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...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Junior Rangers!

Summer is here and if you can't get to the beach, get to a state park! This week all four girls are going to a week-long Junior Rangers day program. The program varies from session to session, and the attendees can learn about the parks system, natural habitats, conservation, animal life, and the planet earth. Three of my girls are working on their Expert ranking, while the youngest is attending for the first time and will earn her Basic ranking.

Today, the girls played nature bingo, went on an orienteering hike, and took a canoe trip with the rangers. They are looking forward to the rest of the week and are excited about Friday's ceremony where they will receive their badges. My husband and I are working on a night or two of camping mid-week to make the experience even more memorable.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Other Blog

I've decided to finally bit the bullet, and start a food blog. I love to create meals, snack, desserts and drinks, and for a long time my husband has been encouraging me to keep a record of my creations. As my spiral notebook isn't particularly inspiring, I decided a blog would be a better fit, hence Real Family - Real Food was born. Check it out if you're interested! :)

Here's a bit about my blog from the first post:


"I am not a trained culinary artist, nor do I play one on TV. I am simply a lover of real food - fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, grown, cultivated, and harvested in harmony with Mother Nature. I became a vegetarian at the age of twelve, was diagnosed with Celiac disease after the birth of my fourth child, and two years ago became truly aware of the raw food movement (though I did have an encounter with a raw food "nazi" after the birth of my first child that turned me off for years). I don't enjoy labels, so I don't call myself and the way I eat by any one name, though high-raw vegan would be a close fit. Although it changes from week to week, at the moment my favorite foods are kale, mango, almonds and hemp. I am starting this blog to record real recipes (or recipe look-alikes as I'm not a strict measure-and-weigh kinda gal), made with real food, for my very real family of six. I plan to give each recipe our "real review" with a rating of 1/6 to 6/6 (one for each person that enjoyed the food), plus a comment from each taster."

The End!

We've reached the end of our academic year!

Sort of.

My two oldest daughters are a few lessons away from finishing their Teaching Textbooks for the year, and my oldest wants to investigate more about the human body (inspired by her last unit from Moving Beyond the Page). There are still several art projects that I am excited to do with the kids, and of course, science experiments go on non-stop at our house it seems. And then there's the reading, the games, the imaginative play, the music - both listened to and played. So naturally, the end of the academic year does not mean the end of learning; as many, many homeschoolers love to say, the world is our classroom - we are learning all the time!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Too Hot?!?!

If you live where the weather can sometimes be too hot to play outdoors, try letting the kids go around the world on a cyber quest to learn about other cultures. But, I hear you say, I'm too busy to pull up website from around the world that are kid-friendly and learning appropriate (i.e., sites that provide information on Mexican culture instead of simply a list of happening bars in Cabo). How will this happen?  Enter Culture Quest World Tour! The premise is funny (a penguin isolated in Antarctica wants to learn about the world) and the kids will be engaged. An easy way to beat the summer heat!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What Do You Do All Day?

Every homeschooler, no matter style or philosophy, will be on the receiving end of this question more than one time. It is a question that can be asked out of genuine interest. It's also a question that can be asked with a tinge of disgust, in which case it becomes the most annoying question in the world. In this instance, I try to smile and be pleasant, give a short and succinct answer, and move about my business. It never helps to be sarcastic (though I have been at times) and it's typically better to be brief (the exception being with a new or potential homeschool parent).

As a person who has received this question and understand how annoying it can be, I admit to wondering it about other homeschoolers at times. I almost always intend the silent question to come from a place of genuine interest (though there are situations where it is thought, I admit, with a "tinge of disgust,"  - yes, I'm human and have negative thoughts from time to time). Despite the good intentions behind my wondering, however, I generally refrain from asking the forbidden query. I have asked the more acceptable questions such as, "Do you do fill-in-the-blank activities? and "What do you do for fill-in-the-blank?"  And while I know it's unfair to act based on a half-dozen experiences, I refrain from asking many questions to unschoolers as in the past the defensiveness that accompanied the answer was too much to take. It felt like they thought I was challenging their philosophy instead of genuinely want to hear about what unschooling looks like (which is probably exactly how I've sounded when I do my sarcastic or defensive bit with non-homeschoolers).  Naturally this is just my experience and in no way do I think all unschoolers would answer a question defensively, but it did make me realize that what people "do all day" is absolutely none of my business, whether I wonder it out of a curiosity aimed at improving and expanding my horizons, or plain and simple nosiness. And it also made me realize that many times, we hear things based on our intentions, not necessarily those of the person asking. I many interpret something as being asked with a "tinge of disgust," but that may not necessarily be the case. I know I never asked an unschooler about their day out of a sense of judgment, but maybe that has been their experience and they were geared up for it (much like I'm geared up to answer the "what about socialization" question).

And in reality, the question is impossible for anyone to answer  - not just homeschoolers. What one does from day to day changes in small ways, large ways, based on emotions, physical healthy, extended family and friends, etc. And lastly, what one does all day isn't really anyone's business unless you make it their business. It's kind of like asking a couple that doesn't have children when they will start their family.  I'm a proponent of openness and sharing, but there is a time and place for everything, and some things are better left unsaid. I personally don't enjoy hearing mothers of babies discuss diaper changing and bowel movements, napping schedules and breastfeeding - even if that's what they are "doing all day."  I'm sure I did at one time, but that time has passed! So for me, unless I'm in a setting where questions are clearly welcome, I think I'll let the answers present themselves in a more organic way. If I genuinely want to expand my horizons, experiential answers are usually better for me anyhow.