Monday, August 04, 2014

The Great Restaurant Adventure #2: Argentina

The next restaurant we went to for our Great Restaurant Adventure was called La Fusta.  It's an Argentinian restaurant in Elmhurst, Queens.  J joined W and me this time for a great bunch of lunch specials.  For $9-$11 a lunch special included a large choice of entree (meat or pasta), one side, salad, a beverage, and flan.

I had "tira de asado" (short ribs) with real mashed potatoes, W had skirt steak with french fries, and J had chicken milanesa with french fries.  Before our food was brought out we had a basket of incredible bread for the table and the waiter put out a bowl of chimichurri sauce.  This is a green, garlic & oil sauce to put on grilled meat.  We LOVED the food here and the prices were amazing.  I think we'll be going back here one day soon.



Short ribs lunch special

Flan

Armenian cuisine is next...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reaching the Next Level

Whew.  What a summer so far!  W has been enjoying having July off from academics and I think he'd like August off as well, so why not.  We'll just pick things back up in September.  I have all the supplies I need:  tons of notebooks, drawing paper, sketch books, dry erase markers & whiteboard, pens, pencils, and most of his curriculum.  All I have to buy is Saxon Algebra 1 (maybe, lol).

J continues to dance up to 3 days a week.  She was one of 3 girls selected (out of at least 30) to be one of the backup dancers for an up-and-coming singer.  All this paid work (and paid rehearsals) makes her a true professional dancer.  And so many more incredible projects are coming up.  She is also sometimes assisting her choreographer in his weekly classes.  Another music video she's in was just released yesterday.  And we just got back from...  Nationals!  We went to Atlantic City for a week.  J did great and her new studio was amazing.  We had such a great time.  We have always treated Nationals as our family vacation, and this was the best one yet.

K is almost finished with her cosmetology training.  She has about 6 weeks left.  For the last month or so she has just been taking clients all day.  She gets great tips and 90% of them re-book with her (usually for 6-8 weeks later).  She's already building her own clientele this way.  She is so happy that she threw care to the wind and followed her heart and found something she absolutely loves to do.

All of us have jump on the Mediterranean diet wagon.  I hear it's one of the healthiest ways to eat.  So, breakfast is a lot of whole grains, Greek yogurt, fruit, nuts, eggs, honey, etc.  Lunch is grilled meats, whole grains, fruit, feta, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olive oil, fresh herbs, cucumbers, lettuce & tomato, pita bread, etc.  Snacks are whole grains, tuna, hummus, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, etc.  Dinners are grilled meats, fish, vegetables, salads, stir fries, brown rice, etc.  We feel better already.

I feel like all of us are stepping into the next level of our lives:  K's cosmetology career, J's college and dance career, W's starting 8th grade - only a year til high school, our new healthy living plan (not only eating but exercising too), my new job, and all the brand new things going on with B's job.  It's an exciting time and I'm so grateful.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

8th Grade

This is what W's 8th grade (tentatively) looks like:

Monday:  Current Events, Math, Spanish, Literature, History, Science, Composer Study
Tuesday:  Current Events, Math, Spanish, Literature, History, Science, Artist (Picture) Study
Wednesday:  Field trip and/or Restaurant Adventure
Thursday:  Current Events, Math, Spanish, Shakespeare, Copywork, History, Geography
Friday:  Current Events, Math, Spanish, Literature, History, Studied Dictation, Nature Study

Misc:  P.E.:  Mixed Martial Arts 4-5 hours/week (Tue, Thu, Sat) + informal daily activity
           Religion:  CCD 75 minutes/week (Sun)
           Technology, Health, & Practical Arts:  Daily (incl. computer work, projects, discussion, etc.)

Current Events
CNN Student News & Channel One News

Math 
TT Algebra 1 (continuing), LoF Beginning Algebra, or Saxon Algebra 1

Spanish
Getting Started with Spanish (continuing)

History
Augustus Caesar's World by Genevieve Foster
The Story of the World 4: The Modern Age by Susan Wise Bauer
Story of the Greeks by H. A. Guerber
Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber

Geography
World Physical Geography by Brenda Runkle (continuing)

Science

Apologia General Science (continuing) and then maybe Apologia or Holt Physical Science
Nature Study using the Outdoor Hour Challenges from handbookofnaturestudy.com

Literature

Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch
Andrew Lang's Fairy Books or Brothers Grimm 
Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb
Poetry (Shel Silverstein and a classic collection/anthology)

Additional Reading (we'll pick a few from these)
Daniel Defoe - Robinson Crusoe
Robert Louis Stevenson - Kidnapped, Treasure Island
Rudyard Kipling - Jungle Book, Kim, Captains Courageous, Puck of Pook's Hill
Edith Nesbit - House of Arden
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Cricket on the Hearth
Mark Twain - The Prince and the Pauper, Huckleberry Finn
Louisa May Alcott - Little Men, Jack and Jill
George Orwell - Animal Farm  
Booth Tarkington - Penrod
Nathaniel Hawthorne - Tanglewood Tales
Genevieve Foster - Abraham Lincoln's World
James Daugherty - Poor Richard
Margaret Sidney - Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
Anna Sewall - Black Beauty
Mary Norton - The Borrowers
E. Nesbit - The Wouldbegoods
The Iliad

We'll be taking a lot from Ambleside Online Pre-Year 7.  I can't say we'll be doing AO to the letter, but we are going to use many AO books, term schedules, and ideas, and we'll be incorporating many Charlotte Mason activities and principles.  Still no labels, just what we like and what works best for us.  I'm planning on making 8th grade fun and stress-free, yet thorough and comprehensive.  We're starting in August.




Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Summer is Here


W's CAT-E results came back and he got 97 out of 100 correct, which put him in the 99th percentile.  He couldn't believe it and I'm so proud of him.  He fretted over this test all year, but I knew he'd do fine.  All he needed was the directions read to him.  He told me that this time around he felt more confident that he was answering properly since he was sure about what was being asked.  I wish I'd known that for the 5th grade test.  Now he can relax for another 2 years since the next test will be at the end of 9th grade.  All paperwork was sent in at the end of June and we already got the packet for the 2014-2015 school year.  I'm really looking forward to W's 8th grade.  I'm treating it as practice for high school.  I'll be keeping more detailed records and practicing writing a transcript and course descriptions.  I've been reading so much about it already.  My favorite resource so far has been the books and website of Lee Binz (The Homescholar).

In other news, J graduated from high school last week!  The beautiful ceremony was held in Lincoln Center.  She looked gorgeous and so does that (arts & regents endorsed) diploma.  It feels like only yesterday we were celebrating that she got into the school.  Have 4 years really gone by already?  Thank you, LaGuardia Arts, for everything.





A few days before graduation, she had her senior prom.  The venue was the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square.  She wore a light blue gown with silver stones and jewels on one side of the front.  She wore sparkly silver flats instead of heels (smart, imo), spent the day getting groomed with a mani-pedi, professional makeup, and got her hair done by none other than her sister (K) at the cosmetology school.  She, her date, and a few friends had a white stretch limo take them into Manhattan in style.

J has also been so busy dancing.  She is preparing for Nationals with her amazing new studio.  It's coming up soon and we can't wait.  She is also working with a big choreographer who has just gotten her another dance job with a gold record singer.  They'll be performing locally in August.

Now summer has really begun.  I plan on living fully every day and savoring every moment (I tend to rush summer to get to autumn - my favorite season).  By the end of summer, K will be working full-time in her dream profession and really starting her adult life.  And J will be getting ready to live in Manhattan for college.  I know it's only 20 minutes away, but it's a huge independent step.  And when did W get taller than me?  He's becoming more and more independent every day and in the blink of an eye, he will be off to college, too.  This, right now, really is the best time of my life, with my husband and children here every day.  I'm truly grateful and plan on making it count.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Great Restaurant Adventure #1: Afghan

We began our Great Restaurant Adventure last week with a trip to a local Afghan restaurant.  Afghan is the first cuisine on our alphabetical list.


The name of the restaurant was Balkh Shish Kebab House.  It's in the Astoria section of Queens.  It's a small place with a lot of Afghan decor inside.  W and I started out with Manto (beef dumplings) and Bolanee Kadu (fried pumpkin turnovers).  Those were pretty good.  For the main dish, W had the combo kebabs (2 pieces each of chicken, lamb, and beef) on a big plate of brown basmati rice.  I had Kabli Palow, which is a huge lamb shank on a plate of the same rice but with raisins and shredded carrot on top.  They also brought us a plate of lamb curry, which was delicious mixed into the rice.  I don't even like lamb, but this was so good.  W loved his kebab - especially the chicken.  We ordered some sweet lassi to drink.  It came in a small pitcher and we each got a cute stemmed glass.  This was not our favorite.  It was plain, liquid, warm yogurt.  For dessert, we split an order of firni, which is a rice pudding custard with toasted crushed pistachios on top.  It was perfumy but nice and 1 order was the perfect amount to split.

Kabli Palow

W trying the sweet lassi

Afghan decor inside the restaurant

 Argentina is next!  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ambleside Online

So as I was lamenting over the fact that W hasn't really loved a story like he did when we used Ambleside Online, I realized, hey, why not take another look at AO.  We stopped using it around 2 years ago when we were going on a ton of field trips and W still wasn't diagnosed with his processing issues.  AO was great, but in order to start working independently, you need to be somewhat of a strong reader with that curriculum.  W was not.  But, I can comfortably say that now, after 2 years of knowing what his issues are and tackling them head on, he is ready to try AO again.  So we took a look at what they call "Pre-Year 7".  This is to make up for lost time and gradually get back into the AO way of doing things.  We're trying this throughout the summer and for as long as it takes throughout 8th grade.  If he wants to, we will continue on with AO Year 7.

Only about half of what we do is changing.  We are still going to use whatever math program we like, Getting Started with Spanish, Apologia General Science through the summer (I was very glad to see no more strange science readings, lol), and a lot of the supplementary stuff we have laying around.  But some books we added in right now are:  Augustus Caesar's World, Age of Fable, and Tales from Shakespeare.  We also added back in:  copywork, studied dictation, nature, art, and composer study, literature, book of centuries, timelines, and current events.  We are also continuing all the Charlotte Mason stuff we've always done, such as:  oral and written narrations, short lessons, lots of free time, handicrafts, and poetry.  The transition back to AO was seamless and easy and it almost feels like we never left.

Now I plan on reading the whole AO website again, along with tons of Charlotte Mason for teens pages.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Fidgety Kid

WHERE was this article when J was little??  This is one of the main reasons we started homeschooling.  She was fidgety and chatty and the teachers wanted her on Ritalin.  I could scream now thinking about it.  J was bubbly and happy and eager and curious and full of life before she started school.   Schools killed her love of learning, killed her self-esteem, and turned her into just a sad shell of who she was - all by the time she was 6 years old.  Thank God for homeschooling.  I'm so glad I got her out of there before any more damage was done.  I'm glad I listened to my gut instead of teachers who thought they were experts on my kid.  I'm so glad she got to have a rich, full, happy childhood which included a whole lot of running outside in the sunshine.  And most importantly I'm so glad that, after only a few months of homeschooling, I got my bubbly, happy, eager, curious, full of life daughter back (and yes, she's still like that!).  

WHY CHILDREN FIDGET: And what we can do about it
Angela Hanscom - Thursday, June 05, 2014
A perfect stranger pours her heart out to me over thphone. She complains that her six-year-old son is unable to sit still in the classroom. The school wants to test him for ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder). This sounds familiar, I think to myself. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’ve noticed that this is a fairly common problem today.
The mother goes on to explain how her son comes home every day with a yellow smiley face. The rest of his class goes home with green smiley faces for good behavior. Every day this child is reminded that his behavior is unacceptable, simply because he can’t sit still for long periods of time.
The mother starts crying. “He is starting to say things like, ‘I hate myself’ and ‘I’m no good at anything.’” This young boy’s self-esteem is plummeting all because he needs to move more often.
Over the past decade, more and more children are being coded as having attention issues and possibly ADHD. A local elementary teacher tells me that at least eight of her twenty-two students have trouble paying attention on a good day. At the same time, children are expected to sit for longer periods of time. In fact, even kindergarteners are being asked to sit for thirty minutes during circle time at some schools.
The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.
I recently observed a fifth grade classroom as a favor to a teacher. I quietly went in and took a seat towards the back of the classroom. The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.
This was not a special needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular art-integrated charter school. My first thought was that the children might have been fidgeting because it was the end of the day and they were simply tired. Even though this may have been part of the problem, there was certainly another underlying reason.
We quickly learned after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance. Only one! Oh my goodness, I thought to myself. These children need to move!
Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today--due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their body in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once-a-week in order to reap the benefits. Therefore, having soccer practice once or twice a week is likely not enough movement for the child to develop a strong sensory system.
Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”
Fidgeting is a real problem. It is a strong indicator that children are not getting enough movement throughout the day. We need to fix the underlying issue. Recess times need to be extended and kids should be playing outside as soon as they get home from school. Twenty minutes of movement a day is not enough! They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom.
         In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Yearly Recap and the New Plans

On a message board recently, a question came up that asked what was not negotiable in your homeschool, besides the 3 Rs.  In my house, it's not an option to have strong interests that are not encouraged, facilitated, and pursued in all ways possible.  I think this is so important.  Nothing is ever dismissed.  How else can you know what you're good at?  For example:

K likes fashion and to sew - so she got a sewing machine, fabric, and lessons.  She likes party planning, so she found an internship for a year doing just that.  She likes doing hair, so she got to do all the hair for J's dance competitions, sought out the best cosmetology school in NY, and will be graduating in September.

J likes to sing.  So for a few years she was taking private lessons and performing songs at dance competitions (where she even won a regional title for singing).  She loves dancing.  So, B and I made sure she has had every opportunity available - competition team, private lessons, outside and master classes, conventions, admittance into the best performing arts high school, and her dream conservatory, which she's starting in a few months.

W loves computers.  So he does tons of research on what the best keyboards, headsets, mice, and programs are, and he's learned how to use Best Buy and online purchasing to his advantage.  He likes martial arts, so he's tried karate, then switched to MMA, where he goes 3 times a week.  He likes engineering projects and making YouTube tutorials and juggling and Myachi, and magic and claymation and Manga.  We have helped him pursue all of these interests.  He's met a ton of real Myachi masters and demonstrated with them, he's taken claymation and Manga drawing classes, and he is self taught with the projects and tutorials.  

I think they've had such great lives - lives I would have given anything to have as a child.  In reading some John Taylor Gatto (again) I really wish I found him right after my kids were born.  One thing that would have got me thinking about homeschooling from the beginning was this quote, "...schooling itself is a highly questionable practice.  It's possible to derive some value from it, but the damage is always, I think, much greater than any value that's possible.  In many, many instances, there is no value offered.  It's simply a confinement exercise." Powerful words that resonate with my own schooling experience.  And now that both K and J have finished their high schooling at ("excellent") public schools - well, J has 1 more week - I have to agree even more.  No matter what kind of school it is, it's a HUGE waste of time.  K got nothing out of hers, except a few more friends and she learned some cool computer programs working on the yearbook.  J got nothing out of hers except a few more friends and the fantastic dance education - which thankfully took up half her school day.  The academics in school are a joke unless your child is REALLY into them, and even so, they're full of ridiculous busywork, tedium, classroom disruptions and poor school management, and unfortunately many children like that usually have to deal with added negative social consequences.  

Here's a quote by Pat Farenga, "The only difference between a good student and a bad student is that a good student is careful not to forget what he studied until after the test." He also stated that "John (Holt) noted that a child choosing to attend school is in a far different relationship to that school than all the students who are there solely because of their age...If a child knows they can leave school at any time with their parents' support, it makes their choices easier and helps build bonds of trust and communication."  I found this to be true.  My girls, as much as they found school annoying and tedious, were there by their own choice, going in with a way different mindset than their peers. 

W is choosing to homeschool for high school and I'm so glad.  He will start college (or whatever he chooses) with such a different outlook on his future than I did (and that most of his peers will).  These next 5 years of homeschooling are looking to be some of the best ever.  Now that I finally got a new job (I'll be working weekday mornings and weekends) W and I can "do the town" once again and hopefully, way more often.  There is so much out there for teens and he wants to do it all.  This summer is going to kick it all off.  

W took the California Achievement Test for 7th grade last week.  He was so nervous, but I knew he'd be fine.  When he took it two years ago, he did ok - way above the required 33rd percentile, but not as well as I know he could have.  At that time  I just handed him the test and said GO.  But that was a month before he was evaluated for a learning disability. When he got his Visual Processing Disorder/dyslexia diagnosis he also got a list of recommended accommodations for a classroom and for test-taking.  Alas, it was too late for that year.  So, this time around I made sure to use some of those accommodations.   I read everything out loud to him to make sure he fully understood all directions.  But even with my reading I have a feeling he got some wrong in the language and reading sections.  He crinkled up his face at the vocabulary section, but seemed confident with punctuation/capitalization, comprehension, and mechanics.  He flew through both math sections.  He even laughed at it and asked me if I was sure this was the right grade.  I reminded him that he did this math more than a year ago.  He said I must be a really great teacher since he could do a lot of the problems in his head.  Then he said it was definitely the Times Tales and Saxon.  He still recalls the Times Tales pictures when multiplying.  I also swear by all the drill and mastery of the basic math we'd done over the years.  He'd still like to stick with Life of Fred for now.

We're going to start working on a lot more reading to help him with vocabulary and spelling.  He will read some things out loud to me and some things silently.  We'll do more narrations and discussions and use these readings as a base for some writing.  We'll bring back novels, too, shooting for at least 3 per year.  I want him to appreciate a good story like he used to when we did Ambleside Online.  He grew so attached to stories when we took our time with them, that he had a hard time getting rid of the books when we were done with them.  I also have Painless Vocabulary, Painless Grammar, and Daily Sparks Spelling & Grammar to throw in here and there.

All in all, it's been a great school year.  My kids have all achieved their immediate goals (K- top cosmetology school while working at an awe$ome job, J - graduating top performing arts high school and starting performing arts conservatory on scholarship, and W - overcoming reading issues/excelling in math and pursuing all interests).  I couldn't ask for better.

Here's what's on the agenda for the summer through 8th grade.  I think we actually have a real plan now, lol:

Math:  W really wants to do Life of Fred (Beginning Algebra into Advanced Algebra) for 8th grade.  We're using it now over the summer a few days a week. We also have Teaching Textbooks Algebra 1 and Saxon Algebra 1/2 on hand along with Algebra for Dummies, Painless Algebra, and No Fear Algebra (leftovers from his sisters).  They're always good to have for extra problems and different ways of explaining certain concepts.

English:  I have so much leftover from my girls that it's silly to buy anything new.  We'll be using a mixed bag of Wordsmith Apprentice, Jump In, Daily Sparks Spelling & Grammar, Daily Sparks Vocabulary, Painless Vocabulary, Painless Grammar, Simply Grammar, and Basic Series Grammar & Usage.  It's a lot, but W likes to switch things up every so often.  Nothing really builds on previous lessons, so it should work fine.

Literature:  I'm sticking with Shel Silverstein poetry since W loves it and it helps with his reading.  We'll also try to read at least 3 novels with narrations and discussions.  I have so many on my shelf - we'll just choose what sounds good.

Science:  We'll finish Apologia General Science over the summer - we really just do the great experiments and base the lesson off of those.  For 8th grade I'll either get Apologia Physical Science (again mainly for the experiments) or use the Holt Science & Technology Series Physical Science since I already have that one on hand.  W doesn't care for it, though.  I'll see how the Apologia goes over the summer.  If it's a real big hit I'll get the next one.  He gets writing in with the lab reports, as well.

Geography:  We're happy with Runkle's and will continue it through 8th grade.  We're also starting Our Great Restaurant Adventure this summer where we'll go to a different ethnic restaurant every 2 weeks, then study that country for the 2 weeks until the next one.  We're going alphabetically and starting with Afghan cuisine next Wednesday.  Can't wait!

History:  We'll finish K12 Human Odyssey 1 (Ancients) hopefully sometime in the fall and move on to Volume 2.  We also have The Complete Book of World History which is a fun and concise supplement.

Spanish:  Getting Started with Spanish is by far the best book for W.  He does this completely independently.  It's a spiral program that builds on the previous lessons.  He reads, translates, and conjugates in every lesson.  Love this.

Miscellaneous:  Summer Bridge Gr. 7-8 and Summer Express Gr. 7-8 are great for a variety of subject work any time of year.  Spectrum Gr. 8 Test Prep for basic skills, and Artistic Pursuits Junior High Book One for art, but W isn't really into this.  I'll try it again over the summer.

Religion:  CCD once a week and will make his Confirmation in the spring.

P.E.:  Mixed Martial Arts 3 days a week (4-5 classes) doing Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu jitsu.

I'll put everything in my sidebar in case anyone wants to check out what we do.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

What I've Learned

After over 9 years of homeschooling, I have learned so much about the process.  I have streamlined just about everything we do and realize that we don't have to do anything the way others do unless it directly benefits us.  It's so much better to create your own mold and evolve into your own style.  Here are some other things I've learned:
  • I've learned to buy some curriculum a year ahead so we can use it for 2 years. We just go a little slower that first year, then finish quickly the second year.  This saves money and time.
  • I've learned that while a homeschool group can be a wonderful thing, it gets dull after a while.  The older my kids got, the more they just wanted to hang with the 2 or 3 close friends they've made from those groups.  Also, really good (teen) classes, field trips, and activities are a lot less frequent so you start planning more of your own activities with just the close friends. 
  • I've learned that so much more understanding, enthusiasm, and retention happens in 60-90 minutes of formal instruction rather than in the 4-8 hours I see frequently happening in the middle and high school homeschooling years.  
  • I've learned that outside activities (sports, arts, religion, field trips, hanging with friends, etc.) are very important and make for a more well-rounded kid.    
  • I've learned to savor this precious time with my kids.  They really do grow so fast.  K is less than a year from starting her dream career.  She is at one of the best cosmetology schools in the country.  She already has a few job offers from major NYC salons, and pending offers for when she gets her license in a few months.  J is graduating LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts in less than 2 months.  She has amassed $15000 in scholarships and grants for 4 semesters at a performing arts college and will be living on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the fall.  And W, whom I've been homeschooling since Kindergarten, is now a teenager taking 4-5 MMA classes a week, has a keen ability for computer programming, software, hardware, and gaming, and who has such a healthy and bright outlook on life.  He has pushed hard through his dyslexia and hardly any of it is noticeable anymore.  He is now doing most of his academics independently and his entire curriculum and output are on or above grade level (well, spelling is almost there, lol).  I only see great things happening for him.  I know I will look back at this time and know it was the best of my life. (Not that things will all be downhill from here, but having my whole family together and seeing them take steps to begin their adult lives is the most incredible, precious thing there is to me)

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

No Labels

I think I'm done reading about how other people homeschool.  No one else out there seems to do things the way we do.  One of the things I've learned is that pigeon-holing yourself into a certain homeschool label is rarely beneficial.  You have to be flexible.  Most of us follow more than one philosophy and method.  I've come to the conclusion that we are probably 80% unschooling (W pursues his interests all day long with only an hour or so of parent led, but child requested formal academics) and 20% Charlotte Mason (narrations, short lessons, lots of outdoor time).  I'd like to say we are 100% unschoolers, but I feel it's my job to make sure he's prepared for college (and/or anything else he may choose in the future).  I've been through this twice already and I know what good colleges want to see.  And being cute and fun will not get you in.  Kids unfortunately do NOT know best (I know I'm getting the stink eye from radical unschoolers right now) and I plan on seeing to it that W is fully prepared for any number of post-high school choices so he can comfortably make a decision on what he'd like to do.  This doesn't mean 6-8 hours a day of rigorous academics.  It means making sure W is proficient in high-level math, can read well and critically with understanding and interest (and hopefully joy), and that he can write creatively and with purpose.  Everything else, like history, geography, and science will be incorporated into W's reading and writing and will be covered via many field trips.  As a matter of fact, we started on more independent reading and written narrations this week.  I feel the written narration is better than note-taking/copying out of a book.  It allows W to summarize the whole section and put it into his own words.  It improves not only his reading and comprehension, but his writing, grammar, and paragraph mechanics.

There are so many other great things W has and will learn as a homeschooled teen:  public speaking, volunteering, goal-setting, team work, and being a part of the real world now, not when he's out of college.  Yeah, many of these can all be done in public/private high school, but kids get so much more out of them when they're self-initiated and in context to their lives.

Friday, May 02, 2014

My Favorite County

QUEENS, NY

Living here is fun, interesting, and awesome.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Land of Diversity

The really great thing about living in NYC, especially Queens, is the incredible diversity.  Just about every nation in the world is represented.  As soon as we can (this summer?), W and I are going to embark on a restaurant adventure.  Every 2 weeks we are going to have lunch at a different ethnic restaurant in our town.  Whatever nation's cuisine we experience will also be the subject of study for 2 weeks.  This goes way beyond a geography lesson and we're so excited to get started on it.


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Recent academics:
Math:  Negative numbers using the 4 basic operations
Reading:  Main idea & supporting details
Poetry:  Shel Silverstein (10 poems)
Spanish:  Pronouns, helping verbs, forms of address 
History:  Ancient China, Confucius
Writing:  Creating a dialogue

Friday, April 04, 2014

Hackschooling

Deciding to place my 7th-grader into Algebra 1 was not an easy decision.  In school he would (more than likely) be doing Math 7 this year, then Pre-Algebra in 8th grade, then Algebra 1 in 9th grade.  So, I was very happy to see him get a 92 on his first Algebra test.  This shows me he is correctly placed.  I'm not expecting him to finish the course by June, or even September.  We just got it and are only 15 lessons in.  I'd like to take as much time with it as he wants.  But, at the rate he's going, he should be able to start Geometry some time before the end of 8th grade.  

W is doing great with the 4 subjects a day.  We start with TT Alg 1, then it's either reading comprehension, ELA test prep, or poetry, then Spanish, then one of the following:  Writing, History, Science, or Geography.  He's done within 2 hours.  He stays engaged throughout and retains just about everything he learns.  I attribute that to the fact that he has a good amount of control over his schedule, his curriculum, and his whole life.  He is a perfect example of a "hackschooler" (according to this TedTalk).   I see my son not only readying himself to make a living, but also make a life.  The 7 key points involved in hackschooling are:  exercise, diet & nutrition, time in nature, contribution & service, relationships, recreation, relaxation & management, and religious & spiritual involvement.  W has a nice balance of these in his life (time in nature and contribution & service are lacking at the moment, but they're easy to increase).


In martial arts, his focus is on Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai right now.  Starting next month he will become what they call a "combat athlete".  This allows him to take the more advanced classes of Muay Thai and BJJ plus new ones such as Boxing, Wrestling, and MMA - and he'll get a cool new T-shirt!

Gaming and understanding all things computer-related is also something W is really into.  He can spend a good few hours on his laptop immersed in Minecraft, Team Fortress 2, or on YouTube - usually with several other kids on Skype.  
B and I support him in every way we can.  2 Christmases ago we got W a Lenovo gaming laptop. Last Christmas we got him a flatscreen monitor and separate keyboard to hook into his laptop.  He is constantly researching, comparing, and upgrading keyboards, mice, headsets, microphones, and gaming-related downloads.  He budgets his own money for a lot of it and knows how to get the best things for the best prices.  It's cool to witness him in action.  All this computer stuff has significantly improved his reading, typing, teamwork, engineering, logic, research, and math skills.  He has taught himself how to: 
  • Create a new server
  • Create his own gaming mods
  • Skype with other teen gamers all over the country
  • Find answers to any questions
  • Confidently speak on the phone to customer service
  • Confidently and maturely speak to adults in person - family, friends, and store personnel
  • Set and attain goals
  • Be a leader and admin
  • Create a YouTube channel, make gaming tutorials, and have dozens of subscribers

Seeing how much kids learn from their passions goes far beyond academics.  And with support and encouragement, they can do and be anything.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Kindy to 7th So Far...

Yeah, no.  I thought I'd be able to step away from the blog for a bit, but I can't, lol.  It's become too much a part of me.  So, I'd like to try a new beginning.  But first, I want to recap what homeschooling has been like for W so far.  Here's a synopsis:

W is 13 years-old and has been homeschooled since Kindergarten.  He is currently in 7th grade and has chosen to continue homeschooling through high school.   

He has been in CCD class on Sunday mornings since he was 2 years old.  He has so far completed 3 Sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, and Eucharist) and will be making his Confirmation next year (his last year of formal religious education).

He has been in many different activities over the years:
4 yrs old:  Hip hop dance class
5 yrs old:  Little League Baseball
6 yrs old:  Basketball Clinic
7 yrs old:  Tackle Football
8 yrs old:  Circus class
8-10 yrs old:  Cub Scouts 
11 yrs old:  Shotokan Karate
11 yrs old:  Show Choir
12 yrs old:  Dramatic Academy
12-13 yrs old:  Muay Thai & Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

As far as homeschool styles, we are eclectic, mixing such styles as:
Unschooling
Charlotte Mason

Unit Studies
Classical

And used various curricula, including: 
Ambleside Online
Kumon
Spectrum
Teaching Textbooks
Apologia
Lightning Literature
K12
Flash Kids
Saxon
Hake
...and many more

Since Kindergarten, he has gone on a lot of homeschool group classes and field trips, including:
Ellis Island
Statue of Liberty
Solar One
Federal Reserve
United Nations
Tanglewood Preserve
Alley Pond Environmental Center
Garvies Point
Museum of Natural History
Met Museum
Museum of Folk Art
Museum of the American Indian
Jewish Museum
Union Square Greenmarket
Times Square
9/11 Memorial
Bodies: The Exhibit (Discovery Center)
King Tut (Discovery Center)
Plays at Queens College, York College, & Hofstra
NYC Superhero Walking Tour
Rockefeller Plaza & Christmas windows
Science Museum of Long Island
Vanderbilt Museum
NY Planetarium
Grant's Tomb
Central Park, Bronx, & Queens Zoos
NY & Queens Botanical Gardens
NY Hall of Science
Queens Museum of Art
Museum of Biblical Art
Museum of Tolerance
CW Post (art class)
...and many more


When W was 11, he was officially diagnosed with visual processing disorder, causing moderate dyslexia and dysgraphia.  Since then (actually, since he was 8 and I first suspected dyslexia), we have used numerous resources in all subjects, tweaking almost everything in various ways to fit his specific learning style.  He is currently on or above grade level in all subjects, something I believe a school would never have been able to accomplish.  It's all about the freedom.  That's why it works.

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 2014 & A New Era

What a turning point of a month for us.  W asked about Teaching Textbooks again and that he'd maybe like to go back to that.  I pulled up a demo of Algebra 1 and let him try it.  He loved it so much, that we ordered it the next day.  I looked at the PreAlgebra one, but it seems like we have covered most of that already.  I remember TT starts off nice and slowly, so we're bypassing the PreAlgebra and going straight to Algebra 1.  We'll also take our time with it and try to stretch the program into 8th grade.  He also said he's done using the white board and will go back to notebook/scrap paper and pencil.  I haven't seen him this excited about math in such a long time.  He does the whole lesson independently - I keep myself in earshot in case he has a question.  He was shocked at how fast he finished a lesson.  When we last used TT (5th grade) he hated the CDs and just wanted to use the big workbook.  That was the main motivation to switch to Saxon (since the TT people didn't sell the book alone) - and the fact that Saxon was way less expensive.  Now he only wants to use the TT CD Roms without the book.  I'm shocked because he has never liked any educational online stuff, just textbooks and workbooks.  I've been waiting for this moment forever, lol.

With reading, we are switching gears now and going from novels to various comprehension passages/exercises and poetry.  It's much easier for him to handle at this point more independently.  The dyslexia symptoms vary in severity and certain ones just linger.  I know this is not something that can be "cured".  But I have noticed that occasionally changing the way we approach reading seems to improve these symptoms tremendously.  Even if it's just a temporary improvement, W has still learned another way to cope that he can refer back to.  Writing is still going well.  We go over the lesson and he types up his essay portion on his laptop, emails it to me, and I print it and tape it into the workbook.  It's fine with me if he prefers to do it that way.  It's getting done and I really think his writing ability even surprises him.  For history, geography, W takes handwritten notes.  For science, we do experiments and he writes in the student notebook.  All this writing is the best way for W to remember and review facts.  He also continues to do one Spanish lesson every day (independently).  Cursive and poetry are several times a week (I finally bought 3 more Shel Silverstein books!).  A couple of weeks ago W randomly said he really likes this curriculum.  That was very nice to hear.

This month, W has started taking Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes (grappling, ground fighting, submission holds).  So, now he does Muay Thai 3x a week AND Brazilian jiu-jitsu 3x a week.  He likes pairing up with new students to help them through their first weeks.  These new students are usually in their 20s-40s and find themselves pretty impressed by W's maturity and knowledge.  I'm thrilled that W has finally found something he truly loves.

It's interesting how a lot of changes in W have coincided with his turning 13 this month.

Speaking of which, the older my kids get, the less I can blog about.  That's why I dropped the posts to once a month.  W is focusing on academics, MMA, and computer stuff.  Not much has changed since September.   Field trips and homeschool group classes have lessened in frequency - he's been everywhere and done everything and he's focusing more on his own personal projects now.  We still do wonderful things around NYC, but it's on a different level.  J's dance life is fun and exciting, but it's hard to get too specific regarding her experiences.  Once she's living at her new school, I won't know as much about what's going on as I know now.  And K will be 21 this year and is already preparing for her career and adult life.  When my babies were 3, 8, and 11 and I had just started blogging, life with them was so new and there were so many things to discover and experience.  There are still so many new things to experience with the kids, but it's different now.

The good thing is that W will still be homeschooling in New York City all through high school, so there will still be stuff to blog about.  I'm not saying good-bye, but I will be posting much less frequently.  I still have high school IHIPs to post and achievements to brag about, lol.  I want to say thank you so much to my subscribers - all 200+ of you.  Many of whom have been with me since the beginning, and for that I'm so grateful.  Til next time...

Friday, February 28, 2014

February 2014

Ok, so using only the apologia text book and lab kit and forming lessons only around the experiments is working better than I could have imagined.  We finished Module 4 (simple machines) and we found some short documentary films on levers, mechanical advantage, pulleys, inclined planes, etc.  This is such a fun way to learn!  In Module 6 we attempted to grow alum crystals, but we had to wait days for them to grow.  We learned a lot, though!

We're on Lesson 64 in Saxon, the last chapter of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lesson 18 in Getting Started w/Spanish, we finished the Shel Silverstein poem book (didn't get another one yet), we're about to start the Persuasion section in Jump In, Part 2 of K12 Human Odyssey (Confucius, Buddhism, Hinduism, Greeks), and Part 5 (the Lithosphere) in Runkle's Geography.  We're taking our time.  It's easier to move at a nice, even pace instead of rushing just to finish.  And when there's a good understanding, you can move on with confidence and the new lessons are that much easier.  I noticed that in school, books are never finished, understanding is minimal, and enjoyment is practically nonexistent.  I honestly cannot be happier that W wants to keep homeschooling through high school.

Normally, February is a blah month for homeschoolers - it's a bit too cold for field trips, it's the mid-year point where academics are just flowing along, and it's kind of boring.  But, planning for the spring seems to remedy all of that for me.  I have a lot of project and field trip ideas that I'm excited about.

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And J this month:
  • was accepted into her first choice school (AMDA) with a nice scholarship!!!  
  • did an outstanding job in LaGuardia High School's Rising Stars talent show
  • is starting some serious rehearsals for some upcoming competitions
  • is still working with one of her favorite choreographers doing a bunch of pieces for his new YouTube channel
  • went to the ASH weekend dance convention in New Jersey with her friends.
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And there's even some awesome K news:
  • She began a new adventure:  The Aveda Institute - one of the top beauty schools in NYC.  It's a half-year program in Soho.  She will be working several evenings a week where she is now and take classes during the day.  I've never seen her more excited about her future.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

January 2014

Happy New Year!  I have a feeling 2014 is going to be challenging.  I don't know why. Maybe it's because:
  • I'm nervous about J getting into her school of choice
  • K will be starting a new school and possibly a new career
  • W will need to start really preparing for public high school (if he still wants to go down that path). 
  • My unemployment benefits will end early this year
  • I'll be looking for a new part-time job
  • I'm finally starting regular doctor visits this year
  • W is turning THIRTEEN
  • My stepdad's physical and mental health is rapidly heading downhill
Well, I'm going to do my best to make this year wonderful regardless of my (hopefully irrational) worries.  

This is the schedule we've been experimenting with this month.  I'm going to give it another month then let you know how well it worked (and if we'll continue with it):  

Current Events:  Channel One News  (Daily)
After watching the daily 10-minute video, we discuss what's in the news and W hand-writes one complete, perfect sentence from one news topic.  
Math:  Saxon Algebra 1/2  (Daily)
Moving along nicely here.  W still loves this program and still uses the whiteboard to work out all the problems.  
Cursive:  Harcourt Cursive Practice  (Daily)
He's 1/2-way through this workbook.  His cursive is a little nicer than his print writing.  Spelling is better and there are no letter reversals.  Once this book is done, it's done.  
5 min break  
Literature:  Lightning Literature 7  (Daily)
We just finished Tom Sawyer and we're about to begin a study of about 7 poems from Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages.  This section should go fairly quickly.  One poem, plus vocabulary and comprehension questions every couple of days.
Writing:  Lightning Literature 7 and Jump In  (M,W,F)
I'm not sure how much I like the LL writing exercises.  W will do a few since we have it, but our main writing book for the rest of the year will be Jump In.  Most of his writing will be typed.  Jump In already seems like a keeper.  W is not only doing the writing exercises, he's doing them really well!  He even typed for 10 minutes straight, completing more than a whole page of creative writing.  I'm in shock.  There were a few spelling and punctuation issues, but damn, it was good.  I knew waiting until he was older to start creative writing was the right idea.  He has been preparing for it, doing small chunks of things, for years.  Now, he's ready and it shows. 
Geography:  Runkle's World Physical Geography  (T,TH)
So much information in this book.  The short lessons are perfect.  I try and make this very hands on, using maps, the globe, and the flashcards I printed out from another site.  
Poetry:  Shel Silverstein's Every Thing On It   (Daily)
W reads up to 6 poems out loud.  This alone has improved his reading so much.  The rhyme, the tempo, and the humor all seem to work really well together to procure a wonderful reading confidence in him.  He uses some of these poems to practice typing as well (with and without looking at the keys). W is actually sad that we're almost done with this book.  I promised I'd buy 2 more, lol.  
History:  K12 Human Odyssey 1  (M,W,F)
I like this book a lot.  W reads sections of it silently and aloud.  It includes great photos, maps, and stories.  I combine this with documentaries once or twice a month.
Science:  (T,TH)
I love the Holt Physical Science book - W, not so much.  Sigh.  So, I'm going to try combining it with the Apologia experiments (I still have the Apologia books and lab kit - it's the only part of Apologia W liked), the Apologia textbook (for me to read and prepare the lab), and utilize the Holt CD Rom and various website for worksheets and video clips.  
Spanish:  Getting Started With Spanish  (Daily)
W likes this book and the short daily lessons are simple and easy.  He'll probably get more out of the quick daily lessons than K did in all 4 years of high school.  He reads this independently.

The interesting thing is that W retains a whole lot more when we keep the lessons short - from 5 to 30 minutes per subject.  Dropping the subject time made them a lot more fun and interesting. Then he much more eagerly moves onto the next subject.  Charlotte Mason knew what she was talking about when she said short lessons are important.  I'm still concerned that W may plateau at the middle-school level when it comes to reading and writing.  It's all too common with dyslexics.  I plan on doing everything I can to make sure that does not happen.  So, if it means we keep the lessons short and fun, then so be it.

W is getting more and more independent with his academics.  He already is self-taught with anything technological and computer-related.  Now he's starting to do more independent work in more than half his subjects.  I supervise, correct, and encourage - which is all he needs from me.

Even though W will make his own decision about high school, I have to say, I do hope he chooses homeschooling.  I mean, he already has an idea as to where he will start working/volunteering when he's 14, at which company he'd like to be an apprentice, what will be a "starter" job in his chosen field, and ultimately what to have as a career.  Academics will be done at home, outsourced, and in organized groups of other homeschoolers.  NYC is and has always been a homeschooler's dream due to the great homeschool community and all the resources available.  I have hundreds of field trips and classes bookmarked that he hasn't even done yet.  SAT and/or ACT tests will be taken and his transcript will look amazing.  I just feel that public high school is an unnecessary, stifling 4-year holding bin.  W doesn't want his future postponed like that.  If he had his way he'd start applying for jobs now, lol.  I can understand wanting to go to a top specialized or performing arts high school (with 3 or 4 classes each day devoted to a particular art, not 1 or 2), but that's really it - and only for certain types of children.  Even the NYC high schools that focus on a certain field don't focus enough to make the rest of the nonsense worth it.  But that's just my opinion.

Anyway, W will decide by the fall.
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J had a busy month.  Here's a look at what she did.  She:
  • is still in heavy rehearsal mode for the upcoming competition season and for Rising Stars
  • was part of a filmed dance demonstration for one of her choreographers.  He had it filmed like a music video and is featuring it on his new YouTube channel.
  • rehearsed for and performed in her Senior Dance Showcase.  This was a beautiful bunch of demonstrations of what the kids do in their classes.  There was a ballet, Horton, and Graham demo, some Junior Projects, and solos from 4 kids who got "merit" and "honorable mention" in the YoungArts  Presidential Scholars program this year.   
  • went to a friend's birthday party at Jay-Z's 40/40 Club
  • was in a music video for another up-and-coming artist (who is also a friend from school)
  • was asked by a celebrity photographer (who was at the aforementioned music video shoot) if she would like to be in a music video (for a young rapper) a few days later because she has "the look" they want.  Wow. (and it was a paid gig)
Here is the first music video J is in - she's one of the background dancers:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

December 2013

Ahhh, December.  As I say every year, there is nothing better than Christmas in NYC.  W and I did our usual round of Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree and FAO Schwarz.  We saw a few store windows, too, but he wasn't so into that this year.  All 5 of us and my mom met up in Manhattan one night, had a nice dinner at a small cafe/diner, and walked over (through the Lincoln Center grounds, which were beautifully decked out for Christmastime) to LaGuardia High School's production of Grease.  As usual, the school show was out of this world.  So many of J's friends were in it and even B and I knew a lot of the kids.  The entire 8-show run in the 1150-seat concert hall was completely sold out.  J didn't audition for this show.  I kinda wish she did, not only for the cool experience it would have been, but also because a particular famous parent whose child was in the show, took a bunch of the cast out for a big celebration.  Sigh.  J really couldn't care less about things like that - but I would have loved to hear all about it, lol.

B and I once again got to see J in all 3 hours of her afternoon dance classes at school for "Parent Observation Day".  That day she had 90 minutes of classical ballet and 90 minutes of Horton modern.  The kids did their usual combinations and at the end they practiced for the big Senior Dance Showcase which they'll be performing in at the end of January.  All the dancers are truly amazing.

J stretching at school

This month, J also:

  • has been in rehearsals for the big Rising Stars school talent show which is the first or second weekend in February
  • was personally asked to be a dancer on a (somewhat famous) hip hop choreographer's video demo reel
  • took a theater jazz class with Lane Napper.  She was his guest that day (they have mutual friends) and he even singled J out to demonstrate a certain combination for the class
  • has been busy working on all new choreography for the upcoming dance competition season.  She is doing 2 solos and 3 group numbers this year.  

W is doing great with academics.  I think we have finally found the perfect weekly schedule (until it's not perfect anymore, lol).  But really, he even mentioned to me how good it was.  I know we are constantly changing our order and frequency of things, but the content pretty much remains the same.  PreAlgebra and Tom Sawyer are moving along very nicely.  Science (chemical & physical changes) and History (Ancient Egypt) are also sinking in well.  We have stayed on track and he's taking it all pretty seriously.  It could be because he's almost 13 and more mature now, but also because he has expressed interest in trying public high school.  He said he wants to see what all the hype is about.  We have already looked at a few options for him and are most happy with a small, local school that has excellent ratings and reviews.  After we did the research, a friend of his came back to CCD class (after 2 years) and it turns out that she goes to that school (it's a secondary school that include middle grades).  B and her mom spoke at length and she has nothing but good things to say about it (her 10th grader goes there, too).  So, I'll take that as a sign that we're choosing correctly.  Whether or not he changes his mind is fine with me.  But for now, he is happily getting his work done.

W has recently decided that he's just that not into scouting anymore.  He really wanted to be and gave it a good shot, but he won't be going back.  He'd rather keep his main focus on his MMA training.  This month he tested for his first stripe.  In this gym, after 4 stripes he can test for a blue "belt" (which is actually black and blue shorts - he wears black and white ones now).  In Muay Thai, there technically isn't a color ranking system like they have in other martial arts.  The stripes and colors are most likely so the gym can keep track of who's where.  But still, it was so exciting to watch.  Everything he did looked so difficult and with him being the youngest in the group, I was so nervous for him.  At the end he did get his stripe - and the recognition of having the best technique out of everyone.  What a proud moment for W!

W (w/mouth guard in) after getting his MMA stripe