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


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


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 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 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


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. :)