Saturday, April 26, 2008

Free Range Kids

I was very pleasantly surprised to read an article in the New York Sun a few weeks ago about Lenore Skenazywho allowed her 9 year old son to ride the subway home on his own.

She's subsequently started a blog, Free Range Kids, dedicated to sane parenting.

Do you ever let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to school? Take a bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free Range Kid! At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less. This site dedicated to sane parenting. Share your stories, tell your tips and maybe one day I will try to collect them in a book. Meantime, let's try to help our kids embrace life! (And maybe even clear the table.)

She links to an article about how few children are actually kidnapped each year.

This time, Today was more conservative in its estimate, claiming that only 5,000 children go missing each year. While this is an improvement over 58,000, the implication is still that there are 5,000 stereotypical kidnappings, in which a stranger or acquaintance abducts a child to hold for ransom or abuse and kill him or her. According to the Justice Department, there are only about 115 such incidents each year.

I'm definitely a free range parent and have received a lot of flack because I allow my children to ride their bicycles around the block without an adult. I've had people remind me countless times about stranger danger and how we live in different times from when we were kids and stranger danger to our children is on the increase.

I've always reminded them that when we were growing up we had primarily local newspapers, radio which tended to be local and depending on where you grew up, ether no TV or just broadcast channels. If a child was abducted in Sidney, Australia, you did not hear about it in Podunk, West Virginia. However, now, with the changes in media, you are instantly aware of all children who are abducted, no matter where it is. This makes it seem to us that more children are being abducted or abused every year. It just isn't the case.

Interestingly enough, the people who give me the most grief about my free range parenting are not homeschoolers. The homeschoolers that I know appear to have free range tendencies themselves. I was mildly surprised at this consider that one of the criticisms leveled at homeschoolers is that we homeschool because we're over protective of our kids.

I think we often homeschool to protect our children against the excesses in modern life and to give them a safe place in which to grow up. Speaking purely for myself, I don't want my kids being surrounded by pop culture and children with no manners but I do want them to feel empowered and independent.

I'll never forget speaking to a woman with a 13 year old child who was unable to cook himself a meal. I was horrified. I've expected my children to be able get themselves a very basic meal since they were 4 years old. Hopefully by the end of summer, both children will be able to make a full family meal on their own.

Go on over to Free Range Kids for a healthy dose of reason.

Memory Box

Last week Shira created a memory box for herself. Into this box she puts items that are associated with good memories and cards on which she writes about good things that happen in her life.

I think it is a great idea. She's a sentimental child and it is difficult for me, the great unsentimental mother, to do things with her that are full of sentimentality. I think she's realized that she's on her own on this endeavor so she's taken things into her own hands.

She's just told me that she created two great new memory cards for her memory box. The first one was about the carnival and the second was about our baking lesson.

This afternoon, while Ben was watching "the Little Shop of Horrors" or as he calls it, "The Little Shop of Terrors", I gave Shira a baking lesson.

She baked Gluten free vanilla cupcakes from Elana's Pantry. This was an experiment as this was the first time I've ever baked with coconut flour. (I rather like them, though next time we make them we'll halve the agave nectar as they were very sweet.)

Shira did so well, she made the cupcakes entirely on her own, I just stood around supervising. She took all the ingredients out of the cupboard, measured them, and even did the oven. Afterwards she washed everything and put it all away. My baby is growing up.

Next she made a loaf of gluten free bread from Gluten Free Mommy's blog. We just had to try it because it has received so many reviews on so many gluten free blogs. Since my Kitchen Aid stand mixer is in the shop, we made it in the bread machine.

Gluten free baking is a huge pain, this bread uses 7 different flours. That's good in a way because Shira got a good workout in measuring exact amounts in different quantities.

The bread is in the machine as we speak. I truly hope it is as good as all the reviews say it is. We haven't had a good loaf of bread since we went gf.

My goal was to have both kids making one meal a week by the time they turned 7, but that last 3 months of their 7th year were all topsy turvy and I didn't get to spend time teaching them to cook.

I have promised both kids that I'll spend the summer teaching them to cook and bake. You'd think I'd promised them the earth, moon and stars, they were that happy.

A lesson in scarce resources

Today we went to Larchmont Elementary's annual carnival. We love the old time feel of it. There was a stall where you throw balls at a gadget and if you hit it, you dump someone into the water, bouncing castles. miniature golf, cotton candy, popcorn, that shaved ice in a cup stuff, pony rides, raffles, face painting, hair painting, and various art projects.

Ben and Shira were like kids in candy stores. Oh, wait, they were in a candy land, there was more candy there than these two see in a year. They were rushing around asking me for everything.

Finally my leg gave out so I plonked myself down in the shade and gave them each 20 tickets and told them to knock themselves out. These forty tickets took 3 times as long to be used up as the first 40. Now that they understood they were dealing with a scarce resource, i.e. tickets, they started evaluating each activity in terms of its worth to them.

I had a good chuckle while I was eavesdropping on the two of them trying to decide how to spend the tickets. Some activities cost 1 ticket, others 2 and a few 3 or 4. They went around the entire carnival looking at things they wanted to do and then working out how many tickets that would cost. They landed up at around 50 tickets so they had to trim their want lists.

I must say I am very proud of them. They didn't ask me for more tickets, they just prioritized their spending and had a great time.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Easy approaches make learning math hard

MSNBC reports today that current math teaching methods may be doing our children more harm than good.

Frustrated math students may have a good excuse — some of the teaching methods meant to make math more relevant may in fact be making it harder to understand, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

They said students who were taught abstract math concepts fared better in experiments than those taught with real-world examples, such as story problems.

Adding extraneous details makes it hard for students to extract the basic mathematical concepts and apply them to new problems, they said.

The entire article can be seen here.

When I was on a hunt for a math curriculum I couldn't get over the amount of curricula that used story problems in first grade math. It makes no sense to me to be giving children who are just learning to read and added layer of complexity to learning math.

I have deliberately steered away from story problems with my first graders. I teach math concepts and am waiting a few years before I introduce word problems.

The other thing that drew me to Prof B math was that this curriculum does not use manipulatives. I know the current trend is to use lots of manipulatives but I have always thought that they complicate the issue.

This study appears to bear out my thinking.

To find out the best methods of teaching basic math concepts, the researchers conducted several experiments using college students in which some students were taught concepts using basic symbols, while others were taught with concrete examples.

For example, they studied different approaches at teaching the basic mathematical property of commutativity — that you can switch up the order of elements and still get the same answer, as in 3 + 2 or 2 + 3 equals 5.

Some students learned the concepts using generic symbols. Others were taught with concrete examples such as pictures of measuring cups filled with liquid, or slices of pizza or tennis balls in a container.

While all of the students were able to master these concepts easily, the students who first learned math concepts using abstract symbols were better able to transfer that learning to other problems when tested.

What ever method of teaching math is the right one, my kids are getting a fairly "old-fashioned" math education that relies on learning concepts thoroughly and hierarchically with few bells and whistles.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pollution is endangering the food supply.

I read an interesting article in the The Independent today.

Pollution is dulling the scent of flowers and impeding some of the most basic processes of nature, disrupting insect life and imperilling food supplies, a new study suggests.

The potentially hugely significant research – funded by the blue-chip US National Science Foundation – has found that gases mainly formed from the emissions of car exhausts prevent flowers from attracting bees and other insects in order to pollinate them. And the scientists who have conducted the study fear that insects' ability to repel enemies and attract mates may also be impeded.

Yet another reason to ride a bike or shank's pony.

I badly want a trike. Why a trike you ask? A bike poses too great a risk to my bones. I can't risk any more falls but I want to be able to ride around with my kids, so I thought a trike would be a great idea. This one looks sensible

This one looks fun and less dorky. However, I wonder if the other one won't be more practical.

I found something else that might work. They are called "stabilizer wheels". They are made for adults who have trouble balancing. I don't have trouble balancing, but have to ensure that I never fall from the bike. I wonder if these would make the bike stable enough. The question is, will it look way too dorky to ride a bike with "training wheels".? Will a trike look "cooler"?

I wish I could test drive some tricycles. The local stores don't exactly have a large call for them so they don't keep them in stock.

The other issue is that we don't have space in the garage so the trike would have to live outside and be impervious to rust and be narrow enough to fit through the garden gate. So many things to think about.

Why we homeschool

You know that saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words? I picked this pic up on Paul's blog.

I love his comment about why they homeschool: "So that your children can make a political statement without looking like a moron".

Find of the year

Last week I read about The Book Exchange on Lydia's blog..

For years I've seen the sign at Ward's Corner as I have driven past on my way to I-64 and have not given it a second thought.

Based on what Lydia had to say, I had to tootle over to the store to have a look. Shira and I were blown away at this book store. We expected a dirty, dusty little store, much like most secondhand bookstores I have ever visited. What a pleasant surprise to find that it was clean, bright and airy with not a trace of that musty book smell you so often associate with secondhand books.

I was surprised to discover that The Book Exchange is the largest secondhand bookstore in Virginia, stocking over 50,000 books, DVD's and CD's.

Shira and I spent a very pleasant hour browsing through all the books. We found an entire collection of Britannica's Great Books on sale for a pittance.

Currently, their juvenile fiction section is well stocked and full of books that Shira wanted to read. Obviously, this changes from week to week as their stock depends on what customers bring in to them to exchange.

Shira was very excited to find a well stocked art book section. She was particularly excited to find a book that merged two of her great loves, animals and art.

Shria, Flower and Robin Richmond's "Animal in Art".

This out of print book is a real winner. From Alibris:
Fine art reproductions of children from all time periods and places are presented here with text from internationally acclaimed artist Robin Richmond. The child-oriented text and pictures come together in a way that allows children to obtain a well-rounded view of not only artists and their lives, but of fine art itself

While I was paying, Shira made herself comfortable in the very fine reading area and started reading her new book.

That Carl Hiaasen book on the table is mine. I couldn't believe that there was one of his that I haven't yet read, so when I saw it on the shelf, I snapped it up. (now if someone could just tell me how to pronounce Hiaasen, I'll be a very happy chap).

I can see that the Silverbergs and The Book Exchange are going to become very well acquainted. I generally give the books we are done with away, or swap them on, however, I think that exchanging them at The Book Exchange is going to be a much better idea.

I really hope that more Tidewater homeschoolers start doing this as it will make this store an even bigger boon to homeschoolers.

How It Works: They sell all books for 50% off the retail price. VHS & CD's sell for $5 each or 3 for $12. DVD's sell for $9 each or 3 for $24. They give half this amount in trade credit for the items you bring in that they accept. They're always happy to look at what you want to trade at any time. Their trade policy is customer friendly. There are no hidden fees and you can use your credit toward the purchase of anything in the store at any time.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

The Bread of our Affliction

Every year during Pesach, Jews eat matzah. We eat this unleaven bread partly to remind us that when the Israelites fled from Egypt they did not have enough time to let their bread rise. It is also called the bread of our affliction.. I had never considered it so until yesterday. Before I discovered I was a celiac, matzah was a favored food. Marc and I loved to make matzah and eggs with garlic and onion matzah on Sundays.

I've been on a mission for years to find a gluten free matzah for us to use at the seder. The easy and obvious choice is for us to buy gluten-free oat matzah.
However, to our bitter regret, we've discovered that we are part of that small group of celiacs for whom oats is a no no.

So yesterday, I made gluten free matzah from Gluten-free bay's recipe. The stuff doesn't fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah because it isn't made of one of the five grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt) but it sure does fulfill the concept of eating the bread of our affliction.

Notice how the matzah and the countertop bear a striking resemblance to each other? That's because they both taste about the same with the countertop probably inching out the matzah as better tasting.

I don't want leave you with the impression that all of Gluten-Free Bay's recipes are bad. This was the first flop that I have cooking from her recipes. Generally they are very good, however, I thought it particularly apt that this matzah was so terrible.

Homeschool art

Norfolk homeschoolers are exceedingly fortunate to have an outstanding, inexpensive art program for homeschoolers available through the Norfolk Visual Arts Center at Titustown. (how's that for an over use of adjectives?)

Ben and Shira have just finished a three week program on papier mache puppet making. Ben made a squirrel and Shira a skunk.

Flower, the skunk.

They are also doing an after school art program on Pirate Art. I couldn't believe my luck when I heard about the Pirate Art program. Both my chicks are crazy about pirate lore. Ben, because he's reading "Treasure Island" at our homeschooling co-op and Shira, because she read the "Magic Tree House Research Guide on Pirates".

Shara Wertz, the young art educator who works with the children, is just wonderful. She understands young children and manages to keep that delicate balance between being a friend and still being in control. I've sat outside her classroom and heard her manage my son. She's a real pro, she never squashes that great energy of Ben's, yet she still keeps him on task. As the one who has to do it all day long, I can tell you it is no mean feat.

Marc and I joke about Ben. He's like a kitten who is constantly distracted by dust motes in the shafts of light. He's so intensely interested in everything that catches his attention. It's wonderful and trying at the same time. Shara does a great job of keeping him focused on the task at hand.

In May the chicks will be doing a painting class with Shara. They wanted to do her Mexican pottery class but it clashed with choir practice.

Shira can't wait to be 8. She has reminded me every day this week that she'll be 8 in less than a year. When she's 8, she can do Shara's "Pottery on the wheel" class. I've been very impressed with the pieces I've seen young homeschoolers make in this class.

Yesterday Shira and I went to an arts and crafts show at the Fred Heutte Center. One of the crafters was painting river rocks and Shira was fascinated. Today she attempted to paint her own river rocks. We had a minor problem though, we don't have any river rocks, we only have river pebbles. so instead of a nice door stop, she made a tiny lady bug.


Shira is in love with this art form so we have to go on a foraging expedition to find smooth rocks.

Pick up the phone

Marc's mother was on the phone to him and at the end of the call she asked to speak to the kids. Marc called downstairs and asked Shira to pick up the phone. After a minute, when she wasn't on the line, he reminded her to pick up the phone.

"I have picked it up," she responded. Marc and I collapsed laughing. "Now answer it!", we chocked out over our laughter. We are forever being caught by how literal our children are.

When do children stop being so literal?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Virginia International Tattoo

I'm loving watching the unfolding of my children's very different personalities, likes and dislikes. I know that as fraternal twins, they are just siblings who shared a womb, but I still find the revealing off their differences so fascinating.

I try to take them to as many cultural events as I can. Luckily Norfolk has a very active arts community that regularly does educational outreach. This means that we have access to heavily discounted and even free arts programs.

We love attending the Norfolk Arts Within Reach programs. We attended a performance of "Peter and the Wolf" by The Virginia Symphony Orchestra in conjunction with Norfolk Arts Within Reach a few months back. It was so much more than a performance, the musicians showed the children how their instruments became the animals. After the performance, they invited the children to come up and ask them questions.

The differences between Ben and Shira became very apparent. Shira immediately went to the flautist. Ben, on the other hand, was entranced by the bass and the bassoon. She loves the high notes and Ben is drawn to the low notes.

I again saw their differences when we went to see The Virginia Opera's performance of "The Pirates of Penzance". Ben was bored stiff (as was I) and Shira was sitting on the edge of her seat, drinking it all in. I must admit to understanding Ben on this one. I too find musicals and operas stultifyingly boring. I can't stand how they take 10 min to say something as simple as "how are you?". I just want to get to the point.

On Thursday, when we saw the Virginia International Tattoo, I again saw the differences between my twins. Shira became bored very quickly and Ben couldn't get enough of it. He loved the booming, the marching, the drums, the bagpipes and the motorcycles. He loved the military pomp and precision marching.

I did find it amusing to see genetics at work. Both kids are drawn to anything and everything Scots. Their great grandfather George would be very chuffed to know his love of Scotland has survived in another generation. He emigrated from Scotland at 18 and when he died 60 years later, he was as unintelligible as he was the day he arrived. His accent was the thickest you've ever heard. He was a fiercely proud Scots nationalist, who hated the English with a passion.

Both Ben and Shira want to learn to play the bagpipes. A friend of mine told me that I should discourage Shira from playing ht pipes as it over develops the chest region and that's not something we would want in a young girl. I'm not running to find them a bagpipes teacher as I think they have enough on their plates with piano and recorder lessons (and choir for Shira). Ben wants to join Shira in the Virginia Children's Chorus. He's going to do their summer camp (as is Shira) and then in August he'll audition. Our Tuesdays are chock full of music lessons. Recorder lessons before lunch, piano lessons from 3-4pm and then choir from 4:30pm. I hope Ben passes the audition as I will enjoy having that hour to myself. Shira starts piano lessons this Tuesday. In order to surprise her piano teacher, she's been practicing the piano book A. I think her unstated goal is to start her piano lessons in book B as part of her one upmanship contest with her brother (he started in book A, but then skipped book B).

I'm thrilled that Shira has decided to finally start playing the piano. She has a good ear and is naturally musical.

I made a startling discovery about myself at the tattoo. I think I am the most unsentimental person I know. I make my no nonsense, unsentimental husband look positively maudlin sometimes. The South African Defence Force Joint Service Military Band performed at the tattoo and as they played the music of my childhood, I was surprised to realize that my face was wet with tears.

I left South Africa in 2000 without a backward glance. The day I arrived in the US, I decided that I was an American and I set about fully integrating myself into American society. There was very little I missed about South Africa. I was stunned to realize that this South African music could evoke as much emotion in me as it did.

While I was watching the marching bands from the US, the Netherlands and South Africa I was struck by how their marching styles reflected the respective countries. The Dutch and American bands had an organization and rigidity about them that the South African one lacked. The South African soldiers entire bodies moved with their music. That to me is the essence of Africa, fluidity. Fluidity and Africa are the fodder for another post at another time.

Mad Science

Last summer I met some folks at the Association of Virginia Homeschoolers conference who had the Richmond franchise for Mad Science.

I was enthralled by all the great science programs they offered children. Enthralled and jealous of Richmond homeschoolers. I wanted this resource on my doorstep, not in Richmond. A few weeks ago I was excited to discover that we have our own Mad Science franchise in Hampton Roads.

Fellow homeschoolers tell me that their homeschool science programs are superb. They are starting one on May 8th and I've signed Ben and Shira up for the class.

The blurb from their flyer states:
Mad Science of Hampton Roads is proud to announce that we will be offering
our popular Academy of Future Space Explorers course specifically for homeschooled students. Mad Science and the NASA Langley Center for Distance Learning collaborated to create this exciting program that sends children on a voyage of discovery. With unique hands-on activities, amazing demonstrations and fun educational take-homes, this is an experience that is truly
out of this world!

I haven't told Ben about this yet because I can't face daily interrogation about whether it is time to start the course on space yet. Ben's totally obsessed with space (and weather). He's going to be beyond excited to discover that he's going to be doing a 6 week course at Mad Science.

I was nosing around their website and found that they have done some research on children who have done their science courses.

A brief summary of the results are as follows: (more info can be found here.)

Students who participated in Mad Science showed significant change in their science content knowledge in space-related science on average, with an increase from 46% correct at pre-test to 65% correct post-test, a 19% increase in score. In contrast, comparison group students showed very little change in their science content knowledge with a slight increase
from 47% to 50% on average, a 3% gain in performance. The difference in pre to post-test gains between groups was found to be statistically significant.
Students participating in Mad Science reported greater interest in space-related science after participation, with an increase from 21.6% who reported high interest in their pre-tests to 32.2% post-test. Comparison group students reported no change in their level of interest (22.3% pre and post).
A significantly higher percentage of students who participated in Mad Science reported a change in their attitudes that “science is fun” after their experience (70% at pre-test to 83% post-test.) In contrast, comparison group students reported minimal change (67% at pre- test to 68% post-test).
39% of students with a low interest in science prior to exposure to Mad Science experienced an increase in their level of interest in science to either moderate or high after experiencing Mad Science. 29% of students with a moderate level of interest in science prior to exposure to Mad Science experienced an increase in their level of interest in science to high after experiencing Mad Science.

I'll report back after the kids have started their Mad Science class, so watch this space.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Those strange homeschoolers

I met a man today who claimed that his daughter was the "homeschooling co-ordinator" of a county in VA. He went on to tell me how his daughter was horrified at the educational neglect she saw in the homeschooling families in her county.

I was wondering how she was getting to see this neglect because my experience as a homeschooler in VA is that other than our annual "Notice of Intent to Homeschool" letter and our letter giving proof of progress, we have no contact with the school districts.

He then went on to tell me that it was no surprise that those homeschoolers were doing a bad job because they were primarily Moslem. Huh? Now your religion plays a role in whether you are a good homeschooling parent or not.

Then he proceeded to ask me if I was worried about my children's socialization. That dreaded "S" word again. This man obviously did not engage his brain when he engaged his mouth. Ben has spent at least 20 minutes before our conversation, regaling this man with stories from his life. At the beginning of our conversation he complimented me on my children's ability to converse with adults and at the end of the conversation he wanted to know if I was worried about socializing my children. UGHH.

I get so irritated with idiots who feel the need to pontificate on subjects about which they are totally clueless.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Lydia told me about Handipoints this morning.

I initially thought the concept was crazy, but then I got to thinking.

Ben adores Webkinz World and he just loves it when we run the house on a token economy. Ben thrives on having lists of activities he needs to do. We've also discovered that he reacts really well to doing drill work on his computer. Spelling Time and Big Math Time have proven to be invaluable tools in my homeschooling armament.

I set up Handipoints accounts for Ben and Shira and then set up 5 task charts each. I've had a splendid afternoon. The house is spotless, Ben's polite and friendly and now he's doing his exercise. One of the tasks I put in was for them to bear crawl the length of the house 10 times, another was to do 100 jumping jacks. Nothing like tired children at bedtime.

We'll see how well this works in the long term, but for now, it appears that it might be a neat way to modify Ben's behavior.

Thank you notes

It's been fascinating watching the evolution of thank you notes for the gifts the children received for their birthday. They started off by dictating to me. I wrote their dictation onto the white board and then they copied it onto their note cards. Pretty soon they told me that they could write the notes without dictating to me first. I was very pleased to see how their notes became more involved once they stopped the dictation. I thought that it would be quite the opposite.

Friday, April 11, 2008

G.U.E.S.S. Homeschool Science Fair

What does a homeschool mother do when she wants her children to take part in a science fair? She, and a friend organize one.

On May the 5th this year, our children will take part in the first ever, Get Up and Explore Science Spectacular (G.U.E.S.S.) Homeschool Science Fair.

If you are reading this blog from the Tidewater area and want to sign up for the fair, click here . This is our "beta" year, so we're definitely working out the kinks, including online registration, generating sponsors, acquiring judges, and refining our guidelines. Next year we're planning to go even bigger, and hold the fair earlier in the year so that our winner can go on to the regional event in this area. If you'd like to be a part, please register by Monday, so we can finalize our list of entries. Updates coming soon!

We've had great excitement in our house over the experiments. Ben is fascinated by the weather and his first idea needed me to drive him to the beach 3 times a day for 21 days. I tried and tried, but couldn't convince him that there were better ideas, ideas that didn't need so much of my time and gas but he wouldn't have any of it. So, in typical mean mommy fashion, I got him up at o'dark 30 on the first day and took him off to the beach, then I told him that we'd have to do it well after bedtime and that for the next three weeks I was going to have to wake him up in the dark. That's all it took. Ben now has a different science fair project. Can't say I am disappointed. It's still weather related but only needs an anemometer and thermometer on our deck plus an internet connection. Works for me. He's getting a crash course in data collection and graphing. He's testing whether the actual temperature and wind chill in our very protected back yard are different from the actual temperature and wind chill at a nearby weather station that is not surrounded by brick buildings.

Shira is measuring how different solutions effect the longevity of cut flowers. So far, we can confirm that unlike humans, cut flowers do not thrive or even like wine.

I'm loving how working on the science fair is developing a love of science in my children. Lydia did a great job explaining concept of hypotheses to the children. One of our current favorite car trip activities is coming up with hypotheses that we could test. I see many more experiments in our future.

I used this as a great link in to the unit on Carl Sagan's "Baloney detection kit" that Dr Bernard Nebel talks about in his book, Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2..

I knew that I had to teach Ben and Shira how to differentiate between reality and "baloney" but wasn't quite sure how to go about it within the scientific sphere. I've found that by following Dr Nebel's advice, that I it's quite easy. it just needs lots and lots of repetition and I don't doubt that I'll still be reminding the children of all the issues for many years.

I've spent years researching science curricula for the early elementary years and struggled to find anything that taught scientific concepts hierarchically and integrated them with one another. I was beyond excited when I discovered Dr Nebel's book. It's everything I could ever have wished for in a beginning science curriculum. I like how he makes it easy for the teacher to understand why she needs to do something and helps her build the connections for the children.

I especially like how he provides free online support.. You can't beat the price for this science program either, it costs $24.99 at and you can find most of the supplemental reading at the library. So far, I've managed to do all the experiments using stuff I have in my home.

I hope he finishes the 3rd-5th grade book before we finish this one.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good News Thursday

Henry Cate over at Why Homeschool runs a "Good News Thursday". Here's my contribution this week.

TV Show Helps Man Survive 5 Days in Wilderness
When Christopher Traverse went out for a snowmobile ride with his friends, he didn't notice when he took a wrong turn. By the time the 24-year-old realized his mistake, he was out of gas, stranded alone in the dark. He was lost deep in the wilderness of northern Manitoba, 64 kilometers away from the snowmobile trail.

Luckily, Traverse knew how to get through the ordeal, thanks to the lessons he'd learned from a reality TV show called "Survivorman," in which the star, Les Stroud, takes week-long adventures in the wilderness without any supplies.

Read more at Gimundo.

I can't imagine surviving half a day in such cold, snowy conditions, let alone 5 days. My hat is off to Christopher.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Yet another reason to question vaccinations

I just read a breaking news article on about how the mumps shots didn't fully protect during the 2006 outbreak

Most of the college students who got the mumps in a big outbreak in 2006 had received the recommended two vaccine shots, according to a study that raises questions about whether a new vaccine or another booster shot is needed.

Of those in that group who knew whether they had been vaccinated, 84 percent had had two mumps shots, according to the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments.

That "two-dose vaccine failure" startled public health experts, who hadn't expected immunity to wane so soon—if at all.

No one seems to be questioning whether we need this vaccination or not, they just want to add a third shot to the series or try to find another vaccine.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather my children get the wild virus while they are children. Mumps is a relatively minor childhood disease when your children are well nourished but is a dreadful disease if you catch it as an adult. I don't see the point in protecting children with vaccines only to have them that protection wane as an adult. Makes no sense at all.

I'm feeling even better about our decision not to give the kids the MMR shot.

Boogers, boogers and more boogers

Marc started a great science project with the kids today. He is going to show the kids how much bacteria lives in their boogers and in their mouths.

Today he collected the samples and started culturing them. Next Wednesday after spelling bee, he plans on teaching the children how to make slides and then he'll pull out his microscope and show the children what grew out of their bodily excretions.

This experiment showed the differences between boys and girls yet again. The two girls swabbed the inside of their mouths, all the boys went mining for boogers.

and here's Marc transfering booger to sheep's blood plate. He started off trying to do it the right way but it just wasn't working so he ditched the tools and switched to fingers.

Birthday Week

Marc and I not the most sentimental couple you'll ever find and I worry that our lack of sentimentality and traditions will make Ben's and Shira's childhood somehow less. To counter our lack of family traditions, I instituted a birthday week last year for Ben and Shira. We make a huge fuss of the beans during this week and we build it up for weeks before hand.

Ben's and Shira's birthday week started last Saturday when we drove up to DC to celebrate Marc's sister's birthday. The excitement in this household has been steadily rising since then.. I'm starting to wonder if my bright idea of a birthday week is so great. Emotions are very labile right now. Even though the kids are becoming rather delicate, it's fun. Today after our homeschool spelling bee, we had a miniature party because 4 of the children celebrate their birthdays this month. Here are Ben, Shira, Chloe and Austin.

Tomorrow is their birthday. That's the day they get their main presents. Ben can't wait, he's getting a starter set of O gauge trains. Shira's getting an easel and art supplies. They are also both getting a half an hour massage from my massage therapist. We started this tradition 3 years ago. Once a year, on their birthdays they get a massage from someone other than mommy.

Then it's off to lunch at a local Italian restaurant who can make gluten free, vegan food that is safe and then on to the park for homeschool park day and another birthday celebration. We're finishing off the day with a feast when daddy gets home and then sparklers when it's dark. Think we'll have cooked little beans at the end of the day?

Talking about feasts, I told the beans that I'd make whatever they wanted to eat for their birthday feast. Ben asked for potato kugel (a death by oil and starch dish I very rarely make and that Ben loves ) and Shira asked for an Impossible Vegan Pumpkin Pie from The Fat Free Vegan Kitchen. and a nice, plump, red tomato.

Image from the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.

On Friday Shira and I go for mommy and daughter birthday manicures and pedicures. I felt tiny bit guilty about the massage, mani and pedi after i read an article on how terrible moms are to do such things, but it gives the kids such joy and it only happens once a year. Shira will derive much more joy from the fact that it's just her and me doing something on our own, than she will from the beauty treatment.

Ben and Marc will be doing the guy bonding birthday thing next Saturday when they go to ride garden trains out in Suffolk. Ben will be in 7th heaven. He'll be surrounded by half a dozen train crazy men, all tinkering with trains, who are only too willing to talk trains with a seven year old.

The birthday week ends on Sunday with their party at the Tidewater Gymnastics Academy.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Gifted and Disabled

I couldn't resist linking to this ABC article on Jemma Leech . Jemma has cerebral palsy and cannot speak or walk, yet with the assistance of a touch screen and xylophone stick is able to give voice to a prodigious writing talent.

Read her award winning essay.

Male monkeys prefer boys' toys.

The New Scientist reports that:
It's thought of as a sexual stereotype: boys tend to play with toy cars and diggers, while girls like dolls. But male monkeys, suggests research, are no different (see a related video report).

This could mean that males, whether human or monkey, have a biological predisposition to certain toys, says Kim Wallen, a psychologist at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Wallen's team looked at 11 male and 23 female rhesus monkeys. In general the males preferred to play with wheeled toys, such as dumper trucks, over plush dolls, while female monkeys played with both kinds of toys.

This conclusion may upset those psychologists who insist that sex differences – for example the tendency of boys to favour toy soldiers and girls to prefer dolls – depend on social factors, not innate differences.

Before I became a mother I would have been shocked by this headline, but ever since my children were around 2 years old I have realized that genders do have different preferences. When Ben and Shira were tiny, I was true to every lesson I learned at university wrt gender stereotyping. I even handedly gave both children dolls, dump trucks and stuffed toys. I watched with bemusement when Ben piled his dolls and stuffed animals into his dump truck and sent them careening down the cliff that was the stair. Shira took the same dump truck, dolls and stuffed animals and turned the dump truck into a bed for the dolls and animals and then proceeded to sing them to sleep.

They both played with a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. Shira would divide the trains into families and play loving families with them. Ben would have them in conflict situations or have them doing heavy work.

I've only seen more and more examples of how the genders differ and I've given up on trying to be even handed wrt gender stereotyping. I empower both children to be the best they can be but I don't insist that Shira be more aggressive or that Ben be more passive. They are what they are and their genetics probably play a fairly large role in that.