Sunday, September 28, 2008

A New Week

I'm still reading as much as I can about the AO curriculum. I love so much about it and it's nice the kids see how great it is, too. What makes it better is how they chose this for themselves. I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be this much enthusiasm if I picked it for them, gave them no choice, and "made" them do this work every day. I read about so many other homeschooling families having such a hard time making their kids do work - the kids are even punished. I don't get it. All that kids need is choice, trust, and support. Then watch what they can do!

J and W had their first day of CCD this morning. Both kids are receiving Sacraments next year. W will be making his First Holy Communion (in May) and J will be doing a year of Confirmation prep, with a few more classes next September, a weekend retreat, and her ceremony next October. W had so much nervous energy about going today. He was a little worried about a new class and new teacher. He was still excited though and went right up to the classroom with a happy "See ya later!". A couple of the schoolkids in his class were crying outside and clinging to their mothers. W came out high fiving old friends, said his teacher is really nice, and that the class was fun. So I think we can put to rest the whole socialization, fitting-in, homeschoolers-won't-know-how-to-act-out-in-the-real-world (hahaha) issues, mmmkay?

K is off from school on Tuesday and Wednesday. I'm so looking forward to that. J has a full week of dance and is already making plans for those "off" days with her schooled friends. W loved cub scouts on Friday. He has so many friends there. They spoke about (and did a project on) the Wright brothers and about their upcoming weekend camping trip. He can't wait for that.

Our beloved Mama hamster passed away the other day. She was W's Christmas present 2 years ago. We had decided to get him a male and bought a cute Spiderman cage and everything. W loved it. It was a Syrian Black Bear hamster and so tame and friendly. 9 days later "he" had 13 babies right before our eyes - the first one was born in my hand (and no she didn't eat it, lol). We raised the babies for about 3 months. We kept 2 babies, gave 5 away to friends, and gave 4 to the pet store (2 didn't make it). Mama had been a wonderful pet and we will miss her.

Mama - January 2007 right after she had her babies

Some of the babies - 13 days old trying some new food

The babies again - exploring the cage, with Mama on the far right keeping watch

Waffles - one of the babies we kept

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Week 4

Week 4 of AmblesideOnline is going great. W, especially, is still really enthusiastic about it. His favorite thing to do is cursive writing. I don't really see much need for it, except to know how to sign your name, but he mastering it like a pro. I figure he sees it the same way J saw calligraphy a few years ago. It's fun and just looks cool. J's days are pretty busy, so she's fallen behind a little on the weekly schedules - and she's sleeping over a friend's house tonight, so tomorrow morning's academics are out. I think she's doing wonderfully. She enjoys the readings and has even decided to read some on her own. In the early years of AO the kids are read to and by the age of like 10 or so, they should start doing some of the scheduled readings on their own. Since we just started AO, she preferred that we read together. But it hasn't taken long for her to start taking over. She even takes notes (I swear, I had nothing to do with it!), and loves narrating back to me. Eventually she'll do written narrations instead - again, AO suggests around age 10, and she's slowly getting closer to that as well.

We had our homeschool group's geography club today. The focus was on Hawaii and the kids presentations were fabulous. Every family brought in a native dish - that's my favorite part. J spoke about Hawaiian jewelry and W opted out of this one. He's getting a bit self-conscious about his reading speed and he had a tickle-cough all day. That was enough for him to not want to do his report on Hawaiian instruments. So afterwards, W and I checked out about 10 library books and J spent the day at her friend's house. As for me, work is still good. Big changes have been made this week and most of my normal duties have been outsourced. So what I did for about 15% of the time for the last 2 1/2 years has been changed now to 100%. I feel rusty with it somewhat, but I'm always up for a challenge. My boss says I should make the same if not more money with this change, so I'm ok with it so far.

Here's a not-surprising news article.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Ranger and a Scout

Today W became an Urban Ranger at Central Park. We headed into Manhattan for the first of a series of fantastic ecology classes with the homeschool group. We met at Belvedere Castle - which was breathtakingly beautiful - right in the middle of the park. Two park rangers brought the kids around through hidden paths and walkways pointing things out and talking about the plants, trees, and birds in in the park. The kids started out playing a game where they formed a web out of thick string, showing how different things in nature interconnect with each other. Then onto lots of walking and discussing. After 90 minutes the kids all got ranger badges, pencils, stickers, and info sheet, and a ruler. W had lots of friends there and ran around playing with everyone before we left. Awesome class, and we get to do one every month!

We got back to Queens just in time to get J to her tap class/solo lesson. After buying her some Vitamin Water, W and I drove a few blocks away to his first Cub Scout meeting of the season. He's in an awesome pack. The pack leader is a friend of mine from 12 years ago and she's great with them. They also have tons of trips already planned - the first camping trip is set for next month. The parents got to hang out and watch the meeting today since it was the first one and there were lots of new kids. I really do love it. They say the Pledge of Allegiance, follow gentle but important rules, work as a team, do crafts, make friends, go on trips, march in parades, serve the community, earn badges, get treated with total respect, and best of all, W thinks it's great. It incorporates everything that I feel was beneficial at school (and there truly weren't very many things I found beneficial at school) in a fun hour each week.

J slept over her friend's house, K went to a local fair, and W and I played The Allowance Game twice. He also played a bunch of reading games on the computer. It was a beautiful day today.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Flyin' High!

This morning we went on an amazing trip to JFK airport. All of us in the homeschool group met up near the departure area, got "real" boarding passes, snail shell leis, and boarded a 777. The kids got to ask the Captain and the plane mechanic questions before heading into the cockpit. We were told all about how the plane works, what buttons and screens mean what, and the kids sat in the Captain's seat. We then went back to the waiting area where the staff blew up balloons for the kids, who ran around playing for about 30 minutes. Then it was time to visit the control tower. What a cool place that is. The kids asked lots of questions and got to check out some of the computers. Then after we all went for lunch (with vouchers for the food court!) we went up to another room where the kids (and parents) got goodie bags.

We just so happened to be the first "school" group to visit the airline since 9/11/01 and they staff all made a big deal out of it. We were told this was very special and would probably get national exposure. Not sure what that means, but there was a photographer with us. All the kids on the tour were fascinated by everything. I definitely had a great time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hershey Park '08

We drove out to Hershey Park Yesterday. We've been holding onto tickets most of the summer and finally got the opportunity to go. It was fun as always, but very hot. I think it was like 92 degrees - which was surprising after it was in the 70s all last week. The kids and I still went on all the big coasters. I think we just scoured the park map for anything labelled "aggressive thrill ride". J is finally tall enough for everything, and W has made it to Hershey Bar status, giving him access to a bunch of the bigger coasters. I did the Comet and Sidewinder with all 3 kids, the Stormrunner and Great Bear with K and J, and the Fahrenheit with just K. Then I'd pretty much had it, lol. The kids also hit the Tidal Force flume ride for a last soaking before we left. B was happy enough just watching. He's a water park guy and Hershey closed that section right after Labor Day. We also did the Zoo America, but I found that a baby squirrel peeping out of a tree hole on the way up to the zoo was more interesting. We ate kettle corn, won a few prizes, and stayed over 6 hours.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Week 2

The kids are still enjoying the new schedule. Yesterday W did some handwriting practice, math workbook, phonics workbook, and we read from the Burgess Bird Book, Paddle to the Sea, and Aesop. He loves it all. It's great seeing so much enthusiasm from him.

We haven't done much yet with foreign language, extra reading, or nature study. I think we have to build up to those. Although, last week W got a pet lizard (a green anole) and observing it and feeding it live crickets is pretty fascinating. We now have 4 goldfish (3 comets and a black moor), 3 African Dwarf frogs, 2 hamsters, 2 hermit crabs, and a lizard. That's more than enough nature for me.

J started with math and then we did readings together about the 19th Amendment, Natural Law, and Einstein. We also started reading A Midsummer Night's Dream. I couldn't stand Shakespeare in school. It was dissected to death and all the enjoyment was sucked away. J happens to be very into it. I'm liking it a lot now as well. I "get" it now.

Basketball registration is this weekend. Cub Scouts starts next week, too. W and K will both take Musical Theater with J at the dance studio, and K starts private guitar lessons this weekend. J's dance classes are in full swing now and she's assistant-teaching one of the younger classes again as well. So much great stuff happening around here.

Monday, September 08, 2008


This morning we went to archery. J felt like trying it, too, this time and fell in love with it. After 3 hours, she could have stayed another 3 hours. She was popping the balloons and hitting the bullseye on almost every shot. The photo on the left was taken by the guy running the place. She did very well and he told me he knew J was a dancer from the way she carries herself, that she has so much poise, is really focused, and takes direction very well. I wasn't shocked at that, since I know J takes very quickly, easily, and usually incredibly well to knew endeavors, but I had to laugh a little on the inside. My J, who not so long ago was singled out to be put on medication for being too hyper and too unfocused in school. She was told she "wasn't a good fit" for the full-time/self-contained gifted program she'd been in over a year (called "The Academy for the Intellectually Gifted" - a name that still makes me rofl). She was very extroverted and popular (and bored and uninterested) in the classes and that clashed with the kind of children the teachers were used to in that program. I'm just glad she got out when she did. What I think is important is that J learned a lot from her school experience and it only cemented her decision to homeschool even more. Her education is now what she needs it to be: hands-on, experiential, and in context. And I believe this is the reason she can now approach anything new with drive, determination, and confidence. I have no doubts that she'll continue to succeed at anything she wants to.

On Sunday, we spent the early part of the day at a local street fair. J's studio performed about 12 numbers to a nice-sized crowd. It was hot, but everyone had fun. J did her dance solo, sang a song, and was in a few group numbers. Then they got to do the whole set over again a couple of hours later! This week also starts her new class season. 1.5 hours of ballet was slotted for Monday evening and the kids looked beautiful. I was off of work yesterday for my birthday, so I got to watch the class a bit, but I probably won't get to do that again for a while. I'm really looking forward to seeing all the new choreography for this season.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fourth Day

Ok, so we ditched the schedule today and went to the Hall of Science! It was great. No school trips (well, only 1 high school class was there), no camps, and practically the whole place to ourselves. The best thing about that is that we get our own personal "explainers" who help you perform the experiments and talk about what's happening and why. It's funny how we always find something new every time we go there. The kids plugged in a route for a Mars rover and watched it move around on the "Mars landscape".
We visited the magic exhibit again, too. A lot of focus today was on molecules and J practiced writing out the molecular formulas of different common things. W copied examples of ready-made molecules using plastic balls and sticks. The sports area was a hit as usual, and they particularly enjoyed the microbes area this time. W sat in with the high schoolers on a demo called "The Science of Sports". He listened very intently, answered a bunch of questions (correctly!), and participated when asked. Also, we found out that the biochemistry lab is temporarily closing due to lack of funding. I'm so writing a letter about that.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Third Day

W and I got so much done in an hour-an-a-half this morning. He was ready by 8:45am ("Mom, can we start now??"). I, on the other hand, wasn't ready til 9, lol. He started with script writing again. Today we added the letters l and e and then made words using all the letters we learned so far. He used script in the phonics workbook, too. He didn't learn all the letters he needed yet, so he asked me to just show him what k looked like, as well as w, h, d, s, r, and n. It was a quick once over, but he is determined. This is a page of today's phonics (a review). I think he's doing a great job with cursive after only 3 days. When he starts copywork next week, he plans on doing it all in script. So, after that we read from Fifty Famous Stories Retold, and Parables from Nature. Then a math page. He asked to do more math later on when J was doing hers.

So far, so good. The kids are really enjoying the structured mornings. Of course this can change any day now, lol. I wonder if it's just the first week newness of it all. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

...And the Second

We're starting to find a groove. J sleeps later than W, so W and I started on his scheduled stuff earlier than usual. He always would wait to "do work" with J, but I think he realized today that it's fun having all the academic attention on himself for an hour. He started with a new Spectrum phonics workbook and then onto cursive writing. He caught on with this so quickly, I cannot believe it. His print writing is really nice and now after just 2 days, and having learned 5 letters, his script is just as neat and so well done. He's learned c, a, b, t, and i. He's writing words like "bat" and "cab" and "bit" on regular wide-ruled notebook paper. And he could keep going for hours. We read a history story, an Aesop fable, another Stevenson poem, and more Paddle to the Sea. He can't wait to narrate back what he remembers from the stories. And he did 3 math pages.

J started with a lesson in math. She does about 1 whole TT lesson each day. We read some School of the Woods, a book on Einstein and his theory of relativity, and some Age of Fable. She loves this last one. It was a story based on The Iliad about Ulysses (Odysseus) and his men coming to the island with the Cyclopses. She is so loving these stories.

What's odd is that it doesn't feel like "doing work". It's relaxing together on the couch over tea and toast, laughing and learning and loving our time together. Workbooks and handwriting are just different types of fun games. Readalouds are serene, bonding, and captivating. W must have said "this is so cool" at least 3 times -- about his math. The books go back in the drawer right before lunchtime and we spend the afternoon doing art projects, nature walks, science centers, vocal/dance lessons, playground, supermarket, library, whatever. I love life.

First Day

The AmblesideOnline curriculum is so far a big hit. J and W loved the readings. No, I mean, LOVED them. We started with math. J did Teaching Textbooks and W did a new Spectrum workbook. While J continued with math, W and I went over cursive handwriting together. He did great - a lot better than I expected. W and I read Paddle to the Sea, with J listening in. She gets as interested in W's stories as much as her own. J and I read a chapter of The Story of Mankind and about David Livingstone. W's readings continued with a poem from A Child's Garden of Verses and an Aesop's Fable. J's continued with some Robert Frost poetry and the first chapter of The Hobbit. Then both kids sat by the computer with me and we learned about Sandro Botticelli and analyzed one of his paintings. The whole thing took about 2 1/2 hours. I have to say, it was fun, interesting, and done so quickly. I enjoyed it a lot, myself. Now, let's see how long all this love lasts. ;)

After lunch, J had a vocal lesson. She's performing at a local street fair on Sunday and was asked to sing. The vocal coach went over her old song with her, fine-tuning any perceived weak spots. This coach is amazing. She's so thorough and has such a great ear. We lucked out finding her. The bulk of the lessons will be focused on J's new competition vocal selection (which hasn't yet been selected, lol). They are trying out different songs and styles. J will know when it's the right one.

K's first day of 10th grade was really good. She's happy with (almost) all of her teachers and the classes look fun. The entire English term is called "Newspaper" and will be run like they all work for one. She's excited about all the subjects, actually, and says she feels like acing everything this year. I love that her school is incredibly small (for NYC), has a uniform/dress code, and is very progressive as far as mission and overall attitude towards learning.

First day done.