Friday, November 30, 2012

What I am Reading...Kinderculture

I usually don’t post about a book until I have finished reading it and can offer an honest review.  However, I just finished the first chapter of Kinderculture, a book that actually caused me to pause and think about what I had just read.  In fact, it made me rethink some things that I have believed in and operated on ever since I was in graduate school and read the works of noted child psychologists and philosophers.  
Just yesterday I was chatting with my friend Michele, whose children are younger than mine and attend both public and catholic school.  Her kindergartner's homework is to write complete sentences on assigned topics.  He can’t read yet.  He is five years old.  When I was teaching kindergarten I was mandated to assign homework.  I assigned one sight word a week and made a big deal out of making collages from words found in newspapers and magazines.  This was only 4 years ago but the demands placed upon children are increasing as their ages decrease.  
We discussed why this is happening, offering our theory on what is broken in the education system.  Test scores are not improving, and the changes that are being made do a disservice to the teachers who truly want to help children learn, the children who are the subjects of inappropriate directives and the parents who are caught in between.  So what needs to change?  Should things go back to before No Child Left Behind standards?  Back to when we were in school reading from primers in coded reading level groups and rote memorization was expected? Do we need Common Core State Standards?  Do we need the US Dept. of Education at all? 
In the years since I have been in school as a student and an educator, the world has indeed changed.  Quite dramatically in fact.  As Kinderculture points out, children now operate in a world that is not much different from the one adults navigate through.  Their laptops, Kindles, iPads and smart phones offer them accessibility to information literally at their fingertips.  They do not have to rely on adults to “teach” them anything.  Math can be learned on Khan Academy.  Youtube videos can offer tutorials on everything from how to knit to how to construct a five paragraph essay.   Great Courses offers full college level courses via DVD and Ivy League institutions like MIT are offering their courses online.  How knowledge is constructed has been permanently altered.  
Point in fact, my 15 year old nephew recently showed me a video he created about a whale watch excursion he took last summer.  It was quite professional. I asked him what program he used to create it.   When he replied Final Cut Pro, I was impressed because from what I have been told this is a very challenging program to master.  The Jacob Burns Film Center markets their FCP classes to college students and adults at $400 for levels I and II.   I asked if he has classes on this at school to which he scoffed and informed me he taught himself through youtube tutorials. Youtube saved my sister a boatload of money.  This leads me to ask, why are we outsourcing and paying exorbitantly for what we can find and learn on our own?  Why did I just pay too much money for a writing course that could have been run out of my home, with my girls' peer group for free?   Perhaps it is so we can have the piece of paper with Jacob Burns Film Center on it, or Writeopia Lab or XYZ Public School, authenticating that the learning was delivered in an appropriate accredited manner.
Children now have blogs, Twitter accounts, Instagram and Facebook pages.  They read their books digitally, accessing a full digital bookstore at 2am should they choose. How can children who are learning in a paradigm that is completely oppositional to that of a traditional model sit through a day of being told what to learn, when to learn it, how that learning should look, and which way it should be communicated?  For some children it must be excruciatingly difficult.  I wonder what doors would be unlocked if public schools took a cue from democratic school, like the Sudbury model, where children determine the course of their learning and the teachers facilitate rather than lecture.
Part of me wonders how my girls would adjust if/when they go back to school.  The adjustment would not be easy.  While Lilah was writing today, her fingers were typing away on her laptop as she researched exotic fruits.  A key element to her story is the fruit rambutan, a lychee native to Malaysia and Indonesia.  I wonder if children in school are able to write in the same way, instantaneously accessing information that propels their story line forward?  I honestly don’t know.  It has been a long time now since I have stood in a classroom.  
I am eager to keep reading. Chapter 1 gives those of us who either work with children or live with them much to ponder.....  

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Wrapping up our semester...Writing!

I like to teach writing in a workshop format.  I give the girls a reason to write.  Neither one of them likes prompts -- too many bad memories from standardized testing.  Lilah loves to write stories and has a vivid imagination, but Grace despises creative writing and prefers to write either historically accurate pieces of fiction or more technical pieces of non-fiction.  Regardless of their preferences, each girl must be a proficient writer and needs to develop her skills in order to continue experiencing growth and development in their craft.
I have come to realize that writing can be a bit tricky.  In school the kids are motivated (either positively or negatively) by grades.  You have an arbitrary deadline and if you meet it and produce a well written, grammatically correct piece of writing you receive a good grade.  If you miss the deadline, forget the grammatical requirements associated with the grade you are in, or don’t hit the key points on a standardized rubric, you receive a grade that is in accordance with the work you produced.
This does not work in our home.  We don’t grade and I can’t seem to make a deadline stick.  Our writing needs to be authentic and have a purpose.  Both my girls can write well, but both need to see a reason other than simply having a composition book filled with stories. 

Grace wrote a lovely little piece of fiction about a meteorologist, Mr. Wick, whose dog gives him warning signs that a tornado was fast approaching.  She needed to write a story line for her DI team (when she was a participating member on the team) and the words just flowed from her finger tips.  I also asked her to write a story that we could turn into a picture book as a Christmas gift for her 2 year old cousin.  This story is about a mischievous little monkey who loves to explore and gets into a bit of trouble along the way.   She has written letters to Billy the Exterminator, a meteorologist at a local news station, and casual letters to friends.  The letter to Billy received a reply which I still need to frame.  He is one very cool dude.   She has made several blog entries and is working on creating a new weather themed blog for which she is polishing up a great biographical "about me" page.
Lilah took a class this fall called Writeopia.  It is a workshop facilitated by a published author.  She met every Friday with one of her friends who is also a prolific writer.  Lilah has stories to tell.  Really wonderful stories.  I am not joking when I say that I can see her publishing her work someday.  Perhaps she will own a bakery and in between batches of fabulous vegan chocolate cupcakes, type away on her next novel.......  However, what Lilah lacks is good grammar.  It is laziness more than lack of knowledge.  Since she likes to write longhand, I can’t blame it on spell check or keyboarding skills.  The girl just is not fond of capital letters and proper use of commas and quotations!  When she sees my marks all over her papers, she gets very annoyed and this has prompted her to step up and do it right the first time.  
She is not finished with her story yet.....but it is now 13 typed pages of pure joy.  She wrote a piece about a girl (Lilah) with two dogs (Jake and Daphne).  Lilah (the fictional character) bakes cupcakes with a new ingredient which were eaten by the dogs and causes very special powers.  The dogs are not the only ones who have discovered this secret ingredient and now they must use their powers to stop a maniacal cat who is using her powers for evil!
I would like this story completed asap.  She would like to turn it into the next great novel.  While I understand this, and support it, the story must progress and at some point, come to a conclusion.  This is where those grades can come in handy.  What motivates her to finish?  Grades will not motivate her.  There is no real repercussion if the story is a day or a week or a month past the arbitrary deadline that I set.  I am not going to ground her for not finishing a story “on time”.  But in life there are deadlines.  Our friend is a newspaper editor.  He is a writer with deadlines!  If she would like to submit this story to the Writeopia Paranthetical it must be complete by December 14th.  If not, there is no chance for it to be published in the newsletter.  Natural deadline.  
I know she can work on a deadline.  Like Grace, I asked her to write a story to be turned into a picture book for her cousin.  In one sitting she wrote a lovely little tale about a dog in New York City who scavenges scraps on the street to eat and one day steals a little boy’s hot dog thus initiating a very special friendship...  She then took pieces of paper the size of the book she would like to make and made a prototype of the book laying out the words, the space for the pictures and where the text would go.  The book is 25 pages long.  She bought a sketchbook and has begun the final copy and illustrations.  Before it is given, I will have it copied and bound so that she has a copy of it always. 

 Why is it that some projects are easily completed and others lay in this wasteland of neverendingness?  I have been giving this much thought.  For my children it really comes down to the intent of the work.  If it has a purpose and an outcome, it will be completed and often will far exceed my expectation.  If they perceive it as a random assignment with no purpose other than to practice something, it is arduous and becomes the source of conflict.  
In school report cards are a really bid deal to students.  I used to love to get my report card, read my teacher’s comments and run home to show my parents.  I did well in school and never had report card anxiety which I know is very very real.  Some children even receive money for grades which amounts to a double reward.  Homeschooling is very much about life long learning and learning for the intrinsic joy, not for an external reward.  For some children this is hard, especially if they have been in the public school system where children are often rewarded for the amount of time they read, how well they walk in the hall, how good their behavior is and of course, how well they perform on tests.  My children seem to fall in the middle.  For some things they just love to learn and expect nothing in return.  They will read their science text when asked, will work on math for hours and when we were doing Story of the World, they just leaped from one thing to the next.  (we will be returning to Story of the World in January).  However, for Grace, reading is our biggest struggle and for Lilah it is not the physical act of writing, but the completion of a piece of writing that we struggle with.  For these two areas only, I am considering some type of reward system.  I don’t know what yet.  I remember my mom used for pay me $1 a book but I read so many she gave up the reward and I never minded since she bought me every book I wanted anyway!  I am thinking I could use a $.99 app as a reward......part of me thinks it could work and part of me cringes that I would even think to use a reward.  I am still pondering this one.
In the meantime, I am pleased with what they have worked on this fall.  I am also pondering beginning a writing group of my own where kids will gather to write in a workshop setting with a mini lesson on the craft of writing and an opportunity to share their work with their peers, similar to what she is doing in her Writeopia class but without the cost and the minus the hour + of driving! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


When your girls go to bed with a skill that they did possess when they woke in the morning, 
that is super-duper cool.  

Wake up a non knitter.  Go to bed a knitter.  

Wake up and wear a store bought hat.  
Go to bed wearing hand made hat.   
She went to bed wearing her hat.  

Lilah learned how to knit on a loom and on needles.  
It doesn't get much better than this!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Every Book is a Gift

I am still working on my series about our curriculum and what the girls have accomplished this fall, but we are also in the midst of Christmas preparations.  Friday I took the time to venture to the library to check out Christmas books.  I did not want novels, but rather short, beautifully illustrated picture books that can be read in one sitting.
I found old favorites like Madeline’s Christmas, a story that we read all the time when they were little.   My girls have not heard it in so long it has been forgotten.  I found what are sure to be new favorites, like a few stories from the Little House books, some Tomie DePaola classics, and at least one nativity story.  I loaded up my tote with 26 books (I found a great holiday sheet music book for the girls) and crossed my fingers that I would not get scolded for taking out too many in one subject area.  
I Instagrammed my trip and when the girls checked their account they figured out what I was up to.  Being an elf in a former life, Lilah used her fabulous holiday beautifying skills to quickly prepare a wrapping station where she and her sister got to work wrapping each book.  Now when they begin choosing books December 1st, each will be a surprise, each a gift.

Friday, November 23, 2012

This Season...

Black Friday is a bit of a big deal in our home.  I honestly have no idea how or why it started.  I think the girls noticed it through the incessant advertising and wondered what it was all about.  Greg, being in retail, took this interest as a teachable moment and took them out to explain what is truly a bargain and what is just slick marketing with a pretty bow.  It turns out the three people I live with love to be out in the hustle and bustle, jostling through the crowds caught up in the hunt for a “perfect” gift.  
Not me.  This is the girls’ time with their Dad.  They stay out ‘till all hours, sipping hot cocoa and snacking on some mall food that I am sure I don’t want to know anything about.  They text me and Instagram me throughout the night, although by 11:00, I no longer notice, since I am snuggled up cozy in my bed with my own dreams of the perfect gift dancing through my head.
Girls, your Daddy may work in retail and our livelihood depends on his store selling lots of products, but the reason for this season is not found in a mall at midnight.  It is found in our hearts, in our beliefs, and in our faith.  It is found in the history and stories that began 2,000 years ago and are still passed on today.  It is found in the celebration of the birth of a very special baby boy.
The perfect gift may in fact be found at a mall.  We give gifts to those we love to share our love and joy of Christmas.  In church we shake the hands of our neighbor and proclaim “Peace be with you.”.  When we gift a gift, we are saying, “May the joy of the season be with you.”  
I don’t personally find joy in a mall at midnight. However, I am given a gift on Black Friday.  I get to see my girls growing up, staying up late, spending time with their Dad.  I get to see the excitement build from the circular planning stage, to the store scheduling phase to the “can I please have some coffee to stay awake?” phase.  I get to watch hours of Big Bang Theory uninterrupted.  Last night I saw the tiara episode for the first time.  Youtube the clip of made me laugh in a way only a girl could understand.  
This season I am taking the time to find gifts that will bring joy.  Through Pinterest I have found items that are either handmade through Etsy or made by start up companies here in the USA.  Most of my shopping is done via Internet in the comfort of my home.  I have jars of vodka infusing with thyme for some homemade skin spray.  I will also share my homemade deodorant and my new favorite granola recipe with those I love.  
Last year I wanted to do a Jesse Tree with the girls for the first time.  My Aunt sent me a beautiful book with readings and pictures for copying and placing on the tree.  I waited too long and this activity went undone.  I have read the book, the readings and know that on December 2, the first Sunday of Advent I will being this project with my girls.  I am prepared.
This season of Advent will truly be one of preparation for me and my family.  My girls just finished their required reading books from Moving Beyond the Page.  They won’t have to begin a new assigned book until January.  For now all reading is purely for pleasure.  We finished our audio book and will spend the next month using the app Tales 2 Go to listen to short Christmas stories when we are out and about.  The girls asked me if we could read a Christmas picture book a day for 25 days.  Again this is something I always wanted to do in the past but never prepared the 25 books.  This year, I will.   Last year we were a bit lazy and did not put up our entire North Pole Village like we have done in the past.  This year I realize my girls want and need this tradition to continue. We are putting up the entire village.  
There will be cookie baking and LCC meetings. There will be volunteering and lots of piano playing.  There will be pageant practices and movie watching.  There will be hot cocoa and fires.  There will be card making and art journaling.  There will be popcorn popping and knitting.  There will be mass attending and well wishing. There will be advent calendar opening and Elf searching.  There will be advent wreath making and candle lighting. There will be praying and thanks giving.  There will be honoring and remembering.  There will be tradition keeping beginning with Black Friday and building up to a big birthday celebration, keeping in mind always, that Jesus is the reason our family celebrates this season.

Favorite Resource This Week
Homegrown Learners

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I love that my girls are learning something that I know nothing about -- electronics.  Even more I love that they are learning it in a way that makes sense.  To me electronics is like a foreign language.  It has roots and basic truths that must be learned in order to build further knowledge and understanding.  You would not expect to travel to Italy and become fluent after one lesson right?  I would not expect my children to create something electronic without giving them basic building blocks first.
We began our study this summer with snap circuits.  Through snap circuits they learned what electricity is, what it can do and what it cannot do.  They learned how to build a circuit and what to look for if the circuit did not work.  They learned about the flow of energy and what a battery is and does.  Through snap circuits, Grace discovered that she really has an interest in this area and despite feigning indifference, Lilah really enjoys it too!

Moving on from snap circuits the girls learned how to properly use tools required for electronics by dismantling a “clean” laptop.  I wrote a blog post about how they did this.  An old broken piece of equipment can keep a child busy for hours.  However, if they were to do this activity with me, I would not be able to answer the zillions of questions they would have such as “what is this?” “what does this do?” “how does this work?”.  Having an expert work with my children is a vital key to their understanding.  The girls just received a kit of teeny tiny screwdrivers, magnetic pieces and levers of their very own from their Grandfather.  They can’t wait to try them out.

Step three in their journey was each receiving a Kinetic Creature kit to assemble.  These are fabulous motorized creatures made from sturdy cardboard and balsa wood.  Like any kit, once it is assembled, it is done.  What if you had the capability to reproduce the kit over and over again for further use and learning?  The girls learned how to do this very task.  They learned how to shade over each piece of the kit, like one would do to make a leaf rubbing. They traced the shape using very fine point mechanical pencils and then using a light box, lined the two pieces of paper, the rubbing and the tracing up and drew the shape onto tracing paper.  The tracing paper was then photocopied thus becoming the “master” image for that piece of the motor.  This was repeated until every piece had a “master” copy.  This is time consuming, detail oriented work.  

These masters will be used to make transfers of the shape onto cardboard where they will practice their cutting skills using exacto knives and then onto balsa wood which will produce the replica piece.  
While this work is taking place the girls are assigned homework.  Right now they are to watch every simple machine video on Brain Pop and answer questions that have been prepared for them.  They have been watching videos on youtube about gears and gear ratios and torque.    This will all be useful when they begin to build the motor in a few weeks.  
I love this time of learning.  There is no pressure, no stress.  The kids work for hours not because they have to, but because they want to.  Typically they work for 2 hours at a time and even then sometimes they are willing to work more.  Watching your child learn something that is 100% interest led is fascinating.    It is not work at all to them.  It is like play.  Really smart play!  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Math Lessons

Yesterday’s post ended up mostly about Lilah’s math program this year.  Grace has been working on a different program, the Key To Series.  This is the antithesis of Life of Fred.  It is a series of workbooks on one topic that move from the basic introduction of the concept to what I would consider 9th grade math levels.  

  • There are different ways to approach this math series.  You can do one concept start to finish.
  • You can have all the series and move through the first book of each, then the second, followed by the third and so on.  
  • Or you can simple do what feels best for your child.
We started this summer with Key To Fractions.  Grace completed every book in the series.  
Book 1: Fraction Concepts
Book 2: Multiplying and Dividing
Book 3: Adding and Subtracting
Book 4: Mixed Numbers
I felt that after Fractions we would move to Geometry.  Grace completed half the series.  

Book 1: Lines and Segments 
Book 2: Circles 
Book 3: Constructions 
We began Measurement.  It made sense for us to jump around a bit to make sure that she was getting review in each concept.  She completed books 1-3 of Measurement.  

Book 1: English Units of Length
Book 2: Measuring Length and Perimeter Using English Units
Book 3: Finding Area and Volume Using English Units
In measurement she reviewed area, perimeter and volume.  There were several problems that called on her knowledge of common denominators from the fractions study.  

Because Grace plans to intern this winter at WSCU, I want to make sure she has a solid understand of the concepts of mean, median, mode and range.  When I googled what area of math this technically falls under it comes up as pre-algebra, so that is what I cam calling it!  In order to give her a life application to this, I ask her to collect the forecasted high and low temperature for our area of CT from multiple sources.  Using this data, she calculates the mean, mode, median and range daily.  Being able to manipulate data is critical for what Grace plans to do so she is beginning to work with her father, who is an expert in the program Excel.  More to come on that later.....

Then there are always the consumer math experiences.  Grace and Greg have a Saturday tradition of shopping at Trader Joe’s.  Recently Greg taught Grace about unit cost.  Let me back up by saying that during these trips they usually purchase a chocolate bar (or two) and those are my treats during the week.  When they are gone, I know they are gone until the next Trader Joe’s trip.  I will not purchase chocolate for myself during the week.  Imagine my distress when Grace realized it was far more cost efficient to purchase an entire 1lb bar of chocolate rather than one or two little bars!  I was dismayed.  Don’t these people realize I have no will power?  Don’t they remember that I won an award for worst Mother of the Year when I ate every single piece of my child’s valentine candy without their consent?  There is no way this candy bar can be opened.  No. Way.  It sits still in the kitchen cabinet unopened.  Yup.  Love life math lessons.....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Math: Life of Fred and more

This is the first year I am actually going to be in a place where we can take most of December off from formal lessons (with the exception of math) and spend the month preparing for Christmas.  The girls have worked diligently this fall on their bookwork and I am using this time to summarize their accomplishments.  It helps me focus on what they have done and how to incorporate it into a transcript.  
I was asked if the girls, specifically Grace, is going back to school. The honest answer is that we don’t know.  IF she chooses to stay on this path to pursue meteorology as a college major then we know exactly what high school classes she will have to take.  She will carry a full load of lab sciences and difficult math courses.  We have three options for her:  1) explore a home-based traditional curriculum like Oak Meadow.  2) attend traditional high school or 3) explore taking math/science classes at a community college which will give her college credit for some of the classes she takes but will not provide her the ancillary sports and activities that a high school would.  BUT community college would allow her to listen to her sleep cycle, intern at WSCU, keep time with her friends, plan her own schedule, etc.  Grace is in 7th grade.  I am compiling this information now so that next year when we attend open houses for various high school programs she will have the information she needs to attend the school that will best fit her needs.  Whether that is her current “school”, our home, or someplace else remains to be seen!
Lilah has completed books 1 - 3 of Life of Fred Elementary Series.  We love these books.  After spending two years struggling with the “I hate math” comments, tears and frustration, math is now a time of togetherness and...dare I!  Life of Fred may not be a curriculum that is for everyone, although I think everyone can benefit from it in some way.  It is not a traditional text book.  There are not pages and pages of practice problems to do.  There are no tests.  

Instead you have this quirky little character, Fred, who is silly and strange.  His story is told in a narrative.  Through this narrative all sorts of math concepts are interwoven.  Lilah has solidified her ability to tell time on a non-digital clock.  This has been a true struggle for her.  She has gained an understanding of what a set means and how letters like x and y can be used as place holders like in the equation 3 + x = 11. She learned what a cardinal and an ordinal number is.  She learned how to correctly read and write very large numbers.  She has learned about angles: right, obtuse and acute.  This may seem very basic, but before LOF these basic building blocks of her mathematical foundation were missing.  I have no idea how her classroom teachers in first and second grade (or even myself) never picked up on this.    Best of all, she has learned this information in a way that it has become a part of her.  We snuggle together.  She reads. I giggle.  Grace often sneaks in and listens too.  She keeps her work in a three ring binder which is filling up quickly.

Not only is her math binder filling up with her practice problems, LOF inspires Lilah to research topics which come up in the book.  When Fred found a lost kitty that turned out to be a lost tiger cub, she was compelled to research obligate carnivores.  When Fred gazed up at the stars and taught us about Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper, this led to an investigation of the constellations, and to the Alaskan State Flag, which led to a study of the Connecticut State Flag.

LOF assumes that the child and parent/teacher are going to work on memorization.  The first three books focus on the addition/subtraction facts and in book 4 we are moving into multiplication facts.  There is not enough practice work in the books to think that a child will learn the facts simply by working in the textbook.  But the concepts are taught in a way that the facts now make sense.  Lilah loves the game Timez Attack and spent 30 minutes playing it to review her facts in preparation for Book 4.
I am so glad I started this series in September at book 1.  Finding this, thanks to fellow blogger, Joan @ Our School at Home, has been such a blessing.  We will do all 10 elementary books this year.  LOF also has books on decimals, fractions, even calculus!  Lilah’s math binder will continue to grow as Fred’s mis-adventures at Kittens University provide us with more learning, more laughter, and more math fun.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Health and Nutrition

This semester we studied nutrition.  We have been focused on nutrition for quite awhile, ever since I read the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which changed my life in so many unexpected ways.  I truly believe that each step we take leads us in a certain direction.  Because I was already on a path towards local grown, organic, non-GMO eating, dealing with Lilah’s food sensitivities to wheat, dairy and egg was not as hard as I thought it would be.  

The girls and I watched every episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  We learned about pink slime, about sugar content in food and drink, and how hard it is to change a system, especially a government run system.  We were shocked that some children could not recognize and apple or a piece of broccoli.  We were not shocked at the average school cafeteria since my girls have vivid memories of theirs and most of those memories are unpleasant.
Jamie Oliver caused me to reflect on how I can improve my own relationship with food and how I prepare food for my family.  I love how he refers to the kitchen table as the family alter.  It should be a space that is revered for how gathers us together for the purpose of sharing healthy, delicious food.  It should not be filled with clutter, mail, odds and ends plus a few carelessly strewn coats.  It should be beautiful.  It should be a place you want to come to.  My table can easily become a dumping ground for textbooks, pens, mail, hole punches, etc.  Now I make a conscious effort to keep it covered with a beautiful tablecloth, accented by a centerpiece.  It really does make a difference.
We visited the Peabody Museum to view the Big Food exhibit that is currently on display.  There we learned about food deserts (a term we also came to understand while listening to Don’t Eat This Book), we learned what 5lbs of fat looks like, and how much sugar is really in many drinks.  Now they understand why I don’t let them have chocolate milk! Lilah realized how adept she is becoming at reading labels and understanding ingredients.  Grace reflected on how the display asking visitors to vote on food choices is exactly what we do when we vote with our dollars.  I loved it when she said to me,”Mom, this is all about what we have been learning!”
We completed an 8 hour audiobook, Morgan Spurlock’s Don’t Eat This Book.  It is ironic since I turned off the documentary Super Size Me when the F-bomb was said but this audiobook is peppered with some pretty colorful language (and yes, the F-bomb makes one appearance....why Morgan?  Why?)  However, what we learned from listening to this book offset the swear words that they already knew and thankfully do not use!  We skipped the chapter on food lobbyists.  It was too technical and while very interesting to me because I get sick over the incestuous relationship between big food/chemical and the USDA, my girls did not share in my enthusiasm.  We also skimmed over how the McDiet  negatively affected Morgan’s sex life.  TMI for the girls!  Every single time we listened to this audiobook one of us stopped the cd and commented that we learned something new. The discussions that came from this audiobook were lively, maddening, intellectual and memorable.
We also viewed Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, another documentary that hits home the importance of using food to cure your ills.  The movie’s creator, Joe Cross, lost a stunning amount of weight juicing for 60 days and in the process was able to reverse a severe autoimmune disease to the point that the symptoms disappeared!  Our family juices regularly, not as a meal replacement but as an additional way to get lots of fruit and veggies into our bodies on a daily basis.  After watching this my girls, especially Grace, enjoy juicing more.  Grace is even learning how to use the juicer to make yummy juice for the family to enjoy.  So far her favorite is carrot, apple, celery, lemon with a tiny bit of ginger.
I feel we will always be learning more about food, herbs, and natural self-care.  It feels almost silly to call this a “semester’s worth of learning” but since I am now keeping a transcript of Grace’s 7th grade year (which you can download from this amazing resource), I am quantifying this as a semester.  Our course description:
“Student will learn the role nutrition has in sustaining a healthy body and mind.  Food selection, and food preparation will be required.  Student will learn how to determine nutritional content of food prepared.  Instruction addresses nutrition from the perspective of food habits and wellness, menu planning, special dietary needs, foods costs, food-buying strategies, food safety and sanitation procedures, food labeling, and preparation practices.   Student will learn this through documentaries, docu-dramas, museum exhibits, texts: The Juicing Bible, Pat Crocker and The World’s Healthiest Foods: The Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating, George Mateljan.”

Demonstration of knowledge assessed by: 
  • Execution of product (meal, snack, juice, dessert) that is not only edible and nutritious, but marketable!
  • Ability to prepare a balanced meal for family of four.
  • Verbal communication with adults who are well versed in topic.
  • Not only being able to quantify reasons why certain food are nutritious but also being able to make an effective argument why certain foods should be rarely, if ever consumed.  

It took us 8+ hours to listen to the audiobook due to the numerous discussions we had mid-chapter.  Jamie Oliver’s series was 12 episodes at 44min each totaling almost 9 hours.  Fat Sick and Nearly Dead 97 min.  Big Food exhibit 3 hours.  “Lab/Kitchen do you quantify that?  I am going to put 1/2 hour a day x 5 x 16 weeks = 40 hours.  54 hours.  15 hours of in class seat time usually equals one per credit hour.  45 hours of seat time would be typical of a  3 credit hour class.  I am going to count this as 3 credits.
What really intrigued us was a commonality that each documentary/book had.....the effect of advertising on family purchases, especially those influenced by children.  We learned that marketing departments coined the phrase “whine factor” and know exactly how long on average it takes for a child to whine before the parent gives in.  This is why most products that are marketed to children are placed at the cart level -- right where the riding child can see.  My girls want to go to the supermarket and observe this in action.  They want to diagram the store to show that the healthy whole food is on the perimeter and the packaged, processed, shelf stable preservative-laden food is in the middle.  
I am wondering if this could lead into a study of advertising/marketing........

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Notebook

I don’t know if it is due to the start of the holiday season, or if my pace of life has just slowed down to a place where I can spend a few minutes gathering my thoughts while I doodle.....whatever the cause, the outcome is that I can feel my creative juices flowing.  
My little notebook, which started off this fall as a place where I would jot down a few things for the girls to do each day has morphed into something that is not only a record of our work but a place where I like to return to throughout the day to capture what really takes place during the hours we spend together.  
I do not plan a full day of “lessons”.  I take a look at our calendar and examine how much time we will be inside our home vs. the time required to travel to and from outside lessons.  Then I reflect on what I want to see accomplished, such as math, or science, or reading.  I jot down two or three things.  Just enough to build momentum.  My journal looks very different at the end of the day than it did when we gathered at the table to have breakfast and review our schedule. I have come to realize, that if I put down what I want and leave room for creativity, the day fills up with many things such as reading, piano practice, writing, and even unplanned physics lessons involving gear ratios and torque (related to our electronics class).  
So many parents struggle with record keeping.  I have been one of them.  I have used teacher planning books, printed checklists from excel, schedule apps, and even no daily plans.  This is what I have settled on and this is what works for us.  
When I was teaching, teachers would walk the halls carrying their sketchbooks.  At meetings, the conference table would be filled with sketchbooks, and littered with magic markers and colored pencils.  This was before the age of electronics. Now I am sure laptops or iPads would be the recording device of choice, but back then we were committed to exploring ourselves artistically, and our notebooks held not only our notes but also our reflections on those notes and how they applied to the children we taught in our classrooms.  I still have those notebooks filled with anecdotal snippets of who was reading what and the highlights of our reading conferences.  They contain sketches of my classroom, notes from parent/teacher conferences, references to what we were studying and book list after book list.  
It has taken me three years to apply this to my homeschool.  My notebook is becoming a place to jot down not only what we accomplish in a day but a place for a quick lesson, a place to keep lists of what resources we want to take out from the library or watch on Netflix.  It is a place that they girls want to work in too, taking part in the illustrations.  Just like my old teaching notebooks, this one is a place that I can come to, spend some time coloring, drawing, reflecting and I feel very in control of what is happening in and out of our home.   

Homegrown Learners

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Back on the ice

We have not been on the ice for over a year.  First there was this in September 2011.....

And then this in November 2011......

Both were very nasty injuries.  They kept us away from something that we love very much.  My girls have grown up on the ice.  As soon as Grace stepped onto the ice her face lit up with joy. The twists were not forgotten, the jumps came back.  As usual, she was the first one on and the last one off.

Lilah asked about lessons.....oh boy.  Are we going to go down that road again?  I was not blogging when Grace was entrenched in her skating lessons, spending hours and hours in lessons, in practice, in rehearsals.  Spending hours and hours in the car.  Perhaps Lilah can do a learn to skate program here at our favorite rink, to brush up on the skills that I taught her.  She has the potential to be a beautiful skater....

The absolute best part of our skating time is that we have the opportunity to go when the rest of the world is either in school or at work.  There is nothing like stepping onto a freshly zambonied, completely empty rink.  Then your friends arrive and it becomes a skating party.  90 minutes of exercise, of play, of being completely and totally alive.  

Yeah...we can’t wait to go back!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Again and again and again...

Grace is finishing up Book 2 of of Key To Measurement.  I jumped back to Measurement after Fractions because much of her learning from fractions can be applied to measurement.
For example today she did a simple procedure using a Pyrex glass measuring cup and objects to determine volume by water displacement.  One object displaced 3/4 a cup and another 2/3 cup.  In order to determine which had a greater volume she needed to recall her learning about common denominators to compare these two fractions.  Life learning.  
This was a great lesson.  I should have stopped.  However she wanted to finish the book and complete the test at the end.  I should have stopped.  I know she knew how to do the problems, but the test began with visual and spacial problems, and those always throw her off.  She is very linear.  She loves calculation.  Ask her to count how many cubes are in a picture and forget it.  Give her the dimensions, even a missing dimension, and she can do it with her eyes closed.  
She made silly mistakes.  She got frustrated.  Some answers were correct but labels were missing.  Other answers were wrong.  In my heart I know she knows this.  I just saw her do a problem with measurement, drawing back on her fractions experience.  Synthesis was happening.  I should have stopped.
I told her about my college calculus class.  My professor made a deal with his students on the first day of class.  It was actually more of a contract, complete with signatures.  The professor agreed to allow a quiz or test to be taken multiple times until the student was satisfied with the grade earned.  Got a C?  Want an A?  Take it over and over and over until you achieve a level of success that you the student are satisfied with.  In return, the student must pass the final.  If the student fails the final, he or she fails the class.  I signed the contract.  I passed.  In fact, I did much better than I ever anticipated doing.  
I told Grace not to worry.  Tomorrow is another day.  If she is not satisfied with the outcome of today’s test, she can take it again and again until she is satisfied.  Given that she has earned As on all her other tests, I expect that she will improve when she is working with a mind not clogged by frustration.
I realize this is not always real life.  Sometime you get one shot.  You do your best.  You pass or you fail.  I see math as preparation for those one time deals.  If she wants to test into a private high school, it may be a one time deal.  You pass, you get in.  You fail, you don’t.  But if taking a math test multiple times can prepare her for that experience when you get just one opportunity, then I say take it.  Again and again and again.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Know what you like, like what you do.

It can be a bit challenging; balancing projects with the work that I would like to see the girl’s accomplish.  I have learned to give the girls enough time and space to work on their projects, because when the energy flows, it usually spills over into the other areas of their learning as well.

Lilah’s LCC blog is doing really well!  Not that we judge success by views but... there seems to be something here that people are interested in reading about!   So Lilah spent some time brainstorming ideas on what to blog about in between LCC meetings.  What will make her readers return to her site?  What else does she want to say?  How can we incorporate her friends into the blogging process?  

Brainstorming opens up the channels of creativity.  She knew she had to write right away!  Once her blog post was complete and published, she was moved to do more writing, this time a creative piece of fiction that she is giving to her little cousin as a Christmas present.  
The flip side of this is that once Lilah enters the “creativity zone” I can have a very hard time refocusing her on more mundane subjects like math and science......However, creativity is catchy.  Her sister saw how successful the blog is and it inspired her to begin a new blog based only on weather, her passion.   She wants to explore an opportunity to share her writing with a larger blogging community as well.   Her blog is still under construction but will be unveiled soon. 
I swear it is because I gave her two full hours this morning to work on her project that when it came time to do math and science I heard comments like “can I just write 6x+7x=13x instead of using labels?” and “can I do just one more chapter?” .  That is pretty awesome.  Everything I asked, she completed.  Grace even took extra care in her math work.  Using graph paper she lined up her equations and printed in her best handwriting.  “This is so pretty mom!”  Only Grace thinks that math equations are “pretty”.  Love it.
Project based, interest led, talent led....there are so many different names for what you can call this.  I like to think of it as life learning.
Know what you like, like what you do, do what you like well.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Touching Lives One Cupcake at a Time

Projects are funny things.  They often pop up out of nowhere.  Sometimes they burn brightly then fizzle out and sometimes, if you are very lucky, they burn slowly, and as they gather momentum, fed by new ideas and new inspirations, it is like oxygen feeding the fire until what began as a small spark is now a raging inferno.  

LCC started off with an idea generated from a children’s book.  Lilah read the book and asked herself, “what if?”.  I answered her “what if” with a “yes”.  That was all it took.  This weekend was the third meeting of LCC. Each time these girls meet, something new develops.  
I am amazed at how little I have to do with this project.  Other than pick up girls if necessary, provide oversight for kitchen safety and drive Lilah to pick up supplies occasionally, I get to sit back and watch my daughter in her element.
To prepare for a meeting Lilah:
Finds and tests a new recipe.
Creates a beautiful recipe poster for the girls to follow.

Checks her LCC baking supplies against recipe.
Emails girls what to bring if necessary.
Cleans the house to prepare for their visit.
Organizing the baking supplies needed in the kitchen.

Together the girls:



Package their treats.
Lilah is very aware of presentation.  She likes the baked goods to be something that she would want to receive.  One time they decorated plain white Chinese food containers.  This time they used beautiful cupcake boxes that Greg and Grace found at Target and bought for Lilah.  Lilah spent about two hours one day creating a gift tag with her LCC logo that has an explanation of what the club is all about.....a mission statement.  The gift tag is wrapped up with fancy ribbon and really makes the gift complete.
Determine a charity to donate the baked goods to.
Call the organization if necessary.
Hand deliver the goodies.

Introduce themselves, what their club is, and why they bake for charity.
Make an entry in their LCC journal about the recipe, their thoughts on how well it turned out, and ideas for future meetings.

On the gift tag is LCC’s blog address:  After the baking was complete and the delivery made the girls sat together and worked on the blog. They determined how it should look, wrote an About Us text blurb, wrote the first entry, which details their previous LCC meeting when peanut butter balls were delivered to the Fire Department, and created a survey of the reader’s favorite cupcakes.  

Never ever would I have imagined that Lilah would have the nerve to walk herself into a smokey bar at the VFW the day before Veteran’s Day with three boxes of cupcakes in her hand and with me standing far in the background, introduce herself, her friends and ask a Korean War Veteran if he would like their cookies.  Cupcakes are not as sweet as that moment.  It will live with me forever.
This club, this project, this lovely little gathering of lovely little girls is something magical.  LCC is truly touching people’s lives by bringing a little sweetness into it, one cupcake at a time.

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...