Monday, December 31, 2007

Wolf in sheep's clothing

Nothing in the homeschooling community makes me angrier than the Homeschooling Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). It's a wondeful scam. A group of uber right wing, Christian fundamentalist, Republican, neoconservative males hit on the perfect way to fund their political action group.

They purport to support homeschoolers for all their legal problems. What they do in reality is use push right wing, political agendas. Right now they are supporting Huckabee for president. If I see one more headline about homeschoolers supporting Huckabee I am going to throw up. Please people, homeschoolers do not support Huckabee. The HSLDA supports Huckabee and they only represent a VERY small portion of homeschoolers. Homeschoolers by their very nature are independent and are not represented by any one body.

Huckabee is not a friend of homeschoolers. He's a foe. Arkansas became much less homeschooling friendly during Huckabee's tenure. Huckabee is all about federal intervention in education. This can only be bad for homeschoolers. As homeschoolers we should want the federal government out of education.

The HSLDA also wants more federal involvement in homeschooling as is seen by their HONDA bill. I wish they would leave well alone. Education is a state issue. We do not need national organizations, who are out of touch with the local issues, getting involved in legislation at any level.

I'm tired of reading their "Urgent" alerts full of scares that are in reality recruitment tools. I've lost count of the number of new homeschoolers in VA who think that VA is a homeschool unfriendly state and that you need legal protection thanks to the HSLDA. VA is an easy state in which to homeschool. Our two statewide organizations have a good relationship with the department of education and the legislature. Sometimes we have misunderstandings at local levels or a new official tries to flex some muscles, but on the whole, it all works well. However, the HSLDA thrives on adversarial relationship. They need them in order to survive. Who needs a legal defense association if problems can be solved easily and amicably?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Alien Conception

Shira has just written a post in her blog about cleaning. She purports to love cleaning. There is no way she can be my child, no way at all. I didn't realize that people existed who loved cleaning.

The Great Number Rumble

I've been reading a great book on math to my kids. It's called, "The Great Number Rumble: A Story of Math in Surprising Places." by Cora Lee and Gillian O'Reilly. It's meant for middle schoolers to read on their own, but if you read it to your elementary schoolers and explain new concepts and skip the ones that are just too complex, you have a really good text for them.

Before I started reading this book to the children, I was struggling to work out how to show Shira that the math we did in lessons had an application in every day life. It was as if she had compartmentalized lessons from life. She'd happily add and subtract in lessons but when I would ask her silly things like, "I need 10 apples to make this pie. I have 2, so how many do we have to buy at the store?", she'd look at me like I'd grown horns. However, during lessons, if I asked her the same question, or 10-2, she'd know the answer in a heart beat.

I've always read a lot of living math books to the children but somehow I had not managed to help them make connections between the books, math lessons and real life. Enter this book....

The premise is simple, the Director of Education, removed math from his school district as he said that math was unnecessary. A math geek in one of the schools disagrees and challenges the director to a debate. Sam, our young hero, uses some clever little math tricks to prove his point.

Sam tells the director that if he fails to convince him that Math is important, that he will work for the director, every day after school, for a year. They then agree that the director will pay Sam a penny for the first day, 2 cents for the second, 4 for the third, 8 for the fourth and so on.

Right there and then, I stopped reading the book and pulled out the beads. I had the children use beads to see how much money the Director would owe Sam in 2 weeks.

Using beads was a masterful idea. They got to see how quickly the numbers added up. It was cute watching the children laugh at the Director's stupidity.

Then the book showed how geometry is in everything. Sam used the examples of triangles iin bicycles.

That's all it took. Ben and Shira have been on a math tear ever since. We're now reading the book for plain old enjoyment. The connections between life, math and lessons have been made.

I saw that this afternoon. Ben and Shira were making pretend hamburgers and hotdogs out of construction paper for their animals. Shira told me that she had cut 7 hot dogs and needed to cut 14 hot dog buns. She told me that she had worked it out by skip counting in 2's for each hot dog. I thought it was neat that she worked that out because we haven't touched on mulitplication yet.

Right now she's polishing the trash can ( my daughter did not inherit this need to clean from me) and is asking me to give her mental addition problems. She specifically wants me to give her 2 and 3 digit numbers to add. She works out the problems out loud and it's fascinating to hear how she does it. She definitely understands place value because she breaks all the numbers into tens, hundreds and ones and then she has little tricks for other numbers. Tricks like when adding 8 and 5, she says, I know that 8 is 3+5, so that is 5+5+3 and that's 13 or one ten and 3 ones.

I am one happy mommy right now. We'll work on getting the math faster, but that's a minor issue now that I know she understands the underlying concepts.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Our babysitter left a copy of a school paper on Ben's computer. Marc and I were curious when we saw it so of course we read it. To say that we were horrified by the standard of the work was putting it mildly. This is a final paper for a 400 level course in communication.

I'm not even going to start my rant on university courses that call themselves "communication" courses. WTF is a communication course and what is it doing at university?

This paper was written by an illiterate who strung pompous sounding buzz words together in the hopes of sounding important. If a twelve year old handed a paper like this to me, I would fail it.

On Friday I asked our sitter about the paper. Imagine my surprise when I discovered she received a 72% for it. My already low opinion of Old Dominion University dropped even further. Then I discovered that she had not written it. This paper was a group effort and that a graduate student had written it.

This is so wrong on so many levels.

The first being: How can you submit a paper you haven't written without proofing it? Surely collaborative efforts need to be vetted by the entire group?

The second: I fail to see how anyone learns from a group effort. My sitter was open about the fact that she had very little to do with this project. Each team within the group worked on a small section of the paper and someone from the group put it all together. It appeared to me that no one paid much attention to the work of the rest of the group. Where's the learning in this?

The third: Her parents are paying for her to receive an education. This is no education.

The fourth: This was for a communication class, surely the goal of this class is to teach the students to communicate. If they can't write in understandable English, surely they should fail the class?

In my former life, I was a marketing director. One of the first things I had to do with new recruits was to fix their writing. I banned all buzz words and "academic" writing. I also had to teach them how to structure proposals and marketing plans from the beginning. I found the worst offenders were the recruits who held marketing or communications degrees. I finally stopped hiring graduates with those degrees and instead hired graduates with good Liberal Arts educations. These were the graduates who knew how to communicate, research and learn. I found it easy to teach them the technical aspects of the job.

One of my foremost goals for Ben and Shira is to ensure that that they write well. Right now, in first grade we are doing the following to ensure that this happens:
- they are immersed in good literature. By reading and hearing immense amounts of good literature they are forming the templates that will enable them to be good writers.
- every day they copy a few lines of a poem or a quote from a classic.
- they memorize good poetry
- we're doing a rigorous grammar program
- we're focussing on enlarging their vocabulary by learning new words daily and learning Greek and Latin roots

Speed Stacking

Lydia introduced us to Speed Stacking this week. On Friday night Ben and I spent ages watching videos of children working their magic with these stacking cups and Ben extracted a promise that I would buy some for him on Saturday morning. At O'dark thirty, a little voice woke me up with the following, "mommy, I was so excited last night that I barely slept a wink. I was thinking about the Speed Stacks too much. When are you getting up so that you can go and buy them for me?"

How can a doting mother not hop out of bed and rush off on a search for the elusive Speed Stacks? It only took my 5 stops to find them.

Ben has spent a great two days mastering them. It took me less than 5 min to be totally bored with them but it looks like Ben has an enduring passion. I hope that when Lydia returns from the frozen Heartland that Ben and Benny can race against the clock and each other.

I love homeschooling

I love homeschooling Ben and Shira. Can I say that again? I love homeschooling Ben and Shira!

I love watching how the knowledge percolates into their brains and then explodes in a flow of unstoppable, bubbling words.

I love watching their love of words grow. The two of them have remarkable vocabularies for 6 year olds and have a love of increasing them. Marc and I both have large vocabularies and we're not afraid of using them. Nor do we dumb down our vocabularies when we interact our children. Ben and Shira had to develop a large vocab just to understand their parents.

We helped them along by surrounding them with good literature. When they were around 3 we started playing audiobooks during naptime, bedtime, art time, quiet play time and in the van. We started off by playing them CD's by Jim Weiss. We started with the fairy tales they knew and loved and then we moved to stories that were unfamiliar. As their listening skills developed we moved to full length books. We focused on classics read by British voice artists. (The choice of British voice artists was mine. I just love an educated British accent and felt the need to expose our children to accents that were as far from a Tidewater one as I could). Before they were six, they had listened to all the Narnia Chronicles half a dozen times, ditto for Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, Mary Poppins and Dr Doolittle.

As a result of all the 19th century literature they've listened to, they have a fairly quant way of talking. Ben told us the other day that he can count to three in three languages. "One, two, three. Uno, dos, tres. Once, twice, thrice."