Monday, June 30, 2008

The Book Arts Bash - A Summer Writing Program

Move over Subway, here come the homeschoolers!

Lydia and I are happy to announce that homeschoolers now have their very own writing competition, The Book Arts Bash.

You’ve heard of “Summer Reading Programs”? Now there is a “Summer Writing Program” for homeschooling families. Write your book, create your story, draw your comic, bust out your illustrations! Send us your work, and get your manuscript read by our judges: bestselling authors and industry professionals. Imagine having the opportunity to have your work critiqued by a New York agent or editor. Imagine having one of your favorite writers, or your kids' favorite authors, reading your work! Who knows -- will this be the start of a beautiful career?

With twenty categories to choose from, invite your children to stretch their creativity: picture books, short stories, memoirs, comics, poetry, novels, ABC books, pop-ups, fractured fairy tales and more! If you've written something that looks like a book, you'll find a category at the Book Arts Bash. We welcome everyone to participate, with five age groups from homeschooled preschoolers to homeschooling grandmas. Our youngest writers and illustrators will all receive recognition and prizes, while our older kids and adults will vie for a spot in our finalist gallery and encouraging critiques from our judges.

We doubt there'll be a reluctant writer around who would be able to resist the allure of becoming a paper engineer and making his/her own pop-up book. What about taking photographs to illustrate a personal essay? Check out our storytelling categories, and send us an audio file. Many of the categories allow the children to express themselves through writing and art. What better combination can there be? For the children who are not fans of fiction, there is ample scope to write on non-fiction topics. History picture book? Science comic? A living math or science book? Bring it on.

The Book Arts Bash is an exciting opportunity for homeschoolers to use writing and art to truly integrate subjects across the curriculum. Are your children studying Ancient Sumeria? Here's an opportunity for your children to write a host of books on the subject. Think about it, your children could write a fable set in ancient Sumeria, a living book about the lives of children in ancient Sumeria, another living book on mathematics and/or science in ancient Sumeria, a Sumerian Cinderella or even a pop-up book demonstrating cuneiform.

Perhaps your child is in love with arachnids. The opportunities abound for your child to write about these 8 legged creatures. She could write a poem about the spider, take photographs of spiders and write a non-fiction book about spiders or use her imagination and write a living book about spiders. Just imagine the opportunities for terrorizing squeamish siblings if she made a pop-up book about arachnids.

For me, one of the more exciting aspects of this competition, is the judging process. The 3 finalists in each category will have their work read by leaders in their fields, be they authors, editors or agents. I harbor a not so secret wish that this competition will see the start of new writing careers for more homeschoolers.

Read all about the competition here. Send me an email if you have any questions.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dewey's Treehouse: Carnival of Homeschooling #130: Homesick Campers' Edition

Have a gander at a fun Carnival of Homeschooling at Dewey's Treehouse. Anne gave it a fun, summer camp theme.

One post that had me shaking my head was, The Daily Planet's post about Ben Stein's movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed". She writes:
One thing I do know about science, though, is that the Creation vs. Evolution debate is one that is more prevalent than ever! Though it may not seem like a big issue, it is. I have noticed that we don’t hear too much about the battle that is going on behind the scenes and that is because they don’t want you to.

Debate? There is debate? The mind boggles that people can truly believe that science can debate mythology. Everyone is welcome to their beliefs, even if they are not based in reality, but please, don't attempt to dignify them by actually trying to think they can debate with science.

Let's Play Math reminded me of a math game I played with my father all the time. I've just spent a happy half an hour playing it with Ben and Shira.

As always, the carnival is chock full of interesting articles.

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival

Makita from Twinkling Stars Family School has posted the latest Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival.

We don't follow the Charlotte Mason approach, but even so, I find this approach has a wealth of good ideas that I merrily steal for use in our homeschool.

The most useful post in the carnival was the one from Kris of At Home Science which deals with Finding Living Science Books.

She is tagging books at "my library thing" (now I have to go and find out what this is) and will be blogging about "living science" books on her blog. I've just added this blog to my reader as I can see it is going to be one of the more useful resources I have found.

Melissa from In The Sparrow's Nestwrote about her children's mud creations. She talks about how we've moved from messy mud to clean playdough. My kids would love to have a mud puddle in which to play, the problem is that we live in a very urban area and I can't work out how to get them a mud puddle (our lawn is so tiny that I can, and have cut it with a pair of scissors).

One of my favorite art bloggers, Barb the Harmony Art Mom wrote about preparing your family for a visit to Art Museum. A very useful post IMHO, but then Barb's blog is always useful.

There are many other great posts, but these three were the most useful to me.

Our brief foray into "school".

The children signed up for a week long choral camp this week. I was in two minds. I knew that they'd love the singing (Shira loves the choir during the year, but they only meet for an hour a week), but I wondered how they'd cope with 6 hours a day of someone else's schedule, kids around them all the time and lots of busy work. (I suppose I should write a disclaimer here. My two are introverts and find people tiring, not regenerating)

For the first time, I noticed something that my friends who have outschooled children complain about. Our mornings were suddenly rushed, I was chasing after kids and people were becoming cranky. Our late afternoons were horrid. Kids were tired and therefore cranky. Sibling acrimony was high.

I did not enjoy the first three days of this week. I was excited before the week started as I thought I'd have 6 hours a day to myself, a luxury I've not had for years. It didn't work that way. I had to structure those 6 hours so that I was in a different city at the beginning and the end of them to ferry children. I was also out of sorts because my children were out of sorts. I disliked having to chivvy my children each morning and I was discombobulated by having cranky, pugilistic children in the afternoon. The rejuvenating time on my own was destroyed by my unhappy children.

A few minutes ago Ben asked me if he had to go back to camp. I experienced brief turmoil about "the kids should finish what they start" vs "this camp is not good for their psyches" and then said he could stay at home. We then went to ask Shira what she wanted to do. The relief at being asked that question was hilarious. So right now we are all in the family bed watching "The Blue Planet". I'm about to go and make green smoothies and let the children drink their breakfast in bed.

Today is going to be a good day. We're going to regenerate and revel in each other's company. I think some messy art is in our future.

I realized something these last few days. All those people who tell me they couldn't homeschool because they can't bear to be around their children can't compare those hours on either side of outschooling to being with your children all day long.. They experience their children in a similar manner to what I experience my children these last 3 days, and that is not a pleasant experience. Children when they are unstressed, and given time to be on their own, are delightful (well most of the time they are.)

It makes me wonder how much of the attention and behavioral issues we hear about are caused by children being in situations that are not suited to their personalities.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Our first experience with bullying

Learning at Home linked to a Fox news article on

This was a very timeous post for me as my children experienced their first round of bullying this Monday when they started a week long choral camp. According to Shira, the bullying started within minutes after I left. Two boys asked Ben whether he had a Gameboy or a Ninento. Ben's reply was that he had neither. He was then quizzed on whether he had any electronic games at all and when he replied in the negative, the stage was set. These boys gave him a dreadful time because he had the audacity to be different. Then they discovered he had celiac disease and couldn't eat the camp snacks, so of course the bullying went from bad to worse.

Ben was also attacked by a girl on the playground. His crime was to climb on a structure that she had decided was for girls only. To force him off the structure, she dug her nails into his leg and then pulled down on his leg. The marks were still there a day later.

The bullying was not helped by a few of the camp policies. I was at the camp bright and early the next morning, all ready, with fire and brimstone, to hurt someone. Thankfully I swallowed hard and went in with a measured approach. The camp leaders had already realized that their policies were causing problems and had changed them. They had also picked up on the bullying and took steps to nip it in the bud.

When I read the Fox article, I was glad once again that we chose to homeschool (the highlighting is mine because I am shocked that so many of our children have to deal with bullying):
Meline Kevorkian, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., researcher and public speaker on bullying, surveyed 167 educators last year and 25 percent indicated bullying occurs most in elementary schools. Research also indicates that three-quarters of 8- to 11-year-olds report they've been bullied, with more than half identifying it as a "big" problem, Kevorkian said.

"It could be you wear the wrong shoes or the wrong socks. If you didn't go to the Hannah Montana concert. Your lunch smells. You can't wear certain bows in your hair," she said. "It's not that the victims are all going to grow up and shoot kids in their high school, but it's the message that making fun of people will make you popular."

I am just horrified. These are young children (rising 2nd to 4th graders), where on earth did they learn to behave like this? I'm loathe to blame absentee parents or public school, but I have to wonder what role those two issues play in the behavior of these children. We socialize predominantly with homeschooled families and other than one family that has "mean" girls, we have not seen any bullying or bad behavior. If, a child does happen to behave badly, the mom is onto him/her immediately and correct behavior is role played. Fox says that three quarters of children have experienced bullying. Seeing as we haven't experienced it in the homeschooling community, I am wondering if it is a result of large groups of children together all day without parental input. Of course, it could just be that parents who homeschool are also the type of parents who would nip this kind of behavior in the bud and that many of the parents who send their children to school, are the types of parents who indulge in bullying themselves.
"Little kids are born to be kindhearted," Borba said. "They've got that natural empathy, but unless you nurture it, it lies dormant."

Nurturing empathy might be hard for competitive parents who scream at 6-year-olds during soccer games, or buy Coach bags for their girls, then wonder out loud who's carrying the knockoffs, said Barbara Kimmel, the mother of two boys, ages 11 and 14, in Morris County, N.J.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How do you describe yourself

Michelle at The Beartwinmom's Den tagged me with a meme this afternoon.

  • Write a six-word memoir.

  • Post it to your blog including a visual illustration if you would like.

  • Link to the person who tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogsphere.

  • Tag 5 more blogs with links

  • Don’t forget to leave a comment in the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

Unlike Michelle, I did not have several swimming around in my head. I find it hard to define myself in words, it depends on the day, time and situation. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a defining characteristic of mine is that I am a loner. I enjoy people, but in small doses. If you give me the option of an afternoon with people or of one with myself, I'll choose me, every time. The internet is a boon for loners like me. I get to interact with many, many people, but on my terms.

Here is my 6 word memoir:

"Party of one, leave me alone."

I've stolen part of it from Anneli Rufus. She wrote the book, "Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto".

She writes on her webpage:
My book Party of One is about our subculture - the subculture that will never, by nature, join hands and whose voices will never, by nature, form a chorus. Some loners are neuroscientists and some are office cleaners. Some are sculptors and some are Survivor fans. Some are law students and some are surfers. No two loners are alike, but all of us have one thing in common: we like to be alone. We like it. Everyone else - nonloners, that is — can't stand to be alone. They squirm. They feel ashamed. They yearn for company when they're alone. They're bored and don't know what to do. They're lonely.

We're not.

Maybe we're not holed up in caves all day, or in submarines like Captain Nemo in his Nautilus. But alone we feel most normal. Most ourselves. Most alive.

What did Kurt Cobain, Albert Einstein, and Georgia O'Keeffe have in common?

No, not their taste in music. Guess again.

They were loners.

Mainstream culture loves nonloners. Joiners, schmoozers, teamworkers, congregants and all those who play well with others scoop up the rewards.

Meanwhile, loners get dissed. All the time. At school, at work, at church or temple, in movies, loners are misunderstood, misjudged, loathed, pitied and feared. Reporters and profilers calmly and constantly call us perverts, losers, stalkers and serial killers.

If every headline that includes the word "loner" had "Canadian" or "certified public accountant" instead, imagine the outcry.

Nonloners call loners crazy. Cold. Stuck-up. Standoffish. Selfish. Sad. Bad. Secretive. But we know being a loner isn't about hating people. It's about essence, about necessity. We need what others dread. We dread what others need.

Do birds hate lips? Do Fijians detest snowplows?

A journalist and the author of several critically acclaimed books, and a lifelong loner, I wrote Party of One as a way to expose mainstream culture’s antiloner prejudice. But I also wrote it to show the ways in which loners have not just survived but actually changed the world, not just saved civilization but had a lot to do with creating it.

Famous loners span every era, every realm. Albert Einstein, Anne Rice, Michelangelo, Barry Bonds, Isaac Newton, Franz Kafka, Stanley Kubrick, Janet Reno, John Lennon, James Michener, Emily Dickinson, Alexander Pope, Hermann Hesse, Paul Westerberg, Georgia O’Keeffe, Kurt Cobain, Haruki Murakami, Gustav Klimt, Charles Schulz, Dan Clowes, Piet Mondrian, Saint Anthony, H.P. Lovecraft, Beatrix Potter and Joe DiMaggio....

Not to mention Superman, Batman and Shiva.

So — as the pickpockets sang in the musical Oliver! — consider yourself one of us.

"The Party of One" is a must read for all loners and for anyone trying to understand the loners in their lives. I'm a loner, and have always known I am a loner, and yet the book helped me realize that I have two children who are loners, one more than the other, and that I need to parent them with care, so as not to over tax their little nervous systems with too much "people" activity.

I tag:
Tina from MT Bar Farm
Lydia from Little Blue School
Leah from Webmama
Shell from Eclectic Eccentricities
Danielle from Amuzon's Practical Magic

History At Our House - American History

Scott Powell of History At Our House is offering a 50% discount off his American history program.
Incredible savings await homeschoolers who enroll their children in American history with HistoryAtOurHouse when registration opens this Friday, June 27th!

For a limited time only, American history will be offered at 50% OFF!

Normally, American history recordings are offered at the already low price of only $20/month per level. For just $20 you would get unlimited access to three 1/2 hour recorded history lectures per week, along with typed lecture notes. (These exciting lectures aren’t just readings from a book. They are interactive lectures conducted via teleconference with students across America, with lively Q&A that can motivate and challenge your child to learn.)

But, if you enroll the week of June 27th you’ll not only get these great lectures, you’ll get an additional “history through art” lecture each week, as well as geography maps–all included for HALF PRICE! “History Through Art” is a curriculum offered exclusively by HistoryAtOurHouse that combines art appreciation and lessons from history. (Learn more here.) Normally, that’s an extra $5/month, but you’ll get this student favorite at no extra cost. And you’ll get the HistoryAtOurHouse geography program for the Americas–usually an extra $10/month–also included!

But, that’s not just included in the regular, low $20/month tuition. That’s included in the 50% discounted tuition! In other words, you’ll pay $10/month for what would normally cost $35/month! Actually that comes out to over 70% OFF!!!!

You’ll get unlimited access to the digital recordings of the in MP3 format, which you can easily play on your home computer or download onto an iPod for even greater convenience! And you’ll get the informative lecture notes as well.

Whether you’re using HistoryAtOurHouse as the core of your history program, or as a supplement to another program, you can’t lose!

This is an incredibly good deal. We test drove his American history program towards the end of this last academic year and loved it. Scott is a very gifted teacher who has the ability to make the subject come alive for his students.

We're signing up for the live lectures of his Ancient History and his "History Through Art" programs this year. I can't wait to get started. One of the perks of being a homeschooling mom is that I get to listen to his lectures as well.

LB over at 3 Ring Binder says that her 10 year old has been studying with Scott for 2 years already and that her family is incredibly impressed with the program. Her husband has been doing the adult program with great results as well. I've been salivating over the adult program ever since I discovered it last year. I need to convince Marc that it's vitally important, that I, the foreigner, study American history with a master like Scott Powell.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ancient Games Re-enacted in Greece

Reuters reports:
Jun. 21 - Close to one thousand people from 20 countries came to the town of Nemea, 108 km southwest of Athens on the Peloponnese peninsula, to take part in the revival of the Nemean Games.

The modern games were born from the ancient games in the Greek town of Olympia in 776 BC, but although the most popular, they were not the only games in antiquity, three other major athletic festivals were also held in ancient Greece - the Pythian Games in Delphi, the Isthmian Games in Corinth, and the Nemean Games in Nemea. The Nemean games began in 573 B.C.

According to legend they originated from honorary funeral games that were held earlier after the death of the Nemean King's son.

The re-enactment of the ancient sports festival has taken place every four years since 1996.

I need to keep this on my radar for 2012. What a great activity to tie in with a study of ancient Greece.

The comment in the video about how one aspect of the games is not authentic, i.e. the competitors are not naked, reminds me of a cute conversation I had with Shira nearly 2 years ago. She did not want to run races and I couldn't work out why. Finally she told me that she didn't want to compete because then she'd have to be naked in front of everyone. She'd been listening to the Story of the World's chapters on ancient Greece and had just discovered that the original Olympicians competed sans clothing.

Water Fueled Car Unveiled in Japan

This week we saw yet another case of media bias. The media apparently wants us to be all worked up and worried about gas prices because not a day went by this week that I did not see a dozen or more articles on the rising gas prices. However, I did not see more than one news article on this Japanese car that runs on water.

It runs on nothing but water poured into it's tank. One liter can last an hour at a speed of 80km.p.h (approx 50m.p.h.). This is exciting news yet the media is strangely silent.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Study: 90 percent of colleges fail to prepare math teachers

I can't say that I am surprised by this article in today's Virginian Pilot that states:
A national study by an advocacy group contends that almost nine out of 10 college education programs fail to adequately prepare prospective elementary teachers to handle math instruction.

Among the schools from Virginia included in the study are Norfolk State University and Radford University, both public institutions, and two private schools, Hampton University and the University of Richmond.

The Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, which describes itself as a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization, said it will release a full report Thursday. In an announcement Friday, the group said it looked at math preparation at 77 education schools in 49 states - including entrance and exit requirements, course content, textbooks, tests and state licensing exams - and found 87 percent to be deficient.

I look forward to reading the report when it is released on Thursday, but as I said, I am not surprised because any system that defends Everyday Math and its ilk, has to be broken.

I just have to deal with clerks in stores and banks to realize that our children in public institutions are receiving substandard math educations. Part of the problem is, I think, that we appear to have dropped arithmetic education and attempted to replace it with a math education. A friend of mine was talking about how her 3rd grade twins were learning some algebra. That's part of the math problem, 8 year olds haven't have grasped the arithmetic basics you need for algebra. We put the cart before the horse when we try to do higher level math concepts before arithmetic is second nature.

Ladybird Con!

I bought the kids a World Alive Ladybird Kit.

There was much excitement in our household because the back of the box promised, in detailed colored pictures, that we could order our ladybird larvae online, then watch them grow, pupate and emerge as beautiful ladybirds.

The problem arose when we opened the box and discovered a "Ladybug Kit Help Sheet for US Customers". Apparently in the US you can't buy the larvae, you can only purchase adult ladybugs.

I am so ticked off. This is false advertising. The kids were expecting to be able to watch the lifecycle of a ladybug, instead, they have a bug box and I have to pay an extra $7 for live ladybugs.

Senate Housing Bill Requires eBay, Amazon, Google, and All Credit Card Companies to Report Transactions to the Government

Call for action from Freedom Works

Hidden deep in Senator Christopher Dodd's 630-page Senate housing legislation is a sweeping provision that affects the privacy and operation of nearly all of America’s small businesses. The provision, which was added by the bill's managers without debate this week, would require the nation's payment systems to track, aggregate, and report information on nearly every electronic transaction to the federal government.

Call Congress and Tell Them to Oppose The eBay Reporting Provision in the Housing Bill: 1-866-928-3035

FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey commented: "This is a provision with astonishing reach, and it was slipped into the bill just this week. Not only does it affect nearly every credit card transaction in America, such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express, but the bill specifically targets payment systems like eBay's PayPal, Amazon, and Google Checkout that are used by many small online businesses. The privacy implications for America's small businesses are breathtaking."

"Privacy groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology and small business organizations like the NFIB sharply criticized this idea when it first appeared earlier this year. What is the federal government's purpose with this kind of detailed data? How will this database be secured, and who will have access? Many small proprietors use their Social Security number as their tax ID. How will their privacy be protected? What compliance costs will this impose on businesses? Why is Sen. Chris Dodd putting this provision in a housing bailout bill? The bill also includes the creation of a new national fingerprint registry for mortgage brokers.

"At a time when concerns about both identity theft and government spying are paramount, Congress wants to create a new honey pot of private data that includes Social Security numbers. This bill reduces privacy across America's payment processing systems and treats every American small business or eBay power seller like a criminal on parole by requiring an unprecedented level of reporting to the federal government. This outrageous idea is another reason to delay the housing bailout legislation so that Senators and the public at large have time to examine its full implications."

From the Senate Bill Summary:

Payment Card and Third Party Network Information Reporting. The proposal requires information reporting on payment card and third party network transactions. Payment settlement entities, including merchant acquiring banks and third party settlement organizations, or third party payment facilitators acting on their behalf, will be required to report the annual gross amount of reportable transactions to the IRS and to the participating payee. Reportable transactions include any payment card transaction and any third party network transaction. Participating payees include persons who accept a payment card as payment and third party networks who accept payment from a third party settlement organization in settlement of transactions. A payment card means any card issued pursuant to an agreement or arrangement which provides for standards and mechanisms for settling the transactions. Use of an account number or other indicia associated with a payment card will be treated in the same manner as a payment card. A de minimis exception for transactions of $10,000 or less and 200 transactions or less applies to payments by third party settlement organizations. The proposal applies to returns for calendar years beginning after December 31, 2010. Back-up withholding provisions apply to amounts paid after December 31, 2011. This proposal is estimated to raise $9.802 billion over ten years.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Homeschoolers Tell All

Tammy, over at Just Enough, and Nothing More is gathering stories of how homeschoolers all over the world educate their children.

I feel compelled to take part in the project, especially after my post earlier today about that homeschooler who wrote the article that makes us all sound like clones of each other. We're a diverse bunch, let us trumpet this news out loud. The sooner the population at large realizes that we are not all religious fundamentalists or survivalists from Montana, the better.

Tammy suggests that to help show our diversity, we answer the following questions from Alasandra.

Here are my answers.

Why do you homeschool?
This is such a difficult question to answer. My reasons are myriad and depending on the day, different ones may be more important. I'll give it a bash, but remember, what I say today will be slightly different from what I say tomorrow.

  • Educational excellence is probably the overarching reason we homeschool. We want an education that is rigorous and that is taught hierarchically. We could probably get the education we want for our children at one of the local prep schools, but to me, the cost is far too high. Those children live in a pressure cooker environment with values that often are at odds to those of our family. I don't want Ben and Shira to have longer "work" days than their father. I want them to have a slow, gentle childhood. When you homeschool, you can give them the rigorous academic education and a slow gentle childhood at the same time.

  • We're of the opinion that government schools are unconstitutional and as such will never use them

  • I enjoy teaching my children.

  • I love spending time with my children and watching how they change from day to day.

  • Ben and Shira find people extremely tiring. They love them in small doses, but find it exhausting to be around them all day long. I understand this as I am the same. If I can homeschool them and save them a dozen years of having to be surrounded by people all day long, I will.

  • By homeschooling Ben and Shira, I can work at their speed. We don't waste time on crowd control, so all our teaching time doesn't take 6 or 7 hours a day.

  • We have flexibility in so many areas of our lives because of homeschooling. We can change curricula as needed if they aren't working. We can vacation while the other children are in school. We can drive up to DC to visit their grandparents in the middle of the week when traffic is lighter than on the weekends.

  • I don't have to worry about Ben and Shira getting safe food because I make it all myself. No worries about school cafetarias.

What technique or curriculum do you use? Do your kids work above or below grade level (or both!)?
This is a very difficult question to answer. I'd probably have to classify myself as an eclectic homeschooler. We use curricula but I cherry pick ones that work for us.
I don't choose curricula based on grade level. I choose it based on whether I think my children will enjoy it and be slightly challenged by it. I find they become bored very easily and need to be challenged. My memories of school induced boredom are still very vivid and I don't want my children to ever have to experience it.
  • We use Prof B for math. The kids are probably 2 grades ahead of grade level right now (we're working in the 3rd to 5th grade CD and B&S have just theoretically finished 1st grade). I've been holding Ben back so that he and Shira can work at the same speed. This coming year I am going to let Ben work at his own speed because I feel that Shira is now confident in her math abilities. It's such a difficult balancing act, she's well ahead of grade level and he is even stronger in the subject than she is. They both have delicate egos and for a while Shira was insisting that math was "too hard" because Ben was grasping subjects faster than she was. She now realizes that she's good at the subject and that it doesn't matter how she compares to her twin brother. Now the trick is going to be to help Ben come to terms with the fact that Shira is a much better pianist than he is. Oh, the joys of raising competitive twins.

  • For Language Arts we are using Michael Clay Thompson's books from Royal Fireworks Press. The books are supposedly for gifted 3rd and 4th graders. We're also using the third book in Jessie Wise's First Language Lessons.

  • We're doing ancient history with Scott Powell of History at Our House. I'm very excited to be doing his program this year. He's a very gifted and engaging teacher who will do a far better job of teaching history than I ever will. Ben loves anything that allows him to communicate via Skype. We'll call in for the live lecture every day at 1pm. Ben can't wait.

  • Latin will be covered by Latin for Children. This is our first exposure to the program, so I can't comment on how well the kids are doing with it yet.

  • Championship Chess takes care of teaching the kids (and me) chess.

  • We'll build the foundations of scientific understanding together with Dr Bernard Nebel.

  • Let's not forget lots and lots of books for reading pleasure

What is your educational level? Do you feel this has an effect on your teaching (both limits and abilities)?
I have a bachelor's degree and Marc is an MD. All my beliefs about education and the knowledge that I use to teach my kids comes from the past 2 decades of living and reading. They have little to nothing to do with my college education.

What does your daily schedule look like?
We like to start school by 7am at the latest and like to be done by 11am-12pm. We take lots of activity breaks. I find that the children need a fair bit of physical activity interspersed with seat learning. We'll do one seat activity, then we'll do something that requires movement. I try to include movement with as much of our learning as possible. When we learn parts of speech, they like it if I assign actions to the different parts of speech. I'll then call out a word, they'll tell me what part of speech it is while doing the assigned action. We like to learn poetry while swinging or walking. We work on word roots while cycling or doing jumping jacks. I'm sure you get the idea.

Our goal is to keep the afternoons free for extramurals and socializing.

Are your kids always polite and ready to learn? (*snicker*) Do the kids (or you!) get frustrated?
LOL, of course they are not always polite and ready to learn. However, I am getting better at understanding the triggers that cause them to get squirrelly and I try to control for those triggers. My kids need to keep to a whole food diet, Shira needs to stay off soy, they need lots of sleep and exercise and I need to back off when I see them becoming frustrated.

I become very frustrated when Ben becomes even more fidgety than normal, or when he just refuses to shut up. He will stop talking to me and will instead start narrating every single thing that he is doing. It drives me batty.

Shira frustrates me when she shuts down when she hits roadblocks. This last year of homeschooling has been a very enlightening year for me. I never used to have patience with people who shut down like she does, but she's my daughter and I want her to succeed, so I've had to learn how to circumvent her lockdowns. It's been a challenge, but I'm slowly making headway.

How has this affected your parenting?
Homeschooling has made my parenting calmer and more nurturing because being with them every day, all day has allowed me to see how my actions impact their behavior. I'm convinced that there are no unruly kids, just parents who aren't parenting their kids the right way. If I'm stressed, the kids are stressed. If I'm happy, they are happy. They are little mirrors of my emotions. I never, ever, thought I would have the amount of patience I now exhibit with my kids. I still don't have any patience with anyone else, it's all used up by my children.

How much free time do they have? What do they do during their free time? What hobbies do they have?
They had too little free time last year. We're fixing it this coming year. They will have at least 5-7 hours of free time a day. Ben and Shira play a lot. Their play is incredibly creative. They build sanctuaries, caves, skyscrapers, fairy glens, if you can think about it, they have probably built it. They spend hours a day drawing, painting and sculpting. Shira is also starting to do a lot of embroidering. Right now their bikes feature prominently in their lives, as does the pool and their cameras. They love to talk walks and photograph what they see.

What difficulties and challenges do you have with homeschooling? What makes homeschooling enjoyable?
I can't say that I have come across anything difficult or challenging about homeschooling. It's such a pleasure to spend my days with my children and share in their exuberant quest for knowledge.

How do you get involved in the community? When do you have opportunities to interact with public or privately schooled children? Would you like more of these opportunties? How can they be created?
We interact almost exclusively with the homeschooled community. It's just a matter of practicality. Homeschooled kids have time to play whereas institutionally schooled kids don't.

What is your least favorite homeschool stereotype?
The large family, right wing, religious family with the subservient wife and socially maladapted children who never interact with the real world. Let's also not forget the assumption that the HSLDA speaks for all homeschoolers.


You have to go over to Webmama and have a look at her hilarious post on phonics and elephants.

Make sure you aren't drinking anything when you read it.

Ooey, Gooey, Messy, Summer Art Camp

Marc thinks that my brain short circuited when I decided to do a summer art camp for Ben, Shira and four of their friends. He might be right, but be that as it may, it was a huge amount of fun.

It was incredibly good for my soul to do an activity with these children that was full of sheer, unbridled fun. No one was expected to learn a thing, this was just about feeling the paint and clay between your fingers, smooshing it all about and creating with all the exuberance we could muster.

I've promised the children that we'll do at least one afternoon a month of "Ooey, gooey, messy art fun". Shira is already putting on her thinking cap for our next adventure.

As I've mentioned more than a few times before, I am a huge fan of MaryAnn Kohl's. I love how she puts an emphasis on the process involved in doing art. Ben and Shira love the messiness involved in the process and I suspected that their friends would as well. it turns out I was right. Benny, Sadie, Martina and Jillian had a blast.

We started off the camp on Monday doing the messiest things I could think of (or I should say, the messiest things that MaryAnn Kohl could think of).

We started off with by putting paint onto rubber bands that had been put around photoframes. Then the fun started. The kids pulled at the bands and let the paint splatter - everywhere. I have no pics because far too much paint was flying everywhere. It's simply amazing how much fun the kids had. Shira ended up plunging her hands into the paint and smooshing it all over her paper. You could see little tactile Shira reveling in the sensations.

My friend, Shell, wrote about an interesting syndrome, Shining Object Syndrome (or SOS for short). I was amused to see that Sadie suffered from SOS after we cleaned up from the paint splattering. She found the glittery bits in the clean up bucket far more interesting than the art projects.

At one stage she was standing in the bucket watching the sparkly bits.

After we cleaned up, we moved onto that old simple standard, marble painting. We haven't done it since Ben and Shira were around 2 years old. I was surprised at how much the kids enjoyed it.

Martina said this was her favorite activity.

Shira says that one of her favorite activity was the fly swatter painting.

I gave the children each large pieces of butcher paper, fly swatters and a few bottles of paint. They squirted paint onto their fly swatters and then swatted away.

I had planned on spraying shaving cream over an area of the back yard, drizzle paint over that and then letting the kids swat it with fly swatters but time ran out. I am planning however, to do this project on another day. After seeing how much enjoyment the fly swatter activity engendered, it would be criminal not to resurrect it in some form or other. Adding shaving cream makes clean up so much easier.

I messed up the "Pow Painting", but nevertheless, the kids enjoyed it. I put baking soda into little paper towel pillows, placed those pillows into baggies and added vinegar and watercolor. We then sealed the baggies and placed them on sheets of paper. The baggies were supposed to blow up but I didn't put enough baking soda into the pillows. The resultant foam was gorgeous and the kids amused themselves for a long time playing with the baking soda and colored vinegar. Tina tried this activity when she returned home and worked out the right proportions, so now I need to try it again.

On day two we had fun with plaster of paris, masks and soap clay.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how the plaster of paris creations turned out. We put three scoops of powder into gallon sized ziploc bags and then added water until we had a nice, thick paste. The kids really got into smooshing the plaster of paris through the bags. Once they had a smooth paste, they worked the paste into a design of their choosing and held it until it started to set. Once the plaster had hardened, we removed the creations from the plastic bags and painted them.

Shira decided hers was a "rich woman's" handbag. (as against mommy's that is always black)

Ben made a canoe and Benny, the most interesting abstract creation.

When we started the camp, I made plaster tape impressions of all the kids', except Sadie's, faces. It was wonderful to see the children unleash their creativity on their masks. I enjoyed seeing how the same blank canvases were turned into very different art works.

Martina working on her mask.

Sadie made a pair of "spectacles" instead of a mask.

While I was greatly impressed by the creativity shown by all the children in their mask making, I have to admit that I found the masks rather creepy.

Jillian in her wildly colorful mask.

Benny in his tribal mask.

Ben in his "third eye" mask

Martina's sunny mask.

Shira's metallic mask

I loved watching how differently the children approached this project. Shira and Martina took their time and worked meticulously, while the younger girls and the boys worked at breakneck speed. Their goal was get the project finished, while the two older girls' goal was to create the best mask they could.

We finished the day with an incredible modeling clay project. I placed 2 cups of Ivory Snow into a large bowl in front of each child and gave them each a cup with colored water. They slowly added water (4-6 tablespoons) until they had a stiff dough. it's a messy process but you get a wonderful dough. Then they proceeded to make sculptures.

Watch the sheer joy of working with this medium

Martina made a snowman with a difference.

Shira made a blue duck

and Sadie made a pink snake

Unfortunately, I didn't get pictures of the Benjamin's creations. Benny made a "soapfa" i.e. a sofa and Ben made a curled snake with eyes on both his tail and his head.

Today, our final day, was an absolute blast. I made up body paint using liquid watercolors, Pond's Cold Cream, cornstarch and water (I used a blender that was hellacious to clean afterwards).

Before the children started painting their bodies, they made signs for the parade we were planning on doing. Sadie and the big girls formed one team and the Benjamins and Jillian another. it was wonderful to watch them collaborating with each other in the design of their banners. Not one disagreement was heard.

Then it was onto the main business of the day. Painting their bodies.

Once the banners were dry and the bodies painted, we embarked on a parade around the neighborhood. The kids were as cute as buttons. They made a racket with noisemakers and chants and got the biggest kicks out of all the passersby who waved to them.

Notice the difference between the two banners.

I had to become creative with clean up as I had experienced how difficult it was to clean my blender this morning, that cold cream is very, very greasy. Never let it be said that I shy from a challenge. The solution turned into the highlight of the camp for Ben. I pulled out two cans of shaving cream that I had bought for the fly swatter project and not used and sprayed it all over the children. Then I let them loose with the shaving cream - all I can say is that a few cans of Dollar Store shaving cream and a bunch of kids makes for a wonderful activity.

Then I switched on the sprinkler and let the kids play.

The end result - clean kids.

It was a lot of work, but it was worth every minute. I got to spend really good time with Lydia and Tina and more importantly , our children had boatloads of fun. What could be more important than that?

It felt really good to be able to do something for Lydia's children. During this last year Lydia has done amazing things for my kids. She introduced them to the scientific method before they did their science fair projects, taught them about simple machines for Lego League and inspired them for the egg drop contest. We should not forget Ben's epic adventure with her in the Treasure Island bookclub at the co-op. Lydia is one of the most inspired teachers I have ever met and my children are very lucky to have her in their lives, heck, I am lucky to be able to count her as one of my friends.

Shira told me that she was happy that I did crafts with Martina as Tina had done such great crafts with her during her Felicity bookclub at the co-op.

One of the beauties, to me, of homeschooling, is how we mothers form loose cooperatives and associations that play out in such wonderful ways.

After Lydia had left for her kids' dance recital rehearsal and Jillian had gone home, Tina, the kids and I all went for a swim. It feels like ages since Tina and I have been able to have a long, slow visit. It was a real treat. She's long been my parenting mentor and I love opportunities to be able to bounce things off her. We often have very different educational philosophies, but seeing as she has grown 2 delightful and successful children to adulthood, I tend to take what she has to say very seriously.

Ahh,this was a splendid week.

Based on my experiences with this Ooey, Gooey, Messy, Summer Art Camp, I want to encourage every homeschooling mom out there to run one of their own. There is something so very liberating for moms and kids to do something this wonderfully messy and gooey.

More Art

Art features strongly in our homeschool. Currently Ben and Shira are taking a drawing class at Olde Towne Art. Here is a sample of their work.

I spoke about the teacher who will be coming to our home to give Ben and Shira lessons. Here is some of the work they have done with her.
Ben's seascape

Shira's seascape

Shira's frolicking dolphins.

Ben's dolphins.

I may leave the real art to the art teachers, but I do more than my fair share of crafts with the kids. This last weekend we made plaster tape Egyptian masks. Shira loved it but Ben complained bitterly about having to sit still while the plaster tape dried and he lost interest in the mask as soon as it was off his face. Shira, on the other hand, had a grand time painting it, even if no Egyptian death mask was ever painted in these colors.

Preparing to apply the plaster tape. We used Saran wrap instead of vaseline. It made clean up so much easier.

Waiting for the tape to dry.

The finished item

Objectivist Round-up

The latest Objectivist Round Upis up at The Crucible and Column.

Peter Cresswell of Not PC writes
"It's well known that back before he abandoned drawing identifiable figures, Pablo Picasso could draw like an angel. In an opposite twist, now that former deconstructionist architect Zaha Hadid has elected to produce actual buildings -- and in this stunning piece of architecture for the shifting desert sands of the Emirate's thriving megalopolis she has done that and more -- she's revealed as a woman with talent to burn, which was what she had mostly been doing with it up to now."

In Part III of "Night of the Long Knives" Edward Cline writes:
Describing the political climate of Weimar Germany in Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris, Ian Kershaw notes that Germany was "a Republic without republicans." One could just as well say that of the United States today, our republicans being of the intellectual and moral caliber of the Founders but who are entirely absent from the modern American political universe. No politician today advocates life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness; the Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution, sans the statist amendments to it, may as well be indecipherable Turkish runes.

A friend noted that while the Democrats wish to destroy the American Revolution, the Republicans seem to have forgotten it ever happened, which explains not only why they have never been able to defend it, but have been complicit in its steady destruction. Republican presidential candidate John McCain is not any kind of reactionary alternative to Barack Obama. If the current political environment can be likened to a coin, then heads it is altruist, tails it is collectivist, and McCain is simply the ridged edge on its side.

Mosey on over to The Crucible and Column and read yet another excellent Objectivist Round Up.

This is representative of homeschoolers?

I've seen the following article on more homeschooling lists and blogs than I care to count. I couldn't help but collapse in a fit of giggles when I read it. I, and all the homeschoolers I know, obviously was not in the line where this homeschooling manual was handed out. (my comments are in bold)

Mon Jun 16, 2008 4:50 pm (PDT)
Home-schooler s threaten our cultural comfort *

6/8/2008 9:39:01 AM
Daily Journal

You see them at the grocery, or in a discount store.
It's a big family by today's standards - "just like stair steps," as the old folks say. Freshly scrubbed boys with neatly trimmed hair and girls with braids, in clean but unfashionable clothes follow mom through the store as she fills her no-frills shopping list.)

There's no begging for gimcracks, no fretting, and no threats from mom. The older watch the younger, freeing mom to go peacefully about her task. (not much begging takes place, but that little that does is met with the evil eye and it quickly quiets. in our case the "younger" watches the "older". Shira is Ben's conscience and she keeps him on the straight and narrow.)

You are looking at some of the estimated 2 million children being homeschooled in the U.S., and the number is growing. Their reputation for academic achievement has caused colleges to begin aggressively recruiting them.(EEEK, my big bugbear raises its ugly head again. Our reputation for academic achievement. UGHH. Colleges are now actively recruiting homeschoolers, just like they have always actively recruited institutionally schooled kids. This leveling of the playing field is seen by the homeschooling community as proof of our superiority and not for what it is, simple good business on the parts of colleges.) Savings to the taxpayers in instructional costs are conservatively estimated at $4 billion, and some place the figure as high as $9 billion. When you consider that these families pay taxes to support public schools, but demand nothing from them, it seems quite a deal for the public.

Home schooling parents are usually better educated than the norm, (I need to check the veracity of this statement. I'm not sure it is true) and are more likely to attend worship services. (Someone forgot to give this non-theist family that news flash)Their motives are many and varied. Some fear contagion from the anti-clericalism, coarse speech, suggestive behavior and hedonistic values that characterize secular schools. ( While I don't particularly want Ben and Shira in school, I struggle to see how secular equates with that list of horrors. Our children are growing up in a secular household and I can promise you that they wouldn't know coarse speech if they heard it, nor suggestive behavior or hedonistic values. I find it incredibly offensive when these religious nutters try to claim the moral high ground over the secular world. One wonders how an external locus of control can ever be superior to an internal one.). Others are concerned for their children's safety. Some want their children to be challenged beyond the minimal competencies of the public schools. Concern for a theistic world view largely permeates the movement.(This guy obviously has his head in the sand. while many homeschoolers homeschool for religious reasons, there are many, many of us who do not.)

Indications are that home schooling is working well for the kids, and the parents are pleased with their choice, but the practice is coming under increasing suspicion, and even official attack, as in California.( One judge makes a questionable legal decision about an abusive family does not equate to homeschooling coming under increasing suspicion.)

Why do we hate (or at least distrust) these people so much?(WTF? People hate us?)

Methinks American middle-class people are uncomfortable around the homeschooled for the same reason the alcoholic is uneasy around the teetotaler.

Their very existence represents a rejection of our values, and an indictment of our lifestyles. Those families are willing to render unto Caesar the things that Caesar's be, but they draw the line at their children. Those of us who have put our trust in the secular state (and effectively surrendered our children to it) recognize this act of defiance as a rejection of our values, and we reject them in return.

Just as the jealous Chaldeans schemed to bring the wrath of the king upon the Hebrew eunuchs, we are happy to sic the state's bureaucrats on these "trouble makers." Their implicit rejection of America's most venerated idol, Materialism, (a.k.a. "Individualism" ) spurs us to heat the furnace and feed the lions.(I for one have not rejected Materialism or Individualism, in fact I am the exact opposite. I thought that homeschoolers tended to be individualists.)

Young families must make the decision: Will junior go to day care and day school, or will mom stay home and raise him? The rationalizations begin. "A family just can't make it on one income." (Our parents did.)
"It just costs so much to raise a child nowadays." (Yeah, if you buy brand-name clothing, pre-prepared food, join every club and activity, and spend half the cost of a house on the daughter's wedding, it does.)
And so, the decision is made. We give up the bulk of our waking hours with our children, as well as the formation of their minds, philosophies, and attitudes, to strangers. We compensate by getting a boat to take them to the river, a van to carry them to Little League, a 2,800-square- foot house, an ATV, a zero-turn Cub Cadet, and a fund to finance a brand-name college education. And most significantly, we claim "our right" to pursue a career for our own "self-fulfillment. "

Deep down, however, we know that our generation has eaten its seed corn.
We lack the discipline and the vision to deny ourselves in the hope of something enduring and worthy for our posterity. We are tired from working extra jobs, and the looming depression threatens our 401k's.
Credit cards are nearly maxed, and it costs a $100 to fuel the Suburban.
Now the kid is raising hell again, demanding the latest Play Station as his price for doing his school work ... and there goes that modest young woman in the home-made dress with her four bright-eyed, well-behaved home-schooled children in tow. Wouldn't you just love to wipe that serene look right off her smug face?(Young woman? Most of the homeschoolers I know are in their 30's and 40's. I'm mid 40's and no one in their right mind would considerr me to be young, no matter how much I try to delude myself. Serene? I suppose I've seen that look on some homeschoolers once their Wellbutrin has kicked in.)

Is it any wonder we hate her so?

(heck, I hate me when you put it that way. Thankfully, neither I, nor any homeschoolers I know are the prigs that Mr Scott tries to pretend we are)

Sonny Scott a community columnist, lives on Sparta Road in Chickasaw
County and his e-mail address is sonnyscott@yahoo. com.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Want to predict how tall your children will grow?

This is just some fun that I saw on Henry Cate's blog Why Homeschool - an adult height predictor.

I tried it on Ben and Shira. It predicts that Shira will be 5ft10 and Ben 6ft4.

Canadian school instigates child sex abuse investigation - on the say so of a psychic

This article has to be seen to be believed.

The education assistant of a severely autistic child involved the child's school and the Canadian social services because a psychic she visited told her about sexual abuse.
Leduc said they advised her that Victoria's educational assistant (EA) had visited a psychic, who said a youngster whose name started with "V" was being sexually abused by a man between 23 and 26 years old. Leduc was also handed a list of recent behaviours exhibited by her daughter.

School principal Brian Tremain -- who referred phone calls seeking comment to the board -- advised Leduc that the CAS had been contacted.

The mind boggles that the education assistant was taken seriously by the principal. I'd have tossed the woman out on her ear. Whatever happened to rational, objective evidence?

Objectivist Round-up #48

Rational Jenn has published the 48th Objectivist Round Up on her blog.

I particularly enjoyedEdward Cline's entry The Year of the Long Knives. Of Obama, he has this to say:
Why link an infamous chapter of Nazi history to any discussion of Barack Obama's character and political aspirations? Because the parallels of his rise in politics and that of Hitler's in Germany are too eerie in their particulars to ignore. To be sure, Obama's rise has been, in terms of violence, betrayal, and criminal skullduggery, entirely blameless. Never mind his early career as a "community" advocate, activist, and ward-heeler in Chicago and his somewhat lackluster but leftist record in the Illinois legislature and the U.S Senate. Obama himself is a man of no convictions, and a man of no convictions, as a consummate second-hander, will adopt the "greatest good for the greatest number" as his moral compass, whether or not he is running for office.

A man with no sense of self-identity will become what others wish him to be, or what he believes others wish him to be. The empty vessel will naturally gravitate to crowds to be filled to the brim with their hopes, dreams, wishes, sores and frustrations. Only then will he feel complete. He will become their servant, their icon, to be placed on an altar to be worshipped and prayed to in self-effacing idolatry.

So it is with Obama. It helps to explain why so many Americans are excited by him, and why he exudes a confidence not evident in any of the other candidates. His admirers cannot be excited by him because of his ideas; he has not expressed anything as solid as an idea (and clich├ęs, bromides and populist tripe are not ideas), and his confidence grows as the number of his admirers and supporters grows.

The blog post is worth reading in its entirety. I am looking forward to Part 2, and his views on McCain.

The most important entry in the entire round up has to be this one.

Diana Hsieh presents Letter to the Editor on Colorado's Personhood Amendment posted at NoodleFood, saying, "The Denver Post published my letter to the editor opposing the proposed "personhood amendment" to the Colorado's constitution. That amendment would give full rights to a fertilized egg, thus endangering not just abortion but also birth control and in virtro fertilization."

If I were a 1930's housewife.....


As a 1930s wife, I am

Take the test!

I was really surprised I scored quite so well. I loved the question about sleeping with too much face cream and curlers. I have vivid memories of my grandmother at bedtime, complete with head full of curlers and pins, net over it all and a face full of cream.

from Rational Jenn.

Company Policy

Don't you just love that term? "Company Policy". It's the corporate world's version of zombie like, "Zero Tolerance".

Yesterday I called a company to come and give me a quotation for putting up storm doors and a lanai like structure over our deck. (Shira is allergic to mosquito bites and summer can become quite miserable for her). This company advertises in the "Moneyclip", an advertising brochure that is dropped into our mailbox with alarming regularity. We normally just toss it in the recycle bin, but for some reason, this weekend, Marc paged through it and saw ESE's advertisement. It was fortuitous that I had been bugging Marc the previous week about our need for storm doors along one side of our house because we're bleeding heating and cooling through all our french doors.

I called to make an appointment for a salesperson to come to see me and I was informed that "company policy" dictated that both husband and wife are present when the sales person calls.

Red flags started waving frantically. If both husband and wife have to be present, it probably means that this company is overpriced.

The poor corporate drone received a tongue lashing from me. I informed her that Marc was on call and may or may not be present, but that the sales person could speak to me as I was collecting the information and quotes and once I have narrowed the field, Marc and I would make the final decision.

She was adamant. Company policy was that either both spouses were present or no salesman appeared. What am I missing here? I am telling them that I want to spend money and perhaps I want to spend it with their company. All they have to do is show up, show me their wares and give me a price. It's as easy as that. Instead they spend half an hour refusing to deal with me unless I am combined with my other (better?) half.

They would rather miss a sales opportunity than see just the wife. Great policy guys.

I must admit that I suspect that they are similar to time share salespeople in that they are probably selling over priced wares, with lots of incentives, their own financing and ultra high pressure sales people. This place reeks of con job.

This reminds me of how Chrysler lost a van sale in 2001 because of how the salesperson treated me. I had infant twins and needed a van. Off I went to look at van. At this time, the Sienna and Honda did not have long wheel bases and the only one that did, was the Town and Country. I test drove it, found out all the specs and then asked the salesman for a price. He told me not to worry my pretty little head over it, he'd call my husband and discuss price with him. WTF?

I walked out and went to the next Chrysler dealership. This one gave me a written quotation. Two days later, Marc and I went to sign on the dotted line. The only problem was that the purchase agreement was $4000 greater than the quotation. When we queried it, the salesman's response was, "I told my manager that you would probably see the price difference", and then he proceeded to try to complete the deal.

Marc and I arose and left. We made do with our sedan until 2004 when Toyota redesigned the Sienna. It never fails to amaze me how hard companies work to put willing and able customers off buying their products.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Plans for next year

I love having 7 year old children. They are old enough to have fairly deep, reasonable discussions with me, and at the same time, still think I am akin to a god. To them, my opinions still matter but they have matured enough to know that their opinions matter as well and they are not shy of making their feelings known.

I've been experiencing a lot of angst about the co-op we joined last year. I've been very disappointed with the level of academics offered to the 6-9 year old age group but consoled myself that the kids were enjoying a rich social life. I ended each Tuesday exhausted from being around people for all those hours, but at the same time, I really enjoyed visiting with a bunch of bright and interesting people.

I have been trying to decide what to do about the co-op this coming academic year. After I had a long conversation with two friends, I decided to ask Ben and Shira what they wanted to do.

Talked about impressive, the kids condensed the entire issue down to its essence. They told me that they want learning to be learning and their social activities to be social activities with no other agendas attached to them. They don't want to do co-op again because they say it's a waste of time for them in terms of learning and the classes get in the way of socializing. They want me to teach them because I know what they like and need, and then they want me to set up play dates so that they can just play. They want a fish to be a fish and a fowl to be a fowl. They don't want something that is neither fish, nor fowl.

Bright children. That's exactly what was bothering me about the co-op. It was costing us well over a $100 a month and I couldn't find any tangible rewards for either the time or the monetary outlay. We're better off just visiting with those great folks in a social setting and doing our academics and enrichment on our own.

Furthermore, they told me that they don't want to do as many outside activities as we did last year. They disliked how tight our schedule was.

We've spent a great many hours brainstorming how we are going to work this next academic year and have come up with a plan that I think is going to work well for us all.

They've decided they want to do one class at co-op. Lydia is teaching the Odyssey during the fall semester. I was planning on teaching the Odyssey to Ben and Shira and Lydia is a much more exciting teacher than I could ever be, so Ben and Shira will attend her class. I'll add to it during the week to make it more relevant to Ben and Shira.

The kids' piano teacher is leaving the area which means we need to find a new teacher. As luck would have it, we have found one a 2 minute walk from home. This is yet another time saver. No more drive time and no more wasted time while I wait for the kids at piano lessons. Also, the kids will no longer suffer from boredom while they wait for their sibling to be done.

Shira will continue with Nature Girls on Saturdays.

Shira, with Suzanne Moss and fellow Nature Girls standing next to their vegetables.

Ben plans on starting boy scouts but I am not convinced he'll stick with it. I think that too much nature is involved. He has this romantic view of nature but I suspect he is his father's son and the reality will quickly sink in.

Other than choir, that's all that we have planned for activities outside the house.

Those of you who know Ben and Shira will be astounded that you have seen no art classes in that mix. That's because
they also decided they want to stop all the art classes they've been attending and only want to see one teacher, Lee Gerry Wertheimer, a local artist. She taught them a watercolor class at the Hermitage Foundation where they learned an enormous amount.

We discovered that Lee gives private lessons in her students' homes.

I love the idea of having art classes at our home. This means that I get to do things while my kids have class and we don't have time waste that is travel. Also, the ratio of 2 kids to one teacher means that the children will learn real art techniques and the teacher won't be wasting time on crowd control. Lee will come to our home for 2 hours every second week. As strange as this sounds, this means a monetary saving to us for art classes.

We have only one other planned activity. We're going let Scott Powell do the history teaching. We tested his service in January. His is a superb teacher and is passionate about his subject I love how well he integrates all the information and teaches hierarchically. It's good to know that they will be taught by an Objectivist who knows his subject. The downside is that we have to be home Monday to Thursday from 1-1:30pm so that we can dial into his lectures. But, they are so good, that it's worth our while to have this schedule. We'll be getting really good learning for around half of what co-op was costing us. That to me is a much better use of our money, and time.

They also told me that they do not want to do jump rope classes at the Y anymore. They want us to do an exercise program at home each day, together. I rather like this idea. We can do T-Tapp videos together and perhaps I can find a Pilates instructor to come to the house once or twice a week. This will keep me on the straight and narrow.

I can't believe how excited I am about our plans. We'll spend a lot more time at home and will have a lot more free time. I think we're going to thoroughly enjoy next year. Last year we often only had one afternoon a week free for playdates. Now the kids will have time every afternoon to have a friend over, if they so wish, and we'll have time every morning for school.

I am so proud of my kids. They put a lot of thought into what they wanted for next year. They also demonstrated a high level of self awareness when they told me what they wanted and what they disliked. They understand that they have high personal space needs and they embrace those needs. These kids don't know how lucky they are to be homeschooled where they can get all the personal space they need.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Father's Day

The other night, Marc mentioned that he has no real memories of bedtime routines from when he was a child. He then asked me if I had any and it started a cascade of memories of my late father that have refused to stop.

Probably some of the most vivid memories that I have of my dad are those having to do with the hours of darkness. I wonder if any of it had to do with the fact that he was legally blind? Geoff, as he had me call him, loved the cool evenings on the African Highveld. When you live just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, at 6,000ft, well away from the moderating effects of the ocean, the days are hot and the nights cool.

Geoff was a Celt, through and through. His blindingly white, freckled skin, pale blue eyes and shock of red hair made him particularly unsuited for the harsh African sun. You could see him wilt in the heat and come alive at night. My mother, on the other hand, loves the heat and the sun and goes to sleep pretty soon after the sun goes down.

As a child, I suffered from dreadful insomnia. I don't think I had more than 4-5 hours sleep a night before I was well into my teens. Each night, my mother would insist on an early bedtime. I'd go to bed and read, using a flashlight, until Geoff would give me the all clear. The all clear being that my mother was asleep.

Then he and I would take long walks where we would solve the ills of the world. Geoff was a dreamer, he let his imagination soar. In a different time and place, I have no doubt that he would have made a lasting mark on the world. Instead, he comforted himself with his Rube Goldberg contraptions and abiding love of his children.

This cascade of memories that has flooded my mind has made me realize something for the first time. The mother I am today is in large part as a result of the father Geoff was to me. He taught me that a good parent always has time for his/her children. That young children deserve to be taken seriously. That you should listen to their opinions, stories and questions and treat them with dignity.

He taught me that you can never give your children enough touch. For years my father gave me a daily neck or foot massage. I had forgotten all about it and now I realize that I do exactly the same for my kids. One of the first things I do when they are upset or out of sorts is to give them a massage. How like Geoff I am turning out to be. I remember all those teenaged years of angst when my father would massage my feet while he encouraged me to talk through my problems.

I miss him so much today that it hurts. He was very ill during his last years and when I said goodbye to him in February 2000, I knew that there was a chance that I would never see him again. Unfortunately this was what happened. I was hoping that he could visit us in the October, but instead, his health deteriorated so badly that he died instead in the October.

I called him as soon as I knew I was pregnant. I must have been 10 days along. His words were, "Now I can die. This is what I was waiting for.". Six weeks later, he was dead, but not before going to the store and buying two stuffed toys for my babies. When my sister questioned him about the toys, he told her I was having twins. The twin pregnancy was confirmed a few days after his death.

Ben and Shira will never get to meet grandpa Geoff, but they are lucky to have Marc's father Stanley and my stepdad, Ron, both incredible grandfathers.

As I look at Ben sitting between Marc and me, I wonder what lessons he'll take away from Marc's fathering. Ben and Shira, like me, are lucky to have a wonderful father. Thank you Marc for giving our children the best of fathers.

World’s first Live Holographic Video Feed from California, USA to Bangalore, India

We're starting to live in the Sci-Fi scenarios I devoured as a child. Watch the world's first liveholographic video feed.

Read all about this futuristic new technology here

John Chambers, the Cisco CEO, said one thing that really stuck with me. He said that they have worked on this development in India because the Indian education system develops "out of the box" thinking. Perhaps this is where the homeschooling community can help the US? Perhaps, we, the parents who have escaped the institutional education box, can help our children develop all round, creative, out of the box, type thinking. I need to think on this some more as I am sure there are steps we can take to help our children achieve this objective.

The importance of writing, grammar and vocabulary.

A few months ago I discovered, The Royal Fireworks Press. I felt like a kid in a candy store as I have seldom found a selection of books and curricula that fits my philosophy of education as well as those I found on this website.

My biggest find, was the language arts curriculum by Michael Clay Thompson.

Here's a man after my own heart. He is adamant that children need to develop a strong and varied vocabulary. He's a strong proponent of teaching vocabulary through the classics and through the study of word roots.

Verbal talent is developed by new verbal experience. It will not develop on its own, and
it will not develop if the only experiences a child has are within the child’s existing
range of verbal experience. More of the same experience will not develop anything. Ver-
bal talent will develop when a child is thrown into verbal situations that he or she can’t
do, doesn’t understand, hasn’t seen before, forcing the child to stop, think, listen, pay attention, reread, study,
change. When new verbal experience lies beyond the known range, the child must learn new things in order to un-
derstand. It is then the child who develops his or her own verbal talent in order to accommodate an encounter with
verbal phenomena that are new and challenging. Only verbal experience that changes a child develops a child.

If this seems too obvious, we must recall that it flies in the mass face of an educational culture that avoids the
shock of difficulty in the name of self-esteem; giving students things they can do, the theory is, builds their self-
esteem. Developing verbal talent in gifted children doesn’t work that way, but provides a model in which self-
esteem is the accomplishment the student feels after successfully struggling for intellectual growth. In order to de-
velop verbal talent, we don’t give kids things they can do; we give them things they cannot do, yet.

We've seen the benefit of having the children listen and read to literature that is "hard". From around the time Ben and Shira were 3 years old, they've listened to audiobooks. We never gave them audiobooks that were age appropriate, instead, we fed them a steady diet of British children's classics and recordings by Naxos Audiobooks.

A magnificent thing happened along way. Ben and Shira developed listening skills that exceed those you would expect for their age as well as rich vocabulary that they are not shy of using.

I developed my vocabulary by reading, which means I am sometimes faced with wanting to use a word that I know in print but have no idea how to pronounce. I'm hoping that Ben and Shira will avoid this pitfall by using a combination of good audiobooks, reading and the study of vocabulary with me.

He goes on to say:
Another reason to provide gifted children with a rich exposure to the classics is the rich vocabulary that they
nearly always contain. Guess, for example, what book these words come from:
diffidence, placid, adhere, quietus, miscreant, quixotic, reproof, condescend, somber, enigma, phlegmatic,
undulate, sublime, resolute, strident, din, amicable, amorous, raconteur, profound, dejection, placid, amiably,
tedious, mea culpa, perplex, impede, interpose, incisive, impassive, admonish, aperture, avidly, perfidious,
miasma, abject, portal, fain, sanguinary, retort, imperiously, hauteur, patronize, aloof, blithe, boon, cypher,
wince, defray, genial, cadaverous, remonstrate, nether, upbraid, solicitous, conveyance, mauve, hitherto, suc-
culent, artifice, proffer, ardent, tremulous, recriminate, assail, virulent, insinuate.

Could these words come from a book by Thomas Hardy? Nathaniel Hawthorne? The answer may surprise
you; these words come from James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the story of Never Never Land, Pirate Smee, Captain
Hook, Wendy, and the boys who would never grow up (Thompson, 1990, p. 9). In Peter Pan, Peter lost his shadow,
and Mrs. Darling picked it up, folded it, and put it in a drawer. Hook told Smee to kill Wendy, and Smee said to
Wendy, “I have to kill you, but I’ll save you if you’ll be my mother.” She refused. It is a children’s book, but look at
the vocabulary. Because such diction is stripped from today’s dumbed-down literature anthologies, and because
modern publishing houses usually require authors to avoid such words in children’s stories, the classics have become
an increasingly precious source of good vocabulary in children’s literature.

In this video that was recorded at the College of William and Mary, he talks about the importance of children encountering serious, academic type words early on in elementary school and of them learning scientific Latin and Greek based words. Apparently, if you understand the 100 most common English language stems, prefixes, suffixes and roots , you'll understand 5,000 additional English words.

I greatly appreciate his list of top 100 words that
appear even in so- called children’s classics, such as Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, and The Call of the Wild.. Shira is busy reading "White Fang" and I found it useful to go through this list of words with her before she started reading the book.

Here he is talking about the importance of teaching grammar to our school children.

Ben and Shira aren't at the level where they need to learn how to write academic papers, but nonetheless, it's worthwhile watching Thompson talking about the importance of teaching formal academic writing. What I took away from this talk, is that if I want Ben and Shira to be able to write rigorous academic papers when they are older, I need to look to teaching them a rigorous, formal language program from this early age that includes vocabulary, grammar and writing components that work hand in hand with each other.

Hear Michael Clay Thompson read the "amazing" opening paragraph of The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He then explains away some of the myths about teaching students how to write.

This summer, we are working through Thompson's book on teaching poetry to children, Music of the Hemispheres. Poetry was not my strong point at school and I can't say that I've ever sat down and read poetry for love. However, Shira is transfixed by poetry and is always writing some sort of poem or the other. Thompson's book is perfect for a mom who dislikes the art and a daughter who loves it. His teaching style is humorous and at the same time, very rigorous. Ben and Shira are having a ball and are not realizing that they are learning good skills. We're also working through, Building Language to start learning the most common stems in the English language. We're combining it with English from the Roots Up. The two books could not be more different. Building Language is engaging and fun, while English from the Roots Up is as dull as dishwater. However, I've taken the word lists from English from the Roots Up and turned them into a fun game for the kids.

Thompson shows the close association between Latin, Spanish and English and I am hoping that once we've done all four books in his elementary school program, plus a year of Latin for Children that learning Spanish will be relatively easy.

"Argo" sails again.

I stumbled across an article about a replica of the "Argo" this morning. How I wish we could be in Greece today to see this reconstruction of the legendary ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts to recover the Golden Fleece.

Knowing that we can't be in Greece today, I'll console myself by reading the myth to Ben and Shira instead.

The modern-day Argo is a reconstruction of an ancient Greek penteconter with a ram (a ship with one tier of 50 oars, 25 on either side) and a simple sail that was built of half-cured wood cut from forest timber.

It is built along the line of prehistoric ships of the Greek mainland in the 14th century B.C. and belongs to the same family as Homer's long ships and the later ram-bearing warships of antiquity.

The present-day penteconter Argo is expected to travel between 10 and 15 nautical miles a day until it reaches its final destination in Venice, stopping at 37 ports on the way. It will be accompanied by the ship Hellenic Seaways, where the rowers of the penteconter will eat, wash, dress and receive medical treatment.