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.