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Archive for the ‘unschooling’ Category

— 1 —

Sunday is…Sunday. Which supercedes any saint celebrations – but you can still think about St. Teresa of Avila anyway.She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, and Loyola has a very readable excerpt here 

(If you would like to read a pdf version, click here.) 

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 — 2 —

.Early last spring, I wrote a small prayer book for Creative Communications, publisher of Living Faith. And then I forgot about it until a couple of days ago, when I thought..Wait…what happened to that thing I wrote? Shouldn’t it be out now? 

Well, I discovered, it is:

They had forgotten to tell me it was out or send me copies. I think they’re on the way now.

It’s just a little thing, suitable for bulk purchases for your parish – like when you’re ordering your St. Nicholas pamphlet, right? You can read a pdf excerpt here.

And since it’s the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun….take a look at my Mary book, here. 

Speaking of the St. Nicholas book, when I was corresponding with the editor about it (it had been out of print for a few years), he said something like, “Yes, the prose has held up pretty well after twenty years. We didn’t have to do much to it.”

And I thought…twenty years? That’s crazy.  I’m sure I wrote that no more than ten years ago…right?

Nope. Sorry. 1997.

Wow.  I have to say that realization really set me back. That was a long time ago. I don’t know what to think about that….

— 3 —

Well, onward. I am working very hard on my next book for Loyola, and I’m optimistic about getting it done on time or, hopefully, earlier.  So between that, homeschooling and Lost watching, there’s not much time for writing in this space. Click on the image to the left to get the newest book – or get it, preferably, from you local Catholic bookstore. Or order it from me! 

But…we have done quite a bit since last Friday. I’ll fill in the blanks with some photos and a quick report.

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Last Friday (a week ago), we attended a morning concert of the Alabama Symphony orchestra – they were performing Brahms’ Symphony #1 for an audience of mostly older people and schoolchildren. It was quite good and just the right length.

— 4

Over the weekend, we hopped over to the Alabama Farmer’s Market which was having a little fall festival. There wasn’t a lot to it, but there were some animals with very nice faces.

"amy welborn"

 

 

— 5 —

The science center class is over, so that frees Tuesday mornings up, but Tuesday afternoons are still about boxing. This Wednesday morning we participated in a very interesting homeschool  group field trip to Sloss Furnaces, an iron-producing furnace in operation from the late 19th century to 1971. It’s now a National Historic Landmark, and the great thing about it is that you can just go wander around it – at no cost. It hosts events like music festivals and, of course, Halloween fright nights, and it’s a center for metal arts as well, but really  – most of the time you can just show up and wander around this amazing abandoned facility.

It had been a few years since we had been, and they’ve really upgraded the visitor’s center since then. It’s all very nice, and this was also the first time that we’d taken a tour. Part of the tour had the kids carving a design in a sand/resin mold for their own iron tile. They hold these “iron pours” periodically through the year for the general public, and now that I see how it’s done, we’ll definitely come back to do it again.

 

— 6 —

There was also some photography class homework done, here at Railroad Park:

Birmingham is trying to get some Amazon facility to settle here, so one of the gimmicks is to set up big Amazon boxes all over the place:

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Tonight (Thursday) – a free concert by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. It was outdoors on the UAB campus, so we just ran over there and stayed for about half the set and had some sopes. 

We do try to get around. Life is short. Carpe Diem, etc.

Twenty years ago? Really?

— 7 —

Miscellaneous reads and listens:

In Our Time on Constantine was good, with a recurring theme of ambiguity about what we actually know. 

I listened to several episodes of Witness – a very short program in which an historical event is described from the perspective of those who witnessed it (obviously). I took in episodes on Catalan nationalist Lluys Campanys, the raising of the Mary Rose, and Australia’s rabbit plague, all in one walk.

Oh, and there was a Great Lives episode on P.G. Wodehouse – the structure of this program is that a non-academic picks out a “great life” to talk about – usually it’s a hero of theirs or role model or just someone they find very significant. They chat about this person with the host Matthew Parris and an academic expert in the figure they’ve selected. The non-academic fan of Wodehouse was Stephen Fry who is so very clever and charming in his way, but so creepy and off-putting in others. But he was utterly lovely on Wodehouse, and it was a very inspiring program, not just for writers, I think, but for anyone who would like to think about what it means to just do the work you’ve set out to do and do it well.

Reading: Officers and Gentlemen by Waugh and The Old Man and the Sea. 

In these days when it’s de rigeur to dismiss formulas-norms-rules-formulations-ideas when speaking of faith, here’s a voice raised in defense: Carl Olson “In Gratitude for the Gift of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

…..reading and studying the Catechism, Church doctrine and dogma, and theology are not ultimately about knowing things or facts but about knowing the living Christ, the Incarnate Word, the Redeemer and Savior. True theology is an act of worship and prayer; far from being dry or dull (or rigid!), it is an encounter with the Triune God, who creates, draws close, calls, loves, and invites. The Catechism is a tremendous gift that contemplates, explains, and shares the greatest Gift of all.

 

When the Catechism was in preparation – twenty-five years ago, I guess  –  I was in a meeting of parish Directors of Religious Education. The bishop of that diocese was there and the topic was the forthcoming Catechism. The diocesan Director of Religious Education said this:

We have to be careful with this. We have to make it clear that it’s for pastoral ministers, not the laity. If they think of it as something for them, they’re going to start comparing our programs with what they read in the Catechism. 

As my mother used to say, You think I’m making that up. I’m not. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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— 1 —

Guys, this is not a page from my  book of Bible stories.

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In case you are confused the narrator is Adam, and the “thing I love most” that “God made just for me” is the Bratz doll  Eve.

 

  — 2 —

For some reason mentioning Bratz dolls reminded me of an old post I had on an old blog about a Bratz Advent calendar, which in turn reminded me of something I saw recently about a Trader Joe’s Wine Advent Calendar that’s apparently only available in the UK. I am usually very, very, very scrupulous and unbearably purist about Advent, but this one gave me pause. It’s pretty.

Now back to your regularly scheduled links.

(I have been blogging this week – mostly on homeschooling, but it’s something, folks. Just scroll back and you’ll see the posts.)

— 3 —

Here’s a great interview with Daniel Mitsui, the marvelous religious artist:

As a religious artist, Mitsui sees his efforts firmly planted within the tradition. 

“I want to make things that have this liturgical, traditional, patristic order,” he says. “I want to be able to say that this work of art would be approved of by the council fathers who laid down these principles in the Council of Nicea.”  

Taking the Second Council of Nicea as his north star, Mitsui refers to himself as “a Spirit of Nicea II Catholic.”  

“That is a joke,” he says. “Its point being that I keep that ecumenical council at the forefront of my mind, living as I do in a time similar to the iconoclastic crises. I do not seek to interpret its doctrine regarding art and tradition beyond what its words actually say; indeed, what they actually say is bold enough.” 

I recently received a copy of Daniel’s most recent coloring book for adults: Christian Labyrinths. You can read the introduction and see samples here – and I’d encourage you to do so. It’s really beautiful, as is all of Daniel’s work.

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Daniel Mitsui’s website.

 

— 4

Speaking of art, and speaking of the Reformation, which we will be doing a lot of (unfortunately) over the next few weeks, Elizabeth Lev has an excellent article here about women, art and the Catholic Reformation:

In the Counter Reformation, women were not only exalted after their death as saints, but there was also room for women to lead in society. Beyond the stateswomen such as Mary Tudor of England and Mary of Scots, Catherine de’ Medici and Jeanne d’Albret, St. Angela Merici founded the Ursulines to offer solid Christian education for girls and young women, Victoria Colonna composed renowned poetry and debated theology, and art produced its first celebrated female painters.

On one hand, technological advances had opened the door for women painters. Oil painting permitted women to work alone (not with a team of male fresco artists) in an inexpensive and slow-drying medium. The Catholic Church, however, was looking for new ways to evangelize through art and was unafraid to give women a chance. Sofonisba AnguissolaElisabetta Sirani and Artemisia Gentileschi all had very successful careers working for both private and ecclesiastical patrons, but it was Lavinia Fontana who would burst the canvas ceiling when she was commissioned to produce the first Italian altarpiece to be painted by a woman.

(Here’s a link to my earlier CWR article on women and the Reformation.)

— 5 —

Speaking of history…and hurricanes, which we’ve been doing a lot of lately, here’s an interesting article about a hurricane that struck North America almost five hundred years ago this week, with a profound impact.

During the evening of Tuesday, September 19, 1559, some 458 years ago, strong winds from the north heralded the arrival of a great hurricane in Pensacola Bay.  The storm was not the first to assail the bay, nor would it be the last, but the 1559 hurricane did manage to change the course of human history by destroying a fleet of Spanish colonial ships riding at anchor off the newly-founded settlement called Santa María de Ochuse.

More links about the Spanish in the Southeast:

A website devoted to the missions of La Florida – with a comprehensive list. 

A recent article about a mission on a Georgia barrier island:

The Santa Catalina de Guale mission on St. Catherine’s Island was one of the oldest Catholic church sites in North America, founded more than 150 years before St. Junipero Serra arrived in California and just a few years after the founding of the mission at St. Augustine, Florida. In spite of this distinction, its history is not well known because, for centuries, the mission site on Catherine’s Island was considered “lost.”

The story is a tragic one – in 1597 all five friars living at the mission were brutally murdered by the Guale Indians. After the friars learned the Guale language, preached the Gospel, and lived peacefully with the native population, a rebellion was sparked when Friar Pedro de Corpa refused to allow a baptized Guale man to take a second wife.

Friar Pedro was slain on September 14, 1597, and his head was displayed on a pike at the mission landing. The four other Franciscans were killed in similar fashion. They have been proposed for sainthood, and cause for their canonization is underway.

By the mid-18th century, all traces of the mission’s existence had disappeared. Some 300 years later, a team of archaeologists began to excavate the area. In addition to Indian pots and arrowheads, researchers found rosary beads and Christian medals. Excavations revealed a rectangular plaza surrounded by the mission church and friary. By 2000, when excavations ceased, archaeologists had found over 2 million artifacts at the site.

— 6 —

An excellent article about the excellent Cristo Rey school network from City Journal – of which we have one in Birmingham.

When assigning internships, the school takes students’ long-term career goals into account, especially in their junior and senior years. Unlike traditional career and technical education programs, Cristo Rey’s is more about opening students’ eyes to the world of work than providing training in specific fields: the goal is not to produce, say, a technician or skilled tradesperson but to inspire poor kids to expand their horizons.

The schools’ board members make the work-study partnerships possible. Robert Catell is chairman of the board of Cristo Rey Brooklyn. He is a Brooklyn native raised by a single mother and attended public schools, including the City College of New York. Catell took a job at Brooklyn Union Gas in the meter-repair shop and rose to become CEO of National Grid. He sees parallels between his story and those of today’s students, and he cherishes the annual graduation ceremony. “You want to cry,” he says. “You see the families and their joy over their children going to the best schools in the country. . . . It’s a labor of love for me.”

— 7 —

Please take a look at Emily Stimpson Chapman’s searing, heartbreaking and prayer-inspiring blog post on infertility:

And, for a little while, I live in that hope. I start to relax. For a week or two, the sight of pregnancy announcements in my newsfeed and random babies and pregnant women on the street don’t make me burst into tears. Because maybe this month, God heard those prayers.

Then, on Day 28, the bleeding starts again. And hope dies. On that day, barren isn’t just the state of my womb. It’s the state of my soul.

The days that follow are my worst days. Those are the days all my years of waiting and longing for a baby really never prepared me for. They didn’t prepare me for the cruel 28-day cycle of trying, hoping, and failing. Simply desiring a baby and not being able to have one didn’t prepare me for monthly mourning. And it definitely didn’t prepare me for throwing all our efforts, all our prayers, and all our hopes, into the garbage can every few hours.

The initial cold shock of grief, of course, doesn’t last much longer than the false hope. At some point, it too passes and becomes something else. I’m not sure what it becomes for others, but for this redhead, it increasingly turns into a hot mess of flaming rage.

 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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— 1 —

Uncertainty has been the theme of the past few days, hasn’t it? Having spent the last two days concerned about my people in Charleston, as of tonight, That Cone looks like it might actually impact us here in Birmingham more…what? 

 — 2 —

I have a little bit of preparatory material for the new book due on Friday, so this will be…short. The good news is that this bit of work has clarified my process on this book and reassured me that yes, indeed I will be able to knock it out this fall even as we dive back into homeschooling. How much else  of other types of work I can get done is another question, though – I really want to do this Guatemala e-book, and I’m hoping after tomorrow’s work is sent off, I can clear out two compartments of my brain, one for each task.

— 3 —

A decent week in the homeschool. The science class began (it’s only four weeks long – he says next week, they will dissect a squid, which is great. I had wanted to dissect a squid on our last go-round with homeschooling, but I couldn’t find any fresh squid in town at that time. Since then, a new, huge Asian grocery store has opened, and we were there a couple of weeks ago, and yes, they have fresh squid, ripe for your eating or dissecting. Or both.)…and boxing continues. Today (Friday) is the Diocese of Birmingham Homeschool Beginning of the Year Mass at the Cathedral.

Speaking of school, speaking of middle school, speaking of middle school-aged kids – read this article and pass it along – on social media and this age group.

This sums it up for me – and not just in relation to young teens, either:

Social media is an entertainment technology. It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job; nor is it necessary for healthy social development. It is pure entertainment attached to a marketing platform extracting bits and pieces of personal information and preferences from your child every time they use it, not to mention hours of their time and attention.

Got that?

And you know, guys, I do have half of a blog rant on tech and schools that I dearly hope and pray I will have time to finish someday, but in the meantime, read this – and again, pass it on. Dear Teachers: Don’t be Good Soldiers for the EdTech Industry:

You are engaged in an effort to prove that they don’t need a fully trained, experienced, 4-year degree professional to do this job. They just need a glorified WalMart greeter to watch the kids as they push buttons and stare at a screen. They just need a minimum wage drone to take up space while the children bask in the warm glow of the program, while it maps their eye movements, catalogues how long it takes them to answer, records their commercial preferences and sells all this data to other companies so they can better market products – educational and otherwise – back to these kids, their school and their parents.

There.

— 4 —

We did manage a trip over to Red Mountain Park – an interesting place that is, like so many of this type around here, the fruit of such hard work by deeply dedicated volunteers and one that nicely reflects both nature and history. 

The “red” in Red Mountain is hematite – a type of iron ore that, along with limestone and coal, became a linchpin in an exploding local economy:

Red Mountain developed at steadfast pace. Pioneer industrialists such as Henry F. DeBardeleben, James W. Sloss, and T.T. Hillman ushered in an explosion of ore mining activity to support Birmingham blast furnace operations as they developed. Jones Valley’s first blast furnace, Alice, was partly supplied with iron ore from the Redding mines that will be an extensively developed part of Red Mountain Park. Iron ore flowed from the new mines over freshly laid rail of the Alabama Great Southern Railroad, and later via the Louisville & Nashville’s (L&N) Birmingham Mineral Railroad that first reached the Redding area in 1884….

…After the war, Birmingham remained one of the nation’s leading iron and steel centers, but change was on the way. Changes in manufacturing, difficulty in accessing ore seams, and increased foreign importing contributed to the decline of what had been Birmingham’s lifeblood since its founding. The last active ore mine on Red Mountain Park property closed in 1962. Much of the land that comprised the company’s former mining sites remained untouched for almost 50 years. But in 2007, through the efforts of the Freshwater Land Trust and through the ideas of Park neighbor Ervin Battain and a dedicated steering committee, U.S. Steel made one of the largest corporate land donations in the nation’s history, selling more than 1,200 acres at a tremendously discounted price to the Red Mountain Park and Recreational Area Commission. That transaction made possible the creation of Red Mountain Park, the opening of which makes Birmingham one of the “greenest” cities in America in terms of public park space per resident.

— 5 —

The park is new – as you can read above, it’s less than ten years old, so it’s really just developing. They have big plans, and it’s always interesting to go back and discover new things.

Here are two of the mine entrances (blocked off, of course), that you can see on the trails. If you enlarge the photo on the right, you can see the dates of operation of that mine –  1895-1941:

 

— 6 —

Took a quick trip to Atlanta on Sunday. Passed by this. Didn’t sample either:

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— 7 —

Book talk!

Celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Mary with a (still) free download of my book, Mary and the Christian Life.

Get a cheap e-book on Mary Magdalene here – Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies.

As I mentioned last week, The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is available. Amazon doesn’t have it shipping for 2-4 more weeks. What is up with that???

 But you can certainly order it from Loyola, request it from your local bookstore, or, if you like, from me – I have limited quantities available. Go here for that.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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The groove calls, but is elusive, considering All The Things that must be tended to these days: a persistently “low tire pressure” light on the HS boy’s car….(nail…fixed…no charge!)…hair appointment put off one week already, that can’t be put off another lest I start getting comments about my grandson when I’m out and about with my 12-year old.

Etc.

But “school” has begun, as I indicated yesterday. More math, more talking and thinking, more piano today.  Tried out a new local pizza place for lunch. Because that’s one of the many advantages in having a kid at home during the day. You can try out new restaurants with a companion, and since it’s lunch, and since there is one fewer of you than usual….it’s less of a financial risk.

Tomorrow a friend spends much of the day with us, and after that perhaps a bit more thickness will be added to the day. He indicted that as part of his History Bee prep, he wanted to understand the basics of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, so I ordered Durant’s book and this cartoon intro to philosophy for him. I got writing done this morning before he woke up. This might work.

If you want occasional snippets of the day as life proceeds, do check out Instagram Stories. (You can only access Stories on the app, I think.)

Older kid’s school is Getting Serious About the Phones You Guys. Seriously, This Time. Just stop, okay?

We’ll see how long that lasts….

Maybe if the pedagogy stopped assuming internet reliance…that might help?

Hush, now. That’s crazy talk.

Today: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – Edith Stein. 

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints:

 

 

 

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The return?

Well, it won’t be daily, because I’m sure it won’t be that interesting, but since I made such a big stinking deal about returning to homeschooling, here you go – the first day:

Brother rose at 6:30 am, got himself ready, drove to school. I didn’t ask him to text me when he arrived – I figured that if something bad happened…I’d hear about it.

(I’m typing this at 7:23 on Day 2, and it’s pouring outside. Still didn’t ask for him to let me know when he got there. Go me.)

Homeschooler rose…later.

I’m hoping to use that time between the two of them starting their days as some work time. I actually did it yesterday. A good start.

M. rose and got breakfast. I then I had a phone meeting with Loyola. After that we got going, very slowly.

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Math warm-up.

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Math. Did sections 1.1-2, including the famous Richard Videos. 

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We talked about what he’d study this year and he brought up something I’d forgotten about – the History Bee. He participated in it last year through school and went to Nationals, and enjoyed it. As he competed in the nationals, he also discovered that with a little more study and aggressiveness, he could probably get to the finals…and he wants to.

Academic competitions have varied rules governing the participation of homeschoolers. I don’t know what the spelling bee rules are because I have Zero Interest in spelling competitions, but I do know that the Geography Bee requires that homeschoolers form a group that holds a qualifying competition. The History Bee at this point is a lot looser. The potential competitor just has to take the online test during the allotted timeframe, and then if he or she qualifies, they can go to the regionals and so on. I talked to one of the organizers at the National competition in Atlanta in June and he was very open and accommodating.

So…although it had slipped my mind, M had not forgotten, and was already planning his course of study. He’d noted his weaknesses in the competitions, and is geared up for filling those gaps.

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Okay!

Went to the store and he picked out an accordion file for his work.

Lunch at his favorite place.

Library:

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Home. His neighborhood buddy doesn’t start school for two more weeks, and the word came that guys were down there, so they spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the neighborhood a bit.

Piano practice. Piano non-practice. Reading (The Far Side and The Fellowship of the Ring)

Day 1…in the books.

And now, it’s my turn to work for a bit….

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Hey, it’s the beginning of August, so I guess that means it’s time for Amy to write yet another post on Our Schooling Decisions and Why We Made Them. Sheesh.

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For yes, as I have mentioned a couple of times, we are back to some homeschooling around these parts. Here’s the deal:

Older son is staying where he is, in high school. My experience with my kids and my own experience teaching is that the quality of instruction in high school improves in the higher grades, and this looks to be so in this case. A junior, he’ll be taking challenging classes in the areas in which he’s interested and it should be good. Seems to be from what I have seen so far of the course materials (school starts tomorrow) at least. He started working in a grocery store in the spring and should be able to continue through the school year, saving up for…what I’m not sure.  But he’ll have full, busy days and will be learning and will be spending his days with good friends. Worth it.

Brief recap of the younger one: in school PK-1st, homeschooled 2nd-5th, then in school last year for 6th. Very smart, self-directed kid. No learning or behavior issues. Just curious, mostly mature, and (this is important) the youngest kid of a 57-year old mom who is…over your weekly folders and gift-wrap. 

He has strong interests in history and science, and is a fairly talented musician.

So…what happened between then (my post on the first day of school last year) and now?

Actually, not “now” but…about three or four months into the experience?

Nothing huge, and I really don’t want to discuss the particulars in a public forum. There’s no point to it. We’ve shared our experiences with the people to whom it might matter, and that’s all that’s important.

It all really comes down to what Sally Thomas said in a comments section in a post of mine, words I quote in this post:

And largely what motivated us to stop going to school was the feeling that school was largely an annoying middleman that wanted to dictate our schedules for us.

It’s a deal, it’s a contract, it’s an agreement that you, as student and family, make with educational institutions. It’s an agreement in which, for it to be worth it to you, elements must stay balanced.

As in: Not everything the school is going to ask of me is going to great or even valuable. There are going to be irritating aspects of school. But all of that is balanced by what the school experience gives.

Just like the rest of life, right?

So just as in the rest of life, we make constant cost-benefit analyses. Is the good I’m deriving worth the cost I’m paying? 

I’ve written about this many times before. As I put it almost exactly a year ago in a post describing my educational background as it related to my original decision to homeschool back in 2012:

In terms of my own life with my two remaining kids at home in 2011, I was not ecstatic with institutional education, but was fairly comfortable with the agreement I thought we had reached. After all, I only had a decade or so left, but who’s counting. I’d send cooperative kids in every day and support what they were doing in school. School was then going to do its part: teach the basics, enrich, inspire a little. School was going to do no harm. School, because it was called “Catholic,” was going to be holistically, counter-culturally Catholic.  I wasn’t asking school to transform our lives, but I was expecting that school wasn’t going to waste my kids’ time or my money. School would do its thing, and then school would step back and school would get  out of the way.

Deal?

Flash forward to 2016.  Older kid was doing fine in high school. The younger one really wanted to go to school. He was curious, a little concerned that what he was doing at home wasn’t keep him up to where his peers were…

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….and he wanted a more consistent posse of friends. The school his older brother had attended for 8th grade seemed to fit the bill.

And….here we are a year later, with him getting ready for school…at home. No regrets, no bad feelings, and yes, lots of new friends made  – friendships that will be sustained through sports and other activities – but just a sort of been there, done that kind of feeling.

(No predictions for 8th grade being made at this point)

There were some specific issues, but the broad issue that I think might be relevant and helpful to others is this:

The dissatisfaction he experienced was not with any specific school, but with the whole concept of curriculum as it plays out in elementary/middle school, period. Anyone who teaches struggles with this, as well.

Let’s put it this way:

There’s this much stuff to learn about:

billions-and-billions

During the course of  a school class, period or even a lifetime, you have time to learn this much of that:

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So…

Why learn about – or teach – one fragment rather than another? What governs those choices?

This of course, is the core educational question. What shall we learn and how shall we learn it? It’s not an easy question, especially in a huge, diverse society. It’s why we don’t need a single educational system, but countless schools teaching All The Things in any of the myriad ways or for any of the purposes students want to learn them.

Now, we can and should learn about subjects that we don’t think we need or want to learn about. That’s certainly true. This isn’t an argument for pure interest-driven learning. That produces a whole other type of narrowness and is not, in the end, actually educational.

I’m not a science or math person, academically speaking, but when I think about high school and in which classes I learned the most, I don’t think about English or history. I think about the physics class I took when I was a senior, a class I was required to take, but never would have chosen for myself. It was agony, especially for the first semester, but then, as I was studying for the mid-term, something clicked, and I ended up making an A. That experience of working through something that didn’t come naturally to me was very valuable, but I also learned something about myself – I learned that the more abstract a subject is, the more difficulty I have with it, and I experienced physics as very abstract – it wasn’t as concrete as say, biology had been. I learned this in relation to physics, but then it helped me make sense of a lot of other areas of my life, even at the point in which I was moving towards more advanced studies in religion. I knew that history was where I needed to be, not theology.

So no, I’m not saying that we all should just follow our bliss.

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BUT:

Is it absolutely necessary that a “quality” educational system be one in which elementary school students are required to learn, not just how to read and calculate, but the minutiae of all sorts of specific subjects? That they spend an hour a day learning a particular aspect of science or the humanities, are expected to keep learning about it with half an hour of homework almost every day, and are judged, in some sense, on their mastery of this particular way of learning about this particular subject?

When they are 12 years old?

Once you’ve lived and learned in Homeschool Land, particularly if that learning has been facilitated by a loosey-goosey, INFP mother whose favorite thing is rabbit trails of inquiry….you might be able to live with that bargain  for a while (I’ll put up with this if the other parts of school balance it out)…but then you might start wondering about it.

You might start wondering if rising at 6:45 and doing all the other School Things and being super tired at the end of the day because of it – too tired to practice your music in the way you want, too tired to spend much time outside, even too tired to read at night….you might start wondering if it’s worth it.

You’ve had some good teachers – even a great one. You’re glad of it. You’re grateful. You’ve made good friends. But….there’s that photography class through the homeschool co-op. And the classes at the science museum. And that writing program at the art museum – that sounds interesting. And the iron-pouring session at the historic furnace site. And you might even be able to start volunteering at the zoo.

The thing is….you like science and history and literature and even math is okay.  You read and study about all of that on your own. You learned that you’re not “behind” your peers. At all. You will study scientific and historic topics. It might not be what the curriculum committee of your state has determined all 13-year olds should know…but who cares? Is that really important?

You can be trusted to learn.

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And this, I’ve promised.

I’ll trust him to learn.

I wrote before that when I began this homeschool journey…I was convinced I was definitely Hip Unschooling Mom.

Er..no.

First, I had an older son who was very amenable to being taught. As in: “Teach me something. Thanks. Are we done? Can I go now?” He was not an unschooler at that point in his life.

Secondly…well…I’m a teacher. Life is just amazing and fascinating, and I just want to….

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BUT. THIS TIME GUYS I MEAN IT.

I told my son that except for math, this would be unschooling time. It would all be up to him. We are going to have conversations about what the typical 7th and 8th grade curricula are all about and how that feeds into the traditional high school model. He may not – and probably will not – do traditional high school – but he needs to know how that is structured and what is generally required for graduation.

It will be my job to facilitate. To find resources, to take him to the library, and so on.

Of course, much of this is determined by his sense of what he wants to do or be. There are people around him who think that music is in his future, but while he wants to keep studying piano, and enjoys it, he is pretty firm that he’s not interested in music as a profession in any way. His vision of himself in the future involves some combination of archaeology, photography and reptiles.  We’ll see.

So this is my sense of what “school” will be like for the next year for him:

Prayer/saint of the day/Mass readings or Mass

Math: Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra

Aside from his music lessons, homeschool co-op, science center classes, boxing and other activities…what he studies will be up to him, and I’ll help in whatever way I can. The only rule is that he must be engaged in something during the “school day.”  It can be outdoors, it can be reading, writing, drawing, studying, talking to me, whatever. But no screens (unless we are watching an educational video together), and if he can’t use his time….I’ll take over.

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Today he mentioned Spanish, for example. So I’ll get a Spanish I program of some sort – either middle school Spanish or a high school Spanish I program – and he’ll start on that with the wealth of supplementary materials out there and if he wants to, at some point, involve a tutor or an online class.

This will be very interesting. It will require discipline and self-control on both ends – he’ll need it to stay focused, and I’ll need it in order to keep that Sort Of Unschooling Promise.

Paperwork: As I have mentioned, Alabama is a fabulous homeschooling state. The only requirement is attendance records. No testing, no need to submit curriculum.  So our process will be, not planning, but recording.

I have a daily planner, and at the end of every day – or in the course of the day – he will note what he did: what he read, wrote, saw, did. At the end of the week, he’ll write up a summary, and that will be our record-keeping, which I know will be important for future reference, to prove that he actually did things.

So that’s it.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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For more homeschool posts with many more Thoughts:

Balancing Equations: The decision-making that led to homeschooling back in 2011/2012

The first stage of our homeschooling…in Europe.

School at Home and Other Places….my family’s background in education. 

An INFP Homeschools

The main resources I used in homeschooling that first go round.

Homeschool Takeaways: What I Learned. 

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As promised, this is one of two posts I’m going to write on our trip to Belize and Guatemala (July 16-22, 2017) This one will be about the the practicalities, with tips and mini-reviews, and the other will be on the food, which was consistently great.

Why in the world did you go? Should we?

We went on this trip because my 12-year old has a strong and serious interest in Mayan history and archaeology, his brother was doing another out-of-town activity for the week, and I gave him the chance to pick a destination, and this – specifically Tikal – was it.

There are 2000 Mayan sites in Guatemala alone (some just one mound covering a temple, but still…), some quite extensive. Tikal is the most well known, but is close to some other very interesting sites, so we decided to make it the focus of the trip.

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There are other reasons to go to this part of the world. A lot of North Americans head down there for recreational and adventure reasons – you see more of it in Belize, which is becoming a very popular destination, not only for tanned retirees heading to fish, but families and young people as well. People go diving, fishing, caving and tubing. It’s a popular cruise ship stop. There are lots of all-inclusive resorts (including three owned by Francis Ford Coppola) and it’s popular with North Americans because the first language of Belize is English, they take US dollars everywhere, and the exchange rate is easy to figure out on the fly (basically 2:1 Belize:US).

Guatemala has plenty to recommend in this regard as well, and more, considering the geographical diversity of the country.

People also go to Guatemala for the family and cultural connections they have, and to do mission work. Our flights into and out of Belize each had at least two mission groups aboard, and I saw more than a few vans on the road crammed with blonde-haired Anglos and guitar cases visible through the back window – I assumed they were mission groups ,too. Was I wrong? Maybe, but I doubt it.

So. Should you go?

If you want to, sure!

I felt safe and, after a day or two of adjustment, at ease in the culture. Everyone is very friendly and helpful, and the sites we saw were fascinating. There were many American and European families with younger kids at Tikal – none at the other sites we visited, but then, we were mostly the only people at those sites, anyway, so…..

If Mayan culture interests you or you want to expose your family to that part of our hemisphere’s history, Tikal and the other sites are great. If you have never done anything like this before, it might be a little easier to start in Mexico with Chichen Itza and Uxmal, perhaps using Merida and Campeche as bases or Cancun if that is your thing (although crime is becoming more of a problem in the Mexican resorts, it seems, so I’m not so sure about that…).

Or, if you want your family to experience ancient American cultures…try the Southwest. No, it’s not the Temple of the Jaguar, but it’s still interesting and important to understand.

As for the other activities in the area, they don’t hold much appeal for me at this point. When it comes to outdoor type of activities there’s so much in this country that I haven’t experienced – the Florida Keys, the Rocky Mountains, the Northwest – that any energy for that kind of thing that I have…I’ll direct to those places.

How Should I Get There?

When I first started planning, I assumed we would fly in and out of Guatemala City – until I figured out how far it is from Peten, the area in which theruins that are our focus are located. It would be an 8-9 hour drive unless I wanted to fly from Guatemala City to Flores – which is expensive.

So the next possibility was Belize City, which is what I ultimately decided on. Weirdly, it was cheaper to fly from Birmingham to BC than Atlanta to BC – I mean, I’m happy about that, but that’s not the norm and I don’t know why it was so.

Another option is Flores, which is right there.  Unfortunately flying into Flores from either Birmingham or Atlanta was far too expensive. However, if you can fly, for example, out of Houston, the fare is very decent. So if you can get to a major hub in the southwest, check out the fares for Flores.

I worked this journey as two separate flights. I had enough miles to get us down there on American at no charge, but not enough for a round trip, and the AA flights back were at bad times and expensive. So I opted to fly United, one-way, back from BC. This would have been a lot cheaper if we lived in South Florida or Texas…just sayin’.

Should I Drive?

All right. It depends. I won’t bore you with the back-and-forth I went through in my head on this. Well, not much of it, anyway.

I am a very independent traveler. I like to be in control of my own destiny, at all times. The long-haul public transportation in Belize and Guatemala is confusing and not great, especially in Belize. So, should I drive? My reflexive answer was not “NO!” and in fact, I did consider it.

The real question before I went was renting a car and taking it across the border. It can be done, but it adds a level of complication to the border crossing between Belize and Guatemala that might already be fraught. You have to drive the car through fumigation portals, etc, plus there’s the documents you have to have…yeah. And then you’d have to do it again. All that.

But I will say that after spending a week being driven around Belize and Guatemala, if I were going to do anything like it again, here’s what I would do.

First, though: if you are a timid driver – forget it. Don’t even try. I’m not a timid driver, so given that I see how it all works now, if I went back, and were only going to be in one of the countries, I’d drive, with a couple of caveats.

I’d drive in Belize, no question. The roads are fine, and the driving doesn’t seem too crazy. I wouldn’t drive in Belize City, but then I wouldn’t drive in any foreign city if I could help it.

Secondly, I would sort of  drive in Guatemala. Maybe. Sometimes.

It would be considerably more challenging, but having seen those challenges, I could manage. Yes, the roads are not smooth. Yes, there are people on the side of the road, including little kids some of whom are dragging machetes because every male seems to carry a machete around in rural Guatemala. Yes, there are dogs, horses, chickens and pigs on the side of and often in the road. Yes, there are frequent and potentially damaging speed bumps. Yes, there are loads of motorcycles, perhaps 3% of which are being driven by people wearing helmets, and a surprising number of those motorcyclists are transporting small children and babies. My favorite was: 2 adults on one cycle, with a toddler in between them and a baby in a carrier strapped to the driver’s front.

But yeah, I could do it. However….

The roads leading to most of the ruins except for Tikal are terrible. Even Yaxha, which is a major site, and perhaps the most visited in the area after Tikal, involved about 8 miles of really rough road.  Even if I had the most comprehensive insurance on the planet (which is what I would have), I would be extremely tense about driving those roads myself because, well, what if something happened? I can change a tire, but you know what? I really don’t want to, especially in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country.

And since visiting sites would be our major interest…there’s no reason to spend 70/80 bucks a day on a car that I’d have a nervous breakdown driving because I’d be afraid of puncturing a tire or the gas tank or whatever. And I wouldn’t drive at night. Yeah, all that. So while I don’t particularly like being dependent on others for my transportation, it really doesn’t make any sense to do otherwise. Jesus, take the wheel.

Conclusion?

Renting and driving a car in Belize and Guatemala is expensive, and if you did this, you’d want plentiful insurance coverage (and would be required to get it if you rented in Belize and traveled to Guatemala), which makes it even more expensive.

For long distances, you can take buses, but the Belize buses are not great – don’t know about the Guatemala buses. Mexico has really nice buses, but Belize, at least, doesn’t have that kind of service at this point.

In communities, taxis and collectivos (vans) and tuk-tuks (in Flores and probably other places) are plentiful and inexpensive. Everyone, it seems to me, uses taxis to get around because relatively few people actually own cars. You have a motorcycle, probably, but if you need to carry things or take more people, you just get a taxi, no big deal.

In addition, there are plenty of shuttle services, and every taxi driver you encounter will amywelborn78nose about for more business: So…are you going to Tikal? Do you need a driver? Are you going to the airport? Do you need a driver tomorrow for that? But if you do go long distances via shuttle, build that cost in. So, for example, this past Saturday, I paid $100 (50 each) for us to be driven in a shuttle from San Ignacio, Belize to the Belize Airport, about 73 miles away, with a 90-minute stop at the Belize Zoo. I wish I didn’t have to spend that kind of money, but in the end, hiring a driver ends up being not that much more expensive than renting a car in these countries, and while you don’t have the freedom to go anywhere whenever, you have freedom from stress about responsibility for driving mishaps. Life, as I like to say, is a trade-off.

Where Should I Stay?

Again, I’m writing this for people interested in Tikal and other nearby sites, so I’ll start with Tikal.

If you look at a map, you’ll see several possibilities. People do day trips to Tikal from spots in Belize, as well as closer Guatemalan communities like El Remate and Flores. It’s certainly possible, but there are advantages to staying in the park itself.

The best times to experience Tikal are in the morning and late afternoon. Not surprisingly, those late morning and earlier afternoon hours get hot, plus the jungle is quieter during those hours, as the animals are sensible and taking a rest as well. So to experience the jungle and the ruins in their fullest, in the most convenient way – it makes sense to stay in one of the three hotels located in the park.

It makes particular sense if you’re going to do the Sunrise tour, which necessitates you start walking to Temple IV at about 4:30 am. Adding an hour drive to that would be…torture.

There are three hotels in the park: The Jungle Lodge, the Jaguar Inn and the Tikal Inn.

All are located near each other in the same area. We stayed at the Jungle Lodge, and I was very happy with the accommodations. They are separate cabins that were constructed originally back in the 1950’s for the team from the University of Pennsylvania that was excavating the ruins.

(Here’s an article published in 1970 upon the completion of the team’s work. 

Here’s a set of really interesting archival videos on the project – they are silent and just that – archival – but interesting to dip into.)

The bungalows are very clean – as was my experience in all three places we stayed. There is no air conditioning, but there is a ceiling fan. The unusual thing about this to keep in mind is that most electricity is turned off during certain hours in the middle of the day and from about 10:30 pm to 7 am or so – with the ceiling fans being on a separate generator that keeps running. But if you get up for that Sunrise Tour, if you haven’t brought flashlights (we did), you’ll need your cell phone flashlight, which probably isn’t great. You should take a flashlight anyway because you’ll need it for the walk to Temple IV for the Sunrise Tour, and if you go to another onsite restaurant in the evening, you’ll need it for walking on the grounds – there are no streetlights around the parking lot, it’s pitch black and the great thing? The stars.  I’d never seen them so bright and in such an array. It’s what I had hoped to see at the Grand Canyon but didn’t. Gorgeous.

So yes, the Jungle Lodge is more expensive than other accommodations in towns outside the park, but again – everything has a cost, and it’s up to you what currency you want to use – do you want to pay with money or do you want to pay with the extra time and hassle of being an hour away from the park? I’d say it’s worth it to spend at least one night in the park.

The restaurant at the Jungle Lodge is not what I expected and I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you have nowhere else to go (and there are other places – the other two hotels both have restaurants, and during the day, there are comedors – or small restaurants just down the road. The comedors only take cash though, so be prepared.). The service was fine and the food wasn’t terrible, but it was oddly enough, not at all Guatemalan, Central American or even vaguely Hispanic. It was mostly sort of Italian. Weird and overpriced.

In Flores, we stayed at a hotel owned by the same people – the Isla de Flores. Very nice – good sized room and bathroom. The best noise-blocking windows I’ve ever experienced in a hotel. Could have used them in Madrid where the party just gets started at midnight…

Bookending the trip, we stayed at Martha’s Guesthouse in San Ignacio, Belize. I highly recommend it. Very nice people running the place and the room we stayed in was very large, with a balcony.

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Miscellaneous Tips:

  • When you cross the Guatemala-Belize border, you’ll be immediately swarmed on either side by men offering to exchange money. Don’t do it. I had gotten Guatemalan money before we went – I usually don’t do that, but I knew I would need cash right away to buy Tikal tickets (next tip), so I made an exception this time. It might be a good idea to do the same, but there are secure ATM’s in banks all over the place – not in villages, but in towns.
  • Make sure you understand the process for buying Tikal tickets – research it or if you have a guide, he or she will explain it. Because of long lines, delays and corruption, the government took Tikal ticket-selling away from the park and you must buy them at a branch of a certain bank now – there is a branch at the border and at the airport and other places, but just be prepared. You have to pay cash and know exactly what kind of tickets you want because there are no tickets sold at the park.
  • They take American dollars all over Belize. They also took them in souvenir shops in Flores and at the shops and snack places around the Tikal park. I would advise downloading a currency exchange app on your phone to avoid conflict and confusion – you can just punch it numbers and show it to the clerk or server – end of argument. If you think you might use US dollars in Guatemala, make sure they are clean, unmarked and not too folded or wrinkled. The problem, as our guide explained, is that the Guatemalan banks will not accept US dollars that are in less than good condition – so if a vendor accepts one and tries to deposit them and they’re rejected – they’ve lost that money.
  • San Ignacio, Belize and Flores Guatemala are full of tourists. Young American and European backpackers and adventurers, retired Americans and lots of students. It’s got that kind of vibe – a mix of locals hustling to make a living, mostly off the tourists, and the tourists hoping what they’re experiencing is “authentic” – San Ignacio is much more ramshackle than Flores, though.
  • The tourist-centered economy of these places means that they’re full of tour companies. Choose wisely and read reviews. Plan ahead if you want (I did) but I think it’s easy to pick up a guide or join a tour on short notice.
  • Internet: I have a cel-phone plan through T-Mobil that provides free service overseas. The data is slow, but it’s there. I had access through my phone in most places except in Tikal. It was weird – we trekked through various other jungles that were more isolate than Tikal, and I had access in those places, but not in Tikal. The hotels all had wi-fi, but the Jungle Lodge’s service was provided only in the lobby and at the pool and it was terrible. Everywhere else, the wi-fi was fine. Now. Before anyone scolds about “just unconnect! Be free!” – listen to me.  I am a single mom, who had one minor child up in Chicago while I was in Guatemala. I needed to be available. My finances are all on me – no one else – and I needed to keep an eye on my bank account and credit card account to make sure there were no ATM or other shenanigans brewing. Wi-Fi wasn’t important because I wanted to check Facebook. It was important because most of life is on the internet now, for good or for ill, I’m the head of the household with responsibilities that are all on my shoulders, so yeah…making sure I’m in range is important. No apologies.
  • We prepared, health-wise, by loading up on probiotics for a couple of weeks before. It probably wasn’t necessary. We were very careful and never drank tap water – I don’t think most natives do either – and were fine.
  • Do take good insect repellent. I got this one, and it worked great. We were in a rainforest amid swarms of mosquitos, and they didn’t touch us.
  • What did we pack? Our clothes filled one small satchel. M wore hiking boots and packed his sandals. I took hiking sandals and tennis shoes. We each had a backpack – mine is one I bought for the 2012 trip that holds a camera in the bottom and has a laptop sleeve. I took regular camera, phone, laptop and chargers for each. We had journals and pens, and a couple of books. Two small flashlights, insect repellent, the usual toiletries and basic first aid (band aids, itch cream, antibiotic cream) that I always travel with plus Pepto-Bismol and After-Bite. I wasn’t sure about the Jungle Lodge electricity situation – I knew they turned the power off at night, and didn’t know if that included the fans or not, so I bought a small cheap cordless fan and took that. I didn’t “need” it, as it turned out, but it did add some extra breeze on those two nights.

 

Should I Hire a Tour Guide?

Unless you yourself are an expert on Matters Mayan, yes. You can get the basics about Tikal from a book, but having a good guide puts it all in context. You must have a guide for the Sunrise Tour. The other sites we saw are incomprehensible without prior knowledge or a guide. There was English signage at Tikal, but everywhere else was Spanish only, ,which is decipherable for me, but very basic. As I said above, you can easily grab a guide on site or in one of the outside towns, but I needed a guide and driver for the entire week, so I made arrangements ahead of time – based on recommendations on the TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet discussion boards, I went with Marlon Diaz of Gem Guatemala Travel. It was a great decision – he was smart, flexible, deeply knowledgeable and a great animal spotter as well.  Here’s my TripAdvisor review of his service. 

So there you go…I might add to this as the day goes on and more occurs to me. Ask questions if you like either in the comments or to amywelborn60 – at – gmail – dot- com.

 

Tomorrow: the food. And that will be it for blogging on it – look for an ebook with a complete account in a few weeks, I hope. 

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