Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Homeschooling in Down Times

Before we plunge back into lumber, hammers and saws, I wanted to share a bit about homeschooling. 

During our house build we spent sometimes weeks in the RV, usually when snowed in, taking turns being sick. Missing church for 3 weeks in a row was not unusual! (I have to note here that since the world went wacky, we haven't had a cold in 2 years! It's been wonderful to skip it! A very sincere Thank You to everyone for staying home when you have a sniffle.) 

Being sick knocked our homeschool routine off for a while,  but not for a moment did we consider ourselves as having failed.

Sometimes, especially during cold winter months, there are days when you just can't get going. Maybe it's sickness or fatigue you can't get past, or the days getting shorter or weather inclement and it's harder to get moving. Whether you are on the couch with a headache, or needing to take three naps a day while your toddler seems to have enough energy to power NASA rockets, you can still homeschool. Do not be discouraged, do not give up!

Here are some important things to remember: 

  • Homeschooling is a lifestyle, not a scheduled calendar of study periods. 
  • If your kids are home with you, you are already ahead!
  • Homeschooling is full of Life Lessons, and this down time may be one of them. 
  • Kids need routine, but they enjoy breaks and changes can be invigorating to them like it is to adults. (I usually had to adjust the routine after a round of sickness; down time is a good time to think about that.)
  • Kids learn constantly. As long as their minds aren't being dulled, they cannot help but learn. They WILL learn something during the down time, and you can still guide that learning by providing things for them. 

When we were having sick days I had certain things I knew we could go to to keep us learning and distract from the discomfort of illness:

  • Good Books. We have a big home library. We stuffed the RV with as many books as we could, too. Let 'em loose in the home library. 
  • LibriVox. This is a great site for when EVERYONE is down sick, as in too sick to sit up for long times. There's something for everyone's interest and listening instead of watching is more restful. I still remember one sick child in bed wanting to listen to a book about Ernest Shackleton's expeditions (one year I read all about Antarctica in winter when I was in bed with a fever. Cold polar stuff doesn't seem like it would be appealing when you are sick in the winter, does it! Maybe it had just the cooling effect we needed). You can also search by reader if you find someone you like listening to.
  • YouTube (or its equivelent on other sites or blogs). If light, sound and motion do not bother the sick, this is a great way to get in some passive learning. We don't have TV and because my active little ones are not accustomed to entertainment/daily screen time, it is easier to keep them quiet and resting when they had a distracting treat like this. And what a nice thing that we live in a time when we have access to this on portable devices when we are sick! While I would not consider this an official school thing, it is not a waste of time when the kids are down sick anyway. At the least the children are picking up some practical tips or knowledge. I like people's online channels because you aren't wasting your mind or letting Hollywood mess around with it. You can watch people DOING things! People are building houses, demonstrating lost skills, doing things the old fashioned way, cooking, crafting, exploring history, bushcrafting, building boats, sewing, raising animals, doing science experiments (jet engines in the garage!?), debating,  teaching math & logic, singing, playing the banjo, housecleaning (fast-forward housecleaning videos are great!), and you can find people in countries around the world showing what their culture and history are like.  You can pick your program instead of TV-execs picking it for you. It's real people not reality shows, and they are teaching you what they know and have a passion for. I'm still surprised at the number of people who say they "don't watch YouTube" or online videos and prefer a steady diet of CNN. Really?
  • That's what Toys are for. How many Birthday and Christmas gifts were opened and put on the shelf and forgotten about? There are plenty of toys in your kids' stash that are good for downtimes. Drawing boards or kits, toys that develop engineering skills, and good old Legos (how would your child like a whole day off to play with Legos?). Using your hands and creative skills are very good for the mind. And don't forget those boxes of  games laying dusty on the shelf.
  • That's what siblings are for. So many times have we had a day off or a down day, and by the end of it a group of siblings has developed a new game of strategy, or written a book together, or brainstormed ideas, and you can see that having that time together has lit all their light bulbs! Ideas easily flow when they have a chance to break out of the normal routine (rut) and be on their own for a little bit. The effects are lasting too. 
  • Mom's Big Ideas and Inventions. This is good for when Mom is down, and there is a toddler or two to deal with: Come up with games that the kids can do, or send them on errands to wear them out a bit, with a reward of sitting still and reading a book or playing quietly.  Play pick-up-toys: pick up every toy off the floor that is green. Now every toy that is red (it takes a while for them to catch on that this is not a game...don't tell them!). When I was down a couple of years ago, I ran a post office from bed. I gave the toddler a hat and pouch (fashioned from paper) and he was the mailman. I kept him running between me and the rest of the family taking notes to them. He LOVED it and it gave him something focused and "important" to do.
  • Tell them a Story. Summarize a Bible story. Tell them about your childhood. Tell them about someone else in the family tree. Or, just make something up! Don't tell yourself that you aren't "creative" and can't do this. A story for little ones is made up of simple elements: you have a main character who has an adventure and learns a lesson. Easy peasy. It might even become a series. Lately I've done the (short) adventures of bugs and a pet racoon who makes pancakes on the roof. They both became a much-asked for series of stories.
  • Responsibility. When you (mom) are down, kids can learn to do things for you. Hopefully you have covered some of these chores in your homeschooling already, but if not you would be amazed how well dictating step-by-step from the couch works! And if not done perfectly, at least it is further along than it would have been. Anyone who is well can learn to wash the dishes, make a meal, write a grocery list for dad (who seems to stay well during these crisis), and babysit little ones. Lately I have been giving driving lessons for an hour or two every day. It isn't "down time" but it is an interruption into the school day that wasn't there before. My teens know enough of bread-baking, cooking, babysitting and every bit of housekeeping so I know that no matter how many hours we are gone everything will be fine. The grade-schooler  surprised me by making up a math curriculum for the toddler and is giving him math lessons while I'm gone!
  • Deep Dive. I don't know if this is just me or my family, but some of us go for deep dives when we are sick and read difficult books or books we would have considered "boring" or over our heads. It just seems like when we are down our minds receive complex things better, or perhaps our minds are rested and we have more time to try to understand it. If you have a child like this, let them go for a deep dive.
  • Schoolwork. If mom is the only one down, the children can be self-propelled with their school and bring the hard stuff to your bed. I've done a whole day's school teaching from bed before. Some kids like to just be there with you, and others like to do things on their own and just bring in their reader etc. If you are homeschooling you probably have noticed how much studying your children can do on their own. Another fun thing is to tell them that while you are down for a few days, they can make up their own homeschool routine. You might be surprised: I have one who made up his own curriculum involving math methods from other cultures! 
  • Rest. If you do nothing but lay around all day and recover, you are still doing something good with your family. Do you realize how much rest a child needs? Often homeschoolers do not take as much time off as the local school system does, so a few sick days should not make you panic. If you are the one sick, look at it as a time to recharge your batteries: everyone appreciates a well-rested parent. Enjoy the time off and rest.

I want to note that if you are not working now on obedience, training in chores (how to work as much as doing the work), instilling a work ethic in your children, a deep sense of duty, personal responsibility, accountability, good use of time and just plain common sense (which isn't always naturally common to everyone), none of this will work for you when you are the one sick. You will spend the entire time yelling at your kids who are bouncing off the walls, setting the house on fire or quietly up to no good in the other room. If they don't see these virtues by example they may not learn them, so use your well time wisely!

What do you do for "down times?" Let me know in the comments!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Hello Again and The Best of British Baking cookbook review

I took the above photo on a drive this morning, the sun was lighting up Mt. Jefferson to the right of the old barn. 

 Hello all--happy new year! I hope it is going well for everyone. We have already been "snowed in" and had a big thaw with squishy mud! It was hazardous to get out. Excavation for landscaping is underway, but I have to catch all my house-building posts up to this point so more on that much later. I wouldn't mind more snow, it is just the aftermath of sinking 3" into the mud everywhere we walk that is not so fun! A week of sunshine is drying us out nicely.

I wanted to start the year's blogging with a cookbook review, as it was a good time to stay indoors and bake!

I was thrilled to be picked to receive a free copy of this book, The Best of British Baking: Classic Sweet Treats and Savory Bakes to review! I knew that in order to truly review it I would get to bake a lot of treats!

I have followed Marie's blog, The English Kitchen, for a few years and enjoyed her practical, use-what-you-have comfort-food style recipes from both Canadian and British cuisines. Anything from a Canadian cook is going to be successful... and a cookbook of British favorites was a good fit for this tea-lover!
Besides the appeal of the recipes, the book itself is beautiful to look at and I like reading all the extras about the cuisines of each region. There are plenty of tips, too.

I have tried four recipes so far: Crumpets, English Muffins, Cornish Pasties and Scottish Shortbread. I confess I've made the shortbread twice and I think it will be the one I make the most from this book! It's really good shortbread!

Here are a few tips of my own for what I have done so far: 
--If you are going to treat yourself and order the book, put Crumpet Rings/baking rings in your cart, too! Don't mix up the batter before you discover that you need rings (in other words, read the note at the top of the recipe first!). Improvising may not be for this application. I had to make mine "free form" and the flavor was delicious but you really need the rings.

--The pasty pastry worked! Pastry and I do not get along normally. My pies are usually ragged and patched. This pastry rolled and had no holes! I wondered how the Cornish Pasty filling was going to work out without gravy etc. but it made its own sauce and was such a satisfying, hearty recipe for my family. 

--English muffins take patience (for me at least!). If you have the heat too high, even for a bit, they will get too brown too fast but not done right in the middle. Low and slow is the advice in the book so I need to do this one again.

But the shortbread...ahh...the shortbread. It was delicious very warm from the oven. With heroic effort I put aside some for the next day. 
Of course I had to take a taste for breakfast, because shortbread is never sitting there on the counter at breakfast time and I the water was boiling for tea... well  someone needed to test these out to see if they were any good the next day. They were! The texture and flavor were just the same. Delicious hot or cold.

 I will say that if you have never made Scottish shortbread before, just be aware that it isn't going to form into a dough; it is a mixture like damp sand and when Marie says "tip it into a tin" it's because it's going to dump a mixture of what you will think is too dry to make cookies. It magically melds together in the oven, all sweet buttery-ness and comes out perfectly. I may have to keep making this one regularly to further review it... you know, to double or triple check to make sure it is still delicious.
There are savory and sweet baking recipes so I need to decide which kind I am going to bake next...maybe a cake for Valentine's day!
 I hope you will take a look at the book, you can see several sample pages on Amazon. Don't forget the crumpet rings (you know you will want to try crumpets out!). Thank you to Marie and her publisher for sharing a copy with me!