Archive for January 2011

Should everything be ‘fun’?   Leave a comment

While sitting in class for massage therapy, we were asked by the director of the program to give feedback regarding the class.  He was looking for suggestions on ways to improve the program and then he asked….. “Is it fun?”  I couldn’t believe he was asking a class of adults if their class was fun.  Fun is riding a roller coaster, water skiing, going to a movie, those things are fun.  I would describe the class as enjoyable, interesting and informative, but not fun… and I don’t expect it to be.

Webster’s dictionary defines fun as, that which is amusing, or mirthful; entertaining; recreation or play.  People today want constant entertainment.  If something is not ‘fun’ it’s not worth doing.  When I taught senior high Sunday school some years ago, I asked the kids what they envisioned the class to be.  It was no surprise that the first thing out of their mouths was, “It should be fun.”  Children have come to believe all their experiences should be fun partly because of the question I hear parents everywhere ask their children.  Whether they are picking up their children from school, church, sports practice, music lessons, the question is always the same – “Did you have fun?”    

 By asking that question it plants the idea in their minds that all their experiences should be fun.  In reality, all experiences aren’t fun, nor should they be.  For example, I enjoy going to church – do I have fun?  Not usually, unless we are doing something like a church picnic or a game night, it is generally not fun.  But just because it’s not fun, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.  Some experiences in life are fun, but others are meant to be informative, reflective, educational and productive – these experiences can be enjoyed for what they are meant to be, instead of turning into something that must always be amusing.

Instead of teaching our children that everything they experience should be full of fun and entertainment, I think we need to teach them to find joy in life and savor all the experiences life has to offer – not just the ‘fun’ ones.


Posted January 21, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in childhood

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Why Learn Piano? It’s part of your education…   Leave a comment

A large part of my childhood was spent taking piano lessons – seven years of lessons and daily practice laid the foundation for a love of music in my life.  But those seven years didn’t come without its share of moans and groans.  Whenever I complained about practicing or why I had to take lessons when my friends didn’t, my parents always answered – “It’s part of your education.”

“It’s part of your education”….  remembering those words makes me think about education and what we believe it to be.  Usually reading, math and science come to mind.  These are important areas, but so much emphasis is placed on these subjects that often the arts, such as music, are seen as trivial. Music programs are often the first to go in schools that need to do budget cuts.  But more and more studies are showing the relationship between music and brain development and learning.  Even Albert Einstein attributes much of his intelligence to his love of music that was developed when his parents gave him a violin as a child.  Thomas Jefferson used music to help him write the Declaration of Independence.  Whenever he couldn’t think of the right words to use, he played his violin until the words he wanted flowed.  The world was made better by these two men whose works were enhanced by music. How different Thomas Jefferson’s words may have been if he was just strictly taught grammar and sentence structure, and not had an education in music.

Now I don’t advocate music education so we can all raise little Einsteins and writers of world changing documents, but because music enhances our lives and enriches our souls. Even King Saul from the Bible knew the power that music played in his life, as it soothed him and restored his mood.  We are underestimating the value of music when we don’t include it in children’s education.

The piano that I plunked away on as a girl, now sits in my dining room. Liz, child number 4, is learning to play just as the three before her also did.  All my children will learn to play the piano – they don’t have to like it, or be good at it or toil away long hours at practice, but they will learn to read music and reach a level of late intermediate/early advanced before they can choose to quit.  When they moan and groan or ask why they have to learn piano, my reasoning is quite simple – 1. we own a piano so therefore you will learn to play it and 2……. It’s part of your education.

Posted January 15, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

I left my listening ears at home   Leave a comment

I hear it in libraries, in schools, churches and any other place where children gather – phrases such as, “put on your listening ears,” or “use your inside voices,” and today at the YMCA,  I heard a mom tell her daughter to use her ‘walking feet’ on the pool deck.  I never quite understood the reasoning behind using such phrases. If my husband answers his cell phone in the store and talks too loudly, I simply say, “Shhh, you’re talking too loud.”  It would feel ridiculous for me to say, “Please use your inside voice,” – and I would feel just as silly talking to my children or other children that way.  Children do understand normal conversation and I think they appreciate  not being talked down to by using these cutesy phrases. A group of first graders touring the library will understand – “You need to talk quietly in the library.” 

We live in a time where parents are so concerned about damaging their poor child’s self-esteem. Telling a child to be quiet while someone else is talking is too harsh, so instead we say, “put on your listening ears,” because it sounds nicer and less like a command.  Maybe that is part of the reason why many moms become exhausted when they are around their children.  They are trying to keep up an artificial front of cutesy talk, endless counting to three, validating feelings instead of just being real.

The next time I’m at the library and hear a teacher say, “Now everyone, Please put on your listening ears,” I secretly hope some kid pops up and says, “But teacher I left them at home.”  I bet she’ll be quick to say, “Sit down and be quiet.”

Posted January 12, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in childhood

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The end result… or the beginning?   Leave a comment

When I became a mom I was concerned with how my children would turn out as does any other parent.  Carefully trying to make the right decisions regarding food, tv viewing, enrichment activities and education. I guess I could say I viewed raising kids as sort of like an assembly line in a factory – if I do all the right things, then I will end up with the right product.  Whenever I heard about the troubles parents with teens or adult children were having, I imagined they must have done something wrong along the way, and I thought – with a very cocky attitude – that I would not make such blunders.  Sort of like an arm-chair quarterback – they’re quick to point out everything the quarterback is doing wrong with no experience to back it up.  

Fortunately, time and experience has given me a little wisdom.  I do believe our children are shaped by their experiences, whether they are positive or negative – what I don’t believe is that there is a right way to experience childhood.  As a 15 year, homeschooling veteran I have heard enough of the claims that a specific educational choice is a magic bullet to great kids. I have seen kids from all educational backgrounds be successful… and struggle – homeschoolers, public and privately schooled kids alike.

Homeschooling is not the right way to educate, but a different way to experience childhood and learning.  It allows for the ability to create an educational environment that just cannot be duplicated in a formal school setting because of the sheer numbers of students that it needs to serve.  I no longer see homeschooling as a way to produce an end result, but as a foundation to the beginning of a life – a life that will include successes and failures, good choices and bad.

Posted January 7, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

Rite of Passage – conclusion   Leave a comment

Now we just did not hand over the keys to the van and send the boys on their way. I wanted them to be equipped to handle any situation that might arise. We gathered information they would need; addresses, directions, and phone numbers to the Hostel, campground, State Patrol for each state, and all the places they wanted to sightsee. That was all put into a binder that they would take with them. We also included a notarized letter giving permission for the boys to receive medical treatment if necessary and another letter stating they had our permission to be traveling. Hidden in the van was a credit card in case my oldest had his wallet lost or stolen and we added a baseball bat that would be within reach to use as a weapon if necessary. We felt we included everything they would need and it was time for them to make this adventure their own.

Their trip was a success. They enjoyed talking with new people at the hostel and meeting the challenge of navigating themselves in Minneapolis and using the tram system in a city unfamiliar to them.  They toured Deadwood, saw Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, visited Mount Rushmore and spent a day at Custer State Park photographing buffalo and hiking. At the various sites, they met many people that thought their trip together was amazing. One particular instance was while they were waiting for an evening presentation at Mount Rushmore and were chatting with the man seated next to them. When he learned they were camping together, he could not wait until his wife sat down to tell her about a sixteen year old young man who brought his brother out to see South Dakota from Wisconsin. The boys returned home with a deeper sense of confidence in their abilities.  In fact, my twelve year never wanted to go to summer camp again after that trip.  After traveling and maintaining a campsite on their own, going to camp and having an adult monitor every activity just wasn’t appealing anymore.

 They looked forward to the following summer with the possibility of another trip. Unfortunately that was not going to happen. Every campground that we called in the area  in which they were interested, said no. We realized how lucky we were that the campground in Deadwood had accepted them and that they were truly blessed to be able to have had that experience.  They would have to wait 2 years, when they were 18 and 14 before the next trip.  They took that this past summer, driving out East.  They camped in Gettysburg and visited Philadelphia and Washington D.C..
The vision I had for a rite of passage for my boys to experience had been accomplished.  They, alone, were responsible for to look out for each other, make good decisions and use sound judgement.  They made it home safely … and I didn’t have my face plastered on tabloid newspapers as the worst mom in history or end up in jail.

Posted January 5, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

Rite of Passage part 3   1 comment

We barely started planning their trip to South Dakota when we ran into obstacles. We wanted the boys to stay at a privately owned campground verses a state park because of the family atmosphere and smaller size. We began calling campgrounds in the area of Mount Rushmore and they all said no, they would not accept a party with no one over eighteen present. I understood their position, but I was still hoping someone would give them a chance. After calling many campgrounds in that area, we had to start looking farther away from Mount Rushmore. A campground in Deadwood said they would take them. We were elated!  Their trip was becoming a reality.

The next obstacle would be in Minnesota. They wanted to attend a Twins game on the way. It was an evening game and they would need to spend the night in Minneapolis. We found that Minnesota law says no one can get a hotel room under the age of eighteen, even if I called and made the reservation for them. A friend suggested a Youth Hostel and we found there were a few in Minneapolis. We made a reservation at one that was someone’s home and near the city’s tram system so they could take the tram to the baseball game.

While making calls to various places of interest to get information on things to do, we found a horseback riding stable that gave rides through a canyon.  The boys said they would enjoy that so I called to make a reservation.  While talking with the owner I told her the boys would be traveling alone and if there was anything I needed to sign for them to ride, I asked if it could be done via e-mail.  She was very cooperative and friendly and a reservation was made.  A few days went by and as I had not received an e-mail from her, I called to check on it.  The woman’s attitude toward me had totally changed.  She nearly yelled at me and said it was inappropriate for me to send a 16yr old and 12yr old across two states alone.  I was stunned and shaken.  It planted doubt in my mind about the trip.  Then I told myself I would not let this woman’s issues or fears control me.  She didn’t know me or my boys, in fact the people who did know us were supportive of the trip and believed in the ability of the boys to handle themselves.  I realized this woman’s attitude reflected that of many in our society.  That teens are incapable of such responsibility – especially one that does not involve any adult supervision.  I beg to differ and intended to show that when given the opportunity, teens will rise to the challenge.

Posted January 4, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

Rite of Passage Part 2   1 comment

I stood and watched my two sons, ages sixteen and twelve, drive away in our van on their way to South Dakota in July of 2008. They were going camping for a week and wanted to sightsee at Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and Deadwood. This was nearly eight hundred miles from our home in Wisconsin. Was I crazy?  Was I doing the right thing in letting them go alone? I asked myself these questions often while we were planning their trip. Then I began to reflect back on all of our years of homeschooling, teaching them to be independent and strong, critical thinkers and problem solvers. They were ready, and I knew it. 

We perceive our world as a dangerous one filled with murderers and kidnappers ready to strike our children. But statistics show that violent crime is down from past decades and the reality is that we have more to fear in getting into an accident driving to the store than we do of a stranger snatching our children.  According to stastics found in the book, Free Range Kids, a child is 40 times more likely to die as a passenger in a car crash than be kidnapped or murdered by a stranger.  Yet, we take that risk everyday, but keep our kids from enjoying the freedom to roam and be independent because of fear blown out of proportion – partly due to extensive media coverage of the few unfortunate incidents that do occur.

I had been raising my children with a lot of freedom and arming them with the ability to handle themselves with people.  Since my oldest son was seven he had been walking to the store alone and learning to feel comfortable approaching employees for assistance if he needed help locating something. They have been allowed to ride their bikes or walk to the library, to their piano lessons, to their grandparents, to church and anywhere else in town they wanted to go.

Our homeschooling lifestyle has enabled them to be independent, to make their own choices in how they spend much of their time, and to feel comfortable navigating themselves out in the world. So when the boys were sixteen and twelve it did not surprise me that they wanted to take a camping trip to South Dakota on their own.  It was a natural step in their freedom filled childhood and I wasn’t going to let my fears keep them from making it.

Posted January 3, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

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