Homeschool Dad : On Chess

Having finished the first year, I’ve been preparing our portfolios for review and giving thought to next year’s curriculum and objectives. It makes sense, then, that I’ve also been reflecting on the year’s highs and lows and evaluating potential changes.

One last-minute subject that I never would have intended to teach were it not for a couple of well-timed blog posts is chess. I’ve long appreciated the game, even if I’ve never spent intentional time considering strategies. I can honestly say I learned alongside the kiddos, and that at this point it is only a matter of time before they far exceed my capabilities.

For a text, I chose two books. The Batsford Book of Chess for Children (book links to Amazon) by Sabrina Chevannes was the favorite. Chevannes introduces the game using the framework of a conversation between a comic brother and sister, top-notch color graphics, and enough humor to engage the kiddos. (Star Wars references are helpful!) Our students (age 9, 9, and 7 at the outset) loved it, understood it, and looked forward to it weekly.

Chess for Children by Murray Chandler became our supplementary text. This bare-boned presentation rests on the same level as Batsford. Though a little cluttered and monochrome, there are tremendous paper exercises throughout this book that proved useful.

For a schedule, we chose Mondays for lessons, and three days throughout the week for individual games. While one of the kiddos would read aloud to me, the other two would face off. As the year rolled on, we added notation to their games so that they could practice writing, reading, and reliving games.

Once we finished the text, we began reviewing tournament matches as a way of introducing opening strategies. Thanks to chessgames.com, we were able to visit a number of classic master matches and see how a variety of players utilized particular opening moves. The kiddos particularly enjoyed meeting Bobby Fischer and his King’s Indian.

Perhaps the nerdy dad highlight of the year was the first time the kiddos responded to an aggressive bishop capture with a boisterous OH!, or a queen sacrifice with a loud WHAT?!? as if they had just watched Randy Johnson blow up a bird.

To sum up, teach them chess. Teach them to think abstractly and strategically. Rejoice when they work together as a team to defeat you. Be afraid when you realize your now-8yr old daughter traps your queen – on purpose. Celebrate when they challenge random college students to games and win. Delight in the development of a wholly different portion of their amazing brains!

In Brief: Pinocchio

Our literary quest through the homeschool year ended with a massive flourish as we enjoyed Carlo Lorenzini’s (better known as Collodi, his adopted surname which doubles as the name of his hometown) classic Pinocchio. 

From a schooling perspective, our typical approach with any classic is to read the book, view the most popular version on film, and then write a reflection piece detailing the similarities, differences, and our personal preferences. In the case of Pinocchio, my children and I unanimously preferred the Collodi version.

My daughter preferred the suspense of the 1883 classic. My sons preferred the broader variety in the story and the detail with which Collodi brought the puppet and secondary characters to life. Personally, I preferred the depth of Pinocchio’s transformation which was utterly (and regrettably) absent in the mammoth Disney offering.

The Page vs. The Silver Screen

If there are complaints about the original tale of the beloved puppet, typically they revolve around his biting and nasty character, or the lethal peril which he faces after every increasingly disappointing decision. In all honesty, Pinocchio is as much the villain of the novel as any other. But it is the depth of the marionette’s depravity that makes his repentance all the more glorious.

The movie presents Pinocchio as the whimsical boy whose one bad decision leads to a series of unfortunate events. The viewer is led to sympathize with Pinocchio as a victim. His brokenness is shallow. So, then, is his eventual transformation into a real boy. What was the point of it all? I guess when you wish upon a star, your mild misadventure will end in all your dreams coming true?

Collodi’s Pinocchio makes repeated willfully disobedient decisions, each a slap in the face to those who have loved him most. He abuses the sacrificial gifts of his father who fashioned him from a talking piece of wood. He rejects the redemptive efforts of the blue fairy who repeatedly comes to his aid. At every turn, he laments his situation, pleading for help and half-heartedly feigning sadness. He loves complaining and being the recipient of the world’s pity. It’s easy to dislike Gepetto’s puppet.

Even when he turns completely into an ass (the most egregious omission from the movie), he doesn’t break. Even when he is then sold into the big top to perform tricks, he does not repent. Even when he’s lamed after failing at the tricks and sold to a trader who intends to kill him, skin him, and turn him into a drum, he’s not ready to change.

It’s only when that trader throws him into the sea with a millstone around his neck that the Pinocchio of the page changes. Critics of the book complain that Pinocchio so vividly describes the fifty-minute ordeal under the sea where fish consume his donkey flesh, leaving only the wooden skeleton behind. But it is this death that leads to Pinocchio’s true repentance.

Upon being pulled from the sea by the man (who then realized he wasn’t getting his drum!), Pinocchio repents. He changes. He seeks after his father Gepetto who had been swallowed by a great fish while searching for his son. He cares for the ailing blue fairy, sacrificing every earthly penny to restore her to health.

And it is at the end of this journey that Pinocchio becomes a real boy.

Sometimes the best part of good news is first knowing the bad news. Where Disney, sadly, offers cheap grace and a couple of catchy songs, Collodi walked his main character through the valley of the shadow of death. My children and I both appreciated the depth of Collodi’s story, which only left us wanting more of the film.

The Takeaway

More than a morality tale, Pinocchio tells the story of a living creature who was little more than dust, who was crafted into the image of his maker, destroyed his own conscience (yes, Collodi’s Pinocchio kills the cricket at the first suggestion that his actions were foolish), swallowed the most dastardly lies, and discarded the most valuable treasures, believing that his way would be more fruitful.

The real Pinocchio shows the consequence of foolishness as the main character chases fleeting pleasures and transforms fully into a donkey, just as it was promised he would.

The real Pinocchio shows that a cheap turn will not suffice. Talk is cheap if the heart remains darkened. Only the death of wicked selfishness can lead to the kind of change that would satisfy his heart’s greatest desire.

Pinocchio then shows the power of a transformed life as it radiates with true love, self-sacrifice, generosity, and joy.

Personally, I believe my children preferred Collodi’s story because it echoes the greatest story. Likewise, I think many dislike the original because it provides an all-too-familiar look into the depths of our own souls and makes clear that the road to true transformation comes through death to self.

The cost of becoming what we were created to be is quite severe. More than we would or could pay on our own. Am I allowed to say that Collodi’s Pinocchio made me praise my Savior?

 

 

Homeschool Dad : Year One

To think I commented at having taken two weeks in between posts in October. Our school year was complete yesterday – year one is in the books. I cannot state in a sentence the magnitude of the blessing I’ve received this year in exercising the privilege of educating my children. I loved it.

A friend asked recently how we’ve enjoyed the year. After sharing some of my joy, I shared that I only blew up a few times. That is, I could only recall a few instances where frustration reached a boiling point. To be sure of this, I asked #2 how many times dad exploded this year, to which he replied, “I don’t know, maybe three times?” Whew.

A year that began with uncertainty ended with assurance. I can do this. They can survive this. We can grow together. We can build fruitful rhythms into our lives and enjoy an inordinate amount of time together. I can still get my work done.

There is no doubt that these home rhythms have infringed on the other rhythms of life – work in particular. However, they’ve brought deep contemplation and consideration to bear on my views of family, work, and life. There are scores of topics to discuss in this realm. Perhaps with the summer hours I’ll get to a few of them.

In the meantime, I am encouraged. I am thankful. I am excited to see how we’ll adapt our summer rhythms and celebrate the break from formal education. I’m hoping we still play chess all summer, read fabulous books (and maybe even a bad one…), and explore the all-too-curious past, present, and future of this precious life we’ve been granted.

 

Homeschool Dad : Friday

Two weeks. I’ve taken a break of two weeks from posting. And yes, that was enough time for me to make yet another adjustment to what is now “normal.” Thankfully, I enjoy change and exploration, so I’ve relished the variety.

Perhaps the most exciting change is a new bit of furniture in our reading room. Three boys share one bedroom, two girls another. My wife and I have decided to use the attic as a bedroom, which leaves our smallest bedroom vacant. This has become our reading room… just another space to allow for learning.

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – history
09:30am – music
10:00am – literature
10:30am – language arts
11:20am – lunch
12:15pm – (take #4 to preschool)
12:45pm – Twenty Questions
01:15pm – math #1
01:35pm – math #2
02:00pm – math #3
03:00pm – (pick up #4 from preschool)

I love Fridays. A Top 5 decision this year was to stand in opposition to many homeschool advocates by foregoing classical music in favor of the history of rock ‘n roll. I’ll speak on that decision in a later post, but it has given Fridays a certain enjoyable edge, and also allowed for a particular connection with my kiddos that extends well beyond our studies. (Besides, I can’t lose them to pop music without their knowing what they’re missing…)

Twenty Questions is our version of a weekly review. The questions range all subjects except for math. The front side is typically 17 quite varied inquiries, but nothing so detailed as to be outrageous or unfair. If they’ve paid attention all week, they survive without difficulty. The back side is a specific review for language arts with careful attention to spelling, capitalization, punctuation, etc. We tend to get pretty fired up reviewing 20Q. It’s a highlight of the week. We celebrate what we know!

Each of these five days has become a time to cherish with my kiddos. Fifty-two days in, I am loving the homeschool experience. I am excited to share more on the curriculum choices in the coming weeks.

Homeschool Dad : Wednesday

Homeschooling while maintaining a work life outside the home presents unique challenges. Ministry, thankfully, is remarkably flexible and often operates during hours outside of school (especially when the focus of my particular vocational calling involves children, youth, and families).

Wednesday is a day of such challenges. Mentoring over breakfast, an afternoon staff meeting, and an evening study group are all specific challenges to the homeschooling day. However, this is why we’ve been given imaginations, is it not?

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – history
09:30am – reading aloud #2 (#1 v. #3 chess)
10:00am – literature
10:30am – language arts
11:20am – lunch
12:15pm – (take #4 to preschool)
01:00pm – (Dad’s staff meeting)
01:00pm – math worksheets
01:30pm – copywork
02:00pm – independent study
03:00pm – (pick up #4 from preschool)

Wednesday afternoons are interesting because my attention is required in two places at one time. The weekly staff meeting is necessary and often quite fruitful, and I’ve resolved to make that time fruitful for the kiddos as well.

With the kiddos being younger, a great deal of our math curriculum is oral (tables, problem-solving, etc.). I’ve chosen Wednesday afternoons to present them with the worksheets which adorn our state-mandated portfolio – evidence of growth in the craft. These also allow me to see that their developing mental acuity functions just as well on paper as it does when guided by the soothing sound of Dad’s voice…

We also use Wednesday afternoons for a bit of copywork, which most often is a reinforcement of our previous week’s Hymn study (see the Thursday schedule). I like having them write out the songs for a couple reasons. One, I appreciate their value theologically. But I also appreciate their value as poetry. The language of the past is often vivid and varied. I believe exposure to the words and ways of the past has benefits that far outweigh the difficulties.

Finally, I’m working out in practice what independent study looks like for younger children. The kiddos have selected a topic (all animals) that they are researching for a presentation at the end of the year. This concept is a work in progress, for sure.

Wednesdays are perhaps my greatest challenge because of the level of independence, but the first eight weeks have proven quite nice.

 

 

 

Homeschool Dad : Tuesday

I’m still new enough in the realm of homeschooling that, even as I share the current patterns of our days, I am evaluating and asking myself if there aren’t immediate improvements that could be made.

One thing I have noticed to this point in the year is that the schedule is a work in progress. While I have made changes, I have tried not to make constant changes. I know I will have time to fine tune adjustments. Here stands our current Tuesday:

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – geography
09:30am – art
10:00am – literature
10:30am – language arts
11:00am – reading aloud #1 (#2 v. #3 chess)
11:30am – lunch
12:45pm – science
01:15pm – math #1 (#2/#3 silent reading)
01:35pm – math #2 (#1/#3 silent reading)
02:00pm – math #3 (#1/#2 silent reading)

At a glance, it would seem that we read a lot. And we do. Two principles are fixed in my brain which may or may not be entirely true, but which we pursue nonetheless.

First is that a great deal of learning is both taught and caught. I wake up Monday through Friday intending to fill my children with what little knowledge and wisdom I have to impart through a teacher-student paradigm. But I also recognize that their repeated exposure to varied forms of literature will leave varied and valuable imprints.

I can and will teach them spelling, capitalization, when to use quotation marks, when to break a paragraph. But I can also immerse them in books which will teach these rules without ever speaking an intentional word on the matter. And if I’m being honest, I recognize that a great many books do so in a far more engaging and interesting fashion.

(Obviously, literature leaves other imprints that can be positive and negative to their impressionable minds, which is why we are also trying to cultivate a family culture of discussing what we read!)

The second principle I keep in mind is that a life of learning is inextricably tied to the ability to read. Much wisdom comes from simply living, but exponentially more is also available on printed pages. I want reading to be comfortable and normal. I want to instill and train them for a life of learning that extends well beyond my ability to teach. I want their knowledge, and their thirst for understanding, to far exceed my own.

And so we read. I read aloud to them. They read aloud to me. They read silently. We talk about what we read. Tuesdays certainly highlight that. And, to this point in the year, I believe we are all growing as a result.

 

 

Homeschool Dad : Monday

While asking what homeschooling might do to my life, I also began to seek out typical schedules from across the web. I don’t say this often, but as I carried out this search, I was thankful for the internet. I was able to peruse a great many week-long breakdowns, among which mine will now digitally rest.

Since I’ve already shared a snapshot of a “typical” weekday from my perspective, I wanted to share the same from the perspective of the kiddos. I’ll discuss each day briefly, and then if I remember, I’ll post the full week in PDF format.

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – history
09:30am – chess
10:15am – literature
10:45am – language arts
11:20am – lunch
12:15pm – (take #4 to preschool)
12:45pm – science
01:15pm – math #1 (#2/#3 reading)
01:35pm – math #2 (#1/#3 reading)
02:00pm – math #3 (#1/#2 reading)
03:00pm – (retrieve #4 from preschool)

I’ve found stretching to be a great start to the day, as it gets everyone up and moving. I won’t lie, after going on my run, I welcome the stretches as well. It is a nice warm up into our family walk as well. At times, we’ll walk my wife to work (about 3/4mi away), or we’ll just wander the neighborhood. The kiddos have umbrellas, coats, and boots, and so far we’ve been able to get outside regardless of the weather.

With fresh air and a bit of movement under our belts, we start the day. I try to alternate word-heavy subjects with hands-on subjects in order to keep the kiddos engaged.

Catechism is a Q&A format of doctrinal instruction. It has obvious implications from a faith perspective, but it is also an exercise in memorization, which is helpful for the whole family!

On Monday, chess is a demonstrated lesson. This being our first year, we are working through the various pieces (with mini-games), terminology, maneuvers, strategy, etc. We apply what we’ve learned during play through the middle of the week.

We’ve settled on mathematics as one of two individualized subjects this year. It is a subject that can easily be customized, and this allows me to encourage and challenge the kiddos at their own pace. With three very different aptitudes, it only makes sense to focus this time for each kid.

This means that everything else is presented to the group (age 9, 9, and 7). We do most work around the dining room table, but we move around the house (inside and out), and around the town to change the setting when available and appropriate.

As a final note, the schedule has a wealth of time built in for the sake of flexibility. We walk around town a lot. We take breaks. We spend time in conversation. We make hot cocoa. We eat snacks. We use the bathroom. Lessons vary in length based on the day, the subject, and the material at hand. As I said in my last post, I give the day to my children. We have a routine, but we also have to leave room for life to happen!

I can talk more about specific classes and curriculum choices in the days/weeks to come. But for this week, it’s all about the schedule.

Homeschool Dad : A Day in the Life

Among the wealth of questions that ran through my brain as we considered the shift toward schooling at home was, of course, the selfish one: What will this do to my life? 

Ministry knows few personal boundaries (except those that are intentionally established, but that’s another post), and my wife has a very caring approach to her work as well, which means our lives are deeply intertwined at times with our vocational callings.

How can I work and teach? When will I find time to read? To exercise? To date my wife? These are all fair questions and worthy of consideration.

Seven weeks into the process, I’ve established something of a rhythm. That rhythm is currently being obliterated by a four-day-old, but at least there is a “normal” which I can now strive to regain before adjusting again.

What does a “normal” weekday look like? I will comment on the specific areas below:

04:55am – wake up
05:03am – out the door for a run
05:22am – return & shower
05:40am – sitting down for my time
07:45am – wake the kiddos
08:20am – begin the school routine
11:20am – lunch
02:30pm – finish school routine
06:00pm – dinner
07:15pm – family time
08:00pm – kiddos are in bed

The beginning of my day sounds ridiculously regimented. I didn’t schedule it with such particularity. I’ve just come to notice the clock, and these are pretty steady times if I move at the right pace.

In reality, I consider the snooze button daily.
In reality, I hate running.

I run 15 minutes each morning, which at this point is around 2 miles. I spend this time in prayer, and I find that it helps me to stay awake for my personal time. I am not aiming to break records, just to wake up and get a few endorphins flowing.

I spend my personal time in the Bible, and in personal reading, with the occasional work task. When the weather is above 50 degrees, I am on the porch with a yogurt and cup of coffee under the lights. It’s a peaceful time of the day. My focus is high, and I am generally ready when 7:45 rolls around.

I’ll share more on our school schedule later, but I’ll say that I decided early on to be 100% at school when we’re schooling. No distractions. No lingering work. No trying to finish early in order to get to another project. I am in those hours for the kiddos, and I’ve found peace in that decision. We take breaks, we move at a leisurely pace that fits our family.

Every day, there is a four hour window in the afternoon. We don’t run ragged with the kiddos. We try to say no frequently enough that we are not stressed and frustrated at the schedule. That is a family decision.

A portion of the afternoon belongs to work.  A portion belongs to the family. A portion belongs to the house. I work there as the day allows, and as my responsibilities demand. With five kids under 10, we do not lack variety.

We’ve managed to maintain a pattern that involves family meals most days of the week. Ministry gets in the way periodically, but we’re pretty consistent.

Family worship is the subject of another post, but building in the time that all six (now seven) of us are together daily is also something we value. We know these times are limited, and so we cherish them. The nights sometimes run later, but we aim for the same bedtime.

Post-kiddo-bedtime evenings belong to my wife and rest. I may read if there’s time and energy. I may watch an episode of Cheers. We may just enjoy each other. But I’ve found ending the day in peace to be just as important as launching in peace.

Because 4:55 comes quickly…

Homeschool Dad

As my wife and I considered the plunge into homeschooling, we spent time researching the options and the process. Knowing that nearly the entire formal teaching aspect would rest on my shoulders, I began searching to find out just how many homeschooling dads were out there. I sought high and low for thoughts, reflections, encouragement, ideas, and more. I am thankful to have found some that were particularly helpful in our decision-making process.

I wondered if, along this journey of ours, there might be value in sharing our experience… my experience… as a means of encouragement or entertainment.

And so, as I once again consider dusting off my blogging cap, I’m adding a page/category to the website… the homeschool dad.

I shan’t promise profundity.

I dare not promise wisdom.

I can only promise a story, with more than a hint of honesty. I am seven weeks into this journey. I am not a wily veteran. I am a dad who loves his kids and who is in a position to walk with them for this season of life, and maybe share a thought or two along the way.

For the last nine and one-half years, my office has been my dining room table, and I’ve been surrounded by my children. One of the greatest kindnesses of a life of ministry is flexibility. My vocational responsibilities allow me space to read and write from home, which means I’m also able to watch children.

I’ve spent the last decade dividing my daytime between family, ministry, and graphic design. We started with twins, then added another, then another. Two went to school, then three. And this was going to be the year… you know, the year. All four kids in school. Consecutive hours of quiet work. Coffee breaks with friends.

Glorious!

In January, we found out we were to receive another gift in our family. In the spring, we started kicking around the idea of homeschool. My prospective workday went from four children in school to five children at home in a matter of weeks! And, if this remains our reality, it will be so until I am fifty-six years old. That’s almost sixty. (Obviously I’m primed to teach math)

My surprise and my delight is the ease with which my heart welcomed the idea. My mind has entertained reservations all along the way, but only as speed bumps, never roadblocks. My heart has been leading the way.

Some of these days have been difficult. Today, I’m encouraged. I’m also exhausted, but that’s because we have a 3-day-old at home.

If it’s OK, I’ll post a few more thoughts as I find the time.