Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Homeland Security

I can't say enough good things about the field trip W and our homeschool group went on the other day.  It was to Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan to learn all about the Dept. of Homeland Security.  They created a beautiful outreach program for us - as we were their first "school" group visiting ever.  First we got to hear about a couple of agents' "day in the life".  A PowerPoint presentation on the department's history and current goings on was next.  Each slide was so incredibly fascinating.  We learned about terrorism, border patrol, drug smuggling, human trafficking, customs and immigration, TSA, cyber crimes, counterfeiting and property rights, and so much more.

Two federal agents from JFK Airport came in with their German Shepherds to talk about the K9 unit there.  The dogs sniff out drugs and currency.   They did a demonstration for us, too.  The dogs are very well cared for and loved and will only work for that one agent - who gets the dog while the dog is still in training school.  Various dogs are used and they are found at all the international airports.

Then a FEMA agent came in to discuss what they do and he brought a whole team of FEMA Corps volunteers in with him.  FEMA Corps is a group of 18-24 year-olds who spend 10 months traveling around the country together to help with emergency preparedness.  Some kids were taking a year off between high school and college and this earns them some credits and scholarship money.  Other kids already graduated college and were in FEMA Corps to gain work skills and figure out what they want to do.  One guy was an EMT, a few deal with the social media part, all have CPR training, all do some office work, etc.  These 10 kids comprised one team, but there are dozens of teams around the country.

Every topic was so interesting.  The kids asked so many intelligent, mature questions that the presentation started to head into its 5th hour.  I've never seen 13 & 14 y/os so enthralled by anything like this.  The agents seemed very impressed by how smart and well-behaved these kids were.  Our group of 6 teens and parents (so happy we could sit in!) are so grateful to the Department for having us and teaching us so many things we never realized.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

It's All About Simplicity

What I'm coming to realize about homeschooling a teenager (well, mine, anyway) is that a lot of their education and learning and academics has to be very "organic".  It has to encompass the whole child through a more natural, environmental approach.  We can have all these seemingly wonderful varying pieces of curriculum that promise to be the best laid out or the one kids like most, but if there's no true understanding, then it's a waste of money and time.  There has to be an interest or at least some sort of meaningful context for anything to be understood, absorbed, and applied.  And learning, like almost everything else in the world, usually turns out better the simpler we make it.

W has led his education since the beginning.  I have always followed along, providing him with the resources he needs and coming up with various experiences, opportunities, and suggestions for him to foster his interests and learning.  It's so fun this way - and effective.  I research and suggest a lot and he's actually happy to try anything.  Some things stick and some things suck and we toss it.  We both still learn from things we toss - even if it's just not to use something like that again, lol.

The outside experiences and free time are what's really filling out W's education.  It's been getting better and better the older he gets.  Exploring Manhattan, getting together with the other homeschooled teens a few times a week for parkour and other activities, traveling, fundraising for animal shelters with his friends, building his computer, our restaurant adventure, and getting ready for several things in the works are what's making him who he is.  And every year will have more and more things for him to be a part of.

As far as formal academics are concerned, math, science, poetry, and computer coding have been the favorites for the last few weeks.  The other night W spent 3 hours creating a ton of computer code to create a really cool tic-tac-toe game.  He taught himself.  It has a lot of detail and was really fun to play.  Math and science he's just really good at, so it makes him enjoy it more.  History, literature, and writing are subjects that are slightly more informal.  The rest of this year will be spent on basic US History, U.S. geography, and U.S. government.  Lit has been a mix of poetry and modern and classic short stories.  Writing is usually done every day, in context to what's W's into or doing at the moment.  The funny thing is that we're getting more of these subjects done this way than when I had them scheduled.  Go figure.

I just did a huge book purge getting rid of everything I know we won't use at all.  My china cabinet now just has a row of reading books, a row of high school and reference books, and a row of notebooks, paper, & art supplies.  It's calming to be more organized.  Also, December is a big clutter clean-out month for me.  I want it beautiful for the holidays, so I minimize as much as I can.  Once January comes, I get back on track with my usual week, including resuming our Restaurant Adventure.

K is loving her job at the SoHo salon.  It's better than she could imagine.  She turned 21 a couple of weeks ago and we're going to see Aladdin on Broadway together next week (B and I got her 2 tickets for her birthday and she said she wanted to go with me - Yay!).  J so far enjoys her new part-time job.  She's working 3 days a week, which I think is perfect for her.  She was just on TV last night in the background of this new reality show on TruTV.  I kept pausing the show and taking a picture whenever she was shown, lol.  I'm back with my old company and happier than ever!  It's in a different location and the job is very similar to what I was doing for 7 years.  It's closer to my house, too.  My old supervisor and manager are there, along with about a dozen of my old coworkers.  I'm working evenings, 25 hours a week.

My blog is 10 years old this month.  Crazy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Keeping Busy

W just got back from a trip to Washington DC with one of his best friends and his family.  He had a blast and took a lot of pictures.  His friend founded an animal charity and was in DC to be on a local news broadcast.  W really enjoyed being in the TV studio and getting to watch how everything works.  They got to see the White House and the Washington Monument as well.

Parkour has been going really well.  W is in a weekly class with other teens (and some younger kids).  He has a lot of fun and loves the whole idea of what parkour is.  It's his 2nd or 3rd year going.  Speaking of teens, a bunch of homeschooled teens are starting to get together every week at a different venue.  Last week they hung out for hours at Dave & Buster's and they went to an indoor trampoline place this week  A few weeks ago they did a fundraiser/Halloween party for the animal charity at a local roller skating rink/arcade.  I love that there are so many NY teenagers homeschooling.  W has a really great group of friends.

B, W, and I went to a high school open house last week.  W has no intention of attending high school, but he wanted to satisfy his curiosity about what it was.  We went to the morning open house - while school was in session - to get a good idea of the school day.  He had no shyness asking questions about their math curriculum (lol) and they seemed pretty surprised at his interest.  Then we went on a tour of the building.  Less than half-way through W was ready to leave.  The kids were loud and show-offy in the hallways when they changed classes, the classrooms were small and dark, and he found out the day is really long (7:20am to after 4pm).  He was totally unimpressed and it solidified his decision to continue homeschooling.  I think the only thing he liked was that they have a personal chef who provides a really varied menu and salad bar for the kids.  We finished the morning having a wonderful brunch at IHOP.

J met up with her choreographer and assisted him at a dance studio in New Jersey for 2 days last weekend.  She's so happy to be going to college in NYC so she can continue to assist-teach and still see all her friends (and us!) whenever she wants.  She also landed a part-time job in a retail store near her dorm!  It's her first retail job and they gave her the hours she asked for.  K did not like the Upper East Side salon, and subsequently got a new job at a salon the West Village.  She is so much happier here and I'm proud of her for not settling and for staying on the lookout for something more ideal.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

What a Great October!

J has been at college now for over two weeks.  She LOVES living in Manhattan.  Her dorm room is wonderful - it's a private room with a big mini-fridge, desk, big closet, sink with vanity and overhead light, mirrored medicine cabinet, 4 dresser drawers, comfy bed, big window, a/c, and mini-blinds.  Then she (we) added a microwave, Keurig, tv, fast wifi modem, pictures, posters, Christmas lights, rugs, and a shelving unit.  She has everything she needs and she's been eating right, waking up on time, and remembering everything.  I'm so proud.  Her weekly classes include ballet (3 different classes), tap, jazz, modern (2 different classes), theater dance, theatrical gymnastics (acro), acting (3x/week), vocal, diction, and dance history.  Some start as early as 8am and some days she's finished at 5:30pm and they're either 2 or 2.5 hours long each.  The classes are really challenging - especially since she's in the highest levels in all dance classes. She loves it, though, and feels so lucky to be there.  I've tallied up her dance classes and figured that she's dancing about 21 hours each week.  She was surprised that she liked the acting classes as much as she does.  I'm just happy she's loving it all.

K graduated from beauty school a month ago, has her temporary cosmetology license, will take her state boards really soon, and has just landed an awesome position at an Upper East Side salon/spa.  This is her first full-time job.  She'll starting out assisting (which includes shampooing and selling product), then she'll go right into being a colorist.  It's a great job with salary, tips, and commission and it's in a great part of town.  I'm so excited for her.

W's weekly academics have been nicely streamlined - as it's November and about that time.  I've decided to make every day practically the same with W doing a lot more independently.  Here's our new weekly breakdown:

  • Math - Saxon Algebra 1. One lesson, together using white board
  • Literature - The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (Pyle). This is read aloud and W gives a spoken narration
  • History - The Complete Book of World History. Silent reading with spoken narration. Using maps & globe for reference. (He just isn't into the AO history readings at all. The 2-page chapters in this book are easy for him to read it himself and and it keeps his interest). 
  • Science - Holt Physical Science. Silent reading and questions. W reads the whole 4-page chapter silently and I verbally quiz him on it when he's done. This is working really well this year.
  • Free Reading - He reads about 15-20 minutes a day. He types out a summary after each chapter or so (a 5-sentence paragraph at least). He still does not particularly like to read, but again, I'll take what I can get.
I'm just happy he's gotten to the point where he can read so much independently. 2 years ago he struggled a lot and was exhausted before he could finish a page. He's come so far - I'm still shocked at how that happened. But we're still taking things slowly so he doesn't get overwhelmed and burned out. This takes a little over 2 hours a day. In addition to the formal academics are W's informal stuff, including: technology and computer science, health, safety, physical education, practical arts, research skills, field trips, and our restaurant adventure (which we're going to start doing more regularly now that I'm back at my old company!).

Friday, October 03, 2014

Getting Back Out There

W, J, and I went back to the American Museum of Natural History last week.  We haven't been there in a couple of years so I decided it would be a good idea to see it again.  My sister and my 3-year-old niece came, too.  It was my niece's first time riding the subway.  Before we went in, we had a nice lunch at Shake Shack on Columbus Avenue.  J always eats at Shake Shack, but it was the first time for the rest of us.  I'll admit, it was a damn good burger.

At the museum, we more or less just zipped through a bit of the first floor and most of the 4th floor (dinosaurs) before spending most of the time in the Discovery Center.  I remember how much my kids loved it when they were little.  I'm happy to say that my niece loved it just as much.  She put on goggles and dug for bones, was fascinated with little clear blocks of various insects, built a totem pole, saw the live Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and really loved the nesting Matryoshka dolls. 

The W 77th Street side

My beautiful niece

 Today we went with the homeschool group to the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport, Long Island.  We'd gone here years ago with J - W was to little to have paid any attention.  It was such a beautiful day out today for it.  We walked around the grounds and saw the Vanderbilt collection of safari animals, bugs, butterflies, sea creatures, and trophies. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable and funny guy.  He made everything a lot more interesting.  I don't remember having a tour last time.  The planetarium had a wonderful show on the life cycle of stars.  It's a new building - just put up 2 years ago in place of the old one they'd used for 30 years.  We all enjoyed it very much. W hung with his friends.  It was nice to see these awesome homeschooled teens pay attention and have genuine interest in the exhibits.  It's great that there are so many new homeschooling teens this year, too.

The Long Island Sound is in the background

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Great Restaurant Adventure #3: Australia


W and I went to an Australian restaurant in Astoria, Queens yesterday called, The Thirsty Koala.  Our host and waiter seemed very Australian - accent and all - but who knows, lol.  W was all set to have a kangaroo burger - No, really, an actual hamburger made from kangaroo meat - but we both settled on the Ginger Beer battered Mahi & Chips.  I'm not a fish fan, but this was really really good.  They serve it with 3 sauce cups:  one was a Thai basil yogurt, one is a sweet chili sauce, and one is ketchup.   W said these were the best "chips" he'd ever had.  I loved all of it.  We each got an additional side with this, too.  I got the roasted fennel and beets and W got the mashed kumara (sweet potato).  The portion sizes are huge, which was great because we had a nice amount to bring home to B.

They serve handcrafted, organic sodas that are great.  The ginger brew is a bit on the spicy, throat-burning side.  It has little pieces of ginger in it.  The lemon-lime was really good.  The table comes with a carafe of water as well. 

                                              Didgeridoos and boomerangs are part of the decor

 I love their description, made me want to eat there more often:
The Thirsty Koala uses local, natural and organic fruits, vegetables, breads, pastry, eggs and dairy products. Our meats are free range, grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free. Our small goods are chemical free from local artisans who cure and smoke their meats naturally. We make our own goat cheese and farmers cheeses using organic milk. By using local producers and artisans and following best practices, we are working to minimize our carbon footprint. 
So thank you for eating with us and supporting our mission to make the world a better place one bite at a time.


Austrian cuisine is next...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kids' Update

Things are moving along nicely.  Now that we've gotten into some kind of rhythm that is working, I'm moving toward W becoming even more independent with his work.  I'd say that at this point we do about half the subjects together and he does about half the subjects independently.  His reading is now as close to perfect as can be with hardly any hint of dyslexia and processing issues.  I'm shocked at how he's improved over the last 2 years since his diagnosis.  So I feel he's finally ready for a lot of academic independence.  He's definitely more independent than he'd be at school.  I still read most of the literature aloud and we do math and geography together, but he does grammar, history, poetry, copywork, Spanish, and science independently - I just ask some questions, check it over, and/or he'll narrate when he's done.

As far as our curriculum this year - we love it.  Ambleside Online, Saxon Math, Holt Science, Painless Grammar, GSW Spanish ... we love it all.  I hope it stays nice like this, lol.  

J has had an incredibly busy summer.  She has been assisting her choreographer at numerous top competition-team studios.  She demonstrates his hip-hop choreo for everyone and the best part is that she gets paid!  It's so great that she gets to get paid for something she loves doing.  She's grateful that she can continue dancing all summer and not be out of practice for when college starts.  There is only one more month before college move-in day.  She got her housing assignment already and cannot wait to be living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in her own single dorm room.  B and J went to a get-together at the school and J already made some friends. We started dorm shopping already and we're about 1/3 of the way done.  Her room is their standard 84 square feet and has a bed, dresser, desk, mini-fridge, big window, big closet, a/c, and vanity sink.  Most rooms have a semi-private bathroom (toilet & shower) that is between 2 rooms (ala Brady Bunch) - that would be nice to have.  We won't know her final placement until move-in day.  

K graduated The Aveda Institue last week.  The whole family went out to dinner at this amazing Greek restaurant in Astoria called Taverna Kycledes.  I can't rave enough about this place - best food I've had anywhere in years.  K enjoyed the school so much and is ready for a salon career.  She already landed an interview next week at a very swanky, posh salon in Manhattan.  Fingers crossed!

And I just realized that this is my...   1000th POST!!!!  

Friday, September 05, 2014

First Week Back with AO

I'm glad we decided to bring Ambleside Online back into our lives.  It just feels so right.  This week was W's first week of 8th grade.  Each day we start with math.  As we're waiting for the delivery of Saxon Algebra 1, we're going over some Saxon Algebra 1/2 to review anything he forgot over the summer.  I'm surprised he remembered so much since he hasn't even looked at math since June.  We're still using the whiteboard, but I got W a graph paper spiral notebook to start using next week or so.  Literature is King Arthur by Howard Pyle.  So far, I love it.  The language is very old and beyond what we've seen so far.  So much awesome vocabulary.  I'm reading this aloud and W's narration showed me he understood everything.  A lot of books from previous AO years had old and/or difficult language, but I would abridge to make sure he understood.  I'm not doing that anymore.  I think he'll be ok.

Copywork (for now) is a short Shel Silverstein poem.  On Friday he studied one he'd used for copywork for about 2 minutes and we did our first real Studied Dictation.  What a wonderful way to do language arts.  It makes so much sense and he won't forget the vocabulary or spelling since it was in context.  History is Augustus Caesar's World by Genevieve Foster.  It's a bit young, but it's a nice story and a great intro to the world of Ancient Rome.  Getting Started with Spanish is still something he does independently.  Each lesson takes him about 15 minutes.  It's such a simple program, but so effective.  This term's composer is Hildegarde von Bingen.  All we did was learn her name, learn when and where she lived, and closed our eyes and listened to one of her songs called Kyrie Eleison.  I really loved it and could listen to it all day.  It's so haunting.  W said it sounded like the music that plays during a slow motion death scene at the end of a movie.  Hey, whatever connections he makes are fine with me.

Already I'm realizing what we don't need.  Spelling, vocabulary, and geography are fully incorporated into the other subjects.  There is no need for us to have separate programs.  I have them on hand if we feel like using something down the road, but I don't think we'll have to.  We're also going with Holt (Science & Technology) Physical Science.  I originally just wanted to do the Apologia experiments this year for science, but W isn't as much of a hands-on kid like his sisters.  He's mainly an auditory learner (K is visual, J is kinesthetic).  Having 3 kids with 3 different learning styles is ridiculous.  I'm constantly changing things and can't use many of the curricula I have on hand because it doesn't work for W.  What works is reading out loud (either one of us), narrations, oral exams, and, (based on today) studied dictation.  He usually takes the lead if working in a group and is great at explaining how to do things - especially when he's in a teacher-type role.  And he's always talking and singing.  I think he'd enjoy learning a musical instrument.  I should get on that.

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Great Restaurant Adventure #2: Argentina

The next restaurant we went to for our Great Restaurant Adventure was called La Fusta.  It's an Argentinian restaurant in Elmhurst, Queens.  J joined W and me this time for a great bunch of lunch specials.  For $9-$11 a lunch special included a large choice of entree (meat or pasta), one side, salad, a beverage, and flan.

I had "tira de asado" (short ribs) with real mashed potatoes, W had skirt steak with french fries, and J had chicken milanesa with french fries.  Before our food was brought out we had a basket of incredible bread for the table and the waiter put out a bowl of chimichurri sauce.  This is a green, garlic & oil sauce to put on grilled meat.  We LOVED the food here and the prices were amazing.  I think we'll be going back here one day soon.

Short ribs lunch special


Australian cuisine is next...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reaching the Next Level

Whew.  What a summer so far!  W has been enjoying having July off from academics and I think he'd like August off as well, so why not.  We'll just pick things back up in September.  I have all the supplies I need:  tons of notebooks, drawing paper, sketch books, dry erase markers & whiteboard, pens, pencils, and most of his curriculum.  All I have to buy is Saxon Algebra 1 (maybe, lol).

J continues to dance up to 3 days a week.  She was one of 3 girls selected (out of at least 30) to be one of the backup dancers for an up-and-coming singer.  All this paid work (and paid rehearsals) makes her a true professional dancer.  And so many more incredible projects are coming up.  She is also sometimes assisting her choreographer in his weekly classes.  Another music video she's in was just released yesterday.  And we just got back from...  Nationals!  We went to Atlantic City for a week.  J did great and her new studio was amazing.  We had such a great time.  We have always treated Nationals as our family vacation, and this was the best one yet.

K is almost finished with her cosmetology training.  She has about 6 weeks left.  For the last month or so she has just been taking clients all day.  She gets great tips and 90% of them re-book with her (usually for 6-8 weeks later).  She's already building her own clientele this way.  She is so happy that she threw care to the wind and followed her heart and found something she absolutely loves to do.

All of us have jump on the Mediterranean diet wagon.  I hear it's one of the healthiest ways to eat.  So, breakfast is a lot of whole grains, Greek yogurt, fruit, nuts, eggs, honey, etc.  Lunch is grilled meats, whole grains, fruit, feta, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olive oil, fresh herbs, cucumbers, lettuce & tomato, pita bread, etc.  Snacks are whole grains, tuna, hummus, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, etc.  Dinners are grilled meats, fish, vegetables, salads, stir fries, brown rice, etc.  We feel better already.

I feel like all of us are stepping into the next level of our lives:  K's cosmetology career, J's college and dance career, W's starting 8th grade - only a year til high school, our new healthy living plan (not only eating but exercising too), my new job, and all the brand new things going on with B's job.  It's an exciting time and I'm so grateful.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Summer is Here

W's CAT-E results came back and he got 97 out of 100 correct, which put him in the 99th percentile.  He couldn't believe it and I'm so proud of him.  He fretted over this test all year, but I knew he'd do fine.  All he needed was the directions read to him.  He told me that this time around he felt more confident that he was answering properly since he was sure about what was being asked.  I wish I'd known that for the 5th grade test.  Now he can relax for another 2 years since the next test will be at the end of 9th grade.  All paperwork was sent in at the end of June and we already got the packet for the 2014-2015 school year.  I'm really looking forward to W's 8th grade.  I'm treating it as practice for high school.  I'll be keeping more detailed records and practicing writing a transcript and course descriptions.  I've been reading so much about it already.  My favorite resource so far has been the books and website of Lee Binz (The Homescholar).

In other news, J graduated from high school last week!  The beautiful ceremony was held in Lincoln Center.  She looked gorgeous and so does that (arts & regents endorsed) diploma.  It feels like only yesterday we were celebrating that she got into the school.  Have 4 years really gone by already?  Thank you, LaGuardia Arts, for everything.

A few days before graduation, she had her senior prom.  The venue was the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square.  She wore a light blue gown with silver stones and jewels on one side of the front.  She wore sparkly silver flats instead of heels (smart, imo), spent the day getting groomed with a mani-pedi, professional makeup, and got her hair done by none other than her sister (K) at the cosmetology school.  She, her date, and a few friends had a white stretch limo take them into Manhattan in style.

J has also been so busy dancing.  She is preparing for Nationals with her amazing new studio.  It's coming up soon and we can't wait.  She is also working with a big choreographer who has just gotten her another dance job with a gold record singer.  They'll be performing locally in August.

Now summer has really begun.  I plan on living fully every day and savoring every moment (I tend to rush summer to get to autumn - my favorite season).  By the end of summer, K will be working full-time in her dream profession and really starting her adult life.  And J will be getting ready to live in Manhattan for college.  I know it's only 20 minutes away, but it's a huge independent step.  And when did W get taller than me?  He's becoming more and more independent every day and in the blink of an eye, he will be off to college, too.  This, right now, really is the best time of my life, with my husband and children here every day.  I'm truly grateful and plan on making it count.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Great Restaurant Adventure #1: Afghan

We began our Great Restaurant Adventure last week with a trip to a local Afghan restaurant.  Afghan is the first cuisine on our alphabetical list.

The name of the restaurant was Balkh Shish Kebab House.  It's in the Astoria section of Queens.  It's a small place with a lot of Afghan decor inside.  W and I started out with Manto (beef dumplings) and Bolanee Kadu (fried pumpkin turnovers).  Those were pretty good.  For the main dish, W had the combo kebabs (2 pieces each of chicken, lamb, and beef) on a big plate of brown basmati rice.  I had Kabli Palow, which is a huge lamb shank on a plate of the same rice but with raisins and shredded carrot on top.  They also brought us a plate of lamb curry, which was delicious mixed into the rice.  I don't even like lamb, but this was so good.  W loved his kebab - especially the chicken.  We ordered some sweet lassi to drink.  It came in a small pitcher and we each got a cute stemmed glass.  This was not our favorite.  It was plain, liquid, warm yogurt.  For dessert, we split an order of firni, which is a rice pudding custard with toasted crushed pistachios on top.  It was perfumy but nice and 1 order was the perfect amount to split.

Kabli Palow

W trying the sweet lassi

Afghan decor inside the restaurant

 Argentina is next!  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Fidgety Kid

WHERE was this article when J was little??  This is one of the main reasons we started homeschooling.  She was fidgety and chatty and the teachers wanted her on Ritalin.  I could scream now thinking about it.  J was bubbly and happy and eager and curious and full of life before she started school.   Schools killed her love of learning, killed her self-esteem, and turned her into just a sad shell of who she was - all by the time she was 6 years old.  Thank God for homeschooling.  I'm so glad I got her out of there before any more damage was done.  I'm glad I listened to my gut instead of teachers who thought they were experts on my kid.  I'm so glad she got to have a rich, full, happy childhood which included a whole lot of running outside in the sunshine.  And most importantly I'm so glad that, after only a few months of homeschooling, I got my bubbly, happy, eager, curious, full of life daughter back (and yes, she's still like that!).  

WHY CHILDREN FIDGET: And what we can do about it
Angela Hanscom - Thursday, June 05, 2014
A perfect stranger pours her heart out to me over thphone. She complains that her six-year-old son is unable to sit still in the classroom. The school wants to test him for ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder). This sounds familiar, I think to myself. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’ve noticed that this is a fairly common problem today.
The mother goes on to explain how her son comes home every day with a yellow smiley face. The rest of his class goes home with green smiley faces for good behavior. Every day this child is reminded that his behavior is unacceptable, simply because he can’t sit still for long periods of time.
The mother starts crying. “He is starting to say things like, ‘I hate myself’ and ‘I’m no good at anything.’” This young boy’s self-esteem is plummeting all because he needs to move more often.
Over the past decade, more and more children are being coded as having attention issues and possibly ADHD. A local elementary teacher tells me that at least eight of her twenty-two students have trouble paying attention on a good day. At the same time, children are expected to sit for longer periods of time. In fact, even kindergarteners are being asked to sit for thirty minutes during circle time at some schools.
The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.
I recently observed a fifth grade classroom as a favor to a teacher. I quietly went in and took a seat towards the back of the classroom. The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.
This was not a special needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular art-integrated charter school. My first thought was that the children might have been fidgeting because it was the end of the day and they were simply tired. Even though this may have been part of the problem, there was certainly another underlying reason.
We quickly learned after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance. Only one! Oh my goodness, I thought to myself. These children need to move!
Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today--due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their body in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once-a-week in order to reap the benefits. Therefore, having soccer practice once or twice a week is likely not enough movement for the child to develop a strong sensory system.
Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”
Fidgeting is a real problem. It is a strong indicator that children are not getting enough movement throughout the day. We need to fix the underlying issue. Recess times need to be extended and kids should be playing outside as soon as they get home from school. Twenty minutes of movement a day is not enough! They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom.
         In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Yearly Recap and the New Plans

On a message board recently, a question came up that asked what was not negotiable in your homeschool, besides the 3 Rs.  In my house, it's not an option to have strong interests that are not encouraged, facilitated, and pursued in all ways possible.  I think this is so important.  Nothing is ever dismissed.  How else can you know what you're good at?  For example:

K likes fashion and to sew - so she got a sewing machine, fabric, and lessons.  She likes party planning, so she found an internship for a year doing just that.  She likes doing hair, so she got to do all the hair for J's dance competitions, sought out the best cosmetology school in NY, and will be graduating in September.

J likes to sing.  So for a few years she was taking private lessons and performing songs at dance competitions (where she even won a regional title for singing).  She loves dancing.  So, B and I made sure she has had every opportunity available - competition team, private lessons, outside and master classes, conventions, admittance into the best performing arts high school, and her dream conservatory, which she's starting in a few months.

W loves computers.  So he does tons of research on what the best keyboards, headsets, mice, and programs are, and he's learned how to use Best Buy and online purchasing to his advantage.  He likes martial arts, so he's tried karate, then switched to MMA, where he goes 3 times a week.  He likes engineering projects and making YouTube tutorials and juggling and Myachi, and magic and claymation and Manga.  We have helped him pursue all of these interests.  He's met a ton of real Myachi masters and demonstrated with them, he's taken claymation and Manga drawing classes, and he is self taught with the projects and tutorials.  

I think they've had such great lives - lives I would have given anything to have as a child.  In reading some John Taylor Gatto (again) I really wish I found him right after my kids were born.  One thing that would have got me thinking about homeschooling from the beginning was this quote, "...schooling itself is a highly questionable practice.  It's possible to derive some value from it, but the damage is always, I think, much greater than any value that's possible.  In many, many instances, there is no value offered.  It's simply a confinement exercise." Powerful words that resonate with my own schooling experience.  And now that both K and J have finished their high schooling at ("excellent") public schools - well, J has 1 more week - I have to agree even more.  No matter what kind of school it is, it's a HUGE waste of time.  K got nothing out of hers, except a few more friends and she learned some cool computer programs working on the yearbook.  J got nothing out of hers except a few more friends and the fantastic dance education - which thankfully took up half her school day.  The academics in school are a joke unless your child is REALLY into them, and even so, they're full of ridiculous busywork, tedium, classroom disruptions and poor school management, and unfortunately many children like that usually have to deal with added negative social consequences.  

Here's a quote by Pat Farenga, "The only difference between a good student and a bad student is that a good student is careful not to forget what he studied until after the test." He also stated that "John (Holt) noted that a child choosing to attend school is in a far different relationship to that school than all the students who are there solely because of their age...If a child knows they can leave school at any time with their parents' support, it makes their choices easier and helps build bonds of trust and communication."  I found this to be true.  My girls, as much as they found school annoying and tedious, were there by their own choice, going in with a way different mindset than their peers. 

W is choosing to homeschool for high school and I'm so glad.  He will start college (or whatever he chooses) with such a different outlook on his future than I did (and that most of his peers will).  These next 5 years of homeschooling are looking to be some of the best ever.  Now that I finally got a new job (I'll be working weekday mornings and weekends) W and I can "do the town" once again and hopefully, way more often.  There is so much out there for teens and he wants to do it all.  This summer is going to kick it all off.  

W took the California Achievement Test for 7th grade last week.  He was so nervous, but I knew he'd be fine.  When he took it two years ago, he did ok - way above the required 33rd percentile, but not as well as I know he could have.  At that time  I just handed him the test and said GO.  But that was a month before he was evaluated for a learning disability. When he got his Visual Processing Disorder/dyslexia diagnosis he also got a list of recommended accommodations for a classroom and for test-taking.  Alas, it was too late for that year.  So, this time around I made sure to use some of those accommodations.   I read everything out loud to him to make sure he fully understood all directions.  But even with my reading I have a feeling he got some wrong in the language and reading sections.  He crinkled up his face at the vocabulary section, but seemed confident with punctuation/capitalization, comprehension, and mechanics.  He flew through both math sections.  He even laughed at it and asked me if I was sure this was the right grade.  I reminded him that he did this math more than a year ago.  He said I must be a really great teacher since he could do a lot of the problems in his head.  Then he said it was definitely the Times Tales and Saxon.  He still recalls the Times Tales pictures when multiplying.  I also swear by all the drill and mastery of the basic math we'd done over the years.  He'd still like to stick with Life of Fred for now.

We're going to start working on a lot more reading to help him with vocabulary and spelling.  He will read some things out loud to me and some things silently.  We'll do more narrations and discussions and use these readings as a base for some writing.  We'll bring back novels, too, shooting for at least 3 per year.  I want him to appreciate a good story like he used to when we did Ambleside Online.  He grew so attached to stories when we took our time with them, that he had a hard time getting rid of the books when we were done with them.  I also have Painless Vocabulary, Painless Grammar, and Daily Sparks Spelling & Grammar to throw in here and there.

All in all, it's been a great school year.  My kids have all achieved their immediate goals (K- top cosmetology school while working at an awe$ome job, J - graduating top performing arts high school and starting performing arts conservatory on scholarship, and W - overcoming reading issues/excelling in math and pursuing all interests).  I couldn't ask for better.

Here's what's on the agenda for the summer through 8th grade.  I think we actually have a real plan now, lol:

Math:  W really wants to do Life of Fred (Beginning Algebra into Advanced Algebra) for 8th grade.  We're using it now over the summer a few days a week. We also have Teaching Textbooks Algebra 1 and Saxon Algebra 1/2 on hand along with Algebra for Dummies, Painless Algebra, and No Fear Algebra (leftovers from his sisters).  They're always good to have for extra problems and different ways of explaining certain concepts.

English:  I have so much leftover from my girls that it's silly to buy anything new.  We'll be using a mixed bag of Wordsmith Apprentice, Jump In, Daily Sparks Spelling & Grammar, Daily Sparks Vocabulary, Painless Vocabulary, Painless Grammar, Simply Grammar, and Basic Series Grammar & Usage.  It's a lot, but W likes to switch things up every so often.  Nothing really builds on previous lessons, so it should work fine.

Literature:  I'm sticking with Shel Silverstein poetry since W loves it and it helps with his reading.  We'll also try to read at least 3 novels with narrations and discussions.  I have so many on my shelf - we'll just choose what sounds good.

Science:  We'll finish Apologia General Science over the summer - we really just do the great experiments and base the lesson off of those.  For 8th grade I'll either get Apologia Physical Science (again mainly for the experiments) or use the Holt Science & Technology Series Physical Science since I already have that one on hand.  W doesn't care for it, though.  I'll see how the Apologia goes over the summer.  If it's a real big hit I'll get the next one.  He gets writing in with the lab reports, as well.

Geography:  We're happy with Runkle's and will continue it through 8th grade.  We're also starting Our Great Restaurant Adventure this summer where we'll go to a different ethnic restaurant every 2 weeks, then study that country for the 2 weeks until the next one.  We're going alphabetically and starting with Afghan cuisine next Wednesday.  Can't wait!

History:  We'll finish K12 Human Odyssey 1 (Ancients) hopefully sometime in the fall and move on to Volume 2.  We also have The Complete Book of World History which is a fun and concise supplement.

Spanish:  Getting Started with Spanish is by far the best book for W.  He does this completely independently.  It's a spiral program that builds on the previous lessons.  He reads, translates, and conjugates in every lesson.  Love this.

Miscellaneous:  Summer Bridge Gr. 7-8 and Summer Express Gr. 7-8 are great for a variety of subject work any time of year.  Spectrum Gr. 8 Test Prep for basic skills, and Artistic Pursuits Junior High Book One for art, but W isn't really into this.  I'll try it again over the summer.

Religion:  CCD once a week and will make his Confirmation in the spring.

P.E.:  Mixed Martial Arts 3 days a week (4-5 classes) doing Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu jitsu.

I'll put everything in my sidebar in case anyone wants to check out what we do.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

What I've Learned

After over 9 years of homeschooling, I have learned so much about the process.  I have streamlined just about everything we do and realize that we don't have to do anything the way others do unless it directly benefits us.  It's so much better to create your own mold and evolve into your own style.  Here are some other things I've learned:
  • I've learned to buy some curriculum a year ahead so we can use it for 2 years. We just go a little slower that first year, then finish quickly the second year.  This saves money and time.
  • I've learned that while a homeschool group can be a wonderful thing, it gets dull after a while.  The older my kids got, the more they just wanted to hang with the 2 or 3 close friends they've made from those groups.  Also, really good (teen) classes, field trips, and activities are a lot less frequent so you start planning more of your own activities with just the close friends. 
  • I've learned that so much more understanding, enthusiasm, and retention happens in 60-90 minutes of formal instruction rather than in the 4-8 hours I see frequently happening in the middle and high school homeschooling years.  
  • I've learned that outside activities (sports, arts, religion, field trips, hanging with friends, etc.) are very important and make for a more well-rounded kid.    
  • I've learned to savor this precious time with my kids.  They really do grow so fast.  K is less than a year from starting her dream career.  She is at one of the best cosmetology schools in the country.  She already has a few job offers from major NYC salons, and pending offers for when she gets her license in a few months.  J is graduating LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts in less than 2 months.  She has amassed $15000 in scholarships and grants for 4 semesters at a performing arts college and will be living on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the fall.  And W, whom I've been homeschooling since Kindergarten, is now a teenager taking 4-5 MMA classes a week, has a keen ability for computer programming, software, hardware, and gaming, and who has such a healthy and bright outlook on life.  He has pushed hard through his dyslexia and hardly any of it is noticeable anymore.  He is now doing most of his academics independently and his entire curriculum and output are on or above grade level (well, spelling is almost there, lol).  I only see great things happening for him.  I know I will look back at this time and know it was the best of my life. (Not that things will all be downhill from here, but having my whole family together and seeing them take steps to begin their adult lives is the most incredible, precious thing there is to me)

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

No Labels

I think I'm done reading about how other people homeschool.  No one else out there seems to do things the way we do.  One of the things I've learned is that pigeon-holing yourself into a certain homeschool label is rarely beneficial.  You have to be flexible.  Most of us follow more than one philosophy and method.  I've come to the conclusion that we are probably 80% unschooling (W pursues his interests all day long with only an hour or so of parent led, but child requested formal academics) and 20% Charlotte Mason (narrations, short lessons, lots of outdoor time).  I'd like to say we are 100% unschoolers, but I feel it's my job to make sure he's prepared for college (and/or anything else he may choose in the future).  I've been through this twice already and I know what good colleges want to see.  And being cute and fun will not get you in.  Kids unfortunately do NOT know best (I know I'm getting the stink eye from radical unschoolers right now) and I plan on seeing to it that W is fully prepared for any number of post-high school choices so he can comfortably make a decision on what he'd like to do.  This doesn't mean 6-8 hours a day of rigorous academics.  It means making sure W is proficient in high-level math, can read well and critically with understanding and interest (and hopefully joy), and that he can write creatively and with purpose.  Everything else, like history, geography, and science will be incorporated into W's reading and writing and will be covered via many field trips.  As a matter of fact, we started on more independent reading and written narrations this week.  I feel the written narration is better than note-taking/copying out of a book.  It allows W to summarize the whole section and put it into his own words.  It improves not only his reading and comprehension, but his writing, grammar, and paragraph mechanics.

There are so many other great things W has and will learn as a homeschooled teen:  public speaking, volunteering, goal-setting, team work, and being a part of the real world now, not when he's out of college.  Yeah, many of these can all be done in public/private high school, but kids get so much more out of them when they're self-initiated and in context to their lives.

Friday, May 02, 2014

My Favorite County


Living here is fun, interesting, and awesome.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Land of Diversity

The really great thing about living in NYC, especially Queens, is the incredible diversity.  Just about every nation in the world is represented.  As soon as we can (this summer?), W and I are going to embark on a restaurant adventure.  Every 2 weeks we are going to have lunch at a different ethnic restaurant in our town.  Whatever nation's cuisine we experience will also be the subject of study for 2 weeks.  This goes way beyond a geography lesson and we're so excited to get started on it.

Recent academics:
Math:  Negative numbers using the 4 basic operations
Reading:  Main idea & supporting details
Poetry:  Shel Silverstein (10 poems)
Spanish:  Pronouns, helping verbs, forms of address 
History:  Ancient China, Confucius
Writing:  Creating a dialogue

Friday, April 04, 2014


Deciding to place my 7th-grader into Algebra 1 was not an easy decision.  In school he would (more than likely) be doing Math 7 this year, then Pre-Algebra in 8th grade, then Algebra 1 in 9th grade.  So, I was very happy to see him get a 92 on his first Algebra test.  This shows me he is correctly placed.  I'm not expecting him to finish the course by June, or even September.  We just got it and are only 15 lessons in.  I'd like to take as much time with it as he wants.  But, at the rate he's going, he should be able to start Geometry some time before the end of 8th grade.  

W is doing great with the 4 subjects a day.  We start with TT Alg 1, then it's either reading comprehension, ELA test prep, or poetry, then Spanish, then one of the following:  Writing, History, Science, or Geography.  He's done within 2 hours.  He stays engaged throughout and retains just about everything he learns.  I attribute that to the fact that he has a good amount of control over his schedule, his curriculum, and his whole life.  He is a perfect example of a "hackschooler" (according to this TedTalk).   I see my son not only readying himself to make a living, but also make a life.  The 7 key points involved in hackschooling are:  exercise, diet & nutrition, time in nature, contribution & service, relationships, recreation, relaxation & management, and religious & spiritual involvement.  W has a nice balance of these in his life (time in nature and contribution & service are lacking at the moment, but they're easy to increase).

In martial arts, his focus is on Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai right now.  Starting next month he will become what they call a "combat athlete".  This allows him to take the more advanced classes of Muay Thai and BJJ plus new ones such as Boxing, Wrestling, and MMA - and he'll get a cool new T-shirt!

Gaming and understanding all things computer-related is also something W is really into.  He can spend a good few hours on his laptop immersed in Minecraft, Team Fortress 2, or on YouTube - usually with several other kids on Skype.  
B and I support him in every way we can.  2 Christmases ago we got W a Lenovo gaming laptop. Last Christmas we got him a flatscreen monitor and separate keyboard to hook into his laptop.  He is constantly researching, comparing, and upgrading keyboards, mice, headsets, microphones, and gaming-related downloads.  He budgets his own money for a lot of it and knows how to get the best things for the best prices.  It's cool to witness him in action.  All this computer stuff has significantly improved his reading, typing, teamwork, engineering, logic, research, and math skills.  He has taught himself how to: 
  • Create a new server
  • Create his own gaming mods
  • Skype with other teen gamers all over the country
  • Find answers to any questions
  • Confidently speak on the phone to customer service
  • Confidently and maturely speak to adults in person - family, friends, and store personnel
  • Set and attain goals
  • Be a leader and admin
  • Create a YouTube channel, make gaming tutorials, and have dozens of subscribers

Seeing how much kids learn from their passions goes far beyond academics.  And with support and encouragement, they can do and be anything.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Kindy to 7th So Far...

Yeah, no.  I thought I'd be able to step away from the blog for a bit, but I can't, lol.  It's become too much a part of me.  So, I'd like to try a new beginning.  But first, I want to recap what homeschooling has been like for W so far.  Here's a synopsis:

W is 13 years-old and has been homeschooled since Kindergarten.  He is currently in 7th grade and has chosen to continue homeschooling through high school.   

He has been in CCD class on Sunday mornings since he was 2 years old.  He has so far completed 3 Sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, and Eucharist) and will be making his Confirmation next year (his last year of formal religious education).

He has been in many different activities over the years:
4 yrs old:  Hip hop dance class
5 yrs old:  Little League Baseball
6 yrs old:  Basketball Clinic
7 yrs old:  Tackle Football
8 yrs old:  Circus class
8-10 yrs old:  Cub Scouts 
11 yrs old:  Shotokan Karate
11 yrs old:  Show Choir
12 yrs old:  Dramatic Academy
12-13 yrs old:  Muay Thai & Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

As far as homeschool styles, we are eclectic, mixing such styles as:
Charlotte Mason

Unit Studies

And used various curricula, including: 
Ambleside Online
Teaching Textbooks
Lightning Literature
Flash Kids
...and many more

Since Kindergarten, he has gone on a lot of homeschool group classes and field trips, including:
Ellis Island
Statue of Liberty
Solar One
Federal Reserve
United Nations
Tanglewood Preserve
Alley Pond Environmental Center
Garvies Point
Museum of Natural History
Met Museum
Museum of Folk Art
Museum of the American Indian
Jewish Museum
Union Square Greenmarket
Times Square
9/11 Memorial
Bodies: The Exhibit (Discovery Center)
King Tut (Discovery Center)
Plays at Queens College, York College, & Hofstra
NYC Superhero Walking Tour
Rockefeller Plaza & Christmas windows
Science Museum of Long Island
Vanderbilt Museum
NY Planetarium
Grant's Tomb
Central Park, Bronx, & Queens Zoos
NY & Queens Botanical Gardens
NY Hall of Science
Queens Museum of Art
Museum of Biblical Art
Museum of Tolerance
CW Post (art class)
...and many more

When W was 11, he was officially diagnosed with visual processing disorder, causing moderate dyslexia and dysgraphia.  Since then (actually, since he was 8 and I first suspected dyslexia), we have used numerous resources in all subjects, tweaking almost everything in various ways to fit his specific learning style.  He is currently on or above grade level in all subjects, something I believe a school would never have been able to accomplish.  It's all about the freedom.  That's why it works.