Thursday, January 31, 2008

This week J and W got back into reading and workbooking. J is reading a Chicken Soup for the Soul book right now. She has been doing pages in her bridge workbook and has started a new workbook on writing. She has fun with the exercises in the book, but hates writing out things by hand. She'd rather use a MS Word document and type everything out. She's still eager to get the Teaching Texbooks math program (we'll probably get that in a few weeks).

W has gotten excited about the Magic Treehouse series and has decided he wants to buy every book and then read them in order. He's breezed through Dick and Jane, which I just love. And it's not all just, "See Spot run". It's, "I want to make little cookies" and, "Look down and see something". Another thing W is loving right now is reading comprehension games. Well, they're really mini-quizzes, but to him they're games. He has a big cheapo workbook (educator discount + educator week = 25% off and I couldn't resist going and letting the kids pick whatever they wanted last week) that he wouldn't put down yesterday. I think I read him like 8 stories and he answered the questions.

So, today we went to this place that gives classes on circus arts. They have a class on a weekday morning just for homeschoolers! J and W really loved it. They did so many cool things, like spinning, dangling, acrobatics, "flying", and bouncing, all in unique ways on unique equipment. This is so right up J's alley and W was constantly kept moving, so he wants to go back every week. They also both made some new friends. Well it's not cheap, but since they love it so much, I think it's a go. My mom thought it was so cool that she offered to pay 1/2 the semester tuition for it. After the class, we joined one of the other families at the park for a while. I'm so glad we decided to try it!

Oh! The new Unschooling Voices is up over at RELAXED HOMESCHOOL! Go check it out!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The other day I saw high recommendations for a math program called Teaching Textbooks. I went on the website to check it out and it did look fun. I showed it to J and she sat for a long time with the samples and demos. She REALLY loved it and asked me to buy it for her. She took some of the placement tests and she's ready for the PreAlgebra set, but she asked to start with the one before it instead. She said she wants to be really comfortable with the basics of math before delving into the higher stuff again. I though that was a great decision. Sooo, I'll be purchasing Math 7 this week. Her plan is to knock it all out by June and start PreAlgebra in September. She likes math. What can I say.

Today is CCD, basketball, and dance. B is taking the kids to get a couple of goldfish and a waterfrog. J's been asking about them for over a week. She and W are using their own money - just for fish and food - we already have a tank, gravel, and filter in the basement. B set it up for them yesterday. Speaking of pets, I think it's time for another really cute hamster picture. The mama hamster is still W's baby and is doing great. She's finally stopped trying to find an escape route out of her tank, lol. The babies are now a year old and ours (Waffles) is still as cuddly and cute as ever. Here he is 2 days ago with a baby carrot:


All of us around here have been in dance costume mode all week. J has 8 costumes this year and 6 are being stoned. K and J both did several pieces, I did her tap skirt, and B did some of her new solo costume. I've always done all the stoning myself over the years (I'm very Type A) but this year I've learned to relax a bit and share the work. I'm still double-checking everything behind their backs though. We are just about finished with all of them. We have 12 days until competition weekend. J's team will be dancing crazy hours til then and the big dress rehearsal is next Sunday.

There was a dance fundraiser last night at one of the local bars. It's called "LCR Night". There are lots of tables set up and we play LCR which is a game using 3 special dice and money (play money - you cant use real money in a public bar). I won 2 pots (we cash in the play money for 1/2 what we paid for it) and a raffle basket. All the fundraiser money goes to the dance company kids to help pay for their entry fees. K and W cannot wait to get to the first comp. It's taking place in the hotel where we all are staying, so that means a lot less stress and a lot more fun.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today. We haven't been there in a few years (not since The Gates were in Central Park) and it was time to go back. I took lots of pics today - you can click on the larger ones to see better detail! We started with the Egyptian Room, which is keeping with our theme of Ancient Egypt (we saw a musical about King Tut last week). There were so many mummies and many of them had with them miniature sarcophagi (which was made to look like the larger one) that the mummy's organs were kept in. We walked through ceiling-high tombs that were brought from Egypt and studied some of the heiroglyphics. J loved the small pieces of Egyptian art, like the jewelry, masks, and miniature statues. She took out the sketch pad and colored pencils and went to town drawing her favorites.

Then we headed to Ancient Rome and all the marble statues, stone columns, and vases. We saw that the Ptolemaic Era in Egypt (325BC - 30BC) was at a time when Rome was the most powerful empire in the world. Many Egyptian artifacts from that time period have noticeable Roman influence.

Then it was onto Ancient Greece (loved the battle-wear!), and into Medieval Times. Here, the favorite was definitely the armor, swords, and shields. I just kept thinking about how these were the actual pieces used for battles in medieval England.

The Modern Art room was next and the kids saw paintings from artists like Georgia O'Keeffe, Picasso, and Matisse. J sat for over 20 minutes sketching a beautiful Matisse work. W drew one he liked - a man and a woman sitting together.

Upstairs we saw the room of European artists. Here's where we saw a bunch of Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Renoir paintings. Wow. W found Monet's bridge and waterlilies painting he "reinterpreted" at the homeschool group's art class. The girls loved seeing Van Gogh's works so close up. J said these looked so different from the prints we usually see - the brushstrokes are so prominent and every dot and color blend stands out.

We ended the day in the gift shop, where I bought a perfect atlas of NYC that points out where every museum, theater, and place we'd want to go are. I also found a nice craft book all about Ancient Egypt. The kids are all about that this month, so we're going to make some stuff!

Monday, January 21, 2008

J's been so busy. Dance all weekend, CCD, the mall with a friend, painting with acrylics, making home videos, watching DVDs, creating online video photo collages, and doing a bunch of language arts and math website quizzes. She decided this morning that she'd like to learn to write really well. Her decision was based on the fact that she feels she's not learning what she wants to at the hs group creative writing class and doesn't want to go anymore. She said she'd rather learn writing at home. It seems she wants writing "assignments" of some sort incorporated into her mornings - like from the Daily Sparks book - and to do story summaries, and maybe even find some writing contests to enter. She said she'd like that. She also wants to write more songs and poems. Tomorrow we're going into Manhattan and I'd love to find a place that sells those beautiful writing sets - you know with the cute paper and a bunch of cool supplies. I know K (who is off from school all week) and W would each love one as well.

So it turns out we don't have to buy a second car after all. Woohoo! I was dreading it. Since my day off changes from Tuesday to Friday, I only have find a way to work 2 days, not 3. So B and I figured a car service on those days is a lot easier and cheaper.

I'm off to stone a dance costume!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

We went to the Hall of Science today. The kids ask to go there at least once every few months. We got there around 11am. J was very intense, staying in one section for a long time, trying out everything. W was so curious about the sound waves, vibrations, and optical illusions. We watched a laser/optics demonstration and both kids were very involved, asking and answering lots of questions, and eager to get as close as possible to the instructor.

Downstairs was all chemistry and biology. W found some amoeba to look at (we talked and looked at websites about those last week), printed out chemical make-ups of different organisms, and created various molecules. J was into DNA and microscopes.

I asked about the biochemistry lab they had right there and they said it's open to the public on the weekends (to mainly school groups during the week). It's a huge lab, with tons of equipment, an instructor, and write-up sheets for endless experiments and research. The best part was that the lab is for age 7 all the way up past high school age. I think it's so cool to have this perfect science lab 10 minutes from my home to use any weekend we want. And thanks to my job, it's all free. Soon we'll be going to the Natural History and Met museums. These and the dozens of other museums in NYC are such incredible resources offering libraries, internships, educational programs, workshops, and classes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Unschooling Revisited

Someone asked me about unschooling lately. My basic description is usually that it's a parent-facilitated and encouraged, yet child-led education with no parental academic agendas, expectations,or demands for their kids. The child's environment should be full and rich, with access to the resources they need which allow the development of knowledge, experience, and responsibility. The child is free to choose their own educational path, and this may include choosing to start your day with a schedule, subjects, and workbooks, to spending your day playing video and board games, or even to go (back) to school. Freedom of choice is the key. Kids need to own what they do.

But in order for unschooling to be effective, there has to be a real honest Trust that your kids will, in fact, learn everything they need to learn, when they need to learn it. This is where many parents have a hard time. Unschooling isn't something done sometimes, or with some subjects. It's a whole mindset revolving around this trust. Kids are hard-wired to be curious, creative, and diligent. Look at a preschooler. They have boundless energy and ask tons of questions and are so enthusiastic about life. Homeschoolers (and especially unschoolers) don't lose that as they grow older. School kids, on the other hand, do lose a lot of it, usually by around 8 years old - having your energy squelched, questions unanswered, a constant pressure to perform, and lack of adequate sleep, will do that to a kid.

Unschoolers learn because they truly want to learn. They go to college. They become productive adults. They love their lives. They are raised having choices. Their interests are respected and encouraged.

The concept of unschooling is a hard one to understand for many people. It is not un-parenting, it is not educational neglect, and it is certainly not a by-product of lazy parents. It is being in-tune enough with your kids to really know what they love, how they learn, what they want, and how to get it. It's filling your child's life with wonderful experiences, opportunities, and resources and letting them have the freedom to choose what they'd like to pursue further. It's your children being a part of the real outside world all the time.

Even with NY's ridiculous homeschool regulations, it works. How? The kids know what's on the IHIP. We check things off that we cover and use the rest of it as an idea starting-off point. And amazingly, at least 90% does get covered (80% is required). We can't get away from the regs, so we incorporate them into our unschooly education. It's easy and fun this way, I think. The kids love it.

So, that's my definition of unschooling. We choose this path because it works.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

We all went to a friend's birthday party yesterday evening. He and his wife have been 2 of our best friends since the early '90s when we all did community theater together. It was great because it was at a restaurant in walking distance of my house. So we walked there with the kids at around 7pm. They had a huge Italian buffet, kid-friendly DJ, nice dance floor, and there must have been over 30 kids there (and like 25 adults). W started mingling right away, schmoozing with some 10-year-old girls at first, and then ultimately play-wrestling with some boys as the girls didn't really pay him much attention, lol. J found her friend, S, whom she's known since they were both 2. They're also in CCD together on Sundays. K decided to skip the party and go out gallavanting (lol, love that word) with her friends instead. Her friend's mom always drives all the kids home, so that was good. She was home around 11:30pm when we got home.

J had a few hours of dance during the day. They went over a few group numbers and practiced their solos. Since I work evenings and Saturdays I never get to see J's dances until right before we go to competition. A full dress rehearsal is taking place on the Sunday right before their first comp, so yay! I finally get to see everything in a few weeks!

This morning all the kids went to CCD, then W had basketball. K asked to go with them so she could see her brother play. I thought that was really cool. I gave her my camera and she took a few shots for me (that's him in the gray sweatpants in mid-jump). B said he did great today and had a lot of fun. I can see why he likes this more than the baseball he did a couple of years ago. He is constantly moving with basketball - there's no waiting around much. In baseball he waited around for his turn to bat and was bored to tears in the outfield when none of the other kids were big enough to hit a ball anywhere near him.

This week, J and W have been into making home videos of themselves, web-show style. They create characters and perform little skits while recording themselves. It's gotten really funny sometimes. They've also been playing some of their new games like Hyperdash (where they have to run around the living room a lot) and some Gamecube. J rode her new moped around and W rode his Fusion scooter. They painted, Heely'd, rode bikes, cut snowflakes out of paper, danced around the room, cooked, sewed, went on a great hs trip, went to a fun party, played website games, read, watched DVDs, took pictures, and shopped. And just now, J, at 8:30pm on Sunday night, decided to fill her free time poring over a book on Faerie poems, grabbing a notebook, and after a little while presenting me with a beautiful handwritten copy of The Elf Toper by George Darley:

Each twilight-come
At beetle-drum
For nectar he a-hunting goes,
The twisted brine
He stoops for wine,
Or sups it fresh from off the rose.
From night to morn
His amber horn
He fills at every honey-fountain
And draineth up,
Each flowery cup
That brims with balm on mead or mountain.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Yesterday The kids went to Garvies Point Museum in Glen Cove for a great field trip. The older kids had 2 classes (on skeletal remains and Native American pottery II) at the same time as the younger kids classes (Native American pottery I, Native American tools and artifacts). The moms were invited to sit in on the classes, so I went with W. In the pottery class, they discussed how many of the beaches on the North Shore contain cliffs filled with natural clay. I knew this because we had our own "clay mountain" near our summer beach house. As kids we would dig for the clay, cover ourselves in it (it turned shimmery white when it dried on you), lay in it, throw it at each other, make things out of it, etc. I always considered it a secret place no one else in the world knew about. W liked the class - he made a pinch-pot and a spiral pot out of his clay.

The kids played for 45 minutes before the next classes started. J loved hers. She was excited about the topics and I think it's so cool that it will probably be a starting point for further exploraion. W opted out of his second class. He sat for a little while, but the instructor was terribly boring and W wanted to just roam around the museum. So out we went with another mom and her 4 y/o. W loves this litte 4 y/o and pointed things out to him and explained things. I'll bet W learned more going around the museum on his own than he would have in that artifacts class. That's the thing about him. He's much more of a hands-on, do-your-own-thing, ask-a-million-questions kind of kid. Classes where you have to be quiet, pay attention, and do exactly as you are told do not appeal to him at all and produce no learning for him. Although I love the homeschool group and all the carefully planned events and classes, I'm finding lately that our spontaneous, unstructured trips either by ourselves or with a few friends are usually much more enjoyable for them. We'll certainly be doing a lot more of those this year.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sunday, the kids went to CCD. They enjoy these hour-long classes every week and understand they need to go in order to receive certain sacraments in the Catholic Church. I gave them the option of either going or not and they do choose to go. J would like to start attending Church more regularly, as well. She has 1.5 years left to make her Confirmation. W will be receiving 2 sacraments next year. K is done with religious instruction but still volunteers at the school. Although B and I consider ourselves fairly religious people, we're not shining examples of Catholicism. But since this is an important part of the kids' lives, I will do my best to make it more a part of mine.

W had basketball practice right after. He is playing with the more-seasoned 7 y/os but is certainly holding his own. They played a "steal the bacon"-type game yesterday where if you steal the ball you get another point if you also shoot a basket. W and only 1 other boy earned that extra point. He loves it - I only wish the season lasted longer.

J went to dance rehearsal around 2 for a couple of hours. They worked on the lyrical group number, which was a mainstream number for them last year, but has been revamped and will be brought to competition this year. The weekday tech rehearsals will be used for choreography instead starting this week. J's numbers for competition are as follows: Lyrical - Small Group, Tap - Small Group, Jazz - Small Group, Jazz - Large Group, Tap - Production, Solo - Jazz, Solo - Musical Theater, Solo - Vocal. Vocal is not going out til probably April this year. The studio owner is focusing on this being more of a learning year for them, so most of the competitions we will attend will have workshops and conventions as well.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Yesterday J spent about 15 minutes reading in her room while W read 2 Dick and Jane stories to me. He also likes Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold (one of our new favorite authors!) and reads it well. I'm shocked at how quickly his reading picked up over the last few months. He then did a few pages in Writing Words while J sat on the couch with a Spanish workbook. She's choosing to start the days with reading and then pick from her long, typed list of activities, instead of automatically doing writing and math directly afterward. W is following suit - starting off the day reading to me and then doing some sort of workbook activity alongside J. It's all about what they're in the mood for. It doesn't matter to me. I can tell you they sure are never bored! As a matter of fact, I can't even remember the last time I heard them say that.

Today J went to a private sewing class (postponed from last week due to her stomach virus). She got to have a fabulous one-on-one lesson on the ins and outs of her own sewing machine. They suggested we bring hers since that's the one she'll mainly be using. They said she'd also make a tote bag. She picked out a really cute pink patterned cotton fabric. After an hour, W and I picked her up and she was beaming from ear to ear, SO proud of the bag she made, and she couldn't wait to show me how the sewing machine worked. She loved it so much that she wants to take the weekly 2-hour classes. It's for kids up to 14 y/o and they make cool stuff like pajama pants, pillows, and holiday crafts.

But not this month. Dance competition season is upon us and J's first one is in a month. Her usual 10 hours of dance each week is increasing to about 13. Her old solo costume still fits great, her new one is almost finished, and her 5 group costumes are still being made. Then we dive into stoning hell. Hundreds of Swarovski Crystal glue-backed rhinestones are painstakingly applied, one at a time on each costume. We moms usually hang out together with a few drinks and have stoning parties. So, January is crunch time. It's so exciting! The first comp is everyone's favorite.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Here's a good one for you by Taylor the Teacher

I run hot and cold when I read stuff like that. I mean, I know it's true and I'm so glad I know it. But it bothers me. I don't like that my daughter is in that environment all day. The only reassuring thing for me is that she is there of her own free will (unlike the majority of high schoolers). She has learned to tolerate the really moronic teachers and make friends with the really cool ones. Although I think high school is a complete joke and a waste of childhood, I don't let K know how I feel and I'm very supportive of her choice.

The other night we were going over homework together and it was algebraically solving 2 problems for "y", coming up with their corresponding "x", plotting the points on a graph, then looking to see where they intersect. Can someone please tell me what the point of that is? How is this something that can relate to a child's life? Where in God's name are these kids ever going to need something like that?! Teach my daughter how to balance a checkbook and pay bills. Teach her how to choose an insurance plan. Teach her how to comparison shop for a new car. THIS is what kids need to learn. THAT is what math class should be. When kids are older and decide they'd like to be an engineer, architect, or mathemetician, THEN they can sign up for pointless-to-everyone-else-in-the-whole-world-but-them math classes.

Imagine your boss at work required all employees to spend 3 hours each day after work at a class on Battleship. Yes, the game. This expensive course (that comes out of your paycheck - sorry, it's company policy) focuses on the exact written rules and strategies of the game. You will have to choose a report topic (5 typed pages with footnotes) and read (with full understanding or else) long books - like, Staying Away from the Edge and Why No One Can Find Me by I.M. Sodumb - and there are tests every Friday. It doesn't matter that you've always hated that game or that it has nothing to do with your job as a stockbroker. If you fail, you will take it again and again until you can pass. Your instructor (who just learned about Battleship the month before the class, yet acts like she invented the game) seems like she'd rather be anywhere else and has recently humiliated you when for the third time you couldn't state the obvious difference difference between rows B and F. BTW, if enough in the class can get good grades, Hasbro will award the CEO, CFO, and the 4 VPs with a nice stipend and send them each on a 5-night cruise. How would you feel? Would you complain (to deaf ears)? Would you just give up and feel defeated? Would you just not show up? What if all companies required this of their employees (you can't just look for a new job)? After 10 years of this program, the employees, like drones, just go religiously every day. They look zoned out and tired and aren't really paying attention. They don't like being there, but go because they have to or they'll lose their jobs. Complaining in the past just brought tons of red tape and resentment. I wonder if any of them will enjoy Battleship in the years after the course is over. Um. I doubt it. Yeah. That's what high school math is like to me.

At least K sees school for what it really is and will not be beaten down by it. She goes to enjoy new friends, create a good cheerleading team, perform in the talent show next month, gain a little more independence, maybe go to Europe next year, and see how well she can do playing the grades game. And it is a game. Real life is in the real world. Real life is being your own person, making your own choices, and being comfortable and happy.

Now read the above article again.