Friday, May 30, 2008

No time for school

I came across this link to a video about homeschooling made as a senior project by a photojournalism student, Dave Londres at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

I appreciate how he makes homeschoolers look like normal people. More importantly, I appreciate the comment by the father towards the end of the movie about how his twelve year old twins are just 12, not 12 going on twenty. He also talks about how he hopes his children are working to their full potential but that they are not any smarter than any other twelve year olds.

That touches on one of my biggest bugbears about homeschoolers. There is this tendency to try to prove that homeschoolers are better and brighter than their institutionally schooled counterparts. It drives me crazy. Homeschoolers fit onto a curve, just as all other school kids do, some are brighter than others, some are average and some are not as bright as the others. Perhaps the bell curve for homeschoolers is slightly shifted to the right, but perhaps it isn't. Frankly, while I am very impressed by some homeschoolers, I am not at all impressed by others. I often find it amusing that it's those homeschooler who I think would probably be better off sending their kids to someone else to be educated who are often the ones who sing the "party" song the loudest.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Abacus

Whenever I paid my hospital bills in China, the clerk pulled out an abacus and tallied it up with lightening speed. I once asked her to teach me how to use it but the language barrier proved to be too much.

I found a video on YouTube on how to use an Abacus. It doesn't cover all operations but does give basic instruction.

This following video is fascinating. It deals with Japanese children who learn to use the abacus. Towards the end of the video you see how the children do away with the abacuses and work things out with imaginary abacuses. Totally fascinating.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Just when you think you have your kids figured out - they surprise you.

Yesterday we visited my friend, Lesley. Lesley has 2 year old twins. Ben and I had a long talk before we arrived at Lesley because he dislikes babies and toddlers and is wont to show it. I gave him strategies on how to avoid the toddlers that would still allow him to appear polite and gracious.

Imagine my surprise when I heard fits of giggles coming from the children. Ben was hamming it up and totally cracking up the toddler twins. Then he took it on himself to give Katie and Rivvie rides on their ride on trucks. Those were two happy little girls (mom as well as pushing them kills her back). Ben loved being the object of adoration and pushing them around the house allowed him to be very active without becoming obnoxious.

My little Shira spent time hamming it up and pushing them around and then decided to read Katie a story. It was so sweet seeing her so earnestly reading "Spider's Tea Party" to Katie.

Notice Katie's red curls. I badly wanted red headed children and instead got children with mousey brown/dirty blonde hair. Somehow all my wishing translated into all my friends having red headed children. It's crazy. I am surrounded by them and not one of them my own.

Talking about red headed children, my dear friend Lydia has two children, the red headed Benny (Benjamin) and the red headed Sadie. My twins, who I dearly wished to be red heads are Benjamin and Shira. Shira was named for her late great aunt, Sadie.

Here they are spelling their words at one of our spelling bees.





Our spelling be was another surprise. Each child got to spell 10 words at each bee. Who would have thought that something like this would be the hit it was with the children. We're taking the summer off and my kids are not happy. So now I hold mini bees with just the two of them while we wait at the allergist's office after our allergy shots. I think there is something very empowering for children when they can show off their skills. I always choose words that I know they have the skills to spell. The idea behind this spelling bee was to encourage the children and to give them confidence in their spelling abilities and it's worked.

Summer plans

Someone on the Homeschooling-in-Hamptonroads e-list to which I belong wanted to know what everyone was doing in their homeschools this summer. I thought this was a great way to truly think about our summer plans. I spent the afternoon thinking about the plans we already have and things that I really want to do with the children.

Here is the current plan. I think it's pretty spiffy, even if I say so myself. I strove for a balance of fun and learning. I don't think it is good for rising first graders to have the summer off completely as they lose too many skills. I have come up with a plan, that I believe will stop the skill erosion but still feel more like summer than school.

  • One hour of silent reading a day.

  • Math games at least 3 times a week - I'm thinking of games such as Mythmatical Battles

  • Writing, spelling and grammar in a fun way. Scroll down for details

  • Swimming, swimming and more swimming

  • Art, art and more art

  • Start a nature journal

  • Lots of board games

  • Lots of read alouds from mom and dad

  • Visiting their grandparents in Maryland

  • Choir camp

  • End summer with a 3 week visit from their South African grandparents

One Hour of Silent Reading a Day
I've put together a selection of books that I think the children will love reading. Ben and Shira thoroughly enjoy everything they read, but they are not at the stage yet where they pick up a book to read for pleasure. I'm hoping that our summer reading plans will help them start doing this. Shira said something very telling yesterday. She said that reading is tiring. I know it is not a vision problem because both children had their eyes checked not so long ago. I think it is just a factor of not reading enough.

We are currently using a reward chart for each child and we've added silent reading to the chart. It's been an incredible motivator. Both kids are picking up books every morning and reading without a reminder from me.

We're also going to do Barnes and Noble's summer reading program. children are rewarded with a free book for each 8 books they read. Ben and Shira love choosing books at the bookstore, so I think this will be a big motivator.

Our public library always has a great summer reading program. They have weekly incentives that require the children to total up the minutes they've spent reading, being read to and have listened to audiobooks each week. They then write this number on a cute card that gets stuck to a wall in the library. Once they have finished this they receive a tiny prize (think Oriental trading) I was very surprised last year to see how well this worked. Each week a child is randomly drawn to win a prize. At the end of the summer another child is drawn for a grand prize. Last summer Ben won a weekly prize and Shira the grand prize. Of course, both are itching to do the program again this year. One thing that surprises me though, is that the prizes are all toys and not something to do with books.

Math games at least 3 times a week
The children love math. They play with numbers all the time. Today they played a fun money game. They love it when I give them stacks of coins and ask them to tell me how much money it is, or when I give them two numbers to add, subtract or multiply. The tougher, the better. I think that they are now ready for Mythmatical Battles. It's a world where classic myths from diverse cultures combine with rock solid math to form a fun multiplication dueling card game. It's a world where the trading card craze meets education and tedious multiplication flashcards become exciting multiplication dueling cards. I'll also teach new math concepts as the children ask for them. They both want to learn about fractions so we'll do some of those soon. I think this is a good plan. They'll start to see the practicality of arithmetic, hone their skills and have a blast.

Writing, spelling and grammar in a fun way.
Ben and Shira love to write stories. I am going to encourage story writing this summer but with the caveat that spelling and grammar has to be correct. We've been working on the 29 spelling rules from Romalda Spalding. These two kids love rules. I find that the ability to organize things makes them less anxious. We'll continue learning the rules and will apply them to their writing. I plan on getting into sentence diagramming in the fall, but for now, we'll just work on basic punctuation and sentence structures.

One of the projects that I am planning is for them to make pop-up books. Ben is an avid paper engineer and is forever trying his hand at making pop-up cards. Shira loves making them as well, but as is her wont, she also makes them look very artistic.

I bought 3 books on how to make pop-ups. Two are by Joan Irvine - Easy to make Pop-ups and Super pop-ups. the last one is The Pop-Up Book by Paul Jackson. This last one is more adult oriented but I think the kids will enjoy it.

My plan is to spend a few evenings working through the books so that I become familiar with the techniques and then to teach them to Ben and Shira. Once I can see that they understand the basic concepts, I am going to give them the books, different types of paper stock, the tools and let them have a free reign.

Once they feel confident with their skills, I'm going to introduce the concept of making pop-up books. This is where the writing skills come in. It ties in so many of the children's loves, that I think they'll have a blast.

Shira is also mad about poetry - about reading and writing it. I bought Music of the Hemispheres by Michael Clay Thompson as a beginning poetry book.
This introduction to poetry emphasizes that poetry demands a whole-brain appreciation.

Among featured topics in this volume are:

  • Sound in language

  • Rhyme, end rhyme, rhyme scheme, internal rhyme, eye rhyme.

  • Alliteration

  • Meter: the foot, iamb, trochee, anapest, dactyl.

  • Stanza: sonnet, quatrain, couplet, ballad.

  • Poetic techniques: simile and metaphor.

  • Poets quoted include: Emily Dickinson, Robert Burns; William Shakespeare; Thomas Hardy, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

We've already started working with the book and the children, especially Shira, are loving it. We've switched primarily to Michael Clay Thompson's language arts programs with great success. We're going to continue with them this fall and add in "Rex Barks" for sentence diagramming.

Swimming, swimming and more swimming
We've already started this endeavor.

Art, art and more art
This is where the fun really starts. Neither child can get enough of art, so this summer is chock full of art classes and arty projects.

  • This Friday Shira starts with four sessions of private drawing classes. We're impatiently waiting for the next Monart session, but until then, a Portsmouth artist has offered to teach Shira. Shira feels very grown up about it all.

  • On Sunday, Ben and Shira start the first of two watercolor classes being offered by The Hermitage Foundation. This class will be on how to paint water and seascapes.

  • They'll be doing 2 of the 3 lesson art classes held by the City of Norfolk Visual Arts Center. Shara Wertz is an art educator of note. The kids would do classes with her weekly if she offered them that often. Shira can't wait to be 8 as that is when she'll be old enough to do Shara's "Pottery on the wheel" class

  • The Portsmouth Children's Museum offers a Time Travellers 3 day, 3 hours a day camp. We're going to give it a bash. I was distinctly unimpressed with their classes for 2-6 year olds as I felt they were basically cookie cutter craft classes. However, I have heard that these are different, so we're going to give them a bash. I like that they are only 3 hours a day. We don't like to do full day things. This way the kids get to do something in the morning and then we get to spend the afternoon swimming.

  • On June 12, the children start a once a week art class at Olde Towne Art in Portsmouth. The children are going to learn how to draw dinosaurs and then how to paint them. We've been very happy with all the classes we've taken at Old Towne Art, so we have high hopes for this class. I just wish there was a comfy, air conditioned coffee shop nearby. However, it's isn't a bad drive to come home for the two hours they are in class.

    The beauty of this location and the Portsmouth Children's Museum classes is that they are both across the road from 2 great museums. The children's museum and the Sports Hall of Fame. I suspect that we'll be spending a fair bit of time at those museums this summer.

  • To round out all the art classes, I am running two summer art camps for my twins and their friends called, "The Ooey, Gooey, Messy Summer Art Camp". The camps will run for 2 hours a day for four days. I am really stoked about these camps. I've spent hours pouring over MaryAnn Kohl's books and think I have come up with a camp that will be very messy and a boat load of fun. On the last day of camp I want to have the children make their own face and body paints (recipe from MaryAnn Kohl), then they will paint each other. Wearing masks from the day we make masks will be optional. We'll end the day by making our own parade through our neighborhood, completely with noise makers, till we reach the pool. Then showers for everyone and an afternoon spent swimming.

Start a nature journal
I freely admit that I am nature challenged. I think that hermetically sealed houses with air conditioning and heating are good things. I don't like bugs, sweating and getting dirty. However, I realize that children need to be in nature a lot. Luckily Shira belongs to a girl's club that meets most Saturdays and the mom in charge does all sorts of wonderful nature things with the girls. Ben is very jealous and wants something as well.

I discovered a great book, Nature in a Nutshell for Kids by Jean Potter.
Make bubbles that bounce! Stir up a tornado in a jar! Make elastic from a dandelion! Predict weather from cloud formations! Discover the beauty and wonder of nature all year round with these quick, easy experiments and activities from Jean Potter. You can complete each activity in ten fun-filled minutes or less, and the clear step-by-step instructions and illustrations help you get it right every time. The projects are organized by season and help you learn about everything from why grass is green to how seals stay warm in icy arctic waters. You will find most of the materials already in your home, backyard, or neighborhood. The 112 activities in this book cover every aspect of the natural world, including plant and animal life, weather, ecology, rocks and minerals, the senses, the stars, and much more. You’ll build a mountain the same way the earth does, find out whether your neighborhood ants prefer sugar or artificial sweetener, discover why maple seeds act like tiny helicopters, and explore the effects of acid rain on plants—all with the help of a leading educator.

I've just finished reading the book and am psyched about dealing with nature and my kids for the first time. It breaks things down into bite sized pieces. We're going to make up nature journals and start working through the book. I suspect that I am going to have very happy children as all the experiments and activities are the kinds of things that my twins consider fun. The learning will be a happy, but incidental by product.

Lots of board games
Ben's a Monopoly fiend. I particularly dislike this game. It bored me to tears as a child and as an adult I am sure it is going to bore me to death. However, it makes him very happy when I play it with him, so this is what I plan to do this summer. Today I had our babysitter play with him. She loves the game as much as he does.

The Virginia Children's Chorus Choir Camp
This is the one summer activity that has me a tad nervous. Shira is a member of the Virginia Children's Chorus training choir and she begged to be allowed to do this camp. Ben joined the begging so I signed them both up. The problem is that the camp runs for 5 days from 9:30a.m.-3:30p.m.. I know that I am going to have over cooked and frazzled children by day 3. I know they will have a good time and figure that if they become too over cooked, they don't have to finish the camp.

It sounds like a busy summer, but most of the organized activities only last 1 to 2 hours and those activities are all activities that are near and dear to my kids' hearts. They'll be energizing, not draining. The rest of the time will be devoted to playing and swimming.

Is homeschooling bad for kids?

We homeschoolers know that it is often the best choice for kids, but it appears that the majority of parents voting in the poll believe it is bad for children. I'm sitting here shaking my head. To believe that means that you can't have had any real exposure to homeschooling at all.

6 ways mushrooms can save the world

Another TEDtalk caught my eye. Mycologist Paul Stamets studies the mycelium -- and lists 6 ways that this astonishing fungus can help save the world.

This is a fascinating talk. He demonstrates how he uses mushrooms to clean up oil spills and to rehabilitate waterways.

He's discovered that mushrooms are active against pox, flu viruses

Mycologist Paul Stamets tests over 100 mushroom extracts with NIH and USAMRIID. Several show selective potent anti-viral properties.

Recent in vitro tests demonstrate that a specially prepared extract from Fomitopsis officinalis is highly selective against viruses. F. officinalis is a wood conk mushroom, known for thousands of years as Agarikon. It is extinct or nearly so in Europe and Asia, and is still found in the old-growth forests of the American Pacific Northwest. It may provide novel anti-viral drugs useful for protecting against pox and other viruses.

Dr. John A. Secrist III, vice president of Southern Research Institute's Drug Discovery Division, who oversees an NIAID contract to evaluate potential antiviral drugs, notes that "Several of Stamets' medicinal mushroom extracts have shown very interesting activity against pox viruses in cell culture assays performed through NIAID, and we are hopeful that they will also prove effective in the animal model systems. The number of different classes of compounds that show promising activity is small, so finding something new would be of great benefit to the scientific community." In fact, of more than 200,000 samples submitted over several years, only a handful are slated for animal testing each year. In the past year, approximately ten samples showed activity warranting approval for animal testing; of these, two are from strains of Agarikon discovered by Stamets. Moreover, Mr. Stamets' samples are the only natural products extracts tested through this program that have demonstrated very active anti-pox activity.

He's even demonstrated how he can use mushrooms to kill carpenter ants, termites and fire ants. He makes a mixture of a particular mushroom. The ants eat the solution, die and are mummified. A mushroom sprouts from them. Then entire house ends up being inoculated against the pests.

The technology is being licensed through Mycopesticide LLC, a company Mr. Stamets created. It could have significant eco-nomic impact as an alternative to traditional chemical pes-ticides, while reducing harm to human health and the envi-ronment, he believes. For instance, only a teaspoonful of the fungus grown on a substrate such as rice and costing a few cents to produce is sufficient to treat a single home for years, Mr. Stamets says. In addition, M. anisopliae and the active compounds it generates don’t appear to be harmful to humans, other mammals, fish, useful insects such as honeybees, or plants

His website is fascinating. He even has a section for kids.

What's wrong with what we eat?

I LOVE the TEDtalks videos. The TEDtalks organization bills the TEDtalks as being "Ideas worth spreading" through "talks by the world's greatest thinkers and doers". They aren't wrong. I've yet to watch one of their videos that isn't completely inspiring and thought provoking in one way or another.

In this fiery and funny talk, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman weighs in on what's wrong with the way we eat now (too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking), and why it's putting the entire planet at risk. You just have to get past his global warming rhetoric at the beginning of the video.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tricks to doing lightening fast mental math.

I came across this website while surfing this evening. The site is for an online math tutoring service. They also sell a program that teaches how to do mental math faster than a calculator. Watching these videos made me miss my late father as he used to spend hours with me teaching me all sorts of little mental math tricks.

Here are two of their promotional videos. I think I might have to invest in this program.

Damning video on the state of math education

University of Washington professor, Cliff Mass, talks about the effects of fuzzy math on his students. Math education is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I'm an old fashioned mom who believes that her children need to obtain mastery of all their arithmetic functions. There's no such term as "drill and kill' in my lexicon. I've seen how my children develop an ease with their arithmetic as their skill levels improve.

Watch the video, it's time well spent

Bronx 8th graders boycott standardized tests

I've just read a great article in theNew York Daily News about a group of 8th graders who refused to take a practice test for next month's statewide social studies test. It gives me hope that government school kids haven't been completely brainwashed.
Instead, the students handed in blank exams.
Then they submitted signed petitions with a list of grievances to school Principal Maria Lopez and the Department of Education.
"We've had a whole bunch of these diagnostic tests all year," Tatiana Nelson, 13, one of the protest leaders, said Tuesday outside the school. "They don't even count toward our grades. The school system's just treating us like test dummies for the companies that make the exams."
According to the petition, they are sick and tired of the "constant, excessive and stressful testing" that causes them to "lose valuable instructional time with our teachers."

HSoBX debate team

The high school aged debate club at our homeschool co-op made a video presentation on waterway protection. Watch for Ione, Ben has a serious crush on her. He can't pronounce her name though, he calls her Nyone.

Merchant's Millpond

We spent a delightful friday morning canoeing on Merchant's Millpond in North Carolina. My girlfriend, Tina, lives a few miles from the pond. She arranged a trip for a bunch of us 3 years ago and we decided that now was the time to revisit the pond.

Ben was the primary motivator for the visit. When we went there 3 years ago he refused to ride in the canoe because he was afraid of falling out. I spent the entire time walking the trail with him while Shira went canoeing with my cousin, Janene, and the other homeschoolers. He figured that he would enjoy canoeing now as he has enough balance skills and has lost his fear of water

Last year Ben became proficient in the water and a few weeks ago he finally agreed to learn to ride his bike without training wheels. Now he can't understand why he was so scared of falling off his bike for so long. I almost wish he'd stayed scared because he is a holy terror on both his bike and scooter. Every day sees him trying a new trick. Yesterday he was scooting while pretending to be a cossack dancer. I've had to convince the kids that riding their bikes with no hands and eyes closed is a recipe for disaster, and is not a fancy trick.

Anyway, Ben no longer fears swings, bikes, canoes or anything that challenges his vestibular system, so it was off to Merchant's Millpond for a guided canoeing trip by Ranger Jane.

The 760-acre millpond is more than 190 years old and has developed into complex, mature ecosystems. Towering bald cypress and tupelo gum trees, displaying growths of Spanish moss and resurrection ferns, shade the pond's dark, acidic waters. Numerous species of aquatic plants, such as the floating yellow cow lily and the submerged coontail, thrive in the pond. A red and green layer of floating duckweeds and water fern often covers the water's surface. Moved about by wind and current, these floating mats create a changing mosaic of colors and patterns

Tupelo Gum
At the upper end of the millpond is Lassiter Swamp, an ecological wonderland containing remnants of an ancient bald cypress swamp — an eerie "enchanted forest" worthy of a fairy tale. Mistletoe has twisted and gnarled the trunks and branches of tupelo gum into fantastic shapes. Surrounding the aquatic communities is an unspoiled wilderness. Stands of American beech highlight a mixture of pine and hardwood forests.

The diverse habitats in the park support a variety of animals. Wetland wildlife is particularly abundant. Frogs thrive in the aquatic environment of the millpond, and spring and summer rains bring a mixed chorus of carpenter frogs, leopard frogs, bull frogs, cricket frogs and species of tree frogs. Several species of pond turtles, often called cooters or sliders, bask on warm logs and stumps while the snapping turtle makes easy prey of other aquatic creatures. Water snakes are plentiful. Most of them are harmless, but the venomous cottonmouth is also present. Treat any encounter with a snake with caution and respect.

In addition to game fish, two primitive species of fish — the long-nosed gar and the bowfin — inhabit the millpond. These interesting species have remained relatively unchanged for millions of years. Both the gar and the bowfin are large and important predators in the blackwater habitats of the coastal plain.

More than 200 species of birds, ranging from graceful egrets to turkeys and owls, have been recorded in the park. Spring and fall bring migrations of swamp warblers, parulas, prothonotaries and yellow-throated warblers. In winter, a variety of waterfowl stop by on their journey south. Lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of the beautiful hooded merganser, a small fish-eating duck whose males flaunt a magnificent black-bordered white crest. Pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, and red-shouldered hawks also enjoy the swamplands.

Paddling on the pond or creek is a great way to see several species of interesting mammals. Though beavers themselves are rarely encountered, dams, lodges, and teeth marks attest to their presence. Mink, river otter and bobcat are occasionally spotted. Deer, raccoons and opossums are also in residence. Bats roost in clumps of Spanish moss and are often visible at dusk when they dip to the surface of the pond to drink.

Our group getting ready to go out with Ranger Jane

I found that paddling with Ben was an interesting experience to say the least. Try as Shira and I might, we just couldn't get him to understand that paddling is a group effort and that he couldn't do things his way and not take head of what the other two people in the boat were doing. As luck would have it, Ben is hooked on canoeing and now wants to go kayaking closer to home. I need to find out if kids his age can go out in single kayaks. I'd love to go kayaking with the kids, but with each of us in our own kayaks.

After the guided trip was over, we had a picnic, then explored the park on our own.

Here are Ben and looking at interesting things

This was a great field trip and I highly recommend it to other area homeschoolers. We're planning on making this an annual event.

I prefer fiction to fact

I've just read in today's Virginia Pilot that the histories about Blackbeard the Pirate are probably more fiction than fact.

Kevin Duffus has spent over 25 years researching Blackbeard the Pirate and has discovered that he was nowhere as fearsome as the myths suggest he was.

It's true that Blackbeard fought his final bloody battle at Ocracoke Inlet, and his head was taken triumphantly to Hampton. But much else of what has been recounted about the life and death of the infamous pirate and his crew may be little more than a product of masterful marketing and political cover- ups.

In the "The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate: Within Every Legend Lies a Grain of Truth," Raleigh author Kevin Duffus says the pirate was the son of Capt. James Beard and his real name was Edward Beard. He was born about 1690 near Charleston, S.C., not Bristol, England, as long believed, and had family in Bath, N.C. and Philadelphia.

One of history's most widely recognized pirates, Blackbeard, who Duffus said used the name Edward Teach as an alias, was said to wear lit wicks in his full black beard and a slew of cutlasses and knives on his waist. He was said to have commanded hundreds of men and dozens of ships, pillaging vessels and murdering their crews along the East Coast and in the Caribbean Sea.

When Blackbeard was killed in 1718, he was about 28 and had all of two years of piracy under his belt, Duffus said. The only treasure found with him was cocoa, sugar and cotton. Contrary to the signs posted in Williamsburg claiming his men were hung there, most of Blackbeard's surviving crew were pardoned and continued their lives in North Carolina.

"This changes the history," he said. "These were not pirates from other places. These were North Carolina men who became pirates."

Political battles between Gov. Charles Eden in North Carolina and Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood in Virginia over piracy ultimately were Blackbeard's undoing. It was Spotswood who sent Maynard to Ocracoke to track down the pirate.

Blackbeard was an educated mariner who was apparently more showman than blood thirsty miscreant. He was known to burn and sink ships, Duffus said, but his terrorizing reputation was not supported by the records. The only credible description of Blackbeard is that he was tall and had a long black beard.

"The truth is in most of the original depositions that were filed by sea captains who were detained by Blackbeard, almost of all of them said he was fair and accommodating," he said "I don't believe he was this fearsome guy. I actually believe that those burning wicks were used to repel mosquitoes."

Whatever the truth may be about Blackbeard, this family is still going to enjoy the 9th Annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival next week in Hampton.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Just for geeks

Maria over at Homeschool Math Blog blogged about this fun little video that should appeal to all of us who did calculus called, "I will derive" based on "I will survive". Enjoy!

I love Maria's blog. It's full of useful math info. In my not so humble opinion, it's a blog that all homeschoolers should have in their blog readers.

Friday, May 23, 2008

How 7 year old brains work

Marc: "Ben, how long have you been awake?"
Ben: "Ever since I woke up."

Marc: "Shira, where did you find your blankie?"
Shira: "Behind the one seater couch."
Marc: "you mean the chair?"
Shira: "yeah".

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Friday Fill-in

It's Friday Fill-in time again.

My responses are in italics

1. On my laziest day I like to stay in PJ's and not talk to anyone!

2. A clean house makes me feel like I'm being productive.

3. I love little kid smoochesand my big green giant aka Marc my husband - we jokingly call him the big green giant because he's tall and wears green scrubs 5 days a week..

4. This summer I want to help Ben and Shira heal emotionally from the angst my latest bone problem caused them. I want to have a low key, lazy summer. A summer spent swimming, reading, biking, playing, hugging, reading and hanging out with my 3 favorite people..

5. Lydia made me start my blog.

6. Red is just another colorand orange makes me happy.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to being a slug, tomorrow my plans include consciously relaxing and doing nothing much of anything except perhaps some swimming and Sunday, I want to do what I did on Saturday in preparation for doing the same on Memorial Day!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Charmed Lives

Our new bedtime routine has me wondering if the kids realize what charmed lives they lead. Ben and Shira have now decided that they are unable to fall asleep without an aromatherapy massage. Loving mug, um mom, that I am, I now give both kids a soothing aromatherapy massage each night once they are in bed. I have a selection of oils and they get to choose which oils they want each night.

While I am massaging them I talk them through a relaxation routine and half the time Shira is asleep before I finish the massage. Ben's convinced that the oils have properties that keep him safe at night. The poor kid gets really scared at night and while he feels safe in our bed, he doesn't sleep well in it (nor do we sleep well with him there).

We've tried monster spray, night lights, banishing rituals and none of them appear to work. He says that the aromatherapy massage works so I'm willing to do one every night if it helps him sleep without fear of things that go bump in the night.

I wonder how I can find a mug to give me a massage each night.

Vacationing in Manteo

We spent a wonderfully relaxing weekend in Manteo on Roanoke Island.

The weekend started off with a potentially disastrous hitch. I'd made a booking at an inn that looked really good on its website, but in reality was a run down, very seedy motel. We drove up to reception, took one look inside, looked at each other and decided that if we couldn't find alternative accommodations that we were returning, post haste, to Norfolk.

As luck would have it, we managed to get the last room at The Tranquil House Inn.

We couldn't have stayed at a more perfect inn. The rooms were beautiful, the service outstanding and the guests all friendly and quiet. We were right on the marina with lots of space for the kids to play.

The kids spent hours playing on the pirate ship.

Manteo is a charming town. I found one of the best bookshops I've been in for a long time.

Manteo Booksellers is one of those independent gems that has a busy schedule of author readings and book signings. They also stocked books that I've had to search for on the net. I was in heaven browsing through books that you wouldn't find in a Barnes and Noble in a million years.

I loved how many of the store owners planted herbs instead of purely ornamental plants in their gardens.

We took ourselves off to the Lost Colony on our first day there. We couldn't get over how tiny the ships were that the first colonists sailed on were.

Ben had fun turning the capstan and I finally understood what a capstan was. Lydia gave the word to Ben in his bookclub homework. We looked it up but I still struggled to work out what thing was. (sorry, I didn't take a pic)
Ben and Shira had a lot of fun in the model colonial era military encampment.

Shira enjoyed trying to work the wood working equipment.

Ben spent what felt like hours playing 9 pins. I played 9 pins (or skittles as I knew it) as a child and never knew that it was used in colonial times as a training game for artillery men to practice shooting at the enemy.

On the second day Marc took the kids to Jockey Ridge State Park. This park is a testament to the will of the common man against developers. Locals banded together and managed to get this large sand dune classified as a state park thus protecting it from development.

The kids tell me that it is a real trek up to the top of the dune.

A trek, but worth it.

I've had quite a chuckle over their visit to the park. Ben and Shira have wanted to roll down a sand dune for ages and couldn't wait to visit Jockey Ridge State Park. They climbed their dune and rolled down it, yet the highlight of the visit was playing in a puddle populated with thousands of wriggly black creatures. The kids thought they were tadpoles and Marc thought they were dragonfly larvae. Of course, they didn't take pics of the creatures so we have not been able to work out what they were.

One thing I have learned about kids is that they inevitably enjoy things that wouldn't even enter an adult's horizon.
Another highlight of the trip for them was playing on the giant's chair.

One of the kids' first stops each morning was at the Manteo Weather Tower

The US Weather Bureau once used Coastal Warning Display towers such as this one to fly signal flags to warn mariners of wind shifts or approaching storms. On November 10, 1904, the Weather Bureau established the Manteo Weather Station with Alpheus W. Drinkwater in charge. The Manteo Chamber of Commerce requested that the bureau be given permission to place a tower on the grounds of the Dare County Courthouse.
Since weather news was transmitted by telegraph, Drinkwater, in his role as telegraph operator, was a logical choice for weatherman. He also is noted for sending news of the Wright Brothers’ flight tests to news agencies across the country.
Beyond the symbolic colors and shapes that foretold a rainy day or a flood tide on a northwesterly wind, weather flags, when flown in various combinations of shapes and colors, signaled that it was time to take in the laundry or to set the fishing nets, part of everyday life in the town. At night, two red and one white signal lights flashed storm warnings.

I must say that I am glad we live in the days of Accuweather and its ilk. Reading flags is fun, but reading the detailed weather off the net is so much easier.
The weather tower is next to a reconstruction of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

I never realized that there were lighthouses that weren't in the traditional tower shape.

No trip would be complete without Shira making a painting.

Marc and I plan on returning to the Tranquil House Inn for a romantic weekend as soon as all the summer vacationers have returned home.

Elizabeth River Bike Trail

Ben, Shira and I finally rode along the Elizabeth River Bike Trail. The ride was made possible by my super, duper, uber dorky, tricycle. Erik W gave me a lot of advice on purchasing a trike as he is quite an aficionado. I'd have loved to own one of those low on the ground ones, but I am terrified of being driven over on the road. I decided the big, dorky looking one made me more visible on the road and would probably be easier on the legs. So, here i am in all my dorky glory.

What fun we had on the trail this morning. One of the first things we saw were these Navy ships.

Call me strange, but I think there is something rather beautiful about Portsmouth Marine Terminal. Did you know that the ports here are amongst the busiest on the Eastern Seaboard?

The terminal gives you a feeling that the economy has hope, that life is being breathed into the financial well being of the area.

While we were riding along the trail, we discovered a park that we never knew existed. Plum Point Park can only be accessed through the bike trail and is part of the wetlands reclamation project.

The kids got a good view of the effort the Elizabeth River Project is making to reclaim wetlands and thereby to protect the Chesapeake bay.

Shira was happy to discover that fairies live in Plum Point Park.

She didn't believe me when I told her that in Africa you get hollow trees big enough for people to live in. Perhaps this pic will convince her.

Though for now, she is happy to believe that fairies live in the hollow tree we found.

The children had a zillion questions about wetlands and reclamation that I couldn't answer, so instead of looking up the answers, I contacted the Elizabeth River Project and am in the process of arranging for their educator to meet us, and fellow homeschoolers at Plum Point Park for a lesson on the wetlands.

All along the bike path are markers filled with historical titbits. It's fun living in a city that has existed for most of the USA's history.

The highlight of the ride for Ben and Shira, was their first taste of honeysuckle nectar. I grew up with a huge honeysuckle vine in the garden and sipping its nectar is one of my shining childhood memories. There are so few things from my childhood that I can reproduce for my kids, that this little act was a big deal for me. Sometimes I find it rather weird bringing up children in a foreign country. I often struggle to explain to them what it was like for me when I was growing up. My kids can't get over the fact that the entire country I grew up in had no television when I was their age.

Here are Ben and Shira getting their first taste of honeysuckle nectar

Carbonated fruit

I never failed to be gobsmacked when I hear about children refusing to eat fruit. Ben and Shira eat pounds of the stuff every week. Sometimes they eat a few pounds of fruit a day.

Yesterday I read an article in The Hartford Courant about how school districts in Connecticut are giving children Fizzy Fruit in the hopes that this will entice them to eat fruit. Apparently the children's taste buds have been so badly corrupted that they can only tolerate the taste of fruit if it has bubbles in it like soda.
"They go crazy over them," said Meg Kingston, Sodexho's general manager for the Danbury area. "You put regular grapes out in a bowl, and you say it's the fruit of the day, and they walk right by it. You tell them it's Fizzy Fruit, and they can't get enough."

I must admit that the marketing department of "Fizzy Fruit" contains some real genii. Get school districts to use the product as a pre-marketing tool then when the product is on the shelf (and it will be in 2 months), the kids are already hooked. I can just see the pressure those little kids are going to put on their mothers. The stuff isn't cheap either.
A 7-ounce cup of Fizzy mandarin oranges is expected to cost between $1.50 and $2 at stores, and a 4-ounce cup of Fizzy grapes, apples or pineapples will cost about $2,

I am really glad that we homeschool. My kids don't have to contend with bad cafetaria food and "jazzed up" fruit.

Martinis could be the secret of Bond's success!

My husband is a huge James Bond fan, as well as a primo geek. An article in The Telegraph piqued his interest as it combined two of his loves, Bond and science.

Apparently shaking vs stirring does make a difference to martinis.
the creation and presentation of a cocktail is a true science: "molecular mixologists" can create alcoholic alchemy, from Bond's dry martini to daiquiris and beyond.

Take the all-important issue of shaking rather than stirring the martini. In 1999, a group of students at the University of Western Ontario in Canada led by Colleen Trevithick (and overseen by her father John, a professor of biochemistry) decided to test Bond's preference in a series of experiments on gin and vodka martinis.

They studied the martinis' ability to deactivate hydrogen peroxide - a substance used to bleach hair or disinfect scrapes, and a potent source of the free radicals linked to ageing and disease.

While the detailed chemistry is not fully understood, martinis were much more effective than their basic ingredients - such as gin or vermouth - at deactivating hydrogen peroxide, and about twice as effective when shaken.

The martini must contain an antioxidant that deals with the peroxide, and which works better after shaking. (The olives that are normally added might also have an effect, but were left out as being "too difficult to model".)

In their analysis of the results in the British Medical Journal, the team concluded, reasonably enough, that Bond's excellent state of health "may be due, at least in part, to compliant bartenders".

And Dr Sella believes that shaken martinis are not only healthier, but also taste better. This is due to what experts call "mouthfeel" - the shaken martini has more microscopic shards of ice, making its texture more pleasing.

The anarchic homeschooling mom can now make a fun link between literature and science thanks to our scientists and Ian Flemming.
So Fleming's creation obviously has impeccable judgment - but some of the scientific subtleties of cocktails did escape him. When Bond creates a martini called "The Vesper", named for his lover, Vesper Lynd, he orders: "Shake it very well until it's ice cold."

In fact, says Dr Sella, cocktails are actually colder than ice, thanks to the same phenomenon that occurs when salt is used to keep ice off roads. Salt does not actually "melt" the ice, but creates a solution with a lower freezing point.

The same effect occurs with sugar, of which there is plenty in cocktails - in the case of "The Vesper", it comes chiefly from the addition of a French apéritif, Lillet.

Dr Sella will demonstrate the colder-than-ice effect at the festival, but molecular gastronomists are already exploiting it as they experiment with taste and temperature. At elBulli in Spain, the legendary chef Ferrán Adrià has come up with the Hot and Cold Gin Fizz - a chilled gin-and-lime liquid topped with a hot foam of the same.

Want to understand your dog? The Israeli's have a solution.

Over a 100 Israeli businesses, including prisons and farmers, use technology from Bio-Sense to interpret their dog's barks.
This unique, patent-protected security system allows you to understand your watchdog, and realize whether an attempt at breaking and entering into your property or secured site is being made - before it actually occurs. The system is based on smart sensors, capable of distinguishing the dog's alarm barks from its ordinary ones.
Nature and technology, cooperating and improving each other's performance, have finally generated the ultimate security solution.

Imagine the possibilities of this technology. Imagine a technology that would enable you to understand your baby's cries, or the subtext in your spouse or friend's speech? LOL.

I love Israeli ingenuity. Only the Israeli's would have come up with an idea that enables them to understand guard dogs:
Bio-Sense recorded the patrol dogs barking in different situations, from playtime to cat encounters to real emergencies. They loaded thousands of these recordings into a computer program to determine "what makes the emergency bark different than the other barks," said Bio-Sense project manager Orit Netz.

One of the keys turned out to be the dog's stress level.

Bio-Sense developed a sensor that can determine a dog's stress based on the sound of its bark. The sensor can be placed within a 15 yard radius of the dog to detect the "emergency barks" and sound an alarm in the prison's control room.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Movie Star

Shira played dress up yesterday and decided to be a glamorous movie star.

I felt a weird pang when I looked at her all dressed up. She's growing up.

I was most impressed at her make up application skills. She has a really light hand and enhanced her features instead of making herself look like a child playing dress up.

Friday Fill-in

I thought I'd try a Friday Fill-in. My answers are in bold.

1. There is absolutely NO way you can get me to eat dead animals!

2. The lightening of my mood and the fresh green of the leaves reminds me that summer is almost here!

3. I cannot live without my Vitamix.

4. Visit Saipan and boob job are two things I'd like to try.

5. When life hands you lemons make lemon meringue pie.

6. Taking long walks with my father most nights is my favorite childhood memory.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to traveling to the outerbanks, tomorrow my plans include attending the 36th Annual Hang Gliding Spectacular at Jockey’s Ridge State Park and Kayaking in Manteo and Sunday, I want to relax and swim at our hotel.!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mental Health Day

Yesterday was our first day of sunny, warm, not humid weather in over a week. For around 10 days we not so stoically bore rain and high winds. On Monday i was nearly blown over by a gust of wind. Falling terrifies me. I've just spent 2 months with the worst pain of my life because of a fall. I have no wish to repeat the experience. High winds also bring back one of my more embarrassing experiences. The wind blew me over on a busy street in Cape Town. I was walking along a pedestrian mall in Cape Town (OK, I was hobbling along on crutches because my right leg was in an ankle to groin cast), when I arrived at a cross walk. The tall buildings had been providing a wind shield and as I stepped past their protection, the wind picked me up and dropped me down. I was mortified. Have you ever tried getting up from the ground when one leg is stuck straight out and can't be used? Now add high wind gusts. Two large men ended up physically picking me up. All dignity gone for the day. LOL.

All in all, the wind, rain and memories made for a lousy week and a bit. Ben has been out of sorts this entire time. Not sure if it is just allergies or the weather, but be that as it may, Ben's perfecting his horrid little pratt routine. Yesterday morning school was not pleasant. I finally gave up teaching and told the kids to sit and read for an hour and journal after each chapter. Halfway into the reading I realized I needed some items for dinner.

That's when i decided to blow off school for the morning. We jumped on our cycles and off we went to the grocery store. I noticed an interesting thing happen as we were cycling along. Ben started cheering up. I know it wasn't the cycling because he'd ridden his bike during the lousy weather. I think it was the sun.

By the time we returned from our ride Ben was a happy child. That's when I decided that our family needed a mental health day. A day spent in the sun, riding, running and playing games.

What a difference yesterday made. Happy children went to be and happy children woke up this morning.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yet another public school outrage

Laura over at We Don't Buy It blogged about abuses of our public school children by their teachers, all in the "name of getting a good education".

She writes:
I just heard a woman's story about her son at our library homeschooling open house. In a meeting with the teacher and the principal she learned that her kindergarten son leans as he does his work, and it's not an issue generally, except during story time when he might touch someone else. Could they maybe help him move over a little and then he could lean all he wants? Wouldn't that work and not humiliate or stigmatize? Is leaning wrong? Is it a character flaw? Does it damage anybody else? Does it damage him? He leans. Oh my God! Are 5 or 6 year olds not supposed to lean? Physiologically, are they supposed to be still? Should healthy kids not move?

The mom also found out in that meeting that her little son is also easily distracted (some would maybe re-frame that to say that he is exceptionally observant, but I'm biased that way...). They put a vibrator on him to go off every 57 seconds or so to remind him to concentrate. Um. Not to put too fine a point on it but, isn't that completely screwed up?! Under what scenario would that ever be seen as a reasonable idea, a good idea, a helpful idea? If you buzz someone every 57 seconds how will they be able to concentrate on anything--ever? The mom also told me that the teacher had told her son that the vibrator would help him think clearly and would help him come up with ideas to write in his, every time the vibrator went off, the kid thought that it would literally give him an idea to write about. Unfortunately, the vibrator did not give him anything except confusion and discomfort and a sad mom. She has pulled him out of school and will be homeschooling him. Didn't they violate his person in making him wear something on his body, without his parents knowledge or approval?

Read the entire post here.

Youth Violence: Inside the Skin

Old Dominion University is presenting the movie, "Youth Violence: Inside the Skin" on May 22nd at 6:30 p.m.

This looks like something I might want to attend as I'd like to hear her take on why we see so much violence in the youth. My theory is that our children have become too alienated from their parents and extended families. I'm convinced that homeschooling will help fix the problem.

The email blurb I received had this to say:

June Mack, Associate Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will present her award-winning movie on Youth Violence. This film explores the violence found in todays youth through interviews and fictional scenarios. Showing perspectives of gang members, incarcerated youth, innocent students, police, parents, teachers, and psychologists, it is an event for everyone to explore and learn from.

Following the 90 minute video, there will be a panel discussion for all attendees.

Panelists to include:
June Mack, Associate Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
Lucien X. Lombardo, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University
Jean Atkinson, Department Chair of Guidance at Green Run High School
Hosted by David Mc Donald, President of Mediation Center of Hampton Roads.

June Mack is an impressive woman:
She has won 22 international film awards including Student Academy Awards, The International Television Movie Festival, The Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival, and the Canadian International Film Festival. She has had her movies screened across the world, including Canada, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and of course the U.S.

Currently, Mack is a faculty member for the University of Alabama at Birmingham for the Communication Studies Department.

for more info contact (757) 624-6666.

All about art.

Shira, my little artist, is always making me something or the other. Yesterday she made me a twirled paper owl.

I love how she is forever creating things, but sometimes I feel like I am drowning under the weight of her artwork.

Marc and I have developed a system for dealing with our children's artwork. We display them proudly for a few days, then move them to somewhere where they can't be seen for a week. If they are not asked after during that time, they then get moved to file 13.

Sometimes I feel guilty about doing this but then I remind myself that both children are far more enamoured by the process than they are by the product.

I have MaryAnn Kohl to thank for this. When my kids were preschoolers I bought a copy of her book, "Preschool Art".

Over 200 activities teach children to explore and understand their world through open-ended art experiences that emphasize the process of art, not the product. Activities are included for painting, drawing, collage, sculpture and construction

MaryAnn removed my fear of art. I am not in the slightest bit artistic, and worried about how I was going to teach art to my kids. She made me realize that the product is unimportant, that it's all about the process. Ben and Shira have embraced this concept with a vengeance.

I've set up an environment to allow them to indulge in the process whenever they want to.

To this end I've bought a shelf's worth of books on art. Some are all about particular artists and their styles, others are about various art processes, others are by MaryAnn Kohl herself and yet others are just plain old craft books.

I've also set aside cabinets for our art and craft materials. We have sets of most of the different types of paints, we have oil pastels, colored pencils, charcoal, tissue paper, markers, paint brushes, foils, papers, clays of all persuasions, nets, beads, buttons, glitter, string and anything and everything that could possibly be used for an art project.

The kids have free access to everything in the art cabinets. They know that if they fail to respect their materials or our home, that their privileges will be removed. They are great. Before they start a project they line the table with butchers paper, lay down plastic on the floor if it is warranted and ensure they are wearing "art friendly" clothing. Afterwards they tidy up.

Right now we are working through MaryAnn's book, "Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters" in our homeschool.

Here are some free art activities that will give you a feel for the great stuff MaryAnn writes about.

I leave the more technical aspects of art to professional art teachers. In a few weeks Ben and Shira will be taking a watercolor class at The Hermitage Foundation. If nothing else, they'll enjoy spending two Sunday afternoons at such a beautiful venue.

Awesome nature pic

Lightning bolts appear above and around the Chaiten volcano

Our Co-op

We belong to a great secular homeschooling co-op in Norfolk. One of the many reasons we chose Homeschooling Out of the Box as our co-op is that it is a stone's throw from our home. The kids get a real kick out of cycling or scootering to co-op each Tuesday.

Another is that the co-op members are a great bunch of women and children. I enjoy my Tuesdays. The kids get to do fun, enrichment classes and I get to hang out with intelligent women who speak about many topics, not just their children. Over the years I've learned to avoid women whose conversation are all about their children.

I'm always conflicted come Tuesday because while I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with these women, I am always exhausted at the end of the morning. The exhaustion is made worse by the fact that we spend the afternoon at music classes where I am again surrounded by people.

I know it is because I am a loner and an introvert (this doesn't mean I am a shrinking violet, it just means that people sap my energy and that I regenerate my energy by being on my own). I feel guilty that I am looking forward to the end of the month when we will have Tuesdays to ourselves again, but at the same time, I know that I'll miss these great women.

I enjoy listening to Cynthia's gentle take on the world, to Tina's experience having "grown up" two and a half children already, to Delbra's calm, competent, quiet advice on classical homeschooling and Melina's interesting take on life.

I enjoy seeing my children interact with their peers and seeing their excitement when they learn about pirates with Lydia or Colonial Williamsburg with Tina.

Above all, I enjoy the sense of community we've developed. Today we supported each other by having a swap session of children's clothing and donating our books for a fundraiser for the UU Church that hosts us.

Trisha and Colyn with their children.