Saturday, April 30, 2011

Food for Thought

"How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young"
~Paul Sweeney

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Case for Cursive?

I know homeschoolers are all over the place on cursive vs. printing, and the importance of handwriting in general (though most I know end up deciding that "legibility" is pretty important after trying to decipher notes and letters from out dear ones).  This week, the NY Times weighs in with this article. After reading the article, I have to say that some things ring true for me - I have a daughter with dysgraphia, and cursive was a very good thing for her. All of my girls were desperate to learn cursive (probably because I write in a strange hybrid) so they are all learning it. My feelings are that if nothing else, they need to be able to read cursive. It's certainly a topic that isn't crucial, yet provides plenty of food for thought - for example, I wish I could write in the artful and elaborate style of the 19th century. Is the only value in that aesthetic? Even if it is, I value beauty and art. That being said, Handwriting Without Tears (arguably the least "beautiful" type of writing, though very legible) is what I've used with my kids when they expressed an interest in cursive. Why? It's easy and pain-free. I'm not sure that's a good answer, but it's the truth.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Near Miss

Today the girls went with my husband to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. The morning started out great because I had an eye exam, work to do, and some errands to run. As I was nearing my house - approaching the final turn to our neighborhood - I was almost in a very bad car accident.  The kind where your ears are ringing with blood and your heart actually stops before it starts beating again.... A truck loaded with pigs came so close to hitting me that I could not put my hand in the space between our vehicles. Needless to say, it was very scary. And very ironic - I'm a vegan. As I stood looking at the car, the pigs were literally screaming, ramming up against the side of the truck out of fear, stress, etc., and trying to shove their way out of 6 inch breathing holes. They were piled in so close that there was no room for them to move around, and I have to imagine that many suffered injuries from (1) the enormous weight of other pigs climbing on them and (2) the jarring caused by the sudden stop of the truck as it crossed the center line and nearly killed me - it must have smacked them against the metal sides of the truck breaking who knows what. If I didn't already eschew pig, I would after seeing them in that truck. It made me feel sick. Another driver said she felt sick for the pigs... since I was okay (I thought that was an interesting way to put it, but her heart was in the right place). Boy oh boy - that was a close one for me; sadly for the many pigs on that truck I think it's safe to say that their luck (not that they really had any to begin with) had already run out. I'm really glad that I was not added to the numerous deaths at the hands of the pig factory today!  I can just see the headline: Vegan Mom Killed By Bacon-mobile.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Elementary Economics

We are fortunate that despite living in a rural area, we are less than five minutes from our local library. It's small, no doubt, but it offers many programs and has become our second home. This month the library had a guest teacher from our college extension come and teach basic economics to elementary children. My children made up half the class. I had my doubts as to whether or not my girls would enjoy the program, but it turns out they more than enjoyed it - they loved it.

The program was designed to teach big concepts to little people: income and expenses, budgeting wants and needs (er, um, I mean "creating a spending plan," which is apparently the new term for budgeting), saving money, giving money, the concepts of taxation, building interest, long-term savings for various goals, and ways to stay on track with your monetary plan. The children received hands-on tools to help visualize their spending plans, and listened to picture books (e.g., Pigs Will Be Pigs) that brought the concepts to life. 

My girls and I talk about money and budgeting frequently, and my middle two are even learning about the economic cycle in MBtP, but this class really added something new to the mix. The best thing the girls are taking away (aside from the very cool digital, money-counting piggy bank) is the concept of dividing all income into categories.  This isn't something new to my children - we routinely have them save 20-30% of all money they receive as a gift. However, my husband and I simply take the money for them and put in in their savings accounts. They have been to the bank and know where the money is going, but 99% of the time they don't come with us. In the class, the instructor had them use a simple version of the envelope method (which brought me back to the early days of my marriage). She had them label and decorate three envelopes: 10% for giving, 20% for saving, 70% for spending. It's a great way for kids to visualize the breakdown of their money. And my girls are already more inspired to find ways to save for the things on their wish lists!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Family Fun

BR - Hubbie, Me, SIL, Brother, My Dad, My Mom

We were so fortunate to have some time with my brother, his wife, and their daughters. The girls are all right around the same age as my girls and get along so well. My husband and I enjoy spending time with my brother and sister-in-law; we always have great visits together. My only complaint is that we don't live close enough! This Easter we went to Winterthur in northern Delaware. The kids had a great time exploring the Enchanted Garden, and the adults enjoyed the beauty of a perfect spring day made even better by great family time. I especially like walking the labyrinth barefoot. =) Here we all are - both families, plus Nana and Grandpa - under several magnolia trees.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mon - day

Today reminds of this quote...

"Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing."  -Phyllis Diller

What a beautiful day it is outside. And what a nasty one it is inside. One of my little girls has been sick - throwing up from evening until the wee hours of the morning. And never once making it to the potty on time. In fact, I do believe she hit everything else between her room and potty, and the couch and the potty - but not the potty.


Poor girl. And poor mom. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Short and Sweet

I was looking through my planner and despite the fact that I realized what week of school we're on, today it really sank in. Tomorrow we will complete Week 25 of our 36 planned weeks of homeschooling (naturally we keep right on learning all the time, but this year we're doing 36 weeks of planned school work)! We take breaks throughout the year so we won't finish until July, but in terms of work weeks, it's looking good. That's almost 70%, and I know for a fact that when I'm on the treadmill or stepper and the machine says "70 percent complete" I get a kick of energy for the homestretch. So bring it on, remaining 30%!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wildlife Wednesday

One of the best things about living where we do is the abundant wildlife behind our house (this can also be the worst thing when a vixen is screaming at 2 in the morning).  Last night during dinner, my oldest daughter spotted two bald eagles behind the house and amazingly they didn't fly away in the time it took for me to locate my camera and get out onto the deck to get a picture. We've been watching the juvenile (the one with the brown head) dive for fish on the pond over the past few weeks, but this is the first time we've been able to capture two eagles resting in a tree! What a treat - I grew up in San Jose, CA and never saw a bald eagle in my backyard!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Observational Drawing

For this week's art project, we discussed the difference between drawing from our imaginations and drawing based on observations. Then, using potted plants, the girls created an observational drawing in pencil on watercolor paper. After the sketch was complete, they outlined the drawings in white glue and let them dry over night. Today we finished the pieces with pastels. The walls are all based on imagination, however!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Brain Food for Monday

"Art is lunging forward without certainty about where you are going or how to get there, being open to and dependent on what luck, the paint, the typo, the dissonance, give you. Without art you're stuck with yourself as you are and life as you think life is."  
~ Mark Vonnegut

Thursday, April 14, 2011


As my work hours are picking up, and as our extra-curricular activities are increasing their demand on our time, I realized this week that I really need to find a way to streamline (versus the way that I usually just wish to streamline because I like the way it sounds). Streamline homeschooling, streamline housekeeping, streamline cooking.... you get the idea. My best friend, upon hearing the news of my ever-increasing schedule, immediately mentioned that I would need to drop things from my schedule. She is, of course, correct (naturally, as she is my best friend and therefore brilliant). I, too, recognized this with a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach because deciding what to get off the schedule is difficult. If it were MY schedule, it would be very easy. My personal schedule is not actually all that busy. There's work, which isn't going anywhere. I have few friends and I see my friends socially very, very infrequently. I already dropped out of my small circle at Fellowship (hard decision, but the timing was not working for me). I have monthly book club, but that's hardly going to be dropped as it's one of the few things I look forward to - no kids and it's not about homeschooling! Can I get an "Amen!"  Okay, so what else is on my schedule? Well, I do workout almost every day - and that is not something that is negotiable.

So why am I so busy?

The four small people that co-reside in my home - they are my schedule. Aside from homeschooling (which takes up a good amount of time, but definitely not ALL my time) these people have interests and places they like to be. And I like for them to be there - I just wish someone else could take them there! Our swim schedule, for example: 4 kids + 3 different levels = insane practice times. I already put off having my 9-year-old advanced in swim for almost the entire year so that she could stay at the same time as the younger two. And I refuse to take my oldest to as many practices as she "should" do because I can't fit them in and still feel like a living person. I don't know how to cut down on swim except by cutting it out. These same people also require food at regular intervals (about 6 times a day), which I must prepare. And they create messes and dirty laundry and general untidiness that needs attention. They are also loquacious language experts that can distract a bee from honey with their various speeches and monologues, generally increasing the amount of time it takes to get anything done. You get the idea.

It's okay. I know that I will ponder this issue (preferably on a long run) and come up with some possible solutions. I wish I could "require" my husband to be more available for helping with various activities - both kids' activities and stuff around the house (like cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc.) - but the reality is that his job has LONG hours and he cannot simply leave whenever I would like him to. He wishes he could - he would rather be home. But as we need his income (which far, far exceeds my own) and rely on it so that I can spend the majority of my time with our four small people it's not realistic right now.  I don't mean to criticize him - to his credit, he did step up helping out with swim team drop-off/pick-up even when things are crazy at the office and he does help out around the house in a big way. And he always shows up for the kids' events (something my father never did). But there is a limit to the magic he can perform with his schedule. 

I'm actually excited - I find that I come up with the best ideas when I'm under pressure and actually get more done. Maybe this means I'll finally find time to make curtains for my living room! Okay, maybe not - that would be opposed to my new mantra - Streamline, streamline, streamline....

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Page

I get so many requests regarding my Moving Beyond the Page review from last month, that I decided to make a separate page for it here so it will be easier to find. Hopefully this is helpful to some people - I know how hard it can be to narrow down curriculum choices!

As a side note - it was my ten-year-old daughter who showed me how to add pages to a blog. I feel older and less cool every day. =)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Field Trip - FOMC

Nana, Grandpa & 3 of 4 girls :)
In front of the Fort
What is FOMC you wonder? Today I learned that FOMC is the US abbreviation for Fort McHenry in Baltimore (being a person who loves to shorten just about every name, I'm thrilled to learn this trivia). The birthplace of our national anthem, FOMC also shares the honor of being the destination of choice for our trip today. As an added bonus, both of my parents joined us. Instead of the standard approach, we decided to drive into Fells Point and take the water taxi over as it was 85 degrees and SUNNY today. What a great idea (thanks to my dad for suggesting it!). We had the funniest taxi driver - he told us stories about Michael Phelps and pointed out his condo, gave us tips on getting the taxi for free, and complained about the folks from PA and their "water condos" (i.e., huge yachts that cost too much to take out on the water, so the owners come down during the summer and spend the weekend hanging out in the marina).

Grandpa and the 6yo
Three of the girls in a cell
6yo with her favorite thing
At FOMC, the girls enjoyed the movie and museum (the movie is great - the lack of seating is problematic as there are many school groups and senior tours that come through) before heading up to the Fort. We've been there before, but it's been a long time and the kids didn't remember it. I think what really made the experience great was the Junior Ranger program - any time you go to a National Park, ask for the Jr. Ranger packet. This provided the girls with a scavenger hunt to do during our trip and as such they read and learned much more than they might have if left to roam on their own.  I was pleased that the girls really took to heart the gravity of war and the pressure on the soldiers in the fort to protect their hometown. I don't know if their favorite part was walking around the top of the fort looking over the water or going down into the underground rooms (or dungeons, depending on your definition). My youngest was supremely interested in the size of the cannonballs. =)

10yo with cannon
9yo inspecting cannon
The best part of the trip for me, honestly, was lunch after visiting FOMC because I convinced my folks to join me at Liquid Earth (can you hear the angel choirs singing??). This place ROCKS. If I lived nearer to Baltimore I would be a regular. It was so funny to see my girls completely blown away by the menu - everything on it, they could order. Nothing was off-limits. They didn't know what to do. They've never been in a restaurant where absolutely everything was vegetarian. My 6- and 9-year-olds kept it simple: they had a fruit cup and a strawberry smoothie. My 7-year-old ordered a honey-ginger tea with a Tofu Salad salad. My 10-year-old was starving and ordered a ton: hummus (which was HUGE - giant pieces of vegan bread, cucumbers, tomatoes and enough hummus to serve at least 8 as an appetizer), guacamole and chips (if you ever go here, do yourself a favor and get the guac - so good), and a raw dish - Raw Pasta served with fresh raw marina and nutmeat balls (enough to serve 3 kids). My mom played it safe and went with a basic salad. But my dad completely blew me away - he ordered the vegan mushroom miso soup (not too amazing as he fell in love with miso after dining with me often enough) AND the Raw Sprouted Earthburger. I also enjoyed the Raw Earthburger and I wish I had ordered more (though I did get to eat almost an entire fruit cup after the little ones couldn't finish). The Earthburger is definitely big, but, baby, I can EAT when the food is stuff I enjoy. Plus, right now I'm doing an all raw diet so it's not everyday that I get to eat something in a restaurant that's not a wimpy green salad sans croutons. I am currently scheming on a way to justify another trip to Baltimore so that I can go back and eat there again. Soon. This place gets five stars from me! And my dad - not a vegetarian at all - ate every single item of food on his plate (plus a good amount from the plates of the kids) and stopped to tell the owner how much he enjoyed his meal. He couldn't believe how good it was. He was even interested in raw food and we had a great discussion. Awesome day all around!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Our Work in Pictures

A few snapshots of a several things the girls have been working on this week...

In art, we created visually stimulating collages to help explore the fundamentals of color theory. Using the tips on Art Projects for Kids, we made collages of warm and cool colors. The edges of their posters are kept neat and clean by folding a "window" onto the collage surface.

My oldest daughter has been busy creating different machines - motorized tanks, pulleys, levers - you name it. Unfortunately, she took them apart before I could snap a photo (mostly due to the fact that my memory card was full and I wasn't immediately ready). Her work area is full of parts and pieces.

 My 7- and 9-year-olds are reading Charlotte's Web. After reading the chapter on the fair, they each designed their own fair booth centered around a cycle found in either nature or the book. They then created a poster advertising and explaining their booth.

My youngest daughter has spent the last few weeks learning about cultures around the world. This week she focused on South America. She learned not only about the various cultures in South America, but the geography, climate, natural resources, and wildlife as well.

On the right is a photograph of a soccer ball she designed. In each space, she drew a pictures of something found in South America. She also researched a South American animal - she chose the toucan. She wrote a report and drew a picture of the animal.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mathematical Musings

Today my oldest daughter needed some help on a few math problems. While I had no problem solving the math (in my head, which, let me tell you, is not helpful to a confused 10-year-old), I did have a bit of a hard time explaining it to her. She was working on word problems, and I figured them using the "harder" (but to me easier) methods using decimals, percentages, etc. The question was how to explain without all that? It's been years. Eons! In addition, and I don't know the details because I was too young, my mother tells me that when I was in elementary school they Beta tested us with a "different approach to math" that later was thrown out. Let me tell you - this did a number on me. I'm sure many kids were able to bounce back from having their mathematical foundations toyed with, but it was a challenge for me. As such, my higher level math, like calculus, always came more easily than basic fractions. I definitely don't want to pass along this problem to my kids, so I've had a tendency to be paranoid about how math is taught. 

Today made me realize that as the math work progresses, I may need to actually get a teacher's manual. Or maybe a book written to teachers - something like Math for Humans or what have you. Not because I can't figure the stuff out, but because sometimes I can't figure out how to tell my daughter how to figure it out without making it harder!! Up until now, it hasn't been much of a challenge. And practice makes perfect - my youngest two daughters are working well-ahead in math, whereas the oldest two... eh, not so much. They are both "on level" if you look at the grade levels on their books. Not that I care about grade level - I would actually prefer them to be "below" but truly understanding what they are doing than "ahead" any day.

It was bound to happen. I'm actually looking forward to when they can take some math classes at the local community college. I think hearing different approaches will be very helpful. I know many moms that sign up their children for homeschool writing, homeschool art, and so on. I distinctly remember a conversation with a mom explaining that because she felt she was a bad writer she didn't feel comfortable being the "sole provider" on the topic. I thought I got what she was saying... but now I really get it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sale - Moving Beyond the Page

If anyone is interested in trying MBtP, today is the last day of their Spring Fling. Please note: I am not affiliated with them and am not trying to sell anything - just like to pass on potential savings to fellow homeschoolers! =)

Here are some details about the sale (from the folks at MBtP):

The Spring Fling sale ends at the stroke of midnight tonight*. Place your order today to get the best deal of the year.

Option 1: BUTTERFLY 
Use the coupon code BUTTERFLY to get an additional 10% off the already discounted price of our full-year packages plus get free shipping on the whole order.

Option 2: LADYBUG

If you plan on using our payment plan, use the coupon code LADYBUG to remove all payment plan processing fees and get free shipping on your order.

Option 3: Free Shipping
Even if you are not planning on purchasing a full-year package or using our payment plan, you can still use either of these two coupon codes to receive free shipping on your order.

* The Spring Fling sale ends on April 4th at 11:59 PM EST.