Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Road-Schooling V - Shedd Aquarium

Our experience with the Shedd Aquarium did not go quite as planned.  I should have listened to my mothering instincts when we were told that the wait time to reach the ticket booth was an hour and a half and left.  So from the beginning it was a lose/lose.  Leave and have unhappy kids or wait and have unhappy kids.  We waited and as predicted, I had an unhappy kid......
One of my daughters has a very hard time with crowded places combined with lots of visual and auditory stimulation.  This was way to much for her to handle.  We did a quick tour of the major exhibits, missed the dolphin show (all shows were sold out until 4pm), grabbed lunch, hit the gift shop and went home.  But all was not lost.  I have learned that no matter what, on a road trip you will find the positives.
coolest frog ever!
  • Grace discovered she likes salad!  Being gluten free this opens up a whole new world for her.  So far grilled chicken salad is her favorite.
  • Lilah showed her generous spirit in the face of adversity.   She was not ready to leave the aquarium.  Yet she knew that was our plan because two of our four children needed to leave.  She said she can always go to the Boston Aquarium and the Mystic Aquarium is “just as good”.  She then spent her own money to buy her Dad a great souvenir (I can’t tell you because he is reading from home).  
  • Grace also spent her own money to buy her sister a little something to remember the trip.  I love that they think of each other and not only of themselves.  They budgeted their money and both are returning home with money in their wallets.
  • We were able to drive through downtown Chicago.  We saw the “bean” although I have no idea what the significance of this landmark is........perhaps someone can fill me in!  The girls were amazed that the city is so calm.  Unlike New York with its throngs of people jocking for position on the corners of 5th Ave and horns blaring constantly, Chicago had few people walking on the streets and we counted hearing just four beeps of a horn.  A very civilized city!
joy is not found in things, it is found in us!
  • Both of the children who needed to decompress caught a nap in the car on the way home.  By the time we returned to home base, they were rested and ready to enjoy our last night with our friends.
can someone explain the Bean?

At times it was a difficult day, but through it all the positives kept shining through reminding me of the power of love and family and friendship.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Road-Schooling IV - Museum of Science and Industry

Many of my posts have focused on the connections that happen when life and learning are meshed together.  They never get old for me.  I am always amazed.  Check this out.....

in front of the man-made tornado
experiencing 80mph winds

We drove into Chicago today to visit the Museum of Science and Industry.  I was very excited to see Grace’s reaction to the exhibit: The Science of Storms.  She was kind of under-whelmed.  She has watched so many videos about weather from hurricanes, to tsunamis and tornados.  She can name her favorite storm chasers and her heroes are the meteorologists from!  Seeing a man-made spinning column of air was like seeing the tornado at the bottom of the bathtub drain.  I was hoping the whole museum would not be a let down for her......until I realized what IMAX movie we were seeing: Tornado Alley.  They IMAX movie that the cast and crew of Discovery Channel’s Storm Chaser series spend hours trying to capture.  We knew the whole history that led to the making of this movie!  It was the perfect way to capitalize on a year-long independent study of weather!  Unfortunately I had to take Lilah out of the movie because the sound, scope and sensations of being in motion were too much for her little body to handle.  Grace loved it!  She felt like she was the only person in the sold-out theater who “knew” Sean Casey.  It was like she knew him personally.  That is learning.

Lilah the human hamster....
Then as the girls were running like hamsters on a giant human-sized wheel, I happened to hear the music playing through the speaker system.  I asked the girls to identify it....The Sorcer’s Apprentice!  Those of you who have been reading, know that we just studied that as part of Ancient Greece......  That is learning.
We skipped the body exhibit but throughout the museum were bits and pieces of learning about the human body.  I had to point out the classic display of the non-smoker’s lungs vs. a smoker’s lungs.  One more anti-smoking point to drive home.  Next to the lungs were a regular sized liver and a grotesquely enlarged one due to alcohol consumption.  I pointed out who bad excessive drinking is as well.  But what was pretty cool was the display of the human vascular system.  I pointed out the sign Vasculature.  I asked the girls what we have learned about regarding a vascular system.  Grace rolled her eyes at me and replied, botany...vascular plants.  Duh Mom!  Score!  That is learning!

Normally I would have no interest in the Circus display.  I have never liked the circus and have only seen one performance when I was a child.  Lilah has asked to go, but I just don’t want to go see the animals forced to perform for the enjoyment of the patrons.  This display caught my attention because it reminded me of a book I just read...Water for Elephants.  It was a beautiful display of what circus life was like and it reminded me of certain scenes in the book.  I guess I learned something today as well!

Lastly, Lilah loves all things faerie.  She has many books about building faerie houses, has read countless books with fairies as main or secondary characters.   She writes letters to fairies, leaves gifts for fairies and is certain that they reside under every mushroom in our yard.  Low and behold we discovered a faerie castle in the museum today.  It was tucked into a far corner.  My friend did not even know it’s existence.  I happened to overhear someone mention it and we set out to find it.  It was stunning.  It inspired Lilah to begin to build a real faerie castle upon our return home.  That is learning!

the exterior of the faerie castle

interior of the castle....
I love sharing this experience with my girls.  I love that today was like an end-of-year celebration of the time we have spent learning at home this year.  It was one of the best museum experiences I have had with my girls.  Learning is simply amazing!!!

hanging out while Grace was in the IMAX

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Road-Schooling III

I know I have said this, but I feel so wonderfully close to my girls at this moment.  Staying at someone’s house is not something we have done often.  In fact, I think we have only stayed at one friend’s house overnight when we visited Washington D.C a few years ago....  We have had discussions about what it means to be a good house guest.  Like making your bed in the morning, cleaning your plate after finishing a meal, helping to clean, and giving the host family space so they can work things out with their children when they need to.  

In addition to our learning about social graces, we have done a bit of reading.  Grace started her book club book, The Homework Machine.  Lilah is still working on the second Percy Jackson and I just began Kristin Hannah’s The Night Road.  
Kaya, this one is for you!

Then there has been play.  Grace learned how to rollerblade and discovered a new sport, rollerblade basketball!  We took the kids to play mini-golf under blue lights.   Grace and Lilah went to watch their friend’s hockey scrimmage while I enjoyed some time exploring the Super Walmart, Super grocery store and Super Whole Foods.  Okay, the grocery store and Whole Foods were not “super sized” but they might as well have been compared to the size of our stores back home. I could have spent hours wandering the aisles of Whole Foods......such a beautiful store.  I scored some old-lady ergonomic devices to help my butt endure the ride home.  Hopefully with my new gel padded seat cushion, my new vibrating lumbar support and my new neck support my tookas won’t go numb before we hit the IN border......

Road-Schooling II

So glad to be here.  I have to say it was the easiest drive, with no road stress until we hit Gary, IN.  Then we had to deal with traffic, switching highways and a few crazy drivers.  Through it all the girls were amazing.  We watched the changing landscape, trading the rolling hills of PA in for the flat farmland of OH.  I have never been west of PA in a car.  Just this weekend I realized how sad this is.  I have never driven through our amazing country.  Even through my girls are still young and I still get the occasional, bored cry, I think they will remember this trip always.  They saw their first freight train (we see many Amtrack and Metro North trains daily, but never freight).  We were amazed at how long they are!  We saw what looked like a bison farm.  I can’t confirm this, but the animals certainly did not look like cows!  We saw a gorgeous farm filled with various fruit trees.  It made me want to pull off the highway and wander through the countryside asking the questions that were inside my head.
Ohio has the best rest areas ever!

I am thoroughly enjoying this time with my girls.  I marvel at mature they can be.  They received a compliment from the hotel staff for their behavior at breakfast.  Last night at dinner my friend served delicious gluten-free meatballs and pasta.  Normally my girls don’t like the sauce but they did not complain, they ate it graciously!  I was so proud of their manners and their willingness to step out of their comfort zone.  
Lilah wants our next trip to be to Niagara Falls.  I told her we can make this happen.  Only we will wander.  If I see a tourist trap or a sign for an interesting restaurant, I want to stop.  I think it will be easier to do that on shorter trips, especially if Greg is with us.  I could not do it on this trip because I wanted to be at our destinations before nightfall.  
freezing cold in IN but we are still silly!

Now we are here and our adventure will continue.......the girls love reconnecting with their friend and I am having the time of my life with my friend’s adorable three year old son.  I could just take him home with me!

Friday, March 25, 2011


This is what I dreamed about when Greg and I discussed homeschooling....having the freedom and the flexibility to do what we want, when we want.  The girls and I decided to take the long drive to Chicago to visit our friends who moved several years ago.  We always wanted to go but I am not a comfortable flyer and there was just not time to take a road trip.  The years passed and about two weeks ago she mentioned that her son has school vacation next week and I blurted that we should drive out!!! 
I have never taken a road trip of this magnitude without Greg.  I got myself worked up into a fright over it.  The ride is not complicated.  Just one highway for the most part.  But 16 hours and an overnight in a hotel is definitely a first for me as a Mom.  Normally Greg and I trade off driving.  I honestly do not love my car.  I have a Prius and it gets decent mileage - we made it to Ohio averaging 46mpg.   But I am 5’8 and I cannot straighten my legs in both the driver side and the passenger side.  By hour three my tukas hurts and starts to go numb.  So we stop often.  Every time the girls said “oh look!” I found a rest area to pull over in.  We stopped in every state, New York, Pennsylvania and of course Ohio, where we are holed up for the night in a very pleasant Hampton Inn.

scenic overlook in New York

There was much fun and only a few whines of “are we there yet?”  Grace was my assistant, using her iTouch to track our path along I84 and I80.  Lilah was inspired to play hours of Stack the States on her iTouch.  At the PA rest area, we picked up a complimentary map and they played scavenger hunt finding hiking trails, county boarders, and rest areas.  I wish I could have been truly reckless and taken a picture through my rear view mirror at the scene in my backseat.  It made me smile.  The played with their dolls and stuffed animals.  They played several rounds of Sleeping Queens.  
PA rest area
I loved that they were able to experience what wide open space looks like.  Lilah asked me what in the world they do with all that land!  I told her they farm it!  In her opinion, there should be some playground scattered throughout......  We saw some Amish farms and marveled at what it would be like to live without our modern conveniences.  We also  marveled at the landscapes driving through the hills and valleys of New York and Pennsylvania.  I was very glad we pushed our trip back one day.  While we had just a dusting of snow in CT, the mountain tops were covered in thick ice.  It cast a grayish tone on the evergreens and even though I wanted to take a picture, there was no way I could do it justice.  It was stunning.

back seat navigators
But now after dinner and a quick dip in the pool, I am tired.  Ready for bed tired.  I might fall asleep before my girls tonight while they watch iCarly reruns on Nick in their queen beds snuggled up with every stuffed animal they could squeeze into their bags. 
Stay tuned for part II of our road trip tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Little Bit of this and a Little Bit of that....

I love quiet days.  Because our calendar was cleared for the trip we lounged.  
We read another chapter in Ralph Fletcher’s Writer’s Notebook. 
 It inspired us to make some lists.  Grace brainstormed some funny moments in her childhood that she would like to write about.  Lilah wrote her list of wonderful words and added a few more to those she has looked up such as oaf, pauper, prone, ulcer and savage.  She even wrote the definitions! 
We did some math.  Grace worked on a new topic: mode and range.  Lilah learned perimeter.  Because some of her work was for squares, it allowed me the perfect opportunity to introduce more complex multiplication to her.  It was great to sit at our new counter top sandwiched in between the girls each on a laptop, helping them with math (in our pjs).
We talked about books.  Grace was invited to join a book club.  The book selected is The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman.  Books told from multiple character’s points of view are not a style she enjoys reading.  I offered to read it also so we can talk about the book together and she will be well prepared for her book club.  She went online and is finding illustrations that she thinks fit the main characters.  From there she wants to create a web for each event/trait/development that she thinks is important to that character.    I love that she was proactive in finding a creative solution to her problem rather than just avoiding the book.
Our phone rang around 11:30 a.m.  Friends of our were going to check out the museum that we went to last week for the Girl Scout energy program.  They offered to take us along and we accepted.  
The museum is a popular one among the stroller-set and I knew it would be too young for Grace but maybe there would be something she could take away from it.  There was....a green screen!  With capes!  That became the Invisibility Cloak!    She may have been the oldest child at the museum but she will remember how cool the green screen was.   She may even reflect back on it when she is a meteorologist working in front of one! 

cool water vortex

did you brush today?
the green screen

the invisibility cloak

super hero Lilah!

We may have began our day disappointed by the shift in our plans (we are now leaving Friday) but we recovered and it turned out to be a great day!


Favorite clothes set aside                  check
iTouch, Nook and cell phones charged        check
directions printed                        check
oil changed                        check
new tires installed                check
ez pass                                   check
appointments cancelled or rescheduled        check
Still to do......
  • clean out car
  • put some new books on the nook
  • pack my camera bag
  • pack the suitcase
  • make sure gas tank is on Full
  • make sure no favorite stuffy or blankey is forgot
  • pack up Grace’s favorite gluten free food
  • pack a cooler with lunch/snacks/drinks

Take a deep breath and go!
I wrote all this and then I checked the weather......................................UNCHECK.
One thing I really wanted to do now that my girls were out of school was take the time to try new things and go new places.  My closest friend moved to Illinois.  I was not too upset because she promised she would be back home in two years, before her son started school.  That was two years ago.  Since it looks like they will not be coming home anytime soon, or anytime at all for that matter, I decided it was time to visit her.  
Our first road trip!  The four of us have driven to Tennessee many times, but that was the four of us.  This would be a 14 hour drive just the three of us.  I found us a hotel half way and booked us a room on the way there and on the way back.  I  cancelled every appointment and playdate we had.  The laundry was done and put into piles for packing.  I loaded up the iTouch with new songs and movies.  Audiobooks were readied.  The oil was changed and tires were purchased.
Then we watched the weather.  

What was supposed to be rain on Wednesday turned into snow on Thursday.  Here it is supposed to be just 1-3 inches but to the west, where we will be driving,  they are preparing for 10+ inches!  This could totally derail our first road trip.
At first I thought that we could just push the trip back one day.  But that would interfere with Grace’s last basketball practice and game, which she wanted to be back for.  The best thing about not being tied to a schedule is that we can change our plans with very little effort.  If our trip does not happen this week, it can happen the next or even in April when the weather is a bit more reliable. Even though my friend’s son may be in school, instead of on vacation like he wil be next week, we could leave on a Wednesday, arrive on Thursday, spend a long weekend, and drive back on Monday.  Simple.  Basketball will be over and we will not be tied to any sports calendar.

That is a bit easier to rationalize when you are an adult.  Grace is checking her weather sites frequently, not only for the forcast here but for every major town or city between Connecticut and Illinois.  She was so so excited for this trip.  We are in limbo, waiting to see what happens.  Will we stay or will we go?

 For now we wait.  

Monday, March 21, 2011


Sometimes the coolest things happen when you are least expecting it.  My beautiful artistic friend came over for a playdate today.  I asked her to show us how to felt.  She makes the most stunning pregnancy dolls and the wall hangings in her home are to die for.  
The girls loved it.  I think it gives them each something unique.  Grace loves knitting but it is a bit sedate for her.  Felting is faster and more tactile.  Perfect for her!  Lilah is very creative and has the patience to see a project through.  
Their first attempt with this new artform was a flat two-dimensional picture.  Lilah did a smiley face and a globe.  Grace created an owl perched on a branch.  
Looks like I have some researching to do.  We need some needles, a foam pad and wool.  Lots of beautiful colorful wool.....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekly Accomplishments - Welcome Spring!

After a couple of very busy project packed weeks it was comforting to return to our normal pace, focusing on our lessons and staying close to home.
Math:  This was a great week for Grace.  She tackled two new concepts, prime numbers and prime factorization.  I am so thrilled that my girl, who cried tears daily over math all fall, now loves it again.  It is never a bother.  I never have to beg and plead.  Lilah on the other hand is now at a challenging point.  She has mastered the topics in which she already had been exposed to, like calendar skills, addition, subtraction and simple graphing.  Now she is moving onto harder concepts like rays, lines and angles and complex multiplication.  She is struggling a bit and I have to catch her when she is most open and willing to accept the challenge.  
Vocabulary:  While Lilah has been struggling this week with math, she has been excelling in vocabulary!  She keeps a dictionary tucked away in a special spot and daily she throws out a new vocabulary word to see if I can catch it.  So far she has added vile, innundate, famished and obstinate to her word bank.  I love it!  I try to use her new words as often as possible.  Our friends would like her to email her word of the day to them.  So far she is reluctant to share.......
What we are reading:  Lots of reading going on in my home!  I love it.  I finished Nefertitti, Grace finished My Last Best Friend and Truly Winnie and Lilah finished her Phantom of the Subway book.  This is what we are reading now:
Grace:  Frindle

Lilah:  Percy Jackson #2

Me:  to be determined.......
History:  SOTW gives me the warm fuzzies.  We finished reading about the Olmec civilization of what is now Mexico.  Thanks to youtube we were again able to see the giant head statues and have a better understanding of what the ancient people must have had to do to move enormous boulders hundreds of miles to swampy areas where they were chiseled with carving tools made of stone.  Both girls got A’s on their online assessment.
Writing:  I began a new read aloud with the girls.  We read the first two chapters of Ralph Fletcher’s Writer’s Notebook.  I want them to start thinking of themselves as writers and begin capturing their thoughts and feelings in a journal.   Writing is more than writing stories, it encompasses our entire life, from blogging to letter writing (which we do regularly to our Save The Children friend), to writing stories, to essay writing, to poetry....  This week we focused on just writing whatever is taking up space in our brain.  Grace wrote about an upcoming trip and Lilah wrote about an image she had of a man in a dessert.  Lilah has also been writing poetry lately.  She is typing, printing and creating a lapbook of her poems.  It is lovely and I hope she continues with this project.  In another quirk of how learning happens all the time, everywhere, Grace was asked to bring her notebook/journal to her Girl Scout meeting this week.  Her Junior Troop is working on a new badge, about writing!  Today they created a heart map based on Georgia Hurd’s work.  Grace was very inspired and looks forward to finishing this on her own time.  She will use her writer’s notebook the next few meetings and her work from home and Girl Scouts will be truly interrelated.
The flowers are beginning to bloom. Our tiny crocuses have pushed their way up through the soil.  Grace picked her first one of the season.  I am very excited to tie Botany into the spring season.  We will look at our garden, identify our flowers, which type of flower they are and research what to plant in our community garden.  Having our botany-buddies of the country has slowed us down.  Doing this text with another family kept us very focused and scheduled.  Without that structure we struggle to get to our reading.  We must finish the chapter on pollination because I would like us to learn more about beekeeping from a local expert.  We still have to visit our friend for a lesson on carnivorous plants.  I will set this up for the week we return from our road trip......more on that later!
But spring is not truly spring until these beauties arrive, gathered by an amazing girl who resides over at Frog Creek:

Aren’t they lovely?  This inspiring child at Frog Creek is starting a small business of her own, gathering the eggs and selling them to friends.  She will have a steady customer in me!  I long for these eggs all winter waiting for the sun to set more slowly, stretching our daylight hours so that her hens will begin laying once again.

  Welcome Spring.  How I have missed you so!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Tuesday night my girls and their troop-mates spent an evening at a local museum learning about electricity.  It was a Girl Scout event open to all troops in our area.  I did not know that it was sponsored by our local electric company, United Illuminating.  Had I known, I would have attended anyway, but I would have had different expectations.

smart board jeopardy

static charges

simple circuits

The event was Energy Efficiency, but dumbed-down the message was “turn off your lights and replace the bulbs with CFLs”.  The girls had a great time.  The evening was structured into centers, located in various rooms and hallways in the museum.  One center was "energy jeopardy" on a smart board.  Another was recording the temperature under lights outfitted with old incandescent light bulbs and the newer-greener-cfls.  

In several rooms, my daughter’s had to spout out “but my Mom does not like the new light bulbs”.  I cringed.  We use them, albeit reluctantly.  I explained that I do not dispute the efficiency of the bulbs but I do have concerns about breakage in our home and the exposure of mercury to my children and myself.  From what I have researched there are specific detailed instructions on what to do should one break.  The area needs to be aired out (for several hours), the pieces carefully cleaned up and disposed of in a sealed bag in a different location other than in the house.  I do not use mercury thermometers, why would I want to use mercury light bulbs?  These bulbs must be recycled and I doubt that the general population is following recommended guidelines for this product.  The leader, an employee of UI, agreed with my concern but did not want to address it saying he was just going to “stick to the science”.  Um...okay.  Anyway...I let the topic die as I did not want to embarrass my girls but since they kept bringing it up, I felt the need to explain myself.
One thing that was interesting to me and my friends was the use of the acronym S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering, math).  It seems to be the new educational catch phrase.  I have heard it before, most recently at the Girl Scout Day in Hartford.  I love how the educational field creates words.  When I was studying to become a teacher I was told that it is the leading profession for jargon.  Made up words.  Only the “expert” knows and understands.  I would laugh when I would hear teachers give parent-teacher conferences, one in particular to a bi-lingual family that struggled with English, using words like “manipulatives”, “DRP scores” and “SSR time”. I wished she had just said “your son struggles to do math unless he has something like blocks to help him count.” or “your son’s reading scores were a little low and I notice he can’t sit still during our silent reading time”.  
Now it seems S.T.E.M is one of those new and fancy acronyms.  I would surmise that the Girl Scouts have latched onto it to promote girls entering into these fields.  This led me and my friends to talk about why our young people are not the leaders in these fields.  Why is it that other countries value these fields more than ours?  Why do so many people come to our universities, which are world renown for the sciences and technologies but are then denied visas? Why must they take their knowledge, intelligence and desire out of our country, rather than being allowed to stay legally and either work for our companies or start their own company here?  We wondered if it was because other countries value the sciences more than ours.  Perhaps they want it more than we do because we already have so much that we struggle to understand what it is like to live in a developing nation.  
I have been thinking about our conversation and I think these two things may be true.  But I think our country has a different culture.  We value entrepreneurship;  the rogue thinker who starts his own computer company in his garage and then becomes the leader of an entire industry.  We value the free spirit who at one time settled land out west (yes, displacing those who were already there....but our country immortalizes the pioneer spirit).  We are young compared to other countries, like India and China, who have waited centuries to rise to the powers that they are now experiencing.  
Do we need to change our way of thinking?  Do we need to shift our value from mom and pop small businesses and free thinking entrepreneurship and instead focus on churning out masses of students suited for the sciences?  I don’t know.  I think there needs to be a combination of the two.  I value capitalism.  I am a free-market capitalist.  I support minimal government regulation feeling that the checks and balances in free market capitalism will self manage the marketplace.  But we need to empower our youth to join the field.  They need to believe that they can start a business because they have mastered the necessary skills.  If it is a technology business, then that is where their educational focus must lie.  If it is a service business, then the vocational schools are a good choice.  Do our children know what is available to them?  Are they receiving guidance to follow their dreams and talents?  Or are they lost in a system that pushes them along finally out a door into a world they are not prepared for despite their passions and talents?  
We talked about how we each had our talents in high school.  One of us was interested in math and science and excelled in each course she took.  But there was no path made available to her.  No one took the time to say, these are your is what you can do with them.  I reflected on when I tried to drop my high school physics class.  I was one of few girls taking this class.  My teacher refused to sign my drop sheet.  Unfortunately for me he did not explain why.  I did not understand it until years later.  I did not purse a field in math and science although with my high school classes and grades, I certainly could have.
We also discussed how these talents and passions are easily extinguished by schools.  If a child has a passion for programming and the only way to feed that passion is through elective courses, he or she must perform well on the mastery tests.  If he or she does not, often the elective courses are taken away from the student and a test prep class in inserted in its place.  I know a wonderful child who is on a 504 plan.  She does not test well.  Yet she dreams of entering into a service industry.  Unfortunately the technical schools here look at CMT scores as one requirement for admission.  Despite the fact that she is on a 504 plan, they still considered her test scores and she was denied acceptance.  Will she still be able to follow her dreams in a traditional public high school?  I doubt it.  
While I see value in offering these types of programs to young girls, to spark their interest in the maths and sciences, it will take more than just calling a program a S.T.E.M. program to really affect change.  It needs to start sooner and the system must be changed to allow students to pursue their dreams, realize the goals and utilize their talents.  
When are we going to wake up and see that we can give our children the education they need, whether it is tradtional or non-traditional, to be those future students at M.I.T and R.I.T, Harvard Business School and Wheaton.  We still claim to have the world’s largest economy.  There are still opportunities to merge entrepreneurship with the sciences and take this country to new heights.  
I refuse to believe that change is not possible.  Not when I see my girls and their friends striving every day to become the people they want to be.  For Grace it may be through music or science.  Her dream is to become a meteriologist focusing on severe weather.  She may end up at the National Weather Service or work to enhace early warning systems for tornados and tsunamis.  Lilah may very well become a young chef or baker and realize her dream of owning her own business through a store front or etsy site.   I know as long as they are home, I can help them pursue these dreams by guiding their science programs and making available opportunities for cooking/baking classes and unlimited time to bake at home.  But this needs to be the case for every child, not just those who are homeschooled.  One elective a semester just won’t suffice.
This New York Times Op-Ed article has been making the rounds of the homeschooling yahoo groups.  I found it very interesting.  It is a new way of approaching traditional schooling that may allow for some return to individual control over education.  I hope this catches on.....

What do you think?

Monday, March 14, 2011

CT Statute 10-184

Tenth Amendment – Powers of states and people.

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively,
or to the people."
I am frequently asked if I need to submit reports to our local school district or to the State Department of Education.  When I answer no, I do not, I am most often met with astonishment.  
“Well, I know you are educating your children....”
“It is okay for you since you are a teacher.....”
“What about the people who don’t educate there children?”
“There should be accountability!”
Here is the deal.  In the State of CT we have a statute: 
Sec. 10-184. Duties of parents. School attendance age requirements.
All parents and those who have the care of children shall bring them up in some lawful and honest employment and instruct them or cause them to be instructed in reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic and United States history and in citizenship, including a study of the town, state and federal governments. Subject to the provisions of this section and section 10-15c, each parent or other person having control of a child five years of age and over and under eighteen years of age shall cause such child to attend a public school regularly during the hours and terms the public school in the district in which such child resides is in session, unless such child is a high school graduate or the parent or person having control of such child is able to show that the child is elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction in the studies taught in the public schools. The parent or person having control of a child sixteen or seventeen years of age may consent, as provided in this section, to such child's withdrawal from school. Such parent or person shall personally appear at the school district office and sign a withdrawal form. The school district shall provide such parent or person with information on the educational options available in the school system and in the community. The parent or person having control of a child five years of age shall have the option of not sending the child to school until the child is six years of age and the parent or person having control of a child six years of age shall have the option of not sending the child to school until the child is seven years of age. The parent or person shall exercise such option by personally appearing at the school district office and signing an option form. The school district shall provide the parent or person with information on the educational opportunities available in the school system.
I am instructing my children in these areas OUTSIDE of a school building.  However, we are NOT doing school at home.  When people ask my children “is today a school day for you?”  No it is not, I reply.  When people say it is a school night, it is not for my girls.  I understand their thinking, it is hard to adjust to a new paradigm.  But we are not in school.  School is just a place where teachers teach many children at once.  Learning is what we focus on and we do it in a non-traditional way.
I tried the school-at-home way.  We started at 9:00 am and moved from one subject to the next to the next, just like they do in school.  We quickly realized that we don’t have to learn this way.  I don’t have to use textbooks for reading comprehension and spelling.  I don’t have to follow the district guidelines that teach in small increments of time; a month of electricity for science, followed by a month of Native American studies for social studies, then back to water for science and so on.  
I prefer to spend at least six months on one science topic, which is botany for now.  My girls will not learn an overview, they will become 8 and 10 year old experts on this topic before we move on to the next.  They will not learn the social studies topics that the Board of Ed feels is appropriate for their grade level.  They will learn history starting at the beginning of time to the present.  Rather than being given a packet to teach themselves cursive, we learn poetry at the same time we practice our cursive skills.  We don’t watch videos to kill time, we watch videos to enhance our time.  We don’t write to prompts, we write letters to real people we wish to know more about.  We write to demonstrate our understanding.  We blog and gain confidence sharing our writing with others who learn at home, like we do.  We read.  For pleasure.  Often.  We do not do book reports, we talk about books in the backseat of our car.  We have lively debate over the reasons a movie version of a book fails to do justice to the original written words.  We ask who was Hans Christian Anderson and share book recommendations with our friends.  Books are traded among friends rather than Pokemon cards.  
I have never been in a community that embraces learning the way the homeschool community does.  Research is rampant, whether it is how to design and construct a home completely off the grid, or how to design a garden that will allow harvesting year round in New England, or how to use a GPS to find a hidden treasure trove of carnivorous plants in a far off bog.  These are not the children....these are their mothers!  The children have taught themselves how to call an 8 point buck to their yard for observation, how to create and maintain a blog, how to track a hurricane.  These children are writing books of poetry.  They are entrepreneurs with their own businesses.  They are traveling the world journaling their experiences.  They are winning national Destination Imagination tournaments.  They are acting in Shakespearian plays.  They are auditioning for music competitions.  They are amazing people regardless of their young age.
This is not to say that school educated children cannot do these same things.  I have met many who are.  One of our friends is a naturalist who builds his own bows and arrows.  Another is flying through the Suzuki method for violin.  But the sense of community is different.  Rather than embracing CMT scores and college acceptances, we embrace depth of knowledge and true experiential learning.  Some of us expect our children will continue on to college, but realize the path they take to get there may look different that a student in high school.  Others do not value the institution of college as  proof of education but emphasize learning for the value of learning and the result of that is up to the child to determine.  
I do not feel that having my children removed from a school environment limits them in any way.  They have more social opportunities than they did before.  They are not together all the time, as each girl has her own unique interests and follows them seperately.  Yes, we are together more than most siblings are, but I view that as a positive, not a negative.  Opportunities available to us to extend their learning continually amaze me.  They have attended classes in art, music, nature studies, home economics, and science.   They have a diverse group of friends that range in age but also close friends their own age.
In the year my girls have been out of public school, I have not met one family that I can say is not educating their children.  We all go about this differently, from the classical educators to the eclectic (like us) to whole hearted unschoolers.  Neither is right or wrong, better or worse, they are just different, tailored to the needs of the individuals.  The easy thing to do is to put your child on a bus, or drop them off at the school door.  I know.  I did this for five years.  Eight if you count preschool.  I am not judging, just stating that it is easier to let someone else take the responsibility for the education of your children.  That leaves you with seven hours to work, manage the household, persue interests of your own or a blend of all these.  You still have homework and projects to manage, teacher conferences to attend and test scores to worry about.  You are not off the hook, you just are not responsible for the actual teaching, the choosing of curriculum, the implementation of your choices, modifying the choices on a daily basis, monitoring the learning process and evaluating the addition to the household management, the outside interests and in some cases, part time or full time work.  
I have yet to meet someone who takes this responsibility lightly.  It is an heavy load to carry.  It is not made one bit easier because I was once a teacher.  If anything it is more cumbersome because I have had to unlearn all my school-indoctrinations.  Classroom management will not work with your own children. I have no lesson plans to write, no report cards to fill out and no IEPs to adhere to.  Do you know how many classes I had to take to learn these things?  I took many.  Yet I only took one semester of teaching math, teaching reading and teaching science.  Three months of preparation to teach a class of 25.  Not that impressive.  But I could write one hell of a report card comment!
No, we homeschooling families take this responsibility seriously.  No matter how we choose to label our philosophy of education, we want our children to grow and learn and mature.  We want them to be independent people capable of participating in relationships, attending  the college of their choice, landing the job of their dreams and realizing their fullest potential.  We worry constantly about how our choices will affect these things.  We talk, we research, we plan, we coordinate, we read constantly.  We live our profession daily.  There are no days off for us, no sick days, no teacher workshop days, no preset calendar to follow.   For we have decided to follow the model that states that learning does not take place in the confines of four brick and mortar walls.  It is not something that starts at 8:30 and ends at 3:30.  It is not limited to a certain subject and time.
I get a bit passionate about the assumption that because CT lacks strict reporting procedures, we are somewhat lacksadasical about our role as learning facilitators.  I am sure that there are families that are not dedicated to their child’s education, just as there are in the public school community.  It just has not been my experience.  
As I have written before about my political views and positions, I would love to come to a place where we do not judge each other for our choices; whether we educate our children at home, or through the schools.  Instead I would like to see parents respect the choices we each make and realize that they are made to fit our own unique best interest.  What works in one family will not work in another.  I would never judge or critisize without first walking more than a mile in their shoes.
So although I do not have to file quarterly reports to the district or state, and I do not have to submit to portfolio reviews, I teach my children well. I am grateful that I do not have to submit to such reviews as I chose to educate my children free from the restrictions and limitations of the public school system.  If this should change, I would willingly adhere to new regulations because I am proud of the work my children have done and I have no misgivings that we meet each of the criteria put forth in CT Statute 10-184.  But I give thanks that I can live my life according to the 10th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, that the education is not mandated to be administered by a government agency and therefore I can assume this responsibility as a citizen of this great country. 

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...