Archive for July 2009

The Wonder of Girls (Part 3)

July 31, 2009

I thought I would do one more post to sum up some other points from this book.

Gurian tends to favor more conservative rules for teenage dating, with which I tend to agree.  He advocates no dating the age of 16.  For one thing, most girls have no concept of who they are until this age, so how could they possibly share themselves with someone else in such an intimate relationship.  (We won’t even get into the maturity of boys.)  And while he doesn’t come right out and dismiss the popular idea that “dating doesn’t always have to be so serious but can be just for fun”, he does seem to lean towards the idea that “dating” should be about assessing a potential mate and father of your children rather than just “feelings”.   He correctly notes that “Our culture, highly individualistic, has seen dating not as a character rite of passage for the adolescent and family, but as a ‘child’s right’, to be protected whenever the child asserts it.”

Michael Gurian goes on to describe himself as a “Womanist” rather than a “Feminist”.  As the father of two daughters, he would not want their potential or possibilities diminished for any reason.  But rather than telling them that they can “have it all at the same time” like the Feminist Movement, he and his wife explain that they can have it all, but just not at the same time.  There is only so much of one woman to go around, and a woman must decide what her priorities are.  And the care and well-being of her child should take priority over anything else.  This may mean quitting your job, switching to part-time work, or bringing in someone else to care for and bond with the child in your absence.  Gurian and his wife, like most of us, must reconcile the ideal with the reality.

I can not recommend this book enough, and I’ve already added some of his other books to my reading list.

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The Wonder of Girls (Part 2)

July 29, 2009

These are some of my notes from the book about specifically what I, as a mother, need to do to aid their healthy development according to Michael Gurian.

Stage 1:  Birth to Five Years

  1. Attach, attach, attach!! “…Infant attachment to the primary caregiver is one of the primary indicators of later success as an adult” (p. 111).    This attachment needs to be consistent through age 3.
  2. Discipline from 18 months on.
  3. Teach manners.
  4. Introduce child to chores.
  5. Introduce child to the spiritual life.
  6. Limit media usage, specifically television exposure.  (I think I’m getting better.)

Stage 2:  Ages Six to Ten Years

  1. Deal with lying, stealing, and cheating while understanding that this is normal experimental behavior.
  2. Be a clear and competent authority figure for her to model.
  3. Nip whining in the bud.  Make her explain how what she wants will benefit others besides herself.
  4. Teach her how to accept and even enjoy failure.
  5. Monitor media usage, make her media literate, and limit television and movies to those with “uncomplicated moral conclusions”.

Stage 3:  Ages Eleven to Fifteen Years (or onset of Puberty)

  1. Be prepared to handle sudden anger.  Try to investigate the source of your daughter’s anger, but expect her to treat you with respect no matter how angry she is at you.
  2. Be prepared to handle occasional bouts of sadness (which are completely normal): help try to find the root if there is one, offer physical affection or quiet time together, share stories of sadness from your own life, explain possible biological roots of her sadness (hormones, menstrual cycle), help her to discern between legitimate and irrational self-shame if an issue, suggest exercise, help her avoid foods with lots of refined sugars, and be prepared to involve her father, grandmother, or other mentor for help if necessary.
  3. Be prepared to respect certain pulls for autonomy but be careful not to abandon her completely.
  4. Do not allow absolute privacy.
  5. If clothing battles crop up, ask her what she is trying to express about herself with her clothing choices.
  6. Incorporate Rites of Passage.  (I’ve really been giving this a lot of thought.)

Stage 4:  Ages 16 to 20

*Help her to answer the following Four Questions

  1. Question of Identity.  Who am I?:  Besides making sure she knows all of the neurological and bio-chemical things that make her female, help her to learn about her ethnic and religious heritages, her likes and dislikes, her good and bad qualities, and her talents and deficits.  Share your life stories with her:  good times, bad times, fears, disappointments, heart-breaks, and moments of truth.
  2. Question of Autonomy.  What can I do?:  Help her deal with personal responsibility, power, and freedom.  I think that discerning personal and professional goals in life would fall under this category, too.
  3. Question of Morality.  What do I believe?  What is right and wrong?  How should she behave in certain situations?  What are her own personal limits and what risks is she willing to take in life?    What about situations where the right thing to do isn’t always clear?  Discuss “what ifs” with her.  Challenge her to think for herself and express her own beliefs.
  4. Question of Intimacy.  Who will I love?  How will I love?  Dating.  What are her physical limits before marriage?  Discuss what to look for in a future husband and future father of her children.  What are the most important qualities that she wants from her marital relationship?  What about the day-to-day responsibilities of marriage?  (I tend to lead more towards courtship rather than dating.)

Additionally, your child needs to be raised in a “Three-Family System” consisting of the nuclear family, extended family (or very close friends), and institutions such as church or school.  However, the child must be able to form true bonds with people in the institution or it is not a true third family.

The Wonder of Girls

July 25, 2009

The Wonder of Girls by Michael Gurian is a neurological, bio-chemical, and anthropological study of all the dynamic things that make girls wonderful, and I can not recommend it enough to the parents of daughters.  First he begins by discussing the Feminist Movements–its achievements and its limitations.  He notes how the Feminist fear that neurological and biological gender studies would be used for the continued repression of women also kept such differences from being used to empower women.  He then goes on to discuss the neurological advantages that women have in the “Gender Wars”.  These include faster brain development as well as faster blood flow to the brain and through more parts of the brain leading to better memory, multi-tasking, and ability to project consequences of actions.  He then breaks down female brain development into four stages and explains what he calls the female “intimacy imperative”, a neurological imperative to define one’s self by one’s relationships with others.

I found the neurology section section amazing, and there are certain things that really struck me:

  1. The importance of self-knowledge in the maturation of young women is often over-looked.  Young women can gain self-knowledge through family attachments and on a practical level by making surveys of family history and experiences.  Unfortunately, just at the time when young women most need their parents’ input, time, and attention, many parents’ step back thinking their young teen no longer wants or needs their support or guidance.
  2. “[Between ten and fifteen] She will probably become judgmental of others in ways she regrets later.  She may become nasty in ways you don’t like (ways she will feel bad about when she’s lying in bed at night reviewing her day internally” (p. 41).   If that doesn’t explain the nastiness and cliqueish behavior that starts in Junior High I don’t know what does.  Of course, this also initially made me question whether keeping my children out of schools would really help avoid this behavior in my own children as I had hoped.  Then he goes on to say on p. 42: “The social technologies (such as media, peer groups, school institutions) of early adolescents today are overwhelming to brain growth in ways they were not a hundred years ago.”  So while homeschooling may not completely eliminate this behavior, it may diminish its effects on them.
  3. “Stress increases cortisol levels in the brain for boys and girls.  Extremely high stress levels during Stage 3 of female brain development (ages eleven to fifteen) can lead to neurological rewiring, leading to higher rates of depression for the rest of a woman’s life (p. 46).”  People often talk of family history or genetics playing a part in depression.  What if the reason children of depressed people are more likely to be depressed themselves is because the excessive stress of dealing with a severely depressed parent rewires a girl to be more likely to have depression herself.  It’s kind of like the cyle of abuse; in fact, Gurian describes a similar correspondence between excessive stress levels in boys due to sexual abuse and later pedophilia.
  4. According to Gurian, it is normal for Stage 3 girls to have occasional periods of depression or “self-esteem drops”.  It is a neurological response to all of the physical and neurological changes occurring within.  Wow, I bet my mom really would have liked to have known this when I would hide in my room and cry for days.  Of course, if she had this book available, she would have known that these were the times when I most needed her to connect with me.  “…if a child is guided to navigate Stage 3 in relative innocence, protected safety, and constant primary attachments, she ends up developing an even stronger, more competent, and less neurotic self by twenty-five or thirty than had she been “hyper-matured”… ” (p. 44).
  5. “At around twelve, after two years of accelerated neural activity, her brain will begin to focus neurotransmission on areas of the brain most often utilized and not on areas underutilized” (p. 39)  To me this was the the thing that stuck out to me the most.  What he is saying is that things that are learned or most important to a girl between the ages of ten and twelve are  more likely to “stick”.  This doesn’t mean that she is incapable of learning or finding interest in other things at later times, but these things are more likely to remain a part of her throughout her life.  This concept could really effect how we choose to homeschool our daughters between the ages of ten and twelve.

After going through all of the neurology, Gurian begins to tackle the wonderful world of female hormones in Chapter 3.  And I wasn’t nearly as impressed with this bio-chemical section as I was with the previous one.  For one, I found his descriptions of the female menstrual cycle less than stellar.  He should have used the same terminology that any book about female menstrual cycles or a gynecologist would use.  For instance, he should have explained that “Stage 1” of the menstrual cycle begins with the first day of a woman’s period, and then started discussing the biological effects of each hormone on the reproductive system and the correspondent effect it has on a woman’s mood.  Secondly, I wonder if he is even aware that a woman can track her monthly hormonal journey by charting her Basal temperature?  Talk about the ultimate self-knowledge that would seem indispensable to a young lady.  I did find the “Tree of Life” information rather interesting as well as poetic.

I am kind of writing this post as I go through the book.  I am mainly touching on things that stood out to me and that I want to remember for my own reference.  There is so much more in the book, so please don’t feel like I am “spoiling” it for you.  I can tell that I am going to have a lot of notes about the second part of the book which discusses specific strategies for supporting the natural development of your daughter.  Therefore, this is probably a good point to split into a second post.

I Finally Get Half-Blood Prince!! (Spoilers if you haven’t read the book.)

July 23, 2009

Yesterday my husband was asking me a question in the car about the movie Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince.  This of course got me rolling on all the things they changed/cut out/didn’t explain from the book.  So then DD#1 started asking questions about the whole thing, and we started discussing the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.  Then she kind of asked something about why the Half-Blood Prince is even important.  As I was explaining it to her, I FINALLY GOT IT!

I had always just thought of the book in terms of plot development:  learning of the horcruxes, romantic entanglements, and Dumbledore’s death.  And I guess I only thought about the Half-Blood Prince in that he is the one who kills Dumbledore in the end.  I totally did not get the deeper theme of the book.  I finally realized that the reason the book is titled around Snape is foreshadowing about the importance of Snape himself.

As usual Snape is Harry’s biggest present enemy in the book.  They are constantly nipping at each other with Snape, as the teacher, constantly getting the upperhand.  However, Harry thinks that the Half-Blood Prince who helps him with his potions class and teaches him all sorts of neat new spells is his new best friend.  Of course, he doesn’t realize that they are one in the same.  His enemy is his friend, and his friend is his enemy.  This just underscores Snape’s dual nature as double agent and villian/hero.  Just as the Half-Blood Prince has a darker side (as shown by sectum sempra) then logic would show that Snape himself has a hidden light as well.  And what about Snape’s pride in being a half-blood when he supposedly belongs to a group that values “pure blood”?  Perhaps this further goes to show that he is pretending to be something he is not when he is with the Death Eaters.  He is not a pure blood, so he is not a true Death Eater.

I pretty much suspected as soon as I finished the book the first time that Snape’s murder of Dumbledore and been prearranged between the two.  I never really contemplated the deeper meaning of the title, though, in relation to the book.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I was just to caught up in the progression of it all.  One of those things that I love about the HP series is that when you go back and reread it you see foreshadowing and symbolism that you never noticed the first time through.  Sometimes this is because you just missed it in the action, and sometimes because it didn’t have a context until you read the later books.  The complexity is one of the things that makes it so enthralling.  I just can’t believe it took me this long to really understand the significance of the Half-Blood Prince.  I just feel like smacking myself on the forehead and saying “Duh!”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Who? (No spoilers)

July 19, 2009

I don’t know why I go to see Harry Potter movies when I am bound to be disappointed.  To dramatize each book properly would take a 10-hour mini-series.  There are just too many sub-plots, too many mysteries, and just too much great stuff to squeeze into two hours.  When I learned that they were going to split the Deathly Hallows book into two movies, I felt optimistic, but after watching the movie version of The Half-Blood Prince I am not so sure.  After seeing how much they have chopped out and condensed in the past three movies, I am wondering if the screenwriters, producers, etc may have painted themselves into certain corners that they are going to have a hard time getting out of without significantly altering parts of the book.  Although, I am encouraged by looking over the cast list for HP and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Ciaran Hinds has been cast as Aberforth, which is awesome!

I don’t want to give away any details for those who haven’t had a chance to see HBP yet; I just want to make some general observations.  There were certain parts I really enjoyed, mostly scenes directly from the book.  There were things in which the mystery was completely sucked out.  There were some seemingly significant points that were completely over-looked.  And as has been the trend, there were unnecessary, extra scenes whose time could have been used instead for a scene from the actual book.  I HATE seemingly unnecessary changes.

I’m beginning to sympathize with those who hate Steve Kloves as the screenwriter.  Of the last three movies, I think I liked the one that he didn’t write the most.  He does seem to want to make Hermione the co-star and Ron kind of dumb statue.  I still don’t like Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, but at least they softened him up a little bit in this one.  Although one comical moment was when Dumbledore was drinking the potion in the cave and my husband compared the reaction to what he gets from drinking a Mr. Misty too fast.

I always wonder what a non-HP reader thinks of the movies.  There is always so much missing I wonder if they can even understand half of what is going on, or if they are seeing a completely different movie than I am.  I am sure that I will go see Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2.  But I am seriously considering selling my DVD’s of the first five movies and not buying anymore.  I don’t want to risk my children growing up thinking that is all there is to Harry Potter.

Cost of Homeschooling

July 14, 2009

I am sometimes asked how much it costs to homeschool, usually with the expectation that it’s a lot.  Now the answer can really vary from family to family.  It can depend if both parents plan to continue working while homeschooling or if one parent will be giving up a high paying job to stay home with the kids.  In our case, any job that I would get outside the home would probably barely cover the cost of daycare/after school care, plus we’d have to spend extra money on a second vehicle, extra clothing for work, probably more convenience and fast food, too.  It’s more economical at this point for me not to work.

The other big factor is what method of homeschooling the family chooses.  Montessori can be extremely expensive to replicate at home because it requires lots of specific equipment usually of very high quality (which usually equals very high prices).  Some other methods which are heavily based on reading books might be rather inexpensive depending on the quality of the local library.  And some people will accept nothing less but the highest quality, most expensive materials available; the same people that refused to buy used text books in college.

State homeschooling laws can also effect what method a family chooses, and therefore the cost.  Illinois just basically requires that all basic school subjects be taught in English, but they don’t mandate exactly how this is to be done.  As a result, I am a very eclectic homeschooler, so I steal a little bit from various methods depending on our goals, what I think will work well for the kids, and how much I think it will cost.

Now let’s look at how much I have spent on homeschooling materials so far in 2009 from January until now.  I should note that everything my oldest daughter used in the Spring of 2009 was purchased the previous Fall, so that is not included in this year’s total.  Also, we used home-made reading worksheets for her reading, using probably half a ream of printer paper.  It’s hard to quantify how much things like printer paper and ink add to the cost, since they are often used for recreational purposes, too.  I also am not including the cost of activity classes, because the kids may have still been involved with sports and such even if they attended regular school.

From January to June 2009 the following items were purchased:

  • $6.95 Barnes & Noble:  Kumon’s First Book of Upper Case Letters
  • $39.67 Barnes & Noble:  Brain Quest Grade 1 Workbook, Kumon My Book of Easy Mazes, Kumon My Book of Pasting, Jancice Van Cleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre, & Incredible Experiments, Sight Words flash cards, Spanish Words flash cards

Total:  $46.62

About a month ago I did all of our shopping for the upcoming semester.  And here is everything that I bought:

  • $69.11 Singapore Math:  Math 1B Text book, Math 1B Workbook (x 4), Essential Math Kindergarten A, Word Study 1
  • $43.68 Rainbow Resource Center:  Mind Benders Beginning Book 1, Mind Benders Beginning Book 2, English from the Roots Up Cards
  • $66.37 Jody’s Hands On Learning:  All Things Catholic 3-Piece Cards Sets A and B, Catholic Prayer Sequencing Strips Set C
  • $21.32 Catholic Shopper:  Gospel Champions computer game
  • $20.47 Carmelite Gifts:  St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism v. 1, The New St. Joseph First Communion Catechism, The Mass for Children, prayer cards
  • $9.91 The Catholic Shoppe:  Prayer cards
  • $6.42 Kinko’s:  3 Transparency sheets

Total:  $237.28

And here are also some odds and ends I just recently picked up:

  • $4.00 Target:  Dinosaur Discovery workbook, Colors and Shapes workbook, Landmarks flash cards, U.S. Presidents flash cards
  • $2.99 Walgreens:  Preschool Basics workbook

Total:  $6.99

Grand Subtotal for 2009: $290.89

That is a less than our grocery budget for two weeks.

There are different ways that we keep our costs low.  We are blessed to have a very good library system, and there are some items that I request as Christmas/Birthday presents for the kids, mainly art supplies.  Not only does it keep our homeschooling expenses low, but it also limits the number of junky toys that are brought in to clutter up the house.  Plus there are tons of free worksheets available on the internet, and some stores like Barnes & Noble have educator discounts for which homeschoolers qualify.  However, will our costs continue to stay so low as the other children reach school-age?  Or will that be $300 x 3 kids every year?  (Not that $900 a year is an exorbitant amount considering the cost of private school.)  But did I really spend close to $300 to educate my one school-aged child in 2009?

Now let’s break this down and really look at how much it really cost (before discounts):

  • About $33 of my grand total went to buy five workbooks to keep my preschooler busy while her older sister has school time.  I am not planning to do any formal preschool with her, so I don’t know if it’s completely fair to include that money in homeschooling costs.  I could have spent that money to buy new toys or videos to keep her busy, but she sometimes she asks to do “school work”, too.
  • About $73 was spent on items that can be reused as the younger children hit school age including:  all of the flash cards, English from the Roots Up Cards, and the Mind Benders and Word Study workbooks as long as we don’t write in them (that’s what the transparency sheets are for).  I also plan to reuse the Singapore Math textbooks, and a large part of the cost from Singapore Math came from me ordering extra copies of the workbook for when the younger children need them.  I started doing this last year in case the editions were changed in the future I would have matching text and work books.  Obviously the long-term cost is less when these items will be used for multiple years by multiple children.
  • About $118 went to things specifically for religious education.  It would have cost an additional $100 to send DD#1  to RE class at our church this year.  Some of the items were actually pre-purchased for use in 2010.  All of the items are also reusable with my younger children, and some of the items, like the prayer cards, I may have possibly purchased anyway.  (Prayer cards can be hole-punched and put on a key ring to keep kids quiet during Mass.)  After all your faith isn’t something you should only learn about or live at church or in a class, and it is not required to be taught under state law.

The amount that I spent in 2009 on specific items for my one school-aged child to use regularly during the year 2009 for state-mandated Kindergarten/First Grade instruction*:  $78

Now do I expect these figures to be fairly consistent next year or the year after that, etc.?  Yes and No.  I already have certain thoughts ahead for 2010.  I know that I will have to purchase 2nd grade math and word study curriculum at some point next year.  I know that I will probably purchase more prayer cards, and I am planning a small project in the Spring to prepare DD#1 for her First Holy Communion.  I’ll probably end up buying more educational activities books for DD#2, too.  Right now I guestimate spending about $100 for materials in 2010, since most of the stuff that I just bought will continue to be used through the next year.  And my pre-planning now should keep costs low as the other children begin formal schooling as well.

Of course, no one knows exactly what the future may bring.  As our children get older and their educational needs or wants become more complex our costs may rise.  As long as I continue to be prudent and we continue to have so many free resources available, I hope to keep the cost fairly low.  And even if we sent our children to “free” public schools there would probably lots of hidden costs for things like yearly school supplies, extra wardrobe, fundraisers, and field trips that would probably come close to what we spend on homeschooling in a year.  Then there would also be the hidden costs that have absolutely nothing to do with money.

*Note:  I say “state-mandated instruction”, but in many states technically children are not required by law to attend school until age 8.  Any formal schooling that we do is completely voluntary.

I Like Being Catholic

July 13, 2009

Besides being true, it is also the title of a book I recently read.  It’s a collection of anecdotes and observations made by a variety of Catholics and edited by Michael Leach and Therese J. Borchard.  The book itself was very clear that it is not a book about theology, but it was a nice enough little read.  At the time, I was going through it I did not particularly think it was going to be worthy of its own post, yet here we are.

The title of the book comes from something Father Andrew Greeley said while appearing on “Donohue” when asked why he remains a Catholic if he disagrees with many things the Church teaches.  He simply said, “I like being Catholic.”  This reminded me of when I agreed with my husband to try and find a compromise church early in our marriage.  I told him that I would try to find a denomination that we were both comfortable in, but deep down I would always be Catholic.   He wasn’t really happy about my honest admission at the time, but I think he might understand better now that he is Catholic himself.

Because one of the things that the book drives home is that whether you are a very orthodox Catholic or a “cafeteria” Catholic, once you’re a Catholic you’re pretty much always a Catholic.  Even if you get disgusted or disenchanted with the Church, if you protest or drop out, or even if you get ex-communicated, the Church will always be waiting there for you to come home like the Prodigal Son.  Being raised Catholic, even nominally, shapes your view of the world and your place in it in sometimes subtle ways that you don’t even realize.  And the power of the Church may lay dormant in you for years, popping out at times you least expect

The other thing that struck me was the familyhood that the Church offers.  It is more than a sense of community, even if that is how it is often described.  The Catholic Church is really a family.  There are people you love and people you can’t stand in your family but you’re stuck with them no matter what.  That’s how it is in the Church.  Even when you don’t want to be part of the Church’s family anymore, you can never truly escape it.  The Precious Blood is thicker than water, so to speak.  Mandatory weekly Mass attendance is like the Sunday dinner with the family that you feel obligated to attend, even at those times you don’t really feel like it.

Of course, anywhere in the world that you can find a Catholic church or even a lone Catholic priest able to say the Mass you can find the comforts of home.  And just like your Cousin John who you haven’t seen in two years shows up to help you move, your family is always there when you really need them.  The Catholic Church is one of the largest single providers of social services in the world.  Despite the sometimes shoddy theology I was exposed to in Catholic schools, my fondest memories are of working together with other Catholics for the betterment of the parish and the larger community.  Whether it was counting coins to make change for games at the Church picnic at age five or six, running my own booth at age 13, ushering at Mass starting at age 14, raising money and can goods for charity, or working at a dinner program for underprivileged children in high school.

As I was thinking about the familyhood of the Catholic Church, I thought about one of the catch phrases of Protestantism:  “What you really need is a personal relationship with Jesus”, often implying that Catholics do not in fact have this.  As the book points out, from the cradle to the grave, the Catholic Church offers a most personal relationship with Jesus.  Jesus isn’t just there when we choose for him to be; he is always there with us.  Most Catholics are officially presented to God within weeks of birth (not that He didn’t already know every hair on our head before we were born) in the sacrament of Baptism.  From the age of seven, we are invited to God’s house for dinner every week with him in the Eucharist.  We also learn to say we are sorry when we have done something to offend God through the Sacrament of Confession, and we experience the joy when we know that God has forgiven us for our transgressions.  This is an important part of any personal relationship.  God is there when we join ourselves to another human being in marriage or to the entire Catholic Church through Holy Orders.  And like the most loving relative, God is there to comfort us and nourish us when we are ill and/or dying through the Sacrament of Healing.

These things are just a very small part about why I love being Catholic, and they are a few small reasons why I will always be Catholic.