Thursday, May 30, 2013

The blessing of siblings

This post is a bit off track from our usual topics of education and learning, but I thought it was worth sharing a wonderful article by Frank Bruni that I think many of you will find relatable. I highly recommend the article while understanding that my experience is not universal. This is not intended to offend or hurt anyone who does not have siblings or anyone whose relationships with their siblings are a source of hurt. But for those of you who are raising a brood of children, be encouraged that you are giving your children the opportunity to develop relationships that will mean the world to them. 

Among home schooling families there is a tendency for family size to be on the larger side of average. Many of the families I knew growing up in our home school coop had three, four, five, or six children. Being the oldest of six, I did not really give a lot of thought to the size of my family herd. Yet, as I have grown older, I have come to realize that having five siblings is decidedly not "normal" and that realization has caused me to grow to appreciate my siblings in ways I never have before. And this happened to coincide with a shift in the relationships I share with my siblings. Over the past couple of years, I've witnessed a sort of tightening of the sibling circle. As my siblings and I settle more and more into our adult lives the bonds between us have strengthened. Maybe its celebrating one another's weddings. Maybe it's the addition of two adorable nephews. Maybe it's the fact that we're becoming more comfortable with who we are individually. Whatever it is, I'm intensely grateful for my three sisters and two brothers. So when I came across this article, I was thrilled to read about the experiences of another group of siblings.

Frank Bruni, in his excellent column entitled "The Gift of Siblings", speaks about his relationships with his three siblings and celebrates the strength and meaning he draws from those friendships. In so many ways he was able to articulate something that I have been pondering and several points he made stood out to me.

"We marched (or, rather, crawled and toddled) into this crazy world together, and though we had no say in that, it’s by our own volition and determination that we march together still. Among my many blessings, this is the one I’d put at the top." I could not agree more. One of the greatest blessings in my life is my friendships with my brothers and sisters. We've formed strong bonds through years of playing together, working in the BFB barn packing up boxes of books together, traveling together, making it a priority to spend time together. As Bruni states, "I’m convinced that family closeness isn’t a happy accident, a fortuitously smooth blend of personalities...It's a resolve, a priority made and obeyed." One of my siblings is especially good about making time with family a priority. My brother Solomon flew over to Scotland twice (in the dead of winter!) to visit me while I was living there. He's the first to book a ticket to visit his nephews. And his commitment has influenced all of us to seek out times when we can be together.

With a twenty-year age gap between the oldest and youngest in my family we have been navigating a shift in relationship from childhood playmates to adult friends and confidants. It's not always smooth and there have definitely been hurts and misunderstandings, but I found that Bruni explains one of the benefits of having multiple siblings so well: "I’m also convinced that having numerous siblings helps. If you’re let down by one, you can let off steam with another." This ability to reduce the pressure helps ensure that hurts don't simmer and build over time, leading to estrangement and broken relationships. There is an unspoken recognition that no matter what one sibling tells me about another, it will not change the way I feel about the offending party. That sort of trust is hard to come by and is formed over years and years of interactions and cultivating a practice of giving one another the benefit of the doubt.

Bruni also states, "With siblings to help shoulder the burden of your parents’ dreams and expectations, you can flail on a particular front with lower stakes and maybe even less notice. Siblings not only pick up the slack but also act as decoys, providing crucial distraction." I love this point! Helicopter parenting is not possible in large families. There is a certain benign neglect that happens in big families and I know that I benefitted from the fact that my parents' attention was not solely focused on me. There was a little more room to make mistakes and we definitely got away with more than we would have if there had been fewer of us. And when we were caught, we bore the punishments together.

"For each of us, a new home, a new relationship or a newborn was never quite real until the rest of us had been ushered in to the front row." This rings particularly true for me. As I've moved from home to home and country to country over the past six years my husband and I have come to appreciate the moments when we can share these new places with our families. The first time my dad and brother visited me in Scotland made me feel like my husband and I had truly made a life for ourselves there.

Bruni does remark upon a little thought-of consequence of smaller families: "I sometimes wonder, when it comes to the decline in fertility rates in our country and others, whether the economic impact will be any more significant than the intimate one. For better or worse, fewer people will know the challenges and comforts of a sprawling clan." I remember speaking to a girl from China and asking her about her family. She reminded me that China's one-child policy ensured that she didn't have siblings and it struck me that for the people of my generation in China, most of them will never know what it is like to have a sibling. This young woman assured me that because no one has siblings, they have become very good at creating groups of close-knit friends who fill that void. While I have not experienced this myself, I do know only-children who have cultivated sibling-like relationships with a select few friends or who have been absorbed into a large sibling group. And I am reminded that life has a way of filling in gaps, whether familial or otherwise, and providing us with the companionship we all need. As Psalm 68:6 so beautifully states: "God sets the solitary in families."

And finally, Bruni sums it all up beautifully in this passage: "My siblings have certainly seen me at my worst, and I’ve seen them at theirs. No one has bolted. It’s as if we signed some contract long ago, before we were even aware of what we were getting into, and over time gained the wisdom to see that we hadn’t been duped. We’d been graced: with a center of gravity; with an audience that never averts its gaze and doesn’t stint on applause." I cannot state it any better, I have been graced. 

Photo credit: Kori Lynn Photography

Friday, May 24, 2013

Summer Reading

Oh, the long days of summer are here! Most of us are finished with school or are quickly approaching the end date. And a whole lot of us are looking forward to time to read for fun. For those of you looking for a little guidance when it comes to helping your children choose books to read over the long break, here's some suggestions.

1. Check out our "Read-Aloud Favorites" series. While these books make great read-alouds, they're also great for kids to read on their own. The series features dozens of authors and hundreds of titles, so it's a great resource. Check it out here:

Books for Youngsters
Books for Middle Schoolers
Books for Jr. High Students
Books for High School Students

2. Consider doing an enrichment curriculum. Ensuring that your students are still engaging with literature and academic activities is a great way to protect against summer learning loss. The following programs are great for relaxed summer days.

If you decide to do one of these programs over the summer, remember to have fun with it. Don't get too caught up in getting everything done but take it at a pace that's relaxed, allowing time for exploration of topics that particularly pique your students' interest. Many families find that they reduce the written work in favor of group discussion. If your family just likes reading together, focus on that. If you have kids who love activities, give more time to working on assigned projects. Remember all our study guides are just that, guides! They're there to make your life easier.

Also, remember the lots of free time is a gift to your children. As you think about the summer try not to over-schedule your children's time with too many enrichment activities, swim lessons, ballet and baseball camp, soccer camp, and VBS. While all of those things are good, one of the best gifts you can give your child is time to be bored. You can read more about that here and here.  

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Today I am excited to share an amazing resource with you! Google maps collaborated with NASA, the US Geological Survey, and Time Magazine to present the world as you've never seen it. For students interested in geography, mapping, and ecology, these maps are a wonderful resource. Using satellite images from the past 27 years, these maps are able to show how our geography has changed. From man-made islands off the coast of Dubai, to changes in arctic ice, these maps show history unfolding before our eyes. While the project focuses mostly on the ecological and environmental effect of urban sprawl, oil harvesting, and coal mining, it is also a fascinating look at how landscapes change over time. Looking at Cape Cod, changes in the shoreline are observable if you look closely. You can zoom in on your hometown to see how it has developed over time.

The Timelapse homepage provides all sorts of information on the conception and development of the project and is sure to be fascinating to any science geeks out there! There is a fascinating video on the work that went into the project. From assembling trillions of pixels of data to using supercomputers to scrub away cloud cover, to setting up the time-lapse videos, this was a huge undertaking.

Check it out here. Enter your hometown in the "Explore the World" section and see how your town has changed. Also check out some of the videos on the impact of human action on the environment, both good and bad. Students using our Geography Through Literature may want to zoom in on the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River to see how these regions have changed in the past 27 years.


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Monday, May 20, 2013

30 is not the new 20

As a follow up to our post on Millennials, narcissism, and socialization, I thought I would share this Ted talk as I think the speaker addresses some of the unique challenges facing young adults today. Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, has spent her career working with people in their twenties. She's seen firsthand the issues discussed in our blog entry. As young people face an uncertain job market, are burdened with previously unseen student loan debt, and are faced with a social landscape defined by moral relativism, it can be very difficult for parents and teacher to know how to advise the young adults in their lives. Sometimes its simply easier to echo that common refrain, "You are young, you have plenty of time to figure out what you want to do." But that's simply not true and Dr. Jay provides some good practical advice for all of us who have a young adult in our lives who needs a little guidance.

"Claiming your 20s is one of the simplest yet most transformative things you can do for work, for love, for your happiness, maybe even for the world." This is so true. It is in ones 20s that you establish the groundwork for the rest of your life. Most people explore career options in their 20s. Most people meet the person they're going to marry in their 20s. As Dr. Jay stated, "the best time to work on one's marriage is before you are married." That is great, and seldom heard, advice.

When Dr. Jay makes the observation that as a "culture we have trivialized the defining decade of adulthood," I find this to be tragic, especially as a Christian and a homeschool grad. Although I am right at the edge of being a Millennial myself, I can look back on my 20s as a time in which I was variously treading water and moving forward and as a time of rich experience and personal growth. But both in times of waiting and in times of action, I never lost my curiosity and desire for knowledge. This is the gift of my education. Being homeschooled instilled in me a life-long passion for learning. That was further encouraged in the unique academic atmosphere I found at a small liberal arts college. For those students who have graduated from schools that failed to encourage this innate desire, I can understand why the decade between 20 and 30 could be viewed as a sort of wasteland. If one is jaded by 20 and has lost all intellectual curiosity by 25, it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this decade of ones life simply doesn't matter. Life will start at 30 when I have a spouse, a good job, and a house. But, as Dr. Jay observes, this is the perfect time to cultivate those things that add value to one's life: community, curiosity, intelligence, experience.

In addition to Dr. Jay's advice, I would add the following based on my experiences as a Millennial:
1. Continue reading. But don't get sucked into the "self-help" craze. Most of those books do nothing to develop your soul. Read books that challenge you and expand your mind. Read the great books. You may be surprised how much you enjoy them when you're don't have to worry about writing a book report! Read the great thinkers. Fill your mind with the thoughts of people who have greater experience and wisdom than you do.
2. Invest in your community. Join a church and get involved. Volunteer at a local charity. These community ties will enrich your life and make you a more compassionate and empathetic person. Serving those less fortunate has a way of growing gratitude in one's heart, a key element to living a life marked by grace.
3. Travel. Get out and see this amazing world that God has created. When I was 21 I was able to study abroad for a semester and it changed my life. Not only did I meet the man I would marry, it gave me a greater appreciation for the wonderful diversity of humanity. It made me hungry for more and led to my husband and I spending five years abroad. I've been able to see how people are the same in some ways and different in many ways. I've been able to experience how faith ties people together regardless of race or nationality. I've met incredibly interesting people who have challenged me.

I would love to hear from you now! What advice would you give to a young adult who is seeking guidance? How are you trying to instill these values in your children before they reach their 20s?
Leave a comment below!

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Socialization and Narcissism

This week's Time magazine cover article features the "Me Me Me Generation", better known as Millennials. Defined as those people born between 1980 and 2000. This puts most Millennials in their teens and twenties, and they also make up the biggest age grouping in American history at 80 million strong! According to research cited in the article, they're tech-savvy, entitled, lazy, and more likely to live with their parents after college than any previous generation. They're also innovative, have great relationships with their parents, eschew rebellion, are self-assured, and think more about issues than previous generations. At least the article states all those things and backs it up with various references to social studies and anecdotal stories. It's a fascinating article and one I think you would probably enjoy reading if you're teaching high schoolers  and college students or are raising teens.
The section that most interested me had to do with the rise in narcissism among this particular group of young people. According to the National Institutes of Health, 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982. The article goes on talk about the relative isolation of this group in terms of socialization.
"The idea of the teenager started in the 1920s; in 1910, only a tiny percentage of kids went to high school, so most people's social interactions were with adults in their family or in the workplace. Now that cell phones allow kids to socialize at ever hour–they send and receive an average of 88 texts a day, according to Pew–they're living under the constant influence of their friends. 'Peer pressure is anti-intellectual. It is anti-historical. It is anti-eloquence," says Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory, who wrote The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30). 'Never before in history have people been able to grow up and reach age 23 so dominated by peers. To develop intellectually you've got to relate to older people, older things: 17-year-olds never grow up if they're just hanging around other 17-year-olds.'" 

For most homeschoolers, perpetually plagued with the "socialization" question, this should be music to your ears! The downsides of this form of social isolation are magnified by 24-hour access to social media that allows young people to fixate their relative social value in terms of quantifying "followers" and "likes". The downsides of this are many: anxiety fueled by the need for constant affirmation, a reduction in creativity, and a loss of empathy.

The article states that tests evaluating empathy showed a drop in scores beginning in 2000 "likely because of both a lack of face-to-face time and higher degrees of narcissism. not only do millennials lack the kind of empathy that allows them to feel concerned for others, but they also have trouble even intellectually understanding others' points of view."

I think that this serves as both a warning and encouragement for parents and teachers. For those of you who have decided to make alternative educational choices, who limit screen time, who try to fight against the onslaught of Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat, you're doing your kids a great service. Helping your children to develop a relationship with technology that enhances, instead of burdening, is one life skill that will serve them well. Technology is here to stay and I value the fact that I can keep up with friends from around the world on Facebook, but it's always a balancing act for me. I have to insure that I'm using it as a tool, not being sucked into the vortex in which I've lost two hours checking status updates that I really do not care about.

For those of you who make sure your children are reading about other people, times, and places you're broadening their worlds and helping them to grow up to be caring, well-rounded adults. Keep it up!

And, there is a positive side. Millennials value parental input in ways the Baby Boomers never were able to. They're hard workers when given the opportunity to work. They are more likely to innovate in their places of work. And they have a world of job opportunities that did not even exist a decade ago. They also seem to be less materialistic and more prone to spend their money on experiences. These are all strengths and ought to be encouraged.

I would love to hear what you think. The article is on newsstands now and available to read online here. Are you the parent of Millennials? What has your experience been? How have you encouraged a broad view of the world? Have you had to fight against the tendency toward isolation? How has homeschooling helped or hindered this?

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Monday, May 13, 2013

The Hindenberg Disaster

I'm a bit late in posting this but last week I noticed that several news outlets were marking the 75th anniversary of the Hindenberg Disaster. Like most people I had a vague knowledge of the large dirigible and in my mind I always related it to the Goodyear Blimp. But in skimming those headlines I picked up tidbits of additional information that I found really surprising. For instance, I really don't think I'd ever realized that the Hindenberg was able to cross the Atlantic and was considered a valid form of long-distance travel! And I had no idea that in the center of the huge dirigible there were cabins and a formal dining room. There was even a smoking room! I found all of this fascinating and thought I'd share it with you here.

The Hindenberg was built in Germany under the Nazi regime and was a sort of flagship for the technological advances made by government. Following the humiliating defeat of Germany during the First World War and the devastating economic sanctions and restrictions placed upon the defeated nation during the negotiations at Versailles, the Hindenberg was a great source of pride for the German people. It was a symbol to the world that their country was rising from the ashes and regaining its place in the world. Of course, the Nazi regime is now known for the Holocaust, inciting World War II and horrific crimes against the Jews and humanity. But in 1936 Hitler had not yet begun to institute his "Final Solution" and relations between the US and Germany were friendly enough that the Hindenberg's arrival was the cause of much fanfare.

For its day the Hindenberg set the standard for luxury air travel. Passengers could make the trip from Germany to the US in three days, half the time it took to travel by sea. Aboard the Hindenberg passengers had private cabins, were able to mingle in dining rooms and lounges. Due to the popularity of smoking at the time, the engineers managed to figure out a way to construct a smoking room, which proved to be one of the most popular places to spend time.

To give you a better idea of how this was all structured, here's several diagrams from, a fantastic website for those of you wanting to learn more about these fascinating air ships. You can click on any picture to enlarge.

The interior was luxuriously decorated and appointed in a style one could describe as a pre-cursor to mid-century modern.
Port Promenade and dining room, with windows that could be opened! 
Interior Cabin


The smoking room, which was equipped with a single electric lights, and accessible only through two airlock doors. 
Writing Room

I find the photos with passengers and crewmembers to be fascinating:

The Hindenberg made 10 successful commercial flights from Germany to the US, carrying a total of 1002 passengers. On May 6, 1937 it made it's way past New York City and for reasons still not fully known, burst into flames as it approached its landing post. Of the 97 passengers and crew aboard, 67 managed to survive. That accident marked the end of dirigible travel. The disaster was the first of its kind to be recorded on film, ushering in the era of documented tragedy. To see this video, you can watch the clip linked below. The first three minutes have some wonderful footage of the airship flying past New York City, making a successful landing, but it finishes with the fiery end of the Hindenberg. Watch here

The following is an actual newsreel and does contain some footage that may be disturbing:

Websites for additional information:
The Atlantic has a wonderful photo essay. Please note: there is one photo of a severely burned passenger that is not appropriate for youngsters. 

For those of you wanting to learn more about this era in history, I suggest you check out the following books.

Pioneers of Air Travel

Amelia Earhart, Flying Solo 
Behind Enemy Lines, A Young Pilot's Story
World War I and II and the rise of the Third Reich

Battle in the Arctic Seas

General George Patton, Old Blood & Guts

The Great Escape, Tunnel to Freedom
Invasion, the Story of D-Day
Lawrence of Arabia
Pearl Harbor Attack

The Sinking of the Bismark, the Deadly Hunt

Photo Sources:
First photo:
Diagrams of interior:
Color photos of interior:
Passenger and crew photos:

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Civil War Resources

Today I'm excited to share with you some special resources for teaching your students about the American Civil War. This is an historical period that still captures students' imaginations and is still fodder for debate. I remember growing up in California the Civil War simply seemed to me to be an extremely important event in our nation's history. I thought it was over, "done and dusted" as they say. And then I did an internship in Atlanta, GA and learned that in some parts of the South, the Civil War is still a very near and dear topic of conversation and contention! It showed me how history does have distinct consequences and how it shapes our perspectives and feelings about who we are and what we believe.

For teachers and parents looking to open up the world of a divided America, there are many wonderful on-line resources to help you in your quest. Here are a sampling of my favorites:

The New York Times Interactive Civil War Timeline: This collection of chronologically organized original source documents includes photographs, period comics, letters from famous authors including Herman Melville, and much much more. It helps frame the development of the division between North and South and the events leading up to the war. Below the timeline you will find links to various other topics including:

The folks at have set up an entire website with some wonderful info graphics to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The website has sections on the soldiers, how the war was financed, weaponry, battles, and much more. The information on this website is often very sobering as it makes clear the very high human cost of war. 

The Civil War Trust offers a wide variety of student and teacher resources including research tools, quizzes to test your knowledge, maps, and photo collections!   

And, of course, no resource list would be complete without mentioning our favorite books! 

Books for Elementary and Middle School

Abraham Lincoln by the d'Aulaires

Books for Junior and High School

Abraham Lincoln's World by Genevieve Foster

Abraham Lincoln by James Daugherty

We hope you enjoy utilizing these resources! Be sure to share your personal favorites with us below in the comments section.

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