Homeschooling: Why Music

One of the questions many of my friends wonder as they look at the way we spend our time is why we put so much emphasis as a family on music.  The kids spend hours practicing every day.  We spend hours driving to and from lessons, participating in group events and competitions.  We spend a large portion of our income on lessons and music-related events and books.  We frequent the symphony and other concerts.  We talk about music and listen to music all the time.  Why put so much time and effort into just one subject?

There are a huge variety of answers to this question, but they all boil down to two important things: value and enjoyment.  Music has great value to us.  It is a subject that requires concentration, coordination and talent to succeed.  As  my children practice, they build character skills such as patience and self control.  They build small and large muscle coordination, and hand eye coordination.  They learn to listen.  They begin to appreciate beauty.

As they grow older and become more accomplished on their instruments, they do reap more enjoyment.  But even the six-year old who is just beginning finds real joy in making good sounds come from the piano.  In fact, as I write this, he is enjoying himself at his piano practicing.  They begin sitting down to play just for their own enjoyment, and some of the best times at our home are when Grandma and Grandpa come over for a concert.

We stopped having practice wars several years ago with the two oldest, but occasionally one of the younger ones will protest that they “hate the piano!”  Lucy never says she hates violin, only piano, and perhaps someday she will be able to concentrate only on the violin.  Until then, it is up to me never to give in, but to keep requiring her daily practice.  After all, if she does not practice, she will never enjoy her music.

An important path to enjoyment of practicing and music is listening to other musicians.  We are not able to dream of being something we have never seen or imagined.  When the kids see the musicians at the symphony, or at a local fiddlefest or jazz concert, they are able to project themselves into an adult life where music plays an important role.  In fact, the two oldest are considering pursuing careers in music.  Of course, not everyone who enjoys music has to be a concert performer, and in fact most are not.  But wouldn’t it be a fulfilling life to be able to teach what you love?  If they do truly love music, this is a good choice for them.  Many adults wish they had learned “when they were younger” to play an instrument.  Luckily, my kids won’t have to wish this!

Do you think music is an important subject for homeschoolers?  As an adult, do you continue to enjoy listening to and playing music?  Please leave me a comment.



Running Outside and Fixing Our Nature Deficit

I had a breakthrough moment this morning as I got ready for my run.  I have been reading The Nature Principle by Richard Louv, and he describes people as going out to nature for their exercise, and then dulling their senses by blocking their ears with Ipods or other media.  When I read this, I realized that I was guilty of that myself.  Instead of going on my early morning runs with ears and mind wide open, I have been building a barrier between myself and the restoration that being outside brings by listening to podcasts or a playlist while I run.

I have known for a long time that being outside is restorative for me, but since the days have been shorter and the weather colder, I have been lacking motivation when I go outside for my long runs.  I decided today to try running without any noise in my ears again, although I took along my music and earphones “just in case.”  I had a great run.  I didn’t see any wonderful wildlife, and the birds were not singing, but I was able to listen to the movement of the air, and listen to my breathing as a way to improve my running.  I also was able to concentrate my attention on some work problems that needed resolved.

I will be reviewing The Nature Principle here soon, and telling you more about my thoughts on nature deficit disorder.  In the meantime, let me share some other ideas we have used lately to get outdoors:

  • Walking when the moon is full.  We went on a moonlit walk on Monday at one of our favorite walking paths.  The kids spotted Casseopeia and Orion, and we talked about Betelgeuse and Rigel and why some stars are red and others are blue.  We also scared up a few ducks — literally, they were very scared.
  • Hiking to look at ice at some of our favorite spots.
  • Lunch at the park.  This is wonderful because the park is empty this time of year, so the kids can have the equipment to themselves if they want, or wander around playing hide and seek or other invented games.  I take along a blanket to wrap up in(along with my coat) and a book, and enjoy half an hour of winter sunbathing while the kids run around and enjoy themselves.  This is especially wonderful if you have hot soup to take for lunch.

Hope you are able to be outdoors a little this winter.  Do you have a suggestion for us?  Please leave a comment.

School in the Craftroom — Lulu’s Dollmaking Project

One of my very difficult tasks as a teacher/mother is allowing creative mess.  Lulu especially is a very craft-y person.  She enjoys her art projects, and is happiest with a piece of cardboard and plenty of tape.  Some projects, though, require some help and concentration from Mom.  We were glad we had hiked during the week this week, because it snowed on Saturday.  Everyone else had plans for their day, so Lucy and I decided to take the day to do a doll making project.  This was something she had never done before.

After looking through all our patterns and books, Daddy helped us enlarge the pattern we chose, and we went shopping to choose yarn for hair and embroidery thread colors for eyes.  We also discussed different fabrics for skin colors, and what the results of different choices would be.  For example, unbleached muslin makes a very “country” doll, while pink fabric might be better for a baby doll.  We traced around the patterns and cut them out very loosely, planning to sew on the drawn lines as a better way for a beginning seamstress.

Lucy needed a little help with sewing on the arms and legs, and while I did that, she wrapped the yarn for the dolly’s hair. We chose a yarn that had a beautiful crinkle, so that our dolly would have wavy hair.

Lucy had never really used stuffing before, so that was an interesting experience.  She had to learn how much was enough to keep out the lumps, but not too much to fit in small places.

The end result was very satisfying.

Of course, on a project like this one, most of the fun is in the doing.  Lulu already started planning what her next doll would be like.  She can experiment with markers and pencils for drawing faces, and she began practicing her embroidery so that she can make the next dolly face if she chooses.

All in all, it was a very profitable day for us.  Lucy practiced her sewing skills, and we both worked on patience.

Box Canyon/Maple Canyon Hike

Friday was another  beautiful day, and since I worked in the morning we had to play do school in the afternoon.  We stopped by to pick up my mom, and went on a short hike in Maple Canyon.  There is an unmarked canyon that all the locals know as Box Canyon that branches off to the north.  In fact, people come from all over to rock climb on the conglomerate canyon walls.  We just scramble, but it was a great place to see in the ice.

We got off to a scary start.  We parked the car on the packed snow and ice at the side of the road, and got out noisily, as we always do, warning each other not to slip.  Just as Eden slammed the last door, the car started to slide.  It slid about 6 feet, stopping just over a large rock.  Thank goodness everyone was out of the way!  I grabbed little kids and tried to get uphill, but if someone had been behind the car, they would have been in serious trouble.  Well, that got our adrenaline going for the day.  Shandy thought we were stuck tight, but he was able to drive the car back onto the road and park it a little further down the road on the dirt.

Lucy and Max were delighted to see conglomerate rock up close and personal, and identified some quartz in the canyon bottom.

There was more water than we expected in the bottom of the canyon, mostly in the form of ice, but some running water.  The ice appeared to have thawed and refrozen, so that it really looked more like a slow motion photo of running water than ice, Shandy thought.

The waterfall appeared to be completely frozen, but by looking closely we could see water moving under the ice.

And one last picture to show one of the reasons we love hiking:  brothers having fun together.

Not to rant and rave, but every time we get to spend time outdoors, I remember many of the reasons we choose homeschool.  Imagine spending these wonderful afternoons shut inside a school building with people, many of whom don’t even like you!  Instead, we spend our time with people we love, doing interesting things that we enjoy.  I truly believe that when we enhance our connection to the earth, we enhance our connection with the humans in our lives as well.  We refresh our mental powers for sustained efforts, and we give ourselves good reason to be alive.

Hope you are enjoying your January.

Our Mittens

For today: just a quick picture.  A sweet friend gave the kids and I each beautiful handmade mittens.  Now — if we would only have snow to use them!

Kids in the Kitchen: Fluffernutter Monkey Bread

While I was looking for special recipes for our break time this winter, I found this wonderful recipe for Fluffernutter Monkey Bread:  a pull apart bread with peanut butter and marshmallows, and had to try making it with the kids.  Monkey Bread seemed like an ideal recipe for kids, because they love playing with dough.  What better way to indulge this than making 64 little balls to coat with melted marshmallows?

Max and Lucy loved the texture of the dough, and it was perfect for them to use — not too sticky.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I didn’t read the recipe very carefully while I was making it.  I forgot the part about dipping the dough balls in melted butter and sugar. thought it was going together rather too easily.  But it still tasted good.  I am sure the butter and sugar would have been over the top for sweetness.  We were nearly sick as it was eating the whole bread all at once.  It looked beautiful.

We didn’t even try to save some for later.

I highly recommend this recipe as a way to help your kids starting experimenting with bread dough.  Everyone needs to learn how to handle the dough so that they can make it into loaves without a sticky struggle, and this recipe was excellent practice, and fun besides.

Have you helped your kids learn to make bread?  Do you have a favorite recipe for them?  Please leave me a comment.

Hiking In January: Big Springs

It was over 50 degrees in northern Utah today.  Over 50 degrees and sunny, in January.  It is a crime worthy of imprisonment to stay indoors on a beautiful sunny day in January.  After all, how many can there be?  We didn’t want to be in prison, so we were forced to have hiking school instead of our regular lessons today.

We drove up the South Fork of Provo Canyon, above Vivian Park, to hike to Big Springs.  This is actually a spring that provides much of the drinking water for the city of Provo.  The trail was clear at the bottom, although the water had made some beautiful ice sculptures.

As we  climbed higher, the trail was very icy.  It appeared that snow had melted, and refrozen in the sunken trail, making a river of ice to hike on.  Everyone except Mom had fun sliding on the ice.  Max had several “nuclear butt stomps” that involved falling down and sliding, leading him to declare that this was “practically the best hike ever!”

As the path got steeper by the spring, the ice got harder and harder to climb.  There had been plenty of traffic along the trail, and there were plenty of side paths where people had tried to bypass the ice.  We didn’t have much time to spend at the actual spring, but it was as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer.


I read a recent article about nature deficiency that talked about a teacher leading a class along a stream to help them understand which direction water flows.  I guess that’s the lesson we were learning today.  We also learned that very tiny steps help keep your balance on ice, and that when the weather is nice, going outside is more important than anything else you could be doing.  Wouldn’t you like to be tested on those lessons?

Oh, yes. We also learned that there is nothing finer than a family being together in God’s sunshine.  Hope you had a wonderful day, too.

A Homeschooling Idyll – Book Review: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell was a book recommended to my ninth grader for a nonfiction book response assignment.  I was immediately attracted to its cover, with a picture of a young boy, a jar and a frog, and began reading.  This autobiography of five years in the life of a budding naturalist is not only hilarious, it tells a story of exactly the kind of honest, interest led learning that I would love to have in my own home.

The story begins when the family, headed by a widow, decides to leave the cold English summer and move to the island of Corfu.  Being written from the viewpoint of the nine-year old youngest son, it does not explain how they financed the move, or why they were able to leave England on a whim.  Instead, the story focuses on the wonderland of exploration Gerry found when he reached the island.  He began with the “profusion of life” on his very doorstep, examining the insects and creatures that lived in the garden.  He spent hours observing little crab spiders and earwigs, even guarding an earwig nest in the hope of watching the hatching.

Gerry was not the only one in his family who settled in to a lifestyle of learning.  His oldest brother spent his time writing a manuscript and in studying literature.  His mother settled in to a life of experimenting in the kitchen and garden, happily consulting a “tottering pile of books” on the kitchen table.  Another brother was extremely interested in guns and shooting, but found time to design and build a boat for Gerry’s birthday.  Gerry roamed farther and farther afield, following tortoises, catching and bringing home snakes and baby magpies, and learning more and more about the world around him.

As Gerry grew older in this peaceful environment, his mother found occasional tutors for him.  He was fortunate enough to have tutors that either followed their own interests while he followed his, or taught him in ways that caught his interest.  His mother’s one constant desire was a desire for him to learn to speak French.  Although he was unable to learn conversational French from his tutoring using La Petit Larousse, a dictionary, he did learn to speak the local Greek and communicate with the neighbors.  Gerry also had a constant mentor who shared his interest in the local insect life and aided him with his discoveries.  Gerry describes the time on the island this way:

Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.  Each day had a tranquillity, a timelessness, about it, so that you wished it would never end.  But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.

Isn’t this how we wish the days passed for our children and ourselves?  To follow the path of our interest wherever it leads, with no hinderance stopping us, or turning us to a more “important” pursuit?  If we could only have the confidence in ourselves and our children to let that happen!  I  can’t wait to read this book aloud to Max and Lucy.  As with many other books we have read, notably:  My Side of the Mountain, Owls in the Family, Farmer Boy, Little Britches, and The Secret Garden, this wonderful book tells the story of a childhood doing real, important things.  I hope these books give us the character strength to be free and act on what we want to do.

Do you think independence is important in childhood?  How can we foster that sense of discovery and wonder that leads to important work for all of us?  Please leave me a comment below.

Looking into the New Year: Focusing on what’s really important

Are you looking at the person deep inside as you think about your goals for 2012?  Let me share with you just a quote from a wonderful story I read by B. J. Chute, called The Jukebox and the Kallikaks.

“Corinne was beautiful and the jukebox was beautiful and they were, both of them, dumb.  But deep down in the heart of the jukebox, there was music.  And deep down in the heart of Corinne, there was just Corinne.”

Put simply, this was a story about some very simple people who recognized a very profound truth.  After spending the summer fighting over a girl,  brothers Mark and Jeb  make this statement because Corinne turned out to be exactly what she appeared to be.  It is not the way someone or something looks that is truly important.  While we rarely can make huge alterations in the way we look, we can make steps toward becoming a better person inside.  Also, changing the way we look without changing the interior person will only fool people for a little while.

Although I do not believe in any special significance to January 1, it is as good a time as any to reset and look forward to the next twelve months.  My kids would argue that I do this several times a year, especially in the spring and the fall.  Here are a few of the things I am making goals toward for the next year.

  1.  Read one non-fiction and one fiction book each month.
  2. Hike at least once a month.  (In 2011, we missed 4 months for long hikes: January and February were forgiveable, June and August were not.)
  3. Run outside at least once a week. (In 2011, I only ran outside 3 times in February and March.  That was too much treadmill.)
  4. Spend more time saying thank you.

What are some of your goals for 2012?  Remember that no matter how much makeup you wear, or how you are dressed, deep inside you will still be you.  Make you a good one.  Here’s looking forward to a wonderful 2012.

Hiking on New Year’s Eve: Pleasant Creek, Capitol Reef

Ever since reading on FIMBY about their family’s commitment to hike every week throughout the year, I have been dying to try out hiking in the snow.  Our family is pretty determined about hiking, but we have never hiked when the ground was really snowy.  On our get-away to Capitol Reef this weekend, though, we were able to experience a little snow hiking, which led us to believe we could do a little more closer to home.

We drove down the scenic drive at Capitol Reef National Park to where the pavement turns to dirt, then continued on a few more miles to what (I believe) is the end of the road at Pleasant Creek.  Just like the Fremont, Pleasant Creek was surprisingly full and not quite frozen over.  In places, the ice was thick and clear across the creek, but in most places it was not safe to cross on the ice.  Well–it was safe, if you wanted to be cold and wet.

The snow was much deeper here than it had been on our other weekend hike — whether because of the altitude or because of the exposure, or a combination of the two, I am not sure.  Anyway, hiking was more difficult as we were “postholing” wherever the snow was deep.  We also were not ready for this deeper snow, since we were hiking in fabric boots and were getting quite wet.

After just one mile, which felt much longer since there was no trail and we were bushwhacking most of the time, we decided to look for a break and resting place.  We found a protected alcove where we could eat our lunch.  Meanwhile, the little kids did some mining (don’t tell the Park Service please!)

Yes, we kept all the gold they found.  No, we won’t be moving to paradise (also known as Torrey, Utah) anytime soon.

After our sunny break, we headed back to the cars along a snow covered road.  On our trip home, we discussed what we would need to do to enjoy some snowy hiking closer to home.  We are looking forward to trying it out soon, especially if temperatures stay as warm as they have been in the last weeks.

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend.  Everyone arrived home with sun-kissed cheeks and big smiles.  Hope you enjoyed your weekend, too!  If you have an idea about winter hiking, please leave a comment below.  Thanks!