Friday, July 31, 2015

My Summer Vacation

We've all had to write those silly papers at the beginning of the school year: What I did on my summer vacation. Well, this is my paper, though I'm far removed from school and no one is going to be grading this . . . unless I've got a typo or grammatical error, I suppose. Don't judge too harshly; it is 12:30 a.m. after all.

When we moved to Florida three years ago, I promised my kids that as long as they wanted to return to King's Camp in PA every year I'd be sure to get them back. Despite an attempt to bribe them to find a camp in Florida the first year we were down here, they wanted to keep going. I am grateful they did because I, now, am a part of King's Camp—I am Princess Tammie. Those on staff are princes and princesses if they are 17 and older, dukes and duchesses if they are younger than 17. I've always wanted to be a princess! This is my crown:

I was looking forward to camp this year because I had such a great time last year. A group of us stayed up late almost every night playing games. Ever heard of The Great Dalmuti? If you're not a night person, you probably think I'm crazy, especially since we had to be up for staff devotions at 7:00. I, however, am very much a night person. I am also someone who loves to be around people. I enjoy getting to know people, and I love to laugh.

This year was different. The first two nights we were there no one stayed up late. I was profoundly disappointed, but I got some sleep. I think it was the third night when someone asked if I was going to play cards. I was thrilled. The next few nights I stayed up late talking with our missionaries (Matt and Elizabeth), who were amazing! When the two of them got together, I could not stop laughing. I kept telling everyone who hadn't yet spent any time with them that they needed to because they were very cool. Did you hear that Elizabeth?

One night a few of us stayed up until 1:15 looking at pictures of Uganda, which is where Matt and Elizabeth and their four children will be heading sometime this fall. Not only was it fun looking at the pictures and hearing about Uganda, but it was great to be able to talk and laugh with other staff who sat nearby.

During the week, while the kids were awake, staff had the opportunity to help them memorize Bible verses. Staff can memorize them, too, but our purpose is really to help the kids. Last year I memorized 26 passages (some of them long). I was surprised that I was able to memorize so many. I took the first letter of every word, made "to" the number "2," and "for" the number "4," and worked on visualizing the passage as I recited it. This year, I only memorized 17, but I spent a lot more time helping the kids. That was definitely a highlight of the week! Being able to see a kid's face light up when he said his daily verse and receive a new pin for his crown was a blessing.

Each day we had two times of Bible learning—one with Princess Julia and one with Matt (the missionary). It was during these times that staff and campers alike could reflect on God and what He wanted to teach them. I don't feel like I did much reflecting during the week. It wasn't until Saturday morning, after camp was over, that I started to process everything that had happened during the week.

So, what did I learn from my week at camp—my summer vacation?

1. I have a great passion for being around people and getting to know people.
2. I love to have fun.
3. I love to laugh . . . A LOT!
4. I love to serve.
5. I enjoy memorizing Scripture, and I'm not half bad at it. It was easier the second year, even though I memorized less.
6. A week without any contact from the "outside" world (Facebook, internet, phone calls, work, news, emails, etc.) was absolutely glorious! I did not want to get on my phone for hours after camp was over.
7. The counselors who are on staff at King's Camp are amazing role models. They serve with their whole heart. They love the kids. They are sensitive to God's leading. I'm glad my kids could serve as well and be part of that.
8. I don't feel my age when I'm at camp. This is pure vanity, I know, but when 22-year-olds and 17-year-olds carry on conversations with me like I am just one of the gang, it's hard to not feel like I'm 22 again myself. For that I am grateful.
9. I am a sinner in need of God's grace. The spiritual high from camp is amazing, but when I come back down, I realize that I am in a spiritual battle. There are days when my attempts are pitiful, and others that are better. But I can rest assured in the knowledge that Christ died for me. I have put my trust in Him. I will fall, but He will help me up. He will never leave me. In the end, Christ has the victory, and I am His child. For that I am eternally grateful.

Thank you John and Gayle for allowing me to serve at King's Camp!!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

When Boxed Curriculum Just Doesn't Cut It

When I first started homeschooling, I used an all-inclusive curriculum. Everything I needed came in one box from one company. That was definitely a blessing. However, as I grew more comfortable homeschooling my children, I figured out that I could develop my own curriculum. This often includes using bits and pieces of resources that already exist . . . why re-create the wheel? I make sure, though, that I am not a slave to that resource and try to use it loosely enough that I can feel free to move on to something else. As I put together courses for my children, they end up being quite interactive and hands on. I find a multitude of resources to include in the lessons—videos, food, music, crafts—whatever it takes to make the lessons more exciting.

My first experience with creating my own curriculum was at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. My oldest's spelling lessons did not come from a spelling book full of worksheets. I read through the dictionary and found words I felt he would be able to spell, based on words he might encounter in the types of books he was reading. I knew his ability, and I never felt it was wrong to challenge my children beyond what they thought they could do. If we don't challenge them, how will they know how far they can go?

For his spelling lessons, I would create a spelling list of 10-20 words, have him define them, find the part of speech, etc. He would then either have to write a story using all of the words correctly or write a sentence for each and draw a picture or find a picture to go with it. Here is an example from second grade:

Some of the other classes I created as my kids got older and I began teaching at our co-op include introduction to architecture, early 20th century American music, food science, modern art (not the usual artists one learns about), geography, World Wars I and II (with a friend), Civil War, and anatomy. 

Geography is always fun. There are so many different things you can do with this course. Most recently, I used a book called Eat Your Way Around the World. This would be a case when I used an outside resource, but I added much more to the class to make it fun and educational. This book has recipes from a number of countries and some cultural facts. Each week at our co-op, we would learn about a different country found in the book. The first thing we did was look at the official name of the country, type of government, population, land area, official language, official religion, etc. We then briefly discussed the history of each country (how it came into being and gained independence). The next thing—and favorite thing—was the food. The students tried foods I'm sure they wouldn't have tried in any other situation, like Groundnut Stew. Stew made with peanut butter. Who knew it could be so good? The kids colored a flag of each country as they learned about the meaning behind the flags. Each week was a little bit different. Sometimes we listened to music. Sometimes we watched tourism videos about the countries. When we discussed Jamaica, we learned about the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the Olympics.

My Introduction to Architecture course (that is currently on came about because I have always been fascinated by architecture and the ability of architects and engineers to create beautiful yet functional structures we live in, work in, drive on, etc. I figured out how many weeks I had to teach, made a long list of possible structures to study, and pared down that list based on the weeks I had. I decided which bridges, skyscrapers, homes, places of worship I wanted to learn more about and began to research each of them.

Food Science was a lot of fun! There was no text available for this. A great deal of research went into this course, though. We talked about the role of sugars, fats, proteins, etc., in foods. We did a lot of cooking as we learned about the science behind the foods we make and eat.

I had a friend who began homeschooling last year. She wasn't sure what to do. We looked at science first. She said she had purchased a pass to the zoo and that she was planning on going with her kids in the next week or two. I suggested she make a list while at the zoo of the 10 or 12 animals her children liked best. She could then make a monthly unit study of each animal. Let's say she picked an elephant. She could study the science of elephants, the different types of elephants, what makes them different, where they are found, what they eat, and so on. She could go the library and find children's books about elephants—Babar, Horton Hears a Who, Dumbo, just to name a few. Famous elephants in history could be studied—Surus, Hanno, Jumbo. How elephants have been used throughout history could be researched. For writing, her kids could write fun stories about elephants or write a short essay about real elephants. We are only limited by our imagination (I don't know who said that first, but it's spot on.)

When parents make the decision to homeschool, the next step usually seems to be the overwhelming feeling of too many choices. There really is no reason for this. Decide first what you want to teach or ask your kids what they want to learn. Figure out if you can or want to spend the time putting together your own curriculum. If you feel like it's too hard, find smaller resources you can combine to have a full year's worth of learning. Don't ever feel like you have to buy a textbook for every subject. The best learning typically comes when students' heads aren't stuck in a book.