Thursday, February 24, 2011

Home Ec 101

Before... drab, boring, yawn.
After... colorful, custom, pop!
My home ec project of the week: re-covering the dining room chairs. We have a very traditional dining room, and the fabric that came with the chairs (boring white) was killing me. I'm all about color and personality in my space.  I switched it up to something that keeps the traditional feel, but has great pops of color and a richer texture. I changed out the trim from matchy-matchy to an accent color. Much better! And the girls have now learned what's involved in measuring the fabric and trim, deconstructing the chairs, using the industrial staple gun, and putting it all back together. It makes the room go from blah to bling. Plus I got the fabric on deep discount, and that makes me very happy. With a limitless budget, I could have found fabric that sang a bit louder to me, but I was able to change up these chairs for about $5 per chair. And I'm definitely in love with that because I still have money leftover to do the windows! 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


UnjournalingI just found this great resource - Unjournaling by Dawn DiPrince and am excited to share in case there are other writing-friendly families out there in need of some spice. I cannot wait to start using this with my kids! Last year, every Friday we did a fun journaling exercise. Sometimes based on the "history of the day," sometimes I drew topics from random trivia like "National Peanut Butter Week" and things like that, other times I just made up topics ... and we all had at it. I joined the kids in the process and everyone worked to her own ability.  My girls turned out some really amazing and interesting entries! This year we haven't been doing a structured journal activity, and I find that I really miss it. When I saw this book, I knew it would be fun for everyone - including Mom. I'll share the blurb from the back, and I think you'll see why it's a great fit for our quirky family...

"The more than 200 impersonal but engaging writing prompts in this exercise book help students practice their writing skills without asking them to share personal thoughts they would rather keep to themselves. Quirky, challenging, and humorous, the ideas encourage lighthearted creativity with such topics as writing about a girl named Dot without using any letters with dots (such as i or j), describing a person named Chris by the reactions of others as he walks into a room, or creating three completely different sentences with the word crumpled."

Monday, February 21, 2011

By the Book

Reading is huge in our house, as it is in the homes of many homeschoolers. Obviously, we read books for school and related to school. But we read many times more books simply for the pleasure of it. I distinctly remember being in school and being assigned books I had no interest in reading. However, some of those books ended up being among my favorites, or if not favorites, books from which I learned quite a bit or had to think very hard about topics on which I had not previously spent much time thinking. I enjoyed that facet of my education experience so much, in fact, that I actively seek out book discussions so that I am "forced" to read books outside my comfort zone. Many times the groups select books with topics on which I thought I had no interest, or by authors I believe I didn't like. For example, in one group we read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Not a book that brings a smile to your face, and while I was reading I felt annoyed at wasting my time on such a depressing novel. However - the discussion from that book remains one of my favorite discussions, and it totally changed my perspective on the novel. The discussion brought a new dimension to the novel and completely changed the experience for me. I try to do this with my children - especially when they have a hard time getting into a book I know has value (Johnny Tremain comes to mind).

Recently, I've contemplated the benefit of discussion groups and wondered about starting a discussion group for my daughters. (My oldest daughter asked me specifically about starting a group, and I'm investigating whether this is a feasible option right now.) This got me thinking about starting (another) book group for me - one with fellow homeschoolers. I find homeschoolers to be an interesting and eclectic group, which makes for a great discussion group. I'm just not sure I know enough homeschoolers in a small enough geographic area to make it happen!

Oh well, something to think about!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Potential and Possibilities

I'm working hard to think early about the next academic year. And I find it very exciting this time around. I always think through every possible option for our family and each child. From unschooling to boxed curriculum, I review each choice every year and "try it on" for size in my mind. Naturally, I also ask my children what they are enjoying, what their interests are, what they want to do, etc. I feel like their input is essential to a successful year. I'm no where near finished with this process, but am having fun looking at all the possibilities. After so many years of having the kids home, I realize that the approach itself isn't what matters - it's whether or not it works for us.  A boxed curriculum would not work for us. Every year I look at Calvert, and every year I make the same decision not to buy. It's not that there is anything wrong with Calvert, it's just that I know myself and I couldn't follow it - I'm too much of a tweaker (that is a gross understatement - I'm more of a "let's completely re-do everything" type). Unschooling at this point would not work for us. I've talked to unschoolers with teens, and it seems that maybe when my kids are in high school this might be a good option, but not for now. It's not the approach itself, and goodness knows that by the nature of having children we end up doing many, many, many child-led projects, games, etc. It's part of what keeps us so busy. But dropping all structure? Not right now. It wouldn't work for me. Or my kids for that matter - they've told me time and again how much they love what we do. And in the end, I really don't think it matters so long as the homeschool parent is happy and functioning - if I'm stressed out and anxious, my kids will be, too.

So that leaves me back where I always fall - eclectic homeschooler. Which of course, means thousands of options and possibilities. Right now, I'm concentrating on my oldest. She has specifically asked to do some work "on the computer," so I think we'll use PowerSpeak for a foreign language. I am also planning to take my family to Costa Rica for a month for a living language program, but that may or may not happen next year. It will happen at some point - I'm determined!- but the timing is TBD right now. And I own Auralog, but I think I'll hold off on that until she has a firmer base. It seems like a very good program, but perhaps too unstructured for her right now as she doesn't speak Spanish at all. 

As for the other subjects... sigh. Math, we will stay the course with Teaching Textbooks and Math Mammoth. She is absolutely improving with these two programs and while math isn't her strong area, she is making strides. Art and Music - right now, I think we (a) get lots of these just living life, visiting museums, going to performance, talking with artists and musicians, learning an instrument, etc.; and (b) I like my approach for the rest - we do monthly musician studies (this basically means reading a biography, watching a biographical movie, and listening to lots of his/her music, followed by creating a reflection (either by drawing or writing); in art we do a weekly project (we also do so many other art projects they choose I can't always keep up, so I know we're covered).  But the "meaty" subjects of Language Arts, History and Science... I'm still researching options and getting her input. There's lots of potential for a wonderful year, and I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Well, they aren't butterflies yet, so maybe I need to change that to "Larvae!" but somehow doesn't sound as nice...
Six tiny caterpillars arrived today (special delivery, complete with a warming pad and food). The girls are  excited to watch them develop and grow. And I must admit, so am I. We have had butterflies before, but it's been long enough that the memories are fuzzy. It is amazing to watch them emerge from the chrysalis as beautiful butterflies when you saw them arrive as little black "worms." We love our tiny insect friends here. Last year we were overrun with tiny praying mantes - they escaped the habitat (or rather, were set free by One Curious Child) and were all over our house. Fortunately, we managed to gather them and put them in our garden. Of course, the best part about this is that it means spring must not be too far away and with it warmer weather. Much like the tiny caterpillars, we are slowly changing each day as the sun stays longer in the sky. We actually went on our morning walk again today - it's been over a month since our last "morning constitutional." It was cold and windy, but not as cold and windy as it has been. And it was sunny. And alive. We saw hundreds of birds take off from the pond and fly overhead, we could see the little changes happening to the trees and bushes, the grass, which we can actually see now, doesn't seem as dead... things still looks ugly and gray (like our caterpillars). So we just have to wait for the world to emerge from its chrysalis in a few weeks.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is It Dark in Here?

In honor of the fact that today I can find nothing to say, and feel that the lights in my head are off...

"I have nothing to say, I am saying it, and that is poetry."
~J. Cage

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekend Reading

If you're looking for a break from reading about approaches to homeschooling, parenting advice and/or curriculum catalogs, I recommend a diversion with The Sweetness at The Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. This book is interesting and funny - perfect for homeschoolers who need a vacation from heavy thinking. I read it this weekend between swim meet starting guns, screaming parents, jabbering kids, and trips to the girls' locker room. It's an easy enough read that you can be in a loud setting, but captivating enough that you stick with the story instead of being distracted. The main character is a precocious 11-year-old girl with a penchant for poisons living in England in 1950. Naturally, a dead body is found on the estate where she lives with her father, two sisters, and collection of interesting household help and quirky villagers. And naturally, she works to solve the mystery before the police. Yes, it is hilarious (at least I found it hilarious - but I thoroughly enjoy dark, dry humor!).  It's part of a series and I'm looking forward to picking up book two.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Secular Middle School Science

I recently came across The JASON Project - a site offering science curricula to schools, homeschoolers and parents at no cost.  It is funded in part by the National Geographic Society, and presents each unit as a mission or expedition to make it fun and engaging for the students, and offers many online tools (videos, activities, quizzes, etc.) to aid in the learning process.

From the website...
"The JASON Project was founded in 1989 by Dr. Robert D. Ballard, the oceanographer and explorer who discovered the shipwreck of RMS Titanic. Within months, he received thousands of letters from middle school students asking to join his next expedition. Dr. Ballard knew his discovery had tapped a wellspring of curiosity and excitement about science and was determined to feed it.

The result was The JASON Project, named for the mythological Greek explorer. Since then, JASON has connected more than 10 million students and teachers with real scientific exploration and discovery.

JASON's science curriculum units are designed to:
  • Light the spark of inspiration in students
  • Fit within school districts' core 5th-8th grade curricula
  • Adapt to higher and lower levels
  • Align to state and national standards
  • Cover at least five to nine weeks of material
  • Include numerous research articles, hands-on lab activities, videos, games, and multimedia resources
  • Include suggested lesson plans, extensions, interdisciplinary connections, and teacher resources for alignment, assessment, and classroom management."

We have not yet used JASON science, but I plan to in the next academic year. It is geared for middle school students, and my oldest will fit the bill in the fall. I spent several hours trying to navigate a unit and found it rather difficult from the perspective of planning out assignments, so I reached out to fellow homeschoolers over at Secular Homeschool (thank you!) for advice.  It sounds like other parents also found the website a bit tricky and that the easiest way is to order a hard copy of the book (approx. $25).With the book, you can find the resources on the website and navigate the lessons more efficiently.

I'm excited to look through the website in more detail and pick the units we'll use next year. I have a feeling this will be a good fit for my daughter, who loves science and has been asking to do more. If you are a current or prospective user please let me know what your experience has been, and feel free to offer any thoughts, advice, tips, etc. - I can generally use all the help I can get!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

American Heroes

by DD9
by DD7
In honor of Black History Month, the girls have been reading biographies about important men and women in history.  I am so excited that my children have read so many fabulous books - they have learned so much and we have had some great discussions. In order to honor these heroes, each of the girls made a poster (well, three of the four have made her poster - my oldest is reading a lengthy biography on the man she chose and hasn't finished yet). 

by DD6
I thought I'd share their work. This seemingly simple project actually provoked deeper thinking as the girls had to ask themselves what to include on the poster. It was tough as they wanted to include much, much more than they had room for. The girls each had different thoughts on what made her hero important to her and what facts she wanted to share. As February rolls on, we may create more posters - I know we'll keep reading!

Monday, February 7, 2011

You know it's Monday when....

1. The French instructional program prompts, "Try to say 'well.'" And you reply, "well."

2. While sitting in your car ready to back out, you can't find your keys. After pulling everything out of your purse and using some choice language, your daughter notices they are in the ignition.

3. You put your left contact in your right eye, and vice versa, and wear them that way all day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Artistic Endeavor of the Week

Today, as part of Black History Month, we learned about Afro-Caribbean artist Bernard Hoyes and the Caribbean Revival style of art. Our work is inspired by Hoyes, but we followed the directions found (once again) on the fabulous site Art Projects for Kids. We discussed the use of color in Hoyes' work as well as the themes and motifs found in his artwork. This was a challenging project for my kids - it looks simple, but looks can be deceiving. Once we finished our pieces they really appreciated Hoyes' artwork even more!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gung hay fat choy!

Today is Chinese New Year, and I thought I'd pass along a neat site I found here. In addition to watching the videos on the site, I gave each kid a red Chinese envelope with a dollar in it and an orange. They also each have a "for fun" book downloaded from Enchanted Learning, and a book mark explaining the animal for the year each was born. Oh - and the big festival (the lantern festival) is celebrated on the full moon, so you have some time to add it in if you haven't already.

Sun nien fai lok!

Secular Thursday

I am a secular homeschooler. That being said, religion is all over our homeschool - we discuss all different religions, non-religions, points of view, etc. This happens when we do history, literature, social studies, poetry, art, and so on. This week we've been reading myths the book An Illustrated Treasury of Read-Aloud Myths and Legends. I don't have a separate subject called "religion."  But I still thought we covered it pretty well.

Until last night when my 6-year-old came to me with her bedtime reading and needed help with a few words. She is reading a biography of Sojourner Truth and came to the words "Methodist" and "religion." She could read Methodist, but had no idea what it meant. Not surprising. I told her it was a type of Christian. She raised and eyebrow and said, "Oh. Which gods do those Christians believe in again?"

Yikes. Okay, okay. She is six and we have been reading a LOT of mythology. No biggie. I reminded her they believe in one god. To which she replied, "Oooohhh! Okay - like the Jewish people." Good girl! She remembered.

Then she goes, "What is that word again?" (pointing to "religion"). "Religion," I answer. She then says, to my disbelief, "Hmmm. What is religion? What is that"


Doesn't this come up in our house all the time? Oh boy. I feel like we talk about religion, religious views, religious beliefs and such every day. For Pete's sake we go to a UU fellowship and I know that R.E. covers many, many religions because I am one of the teachers!  I felt a bit of relief that she didn't ask me this question in front of the moms at our next homeschool event (although it almost would have been worth it for the reactions). 

Obviously I didn't say any of this to her. I answered her question and she went on her way. And then I thought about it: (A) she is six; (B) "religion" is a big concept and a strange word; (C) learning about religion doesn't mean learning the word religion; and (D) I know many adults that I'm pretty sure don't understand what religion is - they believe it means Christian.

Than again, maybe we're just more secular than I realized...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day - Now What?

If you're like me, you may have a solid "base" curriculum, but when it comes to holidays and special days you find yourself scrambling at the last minute to find a great way to educate your children about these important and/or fun dates and people.  Or maybe you're not like me, and you are savvy enough to plan ahead - and in that case, I am completely impressed with your stellar planning abilities!  Either way, you might find a free resource, or two, helpful.

Today and is Groundhog Day, and I just watched the spectacle of Punxsutawney Phil and his (man)handlers (seriously, this is a **strange** tradition). At least he didn't see his shadow. Every year my kids are super-excited about Groundhog Day, and every year they ask me a ton of questions about it - and naturally I can't remember the answers from the year before. We do have two books about Groundhog's Day, and while the kids enjoy them, they always want to learn more.

The following resources are free and can be used for Groundhog Day (and other holidays if you navigate back to their home pages):
Happy Groundhog Day, and go spring!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Black History, Black Heroes

As part our learning during Black History month, we are reading a selection from Book of Black Heroes from A to Z by Wade Hudson and Valerie Wesley. It is by no means an exhaustive book, but it allows us to read a little about different heroes every day. The nice thing about this particular book is that the entries serve as introductions. They are short, but provide enough information to pique one's interest. I am going to then have each of the girls choose the person they are most interested in learning more about. We will then check out biographies from the library, and at the end of the month each girl will make a poster for her Black Hero. (Each poster will reflect the age and ability of the maker!)