Monday, April 30, 2007

So this was the best competition weekend ever! The hotel was great, the kids had a fantastic time, the atmosphere was nice and relaxed, and their dance numbers were better than ever. First off, the scores were amazing! This competition scores bronze, silver, hi-silver, gold, hi-gold, and platinum.

Group Tap - PLATINUM
Group Jazz - HI-GOLD
Group Production - HI-GOLD
Solo - HI-GOLD

All 7 of our studio's group numbers were 1st place in their category. J's solo was the best anyone had ever seen it. Her coach was crying. I bought a dvd of her numbers and the whole disk of professional still pictures of her solo. Here's a couple of the pics from Saturday:

We chose a less expensive inn rather than a big hotel this time. We saved $120 on the room and probably another $40 since they gave us a huge free breakfast both mornings. I love staying at the big hotels with all the other dancers and the pool, but this comp was such a time crunch that there was no time to enjoy the hotel anyway. We got to spend 2 whole days with them at the venue instead. Saturday we were there for 12 hours - 11:30am to about midnight. I know it sounds crazy, but the kids love nothing better than hanging with their friends all day. There's always food at these things and enough room to run around. W was out back playing with all the boys on the big grassy hills. K had a great 2 days with the older dancers. I think she cheers the loudest, lol.

Friday, April 27, 2007

On Wednesday, I drove the girls out to the creative writing class. It's a 1.5 hour class and they love it. I knew K would enjoy something like that, since she loves writing. J, on the other hand, has had a severe aversion to reading and writing since having to endure a shamefully cruel teacher in public school 1st grade. This class has so far been successful generating some great stories out of her, though. She says she likes it a lot and looks forward to it every month. Yay!

Yesterday the girls spent the day at the mall with their friends - another homeschool moms/kids get-together! Both girls did very well budgeting the money they had. While they were there, I brought W to his homeschooled friend's house in Brooklyn. W has been asking to go there for months and was thrilled when we finally could. The boys had a great time running round the park, playing in dirt, and eating bugs (sigh, boys, lol). He loved having friends to himself for a change!

This weekend is a competition in CT. I just redid the whole costume trunk, checking every piece of clothing, shoe, and accessory. She lost a jazz gore boot and needs new foot undeez, so I will be making a shlep to the dance shop later today. Everything else is in order and we're leaving tonight after I'm off work. I figure we'll get to the hotel before midnight if the weather cooperates. She doesn't go on until the afternoon tomorrow so we don't have to get up early. All her numbers are between 1pm and 7pm so it will be fantastic. Awards are scheduled for 11pm. We can sleep late Sunday too!

She decided she wasn't ready yet to sing at competition. She wants more practice and some lessons first. The studio owner said she can still prequalify for Nationals if she wants to do it then. I spoke with a vocal coach this morning and we're setting up something for next week. J is so excited about it. I think this will definitely give her more confidence and reassurance.

Off we go...

Monday, April 23, 2007

We went to a great homeschool group activity all about the science behind making ice cream. The moderator made up 4 pages of specific questions based on the scientific method. We all brought our cream, sugar, and flavorings and the mod had ice and rock salt for us. We decided on mocha and brought along coffee and cocoa powder. We mixed it up in a bowl, tasted it to make sure is was good, transferred the mixture to a baggie (which went into a larger baggie), and transferred that into an even larger baggie filled with the ice and salt. Then we wrapped it in a t-shirt and shook the hell out of it. W and I each grabbed an end for a while and then K and J took a turn. I can't believe how good it came out. It was better than the best ice cream you can buy (or maybe it's just my chocolate-craving PMS coming through this week, lol).

The science part of it was understanding why rock salt added to ice works like a freezer. Well, rock salt lowers the temperature at which water freezes. So, our ice melted, but the resulting water ended up being colder than 32 degrees F. This means the water in the bag was as cold as a freezer would be. We talked about the scientific method and the kids wrote their observations and conclusions on the worksheets.

After we all cleaned up (it got messy, LOL), the kids got to run around outside for a couple of hours. It was 81 degrees out and the kids had so much fun playing. W hung with the big boys, and both K and J's bffs were there. J went to dance at 4 (until 7:45) and K went with her to hang out with the owner's dd who is her age. W took a nap, I picked up B and went to work. When the girls got home they made tuna casserole for everyone while B picked me up from work. I love that all the kids love to cook. I just wish I was better at it so I could teach them more, lol.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hmm. Well I had an interesting conversation with a customer on the phone today at work. She is a NYC public school teacher.

Let me preface this by saying that my job entails taking phone calls from customers who want to make changes to their account or pay their bill. I am a faceless voice, a friendly listener - a safe person to vent to. I hear it all.

Ok, so as I'm offering this teacher a cheaper package of services, she starts to turn the conversation to her many frustrations. She can't stand the administration and how they hold her back from really making a difference with these kids. She said teachers are stifled, defeated, and ultimately have no choice but to concede to the ridiculously inefficient "system". She feels if she had the opportunity, she could do so much more at her school. She explained how giving the kids a lot of freedom in her classes (to get up, walk around, ask questions, work on their own projects or in groups) works so much better than forcing them to sit and write for 40 minutes with their head in a book.

She talked about how teachers who try and do what they know is right - the "rebels" who blow the whistle on poor learning conditions or immoral principals or other higher-ups - get reassigned to "rubber rooms". These are "reassignment centers" used to get the accuser out of the way so as not to expose any wrongdoing at the school. I found this article that explains this more in detail. She also said that NCLB is a joke and is not being implemented the way it's supposed to be. And she told me that in many schools, all the money that is supposed to be allocated for "Project Art" (a well-intentioned and well-funded effort to get more art and music programs back into city schools) is being mishandled and used for every other subject but art and music. It's truly amazing what this administration gets away with. And these are the folks who have the nerve to deem our paperwork as "in compliance" or not?

I just let her go on and on. I was learning a lot. I wasn't that surprised, though. Then I couldn't hold it in any longer. I told her I understood and agreed. I told her I live in NYC also and I homeschool my children, as I, too, became fed up with the system after dealing with it for 9 years. You know what she said? "GOD BLESS YOU FOR DOING THAT". She said my kids are incredibly lucky to get to learn in a way that teachers can only dream of. She went on about how great it is for kids to be out in the real world learning from adults in their own workplaces. She also said my kids were going to grow up with such a healthy outlook and know what it is they want in this world.

I could do nothing but feel the most amazing sense of pride and understanding. This woman gets it. And after we hung up (I never did get my sale, lol) I thought about how my kids are learning and wrote some stuff down. The monthly creative writing class is taught by a real children's book author. The monthly book club is moderated by a real librarian. The homeschool art classes are taught by real artists. The first-aid class was taught by a real nurse. Science classes are taught at environmental centers by real environmentalists. Then there's the numerous trips and tours we go to with the hs group or by ourselves. And the fact that my kids have learned not to be ashamed or afraid to ask adults questions about the work they do - and how the adults LOVE telling all about what they do! The learning that happens when we're home is relaxed and fun and centered around what the kids are interested in. And the best part is that there's so much time left over to PLAY! We spend more time outside than ever before. My children have re-learned how to use their imaginations and create fantastic worlds of whimsy (I love that word, lol).

I'm grateful that this teacher came into my life today. I got to appreciate my life with my kids so much more.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ahhhh. Finally the weather has come around to a fabulous 60 degrees today. And the next few days look absolutely gorgeous, too. This morning the kids and I drove out to the monthly book club for the hour-long class. While they were in there W stayed in the children's wing playing with several other kids his size. I'll assume they're 4 or 5 years old, still in 1/2 day preschool, since they were there with their moms in some sort of playgroupy thing. W didn't care. He enjoyed playing with them. We spent some time outside, too, because he wanted to practice skateboarding. He's learning it slowly but surely!

When the book club was over, all the kids went on the library computer to play for a while before we went for lunch. We went to Quiznos for the first time and I was surprised at how good it was. I had a "veggie" sub with extra guac, baby. The kids all had a $2.99 kids meal. Not bad!

After lunch we drove to a nearby park where our homeschool group was having an art class. The focus was on oil pastels and the color wheel. I got each of my kids their own set of pastels and a big vellum pad (rough) to share. First the kids made their own color wheels on a paper plate. Red, blue, and yellow (the primary colors)were filled in with the pastels in alternating sections. Then the colors were smudged together to create orange, green, and purple (secondary colors). We talked about complimentary colors (opposite each other on the color wheel) and adjacent colors (next to each other on the color wheel).

Then the kids all made their own art. The moderator today (a great homeschool mom artist) hung everyone's art up on the wall and the kids would come up and talk about what they drew and what color scheme they used. We looked at works from Van Gogh and Georgia O'Keefe and discussed their styles.

When the class was over, all the kids (about 15) ran around outside soaking up the great weather. I love beautiful, fun days like today!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dance for J seems to have hit a new level. They are starting "acro" very soon, have a lyrical number in the works for the recital (which may or may not go to competition next year), and the studio owner (SO) just added another competition for the middle of May. J is also talking about doing a vocal solo at competition. If it's put in for the comp at the end of April, we need to really get busy. We already started working on it. I downloaded her song and copied it onto a CD. She practiced with it and then sang for the SO who was happy, gave the CD to someone who will cut the song down to 2 minutes, and already started planning J's costume. I am in the process of setting up at least 2 professional vocal lessons and J's been practicing the song every day. I am really impressed with her determination and drive.

At dance today one of the moms told me the whole story about how her dd (4th grade) has been bullied and tormented by several kids in her class. It involved a "slam book" and several horrendous IMs from these nasty kids. Another mom had to pull her dd out of dance early because the kid had "7 homeworks" to do. Another kid (9th grade) was frantically doing homework because her mom said if she didn't pass 2 certain classes she wouldn't be allowed to go to the next competition to watch her brother dance. Sigh. I empathized and offered advice when I could and then just continued reading "The Teenage Liberation Handbook" (yes, I'm reading it again). Maybe some homeschool energy will rub off.

The kids have been doing lots of food preparation the past few days. W is learning how to make a proper sandwich, shred lettuce, slice up cheese, beat eggs, and use the microwave. J has been learning how to make a better omelet, brown ground beef, and make a pot of coffee. And both kids are learning how to properly clean up after themselves, sort of, lol.

I sent out the 3rd quarterlies for K and J. I emailed them with a receipt attached, so I know they were read. I just wish I would get a specific response about whether or not they're in compliance. I just feel like the hs coordinator is going to wait til the end of the year and send me an email like, "Ahaaahhaaaha, psych! Nothing was in compliance this year and you guys have to do this year over again the RIGHT way, bwaahahaaaahahahahaa". We'll see, lol. I love NYC, but the way the hs coordinator has this power-trip over the regulations is just unbelievable. Homeschoolers are not out to emulate public schools and shouldn't be regulated like one. Our kids actually get to be kids and end up better educated. Let us be.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

K has been in Florida with my dad and sis since Thursday. She's at the beach and pool every day, taking everglade boat rides, other boat rides on newly-rich-cousin's newly bought boat, and seeing old friends from grammar school who moved there 5 years ago. Restaurants, manicures, and shopping make up the remainder of the day. I talk to her on the phone every day and she's loving it down there. I miss her, though. Yesterday, after she finished telling me how nice the beach was, how much color she's getting, and how the boardwalk has this great restaurant on it, I told her my plans for the day were mainly going to revolve around the nor'easter storm we're getting, LOL. We were both cracking up.

Today the kids practiced some life-skills since we were homebound. J folded and sorted laundry, W helped do the laundry, and both kids helped B with food shopping.

They played V-Smile and some computer games together - very nicely, might I add - and watched a few of their favorite tv shows. J played with her Tomagochi and DS Lite. W played with the hamsters and took a long bath. In the evening we all watched a cool documentary on dinosaurs.

Before bed, J and I read a short biography of Mozart. We alternated reading the pages until she got tired and wanted me to read the last half to her. She liked the oil paintings in the story of Mozart and his family as well as the pencil and cartoon drawings. After that she brought over K's pre-algebra text book from 8th-grade and we looked at the first couple of pages. It was about integers, absolute value, the number line, negative numbers, and ><=. One read-through was all it took for her to understand the concepts. She loves it when she "gets" math, and consequently wants to do a bunch of examples to really make sure. Or maybe just to show me what she knows.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The really fantastic thing about homeschooling is that you can tailor it to each child. I still consider myself an unchooling parent even though J and K have requested more structure. For them, Charlotte Mason activities such as copywork, readalouds with narrations, and individual subject study (history time line, nature walks/sketches, artists, and composers) has been really great. They look forward to it and immerse themselves into doing their best.

W, on the other hand, has given it a fair shot, but seems to prefer solely learning through living. He isn't into any assigned written work, but does enjoy most the other CM activities and will voluntarily participate. He likes the readalouds, the nature stuff, and even likes to narrate back what he remembers. And I think that's fine. As an unschooler I am all about being the facilitator for my kids - not a demanding overseer, forcing them to work work work. As long as the girls are having fun with this, I'm there to see that they have what they need and be their "tour-guide" throughout the methods and activities. W can join in if and when he pleases and I have no doubt that he will learn plenty regardless. He's a fiercely independent kid with his own timetable. He cannot think I expect anything from him because he will purposely not deliver. He will not perform unless it's his idea. But when he gets it in his head to do something, he puts his all into it and leaves everyone reeling. I just love everything about that kid.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Yesterday we went on a fantastic tour of Whole Foods with the homeschool group. I think we had about 7 parents and 12 kids (and another bunch of parents and kids for the later tour). We got there around 10:30am and met up with one of the workers who headed the tour. He has worked in Whole Foods over 10 years and was very knowledgeable. We learned a lot about organic food, GMOs, growing produce, and the ins and outs of how Whole Foods does things. This, by the way, surprise me the most. I was very impressed with the store and based upon how they "treat" their food, I would like to make more of an effort to shop there. Having an experienced employee explain their farming, fishing, and presentation practices is just so much better than reading it out of a dry textbook and lectured to by a "teacher" who just read the info that morning themselves. Oh, and the kids loved it - especially tasting all the free samples!

J was back at dance last night - 2 hrs of tap and jazz tech and 1 hr of lyrical. The lyrical class was taught by one of the studio's new choreographers - a young guy with a long resume and innovative ideas. J loves learning new routines and techniques with new dance teachers. Tonight is musical theater for J, K and W, boys hip-hop for W, and advanced hip-hop for J and K. We get there about 4:45 and leave around 8:15. The rest of the week is at least 1.5 to 3 hrs per day of rehearsing for J - including Saturday. I ask J all the time if this is too much or if she wants to take a break for a while or maybe even try something else. She looks at me like I'm crazy and says there is nothing she'd rather do than dance every day. And the funny thing is that she doesn't care a lick about competing. She'd rather not, actually. But she knows that only by being in the company would she get the intense training, difficult routines, and professional choreographers (and other perks, like performing at major NYC venues, getting free professional head shots, and being with her best friends in the world) that she loves so much. B and I are both very proud of the fact that J excels at something she so enjoys. I do tend to go through cycles of imagining about all the other wonderful things we could do with the time and money we spend on dance. But I know J's heart and soul are poured into dancing. It's her true passion and she always gives 100%. She's been doing this for 7 years. Here's J as the "logo" of her old dance studio - 7 years ago:

She also just got new headshots taken at the studio. I have all the proofs and can't decide on the ones I want to make in to a package. The studio chose a great shot of her to put on their wall. All 25 company members adorn the large wall in the waiting room, along with the dozens of trophies, plaques, and medals won by the teams this year. So we have one comp at the end of April and an optional one the first week of May (don't know if we're doing that one yet). May 12 is the all-day recital rehearsal (I took off work for that). Memorial Day weekend is 3 days in NJ of intense rehearsals and a photoshoot with the performance team J is a part of (she qualified for this team last year and they perform at various venues like, 6 Flags, NJ State Fair, and the South Street Seaport). June 3 is the recital and the middle of July is Nationals. And in between all these things are hours and hours of rehearsing. K and W get to be a part of this, too, and absolutely love getting to experience new places. The company kids and little/older siblings are great friends and getting to spend a weekend together with your friends is better than anything, lol.

Life is so good. I should learn to appreciate it more and savor this awesome time before the kids grow up and it's gone.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

HaPpY EaStEr!!

We went up to BIL's this afternon for Easter. Yesterday dh made the traditional Easter pies, fried up lots of cauliflower to bring, and bought a banana cream pie for dessert. The kids and I colored eggs last night and they woke up this morning to all of them (and their Easter baskets) hidden around the house.

This week went pretty quickly. Wednesday was Spiral Scouts with the homeschoolers, and Thursday and Friday the younger kids did an hour of CM in the morning. J was so proud of her writing this week that she showed and read her copied poems to K and dh. Friday afternoon we met up with my mom for lunch and some shopping. W got a buzz haircut and it looks gorgeous.

Work's been pretty good, lately. I basically do inbound collections, taking credit card payments and making adjustments to accounts. But I have the opportunity to make sales (and commissions!) in the process. So after a recent conscious decision that I want more money, I pretty much tripled my sales over the past 2 months. I'm all about the power of positive thinking, lol. Dance has been good although J is going through Easter vacation withdrawal this week. The next competition is in a few weeks, so I'm expecting later rehearsals and extra days at the studio. Then before you know it, the recital is here. Then Nationals. This year is really going way too fast.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Question: What Will My Kids Think of Implementing Charlotte Mason Methods Into Their Homeschool Day?

Hypothesis: I believe they will enjoy the fun activities and prefer a bit of structure in their day.

Materials: notebooks, new pencils, looseleaf, sketchbooks, library books, magnifying glass, art supplies, journals, Italian and ASL programs, graph paper, field guide, globe/atlas

1. Start morning with copywork - Shel Silverstein for J, Dr. Seuss for W. (15 minutes)
2. Give each a math worksheet (torn from workbook, addition for W and long division for J as per requests) and I assist as I'm needed. (15 minutes)
3. Do read-aloud from "non-twaddle" book - Roald Dahl (Mon.), Ancient Egypt (Tues.) (20 minutes)
4. Kids do oral narration from read-aloud (5 minutes)
5. Focus on Art - Michaelangelo, craft = self-portraits (Mon.). Focus on History - Ancient Egypt (Tues.). (20 min)
6. Out for fresh air. Errands (Mon.), Park (Tues.)
7. Afternoons to do what they want
8. Evening journalling and bedtime readaloud (starting Bridge to Terabithia soon!).

Observations: Lots of laughter, eagerness to get started, pride in work, more imagination, teamwork, enthusiasm

Conclusion: Implementing the Charlotte Mason method is currently a success! Of course it's only been a few days, but they're having fun with it and are eager for more of the same. The whole "structure thing" is taking less than 2 hours, but they feel they're doing so much. They like having "work" to do and to be able to see what they've accomplished. The day seems to run much more smoothly now for some reason, too. So, for now, we'll keep on keepin' on and see where it takes us.