Is Steve Bannon a racist? Is that even what we should be asking?

Several of my friends on facebook have been asking whether Steve Bannon, Trump’s pick for Chief Strategist, is really a racist. But I think it’s the wrong question. Sure, if there were something out there of him praising the KKK or some such nonsense, that would be a primary concern.

what-do-we-stand-for

But most of the conversation seems to be focusing on what racists think of him and there are more important concerns.

Namely, what is it that HE wants for the country, the White House and the Republican Party?

His name up for consideration for any White House position raises serious concerns for me. Granted, my position is likely a lonely one, because they are the exact same concerns I had when Trump gained the nomination. This is not a principled movement. It is wholly reactionary in nature.

Nominating the head of Breitbart News is akin to nominating the Head of Daily Kos . . . except that I find the Daily Kos to be less emotionally charged. Maybe more like Crooks and Liars? In other words, it is a site so dedicated to tearing down, it has negated any chance at useful dialogue. Which is precisely the wrong direction for the President of the United States to take.

He could be the most racially inclusive man on the planet and hated by white nationalists everywhere. I’d still be uncomfortable with his nomination. Because I don’t want the White House to become an ideological “Fight Club,” or to be taken over by an “. . . insurgent, center-right populist movement that is virulently anti-establishment. . .”

I want principles and reason. Leadership tempered by compassion. Bridges that are built rather than destroyed.

All things I’m not likely to see in an administration advised by the head of Breitbart News. But I think the conversation is important. Most people I know voted for Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton. This election highlighted what we will stand against.

Now, what do we stand for?

Everything you need to teach preschool (and you probably don’t need to buy anything at all)

Sitting around chatting with other homeschoolers, I almost invariably get asked, “So what curriculum do you use for your preschooler?” And stumble around for words, trying to explain what it is exactly we do. I know it comes out sounding more like, “Oh, we don’t do anything at all!”

Except that isn’t true. What I really want to say is something more like this. Preschool means pre – school. Before school. To have curriculum before school seems, well, somewhat disingenuous. I believe that children at that age should be running, jumping, climbing and exploring. They should be splashing in puddles, making forts under your furniture and asking, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”

Quite simply, play is the work of a child. Especially a young child. And to push curriculum . . . textbooks and workshets . . . too early interrupts their natural intellectual and emotional development.

This has been backed up by research over and over. As Germany was beginning to move away from play-based kindergartens (note that “kindergarten” in Germany is more like preschool here and takes children ages 3 – 5) and more toward instruction focused early learning, they conducted large scale research involving 100 kindergartens. While those who attended the more academically focused kindergartens did indeed show early advantages over their peers, these gains were not only lost but reversed by 4th grade. By then, graduates of play based kindergartens fared better on every measure used, especially in reading, mathematics and social development. The results were so clear that Germany moved away from the direct instruction model and has stuck with its play based model even to today.

Studies in the US have shown similar results, though they are complicated by the fact that most of the studies focus on poverty and it can be difficult to differentiate between the effects of early education programs and the lasting effects of poverty. Still, they indicate the same results. Children in more academically focused programs show early gains that seem to disappear by third or fourth grade, while those in play based preschool programs demonstrate better academic and social development.

America, however, never has made any serious effort at reversing the trend toward direct instruction at earlier and earlier ages. Particularly schools in poorer areas get bogged down in test prep. I had to provide 45 minutes of test prep instruction a day as a first grade teacher. Schools are under incredible pressure to perform and they are passing that pressure down to students at earlier and earlier ages. Research or no, stepping away from academic instruction in favor of increased play time is a tremendous leap of faith that schools struggling with low test scores are just not willing to take.

Why do homeschoolers get caught up in the feeling that we need curriculum for preschoolers? Quite frankly, I think it’s because we’re inundated with it. Have you noticed that television programming and even toys aimed at young children now come with a list of the educational objectives met?

That and the message that really what your child needs is opportunities to explore and play guided by a parent willing to engage them in discussion, acting as guide in this crazy world doesn’t sell product. It doesn’t sell toys. It doesn’t sell television. It doesn’t sell books. And it doesn’t sell curriculum to those beginning homeschoolers who still feel like they’re competing with the public school system even as they’re experimenting with stepping out of it.

So what do preschoolers need?

You.

If you care enough to ask the question, you are probably already doing everything your child needs, but this is what I believe preschool children need to help encourage their academic and social development:

  • A variety of toys to encourage fine and gross motor development as well as imagination.
  • A library, whether at home or provided through regular trips to the library.
  • To be involved in daily chores and activities.
  • Someone to answer their questions, even if the answer is, “Hmm, I wonder?”
  • Someone to narrate events and describe what is going on at home and on outings.
  • Outings. Around the neighborhood, on walks, to the store, to museums, to zoos.
  • A variety of textures. Sand, mud, water, dirt, play dough . . . whatever you have.
  • Crayons, markers, pencils and paint.
  • Time. Enough to get absorbed in a task of their own choosing.
  • Someone who will listen.
  • And most importantly, love. Love and support and encouragement.

Take heart. And have the courage to set the curriculum aside and focus on the play.

A day in the life of a wannabe farmer

Recently, leaving the city for a more “sustainable” life on a hobby farm seems to be all the rage. Now, I love our life out here, but I thought I’d provide a little snapshot of life with animals. Both for those considering making the jump and for those who are more the armchair dreamer type. Because it is not for the faint of heart. Animals, like children, almost never behave according to plan.

Candy, not where she belongs

A system that works for months will suddenly break down at the most inopportune moment. And so this particular snap shot begins as I’m driving my children to town for tumbling/dance camp. An event they have been out of their minds excited about for weeks.

And I don’t see the cow in the pasture. Or the little bull calf that is her constant shadow.

Now, there are plenty of places in the pasture she could be and I wouldn’t see her. The grass is just tall enough, she could even be out in the open and I might miss her just driving by, especially considering how high above the road our pasture is. This doubt of my own observations sustains me all the way to town, but there is no way that lingering question mark is going to leave me alone. So I instruct the girls what to do if I’m not back when I’m supposed to be and head home.

And as I pull in the drive, Candy pokes her head out of the pig barn to say hello. Not catastrophic. She is technically still in the pasture, just not the section she belongs in. So I get a bucket with a little bit of grain and open the gate to let them out of the barn and the pasture gate to let them in with the sheep.

They aren’t interested in the grain bucket. Not one little bit. They run to the big barn and make themselves cozey in the corner. Which really wouldn’t be that big of a deal either, but this section is overgrazed and I really just need them to go take their morning snooze in the shade provided in the outer pasture where they belong.

So I shake the bucket which alerts the sheep who come running. The ram unnerves me. He’s never done anything, but I don’t know what’s going through his head when he looks at me. He stands too close, rests his head against the side of my leg and . . . thinks. I’m not sure if he’s planning on killing me for the bucket or claiming me as one of his ewes or if he’s just a nice ram that isn’t at all like the ones I’ve read about and I really should put more trust in his history of never doing anything than all I’ve read about how dangerous a ram with no fear of humans can be. After all, he only acts this way when I’m holding a bucket.

I finally give up on enticing the cattle out of the barn and lock the door, hoping to keep them in until they’re hungry enough to follow me back to where they belong. And I dump the grain on the ground to be rid of my uncomfortably friendly ram who doesn’t pay me any more attention.

Except now I notice that while I had closed the gates behind me, I had failed to tie the gate to the pig barn shut. This isn’t a quick task. It involves lacing baling wire through the gate and around a post because the gate is really just a collectiong of things we found in the barn and tied to an old metal gate to keep the animals from getting out. I think I had more hoped the gilts would just not realize that all they needed to do was push to get out.

That’s actually Mr. Freckles, but you don’t stop to take pictures when your pigs escape!

Normally, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal to have happen right there where I can see. Miss Tumble (the one who got out) is a friendly gilt and more than happy to go where I direct her, with or without a bucket. Except that this particular exit to the barn leads to the little “porch” I made for the boars to acclimate them to the electric fencing. And given the odd “songs” Miss Tumble and Mr. Freckles had been singing to one another the night before, I was a little concerned that Miss Tumble might be in heat.

And by “songs,” I mean deep throated growls. Roars, even. I went down in the middle of the night to collect some chickens I knew were out and thought there was a bear in the pig barn.

Perhaps it is relevant to also mention here that the chickens were out because the day before the gilts had knocked over my daughter’s poorly conceived fencing to steal chicken feed, allowing all of our most prized birds to escape. None were injured, but they all eluded capture until nightfall led them to roost. In the pig barn. With the roaring-bears-that-were-pigs. Where I collected them by the light of a cell phone and tried not to imagine all that crossed the boar’s mind when he trotted over to me.

I thought he might be on a murderous rampage. He just wanted scritches so I obliged and escaped before he changed his mind.

At any rate, the little gate that I had propped open to let the boys go in and out of their half of the barn was wide open and doesn’t close as easily as the main gate Miss Tumble wandered out of. So I threw a rabbit cage in front of it, hoping to thwart any attempts at blocking me from extracting the object of his affection from his “porch.”

With all the animals finally secured, I walked out to the far pasture to see how exactly Candy and her shadow had escaped.

The actual exit point wasn’t that bad. I live in continual fear that Candy will cease to even pretend to fear the electric fence and that will be the end of containing her. But the top two lines had been dropped, probably for the short legs of small children who were retrieving a bucket. It was a small hop over and a short walk to the pig barn where they know there is grain available.

What was inside the pasture, however, was a far worse sight. Half a mile of fencing down and criss crossed across the pasture, like a glistening spider web of metal. Worried that the horses would get tangled in it, I shooed them over to the pasture section with the least damage and put up a line of fencing to keep them from walking through the tangled mess. The horses are good. I think they’d stay in a fence made of yarn as long as they were together.

I walked back to the barn and told Candy and Endeavor they were hamburger. Candy walked up to the barn door and stuck her head over the bar. I thumped her brisket.

“You know why this is your brisket? Because that’s what you make out of it. Slather it in BBQ sauce and it is far better than restringing fencing.”

She nuzzled me. I’m pretty sure she thinks the various cuts of meat I have taught her over the years are various pet names for how wonderful she is.

I looked at my phone. 9:45. I would be right on time to pick up my youngest daughter and take her over to her sister’s five day club.

Not even lunch time and I felt like I had already put in a full day’s work without actually accomplishing anything. And I still had a half mile of fencing to untangle and restring before I could begin the projects I had planned for the day.

So if you ever wonder what this whole sustainability-hobby-farm-thing is about, now you know. Working, re-working, planning, re-planning and always learning on the fly.

That and the soft brown eyes of an impish cow who rests her head on your shoulder while you threaten to turn her into hamburger because even she knows you don’t mean it.

And this. Because in the end, it really does all come back to your children.

Micah with his very best friend.

 

 

Stop. Breathe. Cry. Sometimes, it’s worth more than a smile.

So this popped up in my facebook feed.

And I just thought, “No.”

When life gives you one reason to cry . . . cry.

When life gives you one hundred reasons to cry . . . cry and find someone who will cry with you.

When life crushes you, when the power and the depth of the anguish threatens to overwhelm you as it crashes over you wave after wave, fight back with tears. Tears and cries and even screams if necessary.

But not with a forced smile. Not with some fake attempt to “count your blessings” (as if six living children makes up the balance sheet for one who went to heaven far too soon).

Because the continual message that a smile equals strength and tears are a sign of weakness is false. And destructive.

It’s designed to make others feel better about your pain. But it doesn’t help you.

As a Christian, grieving the loss of a child, it surprised me how quickly the body of Christ lost its patience with grief. Less than two weeks after my son’s death, a Christian man told me it was time to stop grieving. That he was in a better place and that if I believed that, I should rejoice. Grief was a lack of faith.

Less than three months later, someone from church asked me how I was and when I said not so good, she wanted to know why. I stumbled over the words because I didn’t really know her and what was obvious and inescapable in my world wasn’t in hers. Nor should it be. And I never like putting people in the position of feeling like they need to apologize for an innocent enough question that bore no malice. So I just said I had been thinking about Tiggy a lot.

“That’s still bothering you?”

Said in such an incredulous tone. It stung. Three months after he died, I almost gave up on going to church. Because right there in that moment, I couldn’t see all the love and support and one comment almost overshadowed it all.

But I went home and cried.

It seems to me the Christian church should understand suffering. That strength is not in a smile, but in vulnerability. That joy is a promise we cling to, but it is a very different thing from happiness.

Because Christ Himself went to the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion and sweated tears of blood, pleading for this cup to be taken from Him. And when His disciples, His closest friends, could not stay awake, He didn’t count his blessings and put on a happy face. He didn’t talk about His miracles, His ministry, that He would rise again in three days or even that His kingdom was about to conquer death itself.

No. He said,”Can’t you even watch with me for an hour?”

Because I believe this is what we are all called to do for one another. Just sit. Listen. Show love. Show mercy. And let the tears flow.

Because weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

And blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

And God himself will turn their mourning into joy. (Jeremiah 31:13)

And while the world constantly presses in, telling the hurting and the grieving to “just smile through it,” I think it is good to remember that His Word tells us that is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Because grief gives you a glimpse of the state of a fallen world. It reminds you that this is not our home. It draws your attention away from yourself and toward Him. And only then can He give you beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Updated to add:

My husband wrote a free e-book about our journey and finding hope in Christ. If you are interested, you can download a copy here: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet.

Free Date Printables for Your Calendar Center

Last week I shared a little about our calendar center and showed how I set up our little weather station. That is by far the favorite of the kids. After all, they get to go outside, rain or shine, and take measurements. I think I’m going to add on a rain gauge, but more on that later. If I actually follow through!

So, next up, the date!

That’s simple enough. Every day that we do our calendar time, we advance the date. The children tend to do this on there own, even on weekends, because it seems to bother them to have the wrong date hanging on the wall all day long.

You will ultimately need to print of the numbers three times (six complete sets). That will give you some extras, but who doesn’t need extra number cards?

If you want more instruction on how to put it together and exactly what I used, read on! And yes, this involves some affiliate links. And although it would be great if everyone threw everything in their carts so I could earn a few cents, I’m really doing it so you know exactly what I’m talking about. Because I didn’t get any of this from amazon. Most of it was just laying around in various places it didn’t belong and the rest I picked up the copy store while I was waiting for my laminating job!

First off, did you notice my dry erase marker holders? Binder clips! That was my own personal moment of genius. Then again, I get excited over pretty little things. Like how well a binder clip holds a dry erase marker right there where I need it but out of reach of little hands who only use them to color themselves, anyway.

Next up, of course, are the months. I just made up a set that fit nicely on a standard poster board, printed them off on card stock and cut them apart. They would need to be smaller if you wanted to add the day of the week, too, but I like them a little bigger so they are easy to read. And trace. And copy.

I love having the months of the year on binder rings. It just helps emphasize the whole cycle of the months thing. And they can totally pull them off the calendar to cheat on their exercises when they forget what month comes next. Or, you know, just to practice. Because that sounds way better than “cheating.” A hole punch obviously works to punch the holes, but I thought I’d throw a shout out for the second coolest thing I’ve ever bought for homeschooling: my Japanese book drill. More about how I use it later, but for the moment, suffice it to say that it is perfect for making neat little holes anywhere on your project. Even the center of your poster board.

There are cheaper ones available if you only want to use it occasionally. Unfortunately, the nice one at amazon only comes with one bit and you probably want the larger, 4mm or even 4.5mm bit for this project. If you like making books, however, this one is definitely worth the price along with all the bits!

And, of course, a hole punch works, too.

To hang these and the numbers up, I just used these nifty little hooks. The best part is, they are removable. So when you get all your hooks arranged neatly on your poster and go to hang everything up and suddenly realize you put one upside down, you can totally fix it without destroying your poster. Not that I’d know from experience. Ahem

For the year, I put four pieces of Velcro on the laminated poster and then put some on the numbers. You could get away with just a few years worth of numbers, but I made a full set. Then we can use this to  practice adding tens and hundreds as I ask, “What will the date be ten years from now? Two hundred years from now? A thousand years from now?” And they can switch out the numbers with the Velcro.

After they put the comma where it belongs in the date, they copy it on the nice space provided. It’s a bit of lined posterboard. This stuff is great if you happen to have it. I have one sheet laminated to practice literacy skills. Once upon a time, it was part of my calendar time, too, so you might see it later! At any rate, this stuff is kind of pricey. You might want to just get some poster board or large paper to cut down to size. The lines are nice, but not necessary. This was given to me when I used to teach and I’ve dragged it through three moves!

The last thing I did was take a bit of leftover laminating film and attach some Velcro to make a pocket. This is a great place to put flash cards. More on the cards I have in mine later, after I convert it to upload!

And that’s it! Everything I used to make the date section of my nifty calendar! Stay tuned for the days of the week next!