Saturday, September 29, 2012

AP History/Government Update...

I am so happy to say that Grace enjoyed her first day of class!  Her AP history class met for the first hour, followed by her government class.  She preferred the government class but decided to keep the books for both classes and agreed to the assigned work.  

I am excited for her.  She went into the class knowing just one other person and was eager to share with me that she sat at a table filled with other 12 year old children.   They have more background knowledge than she does to bring to this class.  Our focus has been on Story of the World, beginning at history should, at the beginning.  My plan was to offer 4 years of US History in high school, most likely with Joy Karem’s The Story of Us, but honestly I did not begin to research curriculum’s for US History because I thought I had one more year.
When this class was advertised over our homeschooling Yahoo group, it satisfied three of our goals: 1) it is geared for children 12+, which is a hard demographic to fill in our area.  2) it is being taught by a passionate person and 3) she will learn something new in a classroom setting, which Grace enjoys.  
In order to feel success in this class, we have to devote significant time to the study of the material.  Lilah enjoys learning along with us, so for the time being, we are suspending our study of Story of the World and we are working on US history together.
Liberty’s Kids.  These videos are being watched daily to provide background knowledge prior to reading the textbooks.
Notebooking.  Grace has homework to complete.  It is not graded, but she realizes that the more effort she puts in, the greater her experience will be.  We are not getting fancy, just getting the work done in a slightly creative way! 

Extra resources.  Jean Fritz is our new best friend!  So is this book I came across at a local bookstore in Kent, CT.  
This week we delved into the Constitution.  We read it.  We dissected it.  We learned about the upcoming election and how there is one open slot in the Congress because Joseph Lieberman is retiring.  We know who our two candidates are.  The girls know which one I am voting for and why.   We learned that one of the 40 signatures on the Constitution resided in our town!  His home is a historical landmark and run by the historical society.  Even though Grace visited this home on a 4th grade field trip, I am going to call and see if we can pop in now that we have additional knowledge to connect it to.

This opportunity almost did not happen for Grace.  She was given the option to opt out of this class.  The AP History text is very challenging.  However, the Government text is wonderful.  It is a collection of first person accounts to major historical events.  When I read it to the girls, the pages of the author’s journals came alive.  We read half a chapter in just one sitting!  

This is going to be an interesting experience for Grace.  Whether or not she takes the AP test in the spring is irrelevant to me.  She has many years to take a test.  This is about more.  About learning more.  About striving to try harder.  About being in the presence of an inspirational person.  This is also the teacher’s first experience with homeschoolers.  Recently retired, he is now teaching for the fun of teaching.  No tests.  No essays.  Good conversation.  Vibrant discussion.  Personal challenge.  It is all good.

Favorite Resource This Week
Homegrown Learners

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fall in New England

Fall in New England is magical.  It is when I feel most alive.  Sandwiched in between the hot, humid summer months and the frigid, blizzard producing winter months, this is a time for beauty, for outdoors, for camp fires, for Main Street strolls, and for cups of coffee with friends.  
We were able to do all this and more when we visited our friends in the hills of Connecticut yesterday.  Since we live on Long Island Sound we do not have the foliage that can be found an hour north. The color will slowly creep southward, but in the Litchfield towns of Kent and New Milford color abounds.  It makes me want to break out my cable knit sweaters and Ugg boots but our days are still in the mid 70s.  
A day in the mid 70s, a stream, building materials, creative kids, stuffed animals, a campfire.  Hmmm...Only good things can come from this combination!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The first day of fall was ushered in with much fanfare.  I found an adorable craft on Pinterest and showed it to Monica, whose girls love owls with a passion that rivals Grace’s love of weather.  Too much time has passed since these four have had time, unstructured time, to just play together.   

The owls were crafted using recycled TP rolls with the tops folded in.  The rest was left up to imagination....

These clever children decided it was not enough to just make owls, the owls needed a habitat!

Sticks were gathered.  

Owl swings were constructed.  

Names were assigned. 

Mantles were measured.

I cannot imagine a more perfect way to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox!  Next time I promise I will serve a dinner more substantial than grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup!  

Monday, September 24, 2012


I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about quitting.  Quit.  It is a word that has such negative connotations.  Winners never quit and quitters never win.  Quit actually has two definitions, to stop, cease or discontinue and to give up or resign.    The meaning that is assigned to the situation often is determined by the judgement that someone passes on the situation.  Why is it that we think that nothing is to be learned from quitting?  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that “you can’t just quit when you're in the real world”, as if being 10 and 12 or 21 or 42 is not real enough?  
I have quit jobs.  I have quit relationships.  I have quit bad habits.  I have quit sports.  I have never regretted my decisions.  I have been wondering why quitting is associated with lacking a certain skill set for life.  I was allowed as a child to quit certain things. Most of the time my decision to quit was based on a principal I held.    My mom let me skip school on the day frogs were dissected in biology because I could not stomach the thought of cutting into something that was once alive.  I quit gymnastics after several years for the very same reasons Grace quit gymnastics when she was 6.  Our bodies are not meant for that sport!  We are too tall and lack the flexibility required to be competitive.  I quit a job when I was sexually harassed by the owner.  No sense in staying in that position!   I quit my teaching career in favor of my family.  I quit the school system in favor of a more healthy way for my daughter.  Wow.  I have quit many things.
When I was working, I was often the first one in and the last one to go home.  I rarely complained about being on call on weekends, even when it interrupted my engagement dinner celebration in Manhattan and a weekend getaway with Greg in Virginia.  I had the highest caseload of relocation counselors.  When I was teaching, I would seek the kids that had “labels”.  We worked well together.  I did not take shortcuts and I tried to find a way to balance work and family, but that is very hard to do with a husband who is gone from 6am until 9pm.  Now that I am home, working to maintain a happy, healthy home and educate my daughters, I never ever consider myself a quitter, despite the fact that I have quit several things over the years.  
So why was I able to develop such a strong work ethic?  Why did quitting not make me a failure at if quitting a childhood activity or sport ever would?  I have given this much though and I came up with the answer.  My parents.  My parents are responsible for the way I am and the dedication I have for what I believe in.  I grew up with a Dad who worked 60+ hours a week owning and operating his own business (which he built BY HIMSELF) and also worked a second job in a band on the weekends for extra money for my gymnastics lessons...and piano lessons....and art lessons.  My Mom kept our house clean, fed us healthy meals, shuttled us to and from our lessons and our friends houses, was President of the PTA, taught Sunday School, and like me, tried to go back to work when we were in school but found that like me, she could not balance the responsibilities she had at home with those in the workplace.  Now she is in her mid sixties, dresses like Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada and is the Executive Assistant to  the President of a major home design company in NYC.  You probably get their catalog delivered in the mail.  She did not even go back to work full time until I went to college!  
It does not matter that I quit karate in my 20s, half way to black belt.  It does not matter that I quit being a vegetarian when I realized I felt better eating some meat.  I does not matter that Lilah quit Destination Imagination because she felt it too stressful.  It does not matter that Grace may very well quit the history class I had such high hopes for because it is very, very stressful for the both of us.  I got straight As in college and I took the practice test for chapter 1 and let’s just say I did not do so well.....  I could teach her the tricks to acing a multiple choice test because frankly, I could use the review!  However, I don’t want her to lose sleep over memorizing dates and names.  Isn’t that why most of us hated history?  I want her to love history, the way she did when we were studying Story of the World, when she was memorizing the lyrics to The History Teacher’s song, Charlemagne, and when she was reading about the Black Plague for fun.  
Do I think that allowing them to quit these activities will negatively impact the rest of their lives?  Certainly not.  If the impact my parents had on me is any indication of how we form our work ethics, then looking at how Greg works his fingers to the bone all week for us and how I pour my heart and soul into creating a loving, nurturing, stable, healthy home....I think they will turn out be okay.  The are pretty awesome already.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Collage: An assessment of our week

Every fall most homeschooling families post their curriculum choices and planned activities for the upcoming year.  Like classroom teachers, we parents put hours and hours of effort into choosing the books we think are best, the programs that will not only match our children’s learning style but inspire them to produce great work.  We carefully construct a schedule.  We collaborate with other parents.  We step back and heave a huge sigh of relief.  On paper it looks great, but what is put on paper is hardly ever reality, at least for me.  

We are three weeks into our fall term.  I have shared some of our plans and activities.  I have purchased new curriculum and developed a new schedule for us.  Some things are working better than I had anticipated.  Other things are shifting and settling in a way that is neither good nor bad, it just is.

What is Working:
Our schedule.  Every morning the girls and I have a morning breakfast meeting.  We dine at the table and I have our notebook laid out with my expectations for the day as well as any outside activities we are attending.  Sometimes they make counter suggestions.  For example, Grace needed to write a piece of creative fiction for her DI meeting Friday.  Rather than assign her work in our writing program, she asked if that could count for writing.  Lilah wanted to do extra math lessons!  Of course I said yes to both. 

Over the years I have tried making checklists which were hole punched and kept in binders, I have kept a teacher’s plan book, I have tried using a white board to list assignments, I have sent the girls emails and I have tried 100% interest led, with no assignments. Nothing was quite right for us.  Finally I stumbled upon the easiest solution for us....a simple notebook with each page folded in half listing the assignments for each girl and our outside activities at the bottom.  At the end of the day I have a record of what we accomplished and they can pick and choose which assignments they want to work on.  Since we have no television during the week, often Lilah is working on writing at 9:00 at night while Grace is sleeping and Grace is up at 7:00am cranking out her math work while Lilah is sleeping.  Any work they do not get to as a result of their own procrastination, must be done before they can watch tv or play video games on the weekend.  

Our core curriculum.  The girls have each finished the first book of their math programs (Lilah: Life Of Fred and Grace: Key to Geometry).  There is not one change that I would make.  I love Moving Beyond the Page and we have picked up and dusted off our Apologia Flying Creature book which the girls are reading on their own, creating a science notebook, and supplying me with fact after new fact about birds.  
Our work.  I am asking much more of the girls this year.  I have raised my expectations as well as the work load.  They have responded by producing work that is not only respectable, but admirable.  Grace’s writing is improving as are Lilah’s math skills.  Both girls have spent hours creating stunning works of art in their art journals.  Lilah is working on a new story in her writing class, Writeopia, which is wonderfully creative and should be finished soon -- right Lilah?  
What has proven to be a challenge:
Shifts in our activities.  I had carefully built a schedule of activities through collaborative partnerships with other parents.  One thing I did not take into consideration was the developmental shift my children have gone through this summer, especially Grace.  We love love love Snap Circuits class but the attention span of a 12 year old vs an 8 year old is very different.  The level of questioning is very different.   The concepts they relate to in their learning are very different.  Snap Circuits has been a wonderful introduction to electric circuity but Grace wants more.  Much more.  She wants higher level circuity and introduction to programming, not because WestConn told her she would need it to apply to their Meteorology Program, but because she find it interesting and challenging.  I am going to have to provide these opportunities to her.
Our involvement with Destination Imagination has also changed from last year.  Lilah made the decision to leave the program for a year and she has already replaced that activity with a new one, Writeopia, a writing workshop which she attends with a new friend who loves to write as much, maybe even more that she does!    However, this also means that we have to work extra hard to keep in touch and make time for the friends that we saw primarily through DI.

Making time with friends.  One of the benefits of homeschooling is that it allows deep, meaningful relationships to develop with friends.  You can have mid week sleepovers, travel to activities together, spend hours working on a project.  The challenge is that your schedules need to coincide in order for that free time to be available.  Unlike school where best friends can see each other at lunch or in homeroom even if they are not in the same classes, with homeschooling families travel time is often involved as best friends may live several towns apart from each other.  This year Grace and Claire will share two activities, DI and HHP which will ensure they have time together twice a week.   With Lilah leaving DI and Evren leaving piano, time for Lilah with her best friend is now very limited.  Thankfully our families are so close that Kim and I can just plan a spontaneous dinner, like we did this week and the girls can play and talk.  I have also realized they have been texting each other into the wee hours of the night.  I guess it is a good thing they both can sleep in!

Homegrown Learners

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Yesterday I took over 100 pictures of my girls and their friends at the beach.  This was one of those spontaneous moments, which in my opinion, are always the best.  We found ourselves with a few free hours after having rocked out much work during the day.  Amy and her girls were in town working on the sale of their home.  The timing was just right and we were able to scoot down to the beach together and work on a special project for a faraway friend......
The afternoon light this year is stunning.  I suppose it is every year, perhaps I am just taking the time to notice it more this year.  When the storm blew through on Tuesday, it gave Mother Nature a giant bubble bath.  Everything had been cleaned up and was bright and sparkly.  The water was still warm, the salty air crisp and I don’t have the words to describe the sky...  
We were there for a specific purpose, to comb the beach for pretty pieces of cloudy glass with edges dulled from the journey it took through salty water.
If I had realized the photo opportunity at hand, I would have dressed them up a bit and taken some Christmas Card photos.  I guess we will just have to go back another day when the light is just right and the air is crisp and we can search for bits of color amid the rocky shore and I will follow them around snapping photo after photo after gorgeous photo.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Big Food

A nasty fall storm blew through Connecticut yesterday bringing high winds, inches of rain and a torcon level of 4 (low chance of tornado but strong wind gusts and hail possible)!  Since I live with a junior meteorologist, this was definitely “on her radar” and made us all a bit nervous.  I don’t like driving the Prius on I95 in high wind.  As a result, we postponed our trip to the Pequot Museum and met up with Kim for a trip to The Peabody Museum in New Haven.  

They are hosting an exhibit called Big Food.   I was excited to see it since it ties in beautifully to what we have been learning through our viewing of Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Super Size Me, and our almost complete 8-hour audiobook, Don’t Eat This Book by the creator of Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock.  I guess you could summarize all this learning under the category of health, but I don’t label our learning.  This is our life.  We try to live it as well as we possibly can.

I was a bit suspicious when I walked in and read that the exhibit was being sponsored by an insurance company but overall I was quite impressed.  Every station in this exhibit covered something we either viewed or listened to, making it the perfect “field trip” to showcase our knowledge of the material.

Grace and I watched a 7 minute documentary about food options in New Haven which discussed food desserts, food swamps, and featured a magnet high school which operates an organic garden and encourages its students to interact with the community to educate others on healthy lifestyle habits.  She was intrigued and would like to find out more about this school.  Since I have only heard wonderful things about it, I told her we could investigate it further.

I learned a few things at this exhibit.  I am so thankful we break the rules by bringing our own popcorn to movies.......

I learned new tricks to help remember serving sizes.....

I remain steadfast in my quest to break our family's addiction to sugar.

After the exhibit we toured the museum.  We stopped to read about Connecticut’s F3 tornado in 1989, which was very apropos given the wind gusting outside.  Wandering our way through the museum, we ended up at the Egyptian Exhibit, which brought back fond memories for Lilah and I.  

One of the very first trips we took when Lilah had just come out of school and Grace was still attending public school for 4th grade was here to visit the Egyptian room.  We had just completed our study of Egyptian history in Story of the World and we were just becoming friends with Kim and our other good friend Amy.  I will never forget the moment when I told her I would take her to The Met in Manhattan and she smiled at me and told me that she was content here.  This was all the coolness she needed.  



While the storm gathered its strength outside, we were safe and cozy inside the strong Gothic arches of this museum with our good friends recognizing how much knowledge we have gained in the past three years.  

And that is all the coolness this Mama needs!

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...