Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shanleya's Quest and Eliza's Laboratory of Potions

My seven-year-old, Eliza, and I have been doing an impromptu botany unit. It started with my stumbling across a book and card game I'd bought years ago, after being enticed by it at LaPaz Home Learning, and never used.

Winter isn't the ideal time to pursue botany, but we're having so much fun with it, I want to stick with it and see where it goes. And maybe we'll grow some plants, from seed, to transplant in spring. I am a horrible gardener. Really, really terrible. If I set out to deliberately kill all my plants, I couldn't do any worse. But hope springs eternal, doesn't it?

 Egads, that carpet needs to be vacuumed!

We started out with the Shaleya's Quest card game. I offered these cards to her and showed her how she could sort the various plants by family. I was impressed by how readily she figured out how to sort the plants by noticing patterns of physical features, and how she persevered with the activity until she'd finished. Patterns in nature is my favorite kind of math, and I'm really excited about introducing Fibonacci numbers to Eliza soon. Stay tuned.

We played several different games with these cards and read Shanleya's Quest, which explores these plant families through a fanciful story that touches on basic evolutionary concepts. She really liked this book.

Today we set up the world-famous flowers-in-colored-water experiment, though we used daisies instead of carnations. We had a great time creating about a dozen different colors with food coloring. For some of these colors, we followed the directions on the back of the box (e.g. teal = 1 drop green + 1 drop blue; rose = 8 drops red + 1 drop blue) which gave her the opportunity to learn the concept of ratios (1:1; 8:1). She readily picked up on the concept and suggested that explore it further another day.

Next we placed a flower in each color, and Eliza made a prediction about what will happen. I didn't tell her what's "supposed" to happen or why -- I just left the question on the table.

Undoubtedly inspired by all the fantasy RPGs played in this house, she asked me for some mailing labels and a permanent marker and set to work labeling her potions. That's one of the things I love about relaxed homeschooling. Given enough wiggle room, kids take projects in directions I never would've imagined. And around here, things can get pretty surreal.

So here you have it: Eliza's Laboratory of Potions:

I think this is about 1 parts creepy to 6 parts awesome. ;-) (6:1)

Does anyone have more botany ideas?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hilary and Jackie: A Meditation on Lost Things

Film Review by River

Emily Watson is tremendous. In the last half of "Hilary and Jackie," in which she stars as the titular Jacqueline Du Pre alongside Rachel Griffiths, there's a shift between who she seems to be and who she may actually be.

She initially appears spoiled, controlling and spiteful, but you begin to see her social awkwardness and vulnerability. Who is the famous cellist Jacqueline Du Pre? Will we ever know?

The memoir on which this film was based was written by her sister Hilary De Pre and her brother Piers. But can they really sum up and explain an enigmatic character like Jackie?

The film seems to be a meditation on lost things- love, talent, and relationships past. Hilary and Jacqueline grow up close, their bonds seemingly irrevocable. Hilary, the eldest, is a talented flautist, and "Jacks," as she is called, plays the cello. Heckled by their mother at an early age to be "as good as each other," the two nevertheless share an almost twin-like bond in which each one can sometimes tell what the other is thinking.

But as time passes, Jacqueline begins to act rather odd. When Hilary hooks up with Kiffer (David Morrissey), Jacqueline laments that her sister is "leaving her" and quickly picks up a man of her own: Danny (James Frain), who is Jewish, much to the chagrin of Jacqueline's anti-Semitic parents.

At first Jacqueline's behavior is simply annoying and casually cruel, but soon she becomes increasingly strange and self-destructive. As she grows sicker and sicker, it becomes clear that their sisterly bonds will be tested harshly.

Rachel Griffiths impresses as the more reasonable, less world-acclaimed sibling, but Emily Watson owns the role as her flighty, needy sister. She is one of the most underrated women in Hollywood. Watch her.

The first time I watched this film, I felt the setback was the "curse of the mainstream drama," a musical score that's overbearing at times coupled with an overuse of flashbacks.

Now I do a double-take on my allegation about the music. It is classical music, after all, and classical music tends to be a bit... rigorous. And if one insists on leaving it out of a movie about classical music, one shouldn't bother.

However, I stand by what I said initially about the series of flashbacks, which are disruptive, overblown, and feel like paranoid hallucinations. I did, however, like the pseudo-religious add-on at the end. As much as I generally hate pseudo-religious add-ons, this one surprised me.

As a whole, Hilary and Jackie is is quite extraordinary, like its protagonists. It seems as though it might be boring, but it is not, it seems as though it might be one-sided, yet it is not, and it shows Emily Watson at the peak of her talents.

With the bittersweet ending of the film and the controversy surrounding it and its literary counterpart, we are forced to confront the question: did anyone really know Jacqueline Du Pre? And similarly, do we really know each other?

Homeschool Mother's Journal #13: The Black Friday Edition

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…

I'm trying to be consistent in following my health care provider's dietary recommendations and taking my nutritional and hormone supplements religiously. Unfortunately, the conditions being treated have pretty much obliterated my short-term memory. :-P Nevertheless I'm feeling a gradual increase in energy; it's becoming easier to stay awake all day and I'm getting a bit more done. Things are looking up.

In our homeschool this week… 

My oldest, River, watched movies, including The King's Speech. She wrote a review of Hilary and Jackie, worked a bit on the fantasy novel she's writing for her brother, and did a little math: she's practicing percents. (Film Studies; History; Analytical Writing; Fiction Writing; Math)

My son Seamus continued reading the Artemis Fowl series and Rome: A High Speed History, worked on a story he's writing, played video games, and did some math: he's working on equivalent fractions. (Reading/Literature; History; Fiction Writing; Computer Skills & Strategic Thinking; Math)

 Apparently, my son didn't enjoy his math assignment.

My younger daughter, Eliza, loves "doing school" every chance we get.

Food & Cooking: She did lots of Thanksgiving cooking. She also looked through Cooking Around the World and selected a recipe: Japanese Salmon Teryaki. This became a springboard for a a unit on Japan which I'm gathering ideas for.

 Read Alouds: We read three Japanese-themed picture books.

Chibi: A True Story from Japan by Barbara Brenner and Julia Takaya, illustrated by June Otani-- this is a long-time family favorite

 A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura

  Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say

Geography: We read picture books about Japan. We looked up Mount Fuji and the emperor's palace, which were mentioned in Chibi. I highlighted cultural details in A Pair of Red Clogs, like traditional Japanese attire, before they became more Westernized, and differences between their family meals and ours. We looked at pictures of Japanese children and ornate Japanese fans. We started a lapbook on Japan. We're using this great lapbook from Homeschool Share and expanding it. We also played 10 Days in Asia. I'll write a separate post on this unit study when we get further along.

Botany: We're having fun learning about plants and how they're classified, reading Shanleya's Quest and playing the accompanying card game. I learned about this resource, years ago, from LaPaz Home Learning, and finally got around to using it.

Physics: We've been playing and experimenting with magnets. Eliza explored how they attract and repel each other and how to reset a compass with a magnet.

Math & Logic: We played Telepathy and Mastermind (Deductive Logic). We also played Loose Change (Computation; Money Skills); she made quick progress in adding 5s, 10s & 25s, counting money, and figuring out "how much more do I need to make a dollar?" I am really excited about the way she develops strategies and quickly figures out or anticipates my strategies.

Grammar: We played Mad Libs, which has been one of her great delights lately. This has quickly taught her basic parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

Art/Art Appreciation: She has been drawing prolifically since she discovered two sets of markers in my desk. We have been playing a Happy Families impressionist art game. We talked a bit about impressionism and she pointed out her favorites. She likes Monet's work and Degas's ballerinas.

Other: We also played 10 Days in the Americas, Blink, Rat-a-Tat-Cat, and Concentration.

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…

No advice or tips, and nothing related to homeschooling ... just an observation. There are people out there who really need to get their medications leveled out before hitting the stores on Black Friday: Woman Pepper Sprays Other Black Friday Shoppers. :-O

Just for the record, I don't do Black Friday ... I don't even like crowds when people are relatively calm and civil. I've always sworn I'd rather have a sharp stick in my eye that set foot outside the house on this occasion. However, I did get talked into taking River downtown, to our locally owned toy store, to buy presents for her siblings. While I was there, I bought gifts for my four-year-old niece. :-)

My favorite thing this week was…
  1. Not having to drive the kids anywhere this week!
  2. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my awesome sous chef. Eliza loves to cook, and her enthusiasm greatly improved my attitude about spending a whole day cooking, baking, and washing dishes. She stayed on top of things! At one point, she called her dad at the grocery store to tell him we needed "loo-lee-um foil." At another moment she said, "I'm actually having fun! I know that's weird, since I'm putting butter on a dead turkey, but I am!" I live for those quotable moments! :-D She also mixed ingredients for dinner rolls, chopped carrots, and did many other tasks.
What’s working/not working for us… Well, the jury is out on whether this is working for us, and my hopes aren't all that high, but I am resorting to bribery to keep the older kids on task with their short daily list of assignments and chores. Curiously, I came to this conclusion only hours after a conversation with a friend I deeply respect, in Big Lots, about the merits of parenting without positive reinforcement or punishment. If you have any questions about this ... ahem ... refer to the title of this blog.

I offered each of the older kids $2.50 per day, to be deposited directly into a jar, if the assignments and chores in the work folder are completed. The little one, Eliza, can earn $1 per day for tidying up the playroom. I thought they'd like to have allowances again, and -- honestly -- I am desperate to get my oldest up to a certain level with assuming personal responsibility.

If I'm going to use a stick and carrot, I suppose paying someone for her efforts is at least relatively logical -- unlike tokens or star charts, it reflects how the "real world" works.

The only complaint I got about this system was from my son. He said -- based on past experience with my paying allowances -- it's not very rewarding when you never get paid on time. He's been known to wait months before actually seeing his allowances in cold, hard cash. Having a cash-poor mom sucks. :-)

 "I still haven't received my paycheck." 

Nevertheless, I get his point. Fair enough. I made sure his $2.50 was put promptly in his jar the other day, even though I had to scavenge it from the floor of the laundry room. ;-)

I’m praying for… Our nephew, M, who just went through surgery and had his jaws wired shut. He and some friends visited a bar in Manhattan. An argument brewed between his friends and a group of troublemakers, and M tried to be the peacemaker. No deed goes unpunished, and he was badly beaten up by the troublemakers. He hasn't lost his sense of humor -- he posted a Facebook message saying he was working out his angst by composing a rap song. But it's heart-wrenching to think of this peaceful, kind-spirited young man going through this trauma.

A quote:

In times of change, the learner inherits the earth, while the learned are beautifully prepared for a world that no longer exists. —Eric Hoffer.

Some thoughts:

I have always been a great lover of books and traditional learning. I started out as a mom who considered electronic entertainment -- video games, movies, and T.V. -- as mind candy, at best. I also saw it as potentially harmful and a colossal waste of time, and I very strictly limited the kids' screen time.

In my journey to more fully understanding and appreciating my kids' passions, I've done some research and evolved into an advocate for kids playing video games. I don't mean "edutainment." I mean the kind of games kids choose purely for fun, like strategy and role playing games. And of course River has taught me to appreciate film and television more deeply.

I realize video gaming doesn't fit everyone's family culture, but I think most parents underestimate how valuable it can be in preparing our kids for the world in which they'll be living and working.

Books and study prepared me for my life, and its been really tough for me to accept -- and even embrace -- the fact that these things play a smaller role in my kids' lives. However, I've seen the ways my son is blossoming through strategy and role playing games. He develops strategies, which continually change as the game unfolds, collaborates with diverse groups of other players, and quickly adapts to changing technology. While I worried about his education, he was preparing himself for the future. And River is building a rich, creative life on movies, including some that freaking make me cringe. I realize I was right to ride with the current instead of fighting it.

A few videos as food for thought and discussion:

How Video Games Make Kids Smarter -- a quick and dirty overview of how how video gaming helps develop dynamic intelligence (what he calls fluid intelligence).

Gaming Can Make a Better World (I haven't seen this yet.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal #12: Movies, Mentos and Monocots

The Homeschool Mother's Journal 

In my life this week… 

I got an e-mail from a local farm saying my turkey is ready to pick up any time I'm ready. Huh? Holy shiz, Thanksgiving is next week, isn't it? We have no family in the area, and my hubby's work schedule prevents us from traveling during the holidays. So holidays for us are a pretty low key affair.

I'm not big on Thanksgiving anyway. The theme of gratitude is important -- every day, I'm surrounded by reasons I'm infinitely grateful. But let's face it, I'm not crazy about cooking, I don't care about football, and I'd rather have a sharp stick in my eye than go shopping on "Black Friday." For reasons I can't quite put my finger on, I'm not nearly as sparked about Christmas as I used to be either.

My schedule is about to wind down a bit for the holidays. I finished my biology class at PE's school, and we just had our last session of Lego League until January. I expect our other commitments will be easing up a bit, too, and I'll be slowing down and catching up. Hey! I am a fan of holidays after all!

In other matters, I've blogged before about my newly (and belatedly) diagnosed health problems. I've taken a bit of a hit neurologically, with impaired concentration, memory lapses and such ... even worse than usual, I mean. I have Leonard Shelby syndrome (y'know, from the movie Memento) ... I forget stuff after -- say -- five minutes.

This week, my family clued me into the fact that I've been crazy moody and hard to live with the past few months. Huffy and throwing fits when the house is trashed and I can't find stuff. I was floored. What?? For some reason, my loved ones thought I knew about this, on account of it being my own behavior and all. Haven't they been paying attention?? I don't remember any of that.

Now I'm striving to be mindful about being calm. And I'm remembering to be thankful I have conditions that are treatable!

No worries, the PMS fairy is arriving soon. That wonderful time of the month when I know that no problems I have getting along with my family are MY fault. I'm perfectly fine. It's just that for about seven days out of the month everyone has an extraordinarily fine tuned ability to piss me off. I think it's a conspiracy.

In our homeschool this week…

This was another kinda slow week. But ...

River has been watching and talking about so many interesting movies I can't keep up with her. She's on a roll with watching short films and uber-indie movies. She wrote several new film reviews this week and worked on one of her novels.

We didn't get around to history or philosophy this week, though we did watch the next movie we plan to discuss in philosophy: Hilary and Jackie. This film, about celebrated cellist Jacqueline DePre and her sister Hilary, is told alternately from the perspectives of both women. In our philosophy and film curriculum, this is a springboard for discussing relativism. Simply thinking about the way people view shared experiences in very different ways is fascinating.

Memory and perception is a tricky thing. My father once told a story about a train trip he took with his family when he was a child. He and his siblings all remember completely different versions of the trip -- they don't even agree on who was there. My brother and I have occasionally talked about our shared childhood and found out we didn't have the same recollections at all; we grew up in parallel universes. I believe that through our memories we're telling ourselves the stories of our own lives, again and again, and the tale can keep changing in the telling. How can we ever get at the pure truth?

River is also slogging through math, much against her will -- she's working on percentages. In order to graduate from high school, according to -- well -- me, she needs to complete one Algebra course. (Film Studies; Analytical Writing; Fiction Writing; Math)

Seamus played Minecraft, G Mod, and Oblivion and participated in Lego League, which involves computer programming and robotics. He started reading Rome: A High Speed History and did a bit of "book" math. He's still going gangbusters on the Artemis Fowl series. We also played some Mad Libs, so he reviewed basic parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs).

He also did the world-famous Diet Coke and Mentos experiment -- you know the one -- with the help of his lab assistant. He didn't get the maximum effect, because he didn't put in a whole pack of Mentos at one time. But it had pretty good range, don't you think?

He started by putting one mint into a bottle. He noticed that all the soda in the bottle seemed fizzy, so he hypothesized that he'd gotten the maximum possible reaction. He tested it by adding two to a bottle, then three. The reaction did, in fact, increase at each stage. (Busted.)

We checked out an article at Steve Spangler Science to scope out theories on why this works. Carbon Dioxide ... Molecules ... Surface tension ... It seems that the weight/density of the Mento(s), and the amount of soda displaced, is an important factor in the effect. So I guess that's why, even if the amount of carbonation seems to have peaked, more Mentos = bigger reaction? What do you think?

(Computer Technology; Strategic Thinking; Robotics; History; Math; Reading/Literature; Grammar; The Scientific Method; Chemistry; Physics)

PE and I played some board and card games: 10 Days in Europe (Geography; Strategic Thinking), Telepathy (Deductive Logic), Rat-a-Tat-Cat, Blink, and a card game featuring Impressionist Art (Art Appreciation).  I also got out the Shanleya's Quest card game, a nifty resource I bought years ago which has been collecting dust ever since. We talked about the difference between monocots and dicots, and figured out which types of plants, in our pack of cards, fall into each category. We learned that monocots are air-pollinated. She sorted the plants by family, noticing common features. (Math: Patterns; Botany) She also played video games, including Minecraft, Sims 3, Feeding Frenzy, and Plants vs. Zombies. (Computer Technology).

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share… As I said here, I think one of your greatest strengths as a parents and homeschooler is staying in touch with your own boundless curiosity.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… Seamus is at his best friend's house tonight, having a sleepover and celebrating his friend's 11th birthday!

Questions/thoughts I have… about recent headlines ... 

Herman Cain: We Need a Leader, Not a Reader -- I'm sure everyone in the world is taking shots at this right now, but ...

O.K., I'll be the first to admit my mind isn't nearly as sharp as it used to be, and I'm not sure I set the bar all that high to begin with. Some of my problems seem to be caused by lady hormones -- Cain can't claim that excuse -- but I digress. I could overlook a political figure bungling the answer to a basic question about foreign policy. But to use that as an excuse? It seems to suggest that such knowledge isn't a prerequisite for holding an important public office. When I think about the disastrous foreign policy decisions our leaders have made that might have been prevented, or at least ameliorated, with some knowledge of history, I find it chilling.

In Ancient Greece all citizens (y'know men who were lucky enough not to be slaves) were expected to be educated and articulate enough to participate in all affairs of state. Sometimes I feel like, here and now, if we gathered all our politicians who have a depth and breadth of knowledge and GET why it's essential for our leaders to deeply understand history and diplomacy, we wouldn't have enough people to put together a baseball team. What is going on?!? Is the media distorting things by zooming in on egregious examples of human  ignorance and stupidity and ignoring the thinkers who are running for office or helping shape public policy? Or are things really all that bad?

On Occupy Wall Street

In the interests of standing up and being counted, I'm a supporter. But that's not what I want to talk about. From the perspective of a police officer's wife, who's spent 16 years watching men and women putting their lives on the line for less than a living wage, I've just gotta say this. There is a certain irony to the police having to do Wall Street's dirty work. No one is more underpaid for the work and responsibility they take on than cops! They should be freaking occupying something. But they'd have to get a day off work first.

I’m reading… Minding Ben by Victoria Brown: an interesting novel about a young woman who immigrates to New York City from Trinidad as works as a nanny. It's painful watching her being exploited by her employer and a landlord ducking responsibility for a dilapidated, lead-ridden apartment he's renting to an immigrant family. The lead is seriously impacting a small child's development, and the landlord laughs it off.

and watching ... Eureka and Dr. Who

I’m grateful for… The community at Raw Learning, especially my friend Gleamer who has supported my family and me in amazing and unexpected ways.

I’m praying for… finding some answers to a health issue my older daughter is having. I guess I don't have a right to discuss it in public -- it's not my own body we're talking about. It isn't life threatening, but I am really worried. E-mail me privately if you're concerned. :-)

 A photo, video, link, or quote to share…

One of my favorites

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An Uncurriculum: How My 7-Year-Old Covers Academic "Subjects" Through Unschooling

I'm wrapping up our "academic trimester" (four months) -- Mid-July - Mid-November, 2011 --  so I can document everything. A lot of "life" has been happening -- both good and bad -- and our family didn't hit many of the academic activities I had planned. That makes it even more important to document stuff in a form that looks somewhat kosher.

 (Hat tip to Gerry, who took this terrific picture of PE!)


My 7-year-old, Eliza, isn't doing "academics." She is living an unschooling life, and I see no reason to change. There are various definitions of unschooling, and some are a bit too rigid or dogmatic for my palate. This is mine: learning and life are seamless.

Furthermore there's a limited need for compulsory activities (Eliza is required only to do a few chores). The challenge for the parent isn't to push the child or carve out paths for her. The challenge is keeping up. :-) And instead of carving the path, I'm a fellow traveler and occasional field guide.

I have always believed unschooling is largely about developing what educator Charlotte Mason called the Habit of Attention -- tuning in to what kids are doing, when left to their own devices, and noticing myriad little moments of discovery.

There is a developmental rhythm to these early "schooling" years, reflected in various educational philosophies. For Classical homeschoolers, this is the Grammar Stage, in which the young student absorbs as much information as possible. According to the Thomas Jefferson model, it's the Love of Learning stage, for exploring and becoming increasingly excited about learning. Cindy Gaddis, an unschooler who has written terrific stuff about collaborative learning, described this as an stage when play is their work, and much of our role is observing what naturally sparks their interest. We're the students, learning about our kids' learning styles and passions. If we don't trust the process of child-led learning at this stage, we risk interfering with the child's revelation of her unique way of learning.

I also believe unschooling is largely about honoring our own journeys as lifelong learners. One of my new favorite bloggers, Christina, touched on this point in this terrific post on parenting a self-led learner. This is a very weak point for me right now, as I'm absorbed in dealing with multiple health issues, work, and digging our family out of a financial crisis. Being an adult sucks sometimes. :-D But I am wholly convinced that one of the most powerful things we can do for our kids to to nourish our own curiosity and excitement about learning, try new things, and pursue our own creative passions alongside our kids ...

... I feel a whole separate post coming on!

While unschooling is working beautifully for Eliza and me, I see signs that she's craving more structure and stimulation, so I want to create more planned activities for and with her. We agreed that we want to do more arts, crafts, and cooking, so to get the juices flowing, we're going through my Pinterest boards together and tagging things she likes. :-)

Putting Natural Learning Into Boxes

When I was a new homeschooler, and I first encountered unschooling families in their natural habitats, I had a lot of questions. First and foremost: "I get the philosophy, but what exactly do you do on a day to day basis?" and second: "When it comes time for "proof of progress," how do you translate all this chaotic wonderfulness into a language conventional educators can decipher?" So I thought it might be interesting for readers to get a peek at how we do it, though it wouldn't necessarily work for anyone else. I always love it when other unschooly bloggers do this.

I'm breaking this down into traditional academic subjects, a practice that's anathema to many unschoolers and eclectic home educators. I'll also be strewing a little Academic Jargon here and there. I don't really speak the language -- I studied Psychobabble instead -- but I'll give it a go. Eliza collaborated with me on creating this list.

The Run-Down

Literacy --An Autodidact Writes
  • At the beginning of this term, she'd already taught herself to read fluently but was a pre-writer. She regularly reads throughout the day, when on the computer, looking at signs, or playing video games.
  • She is very focused on teaching herself to write, filling notebooks with words and pictures and prolifically typing stories on the computer. This kiddo loves to write! Maybe she caught the "bug" from her big sister. :-)
  • She continues to strengthen her phonemic awareness and is beginning to build spelling skills in various ways. She sounds out words she writes. She asks for the spellings of words and records some of them in her "Words I Use When I Write" booklets. She also uses computer technology, including spell check and Google, to learn spellings of words she uses.
  • Her mastery of sentence structure, capitalization at the beginning of sentences, and end punctuation is emerging. (Some of my middle-school aged students still don't have a handle on this.)
  • We continue to enjoy read alouds, including picture books and chapter books. She occasionally reads books independently. She prefers to skim through them -- I'm not sure why.
  • She enjoys movies and some television programs, especially Dr. Who. I don't think she completely understands Dr. Who, but she loves it nevertheless.

Math and Logic -- Games & Cooking
  • She enjoys cooking and regularly uses fractions and measurements this way. Working out fractions, in the kitchen, is still a bit challenging for her, so I give her plenty of time to think her way through each problem. I prefer giving her time to problem solve, without pressure, to directly teaching her.
  • She uses computation when counting and spending money.
  • We often play the card game Rat-a-Tat-Cat, which was the catalyst for her teaching herself to add in the first place. She got tired of waiting for people to add up her points and starting doing it herself. This game involves addition of up to 4 addends (Is "addends" the right word there? Has anybody ever actually used the word "addends" in a sentence?) It also involves memory and strategy. She uses several techniques when she adds, including "counting on" and doubling.
  • She practices addition of up to four addends through playing Pig, a dice game which also offers an intuitive sense of probability. When keeping score, she practices multi-digit addition, which is still challenging for her.
  • We read math-related picture books, touching on topics like area and rounding. 
  • I offered her the first two books in the Miquon Math series, which emphasize addition and number sense, and she thoroughly enjoyed them for about a day. It's kind of like having coloring books -- she enjoys them when the mood strikes.
  • She develops deductive logic skills through playing Mastermind and Telepathy.
  • She builds visual-spatial memory through Concentration and Sherlock.

Computer Technology -- Write, Draw, and Get Your Game On!
  • She loves video games like Minecraft, Sims 3, and occasional fantasy role playing games, and she is beginning to play more strategically.
  • She enjoys writing stories using Microsoft Word.
  • She creates computer art using Microsoft Paint. 
Food and Cooking
  • She loves cooking and talks about becoming a chef someday. She cooks at home and with her awesome teacher, Gleamer. One of her favorite recipes, at home, is Apple Flax muffins. We adapted our recipe from one we found on the back of the flax seed box.
  • She's showing an interest in learning which foods are healthy, and we're discussing the basics of good nutrition. She sees me reading nutritional information in the grocery store and we talk about what I'm looking for.
  • She helps me shop at local farmer's markets, and she's learning about the importance of buying fresh, local food whenever possible.

Biology --
  • We studied biology with a group of other students, exploring the life cycles of butterflies, how plants germinate, the role of worms in an ecosystem, and food webs. We made worm habitats and raised painted lady butterflies.
  • She participated in a hands-on workshop on monarch butterflies, which included participating in a migration study.
  • This is harvest season, and we've talked about the life cycle of plants, pollination, and how pesticides can interfere with pollination and, consequently, plant survival and food production.
  • She explores animal classification and habitats through conversations and "I'm a New Animal," a variation of 20 Questions.  (e.g. "Are you a mammal?" "Are you an ungulate -- a mammal with hooves?" "Do you live in the wild around here?" "Do you usually live in the desert?")

Thank you, Janell, for this photo, which I shamelessly stole from your Facebook page. :-P

Physical Science -- 
  • She is interested in astronomy; we read several books on the topic and watched a YouTube video on the solar system and the size of the universe. She began sculpting the planets in our solar system with polymer clay.
  • We visited the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, Virginia. She explored the Discovery Center and looked at the sun through a telescope, observing some sunspots. We also learned a bit about radio waves.
  • She reminded me  that she's been learning about rocks and minerals playing Minecraft. This video game is the bomb! She got really enthusiastic about explaining this to me and typed this list of resources she's mined. I love it!

  • We talked a bit about properties of the things on her list, and she remembered seeing a steam-          powered train, in Durbin,West Virginia, that ran on coal. I might nurture this interest in rocks and minerals by buying some samples, inviting her to start a rock collection, and involving her in jewelry making. Any tips, folks?
Geography -- We're still loving the 10 Days In ... games! They also involve strategy and dynamic thinking --- strategies sometimes change throughout the game.

Art --Drawing, painting, and photography.

Social & Emotional Development -- She played AYSO soccer and attended a small democratically-run private school part-time. Regular readers know that Asperger's runs in our family. PE hasn't been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, but she has some of the sensory and social/emotional issues, albeit in a relatively mild form. For her, a big challenge has been tolerating frustration when playing with her friends at school or on the soccer field. She's made tremendous strides -- there is a huge difference between her behavior this fall and what was going on last spring! More fun and fewer meltdowns.

Soccer season is over 'til spring, and I don't know whether I'll be able to afford tuition for school during winter term. So I'll have to be mindful about creating new social opportunities that are just right for her and guiding her to continue becoming more flexible and confident in her social interactions.

P.E. -- Along with her sensory issues, she has gross motor delays and gravitational insecurity.* So its been wonderful to see her gradually taking more risks, at school and at the park, with climbing, going down slides, roller skating, biking (with training wheels), and pumping her legs to swing unassisted. She's still not on the same level as her peers, in terms of sensory-motor development, and maybe she never will be. But something tells me she's right where she needs to be at this moment. She gets so excited about each little milestone she achieves, like taking on the rope bridge! She played soccer and learned to throw a football.

*You might be a parent of kids with special needs if ... you throw around terms like "gravitational insecurity." It's a funny word, isn't it? It sounds as if she has a phobia that the laws of physics will suddenly be suspended and she'll gradually float out into space. I am clearly the veteran of one too many occupational and physical therapy evaluations. If you have kids "on the spectrum," or with related issues, you're nodding your head right now. If you live in the "real world," read "gravitational insecurity as "scared of falling down." :-) "Easy" things, like climbing a small ladder or going down a slide, can be terrifying.

I have some "gravitational insecurity" too; it's because I'm so clumsy I'm in danger -- at any time -- of falling over my own feet. Whatever deficits in motor skills my kids have, they seem to have come by them naturally.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal #11

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week… The latter half of the week was icky. Just as I was recuperating from an upper respiratory thing, Tuesday night, I got hit by another one. Then my son got sick. We spent part of this evening in the pediatrician's office pondering whether he should go to the ER. :-/ We've also been sorting out financial problems.

I'm betting next week will be much better. If not, at least we'll have gotten a paycheck, so I'll be able to afford a few stiff drinks. :-P Mom's Night Out anyone?

In our homeschool this week… 

Teen Movie Buff Schooling -- River and I have been watching movies, including 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut. What a heart-wrenching movie! She's been watching a lot of short films and thinking about writing one. Yesterday, she proposed we do a project together: each of us will watch and write brief reviews of 10 short films per week. Today, I haven't done the homework she gave me. :-)

We resumed our English, Philosophy and Film curriculum. We reviewed our discussion of Memento and talked about Fight Club using a PowerPoint presentation I'd made. We touched on philosophy of personal identity, the subjectivity of memory, postmodern philosophy and film, and other things. We also discussed Carl Jung's theory of ego and shadow.  Our next philosophy topic is relativism; we'll be watching Hilary and Jackie.

She's reluctantly trudging through some math -- she's reviewing percents. She also worked on the fantasy novel she's writing as a gift for her brother and wrote a short film review.

The Horrible and Heinous in History -- River, Seamus, and I watched the first episode of Ancients Behaving Badly, on Caligula. It isn't kid-friendly material -- it doesn't pull many punches in recounting the Roman leader's cruelty, immorality and perversion. (It's no damn wonder the Roman empire fell. :-P) but I thought it was fine for my teens. It was an interesting look at psychological, medical, and cultural aspects of the making of a mad tyrant. My teens found it much less dull than history textbooks.

My Little Man ... He's still loving the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. While listening to the audiobooks, he sorted his enormous collection of YuGiOh! cards, arranging them by point value, type, power, and "coolness." During a housecleaning day he arranged all the movies alphabetically and by genre. He's been doing a lot of video gaming.

He attended a First Lego League tournament. His team, Robotomy, will be competing next year. He's also doing some work in Key to Fractions.

Little Girl Schooling ... Eliza has been doing a lot of video gaming, especially Minecraft and Sims 3. To be honest, she's been doing too much gaming because I've been so busy with work. I'm not proud of it, but there you have it. We had a park day. She's also continuing to teach herself to write.

A few weeks ago, she was really excited when we bought some "Little Girl" pumpkins at the Farmer's Market. Today we carved it up and did a little activity I saw on Pinterest -- planting pumpkin seeds in the shell. We reviewed the life cycle of plants and pollination.

I told her a little story about a lady who had an apple orchard. Her neighbor was a farmer who used too many pesticides. The wind blew some of the pesticides to her field, and it killed the insects that would have pollinated her trees. As a result there were no apples. Her response was, "I hope she yelled at him!" :-D The story was actually a snippet I remembered from Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. 

Eliza seemed to have a blast with the pumpkin. We also cleaned the seeds to paint and use to create mosaics. Yup, I saw that on Pinterest too. Also on our agenda for the weekend: baking pumpkin bread!

Topics Covered: River -- Film Studies; Philosophy; Psychology; History; Math; Fiction Writing; Analytical Writing  

Seamus -- Reading/Literature; Organization By Various Attributes, Computer Skills, Strategic Thinking; Robotics; "Book" Math
Eliza -- Computer Skills; Strategic Thinking; Science; Ecology; P.E.

After feeling like we "didn't do much" this week, this makes me feel better.

Something I'm Working On: I'm trying to figure out a more "living math" approach to use with my extremely math-resistant high schooler -- something she'll find remotely palatable. I scoped out this curriculum online. I really like the concept, but it's a little more than I want to spend right now, and it's meant for a younger age group. Plus her curriculum needs to be "My Video Store" of course. :-)

I want to design something along these lines; I went ahead and asked her to start selecting the movies she'll sell in her "store." I don't know whether I should purchase Sonya Shafer's curriculum and adapt it or just put it together from scratch. Has anyone used this curriculum?

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal #10

The Homeschool Mother's Journal 

In my life this week… I got the results of some medical testing. Among other things, I found out I have pernicious anemia and anemia and my hypothyroidism has never been adequately treated. It was a huge relief to finally have a health care professional acknowledge I'm not in good health. I've known for at least seven years that things weren't right, even while my doctor kept assuring me otherwise.

I'm in about my third week of an annoying upper respiratory thing. Hubby got sick again last night too -- I'm beginning to think this house is a holding chamber for samples of all the local viruses. :-P

When My dear hubby told me he'd projectile vomited, I did what any kind, loving wife would do. I teased him about it. "I just need to know one thing -- when you projectile vomited, did you head spin around? 'Cuz I've always had my suspicions about you. But when I called the Catholic church and asked them whether they had anyone who does exorcisms, they thought it was a crank call."

In our homeschool this week…

Seven-year-old Eliza attended her democratically run school several times, and she seems to be loving it. She rarely attends classes, but she thrives on playing with the other kids. :-) That's great to see. She also participated in cooking class with her fabulous teacher, Gleamer, today.

She and I "did school" too. We read about the solar system and started a special project on that topic. More on that later. We played 10 Days in the USA, Mastermind, Rat-a-Tat-Cat, and Telepathy. Telepathy is a fairly complex game, recommended for ages 12 and up. I was proud to see how quickly Eliza got the hang of it. She's a smart little booger, and more importantly, she's willing to stick with figuring something out when it's a bit hard for her. She also played Sims 3 and Sim City.

(Social/Emotional Development, Cooking, Geography, Computer Technology, Strategy and Problem-Solving, and Deductive Logic)

Novice teenager Seamus worked a bit in Key to Fractions, continued reading the "Artemis Fowl" series, and did a lot of video gaming. He sorted his YuGiOh cards. I didn't quite understand his organization scheme, but it sounds like he sorted them by multiple attributes, including type, point value, and "how cool I think they are."

He participated in Lego League, where they're working on a robotics project for the Food Factor challenge. He spent most of the time working out kinks in their computer program. It was interesting to watch the kids trying different approaches. Despite some drama and occasional swearing, Seamus is becoming more persistent at sticking with a problem while striving for a solution. That's definitely one of the core attributes I hope to see all my kids develop.

Seamus's best friend is here for a spontaneous two-night sleepover. I don't know whether any actual sleeping has been happening, but they seem to be having fun.

("Book" Math, Reading, Computer Technology, Strategy, Logic/Organization, and Collaborative Problem-Solving)

Older teenager River has slowed down on her writing a bit, but she continues to work on her novels. Involving her in community service is really important to me; today she helped me with Meals on Wheels and tomorrow she'll work at the SPCA with Christine, a dear friend and mentor.

I blogged a couple of days ago, about her wanting to radically unschool, and I explained some of the reasons why I think she needs more direct guidance than that. There has been friction between us this week. If you've been reading this blog, I suppose you've gathered that. :-)

Today she suggested that we try just letting her do her own thing for a month and see how it develops. I was impressed that she handled it this way -- expressing her needs directly and with maturity. I suggested that we negotiate a compromise to fulfill her need to learn in freedom and my need to ensure that she gets a reasonably well rounded high school education and that I can, in good conscience, issue her a homeschool diploma. Granted, this "diploma" means more to me than it does to her, but as a mom, I feel that making sure she achieves it is sort of a minimal responsibility.

We negotiated one day a week of watching and discussing a historical movie, preferably in chronological order (around 3 hours), one day a week of working on the English, Philosophy and Film curriculum I've been creating (around 3 hours), and one page of "book" math three days a week, with the eventual goal of at least finishing Algebra I.  I think that's a workable plan, and I feel we're back on better footing in terms of communication and mutual respect.

We're still reading The Day the Voices Stopped together; it's a pretty gritty and heart-wrenching memoir about life with a severe mental illness. This let to some interesting chats about schizophrenia, substance abuse and addiction, the 1978 Guyana tragedy, and the murder of Harvey Milk, which we saw portrayed in the movie Milk.

(Work & Life Skills, Fiction Writing, Reading, Psychology, History)

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share… I don't think anyone visits this blog for helpful tips. :-D I just try to keep it real.

I am inspired by… The energy and creativity of other homeschooling bloggers and the kind, supportive comments I received this week as I publicly struggled with some issues in my life and homeschool.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… There's a busy weekend ahead. Tomorrow, River works at the SPCA, Seamus and his best friend are going to observe a Lego League tournament, and Eliza has her last soccer game of the season. Sunday, Seamus has an all-afternoon birthday party.

I’m reading… I haven't done any reading this week, but we've been watching lots of Dr. Who.

I’m cooking… Mom-and-Dad-are-sick food: hotdogs and leftover chile.

I’m grateful that… my health problems are all treatable, and I seem to finally have a health care provider who "gets it."

I’m praying that… the things I'm learning about hormonal and nutritional imbalances, on my medical journey, can also help my oldest daughter with her health problems! I have been praying for a door like this, for her, for a long time, and I am inspired and humbled by everything she has struggled through. But my midwife made me promise I'd focus on taking care of myself first., :-)

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…

This resonates with me on so many levels:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” ― Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In My Life Right Now ... (Warning, Some Venting May Be Involved)

You knows those bloggers who are always positive and upbeat? Whose households seem to run beautifully and have a plethora of photos of productive moments and busy, joyful children? Well, this is not one of those blogs.

This might come as a tremendous shock to you :-P -- I don't always comport myself with great strength and maturity. I had a small meltdown last night. I'm still fighting an upper respiratory infection, and I don't think I'm winning the battle. :-/ I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with our inability to establish consistent rhythms and routines and accomplish our schoolwork. As usual, it had been a long day. It had started around 8:30, working at my daughter's school. I hustled around, ran errands, and by around 5:30 in the evening, I was ready to sit at the computer to start my workday. Before getting down to business, of course, I kvetched on Facebook that being a work-from-home mom wasn't all it's cracked up to be. First things first.

I busily earned my bread and butter on the laptop to the sounds of shrieking and "STOP MAKING THOSE STUPID FARTING SOUNDS RIGHT NOW!" My day finally came to a halt around 9:15 last night, and I had a towering pile of dishes to wash. You see, there's a mystical invisibility shield that makes dirty dishes undetectable by anyone in the family besides me. My seven-year-old was wailing inconsolably because I wouldn't let her stay up and watch Nightmare Before Christmas, and one of my teens was acting like a spoiled, obnoxious ass-hat.

By the time my husband got home from work at 9:30, I may have been borderline homicidal.

He observed that I was "in a mood" and assumed I was starting my time of the month. :-/ To my credit, I pretty much kept my cool through it all. It helped that I'd pretty much stopped speaking to everybody. :-P

I left the teens to cook supper and shut myself up in my room. When hubby came up later I was venting my head off. He was trying to convince me to have a better attitude, reminding me that we're very blessed in many ways.

"I know that -- I know that ... I remember that every day. But right now that's NOT what I need. I just need to BE with my feelings right now!"

In the end, that's what I did. Then I had a Mike's hard lemonade and watched some Eureka. The day ended on a good note.

I came to several conclusions:

1. I need to grow some lady-balls and stop letting family members over the age of 12 dump all the housework on me. I'm not a House Elf.

2. My kids need more structure and direction -- they probably need more from me period -- and right now I'm too worn down, and spread too thin among various obligations, to provide that.

3. I need to say "no" to the kids more often. I don't have to drive them everywhere they want to go. There's no sense in running around trying to make all the kidlets happy, while they take my time and effort for granted, then resenting them for it.

4. I need to remember how I felt when my husband tried to reason me out of my mini-meltdown when I just needed to BE with my feelings -- angry, frustrated, resentful, sad, and thoroughly freaking exhausted. Sometimes I just need to allow my kids to be with their feelings, without trying to guide them to resolve the problem right away or telling them why their perception of the situation is wrong. Even when they're acting like spoiled asshats. Especially since they haven't had the benefit of 45 years to learn to cope with frustration, disappointment, and inexplicably pissy moods.

I've known for a long time that a few moments of compassionate silence can be a thousand times more powerful than all the guidance and words of wisdom you can muster. I just need to remember it more often.

This morning, I got more insight into WHY I'm so exhausted and miserable much of the time. I had a follow-up visit with the Lisa, the nurse-midwife I've been seeing since I gave up on traditional doctors. Lisa's practice focuses on hormones and nutrition. I had all sorts of testing done, and the results are finally back.

The short version of the story: first, my hypothyroidism hasn't been treated correctly for the past seven-and-a half years. That comes as no shock to me. I've been trying to tell my traditional doctor that for years and he's always looked at me as if I were sprouting a second head. Second, I have a serious hormone imbalance. Again, I'm not surprised -- that's why I came to Lisa in the first place. I know excessive hormonal misery when I see it. Third, I have severe nutritional deficiencies, including pernicious anemia.

Because of my history of miscarriages and various other lady-problems of which I will spare you the details, Lisa thinks I may have had a hormonal imbalance for most of my adult life. The hypothyroidism has been inadequately treated for over seven years. That, along with the B-12 deficiency has been causing my memory, concentration, and mood to deteriorate. In short, no one reading this blog has ever known me when I was well. Actually, I've forgotten what I was like when I was healthy. It'll be interesting to find out, won't it?