Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Math Attack

My six-year-old daughter gets up sometime between 6:00 and 6:30am to start on math. She isn't a "math lover" per se, but she is working well ahead of grade level and actually enjoys math challenges and puzzles (unlike her two older sisters). She found this game today online, and wants to share with the world. After she played for about a half hour, she proclaimed with a smile, "This game helps you learn your math facts and makes you remember them faster! I love it!" You can't ask for a better recommendation than that!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Escape!

It's official - the kids are Nana & Grandpa's and my husband and I are leaving this morning for a weekend in Philadelphia. I love my children ... but YAY!!! I'm excited for a grown-up weekend. My husband has been fabulous with the planning. Staying at a nice hotel - check! My only must-do is the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Picasso exhibit; not a problem - we're members of the museum and we have Picasso tickets, so check! As a vegan with Celiac disease, eating out can be problematic for me, but my husband researched many restaurants and found lots of vegan joints and even a vegan, gluten-free bakery. Check! We want to do some "touristy" things - check! - we're going to do a cool walking tour (my favorite kind). And while we're not up for going to night clubs, we are up for having a good time; what better way to do that than to see a comedy show? My husband got us tickets for a stand-up show at the Helium. Check! (Are you annoyed by my "checks!" yet? Sorry - I'm just excited. And I'm drinking caffeine.)

So what am I doing here in my bathrobe with my coffee? I'd better get dressed so we can officially escape!

Ciao!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pain or Plan?

Last summer I spent two solid weeks - and I mean solid - planning out our current academic year. I took over the family room, spent hours pouring over catalogs, homeschool books, and the internet. I pestered my friends and family for advice. I created spreadsheets, checklists, notecards, etc., etc., etc., to try to organize my thoughts. Eventually I came up with a forty-week plan for each of my girls, put it on a spreadsheet, made photocopies of everything we'd need, created weekly assignment sheets, put together a weekly assignment binder for each kid, and lastly, I placed all materials into a file box. Each girl has a section broken into four quarters, each quarter has 10 weeks and into each folder for every single week I put any materials we would need according to the plan. Oh - and I also went through the art, science and history books and shopped for any materials we would need for projects so we would be prepared.

Phew - just typing that makes me tired. It was a TON of work. I was so exhausted from the planning that I wasn't sure I had it in me to actually homeschool. Now, this may seem insane, but I have tried to be less organized in the past and I ended up fizzling out and getting so behind where I wanted to be, having lots of resources that I'd purchased go to waste because I hadn't planned out how to fit them in, etc.

This year is actually going incredibly well. We are sticking to the plan and it's been relatively smooth sailing. Naturally, the plan is just a guideline and there have been things I've changed or tweaked. We haven't hit all the art projects I wanted to do, but I think we'll have a fun art week or something and do those. They are incredibly fun and the girls would love it. We're one composer "behind" (if we're looking at the plan) in our music appreciation work. And I have a hard time keeping up with my read-aloud schedule. I do the reading, it just doesn't happen like the plan, which is what I expected. I just added the books to the plan so I'd have something to shoot for.

So the question is - can I handle another year like this? Can I go through the pain of making a plan for next year? After the sweat, blood and agony of last August, I swore up and down that I would plan ahead the next time. I was thinking that since I actually have a plan, I could be like those other homeschool moms I read on various message boards that start planning in the spring and by June 1st are all set for the next year. I was relishing the thought of not "thinking homeschool" over the summer. But now I don't know. I don't know that I want to spend so much time planning. I get torn between unschooling completely or a boxed curriculum (notice the common thread there - no planning). I've been doing a (loose) classical approach from the get-go (except the very first year when I did Five in A Row). I'm feeling restless with it now. It's been five years. But I feel overwhelmed just thinking about next year, especially when it comes to making changes in my approach. And I have to admit that at this point in the year (Week 26) I get the itchy, scratchy feeling of boredom. Though if I'm honest, this isn't just in the realm of homeschool. It affects all aspects of my life. I dream of making big changes, moving to a new country, starting a new business, etc., etc., etc. So maybe the urge to make drastic homeschool philosophy changes is simply a sign of the time of year, my brain responding to all the newness bursting out of the earth and a desire to emulate it in my own human way.

So that's where I'm at - contemplating the Pain, er, I mean Plan, for next year. What to do, what to do? I know what will happen - I'll end up doing what I do every year and do nothing until we've finished off this year. And then I'll do nothing for several weeks more because I'll need the mental break. And then at some point in August, I'll post another entry like this wondering what I should do...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Myths, Legends, and Gods ... Oh My!

My children have noticed the many similarities between many of the worlds' myths, legends, stories of gods and goddesses (or Gods and Goddesses - whatever floats your boat). This week, my two younger girls were hearing the story of Romulus and Remus, the legendary twin founders of Rome. There are many versions of their story and we read three of them. My older girls saw many similarities from stories they have learned over the years, and my 6-year-old pointed out the parallels between this story and other ancient stories (she was specifically enthralled by the idea of lost children being raised by shepherds). My 5-year-old first pointed out the the story of Moses, and then asked "Why are all these baby boys floating down rivers in baskets? Maybe their moms should keep them away from the edge of the water." Yes, good point.

This naturally led to an excited discussion about the many, many stories we have read over the years. Because we don't believe that any of the stories are literally true, there's no pressure to feel that one carries more weight than any other, or that one is "more true" than another. I felt like it was a good opportunity to discuss the definitions of myths and legends (as well as parables, fables and fairy tales). What I hope they took away from our discussion (aside from keeping your baby away from the edge of the river) is that "the truth" in these stories doesn't really matter - the lesson we learn from it does. What can we learn from the characters, their choices, their outcomes, whether or not they are factual or fairy tale? And I have to believe my girls take away a sense of human oneness; that we all share more than we think, even down to our legends and stories.

Flip Out

For the most part, I like that my girls are self-motivated, curious creatures who take matters into their own hands and figure things out for themselves.

For the most part.

I do not like it when the matter taken into their own hands is my new Flip video camera, and after five minutes of use by my lot is broken. No, I do not like that at all. Especially when no permission was sought nor given to use the camera. I am trying not to flip out, but I know my husband probably will flip out and - and this is the most annoying part of all - will look at me as if to say, "Why did you let them use this?" (if he does not in fact actually say this, which he very well may) even though I will preface the conversation with the fact that I did not let them use it.

Ugh. Grrrr. UGH!!!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chemistry Tuesday

Yesterday my two oldest daughters enjoyed a day literally filled with chemistry. We took over the kitchen and had celery, helium tanks, balloons, potatoes, bottles of hydrogen peroxide, scissors, glue, glitter, food coloring, oil, vinegar, tomatoes, salt, salt substitute (which I recommend not tasting- ugh), and about a million other things scattered about the counters, stools, and chairs.

Not only was it totally fun, but very educational (I know, gasp!). I learned something I did not know - that hydrogen peroxide bubbles when it makes contact with a cut because of a chemical in our blood called catalase (which is apparently also what causes grey hair!). I feel like I should have known this for about thirty years, and maybe at some point I did "learn" it, but it was overshadowed by an equal number of years of being told that hydrogen peroxide bubbles when it touches "germs." Germs or catalase, we had so much fun. And the two younger siblings decided they were better off creating a cat fort to hold all of the kittens one of the cats is about to have (all said cats and kittens are of the stuffed variety). They would have been welcome, but having some two-on-one time with the older two was a nice change. We may have to have another Chemistry-Day soon!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Such a Tease....

You know the signs... a warm rush of air, the heat on your skin, breathing in delicious smells... it's the weather teasing you into believing that summer is just around the corner, when really it's only a sneak-preview and the cold air will be back before you know it. But I'll take in anyway, no complaints. Over 70 degrees, sunny skies, warm breezes. Perfection. So naturally the girls and I took an extended walk today (though instead of an early morning walk it was a mid-morning number) and ventured into the woods. They did squeeze in some school work before breakfast, but the rest of the morning was spent playing outdoors enjoying the sneak peek from Mother Nature. I know that this will end at some point on Sunday when the cold air comes back, bringing with it rain and cloudy skies. So we've sucked out as many minutes as possible this week to help last through the return of darker weather. I have to remind myself of the lesson taught by little Priscilla from Priscilla and the Pink Planet. Priscilla is sick of everything being pink and sets out on an adventure after a different colored butterfly. Her journey takes her to the ruler of the planet, the Queen. She shows the Queen, who loves pink and has turned everything pink, that pink actually appears even better when compared to all the other colors. The Queen realizes her error and restores the full spectrum of colors back to the planet. I can relate to the Queen - part of me would prefer an eternal autumn ... still warm, but not hot, with brilliant colors and delicious aromas filling the air. Or maybe spring before the heat of summer sets in. But I think of Priscilla and remember I wouldn't love the warmth so much without the cold...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lyle, Lyle Crocodile

I took the girls to a play this morning (Lyle, Lyle Crocodile - based on the books by the same name). It was very enjoyable and they all appreciated the play. The very best part for me, however, was the fact that we weren't with a school group and could therefore come and go at will. Immediately after the performance, we were able to leave and make a beeline for the ladies room (which as everyone knows will have a line out the door before you can blink). My girls were confused as to why everyone else had to stay put until a mysterious voice called their group, but were pleased because it meant we were actually first for something instead of late on the scene (even something as simple as the ladies room). My two oldest, who are currently taking a homeschool drama class and will be putting on a small play in a few weeks, were particularly impressed (which was a relief because the play is geared towards younger children) and kept telling special "behind-the-scenes" details to my little ones (like the theater vocabulary they've picked up in their long three week careers on stage - props, set, costumes, stage-right and -left, etc., etc.). My youngest, while trying to appear as if she couldn't care less about what they were telling her, was secretly repeating the words to herself over and over. She later whispered that she would like to learn to paint scenery for a play, or possibly her room. I told her it was something we could work on. Overall, it was a nice break from the ordinary and I can't wait for our theater trip next month to see a play about Earth Day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

State Review - Update

Well, we passed our review. Surprise. Of course we did! I made sure that everything was in order, that all requirements were met. I was a tad surprised he didn't press me on the "Health" section of the binders (which was basically empty except for a random page or two that I decided would fit the bill). Apparently, he accepted my statement that we cover health as a real-life subject at this point.

The funny parts of the interview:
  • One of my daughters was totally missing from their registry. No documents, nothing on file to show that she is being homeschooled. I had been tempted to homeschool without filing anything on any of my children this year, but wimped out last minute and sent everything in. This goes to show me that I would have been fine had I opted for the rebellious route.
  • He said he could tell that my children are bright and gifted and (and this is the best part) that he was impressed that they clearly don't need much to motivate them to complete their school work. ... Huh? He got all that from four binders of various school work?!?! I bet he says that to all the girls!
  • I carefully wrote out our yearly outline detailing all subjects, resources used, etc., as requested by the letter sent to our home. He accidentally skipped over two pages, missing all information on mathematics and social studies/history. I didn't point this out to him.
  • Apparently I get to do this all over again in MAY. I'm not a supporter of state reviews, but why would you have your reviews so close together?? Why not one in late November and then again in May or June? Why mid-March and then mid-May? Ridiculous.
  • He told me it was clear that I am a dedicated teacher - and wondered if I had been a teacher before homeschooling because usually the parents that are professional teachers do a better job (I have absolutely no teacher training). I was a tad insulted, but I simply I told him I thought it was just the binders making me look good because they are sleek and black and make everything look put together - like wearing a smart black suit. He didn't know what to say so he just chuckled nervously.
  • I questioned him on the dropping-off of the binder policy - I wanted to know how he managed to review so many binders so quickly. He told me that he has aides assist in the process. I asked if they were certified teachers and he told me, oh, no - they are part of the administrative support staff (which means that not only do they not have a teaching credential, they most likely do not have a college degree - which I find ironic as homeschool parents in some states are required to have a B.A. or B.S., and many would like to see a teaching credential required).
I could go on and on, but I won't. It's over. We passed. And I don't have to think about this again until... oh yeah, mid-May.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

State Review

Today is the day I meet with a representative from our county and provide him with evidence that I homeschool my children. Actually, it's not just that I homeschool, but that I meed the state's requirements and provide adequate instruction in all of the usual areas.

Hmmph.

I'm not a fan of this procedure. For the past four years I have used a "cover" - an umbrella group which utilizes peer review. Because several acquaintances were under the same umbrella we happily signed each other papers. No meetings with government employees, no pressure.

I'm not worried or nervous. If I had to choose words to describe my feelings I would probably lean towards offended, put out, annoyed... I had to gather my childrens' work from September until now, organize it all in a certain way, and provide a bunch of book lists, course outlines, make copies, gather projects, etc., etc., etc. Times four kids. I had to arrange childcare because I didn't feel like subjecting myself to the stress of bringing my children into a small office for an indeterminate amount of time. If I thought that the person with whom I'm meeting actually cared about what we do I may not be so put out. But because I am certain that this is a rubber stamp procedure, I'm annoyed that it has to happen at all.

I guess I'm a fan of no government oversight at all. Really, what's the point? As anyone can tell you, you can make absolutely anything at all fit into one of their required educational categories so that you're meeting the state law. The reviewers simply look to see if there are a few papers in each section. Did you know that I had the option of simply dropping off the material between 9am and 3pm (along with everyone else in my county that opts for state review) and picking it up the next morning. Now please - how can they possibly understand what goes on in my home, let alone hundreds of other homes across my county, after such a brief look at a binder full of papers??? Not possible. And these folks are responsible for determining whether or not I'm qualified to continue educating my children. Uh huh. Right.

I decided to go for a face-to-face meeting with an actual person. Why not? I've gone the drop-it-pick-it-up routine, I've done the umbrella group action... time for a change. A real meeting with a real person. I'm curious to see how it goes. My expectations are incredibly low. In my mind's eye, he will shake my hand, flip through our binders, ask me a question or two (probably about Health since we're clearly lacking documentation in that area) and send me on my way.

I will probably slip back into the "cover-up" world of the umbrella group next year. It's just easier. No papers to prepare, no meetings to schedule and childcare to arrange. No hassle beyond filling out and sending in a paper with the initials of one of my friends. In other words - no review.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time Change

Time changes and children do not mix.
Time changes and moms do not mix.