Thursday, September 28, 2006

We went out to visit some homeschooling friends this morning! C and M are in our homeschool group and invited us over to do some grammar games and hang out. M is J's age and they get along very well. He is a gorgeous, exuberant boy who's never been to school and I feel is such a positive influence on J. C is one of the most creative moms I've ever met and I could sit and talk to her all day. She and M have always unschooled and now that he's 10, she wants to start him on some "skill sets" and will do some brief, fun lessons/games reviewing the basics. I loved that she invited us along for the ride, since J loves learning games - and with others involved, it's just that much more fun. She couldn't wait to play and wanted to keep playing after they were finished! The board game is called "Go To Press" and involves moving around the board into different rooms, correcting the grammar in newspaper headlines.

C has lots of those cool educational games that I always see in educational catalogs, but are too chicken to buy, lest my kids hate them and there goes $20 down the toilet. So I got to check a bunch out and now I plan on buying most of them! W liked one in particular with plastic cars that teaches logic and spatial reasoning. He didn't feel so good today. He's a bit constipated and had a tummy ache all afternoon.

After the game, the kids went outside and played on the trampoline for hours. My kids loved it. They also have a cat which kept them entertained as well. I enjoyed watching the kids have so much fun, spend time playing outdoors, and get along so great. I was hoping J wasn't tiring herself out too much because she had dance in the evening. She did fine, though. Speaking of dance, she has a lot of performances coming up over the next 2 months. Now she might do Madison Square Garden again in November! Cool!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Today I asked if anybody felt like doing workbook with me. Two voices screamed, "ME ME ME ME". Hmm, ok. I normally don't ask, but since I know for a fact that they enjoy them, I figured they just got forgotten about. W was first and we flipped through the pages, stopping on what looked like fun. What he passes over one day will be the fun one the next. He did pages on beginning and ending sounds, telling time on the hour (I didn't know he knew how to do that - he even knew the tricky 12:00), addition and subtraction up to 10 (using pennies and fingers), and learning how to use a table of contents. Then we read several stories in a book that actually had a table of contents. He liked to read me the same story I just read him. It makes sense because he feels like he is reading really well, when in fact he's just remembering what I read first. But, he points to the words as he reads (remembers) them, so he's really teaching himself.

J was almost losing patience that I was taking so long with W. She really wanted to get started. I really wish I had this drive for learning at that age. She got out her new bridge workbook and we did pages on metaphors (she totally gets it and came up with excellent ones that I feel she should put into a story), a quick review of prime and composite numbers, and about an hour on US states and capitals. We first labeled all the states in the correct places (I always get stuck on everything between Nevada and Kentucky, sigh). Then matched up the states with the capitals. Forget it, I totally suck at that. So, I decided to just cheat and found J's "Kids Atlas of the US" and told her to read me off the capitals, lol. I was done, but J remembered how much she loved the Kids Atlas and did a 2-page puzzle where the only way to find the answers are if you know what a legend is, what scale means, and what coordinates are. She also had to know what city was in what state and how to find an interstate, National Park, and river on a map. I never seen 2 kids have more fun with workbooks.

Musical Theater was at 4:45pm (all 3 kids), Boys Hip-Hop at 6:15pm (W), and Advanced Hip-Hop at 7:15pm (J). W was the best behaved he's ever been. I swear it makes all the difference in the world whether B or I take him. Today *I* took him. And I will be taking him from now on. B doesn't mind when W goofs off. Sorry, but I do and W knows it. And I will be taking W to his solo lesson from now on, too. He has one tomorrow at noon. W's behavior has been incredible lately. With me, anyway. I do believe that with homeschooling he is learning how to act and be in the real world. He has more patience, is less frustrated and angry, is way more interested in things around him, and is more open and friendly with new and old friends. I've noticed a huge difference since JUNE. I mean he has his moments, but he's just such a happier kid now overall.

One of the moms at dance was telling me she read an article on homeschooling today and how they mentioned advanced test scores and higher achievement than schooled peers. I told her yesterday about our Russian afternoon and she said it all sounded to wonderful. Today all I heard from moms (at least 5) was how much studying and homework their kids have, how many tests are this week, how they had so much to do they had to miss the dance class yesterday, how their kids' class is reviewing old stuff to death because of the big standardized test this year, how this one was up til midnight finishing a report, yadda yadda yadda. I did feel bad at what the kids and parents had to go through, but inside I was dancing and so thankful that we homeschool. We are freeeeeeeeeee, and yet my kids are still very smart, very socialized, and very active. 'Nuff said.
We had our "Foreign Lands Club" get-together yesterday. Russia (The Russian Federation) was the country of focus this month. The kids and I ended up making a quick and easy noodle, egg, and cheese casserole. It came out pretty good - a little bland, but everyone liked it. The rest of the food there was out of this world. We had potato babkas, lamb stew with chestnuts, appetizer plates with cucumber, pickles, beets, eggs, sliced cheese, thin-sliced meats, caviar, sardines, tea, and several types of thick, crusty bread. And the desserts would blow you away: blinis, stewed/fresh berried with whipped cream, Russian tea cookies, and a jam tart.

The children each did an oral presentation on some aspect of Russia. I think the children picked things like: food, sports, Josef Stalin, Faberge Eggs, music, and Matrouska (sp?) dolls). J did a presentation on the flag - talking about the history of the white, blue, and red flag as well as the red flag with the hammer and sickle. She did great! The last time shemade an oral presentation like that was in 3rd grade. It was on Japan and she was so nervous, she turned sideway so to not look at anyone. And she talked so fast to just get it over with. She was a wreck and I felt terribly sad for her. But yesterday she was very in control, confident, looked out at the "audience", and asked if anyone had questions. It was such a turnaround. And she told me she cannot wait til next month's presentation.

One young child (5) was losing her place and getting stuck on some words. She didn't want her mom to help (she was determined to get through it), but did accept help from one of the older (10) boys. She felt more comfortable with another child helping than being the only one who needs mommy up there. What I thought of was that if this child was in school, she would be up there struggling with her presentation, the others would most likely laugh, the teacher most likely wouldn't say the right things to make her feel better, and the poor child would grow up with a fear of public speaking (like most of this country has).

K is still doing pretty well in school. She's gotten grades all in the 90s so far, except for yesterday's 65 in math. It's like she just has this cut-off switch with math. No matter how many time we go over it together, it's not clicking. Thankfully, I find 8th-grade math very easy and I'm able to help her. I think I'm going to change my approach and create problems for her in a way she understands from now on. I know if I can get over that hump-of-understanding, she'll be fine.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Whoa! Long time, no blog. Sorry 'bout that.

We've been busy this week, with dance starting and being there just about every day. The kids have been learning lots, too. W has been using the computer for educational games (and fun games) and his workbooks are getting used a lot too. J has also been computerin' and workbookin'. Dance has been intense for her, as they kicked it all up a notch this year. They have 2 new technique teachers and several big performances over the next 2 months. She is dancing at a mall opening on Sep 30th, a Light the Night Leukemia fundraiser on Oct 7th, and Six Flags Great Adventure on Oct 14th. She's excited, but I'm a bit saddened that I can only go to the last one. I work Saturdays and cannot get those days off. Sigh. B says he can handle it, though, and my mom said she'd help, too.

We have been doing so much with our homeschool group lately! It's great that we can go to these activities now that W is home. Today we had an Arabic Calligraphy lesson that the kids just loved! They used calligraphy pens and sponge brushes to make the letters on rice paper. We learned some of the history of Arabic lettering and how it's used in art. J was very into it. She stayed behind to do more after the lesson was over and even asked to do more when we got home! She also ran around the playground with the other kids playing tag and cops/robbers. I so enjoy watching my kids run around in the fresh air like kids are supposed to do, instead of being stuck sitting behind a desk doing boring work for 6 hours.

Speaking of which, K seems to be doing well so far this year. We're still doing homework together every night, studying for tests, and she even got a 95% on a small project for Spanish. K admits school is very boring and sometimes frustrating, but enjoys the social aspect. She talks about all the boys she thinks are cute and who's flirting with her this week, who's coming to her party and what clothes she HAS to have by next week. The Halloween Dance is coming up soon and the 8th graders are entitled to the best spot on the dance floor. Yup, that's what school is all about for her. Well I'm doing my best to help her keep her head on straight, make good decisions, and know that her family is her rock.

Here's an article I came across as I was cleaning out my favorites. I can relate, how 'bout you? :

Homeschooling Saves Your Child From Destruction

Monday, September 18, 2006

We had a great day at the playground with 6 other homeschooling families from our group. The kids (ranging in age from 2 to 10) played an hours long game of cops and robbers while the parents had a group meeting. We had lunch together and I noticed W freely sharing everything he had - which was just a refreshing, wonderful thing to witness. On the way home, both kids raved about how much fun they had and how awesome the other kids are. Yay! I love my group!

We picked up K and drove J to dance. Today was the first day of the season. J had 2 hours of company tap and jazz technique, then a kickline class, and finally a lyrical class. I know she had to be exhausted after running around the park for 4 hours, but she did great. Tomorrow all the kids have Musical Theater, then W has Boys Hip-Hop, and J has a mainstream hip-hop class.

K is doing very well so far in 8th grade. I'm vigilantly checking and helping with all her homework and explaining things she doesn't understand. She's enjoying school - it's especially great this year with all the cool things the 8th graders get to do. She has vowed to do her best this year. So we'll see. I'll feel better in the spring once she's accepted to a good high school. Then I'll be able to relax a bit, lol.

Friday, September 15, 2006

J was supposed to have a tap class, but the teacher was sick so it was cancelled. I went out to buy her new tap shoes this morning ($73!!), but I heard later that they may not be using that style this year so just keep them in the box til we know for sure. We went to visit J's old dance studio and say hi to the owner who was there and commented that J got so big. J is still part of the logo on that studio's website - a pic they took of her when she was 3 (which you can see HERE). It's a great studio, with tons of classes and even voice, drama, and audition classes. K was selected by the talent agent who works with them and she went on several auditions for print and tv ads back in 1999. That's too much of a strange world for us, though. The other parents and children we met were very, um, "holier-than-thou" and unfriendly. Besides we cannot drop everything when they call, as they expect you to. We may have considered pursuing more of it if it were feasible at that time, though, mainly for K's college money.

We went food shopping this afternoon and got into a conversation about why the bagged spinach was off the shelves. We discussed e-coli, physical symptoms, crop growing practices, and farms in general which in turn led to why Macintosh apples are real cheap this time of year (we got lots!). They helped me shop and J rattled off math facts very quickly in her head regarding unit pricing, sales, and produce weight/price.

I have been letting K walk home from school this week with 2 of her friends. Of course I'm a nervous wreck, but she calls me when her friends go home and we talk the whole 1.5 blocks she's by herself. She is almost 13, and I can remember being allowed to do a helluva lot more at that age. But it's a different world now and I'm not comfortable with too much freedom for her yet. CCD (Sunday school) starts up this weekend and K goes only for a month before making her Confirmation. I stopped by the restaurant we're having her party in and left a $ deposit. We're having a big buffet spread and a DJ for the 4-hour party. I bought an invitation "kit" in lieu of ordering the $116/for 50 she originally wanted. I spent about 1 1/2 hours printing them out myself with font, color, and content chosed by K. I must say for $26.99 they came out FANTASTIC and look almost identical to the professional ones.

In the dance shop, I got into a conversation about high schools with the lady there. Her daughter goes to the school that I was looking at for K and I asked her about it. I told her I called them and the guidance counselor there told me we weren't zoned for that school so I sadly had to cross it off my list. She said it wasn't a zoned school and she gave me the name of a woman she knows who works there. OMG! This school is so perfect for K - very small and in a neighborhood I like. It would be ideal if she got in there. I read once there were no coincidences in life and that everything really does happen for a reason. This had to be one of those.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It's so strange to me.

J and W ask to do their workbooks every day. I am truly amazed that they find them so fun. I guess I kind of understand, since we are unschooling and I read that children do regain/maintain a love of learning. But I just remember HATING anything even resembling schoolwork. But I do love math and word puzzles now (way after putting school behind me). Both kids are learning brand new concepts in math and language arts in these books and get so giddy when real understanding sets in and they get the answers right. J actually said subtraction is fun (e.g. 5,000,000 - 3,867,532). What?! How awesome is it to live life without that school-dread? I so wish unschooling was around when I was a kid.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I'm not sure I'm feeling so positive about the new homeschool coordinator. I'm hearing she is overstepping a bit and imparting her own "extras" to the NY regulations -like telling hs'ers not to be outside during school hours and to use a packaged curriculum. I'm so not in the mood for this crap. I know she's new and has no idea about ANYTHING, but this is ridiculous. The only thing to do is make sure all of us homeschoolers stick with what's in the regulations and don't offer anything more. Correspondence should be very minimal - just what is written. Many proponents of public school education don't trust us and will create additions to the regs to suit their own insecurities. Don't let it happen. If you're new to NY homeschooling I advise you to join the NY-HEN Yahoo group and read back at least 10 pages to get a good understanding of what is really expected of you as far as reporting to the state. Know as much as you can.

Anyhoo, yesterday we stopped at Toys R Us and picked up a really cool edu-science Scientist Kit, a fully-organ'ed head/torso of the human body, and a Trivial Pursuit game - which we played as soon as we got home. I have always loved Trivial Pursuit (since the very very first edition came out). I wanted to buy the regular one, but all they had were ones based on Disney, LOTR, Star Wars, Saturday Night Live, the 80s, and a kids version. I reluctantly got the kids one, figuring it would be no challenge for me, but I was so wrong. I barely got half the questions right and ended up glad we got that "kids" version. K and J were 3 pieces ahead of me and here I was thinking it would be too easy. With a little tweaking for W, I find it's a game that can suit everyone.

This morning, J, W, and I tore into the scientist kit. We spent most of the time putting the cool "lab stuff" together. We put together the balance and spring scales, main console (with test tube and battery holders), and several other things. We did a few basic experiments, but are looking forward the ones using electro-magnetic force, solar energy, electricity, and chemical energy. It tries to be so "professional", with so many intricate little parts and instuctions to calibrate everything correctly. The kids asked to do a few experiments a week. I like that idea!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Today was J's company auditions at the dance studio. The kids worked with new choreographers and were evaluated and scored on abilities by about 5-7 judges watching their every move. J and one of the girls from the older group sang, too. She said it was so cool and fun, and she felt she did really well. We should get their scores in a few weeks. The point of this is to get the kids used to auditioning and working with new and different people. These kids are all so talented - some will be trying out for a performing arts high school, some will be auditioning for professional venues, and all of them just love displaying what they can do, so the more practice the better.

K is at her cousin's 14th birthday party. Their going to an Italian feast tonight and K is sleeping over. I wanted to go to a medieval festival tomorrow out in Long Island, but we'll just go next weekend, maybe. I had a nice day at work and B did a great job chauffering all the kids all over NYC today. Now we get to relax. I think we're all pretty exhausted.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Today was great! We went to a homeschoolers picnic in the park and the kids played wonderfully together the whole time. From basketball to shuffleboard to tag in the playground, they had such a great time. My kids found the other homeschoolers to be so friendly and fun and can't wait until the next event. And of course I feel totally in my element among the other moms who just *understand* things. We share the same concerns and many of the same interests, even beyond homeschooling. I'm so happy we can finally be a bigger part of this great group.

I found out from La Maitresse that a woman named Henrietta Becoat will be taking over all the homeschool duty in NYC. No more separation by region and worrying which superintendent is stricter than another one. Now it's just her. I called her this afternoon to get a feel of what we'll be dealing with, and she did seem genuinely concerned about how homeschoolers aren't getting the attention they deserve and how we aren't taken seriously. I'm not sure how to take that, because that could mean she plans on being as strict with the regs as possible, or it could mean she wants to be an advocate for us and accept what we give her. But, she did seem as aggravated as I was that NY happens to have some of the strictest regs in the country. So, we'll see what's in store for this year. I'm not going to get my hopes up, but had a pretty good vibe by the end of the call.

Oh, and it was my birthday today. I'm starting to feel old.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

So, things are going well. Yesterday J and W spent a lot of time perfecting their Heely maneuvers. J went from skidding and tripping all over the place to professional Heely level in about 20 minutes, lol. W was showing her his moves, too. He had his private dance lesson last night. He's learning so much with the studio owner. W is more comfortable with B in the dance room, and B loves being there. He took the kids for pizza afterward. W fell right asleep when he got home and I read some Greek and Norse myths to the girls before bed. I love that K still loves being read to.

This morning, J and W did some workbook, played on the computer, and Heely'd around the apartment some more. We went to the park around 1pm so they could Heely around outside. There were lots of kids there (it seemed the Catholic school got out early or something), but J didn't feel like playing today. She is at the same age K was when she stopped enjoying the playground. I hope that's not it.

I'm going to make another list of all the things the kids love doing - and places they love going. I'm not very creative and using that for ideas is such a big help. Many times they need me to initiate most of the activities, so having a list that they create works wonders. I am so full of cool ideas but haven't wrote anything down yet - so you know that means I don't remember any when I need them. So that's what we'll do tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, it's the Back To No-School Picnic with our homeschool group! The kids are so excited. I'll write about it tomorrow night.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

K went off to school bright and chipper this morning. She was excited to see her friends and get back into the swing of things there.

The first thing J wanted to do today was her new workbook. We sat together for almost an hour doing 2-4 pages in each subject section. She breezed through it and found all of it fun. I didn't realize how greatly her skills have improved after a 1 1/2 years being out of school. Her reading comprehension alone blew me away. That was one area in school she was constantly criticized for. The math part, as usual, was easy for her, as were the sections on language arts and writing. There's a test prep part in the back that she did some of, too, since she will be taking a standardized test this spring. She's glad she chose the 6th (rather than 5th) grade book. She also has another workbook she's eager to crack open.

J also started writing a story about a girl in an orphanage. I happened to catch her with pen and notebook last night (wow) and then again this morning finishing up the second chapter (double wow). Then she read it to me and typed it up on MS Word. I'm so proud of her for feeling comfortable writing again. I noticed that her handwriting has really changed and become more deliberate and mature all of a sudden. I think she might have finally deschooled enough now to let her real self shine through.

W played on the computer while I sat with J. She needs quiet and concentration, so having him next to us wasn't working. He watched J for a little while, though. After J was done, W came over with his big 1st grade book to do with me. We hit a few pages on each subject section. He's finding the math pretty easy and likes the reading comprehension part - it's like a game to him. He's getting better at writing letters and numbers now, too. J was reading 100-page books and taught herself perfect cursive at 5 years-old, so it feels weird to see W not loving reading and writing like J did. But I know they're different kids and I shouldn't compare. But what I do notice is that he's very particular about showing others these abilities. It's as if he has to really know it well first. Well, whatever it is, it's right for him so it's right for me. I believe he'll be an incredible reader and writer if he's able to take all the time he needs.

We visited the library around 1pm. They took out 8 books and 2 tapes. J wants to read a "series", so she decided on something light called The Spiderwick Chronicles (in addition to books on Russia, Johnny Appleseed, and Medieval times). W picked books on space, origami, kids in NYC, and funny poems. We picked up K, went home, and J and W started on some origami. K told me all about her day, what teachers she has, what supplies she needs, and I filled out and signed the usual beginning-of-school forms. I made sure to make copies of all the class outlines and her schedule so I can be fully on top of what's going on. K is shooting for straight As this year. And I'll be helping in every way I can.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

J and W are sooo excited for us to "begin" homeschooling for the year. They both are just clamoring for the fun stuff we're going to do. I have been throwing around ideas to them lately and writing down everything I (and they) can think of. I bought some more books at B&N (with my educator's discount - yeehaw), like a few more workbooks and reading books they wanted. I'm thinking of so many cool activities and trips and experiments. I love planning stuff. It fits so well with my Virgo-Type-A personality. Of course we can start "school" anytime we want, but with K starting 8th grade in 3 days (yikes) it gives us a nice launching point as well. New year, new ideas. KWIM?

So, the girls are at my mom's again. And again she took them shopping. She knows I just bought them tons of clothes, but she never thinks they have enough. Sigh. But I know she really really LOVES shopping with them and buying them stuff, so I don't mind too much. She knows W hates walking around the mall and shopping, so now that she got some of that out of her system she says she wants to bring him out there too next time.

I worked all day, B took W food shopping, and we stopped to get my nephew a birthday gift for his party tomorrow. W and I put together a big Lego knight named "Dracus". He did just about all of it himself with me reading out the directions and was so proud of it. He played with it for a long time. He loves the one-on-one time he gets with B and me when the girls are at my mom's. He's really becoming so mature, responsible, and so much more curious. I love this age.