Tag Archives: Fathers

NGHS Journal: Up close and personal with the elections

5 Nov

By Renée Gotcher

This weekend I came to a better appreciation of living in a swing state: It can be pretty exciting and fun the week before a national election if you stop answering your phone and watching live TV, and take advantage of all the live appearances instead. Swing states get lots of “love” from the candidates in the form of additional visits, some in more intimate venues. This provides a unique opportunity to get your children up close and personal with the election process.

This weekend, my two older daughters were able to attend Romney-Ryan events here in Colorado. Saturday my 10-year-old Claire attended a huge rally at the Comfort Dental amphitheater (formerly known as Fiddler’s Green) with some close family friends. She got a chance to sit in a special VIP section close to the stage and hear presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann address the crowd of approximately 17,000 people.

Claire’s play-by-play of the event goes something like this: “It was really loud and then his country singer sang for a long time, and then a few different people talked, and THEN Mitt Romney and his wife finally came on stage!” She did remember a few key points, though, like “something about how Romney helped Staples do better in business,” and “Mitt really loves his wife!” But the real highlight of her evening was stopping at Jimmy John’s for sandwiches on the way home and getting a “Vote Jimmy” button. Love that girl!

Last night, my husband and I took our eldest daughter, Audrey (11 1/2), to hear Romney’s VP running mate Paul Ryan speak at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where we were pulled out of the crowd and asked if we would like to sit right behind the stage! This was a much more intimate venue than Fiddler’s Green, and the crowds of people that didn’t even make it in the arena faithfully stood outside to listen from speakers in near-freezing temperatures.

It was nice to be out of the cold (somewhat – it was an open air arena!) and be able to sit in the bleachers while waiting for the big event. We were so close that we actually made it on the NBC affiliate news coverage in the background while Ryan was entering the arena! We’re on the top left corner of this video freeze frame: Audrey is the smiling girl in striped shirt with thunder sticks waving, while I’m the one standing next to her holding my iPhone, of course…

It was exciting to have such great seats for the occasion, but I was especially grateful because it gave Audrey — who was attending her first political event — a chance to feel like she was part of history in the making, no matter what the outcome. She had educated conversations with adults sitting around us, and she really paid attention to the speakers. She was engaged, excited and thankful to witness a part of the election process firsthand. As a “tween” she already has very strong personal convictions, and it’s a privilege to give her as much opportunity as possible to gain more perspective on what it means to be an American.

Maximizing the weekend’s election excitement, we decided to make facts about the election process the subject of today’s lapbook. Earlier this month, another mom in our homeschool support group shared a free election lapbook template from Homeschool Share, as well as a “color in” 2012 electoral map that the girls could use to first fill in the projected results, then flip over and fill in the actual results for comparison.

We spent most of the afternoon cutting, coloring, and researching answers (and yes, that’s Claire using her iPod Touch to browse the Web). I am really glad I saved this project for today, because after their experiences this weekend, the girls were so much more connected to their work. It was fun to overhear them comparing the two events they attended, as well as chime in with their opinions and projections as they filled out each section. They were very pleased with the finished product, especially the electoral map we’ll be coloring in tomorrow night as the results start coming in.

I want to be clear that I’m not writing this post to advocate any political party or voting decision. On the contrary, I believe what’s important is that parents not only be responsibly engaged in the election process and do your due diligence in sifting through the political “marketing” to make educated voting decisions, but that you also invite you children to join you in this journey.

My earliest childhood remembrance of anything political was when my second grade public school class wrote letters to President Carter. I can’t remember what I wrote, why we did it or if the letters were actually mailed or just an assignment. We didn’t talk about what the president stood for, just what he did. But I do remember recognizing the significance of a president and thinking that it seemed like a pretty important job, and I wondered why I would really have anything to say to him.

Oh yes, and I do remember learning a thing or two since that time from Schoolhouse Rock

Our household wasn’t very engaged in politics when I was growing up. My mom was born in Mexico, had a Green Card, and didn’t become an American citizen until after I was in college. My stepfather was a citizen but never shared any political feelings with us kids. My birth father (a longshoreman and longtime union man) was a Democrat and I knew that, but I didn’t know why. In fact, my dad and I didn’t really talk about politics until I left home for college at age 17 and registered to vote Republican two years later, when the 1992 election loomed on the horizon. As you can imagine, he wasn’t happy about it, but that’s another story for another day…

My point is this: The limited time we have with our children, even when homeschooling them, is a vital preparation time to equip them for the future. I want them to learn now what it means to be a U.S. citizen, how our government works, how we are different from other countries and why, and how they can be engaged in the democratic process. And I’ll be happy if that means simply voting in every election they are eligible to vote in.

I have to admit that although I registered to vote in college, I didn’t take my vote seriously until years later. I took AP government classes in middle school and high school, and I understood quite clearly the logistics of our government and the basics of the party system. However, I didn’t appreciate how politics actually did apply to me and had always applied to me: From my mom’s citizenship status and my dad’s union-provided benefits that put braces on my teeth, to buying our first home as a couple and navigating the ups and downs of our economy (including a layoff) and being able to choose what we believe is the best option for educating our three daughters.

So I am especially grateful to be able to include my girls in this year’s election journey, especially now that they are old enough to think critically and understand that elections are about more than just campaign slogans.

I’m also making sure that they know I believe no matter who becomes president, God is still King. That means we can trust Him with any outcome, believing that “all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). So I place my hope in Him, and this is the hope that keeps me from becoming jaded and cynical during these divided times.

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What Role Does Dad Play?

13 Mar

Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!

This week’s question was inspired by a recent article on SimpleHomeschool.net called “Collaborative Homeschooling for the Whole Family,” which was followed up by another view on this topic in “A Mom & Dad Homeschool Team.”

What role does Dad play in the family’s homeschooling life?

Although we NextGen Homeschool authors aren’t in the same shoes as the author of the Collaborative Homeschooling post, Hillary Boucher, who is now working full-time while her husband handles the day-to-day homeschool duties (which was a role reversal for them), we appreciated the ideas shared by both posts because they raise great questions — and solutions — about parents working as a team in the homeschooling process. We realized that even though we moms are handling most of the daytime schooling activities in our homes, the roles our husbands do play are very vital to the success of our homeschooling efforts — and we are very grateful for that partnership.

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005

“I have posted before about my own dad’s role in our schooling when I was being homeschooled. (See “What Role Can Dads Play in the Homeschool?“) My husband Jason’s role has always been more that of a principal. He makes sure we don’t get too far off track, deals with any real discipline problems, etc.

I guess you could also say Jason is in charge of the business and work experience credits for my two older girls. Both girls worked at our donut shop several days a week since they were 13 or 14 years old. They both have a lot of experience in customer service, mental math, counting change, bank deposits, employee management, and the other aspects it takes to run a successful small business.

For my 7-year-old Joel, his dad teaches the golf portion of his schooling. They go golfing at least twice a week and talk golf nonstop. He also takes Joel to the shop with him sometimes and to go buy inventory, so Joel is getting a head start in business administration as well. Jason also likes Joel to read to him sometimes, and when I need to step away for a few minutes, he helps with math or whatever Joel is struggling with at that time.

I definitely couldn’t homeschool without Jason’s help; physically, emotionally, and financially. I know that I am blessed that I have spouse that works hard so that I can stay home and teach our children.”

NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010

“What a great question! I am so grateful that we live in a time in history when women can share the upbringing of the children with their spouses in more ways than having husbands solely funtion as the bread winners (though thank you very much to the husbands that do so!). My husband Jeremy is a high school history teacher, and when we went from two incomes to one (it’s been six years on and off that way), he has also added carpentry and landscaping side jobs to his workload.

First and foremost, Jeremy shares in the weight of homeschooling with me by fully supporting and even encouraging me in this endeavor. I decided before even attempting to homeschool the kids that if he was not 100% on board, it was a no go. Thankfully, he is fully supportive.

Jeremy says he really appreciates that I’ve taken time to read books on the subject of education (I’ve got at least 10 on my nightstand) and that he is grateful I am teaching his kids. This is huge for me, because he’s a teacher and I am a designer by trade. My job used to be to read fashion magazines!

Secondly, Jeremy picks up on a lot of the slack around the house: laundry, dinner dishes, bathing the kids, (many of which inevitably fall behind because of additional time spent on outings), planning lessons on the computer, filing schoolwork that is complete… You get the idea.

Thirdly, Jeremy reads a lot to the kids, and I usually slip in books I need to get covered for the unit we are on into the pile of books he is reading them. He also reads aloud on Monday evenings after dinner (a non-picture book to get the kids using their imagination a little bit more). After dinner or as they are finishing up seems to be a non-threatening way of accomplishing this, as well as providing an enjoyable time hearing the story as well.

Jeremy always attends field trips or special co-op meetings with me. Just having him there reminds me and the kids that we are a team. Lastly, I find I can easily fill my schedule with great “to-do”s for the kids, but talking to my husband about my plans and what our days look like, he always bring me back to what is important in their education right now (things we’ve talked about together in the past) and encourages me to cut out the extras.

Though the planning and day-to-day teaching of the kids is something I take care of, I feel a huge amount of support from my husband. Having the kids’ work ready for them to show him or a book we read for them to narrate to him at dinner keeps him in touch with what we are doing.

Recently my husband brought up that because of our son’s amazing memory (he memorizes picture books word for word, which my husband became aware of because of Elijah’s recitation of them to him), we should focus some time on training him to memorize large portions of scripture. I thought it was a great idea and will be sure to include my husband on deciding what portion we should start with, as well as what incentive we should use.

I feel that part of my responsibility of training my children is to include their dad, so that they know he cares very much about their education, as much as their mommy does.”

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010

“I was intrigued by the ideas shared in the articles mentioned above because even though my husband works from home and could probably be more involved in the day-to-day aspects of our homeschooling, we hadn’t figured out yet what that should look like. I really appreciate the ideas shared by these other families, and they’ve given us a lot of food for thought. Right now, the question is still on the table for us because my husband Kenny truly does want to be more involved with our homeschooling.

What my husband has provided for us from the start has been 100% support — spiritually, emotionally and financially. Kenny was homeschooled along with my sisters-in-law Rosanna and Elizabeth by his father, and homeschooling was something we had both talked about doing years before we had children. Although we didn’t start right away when our eldest were school age (for more on that journey, see “My Biggest Homeschooling Blunder: Thinking I’d Be Ready“). My husband’s encouragement played a huge role in helping me get to the place where I was ready.

Once we made that choice and started preparing, he helped me sort through curriculum options and find what we thought would be the best fit for our family. When I started struggling with it midway through our first year, he helped me troubleshoot my problems and find solutions. He also helped me search for new curriculum and lesson planning strategies that would overcome those issues in the new school year. Like Rosanna said, I’d say Kenny is a great “principal” for our homeschool: He sets the standard with me and keeps us all in line (I need it too sometimes).

On a day-to-day basis, I currently do all the teaching. Since Kenny does work from home, he will watch an occasional presentation from the girls, come see a new skill they’ve just mastered, and eat lunch with us most days. He’s also available for those moments when I need a break from the girls to clear my head and want to talk to an adult for a few minutes. He has made a point of trying to attend most elementary presentation days and other important functions in our local homeschool group as well.

One of the biggest contributions Kenny makes to our daily life as a family is cooking dinner — yes, you read that right, my husband is the chef in our family! I am so blessed and grateful for his skills with food and his willingness to share them with us on a daily basis. He is a whiz in the kitchen, and not only does his preparation of dinner save me time and an extra thing to think about all day, it provides another opportunity for our girls to learn a skill from him, not just me. I do enjoy baking with my eldest daughter Audrey (who loves to cook and bake) from time to time, but I really enjoy letting my husband work his magic in the kitchen and let the girls learn his secrets in the process.

Things we are currently discussing for future implementation include Kenny teaching a class from time to time, his being more involved in our morning routine and some more of the fun things we do together, like watch educational DVDs as a family and go on our own field trips besides those provided through our local group. We also want the girls to get a better sense that he’s just as involved in the homeschooling planning and follow-through as I am, even though I’ll still do most of the teaching.

I look forward to reporting back again soon with news about what we implement and how it improves our homeschooling environment, both for our girls and for us.”


What role does Dad play in your homeschooling life? We’d love to hear what you think!

We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to nextgenhomeschool@gmail.com or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!

A Homeschooling Christmas: Week Two

19 Dec

By Renée Gotcher

This week I’m participating with a homeschool blog link-up called “The Homeschool Mother’s Journal” hosted by The Homeschool Chick. I’m also continuing my series on “a homeschooling Christmas,” where I’ve been sharing about our new approach to integrating Christmas traditions (some old, some new!) with our homeschool plan for December. Week One was a big hit with the kids and relatively stress free for me — which has been my goal all along — but Week Two proved to be a bit more challenging. Here’s what went down:

In our homeschool this past week… the pace of Christmas events and activities snowballed, and to top that off, the week started off with an awful stomach bug making its way through most of the family! By the end of last week, I felt like I was digging myself out of an avalanche and had almost lost “my way”— my way being the mission to keep our family focused on celebrating Jesus and away from the normal stresses of the season.

Thankfully, the Lord in His grace made sure that I wasn’t sick myself until my husband was home for the weekend from a week-long business trip (although I’m sure he didn’t appreciate it!) — which was just long enough for me to recover and get my footing for the busy week ahead and the fact that he’d be gone again for four days.

Along with the week’s special events, such as my girls’ absolute favorite Elementary Presentation Day and Christmas Party, plus my second annual Christmas Cookie Swap (co-hosted with another homeschooling mom), we tried our best to keep up with our new and repeating family Christmas traditions. This proved to be the biggest challenge, since two of our new Christmas traditions involved daily activities! What was I thinking when I made that decision?

Not surprisingly, we missed a few days of our Jesse Tree devotional in the morning, and due to the sick days, we missed a few days of the Family Fun Christmas Countdown activities as well. And my lofty plan to keep the girls working on core schoolwork each day also fell to the wayside.

But quickly I realized that the only person keeping track of these “misses” was me. The girls were still having a great time each day with the projects that we did accomplish, they had a blast at our week’s special events, and most important, Christmas was still front and center in the daily conversation. Kids have an amazing ability to keep their eyes on the big picture when we are still buried in the details, don’t they?

My favorite thing this week was… what we did accomplish! We kept up a few existing traditions that we love, caught up with our new ones (finally back on the right day of the Jesse Tree devotional), and were blessed to participate in some fun fellowship with people we are grateful to know. Here are the highlights:

Baking Christmas Cookies With Dad — a Keeper!

Years ago when our eldest Audrey was maybe two or three years old, my husband initiated our first Christmas Cookie baking and decorating party. Yes, you read that right — my husband started this tradition in our family! I am blessed to have a husband who loves to cook and is a natural born chef, in my opinion. Which works out great for me because I’m definitely not!

Since that first frosting fest, the girls have come to look forward to this special time of baking and free-form decorating with dad. When they were young, we usually bought a ready-made roll of sugar cookie dough, canisters of cake frosting, and a Christmas sprinkles assortment. Creating cookies was as easy as cutting out shapes, popping them in the oven, smearing them with frosting and dousing them with sprinkles.

Then we moved up to making the cookies from scratch, and finally started making our own frosting with powdered sugar and food coloring.

This year, since the girls are older and more skilled, I secretly hoped that we could come up with some uniform decorating ideas and end up with more “gift-ready” sugar cookies. But I realized quickly that dad’s laid-back and free-for-all fun attitude is one of the reasons the girls enjoy doing this with him.

So while I tried to sprinkle in decorating suggestions here and there, the girls pretty much did what they wanted — and had a blast doing it. This is definitely dad’s tradition! If I want perfectly decorated cookies for gift-giving, I will have to decorate them myself. My husband Kenny did a nice job on his (first row, below) and the girls just did their thing… good times!

Decorating a Gingerbread Town — new!

My eldest daughter Audrey loves to bake and decorate, and she made a special request this year to create a Gingerbread town for the first time. Such a simple request, right? Little did she know there’s a reason we haven’t done this before: I’m just not that crafty! The only “Gingerbread” houses I’ve ever made consisted of graham cracker walls smeared with store-bought frosting.

But in the spirit of incorporating more creativity into our Christmas celebration, I said yes. Then I panicked: I don’t have any molds! I’ve never even baked Gingerbread cookies from scratch before, let alone Gingerbread cookie walls! What about my goal of simplicity?

Thankfully, there’s always an easier way — and you can usually find it at Michaels! So I purchased a ready-to-build Gingerbread town, complete with candy, sprinkles and ready-to-mix frosting with included piping bags & decorating tips. Yes, this is doable! We’ll just follow the instructions and voila, we’ll have a cute homemade-looking Gingerbread town.

I’ll spare you the details of my failed attempts to get the frosting consistency just right, or to figure out why the pre-cut pieces of each house didn’t seem to want to fit together even though we followed the “blueprints” exactly. Let’s just say it didn’t turn out to be as simple as the box promised!

In the end, we had our Gingerbread town and the girls were so proud of themselves! And we learned a few things along the way, like you actually can’t fix everything with frosting and there is such a thing as too many decorations on a tiny Gingerbread wall (one door keeps falling off due to the weight of a gummy wreath and all its “ornaments”). But what fun we had!

I’d like to repeat this tradition, but I think I should try to take a cookie decorating class first — doesn’t Michaels have those too?

Christmas Cookie Swap — a Keeper!

I know I said earlier that I’m no whiz in the kitchen, but there is one thing that I’ve had repeated success with over the years: Baking (not decorating) great cookies! This is largely due to the fact that baking is precise and involves detailed instructions — totally up my alley. As long as I have a fool-proof recipe in my hands, all the necessary ingredients, a nonstick pan and a cooperating oven, and there’s lots of chocolate involved, I’m good to go.

A few years back when we lived in Durango, one of my neighbors invited me to participate in my first Christmas Cookie Swap. The invitation requested that I bring six dozen cookies from the same recipe, printed copies of my recipe, and an appetizer — that’s a huge request for a kitchen-shy mom like me! But I didn’t want to miss out on the fun, and the idea of having an assortment of amazing cookies to give away as gifts was tempting. Plus there’s a little spark of Martha in me that was up for the challenge.

I made six dozen of the easiest and best cookies I knew how to make — drop chocolate chip cookies — and simply added crushed peppermint to the batter. And guess what? Among some of the prettiest homemade cookies I’ve ever seen, my simple peppermint chocolate chip cookies were a huge hit! Since then, I’ve actually located a recipe for these cookies online. Maybe I’m not such a kitchen disaster after all?

When I moved to Castle Rock last year, I longed to keep this tradition alive, but no one I knew was stepping up to host one. So I chatted up the idea with a friend in my homeschool group who enjoys cooking, and we decided to pool our talents together and co-host our own Cookie Swap. She has the perfect entertaining house and loves to cook, so she made the apps and set up a beautifully decorated spread. I am the social ringleader and computer whiz, so I planned the games and coordinated the online and print invitations, RSVPs, and recipe printouts.

I also decided to be a little more adventurous this year and make “pretty” cookies: This recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Wafers from my favorite magazine Real Simple seemed to fit the bill, incorporating a cookie must-have for me — chocolate — with the festive flavor of peppermint and some snazzy decor. They turned out to be easy and delicious!

Although our first Cookie Swap party was small — we couldn’t seem to convince many moms in our homeschool group that it wasn’t as intimidating as it sounded — those who came had a fabulous time and asked us if we’d do it again this year. So we decided to make it an annual tradition!

This year I was inspired by my favorite Starbucks dessert, the Cranberry Bliss Bar, to make a cranberry white chocolate cookie. I couldn’t find a recipe that was exactly what I had in mind, so I decided to adapt this Triple Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookie recipe and use only dark and white chocolate, along with dried cranberries instead of fresh or frozen, which I prefer in texture and tartness. I couldn’t believe I was actually modifying a recipe by myself, but they turned out amazing! In fact, I’m making more today because there aren’t enough left for gifts — no one in the family has been able to keep their hands off of them.

The Cookie Swap was a big hit again this year: Not only did last year’s guests come back for more, but we added a few new moms too! The cookies were great, but the best part of the evening was the meaningful conversation. I think we all needed that break from the busy pace of the season to share from the heart with like-minded women who could encourage and support one another. I really felt blessed to have played a role in bringing us all together that night!

Songs of Christmas — new!

I’ve always loved Christmas music, and it’s something that really brings me back to childhood. My mom was really great about turning on the Christmas tunes right after Thanksgiving every year, and once we even purchased a seen-on-TV set of Christmas Classics cassette tapes that eventually wore out from many years of use. We sang Christmas carols with groups of friends, as a family, and with Christmas choirs from church and school. I’m no singer, but music is definitely a family trait, and I’ve always enjoyed singing at Christmas time and watching others perform as well.

But for some reason, I haven’t been great at incorporating music into our family’s Christmas traditions. This year, I set out to find something special involving music, and what do you know, my own church was hosting an event called “Songs of Christmas.” Perfect!

I thought it would be like a Christmas concert, but it turns out the evening was about everyone singing — the performers simply led the way. There were a couple of solo numbers, but for the most part we all sang in unison some of the most treasured and meaningful Christmas carols we all know. It was like one big worship service, and it was perfect! The girls loved singing along and sharing cookies and cider with their friends from church. It was just what I needed last week to bring the true spirit of the season back into focus in our family.

And my favorite photo of the week… was taken on one of our Family Fun Christmas Countdown activities, cruising for Christmas lights. After picking up Audrey from ballet last Monday, I surprised the girls by picking up dinner and peppermint hot chocolates from the McDonald’s drive-through (don’t judge me!) and taking them through a neighborhood that actually hosts a Christmas lights decorating contest each year. I figured if there’s a contest, there should be some great light displays to see — and I was right! This house was everyone’s favorite:

Another December week has quicky come and gone, and although we hit some bumps in the road (like illness and over-booking), I felt like we still managed to stay on track with the Homeschooling Christmas plan. And despite the addition of all those events last week, we’re still having one of the most peaceful Christmases I can remember. I think it is going to be really hard to see it all come to a close at the end of this week!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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