The Thanksgiving Holiday

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. 

Native American saying

For those of you who celebrate the upcoming holiday… Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a thumbprint in history which offers a vast pool of historical information that dates to the beginning of our nation and continues on today with well established traditions that are embraced with thankfulness and gratitude.

If you would like to sharpen your knowledge of this holiday, History.com presents a family friendly educational “Bet You Didn’t Know” video on the history and timeline of significant events surrounding Thanksgiving. You might also have fun testing your knowledge with an eleven question Thanksgiving quiz.

We can feast, we can be merry, and we can enjoy the full company of family and friends. Giving thanks is the most cherished part of this holiday event. A recent “Family Education” article offered a family Thanksgiving activity, “Pass the Talking Fork!”, which allows everyone the opportunity to express their thanks.

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues. Cicero

Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and Turkeys? HUH?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might include a roasted turkey.  So, I’ve been thinking about turkeys.

One of my first thoughts led me to wonder where the word “turkey” originated. Why are they called turkeys? An article in the Atlantic Monthly had a good explanation. You can read it here. I was pretty surprised to find that the origin of the word is debated by etymology experts.

Then I was wondering if turkeys can really fly and I started to investigate. Sure enough, they can fly! This investigation led me to thinking about the wishbone in the turkey at our family Thanksgiving celebration. It’s the “wishbone” that is the bone that connects the wings of birds allowing them to fly.

So what do Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys all have in common?  I was amazed to find out that many dinosaurs, including the newly found “Mud Dragon” had wishbones. Yep! The wishbone is actually called the “furcula” and is found in birds and in DINOSAURS!

Next time you eat a turkey and find the furcula, remember that scientists have found that the wishbone dates back more than 150 million years!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Applying to College – Make It Work for You!

By KD Maynard, Oak Meadow College Counselor

The process of applying to college can be grueling and intimidating. There’s another side to it, though – it can be a wonderful culminating activity that can wrap up your early schooling and launch you into an engaging and fulfilling college experience, later seguing into a similarly satisfying life. College is not the right path for all students leaving high school, and there are other options available, so keep an open mind as you go through this process. I encourage you to look at the process of gathering information and making a ‘what’s next’ decision as a celebration of yourself as an individual and the launchpad into the next phase of your life. It’s exciting!

If you are pursuing a college experience, here are some tips, regardless of how old you are or the nature of your aspirations:

  • The college search process is about FIT. Who are you as a student, and what is important to your?  What setting would provide the appropriate mixture of comfort and challenge, the mix of academic and non-academic options, and so on?  A good college search involves a lot of introspection and prioritizing; first looking inside, and then researching programs to best accommodate identified needs.
  • Isolate criteria that are most important to you, the student. There are myriad features to consider. Look at the content of the academic programs and other options, the campus climate, the sense of community and connection, and so on. For one student, a large international population will be essential; for another, a hands-on engineering program; for another, proximity to home or perhaps a city; for another, the ability to make one’s own decisions about curriculum. Figure out what’s important to you, and go after it!

    Photo Credit: Charlie Siegel (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Charlie Siegel
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  • Plan ahead. Regardless of how soon you will be applying to college, there are points to consider and steps to take to position yourself for the best result. Check out recommended (or required) high school course programs, “normed” options (e.g., standardized test scores or college courses that evaluate your learning against a larger population and can also put you in competition for scholarship money), your state’s regulations regarding diplomas, and – vitally important – the comprehensive documentation of your learning over time.   
  • Research. Explore what’s out there, track what looks interesting or promising, tap into multiple sources of primary and secondary information about schools and programs. Familiarize yourself with the structure of colleges, the steps to the application process, and the characteristics of places that ‘feel right’ and those that don’t.  These are all part of an organic process that takes time to gestate and grow. Start anytime, and don’t skimp. It’s an investment in your future.
  • Strategize. If you do this research thoroughly, you’ll be able to make strategic decisions, such as whether to apply early to a school, whether to apply to a selective major or just seek entry to the school, or whether there’s any possibility you might be able to afford to attend a school with a scary price tag. It’s an iterative process of ruling options in and ruling them out, and it’s best to keep opportunities open for as long as you can.

    Photo Credit: Anabell Corwin (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Anabell Corwin
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  • As a homeschooler or a student who didn’t follow a cookie-cutter educational path, you bear a certain burden of responsibility. Don’t assume that admissions people understand homeschooling or the choices you’ve made. You need to educate them! Provide ample documentation (e.g., syllabi, reading lists, and project descriptions). If offered an interview, DO IT and be prepared with an ‘elevator speech’ about your educational choices and why you are primed and ready for college. You WILL stand out as a student who is accustomed to making choices and pursuing them . . . but you need to paint the picture for the admissions office.
  • Don’t succumb to sticker-shock. College educations are expensive – startlingly so. But don’t dismiss a school you love because of the price tag. Dig deeper. Look at the average cost of attendance (‘tuition discounting’ often brings down the cost of attendance, even for students who don’t qualify for financial aid) and put yourself out there. Be realistic and apply for schools you know you can afford, but if you’re excited about a costly school, give it a whirl. My daughter was able to attend a private liberal arts college halfway across the country for less out-of-pocket than attending her state school (where my job afforded her a tuition waiver). It can happen!
  • Recognize the value of the college search process, and take time to appreciate it. Yes, you can approach it as an annoying hassle unworthy of your time, but that won’t change the fact that you have to go through it if you want to get a college education. Accept the challenge to look closely at yourself and what you want next; savor and share your high school successes; and position yourself to be a motivated, curious and eager college student. Keep looking until you find that college that will ‘fit you like a glove.’    

Oak Meadow’s free college counseling webinars are geared to address various segments of the college search and application process in detail. We aim to provide background and recommendations, regardless of where you are in the college search process. Join us!


KD Maynard’s professional experience has revolved around assisting high school and early college students to find a fit in their choice of college and academic program, thereby enabling them to engage fully and to successfully meet their goals. She has held roles in college admissions, college counseling and financial aid, academic advising, teacher training and curriculum development, and administrative/leadership positions. She has worked at Brown University, World Learning, Marlboro College, The Putney School, Community College of Vermont, and University of Massachusetts Amherst. KD’s liberal arts background (AB from Brown and MALS from Dartmouth ) provides her with a worldview that seeks to make connections between and among people, ideas, and a sense of a greater good.

Thoughts on Perfectionism

Recently, my Oak Meadow colleagues and I have received inquiries from home teachers regarding their child’s desire for perfectionism and the many frustrations that accompany this need. Working with children who display perfectionist tendencies can be quite challenging, so it is a valuable issue to address.

A perfectionist is someone who sets a standard of perfection and refuses to accept anything less. Unfortunately, in an imperfect world, the perfectionist’s view can be an individual’s worst enemy, especially for a child.

The tendency for perfectionism can often be observed during a child’s school lessons. For example, a child may start writing out a lesson or drawing a picture, then repeatedly tear up the papers, only to begin again and again. A child with perfection tendencies may also easily cry or become quite frustrated if a simple mistake is made.

Perfectionism in children usually arises because there is more focus on the form of the lesson or task, rather than on the process of the activity. This is one of the reasons why Oak Meadow continuously emphasizes focusing on the process vs. focusing on the final form (or goal).

Most children go through perfectionist phases, so it is important that we, as home teachers and parents, do not overreact to the minor cycles of perfectionism. Oak Meadow cofounder, Lawrence Williams, believes that what often remedies these phases is to give our children “extra doses of recognition and appreciation for the work that they do.” He also feels that this pattern of interaction is an extremely important part of our children’s development.

When my children would show tendencies towards perfectionism, I not only looked at their individual needs and developmental cycles, but I also observed my own cyclic process. Did I find myself criticizing my own imperfections? Perhaps I said or did something that made me feel inadequate, or perhaps I felt guilty for being an imperfect mother or home teacher.

Let’s face it. We all have the desire to sometimes be perfect. We find ourselves wanting to please others, to do everything right, to make the perfect choice, etc. We especially want to be ideal parents. We also know that, no matter how well we try to hide these feelings, our children still have the ability to pick up on them and may even start expressing some of the same feelings.

There was no doubt in my mind that, unless I stopped demanding this need for perfection in myself, my children would also grow up with the same tendencies. Not surprisingly, these perfectionist tendencies can result in a lack of self confidence.

To help our children through their perfectionist phases, we need to allow our children, as well as ourselves, to be imperfect. It may require more energy, more love, and more patience. However, embracing imperfection is a crucial step in human development.

Author and founder of “Healthy Mother Earth Foundation” Robin Lim once wrote: Imperfection is God’s gift. It makes us compassionate as well as deserving of compassion. It allows us to take risks, to fail and succeed, to learn and grow, to ask questions. It honors our differences, our individual styles.

Now, go right on ahead! With another seasonal change at our doorsteps, making its own perfectly imperfect way into the world, take a leap into the wonderful world of imperfection. Ask a silly question, take a risk, experiment with new ideas, laugh at your own idiosyncrasies, and make all kinds of wonderful mistakes!

What's In the News?

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“Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi

Win Nobel Peace Prize”

“A Peek Inside The World’s First Carbon Neutral City”

“Google’s Young Scientists Are Out To Change The World”

These intriguing news headlines come from a news source called DOGO News

In the Oak Meadow social studies curriculum, you will most certainly come across an assignment that requires current event articles from a news source. If you don’t have access to newspapers or magazines in your area and there isn’t a library near you, it may be a challenge to find local current event news articles, and a greater challenge to find articles about events that are international. DOGO News has terrific and interesting articles for kids on current events taking place over the world. They cover many subjects like science, sports, and health, and there are also lots of videos and games.

The Smithsonian Tween Tribune is another great source! It has daily news for kids grades 5-8. You will find articles for your specific grade level with photos, graphics, and audio and/or video materials prepared by the Smithsonian. There is so much to learn about history, and the arts, science, and culture of countries around the world.

Check this out from DOGO News: Nations Come Together

After the Election

When the votes are in, the ballots have been counted, the election has been won, and someone new is now poised to begin leading the country, it can bring up questions for children of all ages. There is often a lot of excitement and buzz leading up to a big election, both in the media and in conversations with friends and neighbors. Election Day can bring people together to watch election coverage, root for candidates, and wait with anticipation for the results to be announced. But once the election winners are determined, what happens next? Helping children understand our governmental system and some of the changes that occur regularly within the government can help children process what they hear and see during and after an election.

Photo Credit: Adam Hall (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Adam Hall
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Adults often express very strong feelings about the election cycle and its outcome. Unfortunately, this can be frightening or stressful for children of all ages. Ask your child open questions about their observations and reactions to the things they are seeing and hearing. Be open to their questions as well.

Some wonder how their lives will change when the country has a new leader. You can reassure your child that while those who work in government are busy and have a big job to do, your child’s day-to-day life is not likely to change substantially and suddenly after an election. They will wake up the next morning and follow the rhythm of their day, just like always.

The U.S. presidential election cycle is a big deal, not just because it is how Americans elect their nation’s leader, but also because the right of citizens to participate in choosing their leader is taken for granted – and protected by law. You might discuss how they, too, will have the privilege of voting when they are grown, and that means gathering information about the candidates in advance, as they may have seen adults in their life doing recently. If your children have an opinion about who they would vote for if they could, encourage them to think critically by asking them to explain the thought process that led them to that choice.

Photo Credit: Sweeney Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Sweeney Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Remind your child that the excitement and media coverage will die down as those who have been newly elected to office prepare to begin working in those positions. Many things happen between Election Day and Inauguration Day. The new president begins appointing staff members, who must absorb a lot of important information about running the country. The current president’s family prepares to moves out of the White House while the new president’s family gets ready to move in. Many people work hard to set things up to make sure those transitions go smoothly.

To a child, a president-elect may seem like a powerful superhero, and a four-year or eight-year presidential term may feel like a lifetime in the context of their short lives. They may worry about the new president being overly powerful. Even very perceptive children may not realize that our governmental system is intentionally set up to allow for a shift in personnel on a regular schedule to ensure that no one person becomes too powerful. The U.S. Constitution calls for governmental power to be spread out over three governmental branches, which means elected representatives share the power (and the work).

It’s important for children to know that there are many different elected positions in government at the national, state, and local levels. The president doesn’t do everything! Lots of people work together to get the work of the country done. In general, in the United States, any adult citizen who would like to participate in the government by running for office can do so. And everyone over the age of 18 is entitled to help choose these many representatives by voting. Many people share the job of safeguarding the well-being of the country and its citizens. You might interview friends and neighbors who are involved in local, state, or federal government and ask them about their experiences.

Photo Credit: Nevada Wolfe (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Nevada Wolfe
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Help your child make a plan for some way they can get involved in addressing things they think could be improved in their neighborhood, town, or wider world. Small things add up to a bigger whole, especially when many people share the same goals. Talk about what kind of world your family wants to live in and what you could do together to help make and keep it that way. It is never too early to encourage developmentally appropriate ways to be an active, responsible citizen. Taking action can be empowering and helps children feel they are a meaningful part of the world around them.

The buzz around a big election can be unsettling for some children. By helping your child develop a deeper understanding of the basics of the U.S. governmental system, you give him or her tools to help put the election results into context and carry on with the important work of childhood.

Election Day & Leadership

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 marks the historic day for the 58th quadrennial US Presidential Election. For many citizens in the United States (as well as around the world), it’s an exciting day for each community and state, and especially for the nation! It’s Election Day!

Although US citizens cannot vote until they reach the age of 18, the Presidential Election is still a valuable lesson to share with young children by getting them involved and helping them to feel an important part of the election process. Sarah Coyne, who writes writes about life and motherhood in her personal blog offers activity and discussion ideas for teachable moments with your children in her blogspot, Sarah Coyne: Use the election to connect with kids.

If you prefer to include interactive sites to aid in teaching about Election Day, the following sites offer opportunities for voting and other activities centered on the 2016 presidential election:

PBS KIDS: The Democracy Project

Scholastic: Election 2016

Kids.gov: How to Become President of the U.S.

TIME For Kids: Vote for President

In Oak Meadow’s second grade social studies coursework, the students learn about the importance of a being a good leader, and Oak Meadow’s third grade social studies course includes a study block on the founding of our country and the importance of great citizenship/leadership. If you are inspired to share some ideas on leadership, “Let’s Grow Leaders” Karin Hurt contributed a list of children’s books that I highly recommend. She categorizes them in separate topics for more personal interest: Authenticity, Perseverance, Creativity/Problem Solving, Servant Leadership, Empowerment/Process, and Teamwork.

12 Ways to Help Your Child Adapt to Learning at Home

Have you recently made the switch from schooling to homeschooling? It can take some time for your child (and you!) to adjust to this new way of learning and being in the world. Some students adapt quickly, but others need a longer transition period.  

Photo Credit: The Anderson Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: The Anderson Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Sometimes, even if a previous situation was intolerable and changing gears was essential to your child’s health or well-being, it can take awhile to heal from any trauma that may have occurred. Some students come to associate education with discomfort and need to start from scratch in developing new enthusiasm for learning.

What are the reasons why you brought learning home? Were there specific things that felt unhealthy or unhappy about your child’s previous school situation? What changes have you observed in your child since making the switch? Start there to assess whether things are changing in the direction that you had hoped.

If your child is still struggling or needs help navigating the transition, here are some suggestions that may help:

  1. Take it slow. Things may need to slow down for awhile as you switch gears, but you’ll build up momentum in time. It takes time to settle into a new way of doing things, especially when the change is a big one. Follow your child’s lead for awhile.
  2. Photo Credit: The Hoag Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: The Hoag Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Celebrate every day! Each day moves you to new possibilities, greater health and healing, and a stronger sense of togetherness as a family. Be thankful together for these wonderful opportunities.

  3. Be flexible in your expectations. Home learning almost never looks the way you might have imagined. Each day might be very different from the one before. In trying out new things, you can eliminate what doesn’t work while finding what does. Roll with the unexpected and see where it takes you.
  4. Ask your child what matters most to them. Honor the differences and similarities that feel most important to your child as you define a new approach to learning. Ask them what they disliked about their previous situation, and create a more comfortable way of doing things as you move forward.
  5. Remember the reasons you opted for home learning. Together with your child, make a list of all of the things that led you to take this journey. On days when you feel at odds with your decision, look at this list to remember and affirm why you made this choice. Some days will undoubtedly be challenging; consider how they compare to the challenges you left behind. Give yourselves tremendous credit for moving in this new direction.

    Photo Credit: Nell Flanagan (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Nell Flanagan
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  6. Allow your child to help drive the change. Give them as much ownership as possible. Invite your child to list the things that are most important to them to have as a part of their homeschooling experience. Maybe they want to be allowed to sleep as late as they need to each day, or study on the floor instead of at a desk, or choose the order of their subjects each day. Let them help in differentiating this new adventure from their previous experiences.
  7. Make comfort a priority. Change is hard! Help buffer that stress with comfort measures. Make room for plenty of rest and relaxation. Comfort may mean something different for each family member, so talk openly about what you need and how you can support each other in getting it.
  8. Offer safe space for your child’s feelings. Allow your child to talk frankly about their fears/worries/frustrations. They may be grieving the things they liked about school even as they are relieved to leave behind the things they didn’t like. Listen supportively as they process their feelings.
  9. Get support for yourself. Find someone to lean on and process your own feelings with, preferably someone who is open-minded about educational choices and who is not in your household. If you need help finding likeminded support, look on social media for homeschooling groups and lists.

    Photo Credit: Nio Hirano (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Nio Hirano
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  10. Keep your sense of humor! Laugh together as a family. Laugh at your mistakes and misunderstandings. Acknowledge limitations with a wink and a smile. Keep your attitude light and positive, and chances are good that your child will follow your example.
  11. Acknowledge all kinds of progress. Celebrate your child’s good effort and positive attitude just as much as a correct answer or a passing test score. Even a more open curiosity about the world and a greater willingness to ask questions is worth celebrating! As your family adjusts and embraces a new rhythm, give yourselves a pat on the back for making it happen.
  12. You are the expert on your own child! Even if you’ve never done this sort of thing before, you can trust your instincts about what your child needs. You might consult with others who are experienced and encouraging, and you might seek support in areas where you have more to learn. But you know your child better than anyone else, so let your heart guide you!

Part 3 of Developing Self-Esteem

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Lawrence Williams (Oak Meadow Archives)

The following is Part 3 of Developing Self-Esteem: Challenge Them, written by Oak Meadow’s co-founder, Lawrence Williams.

Challenge Them

Respect and appreciation provide the underlying support that a child needs, but challenges provide the fulcrum through which self-esteem is developed. Challenges enable a child to develop inner strength, which is an essential component of self-esteem. By facing and conquering small challenges, children develop the inner strength to face and conquer larger challenges and, ultimately, to conquer the challenges that face us all as human beings. Without challenges in life, children never have the opportunity to invoke the inner fire that is the true source of self-esteem. However, presenting children with challenges is something that must be approached intelligently and with caution, for it can easily become distorted and become a detriment rather than a benefit. The following guidelines may be helpful:

Provide Appropriate Challenges – Although something is gained just by the struggle itself, if children are constantly faced with challenges that are beyond their capacity, they inevitably fail, and this tends to diminish, rather than increase, self-esteem. The real benefit of a challenge lies in the opportunity it provides for the child to dig deeper and bring forth more inner strength, enough to overcome the obstacle and succeed. Thus, we must provide experiences that are difficult enough to offer a challenge, but not so difficult that failure is inevitable. As children grow in strength and expertise, look for new challenges that are up to their new capacity. Admittedly, this is an art, but it is one that becomes easier with practice.

Talk About It – Children are very open to the idea of applying themselves to a challenge to help them increase their inner strength, but you have to present it to them in a way that is relevant to their stage of unfoldment. For some children, you may put it in imaginary terms, and relate it to a particular fairy tale they enjoy (“Remember how the prince had to lift the heavy stones to build the wall? Well, this is just like that…”). For older children, you can begin to talk in symbolic terms (“Remember the story I used to tell you when you were little about the prince fighting the dragon? Well, whenever we struggle to do something that is difficult, it’s just like fighting a dragon inside us. If we give up, the dragon wins, and we become weaker. If we complete the job, we win, and we become stronger and more skillful at fighting the dragons inside…”). Don’t make it a lecture, but just a heart-to-heart talk between friends. Gradually, these talks can become real in-depth discussions of some pretty extraordinary things.

Teach Basic Strategies – For certain kinds of tasks, children may have the will to do it, but they just don’t know how. When this happens, they sometimes will say, “I can’t do it” when what they really mean is “I don’t know how to do it”. However, teaching strategies means more than just explaining how to do the job. Often, particularly if the job seems overwhelming, it means showing them how to break the job down in smaller tasks that are less intimidating. Once again, you can use analogies to make it more relevant to them (“Sometimes, if the dragon is real big, you can’t kill it all at once; you have to tie up one leg, then another, then another…”). Learning strategies that can be applied to many different kinds of tasks is very important, for they can apply this knowledge in many ways for the rest of their lives.

Provide Encouragement and Support – Every challenge requires children to struggle somewhat, and nothing helps in this process more than receiving encouragement from those you love and respect. The extent of the support that you offer can vary widely, depending upon the age of the children and their capabilities. For younger children, you probably will need to actually do it with them, then withdraw your participation gradually and in a non-confrontive manner (“Oh! I just remembered something in the kitchen! You keep going and I’ll be right back!”). However, when you do this, make sure that you do come back, or they will get distracted and gradually begin to distrust what you say. For older children, you may have to help them get started, and then check in from time to time to see how they’re progressing. When you do, always provide encouragement on their progress.

Give Them a Chance to Struggle – Often, parents want to protect their children from all uncomfortable experiences. Although one can appreciate the compassion behind such sentiments, rescuing children from all uncomfortable experiences serves to weaken them, rather than strengthen them. Of course, this must be tempered according to children’s stage of unfoldment. Younger children develop inner strength by struggling to control their bodies and develop their coordination, and this is best accomplished within the confines of a protected, nurturing environment rather than exposure to the “real world”. Exposing your children to harsh outer experiences doesn’t develop inner strength, it only forces them to develop superficial outer defenses to protect themselves. However, as children grow older, they need to gradually replace the protection of the parents with their own individual awareness. Ultimately, self-esteem arises when we get in touch with our own inner fire, for this gives us a sense of confidence in our own capabilities and our own inner worth as human beings. A sensitive environment and a loving, supportive family can open the door to self-esteem, but only through confronting and overcoming our own weaknesses as individuals do we contact the inner fire that makes us whole, and that gives us a sense of self-esteem that is based upon a knowledge of our worth and our capacities as human beings.