers while they were living in the rough-and-tumble frontier town of Dodge City, Kansas, before their infamous shoot-out at the OK Corral.

Mary Doria Russell excels at character development-- and this book was no exception. I was entranced with the flesh and blood she added to these old-west legends. In fact, reading this book made me develop a little love crush on Wyatt Earp.

When I first heard about the Duggars back in '04, they "only" had fourteen children. I was mildly horrified-- but also fascinated. Who in the world would have that many children? Would the children grow grow up to be wild-eyed overly sheltered conservative Christians, crippled by their unusual upbringing? So I've kept an eye on them over the years, and when I realized they had written books, I was over it like flies on jam. This is their first book. And I must say, as I read this book I found that my at-first-horror-filled fascination bloomed into love. I love this family. They are such genuinely good people and parents-- and their story is an inspiring one about allowing God to guide your life and receiving lots of joy and blessings as a result. By the end of the book, I even started thinking that Jim Bob was a totally legit name.

I was very sorry to hear about their recent miscarriage.

Hoping to Adopt

This is my friend Lara, with her husband, Justin, and their daughter, Jocelyn. Justin and Lara adopted Jocelyn in April 2009.

I know Lara through church but I've gotten to know her better through her blog. She's an excellent writer and has actually even written a novel....almost two! Reading Lara's blog has taught me a lot about infertility and adoption, much of which I wish I'd known and been able to use to help support our friends Mark and Rachel along a similar path (btw...Mark and Rachel are now the proud/exhuasted parents of two!)

One thing I learned from Lara's blog is that about half of all adoptions happen through word-of-mouth referrals, so I thought I'd do what I could to spread the word through my own little readership: Lara and Justin are hoping to adopt again. If you know anyone who might be interested in placing their baby in a wonderful home, please tell them about Justin and Lara.

(To read more about Justin and Lara on their adoption blog, click here. To read Lara's blog, click here.)

Justin and Lara have created a home that is a safe, creative, musical, joyful place. They are kind and consistent parents. They are thoughtful, intelligent people. They have faith in God and actively attend church. Their daughter is a healthy, adorable, bright little girl who seems secure in the knowledge that she has a mommy and a daddy who love her very much.

I can't imagine a better home for a child.

(In fact, now that I think about it....maybe instead of the gypsies, would Justin and Lara like Soren? Lara, what do you think? He doesn't bite! Okay, he does. But not that often! Of course I'm kidding. Sort of.)

Plus, any child placed with Justin and Lara would have this adorable child for their older sibling. And then, when Liam falls in love with and marries Jocelyn, the baby would be lucky enough to be related to me! Can't top that.

(All photos stalkerishly siphoned off Lara's blogs.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In favor of Not Changing Time

When Abe was on his mission in California, he received a letter from his mother that read,

Dear Abraham,

We are no longer observing Daylight Savings Time in our home.



(Okay okay, I'm sure there was more to the letter than that, but this is the part I know about.)

That was fifteen years ago, and she has stuck with it ever since. When we visit New Hampshire to visit Abe's parents, I'm in a constant state of time confusion because every time I look at a clock I have to calculate: "Okay, that clock is set on that o'clock Home Time, which means that World Time it is actually this time, so it must be this o'clock in Idaho. So that's why I want to stay up until 1:00 AM!"

When I first heard about Skousen Standard Time, I will admit to maybe doing one of those whistle/eye roll things one does when one hears a story about a particularly nutty person. I thought, Wow. Sounds like Abe's mom is rather, um, eccentric. And I will grant you: my mother-in-law is not the most conventional person in the world. But neither is she as unconventional as, say, the spiky-haired alpaca-wool spinning respiratory therapist at EIRMC who kept trying to sneak me off somewhere so I could breastfeed my baby against doctor's orders. Truly, my mother-in-law is really not all that nutty. Just independent. But not in a stock-up-your-sawed-off-guns-and-rant-about-the-gov'ment sort of way. She just does things the way she wants to and gives very little heed to what anyone might think about it. This is a way of being I aspire to.

ANYWAY, the reason I bring this up at all is that I just wanted to say that I totally take back the whole whistle/eye roll thing because I have come to believe with all my heart that refusing to change times twice a year is really, truly a sensible thing to do. I, too, would boycott time changes, but the fact that I interact so regularly with the outside world makes it impractical.

My numero uno complaint with the time changes is that they throw a massive cog into the wheels of our family's routine twice a year. Since switching back to Standard Time a few weeks ago, my children have been going to bed at 7:00 PM and waking up at 5:00 AM. That means I see them for 30 minutes after I get home from work at night and a full hour earlier than I want to see them in the morning. And because they are little creatures of Circadian habit, it will take us MONTHS of effort to settle them back into a normal 8 PM to 6 AM sleeping routine.

Also, my observation has been that the hour change in daily wake/sleep rhythms increases fatigue, grumpiness, and depression in pretty much everybody. In fact, the strain that the change puts on our bodies is so real that studies have demonstrated that there is a 5% increase in heart attacks following the switch from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time.

All this would be okay if there were a point to the changes, but the fact is that there is really no benefit to changing times around constantly. Maybe once upon a time Daylight Savings Time was an energy saver, but I truly doubt that is the case in our fast-paced round-the-clock energy burning society.

So I ask: Why are we as a nation still doing changing the time twice a year? Is there anyone out there who enjoys the time changes? How do we put an end to them? Will a letter to our representative cut it? Do we need to lobby somewhere? Can we march on Washington?

Being one who enjoys the extra sunlight in the evenings, I personally would advocate for staying on Daylight Savings Time round-the-clock, but seriously? I would stick with Zimbabwean Standard Time if it just meant that we wouldn't have to change times ever, ever again. So I'm going to advocate for Not Changing Time. Will you join in my crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Child Geniuses

I was reading to the kids one evening when I stopped and asked Soren, "Do you see a 'T' on this page?" But before Soren could reply, Liam shouted, 'T!' and pointed to a the correct letter on the page. That's interesting, I thought. Was it a coincidence? So I tried another one. "Is there an 'A' on this page?" And quick as Swiper Fox, Liam shouted, 'A!' and pointed at an A. I tried again, with 'S' and again, he got it. He also recognized 'O'.

As far as I know, nobody has ever coached Liam on his ABCs. He's just a super genius, I guess. He'll totally be using three-word sentences by the time he's three.

Our baby is as intelligent as he is adorable. And slobbery.


So while Liam's been sneaking off at night with Dick and Jane, Soren's been busy making stuff...

...like this hand-bound picture book.
I showed him how to do the yarn binding, but he did the sewing and illustrating himself.

...and this friendly little pumpkin.
Totally his idea. No help from me.

...a paper towel roll monster.
Also an original idea, held together with hot glue.

...a ginger bread house
Yes, I did the gingerbread part, but he decorated this all by himself. This was a welcome way for him to use up some of that never-ending Halloween candy. The blue thing is a lightning rod. Soren learned about lightning rods while watching a cartoon about Benjamin Franklin; now he feels they are essential for preventing gingerbread house fires. And don't forget to notice the ginger dog house!

....and (drumroll, please)...an art museum.
(Liam is acting as docent here.)
I did not prompt Soren to do this AT ALL. He just painted a bunch of pictures one day and told me he wanted to make an art museum. We pulled out a big freezer box we'd been saving, taped another box on top of that so it would be big enough for me to stand up in (a modification made at his insistence), hung up the art, added some lighting (a flashlight provided by Auntie Hillary), and...voila! Art! He even colored all the walls with crayon because he thought the cardboard was too ugly. He had me write a note on the outside wall: "This Museum Is Open."

I'm telling you people, I've got prodigies on my hands. Prod.i.gies. Real cute ones.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Skousen Family Goes Out to Eat

(I couldn't figure out a way to make the images bigger in this post, but please feel free to click on any of the pictures to make them bigger)

Abraham and Briar spent an entire Wednesday painting the house while I was at work and the kids were with babysitters. Abe didn't want the boys in the house touching the wet paint, so he proposed that we all go out for dinner so it could dry a little longer. It was getting late, so we decided to stay in town; Abe wanted something fattening, so we headed over to Arctic Circle.

I had a hankering for a good taco salad, but was a little taken back by the price. Six ninety nine for a fast food salad? When I could get a burger and fries for half that? But I decided to go ahead and indulge anyway and get the salad. Abe, of course, wanted a burger, and we got a meal for the boys to share.

Soren picked out a table and chose a seat.

Then he decided that, more than anything in the whole wide world, he wanted to sit where Liam was sitting. We pointed out that he could sit anywhere else in the whole restaurant, but that Liam's chair was Liam's.

So Soren threw a fit. This is pretty normal for him and it wasn't a HUGE fit, so we just tried to ignore it and get on with our dinner.

After a while he quieted down and moseyed over to me and climbed up next to me. I offered him some burger, but he declined.

Then he looked over the table at Liam. And apparently it looked to him like Liam was drinking HIS water. Oh, mortal sin!

And that's when Soren's soul left his body....
...and all hell broke loose.

Words cannot describe the sound that Soren makes when he has truly lost all his senses. Letters are inadequate to transcribe it. All I can say is that you need to image how a normal person might react were they to witness the brutal decapitation of a loved one. Then multiply that by five. It is a sound calculated to shatter eardrum and drive all within its range to madness.

That is the sound that next came out of Soren's body.
I tried to hold him and calm him down, but his wild body escaped my grasp. He kicked the tray on the table and my salad flew everywhere.

Horrified, enraged, and completely clueless as to the correct way to handle the situation, I gathered the child under my arm in a football hold and marched out of the restaurant. A nice family having dinner in the corner watched, mouths agape, while we exited.

The little girl of the family even pushed the decorative streamers in the window aside to watch and see what I did to Soren when we got out to the car. She must have been disappointed when all I did was lock him in and then slump against the door, defeated.
Abe brought Liam out to me to comfort while he cleaned our food off the floor of the restaurant. I cuddled him while Soren scrambled from door to door, still screaming like a rabid monkey. I wondered how much our insurance would pay toward a vasectomy.

After more screaming, thrashing, kicking, et al, we finally got the boys loaded up and began the drive back home. Abe was pissed. I just felt defeated and tired.
And then, from the backseat, it came.

Dear heavens.

Soren had just pushed the button to unleash all the fury of the angriest and most spiteful gods.

I held my breath.

And then, again, The scream. The Scream is about one million times worse in the confined space of a car. Liam began wailing too. I honestly began to fear for Soren's life.

I was finally able to persuade Abe that plugging his ears was much preferable to infanticide. We all arrived home whole. I uttered a little prayer of thanks when we pulled into the garage and whisked Soren off to his bedroom as quickly as I could, whispering to him that if he wanted to live another day, he mustn't show his face again that evening.

I think it will be a while before we try Arctic Circle again.

Monday, November 07, 2011

QIA: Routine Calendar

Soren is forever asking me, "What day is today? What are we doing today? Am I going to school? Who's going to take care of me today?" So I made him a little calendar to help him figure out his routine all on his own and learn to identify the days of the week.

(Please forgive the crappy photography. Also ignore the wrinkles and stains. The poor thing has been dragged all over the house.)

Anyway, it's basically just a table I made in Word using Clip Art and photos of our family. I laminated it with contact paper. Down on the bottom are little Velcro stickers and a movable Velcro Soren that he can move from day to day. Liam has one too.

Liam could care less but Soren really seems to enjoy being able to move himself to a new square in the morning and find out what's in store for him that way.

Mod Podge Project: From Empty Yogurt Container to Religious Supplicants in Three Easy Steps

1. I wanted to fancify an old yogurt container (right) to make a decorative container for our extra knives, kitchen scissors, and other sharp kitchen tools.

2. So I looked through our old magazines (mostly the Smithsonian and the Ensign) and cut out pictures that I liked.

3. I then mod podged them to the yogurt container.

The result? Now we have an oddly religiously desperate sharps container. It pleases me.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


"Backers" is how Soren says "backwards."

I just forgot to post a little bit about Halloween. First, I didn't mention that we went trick-or-treating, but we did. And it was adorable.

Secondly, much earlier in the month, we went to the U Pick Red Barn pumpkin patch. We wound our way through the straw bale maze, Soren rode on the train that circles all the fields (Liam did not wish to participate), and we each picked out a pumpkin to decorate.

This is how our Jack-o-Lanterns turned out:

Soren's pumpkin. He picked this one out solely on the basis of size. In this picture it looks like a Samurai warrior with heterochromia iridum, but he later rearranged/added other features that made the final jack-o-latnern look more like a schizophrenic alien.

Liam's. He's French.

Mommy's (left) and Daddy's(right.)
I like this picture because the headless me in it looks thin and strong.

Soren noticed this year that other people carve Jack-o-Lanterns with knives and declared, "We should do it like that next year." So this may be our last year of pleasant, goop-free Pumpkin decorating. For shame.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

For dinner tonight we had caramel apple slices with sprinkles as an appetizer. Then I whipped up THESE bad boys for the entree:

Pretty spooky, eh?

Then the boys dressed up (I'll skip the drama, but just imagine there was some. It's us, right?)

In case you couldn't tell, Soren is a pillow and Liam is a pirate.


And now, just to keep my blog from slipping too deeply into Mommy Blogdom, I thought I'd share with you my friend Nick's AMAZING Halloween costume.

Can you even tell which is Freddie Mercury and which is Nick? I thought not.


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