Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

I am ending 2010 on a positive note and giving myself a pat on the back for all my family and I have accomplished in 2010, homeschooling and otherwise. It was a great year, despite broken bones and surgeries. We were able to spend so much quality time together as a family, both at home and on the road. And my husband and I even managed to get in "couples time" and a few trips by ourselves. I appreciate that even though I am not a perfect homeschooler, I am doing a good job - the kids are learning and developing, I am learning and growing, and we are all having fun (most of the time!). I am comfortable enough with myself to know that even when I don't get to something today, it doesn't mean I won't get to it - no need to panic or give up. Looking at 2011, I know that I have much to look forward to. We have a wonderful year planned and so many good things going on in our lives. I am incredibly lucky and incredibly loved - who could ask for more? Happy New Year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Taking the bad with the good...

The Bad
Well, not bad maybe, just not as good.
We're back from three (yes THREE) weeks off from school. Nothing like a long break to make coming back that much harder. This morning we had tears, whining, crumbling to the floor, and fits of anger. And that was just me. Just kidding (though I may have felt like doing some of that in response to all the grief I was getting).  Actually, my reaction to all of this was relief. Why? Because I'm glad they're getting all out of their system today. It means that the rest of the week will be peaceful by comparison. And I should add that by the end of the school day the level of complaining decreased noticeably. Until moments ago when I mentioned it was time to practice their instruments....

Ah, the joys of homeschooling! =)

The Good
 Our break was long, but it felt very short as we managed to cram so much into those three weeks. The best part of our time off was a trip to the mountains for some skiing and relaxation. All four girls were enrolled in all-day ski school and my husband and I were actually able to SKI this trip. We even took a few lessons ourselves. We also spent time sledding, playing in the snow, tubing, hanging out at a cabin, decorating cookies, learning to crochet, playing games as a family and generally just enjoying the snow and winter. We got back just in time for Christmas.  It was definitely worth the rough start coming back to take the time off and enjoy ourselves in a true winter wonderland!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter Holiday Party

My girls and I hosted a Winter Holiday Cookie and Craft party yesterday. Another mom and I run an American Girl Doll Club for girls 8 and up, and my daughters wanted to have their friends from AG Club over for a holiday party. It was a huge success. We decorated our kitchen and sun rooms as snowy winter wonderlands with snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. The girls made jingle bell bracelets, wreaths from puzzle pieces, pins that look like wrapped presents, and matching doll-and-me scarves. They played gift wrap relay, pass the snow ball and hot holiday present. Plus they each had a turn guessing how much candy was in a jar (can you believe the winner only missed by one candy - she guessed 400 and the correct answer was 401!).  And of course, we had hundreds (literally) of cookies to decorate, which they were able to bring home in holiday tins. I think my favorite moment was when the girls spontaneously started singing Christmas carols as we were making the scarves. Just priceless. I'm not sure if this party will become an annual event, but at the very least it made this year very memorable!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Break!

I was feeling overburdened, stressed and generally too busy ... and just like that, we are officially starting our winter break a week early!  I am planning to continue with math drills, our art projects and music. But aside from that, we are baking, sewing and crafting our way through the holidays (see our paper plate menorahs and winter carolers for today's examples). The two oldest girls are currently knitting gifts for family members, they all plan to make blankets and scarves for each other, and we're having a winter holiday cookie decorating party at our house next week so we're busy planning and organizing for that.  I don't know if the "break" will actually be relaxing, but at least it's fun!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mathematical Musings

I admit it - math is my least favorite subject. It isn't that math is hard for me - I always did well in math and took several years of advanced Calculus. It's just that I don't find it inspiring. And I love to be inspired. Don't get me wrong - I can appreciate that math can be and often is inspiring. To other people. But not me.

No, I am more of a word girl. Give me a beautiful line of prose and I will be caught up for days. I can often remember - years after having read it the first time - the exact page number in books where a particularly moving scene can be found.  I have quotes posted in unlikely (and likely) locations about the house. Still, as an semi-intelligent primate I recognize that math is important and one needs to have at least a basic understanding of it in order to function well in society.

But for the life of me, I can't understand why math is so difficult in our homeschool. And I know I'm not alone. Give me a room of homeschool moms and I can guarantee you that most of them will complain about math. Math curriculum, math facts, math drills ... or the lack thereof. And it's not limited to homeschoolers. In my circle of non-homeschool friends, most of the complaints regarding education revolve around math.

So I wonder - what IS it about math in America? Why aren't we more inspired by something that can be found in every aspect of life? And most importantly - how can I break this cycle for my children? I would love for my girls to fall in love with math. But if I'm honest, I'm not making that happen. They seem to be as uninspired by it as I am.

I haven't figured it out yet. But I'm working on it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quarter End!!!

It's here - it's really here!! The end of our first quarter of school! I haven't been able to post because I've been too busy wrapping up final projects, essays, Greek & Latin root exams, dioramas and exploding volcanoes, Thanksgiving pumpkins and Indian Corn paintings... the list goes on and on and on. But today - it has ended (at least until Monday when we'll start Quarter 2).  HURRAY!!!

To celebrate I took the girls to see the newest Harry Potter movie. Yes, it's dark and violent, but since they've all read/listened to the book I decided it would be fine to delve into the visuals this one time. And they have been looking forward to seeing it since we finished the series. So after lunch I loaded 'em up, in full Hogwarts attire - robes and wands - to see the movie. I even let them get candy at the theater (this may not seem like a big deal, but I think my kids can count on one hand the number of times Mom has purchased candy for them). We had so much fun and can't wait for the 2nd half of the last movie to come out next year. Hopefully it will line up with another quarter end. =)

Now I'm off to bask in having finished 25 % of the school year...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Leaves

Our next few art projects focus on learning different techniques and creating rather than art history. This project, Leaf Stamping, involves finding a somewhat fresh leaf, painting it with white paint and stamping it by pressing it paint-side down on black paper and placing a scrap paper on top. You then rub to create an imprint of the veins, stem, etc. The result is a stamp which looks somewhat like a fossil, according to my girls. After the white paint is dry, sponge a few different colors into the negative space, and - VOILA! - instant (and inexpensive) fall decor.

Another fun project involves india ink and a dip pen, textured, colored paper, and conte crayons.  With pencil, lightly draw a small collection of leaves. Add details. Trace with ink, and when dry add highlights with the conte crayons. Finish by shading with ink. This example was done with and orange-brown paper and  ink, but to make it kid-friendly I recommend using markers and black pens as india ink is indelible (even on skin - at least for several days).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Allure of Delusion

Throughout my life, I have met and become well-acquainted with people whom I believe to be delusional. I'm not talking about Delusional with a capital-D. And to be honest, I believe we all have delusions about ourselves and our lives - for better or for worse. It's part of the human condition. We need a bit of delusion to remain happy and content.  No... I'm talking about people that take it too far. Not so far that they are considered Delusional by the medical community, but far enough that after you spend some time in a conversation you find that you're frowning to yourself and wondering what, in fact, the man (or woman) to whom you're speaking actually sees when he looks in the mirror. It's almost amusing. In fact, I'd be better off if I let myself be amused, but I'm not always such a good person and I usually end up being annoyed that someone actually thinks of himself in a way that is so obviously false.

But ... maybe the more delusional one is the more fun life becomes...

... or maybe not.

I have no problem day-dreaming, setting big goals, pretending and imagining, etc. But I cannot seem to delude myself into believing things about me that aren't true. I suppose one could argue that positive thinking is in its own way a bit of delusion. During a long run, I might allow myself to imagine that I feel wonderful, I'm not tired in the least, I've never felt better, etc.. And the more I focus on that, the better I feel and the longer I run. However, I still remain convinced that I am not actually a world-class athlete just months away from breaking an Olympic record even if I tell myself I am so I get moving. I don't actually believe it. I guess I'm basically a realist.

I don't know. Somehow the people that I've talked to really seem to believe the line they sell. I see the allure of believing - really believing - their delusions:  instant gratification.  Why work hard at something when I can just pretend I did (and get away with it)?

Oh well. I suppose it's like everything else people do in their private lives... it's none of my business. And if I think it is, I'm delusional.

Monday, November 8, 2010


"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence."
~Robert Frost

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reality Check

This year I did something new and ordered a curriculum for language arts and social studies/science. There are some really good things about the program (well, programs as I'm doing three different levels) and I can appreciate that there are things I would not have covered or spent time on that are included. There are also things which I find simultaneously hilarious and annoying - this mostly comes in the form of the number of activities or assignments that are supposed to be covered in one day, or the directions for certain activities  - perhaps I should say "lack of directions" as I find instructions that say something like "Research North America and write a report" to be ridiculous.  Obviously as the parent, I have the ability to modify and change whatever I want with the program. So I do. And I recognize that no one thing will work for everyone. Whereas I find that asking my six-year-old to do a lesson on endangered and extinct animals, play a game of charades, create three puppets and put on a scripted puppet show with them, complete a worksheet with world problems involving endangered animals, make three more finger puppets and design her own puppet show may be overkill for one lesson, I'm sure there are other people that find it to be just the right amount of work or even not enough.

But I do feel that most homeschool parents probably do not appreciate programs that are written to the child and involve instructions like this: "Go into the kitchen and bake something, anything you like, and write about the experience." What! Wait a minute - don't they know that we have to leave for swim team in 15 minutes. Don't they know that my child will want to make the most involved and complicated recipe she can find? Don't they know that I am not in the mood to drop what I was doing with my three other kids and start on a major baking adventure? Don't get me wrong - I love to bake and cook with my kids. But it requires a bit of advance notice for me. We don't always have every ingredient. We don't always have the time. And now my kid is upset and disappointed at not being able to do something that is assigned to her that I didn't even see coming. She doesn't care that I tell her we can do it this weekend. Now I've got a sad kid, three other kids that are clamoring to bake something, and a headache. And I did read ahead to see what was coming up in her assignments - I just missed that teeny, tiny sentence in the 4 pages for that lesson. Silly me.

That's what I get for buying something ready-made. I want to add a little box to the list of required materials that says: "This program also requires a reality check."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween!

For art this week, instead of an artist study we made Halloween decorations... Spooky Spiderwebs (as described on Art Projects for Kids).  It was a fun two-day project, and the idea could be used to make other pictures - Jack-o-Lanterns, Indian Corn, etc.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Secular Thursday

I recently had a friend ask me - with true interest, not in a judging way - what sources we use for inspiration and guidance if we do not follow the teachings of religion. She was wondering where my children will turn for support and comfort if they do not have a religious leader or god.

There are so many ways to answer this question - it felt overwhelming. I took the easy way out and gave a generic answer about "many sources" - not that it's not a truthful answer. Just easy.

It made me wonder if other secular homeschoolers are faced with the same or similar question. And it made me even more curious to their answers - do they take the simple, easy way and give a short-and-sweet answer? Do they delve into it, siting examples and providing quotations? Or do they land somewhere in between? Is it situation dependent?

So humor me and share, if you will! =)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can-do Kandinsky

The thing about the famous painting - Farbstudie Quadrate - is that it looks simple. You think, "What's all the fuss? That's so simple. I'll make my own."  And then you try and you realize, "Ah - simple can be deceiving."  This is especially true for children. Or at least mine. Last week, we sat around the table and took turns reading the biography page I prepared. Then we looked at some of Kandinsky's work, ending with the Farbstudie piece. "Simple! That's so easy!" they cried.  And then we began the project - a torn paper and oil pastel piece inspired by the Kandinsky work. They were quickly frustrated that it was not as easy as it looked. But they persisted.

It turns out, color plays a huge role in a successful piece (not surprising, since color was integral to Kandinsky as well), and it was quite challenging for my girls to select all the colors they wanted and to be happy with the finished product. Especially because after the paper dried, we needed to add additional color with oil pastels. I could relate - I found it challenging to choose pastels that would highlight and complement without being redundant.  After more time than I had planned on, the girls were pleased with their pieces and we put them up on our art line (hence the clothespins in the pictures).

As an aside... the art line is one of the best things I've done this year - I put fishing line all around the perimeter of the room so that we can display our art even though we are short on wall space. In the photo, you can see that the line is not taut enough, but this weekend I had my husband re-do the line with nails instead of the pushpins I used.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Life Lessons

During a phonics lesson with my daughter, we came upon this quote....

"Ideas are funny things... they don't work unless you do."

Sounds simple, but in my experience only a very small percentage of people ever realize the truth behind these words!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sousa Rocks!

If you're looking to do a composer study, may I recommend John Philip Sousa? This has to be one of the most fun studies we've done, and we're only on Day One.  Classics for Kids has lots of good information, including an audio show for the kids and a biography page with activities. Free samples of his music abound on the internet in case you don't have a CD of marching band music handy. Mike Venezia has a fun biography to read. And the best parts? Your children are already familiar with many of the tunes. They probably just didn't know they were composed by Sousa. And the tunes themselves ... make you want to get up and move. Or at least wave a flag of some sort. My girls want to listen to Sousa as they do the rest of their school work because the songs "make the day go faster."  And each is now determined to learn an instrument that can be played in a marching band (in addition to the violin and piano, which they claim would not make good marching instruments - wise kids).

I wonder if I can start playing Sousa at 6:30am as a replacement for the traditional alarms the girls have? 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday, Monday...

It is Monday and the start of our homeschool's Week Five. I have to admit, after having last week off it was a bit of a rough start. For me. The kids seemed to transition back without a problem. My alarm went off at 5am, but I did not. I missed my morning workout. On Sunday evening I was so tired from our busy weekend that I neglected to get the girls' papers for the week in order. So after I finally got myself up at 6:30, I had to spend a half an hour putting together weekly binders and gathering required books. I usually get the kids up (if they aren't already) at 6:30, but today I let them sleep in. We didn't go on our morning walk. We ate a late breakfast and didn't get started with school work until after 9am.

The kids didn't seem to mind any of it (except missing the morning walk). But I have felt "off" all day. I can't believe the day is gone and it's almost time to leave for swim team. I wanted to start the biography for our new composer (Sousa, in case you're interested) but we ran out of time. I also wanted to start our art project for the week, but that didn't happen.

I feel so behind and it's only Monday.

I guess this means tomorrow will be a better day. Or at least... it means I will not hit "snooze" - I will get up when my alarm sounds (maybe if I write it I will feel obligated to make sure I actually follow through). I firmly believe that very rarely does any good come from sleeping in on a busy day. Rarely, not never - today one good thing did come of it - although I felt behind, the kids were oblivious to this, did their work, had fun, and overall  had a good day. Would this have happened if I woke them up at 6:30? Maybe, but I'm telling myself, "No way."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Farewell Furlough

It's the last day of our planned furlough (I just love that word - it sounds so much better than "week off"). I am so pleased that I planned our year differently. After four weeks of going strong with homeschooling a break was just what we all needed. I suppose this is the homeschooling version of the working person's "mental health day."

My husband and I took advantage of Monday's bank holiday to go backpacking, which means that the kids had some quality time with Nana and Grandpa. They went to the state boat show and had a brief sailing lesson, they were still able to attend their regular classes and activities, but had the rest of the time off to play in the woods next to my parents' house and enjoy the warm October weather.

As the week comes to an end, I can't help but wish that another furlough week were around the corner. Technically, our next break is the week of Thanksgiving, but as anyone with children and house guests knows - that week definitely does NOT qualify as a break!  So farewell, Furlough! You've been great! 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Window to the Soul

This week we are re-visiting an artist we learned about last year - Rene Magritte. I created a new biography page for their art portfolios and this time around, we talked more about the meaning behind surrealist works and discussed possible interpretations of certain of Magritte's painting. We had a similar discussion last year as well,  but I felt that we could have spent the entire year on the topic rather than an hour. I knew that by looking at the same artist again they would draw upon what they already knew to grow and develop new ideas. They didn't let me down. The level of insight, creativity and acumen children possess - however evanescent it may seem at times - never ceases to amaze me.

After our discussion and perusal of Magritte's work, we settled down to create our own Magritte-inspired pieces. Last year we completed the Magritte project found in Discovering Great Artists. This year, I turned once more to the fantastic blog Art Projects for Kids. What I enjoy most about this project is that although each child begins with the same blank circle, her unique vision and style is reflected in the end piece.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Secular Thursday

Recently, I was in the check-out line at a local grocery store when the presence of my obviously school-age kids sparked questions by the lady in front of us. She asked me with which church are we affiliated, so I said, "Actually, we're secular homeschoolers." The conversation that followed was extremely confusing - both to her and to me - as we obviously were had different definitions of the word "secular" and specifically as it applies to homeschooling, apparently education in general, and parenting philosophy.

She believes - and believes quite strongly - that secular = religious (don't laugh, I've had this happen several times, the most awkward being at a meeting for secular homeschoolers - those poor women that thought it was an evangelical-based meeting).   She was so adamant in voicing her opinion that I felt compelled to explain what secular homeschooling is and is not. In doing so, it was clear that she felt I was inflicting harm upon myself and my children (her kids are in public school, so I'm not sure how that works - aren't public schools secular?!). After this, I quickly gave up trying to explain/defend myself and wished her a good day.

First, the definition of secular. The list is quite long, but I am satisfied that the first three entries are sufficient to demonstrate the meaning.


 secular (adjective):
  1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: e.g., secular interests
  2. not pertaining to or connected with religion ( opposed to sacred): e.g., secular music
  3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.  
Okay, this seems pretty clear to me. But maybe it's not enough. Maybe we need to come up with a list of what secular homeschooling does not mean...
  1. secular homeschooling equals unschooling ... eh, there are secular unschoolers, but there are also secular everything-else homeschoolers
  2. secular homeschooling equals atheist, nonspiritual, anti-religious - it means with respect to education, the parents keep things secular (see #3 above); I know many secular homeschoolers that are spiritual people - Christian, pagan, humanist, Jewish... the list goes on. I also know atheist secular homeschoolers, but secular definitely equals atheist. 
  3. secular homeschooling equals liberal, leftist political views ... I promise, I know and know of conservative secular homeschoolers. Granted, I don't know many, but that's probably more of a reflection on me (as I attend a UU fellowship and we UUs are known for conservative politics) than on secular homeschoolers in general.
  4. secular homeschoolers equals loose parenting with no rules and wild children ... seriously, the woman at the store asked me how on God's earth do I keep my children respectful without God. There probably are secular homeschool parents with no rules for their kids, but that doesn't necessarily mean that (a) their kids are any more wild than mine are with rules and (b) that all secular parents suscribe to a free-range philosophy. I'm willing to bet that the parenting philosophies of secular homeschool parents is as varied (if not more varied) than that of parents in general.
I am sure this list could go on and on, but I have to get breakfast on the table before my wild children overtake my house. Maybe I'll add to this post as things come to mind. But the bottom line is, what all secular homeschoolers have in common is that we are in fact schooling (or unschooling as the case may be) in a secular fashion. But everything outside of schooling? That's like a box of chocolates... (see overused Forrest Gump movie quotes)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Loving Literature

All of my girls love to read, which is great because I also love to read and it's something we can share together, whether it's snuggling up and reading a book aloud, or finding a quiet space where we can each read our own thing . This week was an overall hit with the different reading materials everyone's been working through.

I actually managed to read two books this week (hurray!). The first was The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan. It's been a long time since I've read another book by Amy Tan and it was time. While I wouldn't call this book my favorite of all time, it was definitely an interesting read and different enough from the last several novels I've read to hold my interest and draw me in.  The second book was Outcasts United by Warren St. John.  I read this for a discussion group, and while it isn't a book I'd normally pick up and read for fun I'm glad I read it. It reminded me somewhat of Three Cups of Tea but I liked it better. It tells the story of a small town in America which is made home to many refugees, the struggles that ensue between the town and the refugees, and the story of the woman who works to get through to kids that have been through more than any child should ever have to go through. It is set upon a backdrop of soccer (the international sport and therefore the international language in this book) and is quite compelling. Overall, I'd recommend both books to anyone looking for easy, enjoyable reads.

Here's a glimpse at what the kids were reading this week...

From the nightstand of my ten-year-old comes Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (my daughter could not have loved this book more - she told me that she wants all of her friends to read this book, too, so they can talk about it); Magic and Other Misdemeanors (The Sisters Grimm, Book 5)- another one she can't put down; and Journey by Patricia Maclachlan, which she also thoroughly enjoyed. She also read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech and said that while she liked it, she doesn't think it's for everyone.

My eight-year-old read Zucchini by Barbara Dana, a book I remember reading when I was her age; The Secret Soldier: The Story Of Deborah Sampson - a book she literally talked about for days (this kid is my nonfiction lover); and Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl in preparation for a book discussion group at our local library - she told me she loved the book and that it's one of the funniest books she's read in a long time.

My seven-year-old is re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the second time. No explanation needed on that one. She also read Crackle Creek, a sweet story about a competition between two newspaper printing mice; and The Dragon's Child by Jenny Nimmo - this book she couldn't put down. She also read Tornado by Betsy Byars and says she would recommend it to a friend.

Lastly, my six-year-old independently read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, The Little Houseby Virginia Burton, and Sara's Secret Hiding Place Paperback (one she did not enjoy). We read many books together, but her favorites this week were The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie dePaola, The Wolf's Story: What Really Happened to Little Red Riding Hood by Toby Forward (a book she enjoyed, but not one of my favorites though the illustrations are interesting and offer a great discussion of perspective among other things), and The Amazing Bone by William Steig, a long-time favorite.

Happy Reading and Happy Weekend!