Monday, December 31, 2007

Ahhh, New Year's Eve. A time of new beginnings, new hopes, and new ideas. We're going to a black-and-white-attire masquerade party tonight. It starts at 8pm, but I'm working til 9, so B is leaving the kids there, picking me up, and we'll be back there by 9:30. He made spinach dip inside a round sourdough loaf to bring tonight. This is with the dance company, and it's at the studio, so the kids will be hanging out with lots of friends to bring in the new year.

They are still having a blast with the Gamecube. B ordered some more games for them (they're cheap since Gamecube isn't really sold anymore, woohoo) and they're loving it. The girls and I played Mad Gabs agian today and it was just as funny as the other day. B is out buying those masquerade masks that the kids will decorate when they get home and wear tonight. I'm trying to straighten up a bit and then get ready for work soon. The tree and decorations are coming down tomorrow and then this place will get a good mopping. This was a nice holiday season. I think 2008 will be a fantastic year (8 is my lucky number). 2007 wasn't bad, though. The kids have been happy and healthy, and school and homeschool has been awesome so far.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

We've never been much of a video game family. We had something called "Pico" when K was 2 - which surprisingly lasted until W was 2, an old Nintendo and Sega system from before I got married, and the kids all had (have) DS'es. We weren't interested in Playstation or XBox or Wii. But last year I caved and bought them a Gamecube - it was relatively cheap and they had played it at a friend's house and loved it. Then after a couple of months they broke one of the wires and it's been like that since 2 days ago. New cord, new fascination. Wow. And they are so GOOD at it. What is it with kids and video games? And especially homeschooled kids? So many homeschoolers even make careers out of gaming! I mean, I can kick anyone's ass at Ms. Pacman, but a career out of these candy store games was unheard of among my peers. Technology today is certainly amazing, though. We have access to things now never before imagined. I wonder if this will become something my kids would like to excel at and pursue further. Interesting. I'm curious to see where this takes them.

This has been a weird week. J had such a big day planned yesterday. Dance rehearsal was from 1-2, a private sewing class from 2:30-4 (she got a sewing machine for Christmas and needed to learn how to use it - and make a first project), and a sleepover birthday party that started at 5. A stomach virus that started in the wee early morning hours that day put an end to any Friday plans. Instead she slept all day, only waking to puke and drink tea. Poor thing. K had the same virus a few days before, so I should have known. She's fine today, but I'm nervous about the rest of us getting it.

So we decided to get a second car. My work hours are about to change in the next couple of months and the lack of babysitters, B's work schedule, and J's dance schedule all prompted us to that decision. I'm looking for something used in the $1500 range. Say a prayer for us that this works out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas!

So, I had to work on Christmas Eve (thank you Mr. Scrooge) but I was able to change my hours from 6pm-9pm to 11am-2pm. Woohoo! My mom came and picked up the kids around 9am, drove them out to Long Island, took them to breakfast, took them ice skating, and back to the house to make cookies. The girls went next door to their friend's house for a while, too. After work I did a little bit of last minute shopping, came home, wrapped for 2 hours with B, and drove out to mom's.

Christmas Eve was great being with my family. We had a nice dinner (seafood and pasta catered from a nearby restaurant) and nice desserts. We all had new Christmas pajamas, too! After everyone was asleep I had a great time hanging out with my sister, drinking wine, and doing last minute wrapping. (hi shell!)


Christmas Morning was one of the best ever. The kids made out very well this year. Between their parents and grandparents, everything they wanted was pretty much covered. K's favorite gift was a coat from American Eagle. J's favorite was a purple Razor moped. W's favorite was a cool "Avenue Q"-type puppet kind of like THIS ONE. Oh and my favorite, EyeClops (hand-held, lit, 200x magnifyer, connected to the tv). We spent today looking at our hair, skin, up our noses, in our ears, at pennies, the rug, and our teeth. Everything so far has been really disgusting that close up. We drove over to my sister's house Christmas afternoon for a great dinner (and more presents, lol). We packed everyone up by 5:30pm and headed back to the city to go to MIL's. More family, more desserts, more presents. I was wiped out by then, but catching up with family we don't see often perked me right up.


Today K went out with friends and J, W, and I played. Besides the EyeClops, we played a game called "Mad Gab" which is so weird, we laughed nonstop. The kids played with the old Game Cube (B picked up a new plug which the kids broke like 9 months ago, so now it's like new to them, lol) and loaded up songs on their new iPods. I made a vow to myself (like I do every year) to get this apartment super organized like never before. So, I'm starting early, before Jan 1st, and today got rid of all the bags, paper, and garbage we brought home. Tomorrow I'm doing the laundry, dishes, bathroom, and refrigerator. Then Friday I'm cleaning out the car and the bedrooms. That's my New Year's Resolution.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

J and I were up and out at 7am to go to rehearsal for a NJ Nets game! Her performance team did a 10-minute number for the pre-show (that's her front and center). We drove an hour to NJ for rehearsal at 8:30am. They finished around 1pm. Call was for 5:50pm so we got to hang out together all day. We went to a nice shopping center, had lunch, and bought stuff in Borders (can't keep away, help me) and AC Moore (acrylic paint and cookie cutters for ornaments we're making tomorrow). We got to IZOD stadium early and J got dressed and did her makeup and hair. Right after that we drove to the parking garage and met everyone in the lobby of the stadium. The kids went in at 6, we went in at 6:30, and they performed at 7:05pm. I ran down to the front to take pictures. They were so great!! J is in the front line for most of this dance. We picked up the kids right after and headed home (not a basketball fan, no need to stay, lol). At home, W loved the read-along books on CD and listened to one right away. Then he and J read together (J wanted the Daring Book for Girls and W got out his Dangerous Book for Boys. I love those, too. I have absolutely no problem with gender stereotyping, ;). Tomorrow is sleeping, cleaning, and last minute prep for Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Something I've been wondering about lately is the idea of grammar school. The more I homeschool my son, the more I don't understand what it's for. It can't be about the learning. It just can't. I was looking at a checklist for first grade and W knows everything on there (very well, I might add) without having been stuck at a desk for hours every day, taking stressful tests, being made to complete homework, being reprimanded by a stranger (I mean teacher) in front of his friends, or having his day completely controlled by someone else. This is what J's schools (3 of them) were like. I remember it fully. Looking back, all that misery was so pointless. W actually learned the entire first grade course of study (and most of the 2nd grade one) through merely being a kid and enjoying his life every day.

What made me ponder this today was something on the checklist called "ordinal numbers". I wasn't sure what kind of numbers that was and looked it up. Oh, ORDER-nal numbers - 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th. Gotcha. I have never even thought to explain that to W. I asked him (a few months ago) if he understood how to count in order and he said, yeah. So I said "first" and he continued with 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th. When he got to 28th I said thank you and he was on his way. Schools have lessons, homework, and tests on this, I swear. Just about everything on that first-grade outline are things kids will learn by just being the naturally curious kids that they are. Time, calendar, value of coins, plants, seeds, weather, sun, moon, stars, magnets, good eating habits, dressing for weather and activity(?), holidays, jobs.

After 1st grade, in our experience, the "required learning" for that grade can be done in a fun, gentle, interactive way. If it's not fun or if it doesn't apply to the child's life at that time, it will not be retained. I believe the best learning comes from interactive, hands-on fun, not stressful cram and dump for the test. I see it with K. Her US History teacher is a hip, interesting, fun guy. Their latest project is to work in groups to create a "rapumentary", a rap song about their chosen topic. Now that's interesting. On the other hand her journalism teacher rules with an iron fist, is a miserable nasty bitch (actually insults the kids), and will fail a child's project because it was in the "wrong" black and white notebook. K is so unhappy with this teacher and all of a sudden has no interest in that class - before school started she thought it would be her favorite. It truly breaks my heart.

J is now technically in the 6th grade - and according to the course of study, is at about a 6-8th grade level overall. It's interesting that this was all achieved by her without the unnecessary bullshit forced on schooled kids. Well, what about "socialization"? My kids know how to act around other kids and can function in society very well. I'll assume the real concern is about "socializ-ING" which is a different concept. From the first months of homeschooling J has had a pretty full social calendar. Just as a recent example, next Friday she's going to the movies with her friends, then that night she's got a birthday party, then Saturday a sleepover birthday party. These are real, true, deep friendships, too. But what about sports? the prom? learning an instrument? school trips? No thanks. And since homeschooling has shot through the roof over the past 5 years, all these things are available to us now if we want it.

I guess I just go through periods of wondering. Of course, some parents can't stand being with their kids all day (I've heard this numerous times from other moms - "ugh don't you need to get AWAY from them?"). And other parents have to work during the day. And there is that 30% (arguably) of kids who genuinely like school after 2nd grade. My own dd is one of those. A part of me hates the fact that a main reason schools were made compulsory was to keep the riff-raff off the streets. The other reason was following the Prussian school model of keeping people in their place by indoctrinating obedience in them from a young age. We can't have free thinkers causing conflict and messing up everything. The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto is available free online for everyone to read - the whole thing!

I have become the opposite of a public school parent who shakes their heads and wonders why the hell would anyone homeschool. It's just so wrong. The poor kids. They don't get to experience anything great. They must not have friends. They must be so socially backwards. They need to experience the "real world" (that's got to be my favorite). I mean, homeschooling's main ingredients for success are a curious kid and a dedicated parent in a rich, healthy, safe, fun environment. The kids are able to handle the rest.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Things are very Christmassy around here. The kids are obsessed with every Christmas show they can find on tv. It's too cold to be outside for too long, but we're still keeping busy.

Today, J did some reading while W read more Dick and Jane to me. He also tried a Syd Hoff book about a caveman. Then J did one of the exercises in the new Daily Sparks book we bought. As promised, it took about 10 minutes and she had fun with it. She had to think of as many words as she could that contained the letters w, h, and e. While she did that, W did a few pages in Writing Words. After that, J's copywork was a Christmas poem by Christina Rosetti and W did some more word practice from 2 different workbooks. J went on to math and did some GCF and LCM stuff. W was done with the table work at that point, but spent the next 15 minutes playing with coins and making pictures out of them. After lunch they blasted the music and danced around the living room (to everything from Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to Crank Dat Soulja Boy). Later on, J and I read aloud some Aesops Fables.

They both still enjoy the structure and having a set plan to follow for the mornings - well, at least for that hour or so. J wants to do so much - like Shakespeare and Spanish and sign language and science experiments and art projects and nature walks and weekly trips and history lapbooks and and and... But she's not an early morning person. Table work (reading, writing, math) usually starts around 10 or 11 and by the time it's afternoon, she doesn't want to sit anymore. So, it's time to change it up. J is going to write down all those things she wants to do and every morning she can choose things from the list. They are both starting to really love reading, so they'll start with that for 10 minutes or so, then one or 2 things from the list. Every Sunday, I'll check on all the supplies to make sure we are prepared for whatever they should pick throughout the week. This new plan covers a lot more of their interests and is definitely a lot more fun.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Today J went to the homeschool Art Class. This was the final installment of the Reinterpretation of a Masterpiece. J did hers on a beautiful Van Gogh piece that she did on canvas with acrylics. W and I opted out of it today, so my friend L came to pick J up. Of course, J's painting was nowhere to be found as L was to be here within 10 minutes. We tore the house and car apart looking for it, but never found it. J eventually realized she may have left it at the dance studio. Thakfully it was finished, but she didn't get to present it to the group. She was cool with it, though. She still saw all her friends and hung out for several hours there.

W and I went to Barnes and Noble (maybe one day I'll control that insatiable urge to buy the whole store). I picked up some cool activity books for W and something called "Daily Sparks" for J. This is a 10-minute-activity-a-day book. She loves that stuff. I got one on writing and one on spelling/grammar. W got a Highlights Hidden Pictures book and on on drawing dinosaurs. I also found a book called "Stories from Shakespeare". It's a retelling of the plays that makes Shakespeare a bit more interesting for the kids. J had the interest, so I felt this was a great introduction to what his plays are about. Then I'll buy the actual plays for her after reading these together.


LO-freakin'-L. Nothing like a great stereotype video. Enjoy!

HOMESCHOOL VIDEO

(thanks to Pat from MDC)

Friday, December 14, 2007

This week we did a lot of organizing and straightening up. We also did a bunch of food shoping and "stuff" shopping. I'm just about done with buying presents and we'll do all our wrapping by next week. J and W have been playing wonderfully together - everything from board games, to art projects, to dolls. W doesn't care. He'll join in with his sister on anything. W's been reading a lot this week, too. If I'm reading, he'll read out loud over my shoulder. He's loving it.

Thursday we went to the Queens Museum of Art with the homeschool group for a fantastic tour of the Panorama of New York City and a fun project. We used to go a lot a couple of years ago for their Sunday drop-in art workshop and were so happy to have the same guy running our tour. It was a sleety yucky day, but we still had a great turnout - 17 kids and all the parents and younger sibs were invited along! They're renovating parts of the place now, so I'd like to get back there when they're done. I'm planning on taking the kids to a lot more museums and cultural events once the new year comes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

W read several Dick and Jane stories to me this morning. K was shocked at how well he was reading (she stayed home from school with a bad cold today). I was so proud of him. The words repeat a lot in that book, so he read mostly by recognizing sight words (said, what, something, mother, father, come) and the rest he sounded out. If he got stuck on a word I reminded him of letter blend sounds and he would get it. He is much better with larger blends like "ing" and "ight" than sounding out individual letters of smaller words. He reads pretty fast now and understands and remembers what the story is about. He's defintitely over another huge hump with reading. He also did 6 pages in Writing Words (words ending in nt, mp, nd, and nk, and words starting with ch, sh, wh, and th). For math he filled out most of a chart counting to 100 and practiced writing the numbers' words ("one" "two" "three", etc).

While W was reading to me, J was in her room reading a novel. We set the timer for 15 minutes and she wanted to keep reading when time was up. She's had a hatred of reading since Kindergarten when she had to sit in the back of the classroom and read (and do book reports) by herself. Before that she'd been reading all the time from when she was almost-3. It was sad to see her change like that. Since homeschooling, she reads every now and then, but prefers me to read to her. She will do tons of reading and writing on the computer, though - she's always researching something or someone. But to see her pick up a book was great. She copied a poem called To Daffodils by Robert Herrick and read it to me. Math was multiplication and long division in the 6th grade book. This year math is focusing on mastering the basics.

After that, I read the kids a myth called Proserpina and Pluto. Part of what the kids want every day are readalouds of fables and mythology. I picked up a couple of great big hardcover books the other day (from the bargain shelf and with educator's discount! Woohoo!) - The Children's Treasury of Mythology and Aesop's for Children. K loved the story - she was in the kitchen and I didn't even think she was paying attention, lol, but she gave me a "Keep going!!" when I stopped for a second. I still wish K was home with us. Part of me gets sad when she can't join us when we go places. As far as the new homeschool schedule, we're doing the same stuff we've always done and we're going to try to add a new "subject" every few days or every week. No stress. It's about how the kids want to do it. It's so nice to have the freedom to tailor an education to your own child.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas in NYC

Today we met up with another hs mom and her son to go to the Sony Wonder Technology Lab on Madison Avenue. We got on the subwayat 10:15 and arrived at 59th and 5th in less than 10 minutes. Since we were supposed to meet our friends at 11, we had time to stop in FAO Schwartz. I've always enjoyed this store. Being one of the biggest toy stores we've ever seen, the kids LOVED it. Everything is larger than life in there, from the Lego people, to the stuffed animals, to the big floor piano (you saw one in the movie "Big"). W did the piano, created new animals from a trough of different parts, flew an airplane, watched a man do a Rubiks Cube in under 2 minutes, and both kids tried out slidey carpet skating.

The Sony Wonder Lab was really cool. They let 15 people in at a time, you get a card that registers your name, picture and voice. You swipe this card at each "station" which makes everything you do totally personalized. We learned about the history of technology, from the first photographs to the latest in computers and hi-def imagery. They tried out television cameras, video games on huge screens, sending their voices into outer space, and learned about news reports and weather stations during a hurricane, voice recognition with phonetic symbols, and so much more. We said goodbye to our friends when we were done and continued on walking around Manhattan.

We had streetcart hotdogs and iced tea for lunch and walked over to see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza. We took a few pictures and watched the ice skaters for a little while. Across the street we saw the Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas windows. There are 6 big windows full of animatronic scenes. Then it was over to the American Girl Place again (we were there in August). J loves it there, so of course we had to go in. She was salivating over the new "Ivy Ling" doll and then sat and perused a few AG books. When we left there, we walked a few blocks to the ginormous Disney Store and had a blast seeing all 3 floors of stuff.

The city was crowded and loud and chock full of tourists, but still my favorite place in the world. The way every store decks their halls is just breathtaking and really puts you right in the Christmas mood. And to top eveything all off, it was lightly snowing and yet pretty warm out (maybe like 40 degrees). J said today was probably the best time she's ever had in Manhattan. W and I agreed!

It was a busy week so far. Wednesday we spent the day at the mall. I got some Christmas shopping done and the kids all got to hang out in their favorite stores (The Pet Store, Sharper Image, Dylan's Candy Shop) and go on the carousel. Yesterday, the homeschool group went on a trip to the Queens County Farm Museum where we had a class on quilting. We then made our own (yes, I made one too!) quilt designs on a piece of white fabric and got a nice tour of the farm. It's the oldest working farm (and only one like it left) in NYC. I've been meaning to get there for years. So glad we got to go.

Pictures! I couldn't find my digital camera, so I bought a cheapo disposable one. Only half the pics came out and they look all grainy, but at least we got something. And in case you've been wondering, yes, I do take normal pics of the kids where you can see their faces. We just do some with the blog pose too, lol!







Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The weekend was relaxing. On Saturday I worked, J had dance, K went over a friend's house, and B and W ran errands. Sunday the kids had CCD and W had basketball. Monday J went on a homeschool group trip to the DNA Learning Center in Nassau. The kids did DNA Extraction from harmless bacteria, spent an hour in the computer lab, and delved into The Mystery of Anastasia using forensic techniques to identify the remains of the Russian royal family, and the missing princess Anastasia Romanov. Then they got to have a full tour of the Biomedical Facilities. J and I checked out this website before we went: http://www.dnai.org/. It's great! We loved the section in Applications called "Recovering the Romanovs". It was just fascinating.

J asked if we could please remember to do what's on our schedule every day - and maybe now we can add more things to it. So, we discussed what she liked and didn't like, how she wanted to go about it, and looked at a bunch of websites and other homeschoolers' schedules online. She still enjoys Charlotte Mason and was particularly intrigued by a schedule from a website called Mater Amabilis. It's a Catholic Charlotte Mason curriculum. So we wrote down things we liked from that and coupled it with what she liked from before and came up with a brand new daily schedule that she's very happy with. She says 2 hours every morning is perfect. I ran it by W and he said he liked it too. So I created a new schedule for him based on hers. Once again, they are excited to get on it. This is how it goes when the kids direct their own education. I bet if I demanded they have a schedule and chose what I wanted to do with them all day, they would fight me to no end.

This morning they started out painting with watercolors. W's been begging me to buy him modeling clay ("NOT Play-Doh!!"), instead, I suggested making our own. I found a recipe using cornstarch, water, and salt. It came out pretty good and they played with it for over an hour, took a 20 minute break to dance around the living room to Christmas music, and went right back to the clay. After lunch we'll try a bit of the new schedule and see how it goes. I love homeschooling!

And here are the totally-me results of this personality quiz. Innately I am a structured, logical, high-energy, realistic leader. And the longer we homeschool, the more I notice the kids have these traits in them as well. Cool.

You Are An ESTJ

The Guardian


You're a natural leader and quick, logical decision maker.
Goals are important in your life, and you take many steps to acheive them.
You enjoy interacting with others, mostly through work related activities.
Your high energy level means you are great at getting things done!

In love, you tend to bring stability to relationships.
You feel comfortable being in charge, and you enjoy being a provider.

At work, you take charge. You thrive in structured environments and don't mind enforcing the rules.
You would make a great teacher, judge, or police detective.

How you see yourself: Realistic, stable, and pragmatic

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We made our own chewing gum yesterday! I bought a kit from a friend of mine and it had a bunch of different ingredients for us to mix together. There was corn syrup, confectioners sugar, fruit flavoring, peppermint flavoring, and chicle. Chicle looks like the pellets you feed the animals at the petting zoo, but it's real sticky once melted. J and W each took a flavor and mooshed all the melted ingredients together. The sugar acts like flour in that it keeps all the sticky in so it's not all over you. Then they rolled it out with a rolling pin and cut it into small pieces. We all tasted it on the count of 3. It wasn't bad. It was strange in taste and texture, but it was definitely gum.

W was reeling off some more multiplication facts today - some of the 2x and 3x tables. He's starting with the philosophical questions again. He usually does this when we're alone together. J went over her friend A's house early this afternoon, so it was just the 2 of us today. He askes about really big, interesting things he wants to understand and offers his own take on why things are the way they are. We played a few games of Triominoes and afterwards he sat on my bed with a Richard Scarry book before we picked up K.

I'm reading Guerilla Learning again. It's reminding me not to be the kind of parent who is over-involved in K's schooling. I'll admit, I can hover. I have been known to email teachers, nag about homework, tests, and projects, and basically be Big Brother with her school happenings. The new me needs to let her have school as her own endeavor, to do with what she pleases. I want to start keeping my focus on providing an amazingly wonderful home-life for my kids and stop worrying so much about what's theirs. School is K's outlet and getaway. The more "on her" I get about things, the less it remains hers. She loses the enthusiasm to put full effort towards it and keeps quiet about what goes on. Since the new me has emerged, she has started doing more than what's asked of her at school and relates tons of great stories about her day. High school is a time of greater independence, privacy, and maturity. She needs it. No more hovering, nagging, or worrying. She can come home to my hugs, my ear, my smiles, and my homemade eggnog - all for her.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reading

I have come to the conclusion that my son W is a whole-language reader. This is very new for me, since I, myself learned to read using mainly phonics - as did my girls. K learned to read by 4 and has always been a voracious reader - she preferred only Newberry Award winners all through grammar school. J learned to read at almost-3, was into picture books at 4, and chapter books by 5. Although I blame school for killing her love of reading, she is still an excellent reader. They learned mostly on their own with educational tv, CD Roms, electronic games, and a great supply of books. I am used to the phonics approach that leads to the whole language approach. W does better with it the other way around.

I started researching whole-language learning and it's tricky. Since this method is based on mainly memorizing what words look like in their entirety instead of sounding them out in pieces, it's taking him a long time to learn to read well. He wants to read and wants my help. I am slowly changing my approach to helping him. I think that's why he likes the Writing Words and Sight Words books so much. He gets to write out entire words over and over instead of focusing on individual sounds. A main way to foster this type of learning is to keep reading to him. I figure it'll help to see the words as I read them. I remember the games he used to initiate when we read together. I would pick a word like "what" or "plant" and he would find it as many times as he could throughout the story. One day he read the word "Tommy" so easily because he saw it was made of most of the letters in "mommy". I have to keep reminding myself of these things.

Schools here in NYC are phonics-based (as far as I can remember). W would probably have been labeled and put into a slow-learner pullout group. That's so great for a child's self-esteem, isn't it? I probably would not even have realized that he just needs a different approach to learning and would have certainly gone along with what the school recommended. Since he's home with me, I can give him 1-on-1 attention, understand his learning style, and keep his self-esteem intact.

Once I realized how he learns best, things around here are changing. W has been reading and writing so much more. He does at least 4-6 pages of words in his workbooks, reads repetitive-word books (like Dick and Jane) to me, and has started writing letters to his friends and lists of things he wants or to help me with grocery shopping. I can see he is more "into" it now. Mother Goose rhymes are great for this. He already knows many of them and can read along with book we have. Books on tape are great, too. The key for him is linking what the word sounds like the what the word looks like. I'm getting it.

Not to say that phonics is non-existant for him. I think letter sounds and blends can sometimes give him a kick-start on what the word is. Surprisingly, he's not just decoding words, he's got full comprehension with this method as well. It's so interesting for me to see this. I have always been such a phonics advocate and could never understand how any child could learn with whole-language. Life loves throwing some irony my way as if to say to stop being so closed minded about things. My mind has truly become wide open to anything, lol.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Saturday was K's 14th birthday! I find it unbelievable that she's 14. She was just born. 'snif. On Thanksgiving at my mom's house there was a cake and presents for her. Saturday, I worked so K spent the day at her friend C's house. They had cake and presents for her there too! We celebrated again that night by going out to dinner, and last night we had dinner and cake at MILs. Her presents included some of her favorite name brands, lol: UGG, Hollister, Kathy Van Zeeland, Juicy, and Coach. She made out pretty well.

Sunday W had his first basketball practice. There are 18 6 and 7 year-olds in the instructional group that will be split next week. Since W can't get there until 1pm, he might be placed with the 7y/os instead of the 6y/os. This is fine with me (he'll be 7 in 3 months)- we'll see how this works out. They did a lot of calisthenics and practiced dribbling, shooting, defense, and slam dunking. So cute. B took him yesterday - I'll give him the camera next week.

Friday, November 23, 2007

More on unschooling...

I found THIS BLOG POST today from a mom who's story of unschooling is one I can relate to. I went through a very similar awakening to what I knew was right and I'm grateful to her for telling her story so well. Be sure to read Part II!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Yesterday we went to the homeschool geography club. The country was Venezuela. J did a presentation with her friend on clothing and W read his page on music. Instead of cooking a dish, we stopped at a Venezuelan restaurant near us and picked up some arepas and empanadas. The rest of the food there was fantastic as usual. The moms and kids really impressed me with their cooking and presentations. Before we went, W found Venezuela on the globe and was thrilled to be able to point it out to everyone at the event. After all 20 kids did their oral reports, and after we at a wonderful Venezuelan lunch, the kids played together outside for a while. Then they came in for all the desserts!

Today W couldn't wait to get started on his workbook. He did 4 pages in Writing Words today, practicing words ending in nd, nk, and mp. J chose dictation again. She studied a poem called "Arms and the Boy" by Wilfred Owen. When she felt confident about it, I took the poem and read it back to her line by line as she wrote it in her notebook. This is a good exercise that covers handwriting, punctuation, spelling, and vocabulary. Some of the new words for her were: bayonet, malice, famishing, and cartridges.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Unschooling

I love the whole philosophy of unschooling.

I don't see any good coming out of a child made to sit down and do meaningless work they have no real interest in. They don't learn that way. Real learning requires meaning and should fit into the context of a person's life. Grace Llewellyn says about traditional schooling, "People can absorb a certain amount of meaningless data in good faith, on the promise that eventually it will be related to a larger world and transformed into information. But most people can't absorb meaningless data on good faith for 12 years". That makes total sense to me.

To me, unschoolers are people who have learned to trust their own and their children's ability to choose the best ways to learn and grow. In my family, J asked if we could have a weekly schedule comprising of acedemic activities. This schedule contains all the things she loves doing: copywork (poetry is her thing now and she's creating a beautiful notebook of all her favorites), fun workbook pages, science experiments, readalouds with narrations, art projects, website games and quizzes, and homeschool group events and field trips. To some people, we can't be unschooling if my child feels she'd like a workbook or reference book in order to learn something. Some people think if a child actually chooses to "do work", then it should not be the means to an end, but something solely entertaining, like coloring - or you're not an unschooler.

Sorry, but I disagree. In my world, anything goes. J has loved workbooks since Grandma bought her first one when she was 2. When she was 3, she wanted to do workbooks all day and I know she learned from them. She begged for a workbook at 5 years old to teach her cursive writing. This was not school- or parent-induced. This was a child-led education. I feel that workbooks are just another great resource in this huge world we live in. My daughter just happens to like them. To her, they are interesting and usually a starting point for further research. She doesn't sit there and do a page of math drill - she'll look at the example, do 4 or 5 problems, be satisfied, and move on. Everything is done on her own terms.

W is the same way. J might have influenced his love of workbooks. He enjoys sitting next to her, joining in with his own workbook adventures. He's been loving them more since he, too, uses them on his own terms. He'll do 1/2 a page or 6 pages - whatever he's in the mood for. Then he'll move on to building a paper cup tower, finger-painting, or playing Gameboy - or all three! There is so much real, contextual learning in all of it. It all means something to him.

As for me, I let them lead the way. The unschooling philosophy is big on trusting that your kids will learn what they need to learn. My job as their parent is to provide them with the supplies, offer ideas, encourage their creativity, and be their biggest supporter. It can be a bit tricky at times. I do my best to pay close attention to what sparks their interests. I make myself available to them very often - especially when they're in the middle of making millions of connections. If J is into Japanese movies and learning the language, we'll go to a Japanese restaurant or shop in a Japanese neighborhood. W is into magnets right now. I may just buy him a magnet science kit, take him to the Hall of Science, and pick up some fun books to read to him about how they work. The key is to understand and believe that their interests are very important to them. Their interests are the base from which they learn and understand their world.

Even K, who has become accustomed to and enjoys playing the government school game, gets her real education from her interests and her world. I am still her biggest supporter and pay just as much attention to her interests as I do the younger kids. She is in charge of her education. I do not hover, reprimand, or control. We talk a lot and she knows I am always available for her.

I read messageboard posts where parents have daily battles with their kids to finish their assigned pages or else. They threaten, punish, bribe, and then rejoice that the job finally got done. I do not believe these kids learned anything except a few shortcuts to getting work done fast so they can avoid punishment.

I'd much rather live a stress-free, happy, wonderful, unschooled life. It truly doesn't get any better than this.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Tuesday, J's copywork was "The Butterfly" by Arun Kolatkar. Then in the Bridge workbook she completed a section on pronoun antecedents and another on adjectives. W is sticking with Writing Words and did another 6 pages, practicing some sl, st, sp, and sw words. Then he did some more phonics pages in his Big First Grade workbook, focusing on -et and -en endings. When he was done, I closed the book and gave him a verbal spelling test on all the words. This was such a fun game for him that we just might do it all the time. He would spell out each word while making silly movements and dancing on the chair.

Today we went to the Van Ende Onderdonk House in Queens with the homeschool group. This is a an 18th century house run by a man who is a big collector of colonial Dutch and Civil War memoribilia. The kids got to see many things in his collection and hear about the history of the area. The weather sucked which put a damper on things a bit, but I'm glad we got to see the place. J went home with her friend, A, after the trip since they have acro together at 4.

Monday, November 12, 2007

J wrote a song! In about an hour she had a 3 minute song that, to me, is just as good as anything on the radio. She sings it with lots of passion and intent. I need to get out the video camera one of these days to immortalize all these cool things the kids are doing lately.

There was no CCD this sunday because of the 3-day weekend. B took W to the meeting for basketball - the season starts in 2 weeks and goes til March, I think. After the meeting, we drove out to my mom's to celebrate my sister's and B's November birthdays.

Mom bought us a huge chalkboard. When we got home, J and W "broke it in" by covering the whole thing with chalk and erasing it. They drew tons of pictures on it and ended with each of them doing a Spongebob - no copying, completely from memory. They drew pictures for over an hour together. Of course when I first saw this ginormous chalkboard, I rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head. I thought it was way too classroomy. But I'm going to hang it up and let the kids use it as they like. They already love it and it might just come in handy for me as well.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saw this on aspiehomeeducation.blogspot.com. Hat-tip to Paula (Tibetan Star).




For the most part, I agree.
W did 2 pages of his Sight Words book yesterday. Then he saw his Writing Sentences book on the shelf and said he really wanted to do that book now "because I love that one!". This time he did about 6 pages, writing out tr, cr, dr, and gr words about 3 times each. He did this all on his own and didn't want me to look until he was done so he could surprise me. How cool is that? Then he read me a few more chapters in Dick and Jane and did a whole 16 question science section on Matter on the freeworldu.org website. One the same website, J did a 67 question math section on the distributive, additive/multiplicitive identity of zero/one, and inverse properties of real numbers.

They were in creative mode after that and made their own books out of looseleaf paper tied together with string. Both were filled with drawings (Spongebob characters was the theme, lol), titled, labeled, dedicated, and signed. K went to a friend's house after school and J had ballet barre class at 6:30pm.

Today J had dance from 2:30pm-6:30pm, working on her large group jazz, production tap, and her new solo. After work, B, W, and I drove over to pick her up and I finally got to see some of the new solo. It's awesome, with great moves and tons of attitude. After dance we drove her to her friend's birthday party. She missed most of it since she was at dance, but gets to hang out there until 9:30pm anyway. K was at this same party all afternoon - her best homeschool friend, BR, was there too - and when the party was over K went to BR's house to sleep. We're picking her up tomorrow on the way out to my mom's. My kids love staying busy, that's for sure.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

J's copywork today was "City Rain" by Kit Wright. Then she did some multiplication. I told her that to move onto new stuff we need to have 1-on-1 time to go over it. We may do this in the evening, on weekends, or during the weekday when W is engrossed in something else he can do on his own. W did 3 pages of his Sight Words book and 3 pages of his Writing Words book. Usually what I do is open the book to the next page and he chooses to do as many pages as he wants to. Sometimes it's half a page and sometimes it can be up to 4 pages at once. He is really reading so well now - not having to stop and sound out each word anymore. His math was more addition.

After that we read more of the Everything American History Book. Today was all about Columbus and his voyage to "the new world". I love this book because it tells it like it is with no sugar-coating. It tells you the real story about how Columbus was so totally off with his calculations on where he was going and how he left 39 of his men on an island because the Santa Maria sank and there was no room for them on the Nina (the Pinta was nowhere to be found at this point). And how 3 million natives succumbed to the European diseases of small pox and measles. It mentions how another crew member found the Bahamas first, but Columbus took the credit for it. He brought natives back to Spain to prove he found another land and those natives were made slaves. And how right up to when he died, Columbus still believed he found Asia. The kids loved the story and we'll go into more of it through library books and websites over the next week.

J went to her friend A's house this afternoon and to dance at 4. I picked up K and we went food shopping. W decided today that he wanted to read everything in the store he got his hands on. "Mix the hot cocoa in a 6oz cup or mug". And of course this led to What's 6 "o-z"?, which led to a discussion on ounces and measurement. He told me today how much he loves homeschooling and that he feels he learns so much. That was great. K signed up for NaNoWriMo on Nov 1st - which means she'll be working on producing a 50,000 word novel by November 30th. Writing is SO her thing and I love that there are these things out there to inspire her.

Oh, and basketball for W starts Sunday!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dumber Than Dirt


Just wanted to put this out there. Kinda makes you think, no?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Poppenhusen

Today we went to the Poppenhusen Institute with the homeschool group right here in Queens! It's where a prominent Queens man established a Town Hall, complete with a court, jails, a bank, and the first free Kindergarten in the United States back in the mid 1800s. It's a beautiful historic building. The tour included the history of the building, what the first Kindergarten there was like, trying out the jail cells, learning about the Native Americans from the area, and being part of an 1800s Kindergarten class. The area was mostly German immigrants and the Kindergarten teacher was Frauline Bertha, wonderfully portrayed by one of the workers there. She told all about how the children dressed, what they learned, and how it was learned. The kids learned some sign language and played a few circle games. In the Native American room, the kids got to grind corn, go in the big wigwam, touch all the animal skins, beaver skull, and tortoise shell, and match animal footprints to the animal who made them. The jail area (in the building's lower level, of course) was dark and creepy and the kids got to go inside with the cell door closed.

The group was split into 2 classes - the 8s and overs and the 7s and unders. Afterwards J told me she really loved it and learned a lot. I tagged along with the younger group and was so proud to see these 3-7 y/os paying attention, asking lots of questions, and really "getting it". The workers there said we were their first homeschool group and made several comments throughout the tour about how smart these kids were. W raises his hand a lot and always has a good question or comment lately at any place we go. Last year he just liked to raise his hand to get called on and then have nothing to say, lol. This year he has learned to pay attention and really take in what he sees and hears. He tends to charm the pants off people, too. That is a very good quality to have and could work for him, lol.

K went to her friend's house after school today and I picked her up after work. I took the younger 2 to the shopping area to get a birthday gift for one of J's friends. We got something from American Eagle Outfitters and a a couple of cutesy things from Claire's. Then we had a nice Japanese lunch. We stopped home quick for J to change, pack, wrap the gift, and then she went to a sleepover birthday party at 5pm with all her dance friends. Gotta love the social lives of homeschoolers!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Hey where have I been?

Halloween was great. J went with her friend, A, trick-or-treating and to a party. K and a bunch of friends went over their friend C's house. They walked around stocking up on candy from the neighborhood stores and avoiding the flying shaving cream, lol. B and W trick-or-treated on our block together. I worked that night and my department won a contest and we each got a $300 gift card to PC Richards! Woohoo!

Thursday K stayed home from school, B stayed home from work, and we all went to a homeschool group class at an environmental center in Nassau. The class was on endangered species. It was a great, hands-on class with as usual, eager participation from everyone. The educator was a pro with the kids (we'd had him last time for the monarch butterfly class). They played a jenga game which signified pieces of the environment being taken away one by one and how the whole area can just "collapse". There was also an outside game where the kids were all part of a grasshopper-sparrow-hawk food chain and how the pesticide content of the hawks originate with the grass eaten by grasshoppers. The kids loved it and K was happy to see her friends again. In the afternoon, J had acro and jazz.

Friday morning, the kids and I were so excited to go to the brand new Trader Joe's in Queens! It's the first one in Queens and the largest one in the state (according to the worker there). We stocked up on produce, Joe's O's, cats cookies, edamame, and Earth Balance. Then onto our regular grocery store for the regular weekly stuff. Saturday I worked, J had 4 hours of dance, and K was treated to dinner by the boy she likes. He's a good kid - very respectful, very attentive. We approve.

Today the kids had CCD (K was teacher's aide). W had homework - writing his name, phone number, and address. He did it with no protest this morning before class. He made sure it was neat and correct since he really wanted the teacher to approve. It was interesting to see this kind of motivation from him. He enjoys the approval he gets, but he's not over-invested in it and is more proud of what he accomplishes for himself. I think that's a good thing. :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

W sat on my lap today and breezed through 1/4 of the hardcover Dick and Jane 3-in-one book I got at Borders the other day for $3.99 ($3.19 after educator discount!) in the clearance bin (yay me!). There's something about that book that just did it for him. It's repetitive with the sight words and the pictures are cute. As annoying and outdated as many people find it, it sure made him feel like a very competent reader today.

After that, I read to the kids about the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan empires. We have "The Everything American History Book" which has short chapters and covers everything in a nutshell - it's a great starting point for further discussion and activities. So we went online and found sites about the history of these empires, their gods, artwork, and culture. That led to Spain and Hernando Cortes, and North America. This led to the 13 colonies and into westward expansion, and touching upon the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican American War, slavery, the Civil War, the Spanish-Indian War, the Alamo, and the Oregon Trail. J was really into it and asked lots of questions. Now that she has a basic understanding and definite interest in American history from the 1300s, we're going to go back and delve into it, one area at a time.

I also wanted them to check out the new poetry book I picked up. So later on, I just started reading various poems to them while they did other things. I used silly voices and foreign accents and within 10 minutes, both of them were on either side of me. W had me repeat the funny ones a few times. J took over reading aloud on a couple of them. Again, this is a fantastic treasury of poems - everything from Mother Goose rhymes all the way to Whitman, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare (bargain bin $7.99 - $6.39 after educator discount!!). They even protested when we had to put it down to go pick up K from school.

We went to Claire's to get the girls some accessories for Halloween and W asked if we could also stop in the bookstore. Now, W never wants to go to the bookstore. I played it cool and asked if there was something he was interested in getting today. He said, I wanna get my own poetry book and hey, maybe I could use it for copywork, too. Wow.

Monday, October 29, 2007

We went out to the homeschool art class today. The kids continued working on their "reinterpretation of a masterpiece". Last night J (VanGogh's "Rowboats") and W (Monet's "The Bridge") copied these pieces of art into basic shapes on their paper using a grid to prepare for today's class. In the class they worked on the shapes to make them look more like the original artwork. The grid lines were erased as much as possible and then they started to add the colors. J is using acrylics on canvas and W is using oil pastels on watercolor paper. I can't wait to see the end result of these. J's picture is blooming with color and every inch of the canvas is painted. W used a perfect combination of blues, greens, and pinks to capture his version of the Monet. He also used the smudge technique we learned at an art class several months ago.

J had dance Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. She's back up to about 12-18 hours of dance a week. 4 months til the first competition, you know, lol. Her new dance solo is coming along great and her tailor-made costume is already with the seamstress. I haven't seen it, but I know it's a dress and it's royal blue. Saturday evening she went to her friend's birthday party at this posh Japanese restaurant (her favorite food!). I spent almost an hour by myself in Borders bookstore, savoring every second. I got a new educator's discount card and got $80 worth of books for $62. Wheeeeeeeee!

K had a birthday/Halloween party on Saturday night, too. We picked J up at 9pm and K up at 10pm. Sunday morning was CCD - K was assigned to J's class again this week. She helps with their projects, gets their supplies out and ready, and basically acts as teacher's aide. She hung out with some friends at the park in the afternoon and J and W carved scary faces in pumpkins and B roasted up the pumpkin seeds in oil, salt, and garlic. Oh that's so good!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Today we went to an environmental center for a class on Ecosystems. The kids spent about an hour in a class and another hour out on a nature trail walk. The educator talked about and brought us to a pond, a forest, and a salt marsh. Back at the center she brought out some animals and the kids got to hold one or 2. The class was for J's grade, but all of us were welcome on the walk. W got so excited about it all that he asked a hundred questions and threw his 2 cents in wherever he felt it was necessary, lol. The educator was wonderful with him. I mentioned to him a few times to hang back with me and let the big kids have their class, but he kept ending up right back in the front. I do love that he is so curious and free and wants to be a part of it all, though. And it was great to see genuine NYC honey!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Saturday J had large-group jazz dance practice and then took part in a ballroom dancing fundraiser for the studio. B and I would have done it too, but since I was working we felt as long as one of us is there, we're good. In the early evening we decided to go to the movies and we saw Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D. It was very cool. We have the movie and we love it (we even have Jack Skellington Christmas ornaments), but seeing it in 3D made us love it all over again. And we got the cool Disney 3D glasses that have tannish lenses not those horrible red and blue ones.

On Sunday the kids went to CCD - K volunteered as teacher's aide in J's class this time. After that, J had small-group lyrical dance practice, K hung out at the park with her friends, and W and I spent 1-on-1 time together playing Monopoly and cooking. Monopoly is awesome for teaching how to count money and make decisions. He was great at it. B sewed the criss-cross straps on J's new ballet shoes and she gets to wear those and her new tap shoes this week.

Today we had our homeschool group geography club and this month was Greece! J did an oral report on geography and W did his on Musical Instruments of Ancient Greece. He got up in front of about 40 of us and READ his report without a hint of nervousness.
We worked on it together and I drew small pictures on the paper to help a bit. I can't tell you how proud he was of himself and several moms commented on his confident and loud-enough-for-everyone-to-hear-him voice. I made onion fritters called "Kremidokeftedes" in Greek. Thankfully they were a big hit and I went home with an empty bowl. Other fantastic Greek food we enjoyed today was spinach pie, pita with tzatziki sauce, moussaka, pastitsio, stuffed grape leaves, cabbage rice, baklava, and the flag cake. After the Greek fun, the kids went out to run around and play for a couple of hours. J spent the rest of the afternoon/evening at her friend A's house. Busy day as usual!

Friday, October 19, 2007

J's copywork poetry was Conkers by Barrie Wade and Spring Burst by John Travers Moore. In the bridge book she did a section on adverbs, a page on equivalent and simplifying fractions, and a page on the branches of government. W has been doing pages in the Sight Words book, in another workbook, he did a section on months and seasons and a bunch of analogies with pictures. In math he's been doing lots of addition and today we started some multiplication. He really gets this. I explained it as saying instead of "1 times 3", say "1, 3 times". It was clearer for him multiplying numbers by 2, where he could use his fingers as the manipulatives and show 4x2 as 4 fingers, 2 times - holding up 4 on each hand. He was shocked when it actually clicked and he got so excited about it. It was so fun to make the concept of multiplication understandable for him.

J rejoined the horseland website, wrote out a 1/2 page on what a "grande jete" is, made dueling K'Nex robots with W, played on girlsense.com, got new tap and black ballet shoes with me at the dance shop, and had 2 hours of ballet and lyrical class today. K did her volunteering yesterday and got to be the teacher's aide again, helping kids with art, helping on the trail hike, and handled (and talked about) the big blue macaw, the dragon lizard, ferret, and bunny. She also got an A- on an English paper today. W is still into paper crafts, building stuff, and learning to cook. It was a fun and relaxed week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This morning J copied and read aloud An October Wind by Zaro Weil and Rags by Judith Thurman. In the bridge book she did a section on simple and compound sentences, and a page on the western US states (location, capitals, and other major cities). Math was number patterns, area of a rectangle, and averages. It's a 7-8th grade math workbook, but it seems the beginning part is all review. She likes it because she can speed through a section in minutes.

W chose to do copywork out of a Ready Reader. He did 2 sentences from a page of one of the stories. It had lots of different punctuation marks in it, too. Then he did a couple of pages from his Sight Words book, and matching opposite words, and reading Yes and No questions in his bridge workbook. Later on we went through a whole semester of 1st grade spelling words on this website I found. And together we played a Widgets thinking game from iknowthat.com. He loves these.

Both kids got creative going through the Halloween costume box trying to come up with a new look for old costumes. They were cutting and smearing black makeup on things making them somewhat of a "dead" version of what they used to be. We used to always buy costumes but at almost $40 each and getting to wear them only 2-3 times, it's not worth it. So we've been making them the last few years. I'll splurge a little on accessories only now. They protested at first, but now they like this better. They put more thought into and appreciate their costumes more now.

K has started taking the bus to school. B went with her the whole way this morning, but tomorrow he'll just wait with her til the first bus comes, then head off to work. It's public transportation and she has a free Metrocard. She does have to make one transfer, though, and that's the part that worried me a little. But after actually doing it, she says it's great and has absolutely no problem with it. Tomorrow she does her 2.5 hours of volunteering at the educational center. She enjoyed it so much last week, that she also decided to volunteer as a teacher's aide at CCD (their 1 hr. Sunday religion class). She started this past Sunday and was happy to be placed in W's class! This year is already starting off great.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It was another Mad Science day today! Our homeschool group had a great class on dry ice. The instructor was hysterical and the kids loved him. He did great experiments and had the kids do a hands-on activity, making their own seltzer. J read about the properties of dry ice before we got there. She learned that dry ice is 109 degrees below zero, sublimation is changing right from a solid to a gas - and that's why it's called "dry" ice, what carbon dioxide is, and what dry ice is used for. On the way to the class, she felt like studying the periodic table of elements, read off each one to me, described its properties, and asked a lot of great questions. W participated a lot in the class and was fascinated at the experiments. We're making this a monthly event and they can't wait to go to the next one!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Yesterday J did copywork of a poem called I Am the Rain by Grace Nichols. Then in the bridge book she did some equivalent fraction work and a page on midwestern states (location, capitals, and trivia info). W did a new workbook called "Hooked on 1st Grade". He did pages on capital letters (cities and names), homonyms (homophones), and addition. J went to her friend A's house in the afternoon and they both went to acro class together at 4pm. W played outside for a while on his scooter and we played hide-and-seek together in the house until I had to leave for work.

Today J had Book Club. The story they focused on was The White Umbrella by Gish Jen out of the Junior Great Books reader. I read it too, and I thought it was really good. J liked it and did a good job of participating in the discussion. After that, we went over a friends house for a few hours until I needed to pick K up from school. J rode her friend's moped around all around the area and now is begging me to buy her one. It was so nice to have a relaxing afternoon chatting with a friend while the kids played.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

WOW! We went upstate to a fantastic colonial historic site today called Mt Gulian. The kids learned so much. They were told about Dutch trading and got to simulate real trading by running stores, selling things like hats, glasses, rum, and blankets in exchange for (small felt cutouts of) animal skins. They learned about the Algonquin Indians who lived right in that spot on the Hudson River. J ran one of the stores and had to figure the monetary value of the different skins - bear skins were worth 200 shillings, deer=100 shillings, squirrel=30 shillings, etc. After lunch in the 250-year-old barn, they made their own bows and arrows out of twigs and rope. They spent the rest of the time running around the grounds, trying out their bows and arrows, and spotting different animals and insects. It was a very cool experience.

Today was also K's first day volunteering at a local educational center. She took the bus down by herself and started working right away. She put away supplies, vacuumed one of the rooms, brought animals out to show the kids (ferrets, bunnies, guinea pig), and was the teacher's aide for an after-school preK class. Here she read stories, brought kids to the bathroom, helped wash hands, brought out animals again, cut out paper shapes, set up art/paint supplies, and help the kids with their projects. She loved it. It's something she was thinking about doing last year, but kept going back and forth about it. This year she feels more confident and independent - and she'll get credit for it for school. It's great - she'll be volunteering every Wednesday from 2-4:30pm.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Armed with our newly received Metrocards, we headed into Manhattan to the American Museum of Natural History. We met up with some of our best friends (another homeschool family) and boarded the subway. In a short while we were there and the first thing I wanted to do was find all the stuff from the Night at the Museum movie we watched last week!

We spent most of our day on the first floor and then the fourth floor (where the dinosaurs are). Today the kids favorites were the Hall of Biodiversity and the Hall of Planet Earth. In the latter, they watched the earthquake screen - it showed all the earthquakes happening at that moment (and those that occurred yesterday, within 2 weeks, and within the past 5 years). You wouldn't believe how many that is. There were a few workers, older women, at a cart where they talked about the wide arrangement of rocks they had. The kids were amazing. They asked and answered questions, came up with ideas about everything, and were so truly interested and engrossed in that rock moment. W's power light seemed to go on here. He was fascinated by the different textures and colors and how old some of the rocks were. One of the women asked where they went to school. W said, "I don't go to school". She looked at me and laughed and I said, "No, he really doesn't. We homeschool". I got the usual "Ohhhhh. Okaaaaaaaaaaay". You know, with that oddly fixed smile. A few minutes later she asked me privately, "If they don't go to school, umm, how do they know so much about rocks?".

Heh heh. I love these moments. I casually explained that homeschooled kids are a whole 'nother breed and tend to learn and retain more than their schooled counterparts since most of their studies come without any pressure, stress, or anxiety and are usually focused around what they're interested in. Turns out she taught elementary school for years and was full of "how is it done" questions. And although I'm usually always in the mood to discuss homeschooling til the cows come home, she seemed insatiable and I eventually had to cut her off with, "if you Google homeschooling, you'll see what I'm talking about. Have a great day".

We found a new room today called The Discovery Room that's just for kids to touch and play with everything. They put together a giant praying mantis, crawled into a baobab tree, constructed a 4 foot tall totem pole, and excavated fossils out of a sand pit. The older kids, including J, got to go upstairs to see more stuff. A staff member was showing them a live Madagascar hissing cockroach. That was my cue to head back downstairs to the little kids - and no live stuff. It was a great day and we want to go back in a few months.



Friday, October 05, 2007

All 3 kids seemed to have allergies up this week. Not sure if it's the change in weather or what. They're sniffly and scratchy. W described how he feels: "It feels like a big, fat toad is in my throat and there's an earthquake of snots. It's like a hundred gnomes are paddling a boat the wrong way". Ok, then.

J's 2 copywork poems today were from John Smith and Christina Rossetti. W wrote out a couple of sentences and started on some more cursive writing. I'm in the camp of cursive not being as important as schools think it is, but he asked and is excited to learn it. I say, as long as he can just sign his name, that's enough. But today he went through the whole lowercase alphabet and practiced a few cursive sentences. J's math involved several steps to figure the least to greatest order of a mix of fractions, improper fractions, and decimals. W did more addition using a number line.

I have to commend the Homeschool Coordinator, Ms. Henrietta Becoat. I faxed her Metrocards forms on October 2nd and I had both cards in my mailbox on October 4th. Now THAT'S impressive. So, I'll just assume all the paperwork I sent in June is in compliance. I guess no news really is good news.

Check out this article from the Fraser Institute!!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

We started "Bridge to Terabithia" today and J likes it so far. W isn't so into it. I might start reading separate books with him that are more on his level. He loves being read to, but keeping his interest longer than 10 minutes can be challenging. Copywork was more poems for J and Kumon's Sentences for W. He likes that book. It's big, colorful, and not over-cluttered. J did a page in math (angles, decimals) and W did some reading exercises in his bridge book.

We started on Ancient Rome today, too. It was a huge hit. We read about city life, aqueducts, home and market structures, and learned some key names and dates. One section talked about the decorative use of mosaic tiles. We decided to make our own paper mosaic craft after that. While I was cutting up the construction paper, J took a brand new notebook and wrote down some important facts from what we read. It was fun and I think they really got a lot out of it. The rest of the day was made up of card games, hamsters, and K'nex creations. They had dinner at MIL's while I went to work (and B worked late).

I spent time this afternoon looking through a great blog on a very structured Charlotte Mason approach. This is so who I wanted to be several years ago. I'll admit, I really envy her organization and how great everything is laid out. Although I don't think we could ever be that regimented, I found her ideas and advice very helpful. I plan on introducing some of them to the kids - especially the wall timeline, American history notebook, calendar, dictation method, and some of her book suggestions. I think these are things they'll really love doing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

So we watched Night at the Museum yesterday and we were so thrilled to see that it's based on our own American Museum of Natural History here in NYC. Of course the layout was different, but the kids recognized it right away. There was a lot of "Hey! There's the whale! There's the cavemen! There's the T-rex! There's Columbus!". Now we have to go there very soon and see it all again - like this week, according to W.

Today we made homemade egg drop-noodle soup and ran a bunch of errands. We bought stamps, signed up for CCD (Sunday school that started 2 weeks ago, oops), brought back library books, and bought some Halloween decorations at Michaels Craft. Then we picked up K, went for lunch, and spent an hour in Barnes and Noble. J bought a magazine about the Jonas brothers, K bought a book by her current favorite author, Cecily Von Ziegesar, and W got a magazine.

We're still running strong with the academic schedule. I guess I've just expected them to get bored of it by now. But every day they remind me that it's time to start, lol. I think they're ready for the other subjects, but we'll still ease in slowly. They want to do lapbooking/notebooking for history. I like that idea. There's so much creativity involved in those. I've been doing some reading on how to make them. I'll lay out the basic idea of how to do it, with lots of ideas for the folder attachments that they can choose from. J wants to do Ancient Rome first. I figure if we do history about 2x a week, we can do at least 1 lapbook per month. I'll just let the kids take it where they want. They're looking forward to it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

We rented the movie at Blockbuster Thursday morning. I have never seen kids more eager to finish a story. We picked up J's friend, A, and we all sat down to watch. I made ham and cheese triangles for everyone. I'd seen the movie years ago, but it was great when the kids got to see their book come to life. They kept commenting how things looked exactly as they pictured - or not. Our next readaloud will be "The Bridge to Terabithia".

We picked up K at 3:30, drove J to dance, and K and A walked her inside. When A came out she decided she would rather take dance (acro) with J now rather than the weekly guitar lessons she's been taking. Her mom agreed and hopefully she can start next Thursday! Acro is mandatory for the company kids, but there are recreational students in the class as well. J would love A to be a part of this - then they can do the recital together.

Friday morning the kids did some paper crafts for a while then we made a cake. At noon I packed a lunch and we all drove out to a science class at one of the environmental centers in Nassau. The class was on monarch butterflies. We had about 25 kids there. I just love watching homeschooled kids in a "class" situation. So many hands go up to ask and answer questions. W really got into it and asked and tried to answer as many questions as he could. After an hour or so, the kids got to go to the garden area and try to catch monarch butterflies with the big nets. Everyone got a turn and the several that were caught were labeled with little stickers and set free. Monarch butterflies usually fly all the way to Mexico at certain times of the year. The butterflies with labels are identified down there and a letter is sent to the environmental center stating they arrived safely. Afterwards we ate lunch at a picnic table with everyone and the kids played together for a long time. We weren't in a hurry to get back because K went to a local fair with her friends after school. We picked her up around 8:30pm. She had a blast and went again tonight.

Today J had her first rehearsal for her new solo this year. I worked so B took her. She's doing a musical theater number to a song from Smoky Joe's Cafe. Eric, her solo coach this year came up with a great dance. J loves it so far. I think they got about 40 seconds of it completed so far. She's scheduled for Saturdays and that works great for us. Soon we'll get the competition schedule and we'll start working on the new costumes.

I love this time of year.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We have one more chapter left of The Witches. We'll finish it tomorrow and then go rent the movie! They've been dying to see it, but wanted to wait until we finished the book. J's copywork yesterday and today was "When Skies are Low and the Days are Dark" by N.M. Bodecker and "Gathering Leaves" by Stanley Cook. She also wrote a (revised, lol) letter to her new pen pal in Texas and did a few pages in her bridge workbook: singular, plural and collective subjects and verbs in a sentence, greatest common factors, and identifying the southeastern states and their capitals.

W did some reading, practiced a few sight words, and did a few pages in his bridge workbook: short vowels, rhyming words, and drawing. He has been creating a lot of paper crafts, coming up with new recipes, and engaging in so much creative play this week. He's been practicing the recorder, shadow puppets, and basketball, too. I keep forgetting to call the guy who runs the CYO basketball team. Ugh.

J had dance for 3 hours last night and K decided to take the Musical Theater class again this year. J is starting work on the big production number that includes all three company teams in her studio. K got a response from the place she applied to do volunteer work! She has an orientation/party next Thursday and has already been asked to help out at the big festival their having this Saturday.

Monday, September 24, 2007

More of the same today. We read 3 more chapters of The Witches, with detailed narrations from both kids. J's copywork was a poem by Kathryn Worth (and she recited it to us), W's was from the Sentences book. J did a page from the 7-8th grade math workbook (decimals subtraction and perimeter), and W did some single-digit addition again. It's working very well so far. They are liking the routine-ness of it all and look forward to that hour and 1/2 every weekday. We will soon be adding the science, history, and geography throughout the week, but I don't want to rock this great boat we're on yet. Besides, we're covering those subjects all the time anyway without even trying.

W went to the Jets game with B yesterday. It was his first football game and he loved it. They were in the luxury skybox on the 50-yard line, which was full of food, drinks, TVs, and couches. How great is that for your first game?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yesterday I read them 3 chapters of The Witches. They're so into it and we would have kept going if it wasn't getting too late. J's copywork was February Twilight by Sara Teasdale. Then she stood and recited it to us with total dramatic flair, lol. W did another couple of pages in Writing Sentences. His handwriting has gotten so much nicer than just a few weeks ago.

After that we picked up a few things for J's costume. This is for the audition she had today. She came up with such a cool getup: red leggings, white booty shorts, half the leotard from when she was a semifinalist for nationals in Boston (I cut it into a half tank), a boys long-sleeve white oxford school shirt (open with the bottom sides tied together under the chest), a red scrunchy "pleather" belt, big silver hoop earrings, and topped off with a red urban poof cap. I was so excited for her today, but a little anxious since I had to work all day wand would have to miss it. She got herself dressed and made-up, and B took care of the smaller details, like pinning and making sure she was all put together.

They were keeping these auditions very secretive and had all the windows covered. B peeked in through a crack, lol. J performed very well. She was so proud of herself afterward. The studio owner said it was the best performance she's ever seen her do. P (J's solo coach last year and also a "judge" on the "panel") said she was really "in the box" with that. J didn't know what that meant, but she was sure it was a compliment, lol. The third panel judge just wrote a bunch of notes. This audition is not about seeing if J continues in the company - she pretty much automatically does. I think it's to have the kids showcase their ideas and talents in a creative way so the owner and teachers can see more of what they're all about. It is, however, an actual audition for new students hoping to qualify for the company. I think we'll probably have one new girl this year on the team.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Yesterday morning J had Creative Writing class. She really likes it, and I'm so happy there's something like this for her. The woman running it is a children's book author and knows how to get the kids excited about writing. They'd left off before the summer with some "homework" that I completely forgot about. So I mentioned it to J before the class and told her not to worry about it, she could hand it in next class if she wanted to. J said, Oh, I already did that a long time ago. I was totally shocked. She pulled it up out of the MS documents and I printed it for her. It was really good, too. It was basically character description built into a 3 paragraph story. It was about orphan children, the nuns who ran the orphanage, and the relationships between the characters. Blew me away.

Today the kids couldn't wait to get onto the academics. They're both excited to finish The Witches so we can rent the movie. We're about half-way through. J's copywork was 2 short poems - one by D.H. Lawrence and the other by John Fuller. W is doing the Kumon Writing Sentences workbook and today we discussed nouns, verbs, adjectives, capitalization, and periods. J's math was subtraction with large digit decimals, perimeter, and calculating time lapse in her head. W's math was some more single-digit addition and I introduced him to the number line to help with it. He loves that and this evening, showed B how he does it. He also drew hands on clocks to show the correct time.

The afternoon was spend running errands and J had dance from 4-6:30pm. Today was Acro and Junior Company Jazz. The instructor announced to the class that J was the only one who got the routine right "because she seems to be the only one concentrating and paying attention". My J, who was told over and over that she has attention problems, can't focus, and surely needs medication, was complimented for paying attention. I've always said her "problem" was only apparent in school and they wanted her on medication because God forbid a child in their mecca of conformity tends to think outside the box and has her own way of doing things. Drug her up so she can be the conciliatory robot they want her to be. Ugh, I cringe when I think about it. She is the one who requested a structured homeschool morning. She focuses completely on what she's doing, never whines or complains about it, is incredibly proud of it all - then asks for more. She is an amazing example for her brother, who also is excited about his work. He does most of it on his own while I do other things, and loves to "surprise" me when he's done. Every day they confirm for me why we homeschool. I couldn't be more proud of them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I decided we'd get back to the structured stuff tomorrow, so the kids spent the morning doing their own thing (I had a mountain of laundry to put away). J picked up an English-Spanish dictionary and was into that for about a half-hour, telling me new words she learned and putting them together to make sentences. Both kids played on the recorder for a bit and we sat down together to watch a movie. We made lunch together, too.

K went to hang out with friends after school and J had her first day of dance this season. Today was Musical Theater, Tap Technique, and Ballet Floor Barre. She was thrilled to come out of the summer break and is so ready to start learning new routines. As for W, the school we originally thought of taking him to for basketball has now told us they only take 3rd graders and up. They did admit to having 7y/os on the team, though, so I may take him there next year. The coach is actually going to see if W can join this year. W's a big kid and plays pretty well, so we'll see. Otherwise I may take to a different place where they have "instructional" for 6 y/os. That might be better for him anyway. I'll call tomorrow.

Monday, September 17, 2007

This morning we went to the homeschool group's art class. It's called "Reinterpretation of a Masterpiece". The kids brought in 3 prints of great works of art, chose one, and traced a basic outline of it onto tracing paper. J chose a print from Van Gogh and W from Monet. The basic outline was done using large shapes that just suggested the actual detail in the picture. W really got into it and followed the directions wonderfully. The next part was that they made a grid right over their outline.
Then they measured their outline to be proportionate to the paper they were going to use - which depends upon what artist medium they chose. J picked acrylics, which will go on a large canvas. W picked oil pastels which can go on watercolor paper (or any good paper). The idea is to then create an identical grid on the larger paper or canvas, redraw the large shapes to scale, and fill in the picture with their own "reinterpretation".
Using only their basic outline of large shapes, they can fill it in with whatever colors they want - as long as they generally use the original print picture as their inspiration. LOL, it's a lot easier done than explained. Today they got as far as the tracing paper grid. The rest of it will be worked on at the subsequent 3 monthly art classes.

The kids played outside in the park for the remainder of the afternoon. J hung out with her 2 best friends, and W ran around playing cops and robbers and climbing trees with the older boys. I ended up buying sandwiches at the deli, which I vow never to do again since it cost so damn much. But it was a nice little picnic we had. J and her 2 friends went back to one of their houses and I picked her up after work (around 9:30pm).

I called the homeschool office this morning and was spoken to very rudely by one of the women there (MS. BROWN). She refused to give me her name at first ("Why do you want to know my name?!") and abruptly told me NO, the Metrocards aren't in yet (although all the public high schools seem to have theirs already - K has one), all the LOI response packets are delayed (but God forbid a parent is late mailing their paperwork), NO, you have to keep trying Ms. Becoat's line until she picks up (Ms. Becoat won't answer her phone and her voice mailbox is full), and NO, there IS no one in charge here (huh?). This office is a disgrace. But, hey, if being a disorganized, chaotic, embarrassing mess keeps them off everyone's back and out of our way for a while - I won't complain.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

After the readaloud (J is now supplying some of voices with foreign accents, lol) and the copywork (W did Kumon's "Writing Sentences" today) they both went right to math. W did a page of Kumon's "Simple Multiplication" and J started her new math workbook. She liked it. It starts out easy - 6 digit addition, finding perimeters, and calculating coin totals (e.g. 5 quarters, 4 dimes, 8 nickels, and 7 pennies = ?). Then it moves on to more challenging stuff. I think really mastering the basics creates a firm foundation for the higher advanced formulaic math she's looking forward to.

So, week 2 of implementing the schedule is going really well. We'll start doing more history, geography, and science next week. They've just been touching upon those so far with a few workbook pages, experiments, and homeschool events. Together, the kids and I will come up with what we'd like to start with first. J will probably pick American history, which is cool because I picked up a great book a few weeks ago. I'll use it as a readaloud and supplement with websites, museum trips, projects, a homemade timeline, and documentaries. The same goes for science. The theme was unanimously chosen as "nature" this year (specifically: geology, ecology, astronomy, and meteorology). We have some great books to read and we'll do a lot of experiments, nature walks/sketching/identifying, documentaries, websites, gardening, and museums. Totally relaxed, hands-on, and fun.