Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I love when a person finds out we homeschool and then starts asking me about it. But I kinda brace myself because I know it's going to be a long conversation. It can't not be. For a person to get an understanding of what we do and how we do it, they need not only the whole backstory of why we're homeschooling, but the whole in-and-out of what our days look like, and of course how the future will potentially play out. Then, the fact that unschooling is not anything like the homeschooling they pictured, with desks and blackboards in the home. And it's always the same exact questions: "Oh, so you homeschool, what's that like?", "Does the government gives you books and a curriculum?", "What about being with other kids?", "What about all the tests they have to take?". And then the usual comments: "I could never do that.", "My husband/family/inlaws would kill me if I told them I wanted to homeschool, hahaha.", "I don't think I could stand being with my kids all day long like that.", "My kids would do nothing all day but sleep or watch tv.". I just want to print out a FAQ pamphlet and hand it out whenever I'm questioned.

What bothers me, though, is the complete and total cluelessness. I mean, homeschooling is not a new thing. My friend yesterday told me that when she heard I was homeschooling J she thought, "but I don't see anything wrong with that kid". Her understanding of homeschooling was that it was for kids who couldn't function in a school setting and had all these social and learning problems. Another friend asked us if we were very religious. I just want to scream from the mountaintop (ok the Empire State Building, at least, lol) that most homeschoolers are just fed up with the pointlessness of school and know that there's a better option out there! The majority of us certainly don't need or want our kids babysat by strangers 35 hours a week. And the majority of us feel homeschooling gives us a better guarantee that our kids will be smart, happy, healthy, emotionally sound, and actually have childhoods!

But, on the other side of the coin, I don't feel homeschooling is for everyone. I'm not an advocate in the sense that I think it's ideal for every family, but in the sense to have people gain a better understanding of what homeschooling/unschooling can look like and to get the outdated, ridiculous notions they have out of their heads. I love showing off my kids. I love telling them about our relaxed days. I love telling them about my homeschool group and all the fantastic events/parties/get-togethers/trips/classes we have planned. I love telling them about all the fun we have, the places we go, and the friends they have. I love telling them how we are so close as a family and love being together. And I love telling them that not only do my children learn, they are above grade level in all areas, they retain everything, and have the interest, curiosity, motivation, and determination to want to learn all the time (just like when they were preschoolers). Then, I enjoy the surprised looks on their faces because they had no idea it could be like this. ;^)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

It was a great weekend! The girls got to spend Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning with their dance friends. They went in the pool, ran around to each other's rooms, stayed up late, and just had a blast. We got there around 4 on Friday, the kids met some friends and swam for a bit, then J had the performance team rehearsal from 6-8pm. Then after dinner, she swam for another hour, got changed, dried her hair, and went to bed before 10 to be up by 6 for the competition. Satuday was amazing. She had 4 numbers and the quick changes were hectic, but always exciting. Awards were at 1. Her solo, group tap, and group jazz all got HIGH-GOLD, and her production number got PLATINUM and Best in Show. Also the group tap got an award for Most Original Choreography.

What makes her dance studio different from others is that there are only 17 kids in the Company - 8 on J's team and 9 on the older team (12 & 13y/os). Almost every other studio we've competed against have 40-100 kids in their Company. It's great since our kids get more one-on-one focus time on their dances. Our costumes are all original and custom-made, never out of a catalog, and from what I've read on dance message boards, our overall costs are much less than other studios that do competitions. I mean, her group jazz costume was less than $30! Tuition is low, so the money we spend on competitions (traveling, entry fees, hotels, food, etc) is ok with me.

The nature center Friday was really great, too. We had about 13 kids from 9-13 y/o. They started out doing 3 different experiments with water. Then a group discussion, a nature-trail walk where different things were pointed out and talked about, and then back at the center with more discussions about various animals (which were brought out to them) and the environment. The level was about 6th-7th grade. The kids loved it and I'm definitely going to schedule another one there for the spring.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

One more day. We leave tomorrow afternoon. This is my favorite time - the first competition. We get to see all the new numbers in costume, on stage for the first time. Kids who had major solo anxiety for years are getting out there this season. Kids will be picked to be on a performance team. Speaking of which, J qualified for this team last year, so is automatically on it this year. This team is performing before the award ceremony Saturday, so J needs to be there Friday by 6 for this rehearsal. I'm calling out of work and hopefully getting to the hotel by 4. Last minute costume purchases - wig, black socks, false eyelashes, MAC lipstick, safety pins, bobby pins, hair spray, and lint brush are all in costume trunk. The large props will fit nicely in the new minivan. And the whole family now has studio "team gear" - flaunting the name of our studio at everyone we walk past, lol.

K spent last weekend at my mom's house. It's good that she gets a change of scenery once in a while. They ran a lot of errands and shopped. Mom bought K a black NorthFace jacket and is getting J the same one in blue. I personally dont see how my kids need a $165 jacket, but whatever. Mom needs to spend her money on them. It's a huge pleasure for her. So be it.

Tomorrow we're going to a nature center with the homeschool group. It's for preteens/teens and it's 2 hrs long. I like finding activities for the older kids. So many homeschool groups cater to little kids and there's never anything for the older ones. That's why so many choose to go back to school when their older. I'm so happy that my group has a lot of 10+ kids and lot of activities planned just for them. It really helps to have this kind of outlet and support for them.

On the home front, we've been keeping busy. We still have 5 baby hamsters, 3 of which we keep procrastinating to give away. They are just so cute. We have all males left: 1 tan long-haired, 1 black long-haired, and 3 black short-haired. The long-haired ones are incredibly fluffy. All the hamsters soundly sleep in our hands, climb up our sleeves, and race over when our hands go in the cage. K has all the babies in her room, and W has the mama in his. She is back to normal now and is just like she was whe we first got her. No more nipping at us or hiding all day. I know they've learned so much throughout this whole experience.

Other than that, I feel we are happily unschooling away. W amazes me every day with the connections he makes and how much he retains. The girls are at the age where they can keep themselves busy and never say they're bored anymore - mainly they spend a lot of time together and will read, work on website layouts, write to celebrities, or just sing real loud and record themselves, lol. Life is great.

Friday, February 16, 2007

As you all know, we have been very consumed with dance and J's first competition of the season which is in 8 days. B is putting together and sewing 2 of her costumes with only suggestions from the owner - they look great. I'm stoning everything and trying to keep all her stuff organized, and both of us are schlepping back and forth to the dance studio 7 days a week. K is helping out with most everything and loves getting to be at the studio hanging out for hours with the dancers her age. She is so involved in the behind-the-scenes activities and is so supportive of her sister. It's great. W has lots of other little brothers there to play with - always a ready-made playgroup for him. So it's one big family affair.

The homeschool group is on a huge roll with spring activities planned. Besides the usual ice skating, Foreign Lands Club (South Africa is next), History Club, Book Club, and Game Days, we are starting up a Spiral Scouts troop, having art classes, creative writing classes, and parties. We also have tours and classes scheduled at several different science and nature centers, Petco, The Garment Factory, The NY Transit Museum, Whole Foods, and the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery. February, March, and April have full calendars - awesome! And just about every activity is on a weekday morning/early afternoon which is perfect for us.

Today J has a solo lesson at 11am and then we're all going ice skating at 1:30.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The book club on Friday was a pleasant surprise. I didn't know what to expect, but the girls really enjoyed it. From what I heard, they were a very active part of the discussion and they both told me they are looking forward to next month's. There were 6 homeschoolers and 3 kids from the 8th grade Montessori school across the street. While they were in the library room, I hung out in the children's wing with W. There were a lot of kids there and he made friends quickly with a girl and boy about his age. I was wondering what the big kiddie attraction was when one of the moms said there was a storytime-sing along-craft thingy going on. The librarian told us we were welcome to join in. W had a blast! He listened and participated in the stories and songs and made a Valentine's Day wreath. So cool. After the book club, the kids played on the computers for a bit before we all went for pizza.

On Saturday, I worked all day, K went shopping and out to eat with MIL, and B took J and W to the dance studio. K got some much needed quality-time in with MIL. I love that MIL is finally reaching out. She's been our biggest critic and we usually never see her for weeks at a time (she lives across the street). K had a nice time and feels closer to her now. At the dance studio, the junior and senior companies took new head shots, did some candids, and rehearsed. In the evening, B finished sewing snowflakes on her skirt for the production number and I hot-fixed about 400 stones on it until 4am. Yeah, I'm out of my mind.

Today J had a 10:30am call at the studio again for more pictures. They did group photos today dressed in all black, then in the white production costume. I can't wait to see these pictures. We also gave away 4 baby hamsters at the studio - K and J are each keeping one and the rest will go to the pet store by next weekend. We want to see if anyone else we know will take one this week.

Other than that, all the kids have been doing lots of writing. W has been handwriting a bunch of words in his new notebook, and K and J are both keeping an online journal. We also added more kids to our "who's homeschooling" list, which now includes Miley Cyrus, Dylan and Cole Sprouse, Nat and Alex Wolff, Willow and Jaden Smith, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, and Vanessa Hudgens. These kids homeschool to have the freedom to pursue their passions -- just like my kids.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The kids kept pretty busy today. The girls both read a short story for a book club we're going to tomorrow, K, W, and I started a big, round, physical map jigsaw puzzle of the world, K did 2 math pages in a new 8th grade workbook and we went over new stuff together, she also started a new online diary blog, W is practicing writing sight words (today he wrote "the" 10x in a new notebook), and J has been getting creative with photos and web layouts. I went to Staples today and spent $100 on a ton of cool stuff. I love that store.

The kids decided that having some more structure - implemented by me - is what they want right now. I know we have so much stuff that finding something to "do" can be overwhelming and confusing. So, many times the kids will just want me to pick for them. I have better ideas, they say. Ok. It does seem to work better for us right now if I initiate more activities. Maybe it makes them feel more "accomplished". Maybe they need to have something to cross off a mental to-do list. Maybe they just love showing me how smart they are. They've become so motivated lately. Homeschooling is really amazing.

The baby hamsters are 5 weeks old and ready for new homes. The kids named all of them:

Pepe and Pedro (long-haired, black males)
Noodle, Strudel, and Caboodle (the long-haired, tan triplets. 1 female, 2 male)
Raven (short-haired, black female)
Nutty (short-haired, tan and white male w/huge nuts)
Goliath (the biggest one, short haired, tan male)
Stumpy (has 3 legs, short haired, black male)
um...and 2 more black ones I can't remember, lol. So K is keeping Noodle and J is keeping Stumpy. And W has mama. We're a little sad to see the others go, but it's time. I hope they all get owners who will love them.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

We got the new car. I met B at the train, and all of us went to the dealership. After 2 hours I got the salesman down to the monthly lease price I was willing to pay (which was $70/mo less than his first offer, with no money down and 3 free oil changes). 2 hours later we drove out of there in a new Nissan minivan. The kids were antsy, but kept themselves busy pretty well for 4 hours, lol. The car is a dream.

We also got a new mattress and a new TV last week. The TV was free. My mom was at her job 15 yrs so she got to pick a gift. She let me pick out a tv. Cool beans. It's big, bulky, and heavy, but so much nicer than the liney 27" we dealt with for 14 years. It was at the bottom of our stairs for 3 days until B and I decided we'll just push it up on a big piece of cardboard one foot at a time. It's a 32" Sony WEGA Trinitron someting or other. I know it's an old model, but we're not arguing.

W is learning to tell time. He can read the digital clock, but then I showed him what that looked like on an analog one. He counted by 5s to show how the minute hand goes around and understood o'clock, thirty, and quarter-to. We found a fun online matching game and printouts for him to play around with. His confidence is amazing. At a sweet 16 party we went to this weekend, he danced to some hip-hop songs and at one point all the teens (about 40 of them) made a circle around him while he busted out the moves, lol. The DJ was so impressed he gave W this thing to wear on his head. W didn't take it off all night. LOL.

J's social life is hitting a big high lately. She's always on the phone, IM'ing, or setting up a hang-out day (can't call them "playdates" anymore, lol). I guess that's normal for a 10 y/o girl, though. She has been very creative on the computer this week. She made a photo-logo thing for B's band, a flyer announcing free hamsters, and worked with K on new website layouts. She has been continuously researching baby hamsters and I might suggest writing down all the cool things she's learned. Maybe even make a hamster diplay board or lapbook.

K's doing lots of reading and writing. She wrote to a few celebs, entered a contest, and wrote to her penpal again. She read the first 2 chapters in her Barrons Earth Science book and did the questions at the end. After the party we went to on Friday, I dropped her off at my mom's for the weekend. They have a ball together - mainly shopping and eating out. K's new "thing" is exercise and nutrition. She wants to keep a diary of what she eats, what activities she does, and anything new she learns about the subjects. Mom bought K a teen workout video that she begged for, lol, and my sister will surely offer any help since she's studying holistic nutrition at some cool Manhattan school. K used to take healthy cooking class once a week until the place closed. She loved it. I got to find her another one like that.

We booked our hotel room for the end of the month competition. My mom may come too, which is great. I always could use another set of hands. J will have intense private lessons this week for her solo and lots of group rehearsals. I'll be ordering the hotfix stones this week (10 gross!) and spend a couple of nights stoning the costumes. B already started sewing the appliques on. The week is pretty open, so I can get lots of cleaning done, get to the library, and maybe visit friends. And I'm doing our taxes tonight, woohoo.