Sunday, March 28, 2010

Super Saturday

W:  Cub Scout sleepover at the Hall of Science complete with Bubblemania show and ice cream.  (And a great birthday party on Friday for best friend in Brooklyn)

J:  A surprise "Alice in Wonderland"-themed birthday party at Jekyll & Hyde's in Manhattan followed by same-themed house party in Queens.

K:  A surprise 17th birthday bash on a party bus for best friend. 

I'd say it was a fabulous weekend.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

High School Hullaballoo

In NYC, the 8th-graders who didn't get into a specialized high school (there are only 8 or 9 of those schools) are supposed to get their "main-round" school match-ups this week. It was supposed to be yesterday, but because the NAACP is annoyed that a few extremely underperforming schools in terrible neighborhoods are closing (?!), everyone's letters are delayed. I don't get the big rally for keeping schools open where kids don't learn. I don't care if it's the only school in your neighborhood. If it's a bad school, you should be doing whatever you can to find something better. It's your job as a parent. I think it's heartless to make the entire city's 8th-grade kids (and their parents) wait any longer to know what high school they'll be going to.

Thankfully, J got her results in the specialized round, but all her friends are so anxious. Most of them put Frank Sinatra School of the Arts as the main-round first choice, then other performing arts schools like PPAS & Talent Unlimited. Then they put some good academic schools like Bard Early College, Townsend Harris, Academy of American Studies, and Cardozo. You may list the top 12 high schools you'd like to attend - most children only list 5-7, though - and you get matched to only one of them. K didn't try for any specialized schools when she was in 8th grade, and her main-round sheet listed only her 3 top choices. She got into her first-choice pick - but the wait was still nerve-wracking. Out of the 400 high schools in NYC, only about 30 are worth going to. So you can understand the anxiety for both the kids and the parents.

Many of J's friends took the test to get into the good Catholic High Schools. There, you list your top 3 choices and you can get accepted to all of them and choose which one you'll attend. The thing about Catholic schools is that they send their results in February and you have about 2 weeks to make a choice and then send them a (non-refundable) $600 payment to hold your spot - this, if you notice, is a whole month before your public school results arrive. Sneaky, isn't it. A good number of J's friends' parents paid the $600 - just to ensure their kids have a seat in a good school - but have no problem losing that money if they're happier with the main-round public school result. This is another reason for all the anger and anxiety over the delayed main-round letters.

It's crazy in NYC. I love that we have so much school choice. The process is nutty, but usually worth it in the end. Hopefully this other nonsense will end soon and these kids will finally know where they're going to high school.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Things

This week was nice and relaxing. We decided to forego all scheduled outings and just hang out enjoying the beautiful weather. We brought the kids' Christmas bikes home from my mom's and W was riding his all over the park yesterday. We bought a cool bike rack for the car at Walmart, too, and we'll be going to the park often (they'll ride, I'll walk). Since there are no Walmarts in NYC (thanks, Sam), I visit one maybe once a year. I find it a real treat because they have everything.

I bought something called "Times Tales" for W. I heard good things about it and figured, why not. It's weird and he didn't get it and wondered what the point was - until the end of Part 1 when he realized that not only did he memorize every story in proper order, but knew the entire first half if the 6, 7, 8, & 9 times tables - in 2 days! We're doing Part 2 this week, which covers the second half of those times tables. Then we'll resume TT5.

W had CCD this morning and will spend his afternoon at the park. K got her hair cut and highlighted. J is going to her friend A's house to ride bikes. And I'm going to use my "alone time" to clean this house, then I have work in the evening.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Competition Weekend

This weekend's dance competition was great. J's solo and duet were Saturday. She won High Gold for both and 2nd place overall duet/trio. On Sunday she was in 5 (senior division) group numbers - sm. group jazz, sm. group contemporary, lg. group contemporary, lg. group hip-hop, & lg. group tap. They scored 1 High Gold and 4 Platinums. The hip-hop number won first in it's category and Best Technique of the whole weekend. The sm. group jazz won Best Musicality. J's old dance studio was there - that she started out with from age 3 to age 6 (we see them often now since they started a competition team a few years ago). The owners are the sweetest people and came right over to J and me hearing "through the grapevine" that J made it into LaGuardia. They were so proud of her. Lots of hugs there.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Birthday Boy and Academic Updates

My baby boy is NINE years old. We went out for dinner and saw Alice in Wonderland and it was perfect. Along with a very cool Nerf gun, B & I got him a huge bag of "supplies". Everything he needs for his claymation, cartooning, & shooter-making are in there. We also got him some acrylic paints, brushes, canvases, and balloon-animal-making balloons (with pump). He was shocked and overwhelmed and it was so adorable. The next day he didn't know what he wanted to do first.

J has another competition this weekend. First time for her duet. Can't wait to see that on the stage. And W's Pinewood Derby race with the Cub Scouts was on Friday. He came in second AGAIN. His car beat more than 15 others but it's always down to that final 2 at the end. Grrrrr. We'll get 'em next year.

So, I want to finally try and keep up with a "What did we do this week" blog post about W's academics. I've tried in the past, but I either forget to do it, or forget what we did, lol. So, I'm trying to write things down daily so I'll have it all together by the weekend. We're trying some new things, getting rid of what isn't working (or enjoyed), experimenting with different ideas, and attempting to stuff all of these ideas into a weekly schedule. It's not as easy as it looks, lol. I've jumped some of the subjects (like language arts, science, and social studies) to a 4th grade level. Math is still TT5 (but I wouldn't really say it's 5th grade, probably more like 4th). The literature readalouds and poetry for copywork are advanced - the narrations and discussions we have are extremely helpful with those (I may start him on written narrations later this year). His decoding skills are just about on 3rd grade level and no matter what we read, his comprehension is excellent (I swear the narrations got him to pay attention better, lol).

J is currently working on algebra, life science, US & world history, writing, and some good literature. She's going at it strongly and I haven't heard any complaints. We do a few things together (like math), but she does most of it on her own. She's getting very excited for high school - she asked to go school shopping already, lol.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Going With the Flow

The previous post was made in response to a bunch of emails I recently received regarding homeschooling. I tend to get lost in thought sometimes and just have to get my feelings out. I can really empathize with parents who are so fed up with the school system and know in their hearts that homeschooling might just be the answer - but they're held back by the unknown. It's important to realize that nothing is ever set in stone. There is always the option to change what isn't working, whether that means coming home, going back to school, changing curriculum, or taking a well-deserved breather from anything structured.

Speaking of structure, W and I redid his schedule to include less AO books and more workbooks, science experiments, internet research, and hands-on projects. I still read to him - we've just started Wind in the Willows - and he reads out loud to me (his fave now is If You Lived in Colonial Times). He does copywork and poetry every day, we do nature study once a week, and narrations are important. I really do believe that narrations of the books we read are the precursor to good writing skills. The AO books we're keeping are: Joan of Arc (Stanley), A Tree in the Trail (Holling), Seabird (Holling), Pagoo (Holling), Handbook of Nature Study (Comstock), all the free reading - Understood Betsy (Canfield), The Wind in the Willows (Grahame), Robin Hood (Pyle), A Wonder Book (Hawthorne), Tanglewood Tales (Hawthorne), Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (Sidney), Thumbelina and Other Fairy Tales (Anderson), Pied Piper of Hamelin (Browning), Five Children and It (Nesbit), Farmer Boy (Wilder), The Story of Doctor Dolittle (Lofting), Brighty of the Grand Canyon (Henry), Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Atwater), Chanticleer and the Fox (Cooney), Along Came a Dog (Jong), The Door in the Wall (De Angeli). The Charlotte Mason methods and principles are staying put as well. You see, W loves the curriculum and the method, but he doesn't like being tied to a specific timeframe. I get that. I enjoy having a guideline/starting point and I'm comfortable with the endless tweaking of it to suit our needs. We should all live by that thought. Nothing in life is really constant - especially when it comes to kids. We always need to go with the flow. "Unschooly, eclectic AO" is more W's style. Love that, lol.

W's cub scout Pinewood Derby is tomorrow, J has 2 private dance lessons today (for her solo and her new duet) and 3 hours of group classes - the next competition is next weekend, and K had a blast on her college overnight trip. She visited 3 SUNY schools starting with Albany - then Oneonta, and then Sienna - and finished at Marist. She left yesterday morning at 6am and will be home tonight at around 7pm.

W's new passion is weapon-making. He's fascinated with putting together his own contraptions. He has made homemade blow darts (out of aglets and pins), sling shots, and awesome crossbows made from chopsticks, disassembled pens, rubberbands, tons of tape, and big clips. I have to hand it to him for creativity. The crossbow is so cool and works well. The chopsticks are used as the main frame, the empty pen cylinder is where the ammo goes (which is the ink tube of the pen - with the tip still on or fitted with a pin). The clip holds the rubber bands in place and acts as a trigger which then shoots the "arrow" out really fast. He's very careful and keeps all his supplies together in one place. It's fun to watch him. And he made these all on his own without any help. Check it out in action:

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Beautiful Thing

I am intrigued by how children learn. Adults cannot force a child to learn. The child has to want to learn something and this happens when they’re ready. I’ve always been a child-led homeschooler imbued with a strong unschooling philosophy. I began this journey 5 years ago with the thought that kids are a lot smarter than we think. They don’t need to be threatened, punished, or rewarded when it comes to learning. They just learn.

In my opinion, the parents’ job in homeschooling, is to be there answering any and all questions - looking up what you don’t know. It’s to provide as many resources, experiences, and opportunities to your children as you can. It's to offer help, advice, and guidance and to foster their interests. It’s to listen to their needs and find the joy in their wants.

My preferred homeschool method is based on lists of my children’s favorite things to do. That has always been the underlying curriculum for them - their own choices. Both of my homeschoolers love workbooks, and science, and documentaries, and history projects, and Readalouds, and poems, and word games, and nature, and museums, and doing research, and making their own connections to everything they encounter in life. Allowing my children to do what they enjoy has been incredibly effective.

J is in 8th grade and has been following her interests and passions since she started homeschooling in 3rd grade. She regained her love of learning after it was so obviously squelched by public schooling. She went from constant indifference and a helpless, defeated attitude to an eager, independent learner who was so excited about the world - in less than a year at home. Now, at 13, she still does only what she loves. Her choices have always centered around the academic, which I believe would be the case for most children who are really free to choose, and also around dance. Now that J is choosing to experience high school, the stars lined up perfectly for her as her new school centers around what she loves.

W is an amazing 3rd grader. Homeschooling for him has been so perfect and fits his personality. He is full of energy, ideas, curiosity, enthusiasm, and determination. He’s a natural at arithmetic and loves history and science. And he loves reading. He overcame a huge reading block, mostly on his own with lots of encouragement, and is now surpassing grade level. He is outgoing and confident and loves his life.

K is doing well in high school. She’s going on a college overnight in a couple of days and can’t wait. The year she was homeschooled still resonates today. She’s definitely a better person for it. Over that year she let go of the middle school angst and learned who she was. That sense of self and great confidence she gained has stayed with her. She’s coming up on her last year of high school and is looking forward to college.

Homeschooling has opened up the world to my kids. They are really learning. They are happy, smart, full of enthusiasm, outgoing, and such a pleasure to be around. For anyone struggling with the homeschool decision, I want to tell you it is a beautiful thing.