Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Our writing warm up turned into our sole writing activity for the day.  Nothing too fancy, just a tree.  A tree to symbolize life, growth and renewal, strength, protection and shelter.  While we drew, we contemplated the things we are thankful for, for we have each been given so much.  Family to love us, a home to protect us, food to nurture us, parents to educate us, friends to laugh with us, siblings to grow with us, pets to amuse us, books to satisfy us, and curiosity to sustain us.  Yes, we are blessed, for blessing are not found in things, they are found within us.

**Tree tutorial can be found on my Pinterest Page**

Monday, November 25, 2013

SoundWaters: Schooner Sail

Part of the SoundWaters class was an experience on their floating classroom, an 80 feet schooner, where the focus of the sail was a hands on exploration of life science.

The children rotated among stations on the deck which included: how the use of pulleys and other simple machines assist in making work easier, rope tying, ocean ecology, and marine life.  The children had the opportunity to raise the sails on the schooner and take a turn steering the ship’s wheel.  

To be completely honest, I felt the curriculum offered was too young for these children.  I wished they were presented with a more challenging offering of stations to work through.  However, what I took away from this day was not so much the educational value of the material offered, but the life experience they had of sailing aboard such a magnificent vessel.  

This day was truly picture perfect.  Manhattan’s skyline was just visible on the horizon and the fall sun gifted us with our last pinky glow of the year.  Since parents were not welcome to join in on the educational lessons, we had three hours to sit and enjoy and visit and appreciate.  

*This hurricane barrier in the city of Stamford, CT was featured on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe in 2006.  YouTube has the embed feature blocked for this video clip.  If you want to watch you can find a clip of the episode at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=velpYkaaXeU

Friday, November 22, 2013


The girls recently completed their fall science course, a 17 hour marine science program offered by SoundWaters of Stamford, whose mission is to protect Long Island Sound through education.  

I am glad that the girls loved this class so much.  Commuting 30 miles south on I95 in what is still technically rush hour is something we certainly are not used to.  What normally would take thirty minutes took an hour and since Metro North Railroad experienced a major transformer outage, shutting down trains and impacting rail travel for two weeks, this commute suddenly became 1.5 hours.   Yet, it was something the girls never grumbled about getting up early for and we took advantage of our car time to listen to audiobooks. 

The girls could not have been blessed with better weather for this class.  Every Monday (with the exception of one) was picture perfect.  While the girls were in class my friend and I would hit up Starbucks for a latte and stroll the grounds of this stunningly beautiful park.  

This year, for the first time, I have begun to ask outside classes and teachers for progress reports and class outlines.  Since they do not receive “grades” for their work, I want to be able to show the content of the class and their participation in it from a third party’s perspective.  

The topics covered in this class were:

Long Island Sound Watershed
  • Runoff
  • Point source/ non-point source pollution
  • Rivers, streams, tributaries, agricultural areas, urban areas
  • Brackish water, salt water, fresh water
  • Surface water/ ground water
  • Estuary

Water quality
  • Salinity
  • pH
  • turbidity
  • temperature
  • nitrates – different sources

Sampling equipment 
  • Population survey
  • Random sampling/ quadrats
  • Transects
  • Water quality
  • VanDorn/ LaMotte Bottle
  • Turbidity tube/ Secchi disk
  • Hydrometer
  • Thermometer
  • pH colorimeter
  • pH/ nitrate strips

  • dip net
  • seine net
  • plankton net

  • compound and dissecting

Long Island Sound Watershed
  • Runoff
  • Point source/ non-point source pollution
  • Rivers, streams, tributaries, agricultural areas, urban areas
  • Brackish water, salt water, fresh water
  • Surface water/ ground water
  • Estuary

Water quality
  • Salinity
  • pH
  • turbidity
  • temperature
  • nitrates – different sources

Animal adaptations
  • Diamondback terrapin
  • Horseshoe crab
  • Spider crab
  • Hermit Crab
  • Seastar
  • Flounder
  • Oyster toadfish
  • Bivalves: Clam, oyster, mussel
  • Chocolate fingered mud crab, green crab
  • Lobster
  • Asian shore crab (invasive species)

  • Salt marsh (Spartina grass)
  • Peat
  • Ribbed mussel
  • Buffer/sponge for coastline
  • Rocky intertidal zone
  • Sandy beach

Food web/Food chain
  • Plankton
  • Phytoplankton – oxygen production – primary producer
  • Zooplanktonmero/holoplankton – primary consumer
  • Scavenger, predator, consumer, decomposer

Sampling equipment

Beginning next week, we will follow up this experience with a study of Oceanography, including projects, labs and lab reports using: Silver Burdett Ginn Science Discovery Works, 1996 (pre acquisition by Houghton Mifflin).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Day in New Haven

Saturday the girls had another class at Yale, class #2 of 4 in a series of physics classes for girls interested in science.  The first class was physics of the invisible world.  This class was physics of the material world.  Normally I would run the girls to New Haven, drop them off, chat with my friends, come home, do a few errands and then run back to New Haven, pick them up, deliver them home and then finally drive back to my home around 3:00pm.

This time, I asked Greg to ignore the thick blanket of leaves on our lawn, to step over the piles of laundry accumulating and threatening to spill out of the laundry sorter and to put off food shopping for one more day.  It was a glorious day.  The kind of day that just begs to be celebrated.  5 hours alone with my husband, my best friend, is certainly celebration enough.

We sipped a latte at Blue State Coffee, which I have to admit was a bit hard for me to do.  We almost bought my parents a coffee mug as a Christmas gift, a joke gift.  As we sat surrounded by “kids” studying and studying at 9:30 on a glorious Saturday morning, we talked about my most recent read: Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree.  Most likely there will be a post coming with more about this book.  A quick review: it completely changed my perspective of a gap year and gave me valuable insight into how cool a homeschooled high school experience could be.  However, chatting about this in the the company of “kids”, who most likely did not take this route, felt a bit radical.  

After a stop at the Apple store, we perused Yale’s Bookstore and I found Brundibar!   I sat in the comfy rocking chair and ignored the tears that came to my eyes as I read the powerful story of children banding together to stop an evil tyrant.  As I read this I could not help but think that we must know our history because this ending page, a letter from Brundibar (Hitler) is all too true.

Normally this would be enough for me.  Coffee and a book store?  That is my ideal day.  Add to this a fabulous lunch - outside - in mid-November - in Connecticut and well.....that is almost too much.  I have driven by Caseus a zillion times, but we usually default to our favorite Indian restaurant when we are in New Haven.  The girls do not like Indian as much as we do, and usually we revel in the opportunity to have a meal there.  Caseus is a fromagerie and bistro and it is great comfort food.  In hindsight, we should not have ordered both a cheese plate and a ginormous grilled cheese, but it was very, very good.  I tried to ignore the fact that I could indeed feel my arteries clogging, and vowed to do a cleanse, after I enjoyed this meal, outside, in 65 degree sunshine, in November, with Greg.

We had just enough time left to pop into an eclectic vintage clothing shop before we had to head back to pick up the girls.  I’m so glad we took this time together.  The holiday season in retail means longer hours and more travel.  Greg and I will not get this opportunity to spend such quality time alone again for awhile.  The leaves, the laundry and the food shopping got done eventually.  Those things are important, but not nearly as important as the time we spend talking, laughing, strolling, and reveling in the day.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Maurice Sendak

It happened again.  Four years into this experience and I still get chills when I realize how deep and layered and truly awesome the experience of learning is.

Last week’s Wednesday Adventure was a trip to New Britain’s Museum of American Art, a little gem tucked away in central Connecticut, where Connecticut resident Maurice Sendak’s original works of art are currently on display.  

For this trip the girls and I decided (well, I decided but they agreed) to make a project.  

We visited the library and pulled many books that were either written and illustrated or just illustrated by Maurice Sendak.  The girls made photocopies of the covers and using the cover like the background of an art journal page, wrote a connection they have to the book (text to text, text to life, text to self).   

I made some notebooking pages to take with us to the museum.  I wanted the girls to find favorite pieces of art, write a biography of Maurice Sendak, and be able to express why his artwork is relevant.  

As we were working on the biography part of the project we discovered that Mr. Sendak’s parents were immigrants from Poland.  In 1941 his parents were notified that the Nazi’s completely wiped out the village in which they immigrated from, where many of his relatives still resided.  Some were sent to concentration camps, but most were killed. 

As we read this we made a text to life connection.  We just finished reading Hannah’s Suitcase, the true story of Hannah Brady, a young Jewish girl who was a victim of the Holocaust and whose story was brought to life by a Japanese teacher and her students.  This was a strong connection.  I just did not realize how strong it truly was.

As we were completing the museum created scavenger hunt, I came across a plaque describing how Maurice came to collaborate with Jim Henson and discovered a love of set and costume design and began designing librettos including Brundibar, a children’s opera that was performed at Theresienstadt Concentration Camp........where Hannah Brady spent part of her childhood.  

I don’t know if words can quite convey how deeply this touched us.  You can’t plan this.  You can’t know in advance that one thing you stumble upon will lead you to a deeper level of appreciation and understanding.  As we connect our learning it is no longer just a book, or just a lecture or just a documentary, it is now part of us.  Hannah Brady is part of us.  Maurice Sendak is now directly connected to Hannah Brady.  My girls and I will never forget this.  This bit of learning, of education, of enlightenment and understanding changed us in a tangible way.   This is life learning.  This is interest led learning.  This is project based learning.  This is unschooling.  No matter what “label” you give it, it is not serendipity (like I used to think), it is not coincidence, and it is not random.  It is the active desire to fill your brain with knowledge.  It is the conscious decision to dig deeper and gain wisdom and hopefully understanding.  It is true learning and it gives me chills.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013


Teenage years are when children are supposed to pull away from family and establish their own identity - right?  This is the time when peers guide decision making and influence personal style. That is not happening for us.  We don’t quite fit into that generally accepted definition of adolescence.  

My girls’ peer group changes from day to day.  One day they are taking classes with a group of kids ranging in age from 10 to 14.  Another day they are with their music teachers all day.  A third day they have their closest group, their writing group, but... there is also their sign language group and the group of friends we don’t get to see as much as we’d like do to distance and scheduling conflicts but who are near and dear to our hearts.  I can't forget their shared bestieour neighbor, who sadly does not homeschool but we see several times a week after school.  

My girls are not locked in to teenage cliques, they are not driven to emulate the latest Miley Cyrus antics, nor are they pressured to make the same kinds of decisions I made at thirteen, decisions that were ill advised and harmful, not only to my body, but to my relationship with my parents as well.

I am not suggesting that keeping children out of school is the key to teenage bliss.  Adolescence has its share of challenges.  However, I do see that my daughters have no desire to separate from their family, at least not yet anyway.    Since their birth I have strived to maintain strong family connections with family members near and far.  From infancy, we journeyed two hours north to visit my Grandmother every Thursday so my girls would know her and remember her when she passed on.  I am so grateful I took this time.  I clearly remember the resentment I felt when Grace entered Kindergarten because our Thursday routine was disrupted.  We had to wait for school holidays to visit my Gram.  By the time we decided to pursue homeschooling, my Gram was no longer well enough for weekly visits, and many of  my trips north were with my mother and sister, so that my girls could keep their memories of my Gram as a happy, spunky, full of life woman who taught them about faith and love and family.  

It is just as important to maintain family relationships now that my girls are older, perhaps it is even more so.  We are blessed with a close family. My girls are loved on by aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts, great uncles, grandparents and family friends.  I think the saddest part of adolescence is the time stolen away due to homework, test prep, and school calendars.  The message is very clear that school and schoolwork come first, family second.  I admire the way my sister handles homework with her teenage sons.  Sunday dinner at my mom’s is never abandoned because homework is not finished.  My nephews have it done before so that they can spend time surrounded by those who love them.  This matters, as much or even more than a few algebra problems or chapters of a novel.  

We still take the time out of our week to visit with family and friends.  I want my girls to have men and women in their lives who are not only friends of their parents, but mentors to them.  I want them to know their cousins, their great aunts and uncles as more than a name on a birthday or Christmas card.  When I wonder if we should stay home to work on a history project or finish up the last few pages of a book, I always decide that those things can wait for another day.  The opportunity to be surrounded by  love and laughter shouldn’t be squandered.  It is precious.  

It is one of the aspects of homeschooling that I am most grateful for.   

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yale Splash Fall 2013

Another Saturday, another day spent at Yale.  This time I drove a car full of girls to New Haven for the fall Splash program.  

“Splash at Yale is an event that brings local high school and middle school students to Yale University for one day of unlimited learning. Students who come take classes in a variety of both conventional and unconventional subjects taught by Yale undergraduate and graduate students.
Our goal is to build excitement for teaching and learning from both sides. Students get to learn about things that they normally wouldn’t have access to, empowering them to find what they love to learn, discover new career opportunities, and become tomorrow’s leaders.”

Grace’s classes consisted of: sign language, the chemistry of water, Irish culture and history, a science class about oxygen, another science class about microbes and viruses, a music history class and a high school level piano seminar class.  I though the piano class was sure to be her favorite since she emailed the coordinators personally asking for an age exception to be made allowing her into this class.  However, other students who registered were not serious musicians.  Only two other students were playing at or above her level.  She enjoyed playing on the Steinway grand piano, but was hoping for more peer feedback.
Her favorite classes were the Irish history class and the water class.  She came off the Yale campus bubbling with energy and enthusiasm for what she spend the day learning.  She chatted half way home just about the difference between the adjectives hydrophilic and hydrophobic.
I love that she willingly dedicates her Saturdays to these classes.  They give her many of the things that are hard for me to provide.  She gets a classroom experience with her peers, exposure to new teachers, an introduction to new subjects, and extensions in the subjects she has been studying.    

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A little bit of this….and that

It’s been a week since my last post.  I have been trying really hard to keep up with blogging, but I am having a hard squeezing it in between this:

Lilah has has several orders to fulfill which required many trips to the post office!
Grace has been working on designing her new Instagram account.

Grace loves these little science kits.  This was the soda can robot.

Lilah did some art journaling for fun.  We are almost ready to incorporate more of this into our week again.  We miss it.

We still stop by the beach every week on the way to sign language.  Just 20 min refreshes us.

Our 16 point compass roses are complete.  Post will be coming soon.

Lilah loves gymnastics - so much more than she thought she would!

Grace loves it every bit as much as she thought she would!

Our day to day activities take us from Monday to Friday in the blink of an eye.  Now that the holidays are upon us, we are slowing down, staying home as much as possible, and focusing on the projects that are occupying our minds; Lilah’s craft fair and Grace’s music performances.  

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...