Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekly Accomplishments

New Haven is like a mini-New York City.  It offers Universities, arts festivals, music schools, coffee shops, parks, and cuisine from every ethnicity imaginable.  We do not take advantage our proximity to it and all we can do there.  I am changing that!

Friday we wrapped up our week with a 50 minute concert at Neighborhood Music School.  Their faculty is holding a series of concerts over the next few weeks.  They are aimed at the “lunch crowd” timed perfectly for local students or professionals to pop in for some good music during their lunch hour.  It is also perfect for homeschoolers!  We sat front and center to hear about the history of blues.  This was perfect for us since Grace has been immersed in the Louisiana culture and blues was born next door in Mississippi.  
The girls are finishing up their stories this week.  Today we focused on using strong verbs.  They went back through their pieces and changes plain boreing verbs to ones that better express the action the character is performing.  Walk was changed to stroll.  Came over was changed to stomped over.  Lilah and I worked on a story map to help her with character development and how her story should be resolved.  Their goal is to use Tikatok to publish their story as a book.  That will be next week’s project.
It seemed to take forever for us to wrap up our biography study.  Lilah finished her book on Jeff Corwin and created a cool bio-cube using  Grace is close to finishing Zlata’s diary and she will choose how to summarize her learning.  We will move on to our next genre, historical fiction.
Lilah reviewed multiplicaiton this week in math and Grace learned how to multiply three x two digit numbers.  Monday she is excited to learn three x three digit multiplication.  She also reviewed averages and plotting coordinates.
We have three chapters left in The Odyssey.  This week we were introduced to The Sirens, Charydbis, the whirpool of death and Scylla the six-headed lizard.  Today we read about the Sun God’s sacred cows.  Next week we will move ahead one chapter in Story of The World and we will learn more about the Greek Gods.
Lilah completed her patchwork pillow in her sewing class.  She is going to bump up to an hour lesson a week and has taken on an abitious goal of a patwork quilt.  Grace is also bumping up to an hour a week for piano as she has so many songs she wants to learn and just not enough time.  I love that their interests bring them such joy.  
Lastly, we just enjoyed being home.  Greg was off Wednesday.  We went to the library to take out books on Greece, Louisiana, and Switzerland.  We found some great weather related fiction books for Grace and Lilah took out more craft books.  I am surprised there are any left she has not taken out!  Then we went to Five Guy for burgers -- for lunch!!  Grace looked around, smiled and said how great it was that we could enjoy lunch together, on a Wednesday when everyone else was in school.  We agreed, it was pretty special.   The next day we visited my sister-in-law and my brand new nephew.  We held him, fed him, cooed over him and loved him.  What was planned to be an hour long visit turned into a three hour visit but that was okay -- we are learning to roll with it, enjoy it and follow where it takes us.
Life is good!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

No Expiration Date

We are now two months into our life as a homeschooling family.  After overcoming the challenges of adjustment and allowing for de-schooling to take place, I am noticing that some things are really working!
1) Math - my girls have very different learning styles when it comes to math.  Singapore Math was what I chose for Lilah when she first came home and it is what we are using now.  Back in January, she would argue over math every single day.  Tears were common.  Now, she loves it.  Just the other night, she asked to stay up late.  I assumed it was to write.  When I came up or bed, on my pillow was a note that she worked in her “fun” math book practicing math facts for a half hour!    Grace has also had a journey in math.  Math was her favorite subject in school.  Not so much at home.  Her teacher was the 4th grade math teacher, and as such, had years of materials at her fingertips.  Unfortunately, I do not.  I asked Grace not to compare me to her.  It just isn’t fair.  I don’t have resources accumulated over 20 years of teaching.  My focus is not solely on teaching math.  I will do my best and offer her the best of me.  We decided to set aside our Horizons text and instead use youtube to “teach” the concept and use workbooks for practicing the concept.  This decision changed everything.  In October she has mastered two x two digit multiplication and three x two digit multiplication.  She has learned averages.  She is learning long division a divisor of two digits.  
2) Writing - I did not choose a formal writing curriculum.  I found WriteStart at a curriculum fair and grabbed it for a basic guide.  We did several lessons from the first unit, mostly the skill builders, all pertaining to adding details.  We are approaching our writing as writer’s workshop.  Right now each girl is working on a story.  Grace’s is a about a girl living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina (inspired by Ninth Ward but with a very different style) and Lilah is writing about a girl who does not quite fit in, who wants to be homeschooled, and how she finds her place.  Into this writing, I throw mini-lessons.  They are inspired.  Frankly, they are inspiring!
3) History - I love teaching history so it is no surprise it is going well.  I adore The Story of The World, and consider it one of my best purchases.  We are still studying The Greeks, taking our time to savor them.  We are slowly reading The Odyssey (abridged) and will watch the History Channel’s program on it in November.  We notice history everywhere.  In the bookstore, Grace shows me calendars with pictures of Greece.  We have learned about the Olympics and some of the Greek Gods.  History comes alive with this type of learning.  
4) Sleeping - This is the first time since my children started preschool, that their bodies have been allowed to develop a natural schedule.  I try to keep bedtime consistent at 9:00 lights out because Grace needs that.  She needs the structure of a bedtime and her body is asleep by 9:10!  Lilah is quite different and although she is upstairs, she is allowed to read, write (or do math!) until she is sleepy, which is usually around 9:30.  They wake when they are ready, Grace at 7:30 and Lilah around 8:00.  There is no morning rush to get out at 8:30.  They start learning in their pajamas and get dressed when we have somewhere to go.  It is relaxed and wonderful.  We are looking forward to the winter, when we can start our day reading in front of the fireplace.
5) Sisterhood - This is also coming along nicely.  The girls are finding things in common.  Their latest project is building a studio in our attic.  Hours were spent clearing space, organizing toys, sorting clothes to donate, removing old boxes and containers to make room for a video studio.  They envision our attic becoming the next iCarly studio.  They enjoy making videos on their laptop’s video camera.  I have to say, their two minute shows are funny.  This morning they are hanging posters, draping walls with old sheets and bringing up furniture.  These types of projects bring them closer.  Since they are so opposite in many ways, they have not taken the time to find common interests.  I love that they are doing this independently and plan to use youtube as a way to get their videos onto their blogs.  Again, they are inspiring me!
It is important for me to look at the journey.  Sometimes life can get busy with outside lessons, appointments and errands.  Even through I try very hard to keep our mornings free, life has a funny way of changing plans.  Play dates pop up and who can say no to a breakfast play date?  Certainly not me!  So there are days when it looks like not much was accomplished.  I remind myself we are no longer on a school schedule.  I do not have to finish a concept at a certain date.  In fact, I don’t want to “finish” a concept and close with a test.  I love the fact that learning at home has no expiration date.    No!  Everything is connected.  Math is connected to Lilah’s learning to quilt.  Quilting is connected to History.  History is connected to The Odyssey.  The Odyssey is what we are reading.  The books they are reading have inspired their writing.  Writing is essential to EVERYTHING! 
 It is the circle of learning.  There is no beginning, there is no end.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is Classical a "Wise" choice for us? Part 2 of my journey series.....

I had thought about homeschooling before.  10 years before now.  Before Grace went to Kindergarten and I became a PTA card carrying, Board of Ed Meeting attending, Room Mother.  Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things.  I was both proud and happy to help my children’s school do everything they possibly could for my children and the hundreds of other children who spent their days there.  I made friends, my girls (well....Grace) made friends.  We went to the concerts, fairs,  field days, and fundraising events.  The school was the heart of our community.  We walked every day, rain or shine, with our neighbors.  That school was the reason we bought into our neighborhood.  We wanted to give our children the same sense of community we had growing up, with Greg in Chicago and me in Worcester.  But in the back of my mind I was already wondering if there was another way and if I would ever have the chance to experience it with my girls......
Once the decision was made to try homeschooling, I had about two weeks to pull together a curriculum and figure out my style.  I withdrew Lilah two weeks before the start of the Christmas Break.  Her effective date was 12/23, which gave time for closure among her classmates and her teacher.  I kept the bulk of my material from my teaching days and started there.  Realizing that most would not translate to teaching just one child,  I kept what I loved and Goodwilled the rest.  During this time I read voraciously.  I devoured The Well Trained Mind.  I found myself agreeing with most of what the author stated.  
  • I liked the idea that classic literature was the basis of language arts and that the children would have multiple exposures to a classic such as The Odyssey, first as an abridged version, later as the original text.
  • I agreed with the concept of copywork.  Practicing sentence structure and narration would train the mind.
  • Ah, history from the beginning!  No jumping from no history in 4th grade to Egyptian history in 5th grade then to U.S. history in 7th.  How cool would it be to start at the very beginning......
  • A binder neatly divided into subjects would store out work and keep us organized.
  • Grammar used to be taught in school.  Now, not so much.  In fact I had a conversation with a 4th grade teacher last year when she saw my daughter brought MadLibs to entertain herself and her friends on a field trip.  She commented she used to love Mad Libs but can’t use them anymore because the kids don’t know the components of language.  I almost fell off my bus seat.  How about you TEACH them???
  • I thought since my girls were used to being in school a schedule would be helpful, a breakout of our day by subject, by time.  
    • I thought, "this is similar to how I used to teach.  I used poetry to teach cursive writing.  I am an organized structured person" (or I was when we started homeschooling!).  I marked the book up, created booklists and shopped on the internet.
      I bought:
      • First Language Lessons
      • Story of the World book 1 and the accompanying activity book
      • Singapore Math books
      • Write With Ease
      • A Reason for Spelling
      We did animal classification with books from the library and an encyclopedia of Animals.  Our reading came mostly from history, again with lots and lots of books from the library.  
      January 3rd, we began.  At the time it was just Lilah and me since Grace was finishing out her 4th grade year before a decision was made to bring her home as well.  We would walk Grace to school, come home and begin our lessons at 9am prompt.  It worked.  Lilah loved Grammar.  We both loved History.  Math was a daily battle but she hated math in school and I did not expect that miraculously she would love it just because she was home.  I did however, love Singapore Math and felt that it suited her learning style.  Spelling was tedious and took a loooong time.  Lapbooks were made for frogs, squirrels and snakes.  Through Write with Ease we were introduced to books such as Dr. Doolittle and characters like Cruella DeVille and the inspiration behind Nanny McPhee.  Many of these books we checked out of the library as audiobooks.  We created our Book of Centuries and became familiar faces to our local librarians.
      We made friends.  She joined swimming and Brownies.  Often we would sprint across the blacktop racing to meet Grace who more often than not was one of the last in her class to be picked up.  Grace had homework, Lilah did not.  Grace has standardized tests, Lilah did not.  Grace got to play in concerts, Lilah did not.  Grace ate lunch every day with friends, Lilah did not.
      Weeks became months and soon spring was here.  Some things were going very well, like History.  Other subjects like spelling were not.  Math was going well, writing was not.  It was time to evaluate what we wanted to keep, what we wanted to discard and how closely I aligned my philosophy with that of a classical education.
      I began to look at Charlotte Mason......

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Nature Studies

    We don’t live here........

    Our neighborhood is just that, a neighborhood.  We have a park with sledding hills, man made ponds, football/soccer fields, and a playground.  We have sidewalks lined with century-old trees that provide lovely shade in the summer sun.  We live three blocks from Main Street where we can walk to get ice cream, pizza, or a slushy.  We live a few miles from the sound.  But for this, this wide open land of meadows, forests, streams and ponds, we venture to the Audubon.  Our teacher is wonderful.  She speaks to our children with kindness and respect.  She encourages their inquiry and draws out their wonder.  She takes time to answer both their questions, and ours!
    Today Grace held a salamander for the first time with guidance provided by her now-expert amphibian handler sister.

    We I learned the difference between lichen and moss.


    The girls played and explored.

    We heard the beautiful mournful sound of an owl.  Despite looking high into the tree branches, we could not spot it.

    We saw turkey vultures, many different kinds of salamanders, a leopard slug and a muskrat swimming in the pond.

    that little thing is a muskrat...I dropped a hint to Grace that I would love a new lens for my birthday!

    We never miss this class.  Tomorrow will will use these pictures plus some of the berries, wild peas, leafs and twigs that came home with us to make a new entry in our nature journals.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    My very own Ivy & Bean

    Do you know where I found my girls at 9am today?  In Lilah’s bed, under the covers, furiously writing the stories they began yesterday!  They were inspired by our plan to see Annie Barrows, the author of the Ivy and Bean series today at R.J. Julia Booksellers. I would have taken a picture, but the moment was so special it seemed private in a way.    
    Some days it feels like we accomplish so much.  Math, poetry, history and science.  Then there are days like today, where we enjoy life fully and squeeze the learning into the cracks between our plans.  Every Tuesday our friends enjoy skating at a local ice rink. We go as often as we can. Put Grace on the ice and watch her come alive.  She skated competitively for a few years and now that she has given up lessons, she is able to just skate for joy.  

    After skating she had piano where she was given her much anticipated Harry Potter Soundtrack sheet music.  While she was at piano Lilah had some computer time.
    After picking up Grace from her lesson we hit the road for the 45 minute ride to the bookstore.  (We are currently listening to A Crooked Kind of Perfect, by Linda Urban on audiotape.)  I have always wanted to visit this store.  They are known state-wide for being an independent bookseller that attracts wonderful authors for visits and signings.  Annie Barrows read a bit from her newest publication, book 7 in the series.  She took questions and then signed books.  Grace and Lilah brought their favorite worn copies and now treasure them even more.  We also purchased one to have signed as a birthday gift for a friend’s upcoming party. 

    I have to say I was not thrilled with the children’s selection.  On the store website, they claim to help find the perfect book.  Grace is having a hard time finding “just right” books.  She loves to read realistic fiction where weather plays a significant role in the development of the story.  Some of her favorite books have been Night of the Twisters, Escaping the Giant Wave and now, Ninth Ward.  The staff member, while very friendly and eager, was unable to recommend a book and referred us to our local library.  Grace was disappointed.  We are blessed to have wonderful book stores close to our house.  We have the chains, Borders and Barnes and Noble, we have used booksellers, the store we were at today, and Dinosaur’s Paw, a lovely store owned by Patricia Reilly Giff.  I think we will head there at some point tomorrow......

    When Greg came home from work the girls were eager to share their developing stories with him.  He commented on the quality of their writing and on the development of their stories.  Their faces shone with pride.  I hope at some point they will blog their stories.   They are very entertaining.  Maybe someday they will host a book signing at a local bookseller.  I will make sure to have front row seats!

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Spooky Ooky

    Our October has been fun-filled and action-packed.  This weekend was no different. Over at Frog Creek there was a party.  A very fun party.  There were witches and vampires, devils and fairies.  Sharks and cleaner fish.  Drew and Mimi.  There were frozen eyeballs and spider cup cakes.  Mummification out of toilet paper.  Haunted Hallways and bubbling cauldrons.
      We had fun. 
    Lots of fun. 

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Every Destination Needs A Starting Point: My Personal Evolution Series

    Post 1 in my Series: My Personal Evolution

    There is nothing extraordinary about me.  I am a mother, a teacher, and a wife.  What makes me different from most other women my age with children my age is that I do not send my children to school everyday for their learning.  I am not certainly not the only person who homeschools.  The numbers are increasing every day.  Nor can I say that I am doing a better job than the teachers my daughters had in school did.  I am just doing it differently.  Like many other mothers, I did not like many of the aspects of my daughter’s public education.  Like many mothers who tried to change a system, I experienced mostly failure.  Then I took matters into my own hands and decided to create the environment I wanted my girls to learn in.  No big deal right?
    I taught elementary school for five years.  It was a second career for me, having spent years in the international relocation industry.  I loved my job but I did not like the values of the corporations I worked for.  I also loved teaching.  When I was a teacher, I had every opportunity I could hope for.  If I wanted to take a course in Junior Great Books, I just filled out the paperwork and it was approved.  I was mentored by published authors in the craft of writing and teaching artist writer’s workshop.  I had a budget for classroom supplies.  My students were not required to bring one thing with them on the first day of school other than their lunch.  Homework was minimal, ten minutes per grade level STARTING in third grade.  We had unit tests but more often the children had academic choice to show their learning in a way that fit their style best.  We were a Responsive Classroom school which meant:
    • the students took part in daily morning meetings
    • the students were guided in learning how to use materials appropriately
    • the students voices were heard when compiling classroom rules
    • there was very little punishment and a great deal of guidance
    • there were no mandatory textbooks.

    Teachers had the ability to choose for themselves how they wanted to teach a topic.  It might be Marilyn Burns for Geometry and then a real life project for money.  The teachers were my colleagues and  my friends.  We met monthly to discuss current educational books and topics that were of interest to us.  It was an educational utopia but a change was looming.  
    By the time I left my classroom in 2001:
    • homework was pushed down to start in second grade
    • Mastery test prep became part of our required teaching
    • budgets were cut
    • Chicago Math was introduced as the "approved" curriculum

    I did not like what I saw and I remember clearly feeling that when Grace was old enough I would do everything in my power to help her avoid standardized testing.  I though Catholic School would be our choice but alas, they also use standardized testing in their measurement of student learning.  
    When I went back to teaching as a long term substitute in the district we live in, I saw a completely different world than the utopian one I worked in as a teacher.  In our district a free breakfast program was installed because so many children were coming to school hungry.  Teachers were given boxed curriculum and it was changed without their consent or their input.  Kindergardeners were tested in SEPTEMBER on how well they knew basic shapes, letters, rhymes and sounds.  If they tested poorly they were immediately flagged for tutoring.  My children were subjected to an onslaught of tests, from DRP to writing prompts to practice mastery tests and fifteen page math assessments.  Not just once a year or once a semester but several a month!  A beautiful mural of Clifford the Big Red Dog is now covered under graphs depicting how students achieve on the mastery tests by grade level by year.  It is called The Wall of Data.  It would make me sick every time I walked by.  Our district approves of punitive punishment, singling out children who either forget or did not do their homework by sending them to the fence to do it while everyone else plays.  It was too much for me.  
    I present both sides because I am not anti-school by nature.  I was a good teacher.  I know good teachers.  The professionals I know pour their heart and soul into teaching their children while working around the restrictions placed upon them by their administrators.  Public school is a necessity for many families.  But why is it failing so many children?  We can make sure the children are fed, place clinics in schools to help keep them healthy, encourage parent involvement through the PTA, but what are we doing to feed and nurture their spirits and their creative, curious nature?  Why are some children excelling and others completely failing?
    Whole language or phonics, Chicago Math or Marilyn Burns, the philosophies are ever changing.  The curriculum changes with the philosophy du-jour.  While the great experiment of public education was not the place for my youngest daughter,  some children, like my oldest, adapt.  They grin and bear the testing.  They loathe the possibility of punishment.  They do their work, hand it in, memorize, recite and pass.  But how do we know what they have learned?
    My decision as a teacher and a parent was to bring my girls home.  My life is changing right alongside my daughters.   There are so many aspects that I am grateful for.  School assumes that school comes first, before family.  Now my family comes before all.  Our learning is wrapped up in everything we do.  We have tried different philosophies such as classical education and modified it to a more relaxed Charlotte Mason method.   Now that both my girls are home our days may look a bit like an unschooling family as she is being given time to decompress from her school experiences and expectations.  We are ever-evolving.  But the evolution is ours and ours alone.  No one is dictating to us how to teach or how to assess learning.  Like when I was teaching, I keep abreast of the different styles of teaching, the different opportunities available to homeschooled children, the different support groups available, the best books written on topics like unschooling, Charlotte Mason and parenting. I am always seeking to further my own education and knowledge on the topics we are learning about at home.
    Together we are learning what education truly is and how to live a life rich in learning. Learning occurs from the moment we wake up until the moment we close our eyes if we give value to our children’s interests.  Is blogging educational?  To me it is.  Will it improve their writing skills? Yes, if I offer mini-lessons in topics such as strong verbs, good topic sentences, and what constitutes a paragraph, while they are writing.  Is singing in the church choir educational?  Yes, because at their last practice they focused on singing in different keys.  It was a music lesson disguised as choir practice.  Is watching a video educational?  Certainly, now that most of the videos we have watched this month have been about weather, Greece,  or biographies of people we have read about.  

    When we listen to music during art, it is the music of ancient Greece.  When we drive in the car to a playdate, we listen to books on tape.  When we go out we always carry our books in case we are delayed.  My purse is just like my teaching bag.  In it I have pens, pencils, writer's notebooks, a Nook, a few books, and perhaps an acorn, a bird feather and a few cool rocks.  Yes, we are immersing ourselves in learning.
    This is not quite how I envisioned our homeschool day -- not back when I was reading The Well Trained Mind.  I will write about that in my second post of this series........

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Weekly Accomplishments

    The weekly wrap up is becoming a very important part of my week.  I like having a written summary of how we are growing and learning week to week.  This week has been especially busy.
    Sunday we met friends in New York City and had an A-mazing day.

    Monday we spent the day with friends in the country.  We carved pumpkins and watched the Food Network’s Pumpkin Challenge.  Grace had her flute lesson and flute ensemble lesson.  

    In history we continue to read The Odyssey.  So far we know Circe, the Lastrogonian Giants, The Lotus Eaters, The Cyclops, and the Gods Zeus and Poseidon.  I am looking forward to watching The History Channels program Odysseus in November.  By then we will be done with our read aloud and hopefully will be reading The Lightning Thief.

    I am incorporating mini-lessons into our writing.  One lesson involved me pulling out some of my favorite books and comparing the first sentence.  We noticed that book books pull the reader in immediately through actions, feelings, questions or sounds.  I am noticing that the girls are incorporating these into their blog entries.

    Our study of weather, prompted by Grace’s insatiable curiosity, has taken shape.  We are charting the weather, calculating wind direction, learning about hurricanes and watching weather related programming.  Grace is reading The Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes.  She enjoys reading this book to me and I love the gentle spirit of Lanisha and the motherly figure of Mama Ya-Ya.  This books speaks to many social issues eloquently (poverty, bullying, uniqueness, spirituality).  I highly recommend it.  We are using Netflix to our advantage.  We just viewed Hurricane on the Bayou, which taught us about the Louisaiana wetlands and their vital importance in preventing storm surge damage.  This is a great video available instantly on Netflix.

    Math has also taken a curious turn.  Lilah continues to master subtraction.  She is easily subtracting three digit numbers with regrouping twice.   Grace and I decided to put aside the Horizons textbook.  She hates the way it spirals back to concepts and while there is certainly value in this, too much can be overkill.  She also seemed very frustrated when I would show her a concept, like double digit multiplication.  I could show her 29x47 over and over again and all I would get is “I don’t get it”.  So I turned to what she likes best, her computer.  We looked up multiplication on youtube and voila! in less than 5 minutes she not only understood, she is now able to multiply any two digit numbers together.  Seeing this made me realize she does not need a text.  She needs units and extensions.  Next week she will learn three digit multiplicaiton.  Because Lilah will move onto measurement soon,  I will offer Grace a project/extension: finding the area of our house. I am doing a lot of reading about unschooling.  

    My friend over at Frog Creek loaned me two books.  I finished Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun by Dayna Martin and I am almost done with The Unprocessed Child: Living Without School by Valerie Fitzenreiter.  Because I have consciously made changes that resemble more of an unschooling philosophy: interest led, lack of schedule/checklist, real-life based learning, I felt I should read more about this type of lifestyle.  I am not completely an unschooler though.  There are things that I want them to learn but I have to present it in a way that they buy into it (History and Math are two examples).  I am not going to wait until they either have an interest or trust wholeheartedly that they will learn what they need as we go.  So I am finding a balance between what I consider Charlotte Mason (lots of narrations, nature studies and an environment rich in literacy) with unschooling (interest based learning or real-life learning).  I feel these books were offered to me at a time I needed them most.  I feel that by following a more relaxed lifestyle where learning is organic and happens fluidly (with my constant awareness as to how to interject my plan into their plan) Grace is having an easier time and seems happy.  Lilah is able to work on what she likes and will ask for certain lessons if she feels ready to dive into more cursive writing.  Often they pull out the art supplies and decide they want an art lesson or they decide if it is time for piano practice.  Because of this they are spending longer amounts of time working on whatever they choose than if I directed them to it.  To my amazement, when I do these weekly recaps, the items on my agenda get done!  It is working.

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Blustery Squalls

    I have been doing a great deal of thinking about how I want to homeschool.  It turns out I have been on a journey alongside my children, sort of deschooling along with them.  I just did not realize my journey would be as profound as theirs.   I will begin a series of posts focused on my evolution from picking a style that seemed very structured and sequential, to one that more closely resembles a combination of Charlotte Mason and Unschooling.  Look for that soon......
    For some reason I feel like I have been neglecting science.  Last year I bought the R.E.A.L Science Odyssey for Lilah.  We plugged away at several lessons and we enjoyed it.  Unfortunately it never felt connected to everything else we were doing so it was always the last thing we got to, when we got to it.  Since it has yet to make an appearance this fall I felt I was neglecting science.  Then I thought some more.  
    Lilah has been doing a spa science kit for about a month.  She has used food items to make facial masks, foot scrubs and bath bombs.  She knows that honey is soothing and has been a natural remedy for  sore throats and dry skin.  Oatmeal cleanses, salt sloughs away dead skin, olive oil is hydrating and lavender is soothing.  This all ties into her love of nature studies.  It is meaningful to her.  She enjoys it.  
    Grace is obsessed with weather.  We have tracked hurricanes, discovered that the names are preselected at the start of the season.  We watch Storm Riders on The Weather Channel weekly.  She has watched season 1 of Storm Chasers on Discovery.  She has read Horrible Geography: Wicked Weather and Stormy Weather.  For her pleasure reading she is devouring Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhoades.  We just watched a documentary: Hurricane on the Bayou in which we learned how the destruction of the wetlands contributed to the severity of flooding during Hurricane Katrina.  
    How could I think we have not done science?  I started a binder for Grace to record her observations and reflections.  She wrote about the wetlands after watching the video.  Today we began a focused study on weather using Weather: Super Science Activities Grades 2-5.  We built a weather vane.  In order for it to work properly we took a compass outside to locate north.  We drew the compass rose on our sidewalk and then on the landing to our steps.  We set the weather vane in the middle and watched the wind direction.  Since we are expecting a Nor'easter, wind was plentiful today.  We also started a weather calendar to record the daily weather.   
    My grandfather was very into weather.  I remember being at his house watching his weather station and the red lights blinking from North to Northeast or south to southwest depending on wind direction.  My parents gave me his Selsi Forecaster.  It is very very cool.  When I googled it, the ones that look like it were made in the 1940s.  I have to ask my Dad if he knows its history.  It still functions.  Today the arrow moved from “fair but a storm within several days” to “in 24 hours blustery squalls”.  Like I said, a  Nor’easter is practically upon us.  I showed Grace how to read it and she was amazed.  
    I am learning that it is okay to let go of a curriculum.  I do not have to move from lesson to lesson.  I can teach about heart rate and how it   accelerates with increased activity but the girls will not latch onto it right now because it is not important to them.  Weather is.  So for now we study weather.  As much as we can and as often as we want.  Then it will be time to move to something else.  I don’t know what that will be yet because I have not picked up on a new interest of theirs.  But I am always listening and watching to see where their questions lead.  Today we are learning weather, perhaps next it will be space or electricity or chemistry.  I know they are interested in a microscope.  Biology?   The sky is the limit.  Too bad right now it is producing blustery squalls.

    Grampa's Selsi Forcaster

    our weather vane

    Monday, October 11, 2010


    Imagine you could find someone that you want to become friends through the click of a cursor.  That is what happened one day while I was browsing blogs on blogger.  I clicked  ‘homeschooling’ on my profile and up popped Theresa’s picture and her blog, Our Life in Words.  Like me, she has two daughters.  Life me, she had experience in education.  Like me, she loves books.  Like me, she was considering homeschooling her daughters who were in public school.  Like me, she felt education was about more than testing and that our children’s creativity was being lost.  Like me, she looked deep within herself and after careful consideration with her husband, she withdrew her daughters and became a homeschooling family.  
    I told my husband that I feel like I have known her forever.   So many stories have come up through our blogging and we would find ourselves commenting back and forth that we have had the same experience or feeling or issue in our lives.  
    Making the decision to take your children out of school is a large one.  To share the experience with someone else is not only helpful and reassuring it is comforting.  Our friendship was forged through the back and forth of blogland but was solidified when we decided that since we both live close to NYC we should meet and introduce our families.  
    We met this weekend and again, I had the feeling that a true friendship was in the making.  We decided to meet at the Dakota, the landmark building where John Lennon lived and died.  Since it was the anniversary of what would have been his 70th birthday, the entrance to Central Park was crowded with visitors.  
    I have never walked through this part of Central Park.  Theresa and I commented it felt like we were in another country.  Couples on dates rowed boats on the pond.  Others sat on benches soaking up the sunshine and the peace and tranquility.  It was a day when anything was possible.  Our girls scrambled up rocks, down bamboo forests, under stone archways and over fallen logs.  Far off in the distance we might hear the wail of a siren but the only tell tale sign we were in a major city was the breathtaking skyline.  

    One part of the day that reminded me how special New York City is was when we were watching street performers dance and they were collecting tips from the audience.  As people put money into their bags they would announce where the person was from.  Spain, Guatemala, Palestine, El Salvador were all represented.  It reminded me of John’s lyrics: Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace...

    After we saw the Imagine mosaic at the entrance to Strawberry Fields, we all piled into Theresa’s mini-van and headed downtown to Bleeker Street for the best pizza ever.  Seriously.  Ever.  We were not planning on having dinner together because I knew they were planning pizza and Grace’s gluten free diet can be hard when pizza is involved. When they offered to have us join them, we accepted figuring that on Bleeker Street we would find something Grace could eat.  As luck would have it, on the corner was Five Guys burgers and the staff at John’s Pizza graciously let her eat it at the table so she could be with her friends.  We met Theresa’s Uncle and talked about art and Brooklyn and homeschooling.  It was cozy and comfortable.  Dinner with new friends who felt like old friends.  Cheers to us!

    Our day ended strolling, looking at street vendor’s wares, and having decadent chocolate gelato for dessert until nightfall and some sleepy girls made us realize our home was two hours away by train and it was getting late.  We parted ways on the corner with hugs and handshakes and promises to get together again soon.  

    I feel very blessed to have had this day.  It was one of those days you look back on often and every time the memory brings a smile to your face.    
    ...You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will be as one...   

    Thank you John Lennon for your gifts to this world.  It was not by design that we met on your birthday but merely by chance.  Yet your birthday will now be synonymous with the start of a new friendship.  Imagine all the possibilities.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    In the Zone

    I can feel it.  It is coming back to me.  It took a month of ups and downs but this week I feel like we are in the zone.  The Homeschool Zone, that is.  I am letting our days lead us rather than the other way around.
    Today for instance, the girls wanted to blog.  They were pulling out old pieces of writing and polishing off works in progress.  Grace wanted to write about her science kit: Magic Science that she loves so much.  I requested that she include three things she has learned from the kit.  I explained that when you write to inform you must provide certain information to the reader, not just your feelings on the product.  She learned to include the title, a description of activities, where it can be purchased and if she would recommend it.  Viola!  A writing mini-lesson in the context of her favorite activity.  Gives me chills.  Holistic learning.
    After both girls wrote and blogged for about two hours, we moved to history.  We talked about our trip to the Renaissance Faire yesterday and I showed them a pack of information that was sent by the coordinators of the faire.  We chose to make our own heraldry: colors, pictures and symbols that families in medieval times used to represent themselves.  Lilah made a horse: Determination and care for others with the background colors of white and orange (imagination and bravery).  Grace made hers a cat: independence and drive with a background of red and orange (athletics and bravery).  I made a bird (thought and knowledge) with a black background (honesty and truth).  I adore them.  The fact that it flowed so seamlessly from our trip yesterday was what made it meaningful.  We decided since Robin Hood was a fictional character we would not put him in our Book of Centuries but we did put in King Henry II since he was mentioned in Robin Hood and gave us the time period of the setting.  While we were working in our Book of Centuries we added Homer in 800 B.C.  This led naturally to our study of Ancient Greece.
    We read the next chapter of the Odyssey. Lilah is very sympathetic towards the Cyclops, even though he ate two men.  The chapter left her sad but anxious to see what comes next.  We learned that the Sea God Poseidon was Polyphemus’ father and as a God we predicted he will make Odysseus’ journey over the water difficult.  Lilah is illustrating the book chapter by chapter.  Today she drew a Shrek inspired cyclops.
    I asked them to get some math done to make me happy and each did a lesson - no complaints!  While we were off to the Post Office, mailing the Halloween packages to Afghanistan, we ran into our friends.  A spontaneous playdate ensued and I took home four girls rather than the two I came with.  After dress up, we switched houses leaving me with 2 unexpected whole hours to myself!  Grace smiled at me and told me one of her favorite things about homeschooling is that you never know what might happen next!

    Grace's banner

    Lilah's shield

    my heraldry

    our visual summary of The Odyssey

    a Shrek-inspired Cyclops

    Lilah's illustration of chapter 1: the island of the Lotus Eaters

    Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

    It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...