Sunday, June 28, 2009

Experiencing God

"Christianity is not a philosophy, not a doctrine, but life." Archimandrite Sophrony

Raised in the Protestant church, I remember being about 5 years old and attending a class to "prove" I was ready to go to communion. I had been baptized as an infant, but children did not receive communion until they were ready to make a statement of faith. Years before their introduction to the Orthodox church my parents knew deep down the importance of the Eucharist and were anxious to have me become a communing member of the church as early as possible. I think I was the youngest person to ever attend that class - I remember being surrounded by adults and a handful of teenagers. I remember being asked to tell about when I became a Christian, and I remember giving the answer my dad had helped me prepare - explaining that I had no conversion "moment" to share, but that I had always loved Jesus and could not remember a time when I did not believe in God.

This memory was brought to my mind recently when a priest related to me a very simple yet powerful way to demonstrate to our children the importance of the Eucharist in our salvation. Often our children are confused by phrases such as "do you have a personal relationship with Christ?" or "have you asked Jesus into your heart?" and the emphasis on personal scripture reading as the crux of our relationship with God.
His advice was to bake cookies with your children. Then, set the cookies aside without tasting them. Instead of eating the cookies, have the kids sit down and read the recipe. After reading the recipe, allow them to eat the cookies, and ask them, which was the true experience - reading about cookies, or eating them? Such a simple yet moving example of the Orthodox experience of God. Yes, it is important and necessary to read the recipe, but that does not allow us to truly experience cookies. We must read and learn about God through the scriptures, but the Eucharist is the crucial relationship with Christ. We must read about Him, we must seek to be like Him, but most importantly, we must commune with Him, becoming one with Him through the Eucharist.
"Orthodoxy is nothing less than a relationship with God" Archimandrite Meletios Weber

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Church Camp Fun

Here is what we have been up to all week!

I thought I would share our Vacation Church School program with you all. This year we used the Book of Days idea from the Garden of the Theotokos. We used the music from that curriculum, the kids each created a book of days from an 8x8 scrapbook album from Hobby Lobby (special ordered when on sale for a cost of only $2.50 per book!), and created projects pertaining to each day of the week.
Father gives a lesson on the apostles.
The kids anxiously await their turn to have their bottles filled with Holy Water.

Adding an icon to the cover of the finished book of days - a job well done.

The final day the children cleaned up around the church cemetery, removing trash, clearing grass from the grave stones, and remembering those who are no longer with us.

The Orthodox Church commemorates something special each day of the week, so the children spent the week learning about each day. Here is a brief summary of what we covered:

Monday - we introduced the idea of jobs/work, discussing with the children the many different jobs people have. From there, we moved to a discussion of God's "work" - creation. We learned the days of creation with the song from Veritas Press, then continued with a lesson about Sunday and the Resurrection. We read one of my favorite books - The Man and the Vine and discussed the Eucharist. The projects for this day included making a chalice, and making their own loaf of Prosphora bread.

Tuesday - We reviewed the idea of jobs, and read The Heavenly Garden, then began talking about the angels and their jobs. We learned the order of angels song from the Garden of the Theotokos, and also the song about John the Baptist. We covered Monday and Tuesday on this day, which tied in nicely, explaining to the kids why John the Baptist is depicted with wings. The projects for today included decorating a bottle for Holy Water.

Wednesday - We covered the cross, focusing on Jesus and the job He was sent to earth to do - completing Wednesday and Friday pages in their book of days. We discussed fasting, had cross cookies for snacks, and learned about St. Helen and the recovery of the cross. They planted basil, and created a wooden cross to stick in their pot of basil.

Thursday - We focused on the apostles and how their work was to spread the word throughout the world (since we spend plenty of time learning about St. Nicholas in December :). They learned the song from the Garden of the Theotokos, played a fish relay game, and made wooden boats and banners.

Friday - Finally, we focused on what our "jobs" are - to glorify God, and seek to become like Christ. We then discussed what happens when our work on earth is done, talked about the departed, and the kids brough photos of someone who had died to include on their Saturday page. We made kollyva, and read the story of the miracle of the kollyva from the Grandmother's Stories series, and the kids finished up their books and projects.

It was a wonderful week, and I was truly blessed to be a part of it and see these kids immersed in the faith of the church, and learning how to live the life of the church every day, not just on Sunday!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Day with Monet

the young artists busy at work
J studies the hydrangea

the little princess focused on her painting of the hydrangea

the crocodile hunter working on his lily pads

artist J - age 7

Once a week in the summer I get together with my sister-in-law and we have art class for our kids using Atelier Art. Today was a lesson on Monet, and so we let them experience authentic impressionist painting - outside. We read Mike Venezia's book on Monet, and a fun little book in rhyme about a frog who finds his way into Monet's garden. The kids loved it, and I must say I was impressed with how well they listened to the instruction on the impressionist style and were able to recreate the feel in their own art. We used powder tempera paints so they could start with a pallette of powders, then add a wet brush and create a very thick textural paint which they applied in small dabs and strokes. I found those great paint boards at H*bby Lobby - on sale this week for $6 - perfect for outdoor art.

Math Drills

I am feeling a little guilty after all that trashing of math programs (though hopefully you got the picture that it's not a program issue, it's a user issue:). To balance it out, I am going to share with you my favorite math resource. I mentioned Math on the Level previously, and while I don't know if we will go back to it or not as a whole, I love, love, love their math drills. These are a series of books (or PDF downloads - which is what I got) that approach math drill in a new way. Instead of starting to drill your kids on the 1's or 2's tables (you know, the easy ones!) they begin the drills with the 9's. Once a child understands the process of addition or multiplication you can begin giving these drills. They are timed, and come with a nice page for recording results. The child does the same drill sheet every day until he is able to do it in the suggested time frame (designed to develop an instant recall speed), then he moves on the the next one. It gradually adds new facts, while maintaining practice with the old facts. This way, when your student completes the sheets, he has practiced the hardest ones the most, instead of the other way around. Such a basic concept, why hasn't someone else come up with this before! So, if you are struggling with flashcards, or have a 4th grader who still doesn't have all of this facts memorized :), these are great. I am already seeing a difference in both of the kids recall of math facts.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The tale of an unfaithful math teacher

If you can't tell by reading about the things I like to do, I fall on the creative/artsy/fun side of things - not the science/math side :) It is always a challenge to teach that with which you are the least comfortable, or the least interested! As many go through life, looking for that "perfect someone" to complete them, I have searched high and low for the math program that could meet all of my needs. Of course, intellectually, I know there is no "perfect program." Try telling that to the hopeless romantic, in search of her soul mate. Usually the success of a program is a combination of the child's motivation, ability and the teacher's perseverance. I am now ready to confess, I have spent 5 years cheating on my math curriculum. My story is similar to many homeschoolers out there, it began with Saxon K. Everyone said it was wonderful, all of the homeschool moms love it. We hated it. I quit. What is the deal with that stupid meeting book anyway? I transferred my affections to Singapore. That was quite successful for a while, but we hit a roadblock around third grade. By that time, the little princess was using Singapore also. Like a fool who returns to a bad relationship, I had a Saxon 3 book someone had given me, so I tried it again. We hated it. I quit. Again, what is up with that stupid meeting book? Then Andrew Campbell introduced me to Ray through Latin Centered Curriculum. I got it, and enjoyed using it to teach multiplication/division to the crocodile hunter, and so the year went switching between Ray's and Singapore (with a little bit of Gnomes and Gnumbers thrown in for good measure). When we got stuck with Singapore, we went back to Ray's, and for a while I pretty much dropped the Singapore. The drawback with Ray's is that it does not cover a lot of topics most people consider a math book should cover. There is not instruction on telling time or other "practical math" application. That did not bother me at first, I don't need a math book to teach my kid to tell time, but it did make me nervous about whether I was going to miss other important areas.

Then, last year I was at the curriculum fair and was wooed by the siren song of Math on the Level. Now, I think if I had found Math on the Level years ago, I might have been faithful (or maybe not, since I seem to be quite unable to be monogamous when it comes to math). I was in love. It seemed perfect. It is a wonderful program, giving you every concept you need for K through pre-algebra. It gives multiple ways of teaching each concept, it allows you to select the topics you want to cover according to the maturity of your child. This program is flexible, thorough and very attractive. The problem? Like any relationship, it requires work. It requires a lot of time in learning how to use the record keeping system, and is completely teacher directed. At no point will you be able to hand your child a book and say, go work these problems and get back to me. You are the teacher, you are expected to teach. In my gut, this is how it is supposed to work. This is how you envision homeschooling. This is the sort of program that emphasizes baking pizza to learn about fractions. This is the romantic vision of a starry-eyed teacher, in first love with a math program. As I said though, it takes work, and when it came to practical application, I did not work hard enough.

So now, I am at a cross-roads. Part of me wants a nice workbook to hand over to my kids and say - learn your math! I also realize that does not work with every child. I have looked over an old ABeka 5th grade text I have, and even, shamefaced, peeked at an old teacher's edition of Saxon 6/5 that has been on my shelf for 5 years (thank goodness they finally drop that meeting book!). I have pulled out all the many options, as I try to decide which one is the best fit. After analyzing these many failed math affairs, I have come to a realization. I have commitment issues (at least when it comes to math:). Apparently I need to go back and read some of my own advice. And yes, there is a new love in my life, Strayor Upton. This lovely book has been my summer romance. I am taking it slow, and won't tell you I am ready to commit to a long term relationship with Mr. Upton, but I can say it has been a nice easy pace, allowing me to sit down for 15 minutes a day with each child and work several pages of math aloud. It brings back fond memories of our success with Ray's, and it has given me a bit of consistency over the past few weeks. So, while I still am not sure what the future holds for me and math, I am making a commitment here and now. I will remain faithful through the summer. I will not stray or become complacent. I will carefully and prayerfully consider our choices for the fall, and pray for the strength to be true to those decisions. And I will become violent with the person who posts a comment about their favorite program that I "really should take a look at!"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summer School

What have we been up to lately? Well, settling into a new routine for the summer mostly. It has been a great few weeks, as the weather turns warm, the flowers are all blooming, the garden is on its way - it is time to be outside! This year instead of taking the summer off (which is what we have done in years past) I decided we needed some consistency, and a little more time to finish up this years work. I was worried about disciplining myself and the kids to stick with it, but things are settling in nicely. So far, our days look pretty much the same. Rather than detailing a really structured schedule for the summer, I decided we would dedicate an hour in the morning for school, and some afternoons spend time on history projects (on the days we don't have karate or gymnastics). It is working out well, we cover math, Latin and spelling during that hour, then they are free to go outside or read. Then in the late afternoon we either run errands and go to class, or we work on a fun project - or take a trip to the zoo or children's museum. We are also back to having art class on Wednesdays with my nieces and nephew - we are finishing up Atelier Art Level 4. Then we squeeze in a little swimming at her house before heading home to get ready for Vespers. Don't you just love summer!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Planet Earth

I am not a big fan of the television, and for the most part my kids do not watch movies with the exception of the occasional treat with a babysitter or when they are sick. That said, there is one DVD I highly recommend if you don't already have it. A few years ago the crocodile hunter received the Planet Earth set from his godmother. What amazing footage! The kids love it (even the queen age 4 will sit there for as long as I will let her :) and it is a great series to watch if you are doing any kind of earth science or geography studies. It of course approaches things from a Darwinian evolutionary point of view, so you might want to be prepared to have those discussion with your kids. Beyond that, there is nothing I have ever seen that communicates the sheer beauty and wonder of God's creation.