Thursday, October 28, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

We utilize an educational paradigm called, delayed academics. I have mentioned it in passing, but never fully explained why we take the position. Here is why:

Caleb is a lot like his daddy.

That's a compliment that I happily assert. My husband is handsome, loyal, incredibly willing to encourage me, and tells me how much he loves me regularly. Caleb is all these things in junior form. Christopher was also diagnosed with ADD (probably would have added the "H" in there if they called it ADHD 30 years ago) when he was a small boy. For a time he was medicated with Ritalin. Were Caleb in a traditional classroom he to would be facing some of the same issues his daddy faced. Like father, like son.

Caleb is quickly distracted, has a hard time maintaining focus, and doesn't easily retain spoken information. For instance, a while back I was working with him on verse memorization for our church's Wednesday night youth program. He was studying the books of the New Testament. After 45 minutes he was still unable to fully repeat a mere 6 books in the correct order without any prompting. His attention span simply can not keep his focus long enough to work on detail oriented seat-work. What would he be doing in school for 8 hours a day in 2nd grade? Detail oriented seat-work.

I struggle with the ways Caleb does not automatically "learn." But what do I think learning is? For his father it was "learning" he couldn't do what the other kids did. His notes were pinned to his shirt because he was not able to remain focused on the task of delivering them home safely. It was feeling inferior, and inadequate because concepts, lessons, indeed learning did not click for him the way he was told it should. However, my husband is now a highly respected, well-paid senior level software architect who oversees enterprise-wide design solutions. He counsels teams of people through the decision making process for website protocol and design in places that are receiving hundreds of thousands of hits a day. In other words he succeeded. He is, I believe, the exception and not the rule.

So many children, namely boys, are labelled, misdirected, and pigeon-holed by our scholastic requirements. At an age when kinesthetic development is literally causing their bodies to jump we often expect them to sit like well-mannered lap dogs. The maxim, "Girls mature faster than boys," is so well accepted in our culture, and even proven true based on dozens of research studies, statistics, and overall observation. Yet, what is the maturity these studies, statistics and observations are measuring? Often the ability to succeed in a controlled environment more readily embraced by girls. Even with this understanding of the already slanted concept of maturity, rarely are the findings from these studies used  in tailoring educational programs, or expectations. "Boys will be boys," is another highly used proverb that points to the idea of boys being more aggressive, less compliant, and generally more raucous then their female counterparts. Yet again, in the typical school classroom the rules focus on those aspects that come much more naturally and easily to the girls - namely: being quiet; focusing for extended periods of indoor time; learning auditorily or visually as opposed to kinesthetically; working cooperatively and not competitively; and verbalizing needs articulately.

And we wonder why our boys are vacillating so wildly between effeminacy and machismo.

We did not want our own son to have the monkey on his back that often haunts young adolescent boys in traditional classrooms. We wanted to encourage him that the way he was designed was not an accident. That's part of the reason we chose to homeschool. But even within homeschooling many parents are hung up on the local public school's standards for determining what should or shouldn't fit in their home. I don't think I need to state the obvious, but in CA those standards aren't exactly something that should instill trust and respect in our minds. For instance, much of the prevailing thought on how to raise obnoxiously low test scores is simply increase seat-work. Yeah, 'cause if the student didn't understand it the first time you explained it then the additional 30 minutes of working identical problems with the same explanation will definitely help.

Note the sarcasm.

Delayed academics asserts that children learn academically in much the way they learn physically - through involuntary leaps and bounds. I say involuntary because children do not determine when they will learn to walk. If given the right environment, support and encouragement they will develop the skill as their body allows - not in a smooth curve of perfect progress but rather in a one-day-she-couldn't-and-now-she-can kind of way. Mental development follows this same course. Therefore academics are rarely any different than the physical progression of maturity. If given the right environment, support and encouragement most children will "click" with book learning in a sudden, and often mind-boggling way. How many times have you said, or heard the phrase, "The light just suddenly came on for him!" And more times than not there wasn't anything different about the approach of the subject in question - the mind was simply ready to make the leap.

I don't want to waste my time trying to get Phoebe to walk when she isn't physically ready for it. Similarly, I don't want to waste my time, or my children's time teaching them academic rhetoric if they are not ready to learn it. However the rise in single-parent families, and the increase in dual-income families means parents need institutions that can help in providing childcare. With public school already an accepted norm in the vast majority of American families it seemed only natural to put the burden of responsibility on them for the care of our youngsters. But these are schools, so we also expected that our children's time there would create more academically robust students, if for no other reason than to assuage our guilt at leaving them in these classrooms for 8 to 10 hours every day. The result? The expected age for children to "click" with book learning has dropped significantly over the past 30 years. Instead of character being the greatest lesson beyond fine and gross motor skills for the average five, six or seven year old it is paragraph reading and complex fractions.

Now, let me add a quick word for the onset of better and more intuitive means of education. There have been some incredibly amazing inroads made in the connection of small children and academic achievement. Teaching communication through sign language to the pre-verbal, understanding phonics, raising the expectation for literacy across gender and socioeconomic backgrounds are wonderful, and I support all of these developments. What I don't support is the unapologetic use of generalized standards based on convenience and lies.

For a mainstreamed child to read by age 6 is convenient. Therefor, it is necessary that all mainstreamed children read by age 6.

The convenience.

The lie.

There are countless others that follow this same pattern. It simply takes too much time to create a dynamic lesson that can encompass all levels of learning in one room. And in fairness to the traditional classroom, you have to break the children into groups based on something. Age is the most obvious, so assumptions of academic progress based merely on age were bound to occur. Those generalizations were given merit as scores of averages proved them correct. The average age for understanding a concept was noted, birthing the standardized testing phenomenon where administrators, teachers, and parents could check to make sure their Suzy Q reached her potential.

Since when did the average become equal to the potential?

I want my children, both male and female, to set high academic expectations for themselves. I want life long learners who love to read, explore concepts, and not be afraid of asking questions. I want well-adjusted, confident children who have a security in their body's design and development. I am firmly convinced that can not happen when academic pressure is added to the already mounting list of responsibilities placed on children in traditional classrooms during their younger years. I am convinced that children are designed to be children first and foremost - not scholars. Learning through play, interaction, and experience extends well beyond the toddler years. Yet we stifle that natural flow of cause and effect far too quickly creating unnecessary work on our parts, and years of frustration for our children.

So how does delayed academics answer these concerns?

By looking at those same averages used for standardized tests, but zooming out for a slightly wider context to their findings.

On average children reach a learning plateau at age nine, or roughly the equivalent of 3rd grade. During this time the vast majority of students who previously didn't "get it" suddenly understand concepts that alluded them for years. Likewise, many students who were exceptionally bright are quickly absorbed into the norm. In other words an evening works itself out, and from 9 years old on a new game is played. Delayed academics takes advantage of waiting for the new game before ever beginning. Rather than drive concepts into hardened earth it says to wait until the soil has been softened with the fullness of the young child experience. At nine the cognitive abilities are more advanced, and the physical discipline more inline with the demands of book learning for hours each day. The rigors of detailed seat work and rote memorization no longer compete against six-year old bodies bursting with excessive energy. Delayed academics keeps your seven year old from feeling like a failure when it really is just a matter of time. And if there is a genuinely significant learning delay the maturity of the nine year old to handle the truth of their situation will surely be an asset.

Christopher came out of the academic system a victor, though most of his early markers generally pointed in the opposite direction. I have confidence that even though Caleb would be receiving the same marks were he in a public classroom he too will be like his Daddy, emerging as a bright, capable and educated man.

After all, like father, like son.

Friday, October 22, 2010


     loquacious. Yep, she talks. Leah loves to babble about anything, but most especially she likes talking about her babies, imaginary friends, and health maladies. I can't remember the last time she spoke when something didn't tickle me. I regularly have to cover my mouth in order keep my mirth under cover, lest I spoil her transparency and ruin the moment. But really... how does one keep a straight face while being told that Ariel, her mirror-living friend, is the daughter of Satan?

     empathetic. My 4th born is bothered by her siblings hurts, fears, or mishaps. She quickly seeks out help on their behalf, usually trying desperately to console the injured party at the same time. Her empathy can even get her in trouble. She has been known to cry more demonstratively than a sibling receiving punishment, lending total chaos to our house.

     appetite. At first glance you may suspect me of giving a glowing report on Leah's robust love of food. I am not. While I will say that she knows how to chow down, she apparently forgets that knowledge every other day; forcing her father and me to resort to ultimatums at least twice a week. No, the appetite I do intend to give a glowing report on is Leah's zest for life. She is insatiable. Her personality alone requires a tremendous amount of caloric intake, and feed it she does. She is a walking non sequitur. You can not be around her for more than a few minutes before genuinely laughing yourself silly.

     higgledy-piggledy. There isn't anyone in my immediate circle of friends or family who leaves a bigger disaster in their wake than Leah. Seriously. Her version of "clean" makes my version of "messy" look tame. Of course, there can be seen a benefit to this penchant for clutter. For instance, Leah is free to move with inspiration from one project to the next, never fearing that her ideas may grow stale in the brain vacuum of cleaning. And, I must admit, her dance through life leaves me breathless with its wonder and curiosity - never masked or hindered by the fear of what consequences she may leave behind her.


Monday, October 18, 2010


I love listening to my little people muse about their future. Whether it is Caleb sharing about which blue-color job is for him, or Bethany wishing she could be a prima donna, listening to their ideals about what they want to do when they grow up always makes me smile. However, there are times when a real gem pops out, all bright and shiny. 

This morning it was Mary's turn to deliver.

She and Bethany were sitting next to one another on the couch perusing the latest catalogs to arrive in the mail. Bethany somberly read American Girl. Mary animatedly gabbed away while thumbing her way through The Company Store. Every few moments Mary turned her eyes upon one of the dolls in American Girl and asked what its name was. Bethany obliged her with the doll's name before turning the page. Mary immediately dropped the just-spoken-of-doll's name into a sentence that included a product on her own catalog page. For instance:

Kip just loves to use these towels in her bathroom.

The game was working fine for Mary, but Bethany was growing weary of being interrupted every few seconds and began to give off the "don't bother me" vibe. Mary took the hint, and began to simply use her own names in her advertisements. Over and over I kept hearing the same four names in reference to bed linens, bath towels, personalized robes and sheets.

Elizabeth. Isabella. Grace. Josephina.

Peeked with curiosity, Bethany asked Mary about the four girls' names.

"Who are they, Mary?"

"They're my children's names."

"Oh. So you have four daughters?"

"Yes." She smoothed her hair and looked directly at Bethany as she added, "I want four kids, but I don't want to be married. I don't want to have to kiss."


Sunday, October 17, 2010


Phoebe sleeps in her own bed. She has always slept in her own bed. Recently, however, she began showing us that she didn't like that plan so much.

Because our home is rather tight on bedrooms (3 of them for 9 people) we tend to get creative with our sleeping arrangements. For Phoebe this means going to bed in a pack-n-play at the foot of our bed until we can transfer her to a crib in her own room. Why can't she simply start in her own room, you ask? Because she goes to bed when her sisters are still awake, and would never actually fall asleep if she could watch their antics. She also must nap in our room so that the other four girls can have access to their bedroom during the day.

But I digress.

This system was working excellently until a few weeks ago when Phoebe discovered that she could fold the bottom pack-n-play "mattress" into a triangle, and made a fairly handy step stool out of her playpen and onto our bed. The first time it happened caught me quite by surprise. I was sitting on the couch in the living room when I thought I heard the fast-busy sound of the phone when it has been left off the hook too long. Sure enough, I checked the phone (on the table immediately to my left) and the screen indicated that it was in use. Funny, since I am the only one old enough to use the phone without permission. I took a quick mental count of my children, and their locations.

Hannah: school
Bethany: dishes
Caleb: trampoline
Leah & Mary: littlest pet shop
Josiah & Phoebe: naps

Then I heard Phoebe babbling from my room. In her preverbal ranting I could easily make out the intonations of a conversation. I slipped down the hallway to see what had her gander, only to be met with a peek at an empty playpen. Pushing the door open wider, I saw Phoebe sitting contentedly on my bed chatting away on the phone while it beeped back angrily. She saw me and grinned. My entire nightstand was a disarray of books and papers. Christopher's alarm clock was missing entirely from the other side of the bed. Someone had been busy.

Laughing, I scooped her up and took her out of the room. Nap was obviously not going to happen that day. Oh well, I thought, she just wasn't tired. She'll sleep tomorrow.

Ha! I seriously doubt I need to elaborate on the last two weeks.

And so my story reaches tonight. Up until this time we always managed to win the game by either: a) taking her out of the room until she was more tired, or b) redepositing her into the pack-n-play until she stayed in it. This evening it seemed that route b was the winning ticket. She eventually fussed at the grievous misfortune of being forever daunted in her quest for freedom, but the room silenced soon enough, and we knew she was asleep.

Christopher went in to transfer her. The first thing he noticed was the dark room. We always keep a small light on to help us see through the transfer process, but for some reason it was not lit. Then he bent over the pack-n-play, and there was no one inside. Startled, he shot a glance around the room until, his eyes adjusting the dim light, he saw Phoebe.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


Caleb, always thinking of the newest, fastest way to produce results, came to me this afternoon with a bold, new move to improve efficiency in our meal preparation. However, before I tell you about this bold, new move you should probably have a quick peek into the workings of my kitchen.

I generally cook 3 meals a day, every day, for 9 people. Breakfast, lunch and dinner see my entire family sitting around our table. In between meals the dishes are done, and preparations begun for the following menu. At any given point in time someone can usually walk into my kitchen and find the counters clean, dishes washed, stove wiped down and general orderliness reigning. I don't say this to toot my own horn; I say it so you will fully appreciate the "help" my son is about to offer me.

Tacos were on the menu for dinner. I am teaching Bethany how to cook, and this is her first recipe to tackle entirely on her own. She is doing a great job! I was especially proud of her tonight, because she recognized the need to open the refried and chili bean cans while the ground beef was browning. She carefully opened each one, put the can opener away, and then prepared to add the cans' contents to the meat.

At this point Caleb offered a new solution for the horror of opening cans

"Mama, you know what would be great? If we built shelves above the stove that went across like this (slashes his hands horizontally through the air in front of him). Then we put the cans of beans on the shelves so they sat there. Then I could take a baseball and throw it at the cans (he winds up and gives me a full pitch so I fully appreciate his superior ball-throwing skills). The cans would just explode in half (jerks his hands from closed fists to palms-out in the international sign language for bomb), and the beans would fall right into your pot. You wouldn't have to mess around with all that can opening any more. It'd really make it a lot easier."

Taco Beans
1 - 1.5 lbs lean ground beef (depends on how "meaty" you want it - great without meat, too!)
3 8oz cans Rosarita refried beans
1 15oz can Bush's chili beans in zesty sauce (mostly drained)
1/2 packet McCormick Taco Seasoning
1/2 yellow onion (optional)

Saute onion in olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside. Brown hamburger and drain fat. Add seasoning and onion, stir. Add cans of beans, combine well. Turn heat to med. low and simmer until thoroughly hot. Serve with fixings.