Friday, December 31, 2010

Things that will make me not buy a homeschool material

As I've said, I do a lot of research before buying any of the materials for the kids' schooling. I have rarely wasted money because of the extensive research I do. So, I thought I'd talk about some of the things that will pretty much guarantee that I won't purchase a specific curriculum/program/material/service. This isn't going to be a post bashing curricula or publishers that I don't like. I don't intend to name any publishers or materials. These are just things that will make me pause, make me think twice, about buying something. Even though almost every one of these is enough on its own to make me not want to buy, I don't stop researching at just one issue. The point isn't if I like the materials or not, the point is if the materials would work for the child in question. Therefore, even if I come across one of these irksome issues, I tend to keep researching until I'm 100% certain that I can not justify purchase of the material.

Some of you may be wondering how I get accurate information about materials I have never purchased. That's a logical question. So, here's the answer. I visit the publisher site. I read descriptions written by the publisher. I read articles and other information on the publisher site. If the site has a page or article(s) about the philosophy behind their materials/service, I read that. If the site has a page about why/how they got started, I read that. I look for samples and free trials. If I can find samples, I look them over, several times, on more than one day. If, after looking them over several times, I think they might work, I let the child I'd be purchasing for try them out. I look on sites that sell the material to find previews & in-depth descriptions. Many materials offer suggestions of books or sites to supplement & some have lists of required books & other materials. I look at those suggestions & requirements, as well. If the library carries it, I'll check it out & look it over for a few weeks. If it's available at a local store, I'll stand in the store & look through it as much as I can. As with the samples, I'll look through it more than just once. I do read reviews & ask on forums, as well. However, that has a lower weight in my decision.

Some have argued that reviews & opinions of actual users should carry more weight than samples, since those people actually use it. However, I see it differently. A sample should provide an accurate idea of what the material/program is like, because a sample is generally part of the materials or program. Plus, a sample is what the publisher provides to help you make the decision to buy or not. You would think that the publisher would be motivated to provide you with samples that show some of the best features & the things that make it unique. Therefore, if I'm looking through the sample & it doesn't seem to back up the claims made by the publisher, that means more to me than the opinions of people who may have a very different perspective and different goals/needs/expectations than I do.

So, here we go (in no particular order)....

1) A price incommensurate with what you get. $600-700 for 1 year of 3 subjects, is preposterous. I have 2 kids to buy for & a limited budget. I'm willing to buy an expensive program if I really feel that it is worth the money. However, for elementary school level, $600-700 should buy a whole lot more than 3 subjects for one kid.

2) Inaccurate claims. Claiming that it's a "Comprehensive Curriculum" when it only covers a few subjects; claiming that it "Works for ALL learning styles and/or homeschool methods"; claiming that it is aligned with "National Standards"; these are just a few of the inaccurate claims that bug me. A curriculum can not be aligned to National Standards (for the U.S.), because those standards DON'T EXIST! Yes, National Standards have been proposed, but they are optional. Not to mention, most publishers that I've seen claim alignment with "National Standards" did so long before the current proposed standards. Then, there's also the fact the proposed standards are ridiculously simplistic & well below any expectations I would ever have of my kids. So, even if the proposed standards were adopted by all 50 states, therefore truly becoming National Standards, a curriculum claiming to be aligned them still wouldn't be a draw for me. Also, if a curriculum claims to be 'aligned with State & National Standards', the site should have a list of the standards or link to the standards with which they are allegedly aligned.
Education is not one size fits all. Therefore, no material will work for ALL students. If it will work for a wide range of students, then say that. Be honest about the curriculum. Don't try to BS me into buying.
If you claim the curriculum encourages higher-level thinking or critical thinking skills, the samples should indicate that. If the samples don't indicate that, I have no reason to believe the claim. If the curriculum claims to be written for gifted children, the 4th grade level should not be the first level with work that would challenge my 1st grader.
Don't make claims you can't back up or that are clearly untrue. You risk alienating potential customers.

3) Underestimating the intelligence or ability of children. Sometimes, you can tell the publisher underestimates children by the low-level work in the samples or the small amount of time/work dedicated to a topic. Other times, the articles that explain the publisher's philosophy make it blatantly clear that they think kids are idiots. Saying that kids in the early grades don't understand the concept of time & think that dinosaurs & ancient civilizations were around when their parents were kids, makes me seriously wonder if you've ever even met a child. When you're using this to explain why your curriculum, for gifted children, approaches Social Studies the way it does, you've pretty well proven that you know nothing about kids, education, gifted education, or the way the gifted mind works. When your curriculum is full of coloring pages and easy cut & paste type activities, I have to doubt that it is for 4th grade or above. Literature study guides should not be limited to simplistic reading comprehension questions and below level vocabulary lists.

4) Inaccurate information. I read a sample of a Science curriculum that basically said that humans are not mammals (I believe the sentence was - 'Unlike humans, mammals can't just walk into a grocery store to get food.'). I read a sample of another Science curriculum that tells the parent to inform their child that all living things can be divided into 2 Kingdoms - the Animal & Plant Kingdoms. Since the other 3 Kingdoms aren't part of that lesson, the writer decided that you should misinform the student about how many Kingdoms there are, until a later lesson when the other Kingdoms come into play. Seriously!? They tell you to purposefully provide incorrect information, so that you can correct that information later down the road. I looked over samples of a Math curriculum. Not only did I not like the way it taught concepts, but I also found many incorrect answers in the answer key.

5) The audacity to tell me how to parent. I've come across multiple publisher sites that tell you what & when your kids should eat; how much (if any) tv and computer time they should have; how much sleep your kids should be getting; how you should set up your homeschool area; how your day should be scheduled, etc. I've seen publisher sites that infer that conditions like ADHD don't exist & your child's inability to focus or their hyperactivity must be due to your parenting style/choices. I've seen publisher sites that assume that you won't be the one teaching your student (constant references to the tutors you hire to work with your kids). Their opinions about how you raise your kids or live your life are simply not relevent. They have no right to tell their customers how they should parent.

6) No flexibilty. In my house, flexibility is a must. Yes, we have a basic outline of a schedule. Yes, we have some things that are done the same time each day. We have a routine of sorts. However, we need to have flexibility. We need to be in charge of our own schedule, not at the mercy of a curriculum or program. The kids need to be able to go at their pace, not a pace determined by some publisher. We have to have flexibilty . If a program doesn't allow the necessary flexibility, I won't waste my time or money on it.

7) Pushing their views. (this one goes along with #5) If a publisher sends me emails telling me how I should vote, or pushing their views on political issues, I won't purchase from them. Same goes for pushing their views on psychological conditions, religion, etc. If they tell you that one of the first steps to homeschooling is to get signed up with with someone like HSLDA, I will not be purchasing. As with #5, it's not their place to tell their customers or potential customers how to live, homeschool, think, etc.

8) No respect for homeschoolers. A company that will not sell teacher manuals or answer keys to homeschooling parents, but will sell them the student materials, does not respect homeschoolers or see them as legitimate educators. A company that states that Secular homeschooler is an oxymoron, is being disrespectful to those of us who choose to homeschool for non-religious reasons & don't use religious materials. If I know a company has been openly disrespectful of homeschoolers, I won't give them my money (or even use free materials/services they offer).

9) Low/poor quality. This one's pretty self-explanatory.

This isn't a comprehensive list, I'm sure there are other things that would cause me to refuse to use a material/curriculum/sevice. These quickly came to mind, though. I did have specific materials or publishers in mind as I wrote much of this. I chose not to list those materials & publishers for my own personal reasons.

So, that's my (partial) list of things that will cause me to not use a curriculum/material/program/service. Care to share your lists?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Importance of a Day Planner

Why is my planner so important? Like so many others, I have a lot of things going on in my life & need to keep it all organized.
We have a rather large family. There is hardly a month that doesn't have someone's birthday or anniversary. Without my planner, I'd miss almost everyone's birthdays.
Also due to having a rather large family, holidays are not simple, one day events. Without my planner, I'd have a very hard time remembering who we're seeing for each holiday & what day we're seeing them.
My daughter has regular appointments with her therapist & her psychiatrist - we need to keep those appointments straight
The kids have regular Dr appointments
The kids sometimes have outside classes & extra-curricular activities
My husband's work schedule has changed somewhere around 7 times during the second half of this year
We have regular things to fit in each week - library, grocery shopping, guitar lessons, chess
We also have to fit in family game night & family movie night
My husband is still working on his Auto Mechanics course
I earned my certificate in Child Psychology, and will start a new program next year - so I need to schedule time for my schooling
I have to fit in the kids' schooling, cleaning the house, cooking the meals, keeping us stocked on certain foods, and make sure all the bills are paid on time
I have to keep track of memberships and when they're up for renewal
I need to keep track of what chores need to be done each day & who needs to do them
I have various goals to track
I have multiple personal projects I'm working on
I have a business that requies some of my time

As you can see, I have a lot on my plate. If I didn't have my planners, I'd miss a lot of things.

I have a planner for the kids' schooling, one for the household, and a personal one. Some of the material overlaps, but I simply have too much to condense it all to one planner.
My planners not only keep me organized, they keep my whole universe running smoothly.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays

Just taking a quick moment to say Happy Holidays to all my readers. I hope you have a fantastic & low stress holiday.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

As December ends...

December is almost over. That means it's time to start putting next year's pages in the planners. It's time to start marking holidays and birthdays on next year's calendars. It's time to make sure that next year is an organized one.

January is National Get Organized Month. Throughout the month, I plan to post about organization - giving helpful tips & advice. It starts now, though. The first step to an organized 2011 is to have a planner (or several). Whichever types of planners you need - school assignments & activities, home & family, personal, work - get them (or make them) and get them filled with the necessary pages. Only use pages that YOU actually need. If they come with pages you won't use, take them out & throw them away.

Get a pen to keep in each planner. Larger planners (binder type) can hold a pouch, in which you can keep pens, Post-It pads, and other small items you may need. Some planners come with little pockets to store things in; use them, but only for things you need.

Now is the time to set up next year's calendars, both the ones in your planners & your wall calendars. Fill in as many dates as you can. Fill in birthdays, holidays, standing appointments, family reunions, etc.

The more you can get on the calendars now, the less you have to worry about later. Getting your planners filled now means not having to rush to get them done in the beginning of January.

So, use this last week or so of December to make sure that 2011 starts off organized. Get those calendars & planners set up & ready. Backup everything on your computers - pictures, documents, music, etc. Make a list of everything you need to do to get your home, life, family, school, and work organized. Meet the new year prepared.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

That is NOT jam!

I decided I wanted to try making jam. I found a website that had several jam recipes & step-by-step instructions for making jams & jellys, with regular sugar & low/no sugar. I chose to make blueberry jam. However, I don't do anything simply, so I really tried to make blueberry, pomegranate, orange jam. Anyway, I had 12 jars of blueberry syrup. So, I reworked it, according to directions from the same site, adding more pectin, more sugar, more lemon juice. Now, I have 11 jars of runny crap. The lemon juice added too strong a flavor. The sugar made it too sweet. The pectin (a total of 3 times tha amount the original recipe called for) still hasn't done it's job & thickened the jam. Plus, now it has a grainy texture.
Guess this was lesson #1 in how not to make jam.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Birthday Thoughts

My son, my youngest, my BABY will be turning 7 years old in a matter of days. I don't feel old on my birthdays. I'm 30, big deal. I do feel old on the kids' birthdays, though. I'm just not old enough to have a child a few months away from being a teenager. I'm definitely not old enough for my youngest to be 7. As I sit here, feeling old, while my daughter helps my husband do a brake job on our car and my youngest decides which documentary or Mythbusters episode he wants to watch, I can't help but remember what was going on this time 7 years ago.

My son was not planned. He wasn't an accident, we were just planning on being together a bit longer before he came into the picture. My husband (we were not married yet) had just started a new job and Dea had just started Kindergarten in a public school. Hubby had just moved in, and we planned to let everyone adjust to that before having another child. However, birth control has never been my friend, and all of a sudden, we found out that I was pregnant.

Right after finding out that I was pregnant, I started bleeding. I was put on immediate bedrest and told that I would most likely lose the baby. That set the stage for the rest of the pregnancy. I had problem after problem. I was on and off bedrest. When I was off bedrest, I was on extreme restriction - don't lift or carry anything, don't stand for too long, don't sit for too long, don't walk too much, don't exert yourself at all. I had unexplainable pain through my body. We now know that it was likely fibromyalgia. At the time, however, everyone was stumped.

After a particularly bad night, of absolutely no sleep due to the pain, I went to the doctor again. It was at this visit that we found out that I had started to dilate, my cervix had thinned, and my water bag was bulging. Just what every woman wants to hear when she's 23 weeks pregnant. As I'm sure you've guessed, our next stop was the hospital.

The hospital gave me Magnesium Sulfate. I tried to refuse the Magnesium Sulfate because they said it was to stop the contractions, but I wasn't having contractions. They gave it to me anyway, and then told me that it could cause problems such as fluid buildup around my heart & in my lungs. Then, they shipped me off to a different hospital, one that had a better NICU and High Risk Moms Unit.

Not long after getting to the second hospital, I started having extreme trouble breathing. The geniuses at this hospital were convinced that I had pneumonia because I had fluid in my lungs. I mentioned that the other hospital had told me that was a possible side effect of the Magnesium Sulfate, but they disagreed. By the way, I have since looked this up, since I know I didn't have pneumonia (I'm even more certain that it was not pneumonia since my experience of actually having pneumonia). Pulmonary Edema, or lungs filled with fluid, can be fatal and is a complication (not a side effect as I was told, but a complication) of magnesium overdose. Anyway, they were convinced it was pneumonia and put me in ICU. They decided I needed antibiotics (for the pneumonia I didn't have). They wanted to put me on Zithromax, but I told them NO. I have developed a severe sensitivity to Zithromax & vomit uncontrollably whenever I take it. So, did they choose another antibiotic to give me or, even better, realize that I didn't need anitbiotics since I wasn't sick? No, that would be way too easy. They decided to give me Zithromax through the IV.

So, thanks to my hospital stay, we are now aware that IV Zithromax causes me to develop large, painful, red welts at the IV site. Did they stop the Zithromax at the first sign of problem? No, again too easy. They decided to move the IV daily so they could continue giving me an antibiotic that my body clearly doesn't like and that I didn't need. I was only in ICU for a few days, but was on Zithromax for over a week. In addition to the daily IV move, I was also getting daily steroid shots (to help Jay's lungs develop), and daily anti-clotting shots. Good thing I'm not scared of needles. I swear they drew blood 100 times during that stay. They had to do blood gas tests (the blood has to be taken right at the bone in your wrist for this) until they were sure the 'pneumonia' was gone. I'm not sure why they needed to take blood every day after that, though.

5 weeks of being poked, having blood drawn, tests, and bedrest, all in the name of trying to keep my baby healthy. He was born at 28 weeks. He decided he'd had enough. My water broke & he was coming out no matter what. They did an untrasound to make sure he was in the right position. He was. So, they started to get ready to deliver. When I was fully dilated and ready to go, they did another ultrasound. He had turned sideways and was trying to come out arm first. That's not good. They rushed me off for an emergency C-section.

My son was born at 28 weeks gestation. He was 2 lbs 14 oz and 15 inches long. He was rushed straight to the NICU. He couldn't breathe on his own and was on a ventilator, then a bubble C-pap. He was fed through a tube because he couldn't eat on his own. He lost some weight and got down to 2 lbs 5 oz. His bilirubin count was dangerously high. The Drs talked about needing to do a blood transfusion if it didn't go down quickly. It did go down, and he was fine. Things didn't get any worse for him. As he grew, his lungs developed and he was able to breathe on his own. His ability to eat on his own also improved as he grew bigger.

I, however, had an interuterine infection that went undiagnosed for about a week. I wasn't allowed into the NICU to see my son until they figured out what was causing my fever. Once they knew I wasn't contagious, I was finally allowed to see my little boy. I didn't get to hold him right away, but being able to see & touch him was better than nothing. I went home a week after he was born. I still had not held my baby & I had to leave him at the hospital. That was such a hard day!

He made great progress in the NICU. They had told us that he would likely come home around the date he should have been born (which was St. Patrick's Day). He's a fighter, though. He was determined to come home early. He came home the last week of February. He weighed about 5 lbs. He was eating on his own. He was breathing on his own, but still had some apnea problems. So, he came home on an apnea monitor.  The monitor didn't last too long, though.

He was an amazingly healthy baby. He was not, however, an easy baby. He slept for 20 min at a time. He ate every hour. We had to do special stretches & exercises with him to prevent needing physical therapy. He needed tummy time 10 times a day for at least 10 min each time. He does everything in his own time, and nothing will change that.

This tiny little baby - 2 lbs 14 oz, 15 in long, is a baby no longer. He will be 7 in a few days. He now weighs 50 lbs and is about 50 inches tall. He is skinny & all muscle. He's freakishly strong (always has been). You would never know that he was a preemie.

On his birthday, we do a special dinner and activity. This year, he's decided on homemade pizza for his dinner. He hasn't picked an activity, yet. Then, in February, we celebrate the anniversary of his homecoming. Again, he chooses his dinner & an activity. We usually give him his b-day presents in Feb. This is mainly because if we do his b-day presents in Feb, we can guarantee that he doesn't get less than he would if his b-day wasn't right by Christmas. A year or two ago, we gave him the option to get his presents on his b-day instead of on his anniversary. He said he wants to leave it how it is.

I love my little guy. He's a brilliant, awe-inspiring, amazing, little boy. It's hard, most of the time, to imagine him as a tiny premature baby. With his birthday coming up, though, it's hard not to think back to that time.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The kids' thoughts on next year

Well, I talked to the kids about the plans & materials for next year. They are thrilled with it.

Dea is getting a bit older & we feel it's time for her to take more responsibility for her education. So, we've given her full responsibility over her Math, effective immediately. We've informed her of what levels need to be completed to graduate. She has to get a B or higher to pass. We will continue to purchase the levels as originally intended, but it will be up to her to do them. As of next year, she'll also be responsible for History. I will plan the course, with her assisstance, but she will be responsible for making sure it gets done. She'll also be responsible for Art & Music. She's already mostly responsible for her Art, Music, and History anyway, so it isn't adding as much responsibility as it sounds.

She's not thrilled about having to take full responsibility of her Math. To be completely honest, we're doing it because we're tired of the fighting. Every single day is a battle when it comes to Math. She has to find it within herself to do it or she'll never truly learn it. Now, I know that sounds extreme, but she doesn't just not do the work. She truly puts huge amounts of effort into NOT learning it. She purposefully does problems wrong, when we know she can do them right. She will answer questions without even looking at them first. We have her redo incorrect problems. She'll redo them time and time again, still refusing to read the problem or to work it our properly. If she would put just a fraction of that effort into doing the work properly, she'd be getting an A in Trig by now, instead of barely passing Alg 1.

With the exception of Math, there's not a single subject that she seems to have any issue with. She's looking forward to learning computer programming. I'm not sure if it's something she'll really enjoy, though. I have a feeling it will be like guitar - she'll be very excited until she starts, then get bored with it. She's actually looking forward to Spanish this time. We tried it years ago, but she had no interest at that point. Now, she's excited about being able to talk to her Grandma in Spanish. She's also talking about writing a series of books. I'm not sure if she'll stick to that or not. I'm happy that she's trying, though. She has so many interests and many strengths. It'll take some trial and error to see which one(s) will lead to a career, which will lead to hobbies, and which just won't pan out. At this point, the important thing is that she's finally willing to try. She's getting over her fear of failure enough to try new things. I'm very proud of her.

Jay was pretty much jumping for joy when I talked to him about next year's plan. He's really enjoying learning Latin & is looking forward to learning Spanish. I told him that he didn't have to start Spanish next year, that he could wait a few years & focus on building a strong foundation in Latin before starting Spanish. He said no, he wants to start Spanish next year. He's also dead set on starting computer programming next year. He just loves learning new things & enjoys his schooling so much. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when he found out that he'll be learning to work with leather in Art next year. I really don't think he cares much what he's learning, as long as he's learning something new all the time.

So, we're going to let him try Spanish next year, in addition to his Latin work. It will be on a trial basis, though. In order for us to allow him to continue to learn both, he'll have to make good progress in both languages and not let his other subjects slide. If that doesn't happen, we'll drop Spanish for another year or two. The computer programming will also be on a trial basis. We know there is a possibility that he just isn't ready to learn programming yet. If it's too difficult, we'll drop it & let him try again later. I don't want to stand between him & knowledge, so I'm going to let him try the things he wants to learn. If he can do them, I'll continue to allow them & will do everything I can to encourage his continued progress. Anything that proves too difficult, though, I'll have to make him drop until he's better prepared for it. He won't be happy with me if I make him drop something. I know how he gets, though. He gets obsessive about his perfectionist issues. He has an innate NEED to do things perfectly. So, if he struggles with something, he obsesses about it until he's capable of doing it to a degree well beyond what would be expected of a child his age.

I know that some people think this is something I have caused - that my perfectionist issues have rubbed off on him. I really don't think that's it. He's always been like this. He said his 1st word at 12 months (9 months adjusted age, due to being 3 months premature), but then he didn't say another word to anyone for the next 10 months. When he did start talking again, it was in full sentences (not 3 word sentences, but full adult sentences) with a huge, adult vocabulary. When he learned to walk, he refused to fall. He walked holding onto furniture for months. One day, he took a step away from the couch, and walked back & forth in front of the couch, not holding on but close enough that he could grab the couch if he was going to fall. Less than a week of doing that, and he realized that he could walk without falling. He's been running at full speed ever since. When he was learning to read, he would sit in his room reading aloud to himself. Since he rarely let people read to him, I'm sure that he was reading not just telling a story he memorized from hearing so much. I'd stand outside his room listening to him reading Berenstain Bears books. He refused to read a single word for me, though (except on the rare occasions that he allowed me to read to him, then he'd read a word or two if asked). Then, one day he decided to read to me, just came into the living room, sat down, and read a book to me. He had been hiding in his room reading for several months and finally had enough confidence in his abilities to show me. His fear of failure & his need to do things prefectly are completely natural, an inborn part of who he is.

Anyway, because of his obsessive perfectionism, I have to force him to drop things that are just too difficult. I'm not talking about the things that are challenging, but attainable with some extra effort. I'm talking about the things that just are not attainable for him at this time. He's always allowed to try them again, at a later time, when he's better equipped. I do try to not let him focus his every waking second on mastering something that is beyond him, though.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I hope this cold goes away before Christmas

It's been almost a week since I posted last. Sorry about that. I've got a cold. I felt it coming on the last few days, and it hit me in full yesterday. I'm just hoping to get rid of it before it turns into something worse. With Christmas so close, I really don't want to be sick. Dea's feeling a bit under the weather, too. She's having sinus problems - congestion & coughing, maybe heading toward a sinus infection. If she isn't better in a few days I'll take her to the Dr.

My plan for today:

drink lots of hot tea
make hot chili and corn bread for dinner
find out why my kitchen sponge disappeared
watch some educational dvds with the kids
read some library books with the kids
get the kids' opinions on the materials I'm thinking of getting for next year
decorate the tree
stay inside where it's warm (the temp is currently a negative number)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's That Time of Year Again

It's that time of year again. "What time?" you ask. Time for pre-finalization of next year's plans & materials. Yes, I said pre-finalization. I won't finalize until Feb. I'll buy in Feb or March. This is the time of year that I go through my list of what I think we'll use next year & tweak it.

I do not exaggerate when I say that I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to planning our homeschooling. I have basic plans for all the way through high school. I can tell you what materials we'll be using for some subjects, through high school, for both kids. If the places I generally shop have wish lists, I use them. The wish list feature at Rainbow Resource allows me to have groups in the list. I have a different group for each grade for each child. That way, I can better organize potential purchases. Before deciding on any material, I read & re-read descriptions & reviews. When possible, I get samples or try out demos. Our homeschooling budget isn't incredibly flexible, so I have to make the most of every dollar. Spending money on something, only to find out that it is useless to us, is something I try to avoid. In other words, I don't like to buy blind. However, I can't look through every single thing before we buy it. So, I do a LOT of research before buying.

Anyway, with only a few months before I'll be buying for next year, I'm tweaking my wish lists. Of course, I won't finalize until I'm ready to buy. That's why this is my pre-finalization period. This year is a little odd, due to our 6 month break from formal schooling. The kids have been told that certain subjects need to be finished in order for their school year to be considered done. If they are done with the work for those subjcets by the end of our break, they'll start the next school year when the break is done. If they aren't finished with that work, they will continue with the current year until it is finished. I'm pretty sure that Jay will be done by break's end. Dea will be done with some of it, but I'm not sure she'll finish all of it before the break ends. So, the next school year might start at different times for the kids. That'll make things interesting.

Math - I had planned for Dea to do Beginning AlgebraAdvanced Algebra this year. However, I told her that I will consider her Math finished if she finishes Beginning Algebra. So, she might be doing Advanced Algebra next year, instead of Geometry. It's really going to depend on her. If she can find the motivation to do her Math without the procrastination and fighting, she could be doing Geometry & Trig next year. Whatever level she's doing, she'll be using Life of Fred.
Jay will be continuing with Mastering Mathematics. He will pick up wherever he leaves off this year and continue from there. He's currently in the multiplication book.

Art - Dea will focus on 5 artists she has chosen. She will study their lives & their work. She will also continue to pursue her interests in this area.
Jay will be introduced to new styles and media. Much of his art will revolve around his Science & Social Studies topics.

Music - Jay will continue with guitar lessons. Both kids will continue singing. Both kids will be getting recorders. Dea will continue to study musicians.

Latin - Jay will start Latin for Children Primer A. Dea will be doing Latin for Children with Jay, so she can communicate with him at the level he's at. She'll also be continuing with Oxford Latin.

ASL - Both kids will continue to learn ASL using Signing Time DVDs and other DVDs from the library.

Spanish - Both kids will be using Tell Me More

Science - Dea will be doing Anatomy & Physiology. The spine will either be a college text we have or a free course on FreeEd.net. We will supplement with anatomy coloring books, software, various websites, library books, documentaries, etc. She will also do Psychology, with a college text.
Jay will do another year of Magic School Bus based Science. His topics will be electricity, flight, & space (with slime thrown in for extra fun).

History - Dea will be doing her first year of High School History. We're letting her do specialized History courses, instead of general overview. So her course will be an in-depth study of Anceint Civilizations.
Jay will be studying Anceint China, Vikings, and Native Americans. If he finishes his History early this year, we'll do Vikings this year instead.

Geography - Dea is doing her High School World Geography course this year, so she won't have a Geography course next year. Jay will either focus on reading maps or we'll start on World Geography.

Language Arts - Jay will be starting Grammar, using Easy Grammar. He'll also be starting Writing. We're going to try the Stack the Deck writing program. He'll continue reading books of his choosing.
Dea will be doing year 2 of High School English. The reading portion will be focused on Mythology & Legends, which coincides with her History. We're going to try Put That in Writing, for the writing portion. She'll continue using Easy Grammar for Grammar. Both kids will continue with the Spelling/Vocab program I created.

Logic - Jay will be using Logic Safari. Both kids will continue to do logic puzzles from books. Dea will have the year off from actual Logic work, then will do a formal Logic program the following year.

We're also considering buying Logo Adventures. Both kids have expressed an interest in computer programming. So, we're thinking about getting this as an introduction to see if they really want to continue with it.


Since I started writing this post yesterday, Dea may have found the motivation to do her Math. We were discussing career choices. I asked her to seriously think about what she wants to do with her life. Of course, she came up with several ideas, all requiring a LOT of schooling. So, we did some research into what was required for her career choices. We talked about the fact that she isn't going to like every single course she has to take, but if they are required or will give her an advantage, it's worth doing them to get where she wants to go. If she can just keep her goals in mind & she really wants to reach them, she should be able to find the motivation to do the work she doesn't want to do.

So, that's the plan for next year. Some materials are definite, some may change. Some courses are already being planned out, some have to wait until the materials get here. I always enjoy this part - the planning & research. It's so much fun.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Benefits of Homeschooling the Twice Exceptional Child

For those who don't know, the term Twice-Exceptional is used to refer to children who are Gifted and also have ADHD or an LD. Both of my kids fall into this category. I don't use the term often. In fact, I generally don't mention that the kids are Gifted, or have ADHD, etc. unless I think it's relevent to the discussion (or at least my contribution to the discussion). I think this is because I don't see it as a big deal. It's just part of who they are.

Maybe, if I was surprised by any of it, it might be a big deal. I'm Gifted & my hubby is Gifted. So, it wasn't exactly shocking to have Gifted kids. I have ADHD & hubby has ADHD. So, I knew the kids might have it & was watching for signs. Hubby has Dyslexia. So, it's not a surprise that both kids show signs of mild Dyslexia (many of the problems they have, I had/have too, but always figured they were due to my ADHD). I have family with Bipolar. So, it's understandable that Dea has it. In other words, none of it was totally unexpected.

Anyway, the fact that the kids are Gifted, have ADHD, and might have mild Dyslexia is relevent to this post. These are the benefits, as I see them, of homeschooling them.

1. An environment free of bullying, name-calling, ridicule, physical & mental abuse. They can be themselves without having to worry that someone will bully them for being different. They are encouraged to learn, instead of being attacked for being smart.

2. Individuality is encouraged, not stamped out. They are encouraged to be themselves. They can dress how they want (as long as it's appropriate & within our budget). They are encouraged to follow their own interests, not pressured to like what others like.

3. Their education is personalized. I'm not anti-public school. I also know that not all public schools are the same (neither are homeschools, for that matter). However, one thing that no public school can offer students is a truly personalized education. High schools can offer Honors classes and AP classes. Some districts offer enrichment or Gifted classes. Some districts have entire programs or schools dedicated to Gifted education. Some districts have programs or schools with a specific focus like the Arts or Science. Some districts allow grade advancement (skipping a grade). Even with all those options, they can't offer a truly personalized education.
Do you know why skipping a grade isn't a great idea? First, you're putting them at a social disadvantage by placing them in a grade where they are the youngest (and likely smallest) student. Many of their new classmates will not react kindly to them being there. Second, Gifted students are rarely at the same grade level in all subjects. This means that while they may be ready for 6th grade Language Arts, they might still be struggling with 4th grade level Math. This type of asynchronous development is the main reason that public school is not the best place for Gifted children.
On the other hand, homeschooling can easily meet the asynchronous educational needs of a child. If a homeschooling parent has knowledge and understanding of their child & is willing to put time and effort into researching and planning, they can easily meet the needs of a child whose abilities are all over the place. Homeschoolers don't have to stick to the public school schedule. They don't have to stick to public school mandates.
When Dea was in public school Kindergarten, her teacher told me that she wasn't allowed to give Dea more advanced work, something that would actually challenge her. I don't have that restriction. I don't have someone telling me that I can't let them work above grade level, that we can only use certain materials, or that only certain books can be offered to them. One of the books Jay read last month was George's Secret Key to the Universe. That is NOT a 1st grade level book. I think it's pretty safe to assume that he'd be fairly bored with the books available in a public school 1st grade classroom, considering his reading selections generally consist of 3rd & 4th grade level books. 1st grade Math generally consists of introducing basic addition and subtraction. That's not exactly challenging for a child who can add & subtract numbers of 6-digits (or more), with or without decimals, with or without regrouping, and is already working on multiplication.
Most middle schools don't offer high school level classes to their students (especially students in 6th grade). So, Dea wouldn't have been able to take high school Earth & Space Science last year. She also wouldn't be in so many high school level classes this year (7th grade). A public school wouldn't be able to focus on improving her writing the way we have. They wouldn't have allowed her to study Wars for History for two years. They wouldn't allow her to choose specific eras for in-depth study in high school History.
The kids wouldn't have the opportunity to take foreign languages in grade school. They wouldn't be allowed to choose from a list of appropriate assignments. They wouldn't have a say in the materials they used. They wouldn't be allowed to work at their own pace.
Since we homeschool, we can buy more than one level at a time, in case they finish early. Last year, Jay did 3 levels of ETC. I bought 1st-6th grade Math for Jay, so he can go through it at his own pace. We're buying LOF 2 levels at a time for Dea. They don't have to do the work at a specified pace. They can work through it at their own pace. When I plan work for the year, I estimate how long I think each topic, material, or program will take. That helps me plan an appropriate amount of work for our (estimated) 40 week school year. We will work until all that work is done, even if it takes longer than estimated. I also keep some additional topics in mind, in case we finish the planned work for a subject early or finish all planned work before the materials for the next year are here.
The kids always have something to do. They aren't wasting time with busywork or ridiculous amounts of review & repetition. They study the things I feel are important and also get to focus on their own interests. They study more subjects each year than they would in public school. They determine how much time is spent on school each day. They go more in-depth than public schools. Their education isn't planned out by a faceless committee, who have never met my kids, and, therefore, don't know what would be an excellent education for my kids.
Plus, I can accomodate their ADHD. We can work on improving their organizational & time managment skills (in meaningful, useful ways), while still making accomodations for their current skill level. I can do all of that without putting them in special ed classes or forcing them to do work below their academic abilities.

4. A teacher that understands them. Whatever you want to call me - teacher, facilitator, guide, educator (I've used all of these terms at one time or another) - no one could have a deeper understanding of my kids than I do. No public or private school teacher would know my kids like I do. I know when Dea could do better, but is slacking on her work. I know when Jay is losing focus & needs a break or different type of work. I know when Dea is about to melt down and needs to go calm down. I know if Jay is really struggling with a book, if he just isn't focused enough to read right now, or if he finds the book too boring to focus on it. I know their moods, their tricks, their abilities, their interests, and their needs. I have first hand knowledge of what it's like to be a Gifted child with ADHD. What are the odds that every teacher they would have in a public school would be able to claim all of that?

5. Encouragement. I encourage the kids to do their best. I encourage them to follow their interests. I encourage them to do better, to challenge themselves.

6. A more well-rounded education. When I was in grade school, we had to take Spanish (the Gifted Program did, I'm pretty sure the regular program didn't). By 6th grade, Spanish was optional. Now, even in the Gifted Program, it isn't even offered before High School. I've heard from people with kids in the public schools that Science and History are not daily (sometimes not even weekly) subjects in grade school. Home Ec isn't even offered anymore.
When you homeschool, you can start foreign languages in grade school. You can require more than one foreign language. You can make sure that important life skills - cooking, basic car mainenance, personal finance, and any others you feel are important - are covered. You can put a heavier focus on Science, History, Music, or Art. You can do in-depth Cultural Studies. You can include computer programming classes or engineering classes. You don't have to just focus on what the public schools offer. You can decide for yourself what the 'core subjects' are in your homeschool. There are some who consider Math, Reading, and Writing to be the 'core subjects'. Some also consider History and/or Science as 'core subjects'. There are a lot of 'core subjects' in our house - Math, Language Arts (which includes reading, writing, spelling/vocab), Science, Social Studies (which includes History, Geography, and Cultural Studies), foreign language, Art, Music, Life Skills, and Logic. These are required every year (or almost every year), in our school.
When you homeschool, you can make sure that the subjects you believe are important are covered, even if the local school district doesn't focus on them. Your child's education doesn't have to be limited to what the local district offers. Your child's areas of interest can have a higher priority. You can make sure that all the important subjects/topics are covered. You aren't controlled by the limitations of the local school district.

Obviously, these would be benefits for any child, not just those who are Gifted or Twice-Exceptional. However, as beneficial as these would be to all students, I really believe they are more beneficial for those who are not 'average' - those who have LDs, ADHD, are Gifted, or some combination. They are the ones least likely to flourish in a 'typical' school setting.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Testing

Ahh, testing, quite the hot topic in education. Public schools are all about testing. Their entire curriculum is aimed at having students score higher on standardized tests. Many classes don't bother to include information if it won't be on the test. It seems to be all the public school district cares about. Of course, their funding is partially determined by test scores.

The problem is, all that testing doesn't add to the education recieved in those schools. Having a test, in every subject, every week doesn't help them learn more or deeper. Forcing them to take standardized tests every year or two doesn't help them retain more information. In fact, having the curriculum so focused on test material severely limits what the students study. Plus, many children develop test anxiety because of the high priority given to tests in school. In fact, even though she was only in public school for Kindergarten and we don't do standardized tests, my daughter suffers from test anxiety. She freezes up, becomes scared of failing, and then does an awful job because of how stressed she is. This is a child who has never taken a standardized test. Her Kindergarten class did constant tests, though (usually orally). They were always testing the students to check improvement & progress. At every parent-teacher conference her teacher would show me the test scores for the class - my daughter always in the number 1 spot & the number 2 spot always way below her score.

We don't do many tests before high school level work. If a program we use has tests, we may use them. We do start chap or unit tests by high school level courses. We start with tests in one or two subjects by 4th grade, then add a few more the next year, and continue in this way until most courses contain tests. Some classes will never have tests in our homeschool. I see no reason to take tests in Art, Music, or Home Ec/Life Skills.
In our state, standardized testing is not required. Homeschools are considered private schools. Therefore, we are not held to the standards & regulations of hte public schools. Since we don't have to take standardized tests, we don't take them. I know some people feel that they are a good tool for assessing where a student has gaps or needs help. I disagree. Standardized testing only tests one thing - how good you are at taking tests. 

I much prefer to use projects as an assessment tool. They allow the student to show so much more than a test. They allow for individuality and don't reduce my child to a number or letter. The fact that my son can put together an exhibit to showcase what he did while studying Ancient Egypt, can explain to visitors about the Gods & Goddesses, the pyramids, the Sphinx, etc., can help them write their names in Heiroglyohics, and explain to them how papyrus paper is made, tells me much more about his comprehension & retention then any grade on a test ever could.

I also like assessing with real life use. We were watching a show today. We paused & the screen showed how much we had already watched (36 minutes) and how much time was left (8 minutes). My son, who has barely done review of addition this year in school, added them together (in his head) to find out the total length of the show. That is so much more important to me than how he tests. Yesterday, I was reading aloud to the kids. Since I was reading aloud, she didn't interrupt, but I could see my daughter react to every grammactical error in the story.

The only reason my kids take any tests at all is to prepare them for college. Unfortunately, I don't see them getting all the way through college without ever having to waste time on taking a test. Maybe someday, society will remove the focus on tests & the people in charge of the education of our future generations will finally gain an actual understanding of what learning is & how it takes place.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent

Today is Advent Sunday, the first day of the Advent season. The Advent season is basically a countdown to Christmas, starting with the 4th Sunday before Christmas.
We've decided to start celebrating Advent. My husband is a Christian. Therefore, he celebrates Christmas for religious reasons. I am not a Christian. I celebrate Christmas as a family holiday - a time to spend with those dear to my heart. We may celebrate it for totally differing reasons, but there is one thing we very much agree on - we both are tired of the over-commercialization of the holiday. It is not about what presents or how many presents you get. It is not about filling your room with things you'll have forgotten about in a month. It's not about how much was spent on you or how big your gifts are. This is a season to think about those less fortunate. It is a season to focus on the good things in your life. It is a time to show the people in your life how much they mean to you (which can easily be done without maxing out your credit cards).

So, in an attempt to counteract the commercialization of the season, we have decided to celebrate Advent. Many people use Advent calendars - either store bought or homemade. The calendars generally have a piece of chocolate for each day and each day also has an activity or a part of the Nativity Story. We have chosen to go a different way. Instead of an Advent calendar, we have an Advent tree. Using oil pastels & charcoal, I drew a tree. I printed out pages of activities, using a business card template. Then I cut them out, laminated them, and attached them to the tree with velcro. We don't have an activity for each day of the Advent season. Our schedule simply doesn't allow time for an activity every day.

The activities we've chosen are Secular in nature, but hubby's ok with that. They include watching Christmas themed movies, reading Christmas stories, making donations, and fun family time. The kids will take turns choosing the activities. I know that some people count putitng up the tree, decorating the tree, and decorating the house as Advent activities. We don't, though. Sometime soon, we'll decorate the house & put up the tree, though I'm not sure exactly when.

Today, we went out to finish off our weekly shopping. We didn't do all our regular shopping last week because I stay away from stores as much as I can on Black Friday. Plus, we had a Thanksgiving on Thursday and one on Friday. Anyway, we were at Walmart today & Dea saw this purple tool set complete with tool bag. So, now she wants her own set of tools for Christmas. A few weeks ago, both kids told me they wanted stethoscopes for Christmas. They also want blood pressure cuffs, the reflex hammer Drs use, and various different books. My kids are a bit odd.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I am Thankful For.......

With Thanksgiving upon us, I figured I'd write about what I'm thankful for. I'm thankful for so many things, really. Many of these are typical - a home, enough food to feed us, enough money to pay the bills & keep our needs met, etc. So, instead of writing a list identical to so many others, I figured I'd go with some of the less 'usual' ones.

Here's my short list of things for which I am thankful:

I'm thankful......

1. .....that the circumstances in my life allow me to stay home. Providing my kids with an excellent, well-rounded education would be much more challenging if I also had to schedule in working out of the home.

2. .....that Dea is finally making some real progress with her therapy

3. ......that I am married to a man who is close to me intellectually, can keep me from being bored with the relationship, and can actually handle my many quirks & idiosyncrasies. You have no idea how difficult that combination is for me to find.

4. ......that I have a family I can be proud of

5. .....that I am not concerned with what other people think of me or my family. Too many people feel the need to lie or exaggerate about their lives and/or family to try to impress other people. Since I don't care what other people think, I have no difficulty being completely honest

6. .....that my children are who they are. They keep me challenged, keep me from becoming complacent, keep me busy, keep me grounded. Besides, I wouldn't know what to do with 'normal' kids

7. ......that I have ADHD. I don't see it as the negative thing so many others see it as

8. ......that I have made my share of mistakes in my life. I would not be the amazing person I am today, if not for the choices I have made in life, both good & bad

9. ......that I am who I am. Ok, this one sounds a bit conceited, but it's true. I'm damn proud of the person I have become. While my choices & experiences have helped shape me, helped me become the person I am, there are also biological factors that play a role. So, I am thankful for the things, over which I have no control, that have helped me become who I am.

I sincerely hope that all of you have equally wonderful things to give thanks for this year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How we do History pt.3

I thought I'd do a post about the Notebooking Pages and Project Books that we do for History.

When Dea was younger, I decided to give Lapbooks a try. So, I explained to her what Lapbooks are and asked what she thought of the idea. She said it sounded great & she wanted to try it. However, the first time we did one, she had fits. She fought about every step. She whined and cried. After that, just the mention of the word 'Lapbook' had her in tears and she'd shut down completely. I decided to try again, but call them something else. I told her we were going to do a Project Book. It was the same process, the same materials, as a Lapbook. The only difference was the name. She was fine. She enjoyed doing it. She didn't fight, whine, cry, or complain. Since then, we don't do Lapbooks. We do Project Books. Since we call them Project Books, we don't feel restrained by size. If we're planning a Project Book, and come up with too much to fit in a Lapbook-sized Project Book (which happens quite often, due to the depth with which we study), we'll expand it to a Tri-Fold Display Board (or, if we don't have one of those, multiple poster boards). Some have argued that this is not the same, that it's a completely different project because it is not restrained to the smaller size. My view, however, is that if it contains the same information & materials it is the same thing regardless of the size it ends up being. I fully admit that my view could be partly due to the fact that the name Project Books doesn't infer the small size that the name Lapbook does.

Sometimes, we do Notebooking Pages instead of Project Books. These cover the same information, but are just writing, not hands-on like Project Books. Like the mini-book templates for our Project Books and the Literature Study guides the kids use, I make our Notebooking Pages myself. I liked the idea of Notebooking Pages, but all the ones I was finding were pages with lines and pictures and nothing else. The pictures would be a distraction to my kids, due to their ADHD (they would color the pictures & add to them, instead of focusing on writing). Also due to her ADHD, writing is Dea's weakest subject. It's hard for her to stay on topic, to organize her thoughts, and when she was younger she wasn't sure what was important to write about if she wasn't given some direction. So, I started creating our Notebooking Pages myself, with minimal decoration and a little direction as to what to write about. These have worked wonderfully for Dea, and the more she uses them, the better she gets at determing what topics are important to study & write about in her studies.

Now, I'm in no way knocking regular Notebooking pages or Lapbooks. Our tweaked versions just work better for us. A page of blank lines with pictures and decorations around it would quickly send Dea into a meltdown. So, tweaking & doing our own version was necessary, assuming we wanted to get the work done without massive fights & tears. What I really like about Notebooking pages is that there is no age limit. As long as the child can write or has someone they can dictate to who will write for them, they can do Notebooking Pages. I also love the fact that they can be used with any resources. They aren't limited to a certain textbook or materials from a specific perspective. So, we can use them with any books, websites, software, educational shows, magazines, etc. We can even use them to compare differing perspectives. Of course, since our Project Books cover the same topics as our Notebooking Pages, they have the same benefits, with the added benefit of being more hands-on.

Jay is doing more Notebooking Pages than Project Books. He likes doing poster boards & tri-fold display boards for his 'museum exhibits', but doesn't like doing Project Books (of any size). I think part of it is his aversion to getting glue on his hands (yeah, my kids are strange, he freaked about touching grass until he was 2). Plus, while they are more hands-on than Notebooking Pages, they aren't as hands-on as the many projects we do. He loves doing the hands-on projects & activities - building things, arts & crafts projects, recipes from the period, etc. However, he really seems to prefer Notebooking Pages.

I love the fact that they don't just get tossed out like worksheets. We have boxes, Rubbermaid totes, and giant storage bags full of the work the kids have done, especially the projects and Project Books of various sizes (the ones that aren't displayed somewhere in the house). The Notebooking Pages get 3-hole punched and stored in binders, 3-hole punched and turned into 'books' by tying yarn through the holes (sometimes with a cover of manilla folder), or stapled together as a book. If they do an especially fantastic job on them, I might even let them use one of the book binding kits we have to turn them into a book.
Of course, the range of topics they can be used for is also fantastic. We use them mainly for Science and History. Any time period we cover, we can use either Notebooking Pages or Project Books. Some of our Notebooking Pages have room for illustrations, so they can draw pictures to go with the info they write (like the pages for WWII weapons). When studying a war, we can have pages for causes, the sides, weapons, important battles, important people, the role women played, etc. The study of an ancient civilization can have pages on architecture, daily life, food, clothing, entertainment, education, the Arts, leaders, inventions & discoveries, and more.

We really try to focus on as many things as we can for each period we cover. I don't like the idea of just covering the big events or the most important poeple. We also like to study what daily life was like (for the poor as well as the rich), what people ate, what they wore, the roles of women & children, what their education was like, what games they played, etc. These are just as important as studying the impact of a war or what differences a specific leader made. So much of the daily life & traditions have been carried over through the years, and are still around (in some form) today. I feel it's important to know where they came from.

One of my main issues with History, when I was in school, was how shallow the coverage was. We never got the opportunity to really go in-depth. I want to provide my kids with the opportunity to learn as much as possible about History. I don't think that a shallow overview really allows the student to gain a true appreciation & understanding of the complexities & intracacies that History has to offer. I've yet to find a textbook or workbook that offered (or even assisted in) a true in-depth comprehension and appreciation of History. Our Notebooking Pages & Project Books have proven themselves to be fantastic supplements in piecing together the giant jigsaw puzzle that is the History of our world.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Yesterday

Yesterday, we got a bunch of school stuff done. Jay & I finished filling out Lab Pages for some Labs he had done previously. then, we did a few more of his Labs. He has a model of a ball & socket joint that he made. Yesterday, we added oil to it to act as synovial fluid. We filled a 2-liter with water & glitter and spun it around to show how the fluid in your inner ears continues moving after you stop spinning, which is why you get dizzy. We tested the bones that have been soaking in vinegar & water all week. the ones that soaked in water were, of course, unchanged - hard, unbendable, difficult to break. The ones that had been in vinegar were bendable & broke easily. When I asked him why, he stood in the doorway and said "Because vinegar is an acid and it eats away the Calcium." (When I told dh about that, he looked at me and said "We're in trouble aren't we?")

Dea took a unit test for Biology yesterday. She did fantastic, 95%! She's not quite done with the work for the unit, though. She still needs to do a lab & a few activities. The Lab is growing cultures in petri dishes & seeing which ones respond to antibiotics. One of the activities is analyzing (a sample of) yeast population over 5 days. The other activitity is looking for bacterial shapes in pond water, using a microscope. She'll be doing those over the weekend and next week.

Then, they both helping make dinner & dessert. Dea helped make scallops for dinner. Jay helped make pumpkin bread pudding for dessert. Next week, we'll spend most of the week cooking and baking for Thanksgiving. I'm sure both kids will be more than happy to help with that. I won't really have time to help Jay with Science Labs and History projects, so I figure he'll focus on Math & Reading. Dea will do her Biology work and hopefully some other subjects.

I'm starting to think that we won't be able to do a relaxed schedule after the break, at least not with Dea. She has been avoiding some of her work. So, I think we'll have to go back to a strict schedule for her. Jay, on the other hand, is doing pretty well. He has no problems doing most of his work. Sometimes, I have to suggest something, but I think that's just because he doesn't remember every single thing he needs to do (which is totally understandable). For now anyway, the relaxed schedule seems to be great for him.

Monday, November 15, 2010

House full of Vinegar

It's only 8:30 am and we've already started 2 Science labs and done a short experiment. We decided to do the chicken bone in vinegar lab, for Jay's Human Body study, this week. So, we got the chicken bones cleaned really well & put some in vinegar & some in water (he decided to add having some in water, so he could see the difference). We figured, since we were doing that, why not also make a rubber egg. Again, he decided that he wanted to have one in water, as well, to compare the two. Since we were playing with eggs, we also did the Egg in a Bottle experiment. The kids had a blast with all of it, but the kitchen has a very strong vinegar smell to it right now.

Last week, Jay & I built the Parthenon. This week, I'm hoping he'll do a few more of his History projects. I'm going to try to fit in a few more Science labs, too. I'll be pretty busy next week, getting ready for Thanksgiving. So, I won't have as much time for doing Labs & Projects. I figure, if we do plenty of Labs & Projects this week, Jay will focus on Math and reading the library books we have on his current History & Science topics next week..

Dea has been focusing more on her Biology than anything else. She is getting into her History, too. She doesn't spend as much time on her Math as I'd like. She's apparently decided to hold off on finishing reading the Plays for English & instead wants to focus on the Poetry portion of the work. The kids recently found out that one of their cousins is taking ASL in school, which seems to have motivated them to put a bit more effort into their ASL studies. We're going to do some fun Latin review with games, this week. I'm thinking of playing Hangman, maybe doing a matching game, and probably playing Scrabble using only Latin vocab.

Friday, November 12, 2010

But, It's so convenient....

I'm really starting to hate convenience. Ok, not entirely, just the ridiculous lengths to which we (as a society) take it.

Yes, using a microwave is faster & easier than an oven, but most of us still use the oven.  We don't cook roast beef or the Thanksgiving turkey in the microwave. We don't decide not to learn to cook because we can just use the microwave (ok, some people might do this). We (most of us anyway) can cook real food with an actual oven/stove & just use the microwave for speed & ease in certain situations - frozen veggies or reheating leftovers. In situations like that, convenience isn't a bad thing.

My problem with convenience is when they stop expecting you to know how to do something & instead just give you the easy way out. Like calculators. Calculators can be a good thing, if they're used by someone who already has a strong understanding of the concepts & justs needs to be faster (like for work). However, allowing grade school children to use them, instead of expecting them to master basic math concepts, is stupid at best.

I don't believe in rote memorization. I have never forced my kids to use flascards or do drills to memorize anything. My kids don't memorize, they learn. They are not allowed to use a calculator for Math until they have proven mastery of the work. They learn to do math on paper. They learn to do math in their heads. They learn through use, not relentless drills. Eventually, they are allowed to use a calculator. They rarely ever ask to use one. It's simply not an issue in our house. Basic math simply should not require the use of a calculator.

Handing a child a calculator, instead of working with them to master math concepts, is like deciding to introduce a child to the wonderful world of audio books, instead of teaching them to read. It takes away the need to learn a skill they should learn. It tells them that you don't think they can do it. It tells them that learning that skill really isn't that important anyway. It teaches them to take the easy way out, instead of working toward something. It tells them that technology is more important than knowledge & comprehension.

Math isn't the only area, in education, that kids are given an easy out. I had to create study guides for the books my daughter was reading, because I was so unimpressed with the ones I was finding. Every one I found fell into one of two catagories:
1) All the information is given to them. The 'study guide' tells them the themes, the plot, descriptions of the characters, etc. It provides a summary, often so detailed that you could pass assignments & tests and even discuss the book in class without ever having to actually read the book. It hands them all the info they could ever need to convince a teacher that they read the book, all wrapped up in a neat little package & labeled as a study 'aid.'
2) They go to the other end of the spectrum. They consist of nothing more than simple (and I do mean simple) comprehension questions and a list of vocabulary words for each chapter. Of course, the vocab words always seem far below the level a child that would be reading that book would be at & are often listed for more than one chapter (in case they didn't learn the word for the first chapter it was in, we'll toss it in again). The questions don't inspire or require reflection, critical thinking, an understanding or appreciation of the book, but instead are simplistic to the point of being inane.
Either way, what are they learning when they use 'study guides' like those? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

Textbooks spoonfeed information, and aren't always as accurate as they want you to think they are. Children simply aren't taught to think for themselves anymore.

Now, I wish I could say that this is only within public schools & that all children in private schools or homeschools are taught to think, master skills, look beyond the surface. Unfortunately, I can't say that. Some do. Some homeschoolers actually make sure their children think for themselves, look for answers (beyond the textbook), encourage out-of-the-box thinking, actual mastery of skills (instead of just enough to pass the test), and introduce their children to as many topics, ideas, and concepts as they possibly can (instead of just enough to get by). Not all do, though. Some just buy a curriculum, follow along, and figure that their child must be getting a superior education because they aren't in a classroom. They may buy Critical Thinking or Logic programs, but never actually expect the child to use those skills outside of the work for that program. Just like not all public or private schools are created equal, neither are all homeschools.

I can understand the ones who are providing an education that is virtually identical to the public school. They might be homeschooling for other reasons, not to provide a superior education. Some of them, due to learning disabilities or other special needs, are providing more than that child would get in public school, even though it's the typical work for the 'regular' classes. The ones I don't get are the ones who are providing an education that is obviously inferior to what the public schools provide. Sometimes, they know they are providing an inferior education & justify it in ridiculous ways. My favorite justification is a religious one - "He's building his relationship with God , and that is much more important than academics". Other times, they are delusional enough to think they are providing a superior education & brag about how 'rigorous' & 'challenging' their curriculum is (because we should all be so impressed that your 13 year old does a whole 30 minutes of schoolwork everyday & is currently reading a 5th grade level book). Of course, when these kids apply at college & don't get in or are told they have to take remedial courses, due to their lack of comprehension of basic concepts, the parents will inevitably blame the schools, calling them anti-homeschool. After all, there couldn't possibly be any other reason.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Horn of Plenty Thanks

Over the years, people have questioned many of my choices & decisions regarding raising & educating my kids. I've been accused of being a bad mom, on more than one occasion. I have been chastised for not breastfeeding long enough. I have been accused of being too strict, too lenient, too mainstream, too unusual, too consistent, too flexible, too unconventional, too protective, not protective enough, etc. Many people seem to have a problem (well, many problems) with how I raise my kids.

I'm sure some of you are wondering what my point is. I'm getting to it, I promise.

The kids and I were discussing being thankful. On a large sheet of paper, I drew a Cornucopia. It is our "Horn of Plenty Thanks." Then, I drew various different types of food & cut them out. The kids are writing things they are thankful for on the pieces of food and hanging them on the cornucopia. So far, they are thankful for:

the fact that they are homeschooled (both)
that their great-grandparents, who died earlier this year, are in a better, safer place and no longer in pain (Dea)
Jay is thankful that he didn't die when he was a baby (he was born very premature)
that he has the ability to read (Jay)
that we have plenty of books to read (Dea)
and more


Now, I know that many people have disagreed with my decisions, and many have questioned my ways. However, can you really argue with the results? These kids are thankful for a roof over their heads, blankets to keep them warm, and food to fill their bellies. They are thankful for those things because they understand that there are people who don't have them. It seems to me that I must not be doing the bad job so many think I am. It's pretty clear that my being too strict, too lenient, too flexible, too consistent, too mainstream, too unconventional, too protective, and too hands-off hasn't screwed my kids up too much.


  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Update on our break

I realized that I haven't really done a post about school since we started our break. So, I thought I'd let you know what we've been up to lately.

I've foud this really cool new tool that I think will be a great asset to our schooling. I want to wait a little bit to tell you all about it, until we've had a chance to use it a little more. Once I have a better idea of what I think of it, I'll tell you all about it.

While I won't tell you much about this new tool yet, I will tell you that it is already helping us to organize our school assignments. We're not doing our regular school schedule right now. We're taking a break to destress from life. Not to destress from school, but life in general. We set some basic guidelines:
1) up to 2 hours of educational TV time per day
2) up to 1 hour of non-educational TV time per day, unless I decide to let them watch a movie (but they can't ask to watch a movie or they lose their TV time for a day)
3) up to 2 hours of computer time per day - the first hour has to be educational or school related in order to get personal computer time
4) at least 1 hour of reading per day
5) at least 2 hours of educational activities (they asked for this)

They have spent a lot of time reading. Jay read George's Secret Key to the Universe. I am so proud of him. Dea is currently reading The Hobbit and started Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl today. They've been watching documentaries on WWII, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Alexander the Great, The Salem Witch Trials, and various wildlife ones.

Dea has voluntarily done Math! More than once! YAY!! She's loving being able to do what schoolwork she wants each day. She's been doing a lot of work on her Biology. She's decided to stop doing Oxford Latin, and is doing Song School Latin with Jay (so they can talk to each other).  She's starting to get back into her History, too (WWII).

Jay has started his multiplication book. He's finished all of the subtraction book, except for the sections on subtracting time & linear measurement. I want him to wait a little to do those sections. He's doing great with multiplication, though. He's really enjoying it, too, which is fantastic. He's really getting into Ancient Greece & Ancient Rome. Today, he finally decided that maybe the Myths aren't quite so boring and wants me to read them to him. Of course, he's loving doing Science and asks to do it all the time. Both the kids are enjoying doing Latin & are really using the words they're learning.

The other day, I was cutting out the pieces for the Parthenon that we're going to build. As I was toiling away with the Exacto knife, Jay was collecting the scraps. When I asked what he was doing, he told me that he was building a jail for Vlad the Impaler. He used every scrap. He said it needed to be strong to hold Vlad, because "we don't want him out on the streets, killing people." Other people might find that conversation a bit strange, especially since he's 6. I, however, find it completely adorable.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What kind of mama are you?

What kind of mom are you? Do you see yourself as Supermom? Conventional? Unconventional? Do others see you the same way you see yourself?

I was just sitting here thinking about this, about the differences in parenting. I'm not talking about the four main types - Permissive, Authoritative, Authoritarian, Uninvolved. I'm talking about Attachment Parenting, Mainstream Parenting (aka Traditional Parenting), etc. I'm focusing on these because they are the ones that people fight about.

You never hear arguments about which is the better parenting style - Authoritative or Permissive. However, fights about Attachment Parenting vs. 'Mainstream' Parenting are all over the place. Although, if you want to really nitpick, Attachment Parenting & 'Mainstream' Parenting would really fall into the Permissive & Authoritative styles.

My issue with the parenting style wars is that, like so many other ridiculous "wars," both sides assume that their way is the only way & is right for everyone. It's simply not possible that different ways may work better for different families or situations. No. Their way is the one & only right way to parent, and you either agree with them, completely, or you are a terrible parent whose kids will suffer untold miseries.

Now, I'm all for making sure that all women are educated about how healthy breastfeeding is. I think it's great that there are organizations to help those who are struggling to breastfeed. However, I think that villifying any mother who chooses not to breastfeed at all or only breastfeeds for a short time is stupid & hateful. How long I breastfed my kids, or if I breastfed them, has nothing to do with you. I don't need you telling me that I was selfish to stop breastfeeding my daughter after only 4 months because it hurt, my nipples were bleeding, and I had to get a job (seeing as I was a single mom) & didn't want to sit in the bathroom at McDonalds on break & pump. I also don't need to hear about how selfish it was to stop pumping after my son came home from the hospital. He never latched on & pumping had never produced enough milk for him. Plus, it HURT & made my nipples bleed. So, shortly after he came home from the hospital (at 2 months old), I stopped pumping & went to formula. I didn't need to hear that I was being selfish or that I was a horrible mom.

If you want to co-sleep, fine. Don't sit there & tell me that you're a better mom than I am because you co-sleep & I don't, though. I am not a bad mom because I put my kids in their own beds instead of spending sleeplessness nights dealing with their moving around & kicking all night.

I am also not a bad mom because my kids don't play video games.
Or... because I monitor what they watch, read, and listen to for sexual content & nudity, but not for violence & language.
Or... because I let them watch horror movies.
Or... because I let them listen to rock & heavy metal.
Or... because I don't force them to go to church.
Or... because I believe that children are fully capable of figuring out their own beliefs, so my kids are allowed to choose their own religious path (or no religion at all).
Or... because I don't feel that they should be entirely in charge of their own education.
Or... because I don't give them free reign to do whatever & go where ever they choose without rules, restrictions, or boundaries.
Or... because I don't see my children as my equals, but as what they are - children who it it my responsibility to raise, guide, and teach; who have less knowledge & experience than I do & therefore are not prepared to be equal partners with my husband & me in the running of our home.
Or... because I don't see them as slaves who have to obey my every command & have no thoughts or opinions of their own, but actually welcome & encourage their feedback & input.
Or... because I don't believe in bribing my kids to get the behavior I want.
Or... because I don't spank for every infraction.
Or... because I will spank if no other form of discipline has worked & spanking will actually have an impact.
Or... because they both have bedtimes, even though they both have trouble falling asleep & staying asleep & need less sleep than most kids, because my hubby & I need time alone, which can only happen after the kids go to bed, and I need me time which only happens when everyone else is in bed.
Or... because I occasionaly have a beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of tequila.
Or... because I have 5 tattoos.
Or... because our house isn't spotless, it's lived-in & a little cluttered.
Or... because my daughter is on medication for her ADHD & Bipolar.
Or... because I sometimes lose my temper and yell at my kids.

I don't fit neatly into one of your little categories. I'm not a 'Mainstream' Parent. I'm not an Attachment Parent. I'm certainly not a 'Free-Range' Parent. I do what I feel is best for my kids & family in each situation. I don't adhere to a strict set of 'rules' that tell me how to parent, so that I will still be considered a certain type of parent. This means that I rarely, if ever, truly fit in. To some, I'm too strict, and to others too lenient. To some, I'm too conventional, to others too unconventional. How conventional/unconventional or strict/lenient I am shouldn't be a problem, since it's MY kids I'm raising, not yours. However, because people are so close-minded & judgemental, it apparently does matter. So many only want to socialize with those who are just like them. If you employ any parenting tactics that they disagree with, they won't associate with you. Just like so many won't associate with those with differing religious veiws. So many people are so close-minded to the views of others. They see the world in black & white and surround themselves only with those who view the world the same way. Don't they see what they're missing by doing this - by not opening their minds & their world to those with a different to view to offer?

My world is not black & white. It's full of shades of grey and so many other colors. It's full of a wide variety of characters. I don't surround myself with only those like me, and not just because I have never met someone like me. I enjoy the variety it brings to my life. The people in my life come from different backgrounds, different religions, different educational backgrounds, etc. My life has included homeless to millionaires, Catholics to Atheists to Pagans, dropouts to multiple degrees, and more. I can't imagine not having that variety in my life, not having those people & experiences in my life. That must be a dull & boring world indeed, where everyone thinks just like you, agrees with you, and sees the world in the same way as you. How sad a life must be if the only place you have variety of views & character is in the online world you also inhabit, where everyone is a stranger, no one really knows you, and you can delete or ignore those who differ too much for your liking. If only you knew what you were missing..........

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's Almost Halloween!

It's almost Halloween, and that means there's work ahead for me. Saturday will be busy in our house. We have to finish the grocery shopping, which shouldn't take too long. Hubby will be spending the day getting the house ready for the new addition(s) (we will be getting 1 or 2 new cats). My time will be split between cleaning, finishing last minute decor, finishing prep for Sunday, and cooking & baking.

Our Dinner for the Dead will be Sunday (Halloween) night. That means that we have to have an actual meal instead of the finger food buffet we generally have on Halloween. We'll still have some of our fun finger foods during the day, though.

Saturday I'll make: pumpkin pie, toasted pumpkin seeds, soul cakes, pumpkin bread, wheat bread, and probably some homemade butter.
Sunday morning, I'll whip up bread stick broomsticks & mummy fingers to put out for lunch. Then, I'll cook the corned beef and my famous baked apples closer to dinner time. I thought maybe I'd toss together a pasta salad, too. Corn will likely be our veggie for the night.

Of course, I can't even start to set up the table until Sunday afternoon. I would really like to start sooner, but the kids would destroy anything I got done. We haven't carved our pumpkins yet. We'll do that tomorrow. Plus, I still have work I need to get done this weekend for the kids' schooling (more on that in another post).

Well, it's almost 2am and I have a busy ahead of me. I guess I should go attempt to get a few hours sleep.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Featured Author - Nov 2010

Ok, we've drawn names for November. Jay has decided that he wants to do a Featured Author each month, just like Dea. So, I came up with a list of appropriate authors.

So for November 2010 our Featured Authors are:

For Dea - J. R. R. Tolkien
Dea will read The Hobbit.
I will read either The Silmarillion or The Hobbit

For Jay - James Howe
He wants to start with Bunnicula & read as many as he can get through by month's end. I'll likely just read the books at the same time or just before he does, so they're fresh in my mind when I ask him questions to check comprehension.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Honoring the dead

We've lost a few family members this year. Last year, we lost even more. Dea is still having a difficult time dealing with this year's losses. I want to make dealing with death easier for her. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better about dealing with death. It's just not really talked about in our society. We don't teach our young how to deal with it. It's a taboo topic many try hard to avoid.

I want to do a better job making sure my kids are ok with death. I've been wanting to incorporate the honoring of the dead into our Halloween celebration, but just haven't figured out how to do it. Well, I think I've figured out how to incorporate it into our yearly celebrations.

This Halloween, we'll be doing a meal to honor the dead. It'll be similar to a Dumb Supper, but without the Dumb part. It just isn't possible for the 4 of us to get through an entire meal in total silence. This will be to honor those we've lost in the past year. Then, I was thinking that we would start celebrating Parentalia next Feb. For those who don't know, Parentalia was a nine day (Feb 13-21) festival of the dead in Ancient Rome. During Parentalia, people would go visit the graves of loved ones, especially their parents, and left offerings of flowers, food, and drinks. It was a time of solemn reflection.

So, I thought that we'd resurrect Parentalia, at least in our home. I figure the supper on Halloween night can be to honor those lost in the previous year, while Parentalia will honor all our deceased ancestors & friends. It simply won't be possible to go visit the graves of all our loved ones, even those that are most important to us. The graves of loved ones are just too spread out. So, I was thinking that maybe I'll create an area in our yard, a special memorial for the people and animals that we have loved and lost. Having something like that here might help them, in addition to celebrating Parentalia, by giving them somewhere to go when they feel they need to talk to those who've gone before.

I don't know what happens when we die. I don't believe that we just blink out like a light. Since I'm not Christian, I don't exactly believe in Heaven & Hell. I do believe that there's something else out there though, something beyond this life. I regularly talk to dead loved ones. I know they're there, listening. Maybe it will help the kids to have a specific place to go to talk to them.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

All alone

I'm all alone today. I zombified the kids & sent them out into the world. Their friend is having a Halloween-themed birthday party today. So, I tore up some of their old clothes. It rained yesterday, so they rubbed the clothes in the mud, to get them nice & dirty. I did their make-up & added some blood. I used got2b Smooth Operator to keep their hair out of their faces. Jay didn't want me to use ashes from the grill, so I used baby powder in their hair, for that dusty look. Then, I took them outside & sprayed their hair with a can of that cheapy Halloween black hair spray. They looked awesome!

So, hubby took the kids to the party & I stayed home. I'm in pain. It's been getting worse over the last few days. I slept like crap last night because of the pain. So, I decided to stay home. I think I'll spend the day watching movies & doing my school work.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Last Sunday

Last Sunday, was a great day. We went to the Apple Orchard in the morning. We didn't get to pick our own apples, but we still had fun. We went on a wagon ride, fed animals, did a little shopping and had lunch. We came home with apples, pumpkin butter, 2 pumpkins to carve, and some of the best apple cider donuts ever. I love the Apple Orchard. I try to make sure we gert there at least once a year. We all look forward to it. There's so much to do - pony rides, wagon rides, petting zoo, playground, shopping, pick your own apples & pumpkins. It's a great fun day for the whole family.

When we left the orchard, we came home to drop stuff off. Then, we went over to see if some friends wanted to go to the cemetery with us. Now, most people would look at you a little strange if you walked in & asked "Do you guys want to go hang out in the cemetery with us." Luckily, these friends didn't think we were nuts & happily joined us in the cemetery to do charcoal rubbings of gravestones. After that, we hung out at their house until it was almost Jay's bedtime. We just hung out & talked.

It's great to have a family like that to be friends with. Their kids & our kids get along & enjoy playing together. The husband gets along great with my hubby, and of course we (the women) get along great, too. We all get along & can easily spend hours together. It's so nice to have that, since it doesn't always happen that way. Plus, they're a Secular homeschooling family, too. We have a lot in common. Not that our other friends aren't great, too. They are. It's just that there's a different dynamic with the friends who don't homeschool their kids or who don't have kids. I love hanging out with our other friends, too. I'm just glad that we've finally found a homeschool family that we can hang out with.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Netflix rant

Ok, I love my Netflix & Roku, but there are a few things that could make it a little better. First, I'd love to be able to use it to watch the current season of shows. I refuse to plan my life around TV schedules, so we don't always get to see the latest episode of our fave shows. This wasn't so bad in previous years, but with so much going on this year, we aren't even trying to watch to our shows this season. We're just planning to be a season behind. It would be great if we could add the current seasons to our instant queue & watch when we had the time.
The other thing is that Netflix really needs some new filters. They suggest movies & tv shows based on things in your queue & things you've watched. However, sometimes the suggestions make no sense. I watched Fright Night. So, it then listed movies that were 'Like Fright Night.' The list included The Breakfast Club. Now, seriously, other than both being made in the 80s & both having teens as main characters, these two movies have nothing in common. Now it's telling me that A River Runs Throught it is 'Like Amityville 3-D.' Having seen both of those movies, I can say they are nothing alike. It regularly lists TV shows in catagories of movies. Not the main movie list, but it'll have something like 'Gory Supernatural Movies' and list something like The X-Files Season 1. That's not a movie, that's a TV show.

Ok, that's my random rant about Netfilx.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How we do History pt.2

For elementary school, History is very hands-on, very project-based, in our house. I stay away from textbooks because they're dry, boring, biased, and (often) inaccurate. In fact, I prefer not to use History textbooks for any grade.

When we study Cavemen, we make cave drawings, draw pictures of what we think life was like, and the kids play make-believe that they live in caves. When we study Ancient Egypt, we make pyramids, mummies, learn to write our names in Hieroglyphics, read Egyptian Mythology, etc. Studying U.S. History leads to building a frontier fort, learning to dry flowers, and making a spongeware clay pot. The Middle Ages means building castles and catapults, designing our own coat of arms, and making an hourglass.

We try to make at least one recipe for each time period or culture we study. We also do lots of activities. We've painted Pirate ships, built a Viking longhouse, made a Roman courtyard, and more.

We read lots of books on the topic and watch documentaries. It's not all fun & games. We do some writing, in Project books, Notebooking Pages, or some other kind of project. I do try to keep it mostly fun, though. My thought on it is this: Public school tends to suck the fun out of learning. History and Science, especially, should be fun to study. However, they make you read boring textbooks, write papers, answer questions, and take tests. Where's the fun in that? What happened to the understanding that you learn more when you're interested & involved? What happened to trying to create lifelong learners? Does anyone actually think that the way to create lifelong learners is by boring them to tears? We're not a public school. I don't have a BoE to answer to. I don't have to use the same methods or materials they use. I don't have to answer to the entire city to defend what my school budget was spent on. So, if I want to spend our budget on materials for hands-on projects that make my kids want to learn more about History (or any other subject, for that matter), that's my right. I don't have to do what the public schools do. I can do better.

Now, let me be clear about something here. I'm not saying that YOU shouldn't use textbooks for History. I'm not saying that my kids are getting a better education than yours because you use textbooks & we don't. What I'm saying is that I, personally, don't like History textbooks. I don't use them because they don't fit in with my educational philosophy or goals. My kids would not respond well to them.