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Friday, March 28, 2008


Comment Love

I get comments! Oh yes, I do. Like this one, on an old post from last May:

I Hate Homeschoolers said...
you homeschool parents make me sick. You believe that your kids are so much better than other kids that go to public schools. You are all doing your kids a disserves by trying to teach them yourselves. They will never have a normal teenage life. Many of you will probably say that you do not want your kids to be normal. Well, your right they won't be normal they will all be freaks that only hang out with other homeschool freaks and will never experience the real world.

I don't know what to say. Do I point out the fallacies in his argument? Do I debate the myth of socialization? Do I correct his grammar and spelling?!

On a positive note, it's nice to see my relatives commenting on my blog. See you at the next reunion!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Photographing Your Family

You know how you used to take lousy photos with your old film cameras, but then the digital revolution came along and you finally bought an expensive, feature-laden 10MP digital SLR and you suddenly find yourself... still taking lousy photos?

Yes, because it doesn't matter what kind of camera you have. You still need to learn a few hints and tips to use it properly. A photographer with good skills could get amazing images out of a pin-hole camera.

The wonderfully clear and simple new National Geographic book, Photographing Your Family, provides just about everything you need to know about taking great pictures of your kids, spouse, friends, pets, and whoever else you point your camera at. Award-winning photographer Joel Sartore offers his guidance and tips on subjects ranging from light to composition to printing. More importantly, on every page of the book he features examples of his own images. There is no better way to learn photography than to study the work of others. Sartore's accompanying text is easy to understand for a beginner, but detailed enough for those who might need a refresher. My 9-year-old son even enjoyed looking through it, and picked up a few techniques he can use right away.

So, stop taking lousy photos. Instead, take the time to learn a few things so you can start having fun with your camera. Photographing Your Family is the best book I've seen for helping the average person capture those special family moments that belong in a photo album. Highly recommended!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Easter Economics

Very early this morning, I awoke to quarreling children.

They had discovered a few of the eggs I had hidden all over the house last night. It didn't take long for a fight to break out.

"It's not fair. You found too many!"

"Well, that's because I'm older than you and I know where to look."

"But you're not even giving me a chance."

I staggered downstairs to referee this egg hunt. I told them, "Look, why don't you two just look for as many eggs as you can find, and then when you're done we'll divide them up evenly so nobody has to feel bad."

My son's eyes grew wide, and he said with disgust, "But Daddy, that's communism!"

It's funny how he's learning things on his own. We haven't talked much at all about different socioeconomic systems. In the end, competition ruled the day and each kid collected all the eggs they could find on their own.

Candy was plentiful, the proletariat was happy, and the ruling class (mom and dad) continued to exploit the working class by taking 20% of the fruits of their labor. Yum!

Friday, March 21, 2008


Calling It Quits

There are many reasons why people decide to start homeschooling their kids. But what prompts a family to stop homeschooling?

Last summer some friends of ours decided to pull their two boys out of public school because they were frustrated with the quality of teaching and worried about the negative influences of certain bullies on the playground.

The parents were enthusiastic about homeschooling and the possibilities for learning. I warned the mom, who would be the primary teacher, that the first year was a tough time of adjustment to a new and very busy schedule.

She had it under control, she told me. She was organized and ready.

Within the first month she voiced her first minor complaint to us, about how much time it was taking her older boy to finish some of the assignments. My main piece of advice to her was to relax and be flexible about the work. Homeschooling shouldn't be rigid. I like to encourage fun learning and discovery.

We heard from our friend off and on over the months, and it was always the same refrain. "They're falling behind," she'd say. "We work from morning until night and the boys are starting to hate school."

I didn't know what to say, so I just offered simple words of encouragement and continued to tell her, "The first year is difficult. You're learning how to be a teacher, and your kids are figuring out what's expected of them. Most of all, you have to learn how to be flexible."

I thought she'd turned a corner in the new year when we didn't hear anything negative for the first two months. Then, out of nowhere, I get an email from her. Not only has she completely soured on homeschooling, but she won't even finish the year. She marched her boys down to the local school and re-enrolled them with just two months left in the semester.

In her letter, she explained to me why they were quitting:

"I'm VERY burnt out. I am so tired of spending every day going over teacher manual after teacher manual (on and off the computer) and trying to keep up with the boys' work. I've gotten so burnt out that I've decided that we are not going to continue homeschooling.

I'm also missing having some time at home without the kids. I've just found that everything I do is for someone else and it's exhausting. I have been stretched so far in so many directions that something had to change, and quickly.

I finally had to admit that I can't do it all. Not unless I could figure out how to get more hours into a day, and I don't know anyone who can do that."

Let her reasons serve as a warning to you if you're thinking of homeschooling. It is not a decision to be made lightly. Taking on the role of teacher to your kids is a major life changer. You have to give up a lot of personal time.

For some people, that's just asking too much.

For me, it's a privilege and a joy to be my son's teacher. I can't wait until next year, when I'll have my daughter at home as well. We're going to have the best learning environment possible. It will be challenging and fun for all of us. You won't be hearing anything about me calling it quits.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


It's All My Fault

I am such an enabler!

In my previous post, I talked about how my son reads late into the night and forgets to go to bed.

Tonight I gave him a new book to read. The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. He looked at it reluctantly, but said, "I'll give it a try."

I go into his room at 9 o'clock to turn off his light and he's wide-eyed and breathless. "This is such a good book! I have to read more!" he says.

It's all my fault that he won't go to bed on time.

I need to get him something boring to read at night. Hmmmm... Maybe some of my old marketing textbooks.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Bedtime Stories

My son's been reading to himself at bedtime for years now. Every now and then he'll ask me to read something to him, but it's becoming increasingly rare.

I still read to my daughter, but she's slowly emulating her brother and asking to read by herself before turning off the light.

She'll frequently fall asleep with a book on her face and the light still on.

Her brother, however, is a different story. He never falls sleep while reading. Never. He'll read and read and read until I come in and stand there while he finds a bookmark and turns off the light.

Sometimes I forget and two hours go by before I think, "Oh no, I left that boy in bed with a book!!" Then I have to rush in there to remind him that he should've been asleep long before.

Well, it could be worse. But I do worry about the amount of sleep he gets, because no matter what time he finally falls asleep you can bet that he'll be awake at the same time every morning. Even on New Year's Eve, when I let the kids stay up 'til midnight, my son was up at his usual 7:30am.

Children need sleep. Lots of it. Mine have been averaging 10 or 11 hours a night since they were toddlers. Even now, at the ages of 9 and 6, I think they still need that amount.

When they're my age they can get by on 6 hours of sleep each night, but not now.

Friday, March 14, 2008


The Winner Takes It All

Okay, here's the big announcement, in video form. I'm doing my best Ryan Seacrest/Kermit the Frog impression...

Thanks to everyone who left a comment! I heard some great jokes, and discovered some fun blogs to read. I wish you all could win a new iPod. Maybe next time!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Only A Day Away

We're a day away from announcing the winner of the iPod Nano giveaway!

I'm completely overwhelmed by the response. 300+ comments? I'm going to need a bigger hat.

Tune in Friday afternoon for a special video drawing of the winner.

Oh, and there will be a surprise too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008



In a vocabulary lesson today, my son was studying the suffix "ology" which denotes a field of study.

I gave him some examples: "Biology is the study of life. Zoology is the study of animals. What do you think physiology is?"

He pondered for a moment, then smiled and answered: "The study of soda pop."

Yeah, it took me a minute too.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Your Mountains So Lofty

A few weeks back there was a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal about teenagers in Finland, and how they are among the smartest, highest-testing students in the world.

There's much debate about what, exactly, the Finns are doing right, but I noticed a couple of items in the article that bear highlighting. I think parents everywhere should be thinking about these things.

First, the Finns love reading. I'm frequently stunned when I go into the homes of friends and neighbors and see NO BOOKS around. When my son was born, my wife and I made a conscious decision to surround him with books. Day one, we had a crib, changing table, dresser, and bookshelf filled with all the childhood favorites. Even before he could read the books, he was playing with them. We'd find him sitting on the floor with a pile of Dr. Seuss books, just staring at the colorful drawings. Also, from the very beginning, we read to him every single day. I know that he and his sister are such great readers today because of that early emphasis.

It's not enough to just have a shelf of children's books in your house. Your kids need to see you reading too. We've always had our books sitting out, a stack of two or three by the bedside, or a large bookcase in the living room stuffed with new and old favorites. Kids model their parents, and if you're a reader, they will be too.

The second point I made note of in that WSJ article was how the Finns allow their children much more independence than we do. From an early age, Finnish children are given more choices and greater freedom. There seems to be less hovering on the part of the parents, so by the time their kids are teenagers they've had a lot of practice making good choices and avoiding bad ones. It's easier to help kids develop self-reliance throughout their childhood than to try and teach it to them all at once when they're almost adults.

I struggle with the question of how much independence to give my kids. We're taking baby steps. My son makes his own lunch most days now. He and his sister pick out their own clothes, check out their own books at the library, and have a lot of free time on the weekends to do whatever they want. I still control the TV, computer, phone, 98% of the refrigerator, bedtime, and our school curriculum. Little by little, my kids will start making their own decisions about all those things. I'm confident they'll be ready.

Friday, March 07, 2008


The Writing Habit

Last month a post on the Why Homeschool blog led me to implement a very simple learning technique in my son's homeschooling lessons.

After we discuss a subject, I have him write a short paragraph in his notebook about what he just learned. There are no right or wrong answers, and I never give him instructions other than "Write what you learned."

I'm finding this to be a powerful memory enhancer for my son, and it's helping him to better understand certain concepts. We used to just discuss what he'd learned, but putting pencil to paper seems to be more fulfilling to him. Another plus is that it helps develop his writing and communication skills.

You don't have to be a homeschooler to do this with your kids. Buy them a notebook, and a couple of times a week ask them to write a paragraph or two on something interesting they learned in school. Help your kids start the writing habit. Hey, pretty soon they'll be ready for blogging!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Don't Fear The Teacher

When my son was learning to ride his bike, he was afraid of falling down and getting hurt. So I always made sure to run along with him while he was figuring out how to do all those complicated bike things at the same time, like pedaling, steering, braking, and balancing.

I never let him fall.

A dad I know scolded me. He said, "You have to fall down and get hurt to learn to ride a bike."

This is the same dad who also once told me, "Bullying is good for your kids. It toughens them up for the real world."

I have never subscribed to the theory that personal growth must somehow involve pain. In all my years of education, I don't ever remember having to suffer through torture and injury in order to learn something new. Oh wait, I forgot. Grad school! So, there is an exception.

I can just imagine what homeschooling might look like in this other dad's house:

"Kids, today I want to teach you how to solve a polynomial equation. First, factor out the greatest common denominator. Good. Next, stab yourself in the elbow with your pencil. Nicely done."

Children don't need fear and suffering to learn. They need encouragement, contentment, and love. I gave that to my son four years ago and he's been riding his bike like a pro ever since.

Monday, March 03, 2008


The Big Give

I've wholeheartedly embraced the digital age, especially with music. Four years ago I made the decision to rip my 1200 CDs to our computer hard drive. Then I sold most of the CDs on eBay. It could've been a disastrous decision, but it turned out to be a huge success, allowing me to easily access songs and artists that I hadn't heard in years. I fell in love with iTunes and, soon, my first iPod. It's still hard for me to believe that I can carry around the equivalent of some 1500 CDs in my pocket.

So, it's with great excitement that I announce my biggest giveaway ever! Thanks to the good folks at Apple, I have in my hands one brand-new 4GB iPod Nano to give to one of my readers.

All you have to do is leave a comment on this post. Tell me a joke if you want (keep it clean), or just say hi. In two weeks I'll put everyone's name in a hat and pick a winner.

The 4GB iPod Nano is slightly smaller than a credit card, holds over 1,000 songs, and plays both music and video. You'll love it.

UPDATE: The giveaway has ended! See the results here.