Friday, November 18, 2011

Dynamite Dioramas

My two middle daughters have had a busy week full of projects. On Wednesday they each made a diorama of an ecosystem - they chose Under the Sea and an Alaskan Ecosystem. The older daughter (Under the Sea) is creative, but impatient. Her diorama has the different elements, but she lost interest when it came to the details - hence, the animals aren't colored, nothing is labeled, etc. The younger middle daughter (Alaskan Ecosystem), however, is a kid that really follows through. She colored everything, created multiple levels, labeled the different roles in the ecosystem, added elements like a forest that she crafted out of leftover materials, and really did a knock-out job. I think both are cute, but the Alaskan Ecosystem really shines.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Terrific Tees

My middle girls and I discussed the "3 R's" (reduce, reuse, recycle) as part of their unit on interdependence in science. They designed t-shirts to spread the message of the 3 R's. They came up with unique ideas for the pictures on the back - one daughter drew a new purse, which would cost money, and then drew an old pair of jeans being turned into a purse to display the idea of reusing. The other drew examples of appropriate ways to recycle or reuse various items.

While all of this was happening, my youngest decided she, too, wanted to create a t-shirt. She has been enjoying several silly poems out of My Dog Does My Homework, so I suggested she choose one of her favorites and make a poem shirt. She was thrilled. She copied the poem (A Vegetarian Poem) on the back and then drew the different items listed in the poem on the front. They are all very excited to wear their shirts tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Old-Fashioned Poster

Here is how my 8-year-old decided to convey the same information in an old-fashioned paper and maker poster that her sister presented yesterday in a Power Point presentation. I find it interesting to compare the results. I suppose, however, that the younger daughter still used the computer to find pictures of the different types of applied technology, so it's not completely old-fashioned!  I admit, I am still biased towards paper and poster board. However, I am coming around to PP. I see how it can be very useful for sharing information with wider audiences. In addition, you don't have to worry about what you'll do with it when you've finished the unit. That being said, you can't hang a PP presentation on the kitchen wall! ;)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Learning with Power Point

I know - I haven't posted in forever. Things have been extremely busy! Plus we were out of town for a good chunk of October... But I'm back.

Today, my 9-year-old (well, she'll be 10 next week), wanted to create a poster to demonstrate things she has learned about renewable energy. We're big on posters over here - there's something satisfactory about seeing information on a poster that really works. But today, I encouraged her to try making a "poster" using the computer. I am very Power Point illiterate, so she did this by trial-and-error with a few tips from her 11-year-old sister.  I have tried to convert it from Power Point to the Google docs version so some of the elements have changed, but here is (basically) what she came up with (I think it's pretty good for a first try!):

Renewable Energy Presentation

My 8-year-old is currently working on an old-fashioned poster on the same topic. It will be interesting to compare how they turn out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Homeschool Photography

My oldest daughter is very into photography right now. She wanted me to share some of her latest photos:
View from the Back


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Homeschool Music

by DD 8
Homeschool music... sigh. I remember years ago hearing people question what to do for "Music" and thinking, "Are they nuts? How is it you need to actually do anything for music?"  I have always felt that music is an important part of life - not just "school" or homeschool. So I think my reaction from so long ago was more a reflection of my shock at needing to have a program in order to include music in your life. But I've actually changed my thinking about music, and I've realized that I was completely misunderstanding the question and concern expressed by the more veteran homeschoolers (in much the same way that I've been humbled as a parent over and over).

by DD 7
I started out simply living our life without adding in any extra music "stuff" - and I recorded our music "program" to turn in to the state review. I was shocked the first year. Yes, we listened to tons of music. Yes, I pointed out rhythm and tempo, beats, dynamics, etc. Yes, the girls were exposed to symphonies and orchestras... but I felt disappointed in myself.  All in all, when I went back and looked at what I thought was a rich and diverse musical life, I realized that wasn't the case.  I was like a totally out-of-shape middle-age woman that has tricked herself into thinking she's actually in great shape because 20 years ago in high school she ran cross-country, or was on dance team, or whatever. In other words - I had been somewhat delusional.

by DD 11

Now, of course this wasn't the end of the world. I didn't sit and cry, shaking my head at how I'd wronged my children. Instead, I just thought about what it is about music that I want my children to take away with them. And I realized that some of my favorite memories from my school days were centered around music. I remember learning about the orchestra and all the instruments. I remember learning about music around the world, the different sounds and instruments that evolved in far-away continents. I remember being able to try out different instruments, singing in rounds and in groups. And I remember learning about many, many different composers and musicians, what influenced them, and the timeline of music. And I want my girls to experience some of the same joy and wonder of music that I did.
by DD 9

Most of all, I recognized that if I didn't plan at least some of this, we probably wouldn't ever get to it. So for the past two years I've introduced a famous composer or musician every month. For the entire month we focused heavily on that person and his or her works. We read a biography together, listened to the music over and over, did emotional reflections, wrote about the composer, etc., etc., etc. This year, I'm turning the focus onto the orchestra. We are dedicating our entire year to learning about the history, the instruments, and the importance of the orchestra. So far, it has been wonderful. I am using two books as my spine: The Story of the Incredible Orchestra and The Story of the Orchestra (very similar titles, but different enough in information that I'm happy I have both). We are utilizing the free game by Carnegie Hall. And we are constructing lap books to help us remember what we've learned - we are adding a little to the books each week (I'm using the free templates as a base and adding things to it as I see fit). Oh - and of course I have several trips to the orchestra planned!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Great Buy

So... I have yet to use Intellego Unit Studies, but have looked at them seriously over the past year. They are secular and seem to have great activities. In fact, a week or so ago I asked around to see how people that use them are liking the product and found the general response to be very positive. Still, I didn't buy. Then today, I found out that they are 45% off at Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. Perfect! Now I can try a few without breaking the bank.

I am specifically interested in how they work for the younger crowd as I'm trying some new things with my youngest daughter this year. If you've used Intellego please write a comment about your thoughts and which units you've found to be the best. Thanks!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Great Games!

At the start of every academic year, I give the girls little gifts to celebrate. Normally I buy new supplies, a few new accessories, etc. This year I purchased four new games (to be shared). You never know how much fun a game will be until you play, so I felt like I was taking a bit of a gamble.  But it turns out, these games are all absolutely wonderful! Each one is very different from the others, and fun in a very different way. I really scored (pardon the pun) with these gifts!  It probably helps that it's been raining and dreary outside, plus swim team was canceled for the week ... so we've had a lot of indoor free time this week - perfect for games! I thought I would share them with my fellow homeschoolers as the fall and winter months approach us...

Gobblet Classic Edition - Deluxe Limited EditionThe first game is called Gobblet and is a game of strategy. You try to get four of your pieces in row, and you can "gobble" or "be gobbled" by larger pieces. The pieces are all made of wood, as is the case. One of the best things about this came is that it is highly portable - we're taking it along to music lessons this afternoon. This 2-player game is recommended for ages 7+, and like chess or checkers, the better matched the opponents, the better the game.

The second game I gave the girls is called Anti-Virus. This is a one-player game, and the point is to get the "virus" (red piece) out of the "system" (game board). This game goes from super simple to insanely difficult. The player follows the starting set-up in the booklet and then using only diagonal moves tries to get the virus piece out. We've all had a lot of fun with this, and again it is a highly portable game. I've found that my 7-year-old, especially, likes this game. She plays by the rules about half the time - and the other half just has fun setting up the board and moving the pieces around. Again, ages 7+.

EDUPRESS DRAWING CONCLUSION SHIPWRECKED BLUEI also gave the girls Drawing Conclusions: SHIPWRECKED!. The premise of this game is that each player is stranded on the same island. You move your piece around the board, the goal being to collect four cards, one from each category - Math, Geography, Health and Biology. The player who collects all four first wins. Each card has a brief paragraph with a question that follows (basically, the card tests the player's reading comprehension). The game comes in three levels - I purchased the middle level (grades 3-5). I will say that the questions seem very easy, but the reading itself is not. I think I may also purchase the cards for the next level up to see how different they are. My gut feeling is that my younger girls would have a hard time - meaning the game will no longer be fun - if the reading level is significantly more difficult. Right now, they can read the cards, they are challenged by the words on the cards, but not so much so that they get frustrated, but the questions are very, very easy to answer. My oldest daughter finds everything very easy, which is why I'm considering buying the new cards. However, she still really enjoys the game. We've added our own rules to the game to make it longer (e.g., landing on a message in a bottle means you have to give one card back). Overall, I'm very satisfied with this game.

Snap TrapAnd lastly, my personal favorite of the bunch: Snap Trap! I love this game! We all love this game! One person can play or fifteen. The game pieces are worth different points depending on color. You simply take turns taking pieces out of the board while trying not to let the spring snap. If it moves more than a certain distance (good practice reading a ruler), you owe 3 points. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins (great addition practice for little ones). The game is recommended for ages 6+. It is also somewhat portable, though I'd worry about losing pieces. We played a family round last night and everyone had fun. The game seems simple enough, but choosing the right piece (to either stop the spring, or to ensure it snaps on the next player) is trickier than it appears at first glance. This game is super affordable, too, so you get a lot of "bang for your buck." This would make a great birthday or holiday present.

Please share any of your favorite games with me - I'm always on the lookout for something new!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Not-Back-to-School 2011

Not-Back-to-School 2011
Last Year! 9/2010
Yesterday was our first day back! It was a great day, and the only downside was that the weather was gray and rainy. We usually take our picture in front of the front garden, but the weather did not cooperate so our photo is in the kitchen. Comparing this year to last year, I can really see how much everyone has changed! Despite the rain, we did try to take our morning walk (I thought there was a clearing in the clouds) but we were drenched just walking to the end our driveway. The neighbors must have thought we were crazy - we got all geared up (boots, slickers, etc.) to walk to the end of the driveway and around the cul-de-sac before heading back into the house.  This morning was overcast but we managed to sneak in a quick walk during our usual snack time. I'm glad to be back into a routine and so are the kids. They've been looking forward to this all summer long!

Neck and Neck! (younger on left)
We also decided to chronicle my third daughter's climb to overtake her older sister in height. My second is the tiny one in our family in terms of height. The tallest she's ever measured was in the 50th percentile, and it's been below that for the past the few years. My third daughter is tall for her age and is gaining on her sister. As of yesterday, I believe the older sister is ahead by about one hair. The girls wanted a photo journal of the little sister's progress. :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm

Before the endless hours of practice and performance,
before the rush of getting in and out of the car,
before being early, being late, trying to be on-time

Before the planning, scheduling and the projects,
before the library programs and bowling days,
before the meetings and events, groups and get togethers

Before the storm of life, before the excitement of chaos
there is a calm, a relaxed tranquility of peace

This weekend is the last of the calm before the storm of our normal lives kicks back in. We will soon be back to our swim practices, music lessons, drama classes, various clubs and meetings, exercise programs, library book clubs, and weekends full of religious eduction at our fellowship, swim meets, nature programs, etc. There is a beauty in the busyness, in the sharing of experiences and expanding of boundaries that leads to incredible growth. And I find time within all of this for quiet moments at home, unhurried days of leisure... but the reality is that life is very busy and I've enjoyed the lack of structure these past few weeks have offered. So I'm soaking it up this weekend as we get ready to head back into the eye of the storm on Tuesday. :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Beginnings

Today is the first day of school - not for my children, but for me. I recently decided to go back to school, a decision that was not made lightly. I am already very busy - I am married, I have a home, I have four children who are active and involved in sports and extracurricular programs, I homeschool (a full-time job in itself), I work as a project manager (20-30 hours/week), I need to exercise to stay sane, and I enjoy having enough down time that I feel rested and refreshed. To add going back to school to the list seemed no only impossible, but downright crazy.  But impossible or not, crazy or not,  I've decided that it's time.

I was in law school when I found out that I was pregnant with my first daughter. I was lucky that the school allowed me to switch to part-time status after she was born and I kept going. But hopping on the Metro or driving down Connecticut Avenue to meet my husband and exchange the baby for a backpack was difficult for me. I remember pumping breastmilk in the student bathroom, wanting to die of simultaneous embarrassment and exhaustion. I remember falling asleep trying to finish my Contract Law reading with my baby sleeping in my arms. Looking back, I can see that I had many big changes all at once and on the inside I was overwhelmed - I'd graduated college in the spring, married in the summer, moved across country, started law school, and was still trying to figure out how to manage all of the above when I found out I was pregnant. When my first was 6 months old, I realized I was pregnant with my second daughter (which helped explain the exhaustion) and reality set in - I didn't want to juggle children with law school. I wanted to be fully present at home. So I put my law degree on hold and decided to go back after a year or two.

Flash forward two years, and I had three babies and one more on the way. I also had no interest in becoming a lawyer. So I officially withdrew from the University (it was not easy to do - this particular school values their near-perfect matriculation rate and they worked hard to keep me going). But even looking past the actually schooling, I knew that 80-hour work weeks were not something I wanted. So I left that behind. However, I didn't leave behind the desire to eventually pursue a higher degree. I figured that once my girls were in school I would have more time to devote to myself and my interests.

I didn't count on becoming a homeschool parent. Homeschooling has been wonderful and I wouldn't change it. I don't have plans to stop homeschooling, though you never know what is around the corner.  But certainly homeschooling for me meant that my idea of going back to school went on the back burner. Especially since my girls are very close in age - having very young children all together means lots of parent time. Over the years I've toyed with various schemes and plans for going back to school, but for one reason or another (all valid reasons I think) I didn't follow through.

Until now. Currently, my youngest daughter is seven, and while there is no denying that she is a handful and requires more of me than my other girls did at age seven, she is no longer a toddler clinging to me at all times. And the girls are gaining independence every day. Clearly they are my priority and they still need me, but I am able to grab an hour here and there. And my plan is very simple - take one class at a time. And keep doing this until I'm done. I'm certain that at some point, I'll be able to take several classes at a time, but I don't want to have to think about that time. I'm focusing on the first class.

And that class starts today... wish me luck!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Outside the Box

Well, or maybe inside the box if I'm being literal....
My youngest (who is most definitely an outside the box thinker who marches to her own drumbeat - and any other cliche you can throw in there) is addicted to re-purposing boxes. It doesn't matter the size (she has used teeny, tiny boxes that came in a kit to build furniture and held the nails), the color, the shape. You name it, she can find something to make out of it. Today, I found her in the recycle bin. She had already pulled a big box that came from Swim Outlet (new suits for the new swim year - and I kid you now, this box arrived looking as though it had been run over by the delivery truck), several raisin boxes, a black box that came from what? I don't know (must be something my husband had), and a box that some dried beans arrived in when I ordered them in bulk. She turned these items into a cool little car with a steering wheel, side mirrors, a center console and a radio. It also has a handy pull made of hemp twine in case you feel like pulling it instead of riding in it (or if your American Girl doll wishes for a ride).

I wish I could find our camera snap a photo of her sitting inside her box. Too cute. I hope it lasts until tomorrow as I suspect the camera is in my husband's truck...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Link - Free Audio Books

I've added a new link to my left sidebar (Homeschool Stuff at Your Fingertips) and it is definitely worth checking out if you're an audiobook lover like I am. It's called Books Should Be Free and the website houses free downloads (to be played in either MP3 or iTunes format). All of the available titles are from books in the public domain, which means that there are many, many classics to choose from.  The iTunes files download in podcast format (which is great - no making specialty playlists) and only take a short while to download. And so much better than the scratched CDs we've been getting from the library. We now have many hours of happy listening ahead as we drive to and from our activities, programs and clubs.

Happy listening! 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Activities, Programs and Clubs... Oh My!

I remember when my firstborn was a tiny little baby, I sat nursing her while watching Dr. Phil on Oprah. I remember clearly the topic had to do with over-scheduled children. And I know that I sat there, agreeing with Dr. Phil and shaking my head at the mom whose children had activities every day of the week (sometimes two or three in the same day). I thought, what is her problem? Can't she see that it's too much for her children? I will never be like that! Sheesh!

Ah, the good old days when I knew everything and was so sure of myself.

Flash forward eleven years... I have four girls very close in age, and as I'm looking at the activities for the upcoming year I feel myself reddening. I'm still no where near the level of the mom back from the 2000 Oprah show, but I see that we're also not relaxing at home every evening listening to the crickets and drinking lemonade. Sigh.

So what do we have going on this year? Well, some of it remains to be ironed out. One major factor (issue?) for our schedule is swim team. Swim teams can be a big commitment - but in our case, I've scaled down the number of practices we attend to the bare minimum required at each level. However, I still have four kids on the team, many at different levels, so the practice times do not necessarily overlap. This leads to me being at the pool at least four times a week. No good solution there. But I digress.

One thing that has seriously helped me retain my sanity is keeping all activities to "after school" hours. By this, I simply mean afternoons and evenings. I used to try to take advantage of homeschool classes that met in the mornings, or swim practices that meet in the middle of the day ... and I found that we were unable to accomplish anything after we got back home. I typically avoid anything that begins before 2pm, although I make an exception for rollerskating and bowling (both begin at 1pm) as they are on Fridays, and Fridays are usually our light days.

Even if we're not doing school that week, I don't enjoy breaking up my days in the middle. I find it makes the days feel rushed and we "lose" time. For example, last year I took the girls to homeschool swim practice a few times. We had to leave our house at 10:30am and we didn't get home until almost 2pm. By the time everyone showered and had a snack, it was almost 3pm. I have to start on dinner around 4pm, so to me, almost the entire day was shot at swim practice. Not worth the effort.

Here is the very, very tentative* plan for the upcoming year (still very subject to change):

  • Swim Practice (evenings)
  • Drama Class - Sept. - Nov. (early afternoon - only 3 girls)
  • Zumba* - this is a free class at the Y; the kids love it, but I'm on the fence about trying to fit this in (afternoons)
  • Book Discussion at Library - this in only once a month for my oldest
  • Junior Leaders - evenings (only 2 girls)
  •  Book Discussions and Library Programs - typically 2 -3 times per month (afternoons)
  • Swim Practice (evenings)
  • Music Lessons - all four girls (this is an all afternoon affair)
  • Swim Practice (evenings)
  • Family Bowling League* - my husband and I are considering this as our family would be a team and it seems like a fun program - it meets Oct. - April (evenings)
  • First Friday - American Girl Club (afternoons)
  • Second Friday - *Book Club (I'm still working on getting this together - afternoons)
  • Third Friday - Homeschool Rollerskating (afternoons)
  • Fourth Friday - Homeschool Bowling (afternoons)
  • Swim Practice (very, very early morning - 6am)
  • Swim Meets (typically once or twice per month)
  • Volunteer at the Food Bank (whole family, twice per month)
  • Fellowship and Religious Education Classes (we'll be going at least twice a month as my husband and I are team teaching the Grade 3-4 class)
What's Not on the List?
  • One of my daughters has wanted to do football since she was about 3 - this year the Y is offering a co-ed flag football program. If we agree to sign her up, this would mean practice once a week and a game on Saturdays.  
  • Cheerleading at the Y - several of the girls have asked to do this every year, and every year I say no. I will probably say no again this year, but we'll see. The problem is timing - it's Tuesday and Thursday evenings, which conflicts with many other things. On the upside, it's only for 4 weeks.
  • Various programs that come up throughout the year - we take the girls to many symphony and orchestra performance, plays and musicals; we attend programs at our state and local parks; we attend programs offered through the YMCA; and we usually go on several homeschool field trips with other families
  • Everything my husband and I do that doesn't involve the kids! 
I think that covers everything I can think of for now! 

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's in Your Mouth?

As all children do, my girls have been losing their baby teeth for a while now. Very recently, the girls became more excited by their teeth than they have before. Losing teeth is interesting in that there is no set schedule - kids lose teeth when the teeth are ready to fall out (or, as in the case of one of my daughters, her adult tooth comes up and the little one still refuses to budge so it is pulled). But there is no timetable, and as such all four of my girls have lost the exact same teeth. Yes, my 11-year-old and my 7-year-old are apparently on the same tooth trajectory - four down, sixteen to go.

This weekend, my oldest noticed another tooth is (finally) loose. This spurred the girls to discuss what they remembered about their teeth (which was actually a rather impressive amount compared to what I know about teeth), re-read some books we have (like Why Do My Teeth Fall Out?), and led my oldest to find a diagram of the mouth (complete with the names of all the teeth), print out a copy for each girl, and then have them black out which teeth they've lost.

I thought that was pretty smart. In fact, I wish I had thought of it earlier.

But I'm glad she did. Now they can keep track of which teeth they've lost, who has lost what, and where they stand with the tooth fairy (at $1 a pop, the tooth fairy is so far only out $16 - not bad). I'm thinking this would be a fun way for a parent to start off a unit about dental hygiene... especially if a loose tooth is involved.

Monday, August 1, 2011

WANTED: Motivation

It's that time of year again! Time to look at what I've got, figure out what I still need to get, and get organized. I know what works for me - breaking everything into weekly "chunks" and organizing by the week. I know what I have to do. I even have the house to myself for a few hours each day (Grandpa generously paid for sailing camp for the four girls so they will be there four days a week for the next two weeks).

But I'm lacking motivation.

This happens to me every summer, so I'm not surprised. Today I allowed myself to take a much need break. I watched a movie (highly recommend it: Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead), went to a book club discussion, and ate my favorite snack (carrots and hummus). It was lovely. I'm even skipping my regular exercise class tonight in an effort to totally soak up the laziness of the day.

So what does this mean?

Tomorrow: reality check! I need to get moving and find some motivation. I keep hearing the Marine Corps running chant in my head. It goes, "Get motivated; be dedicated!" Maybe if I keep that phrase running in my head over and over tonight, I'll wake up raring to go tomorrow!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: College Fast Track

College Fast Track: Essential Habits for Less Stress and More Success in CollegeI don't often write product reviews, but with my oldest daughter entering the middle school years, making sure my children are prepared for college has been weighing on my mind. While I have been aware of what needs to be covered, I'm not worried so much about the courses and subjects the girls choose to study in the years leading up to college, as much as I want to be sure they are prepared to succeed once they are actually enrolled in college.  I attended a college prep high school, took the honors classes, and felt I was well-prepared for life at a university. School always came easy to me, and although I worked hard on research papers and essays, always trying my best, I rarely felt overwhelmed by the workload and relied on the deadlines and check-ins provided to me by my teachers.  But college is a different story, as there is often very little instruction on how and when to actually get the work done, and the chunk of your grade often rests on two scores - midterm and final.  In that first quarter, I felt overwhelmed, nervous, and confused as to how to proceed.

I was lucky - my type-A personality got me organized quick, and a book I read in middle school (all about study skills and the all-mighty outlining process) ensured that I studied the right way and as such did well enough to go on to a great law school. But I often wonder how it will be for my daughters. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that there isn't the same pressure to complete assignments, there aren't grades, and there aren't even graduation requirements. In my state, once my children reach age 16 (when compulsory schooling ends) there is no legal requirement to do anything. So it's up to me to ensure that my children are prepared to do well in college.

I received a copy of Derrick Hibbard's College Fast Track: Essential Habits for Less Stress and More Success in College and was intrigued. I haven't read a school success book since the one back in middle school. And after reading it, I believe this book would be extremely beneficial for students getting ready to enter the college years. In fact, I believe most of the advice in the book can be successfully applied to any stage of life! Hibbard focuses on larger concepts and fundamental principles which are essential for success in any endeavor. And the book serves as a good reminder to those of us out of college about what it takes to realize our goals. In terms of specifically doing well in college, College Fast Track offers a good overview of important habits that will help students succeed in their college career.

College Fast Track is broken down into 16 habits, and while Hibbard does provide some practical advice on how to implement each habit, it is not written as a how-to manual but rather as a guide. I feel that this distinction is the real strength of the book. It allows the reader to see the big picture and to absorb which habits to form rather than how to form them. For example, one of the habits is getting organized. Hibbard provides examples and ideas, but he does not exhaust the reader with hundreds of pages on how to get organized. This provides an opportunity to focus on the topic (habits for college success), come up with a game plan, and still have the ability to move on if one already possesses that habit. If one needs further instruction, there are thousands of "how-to" books on each topic. Implementing the habits will not necessarily be easy, but College Fast Track provides you with an outline of what to work on. 

Additionally, Hibbard has, as it states in the title, provided the essential habits. There are many other helpful habits one could use to be successful in school, but this book is about those that are essential to success - the ones that should be focused on and mastered first.  As such, the book is kept to a length that guarantees a new college student can actually read it and begin to use the information, rather than get bogged down in 500 pages of tips and tricks, lose interest, and leave it to collect dust on the shelf. I believe this book is worth reading for anyone focusing on completely a goal be it college, grad school, a business project, a homeschooling plan, etc. And it would make a great high school graduation gift for any student!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kid-Friendly Snack

I posted a great, kid-friendly snack over on my other blog! The kids can enjoy making and eating them. I call them Peanut Butter Bliss Balls. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Back in School

So I'm back in school. Well, kind of. I have to take my boater's licensing exam, and that requires that I enroll in a Boating Safety course and pass the licensing exam (similar to getting a driver's license but there are no required "practice" hours and you don't need a permit - you go straight from nothing to fully licensed to operate - pretty scary, actually). We have had a boat for... I think 4 or 5 years. I am the one that bought the boat for my husband (I bought it used off of eBay - sight unseen, much to my husband's very justifiable horror - for a truly great price; it has worked perfectly so I was forgiven). It has been a wonderful purchase and we use it almost every weekend during the warm months (late April through October). My husband immediately enrolled in the course at the local community college and received his license. The course takes place over 3 days and I each class session is 3.5 hours long. And boring as all get out from what I hear.

I don't do boring. I can't take it. My husband told me that the instructor literally read from the safety manual, then re-explained the safety manual, then told everyone to read it himself... you get the idea. My blood pressure rises and the mere thought of having to sit through 3+ hours of this. I literally cannot do it. I would be in physical pain. So I put it off.

Finally, this summer I realized that I need to get my license. One, I would like to be able to take the boat out without my husband as his work schedule is terrible. The girls and I would love to go out on the water during the week when it's quiet and peaceful, but I need my license to make this happen. Two, my father bought a sailboat this year and in order for me to sail with him, I need my license. Three, if anything ever happened and my husband was unable to get us back to the marina, I need to be able to do so, and I need my license.

So I'm taking the class. Fortunately, at some point in the past five years they realized that people would pay good money to take the course online. So I'm enrolled in virtual Boater Safety. Unfortunately, the class remains one of the most boring things I've ever had to sit through in my life. I would actually prefer a system similar to the car licensing with practical, hands-on experience. Instead, I have to read information on a screen, watch a computer animation of the same information, watch a video of the same information, and possibly (if I'm lucky) do a fill-in-the-blank on the same information.  By the way, every screen is timed - let's say it's a 2 minute screen, but I read fast (I do) so I'm done in 30 seconds... I have to wait until the 2 minutes is up before moving on. This has led me to become distracted and start doing other things to fill in the wait time (e.g., watch a documentary on Netflix on a different browser). But if I DON'T do something else, I want to cry and scream at how boring the class is. I want to cheat and ask my husband to do it b/c he handles boring far better than I do. I want to stop taking the class and throw in the towel. I'm starting to think that the real test isn't the final exam, but merely being able to sit through one of the most tedious lesson sets I've ever seen.

This has given me fresh perspective on our children and their fate in education if what they are learning is presented in a boring way. Of course, I already "know" this, but it's different when you are experiencing hour after hour of it. It's not the the boater safety material is boring in and of itself - it's the presentation. I'm pretty sure I do a good job of not being boring, but it never hurts to remind oneself of this very important aspect of life.

Note to self: Take steps to ensure that you do not subject your children to boring and repetitive instruction under justifiable penalty of death!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Impromtu Art Studio

The girls were up and creating this morning before breakfast... great activity when it's over 100 degrees out!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Update: Rethinking my Thinking

A few weeks ago, I posted (see Rethinking my Thinking) about my youngest daughter. After much deliberation and discussion, I decided to take her to a psychotherapist for an evaluation. I wanted to see what this professional's opinion would be. After all, when you homeschool it can be hard to tell what is "normal" (even if it seems different ) and what needs attention. I went in with an open mind, and also no sense that anything would be resolved whatsoever. This series of meeting was for evaluation purposes only and wanted to get an outside opinion. I've had many opinions given to me for free - from my parents, my siblings, my in-laws, other homeschoolers, wonderful and supportive folks over at Secular Homeschool, the pediatrician.... but not someone from the mental health and wellness world. So I decided to give it a fair try.

The therapist is a young, pretty woman (which only matters because my daughter responds better to young, pretty women than to "scary" older men) who was very nice, but all business. Which suited me fine because, after all, I'm paying her by the hour. I asked her her opinion on medicating children, and she told me that in most cases it is, in her opinion, a last resort. Over the course of the meetings, it became clear that she is a huge supporter of homeschooling, which makes things easier in general. The evaluation took place over several meetings, involving oral interview with me, thousands of forms and questionnaires, meeting with my daughter and asking questions while playing games, observations, and a perusal of medical records.  In the end, she met with me one last time to go over the results and come up with a game plan. That meeting was on Friday.

The results were not all-together shocking, but I felt somewhat surprised nonetheless. The bottom line is that she believes my daughter has the combined type of AD/HD. She also indicated that there may be some sensory processing issues at play, but that because the AD/HD is so strong, and because both AD/HD and sensory processing involve the same part of the brain and brain function, the treatment remains the same. She told me that in her opinion, behavioral therapy would be extremely beneficial to a child like my daughter, but that she doesn't feel it would be helpful to her at all unless she is on medication because the AD/HD is so severe. Basically, she told me that if you were to line up 100 seven-year girls with AD/HD in order from most severe to least severe, my daughter would be second in line. Therefore, she told me that she really isn't willing to start behavioral therapy until my daughter is on a stimulant AD/HD medication and the dosage is worked out because it would be like pouring water through a sieve.

She also added that she does not always feel that medication should be the first line of attack, but that with my daughter it would be virtually impossible for her to learn to modify her behavior because her brain is not developed in that area to allow her filter through her actions, impulses and emotions. She is not making a choice, she simply is. In the therapist's opinion, a stimulant medication would allow my daughter to have that filter in place so that she can learn to make choices and think about consequences.

I asked a lot of questions, we talked for an hour, and I left feeling exhausted. I'm probably leaving out a lot of the meeting, but the key thing that stuck with me is that (1) this therapist believes that my daughter's behavior is in fact quite severe; and (2) she is recommending stimulant medication.

My husband and I decided that, as we almost always do, it's worth getting a second opinion.  And I'm definitely not inclined to go forward with medication at this point. Beyond that, I have to accept that her behavior really is that "wild" and I'm going to have to figure out how to deal with it one way or the other.....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How... no, WHEN ... did this happen?

How is that four small-ish people can make a great mess in five minutes flat? I went down to the playroom  - which was clean and vacuumed yesterday - to find a room one would only expect to see after a natural disaster or a police search. They only went down briefly this morning to "get something."

Unbelievable. I hope that they at least found whatever it was they were looking for...