Friday, January 31, 2014

Nature Journaling at SoundWaters

When the girls and I did science at home every Monday, we incorporated nature journaling into our day.  Years ago the girls kept the most beautiful journal when we were studying botany, but our practice of blending science and art fell away when that study came to a close.  

I asked the girls to bring their journals to SoundWaters and to use their journal as a place to record information about an animal and the learning that took place that day.  It is a quiet time of reflection and study.  They each pick their own place among the aquariums and work. In addition to their learning that day, they record the date, the temperature and the weather conditions.

The practice of journaling is spreading among the group.  Right now my two girls and two others are using the time after class for nature journaling.  I am expecting more to join in next week.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The details are on Instagram

Not too long ago I wanted to move. I felt there was no beauty surrounding me and thought I could find beauty in a town with rolling green hills and pastures. I was, and am still, tired of the congestion, of the background hum of I95, of graffiti, of loud car stereos and light pollution that blocks the stars at night. When we made the decision to stay, to turn our home and tiny plot of land into all it could be, I made the choice to look for beauty where ever I am. 

When we are driving and something beautiful catches our eye, we don’t just drive by. We slow down. We turn around. We look. We listen. We take pictures. Instagram has changed the way I look at my life. While it is a record of our homeschooling experience and our life in general, I try very hard to focus on taking pictures that capture the beauty before me. Perhaps it is a breathtaking Catholic church. Or a seagull stretching his wings pre flight. Or the way the light enters a room. Or my view of what my girls are working on. 

My blog tends to capture some of our family’s bigger moments such as the projects, the trips, the lessons learned. But Instagram  captures the details. This blog began as a way to share our homeschool with friends and family near and far. Our life right now is busy with classes and activities which does not leave much time for writing and blogging, so I blog on the go with Instagram. You don’t have to have an account to see what we are up to or to leave a comment. I will still be blogging here, but to see the details of our life, check out my profile, teachablemoments here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Anchoring our Week

I like having anchors to start our week and end our week.  It is too easy to roll out of bed on a Monday morning, stay in pjs, drink that second cup of coffee and rationalize why it is totally okay to let the girls sleep until 9am, after all their bodies need it......

Sometimes their bodies do need that extra sleep.  They seem to grow in their sleep and wake just a little bit bigger and just a little bit older than when I kissed them goodnight ten hours earlier.

However, I know that we have better days, and better weeks when each day has a plan.  In the fall, SoundWaters kick started our week.  The weather was beautiful.  The girls had a great class with friends, and I was able to spend time with one of my friends as well.  When class stopped, I kept up our routine of science Monday and invited one of their friends to come join us for the day.  We began with oceanography which led to chemistry (the periodic table), and included field trips to UCONN and Yale’s Peabody Museum.  We made time to begin a nature journal, grew a container garden, studied our backyard squirrels and wrote a rough draft for a grant application which will be used to build and prepare a backyard vegetable garden that will grow food to be given away to local charities that feed the hungry.  And let’s not forget that we finished a lapbook!  That alone is an accomplishment for us!  We have a horrible track record of beginning them and never completing them......

When we had the opportunity to return to SoundWaters for another class for 6 weeks in the winter, we took it.  This class is smaller, older, and more focused on lab work, experimentation and research.  It combines the information they learned in the fall about marine biology and marine habitats with what we learned about chemistry, oceanography and the periodic table.  

Week 1 involved looking at newly hatched horseshoe crabs and setting up two tanks for observation.  Each tank has a different salinity and this will be the factor that is used to compare growth rates in the horseshoe crab samples.  They also learned how to test for oxygen levels in the water samples through a chemical process that I do not have the details about.  They enjoyed working in the laboratory with microscopes and chemicals, test tubes and petri dishes.  

I asked them to take pictures and video for a class-end video project.  One reason I wanted them to take this class was due to its unique content.  It is unlike any middle school or high school class I have ever taken.  Since I am not present for the class, nor am I administering a final “test”, I want to know what they are learning.  I am also always looking tie in many parts of the learning process simultaneously.  Each week the girls make a nature journal entry (art and writing), they take pictures and video (technology), they get their science work done in the laboratory, they are working together, and they are working independently.  They are working on things that are completed each week (their journal entry) and they are learning about project management (multi-week research).  

This class takes up the bulk of our day.  We need to allow for an hour travel time there (due to morning rush hour traffic on I95) and when we are early there is a fantastic Whole Foods we stop at for a quick snack.  The class lasts 2 1/2 hours and we tag on another 1/2 hour with the nature journal entry.  Travel time home is about 30 min.  It is 4 hours well spent.  

I am very excited for the girls.  I love that SoundWaters has brought so much science into our lives.  

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cupcake Club supports the Firefighters

My last post started off as a recap of Lilah’s latest cupcake club meeting but as it turned into more of a stream of consciousness post, I chose to leave the cupcake club for another day.

Cupcake Club always makes for a memorable day.  It is not always an easy day for three families have to coordinate a time, usually on a Saturday, when older siblings are off on their activities, husbands are home and errands are plentiful.  There is travel involved too.  I drive about 15 min to pick up the girls whose parents each have to drive about 30 minutes to each other’s homes to coordinate drop off and pick ups.  There is much that goes on behind the scenes to make these days possible.  However, the energy expended is always matched by the energy generated by three young girls.  Usually I end the day with my energy level higher than when I started because I am just filled up with the love and generosity, kindness and friendship that these girls ooze.

I shared with them that there was a horrible fire in the town next to ours.  A building constructed in the late 1800’s went up in flames.  This building was part commercial and part residential.  30 individuals lost their homes.  I am not sure how many of these people were family member since news reports did not say how many apartments this building contained, only that several were sent to the hospital but thankfully no one lost their lives.  Instead they lost everything material.  I know we always say if we have our God and our family and our health we have everything which is true, but can you imagine that one moment you have a home and belongings and just a few minutes later you only have the clothes on your back?  I find that impossible to imagine, yet that is what these people are left with and now they must rebuild the pieces of their lives, one step at a time.

For all the negative news, for all the reports of crime and hate, this is news that should be shouted from the rooftops.  The community is rallying behind these people, giving them clothing, toiletries, coats, blankets, household items, food, gift cards and furniture.  The Shelton Firehouse has turned into a makeshift relief center, collecting, organizing and distributing the items directly to the people, but also to the local thrift shops and food banks.  This tragedy has affected the lives of 30 people, but through the incredible generosity of so many, it will reach out beyond the fire victims and touch the community and those within it who are in need.  

These girls decided to bake cake pop to thank the firefighters for taking on this enormous task.  They did not have to do this.  They could have passed the responsibility to the Red Cross, local faith based organizations, or just passed on the task altogether.  

In addition to the Chinese food container loaded with beautifully decorated little balls of vanilla cake, the girls gave a handmade thank you card and a gift card to a local grocery store.  It was their way of contributing to the efforts of these heroes.

This was one of those days that you just don’t want to end.  This was the kind of day that balances out the hard ones.  There was so much goodness packed into the hours that they were together that those around them could not help but be touched and affected by it.  They are very special girls indeed.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

She is more than a number

This has been an exceptionally hard re-entry to a schedule.  I know pictures on Instagram or posts on a blog make everything look peaceful and happy and joyous, but the reality is that even while we do have moments of bliss, the back story is that there may have been moments of anger or frustration or exhaustion just before the shutter snapped.  

However, there are days that are just about as perfect as one could wish.  We need these days to cling to on the days that are less than rosy, when the air is bitterly cold, and the body is weak, and the mind is tired.  These days are our anchor.  They hold us steady and show us what we are capable of.  These are the days that reassure us when doubt creeps in.  These are the days that we strive for, knowing that if they happened once, they will most assuredly happen again.

Applying for a grant to create a vegetable garden to feed those in need.

My struggle right now is how to do I reconcile the life I have chosen, the one that I know is best for my family, with what I know other children, those that attend school 8 hours a day, are doing?  For some reason letting go was almost too easy for elementary and even for middle school.  But now, now with high school right around the corner, the comparisons are creeping in.  Unfair comparisons, for we made the decision not to school at home, not to choose a boxed curriculum, not to do correspondence school, not to school at all in fact, but to unschool.  

Writing a collaborative story with a friend in Alabama.

As I’m sure is the case everywhere in the homeschool community, lots of emails are floating around the homeschooling Yahoo groups.  Emails about whose child got accepted into which elite ivy league school and which  homeschooling philosophy or method was used to achieve this accomplishment.  Emails about homeschooling workshops being given by parents who have “successfully” homeschooled their child (success being defined as college acceptance), and who are now offering workshops on how I too can achieve the same level of success.  Emails about potential classes for high school freshmen that will ensure success on AP tests -- at 14 years old.  Success again being defined as a score, a 5/5. 

Making a musical instrument during a chemistry lesson.

I am so sick of these emails.  I am so sick of the parental peer pressure and competitive nature that we parents have and pass down to our children.  How do I define success?  Being capable of making sound, healthy decisions. Having enough money to cover your needs and some of your wants.  Waking up every day and knowing that the next 12 hours will not be wasted.  Making a positive difference in the world.  Having love.  Having friendship.  Having interests.  Knowing your talents.   Being kind.  Being generous.  Being true.  Being honest.  Knowing joy.  Knowing faith.  Treating yourself with kindness.  Treating the world around you with kindness. 

Delivering cake pops and a donation to a local fire house.  30 individuals lost their homes in a horrible fire.  The girls wanted to give back through their cupcake club.
 When my children experience something that meets these criterion, then they are successful whether they are 11 and 13 or 41 and 43.  I cannot continue to worry about the minutia.  I cannot continue to stress about the insignificant for I know that the days like these are the ones that truly matter.  The days that matter define who we are and what we are far more than any test score ever will.   We do not walk around with a test score scrawled in Sharpie on our foreheads.  I do not know, nor do I care, what my friend’s SAT scores were, or how many AP tests they took, or what their high school GPA was.  Why do we identify teens and value their worth as students and ultimately as people this way?  Why is it so very hard to let go of this standard that we all grew up with?  Why do we continue to buy into a system that is designed to make money off our children and cause them stress and anxiety then score them, and grade them, and rank them, and turn them loose to compete in the college marketplace?

Cartography "class"
I don’t want to pay for a college advisor.  I would rather pay for baking supplies.  I don’t want to pay for test prep courses.  I would rather pay for gas to transport my children to their volunteering activities.  Sometimes I think I am just naive and sometimes I think we (parents and students) should just say "no more, I am not playing by these rules anymore".  Accept my kid because she has a great portfolio packed with book lists, projects, volunteering photos, has studied a variety of subjects, has watched documentaries, worked with mentors, interned at cool places, held a job, designed her own courses, participated in the community, participated in sports, plays an instrument, knows a foreign language (assuming she keeps it up!), has interests, goals and dreams.  Or don’t.  But don’t determine her value based on a score.  She is so much more than a number.

No caption needed!

Saturday, January 11, 2014


I could fill a blog responding to the things I hear parents say.  Last night two parents were talking about the commitments our children have to sports and how much time it takes them away from the family.  I was involved in my own internal struggle with sports as my girls had their gymnastics class, which they love, but also had their first basketball game just an hour and a half after the end of gymnastics class.  They were sore and tired, and that dampened their excitement for basketball.

It seems that my children’s commitment to a once a week non-competitive gymnastics class and an 8 week recreational basketball league is nothing compared to what some families are putting themselves through.  I cannot imagine having a 14 year old who leaves my house at 7:00am for school and does not return until 11:30pm due to basketball games and then has to study until 1:00 or 2:00am to keep on top of her grades.  Just can’t imagine it.  I also cannot imagine having multiple children playing multiple sports on separate travel teams, not just for one season, but season after season, after season.

I am clearly not a sports Mom.  In fact I just said these exact words to my sister in law.  I am not a sports Mom.  I did not play sports in high school.  My acceptance into college was not contingent upon playing sports nor will it be for my daughters, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot understand the value that our society places on sports and athletes.   So imagine my distress when I overhead one mom tell another that we do this willingly so that we don’t deprive our children of anything.  

When I think of the definition of deprived, I think being without those things necessary for our survival.  Many people are deprived of food, of shelter, of clean water, of a good education, of a loving supportive family.  That is tragic and unfair.  

de·prived [dih-prahyvd]  (
marked by deprivation; lacking the necessities of life, as adequate food and shelter: a deprived childhood.

To deprive a child of a sport, to withhold it from them, will not kill them.  It may make them angry, or sad, or frustrated, but it will not deprive them of any basic necessities of life.  In fact, it may do the opposite, it may provide them with more of the things that are in fact, necessary for a healthy life, such as time for family dinners, time for bedtime snuggles, time for unhurried homework, time for conversation, time to focus on faith.  

I live in a ridiculous part of the country and it is becoming more and more apparent to me as I age.  When we equate travel teams and sports leagues with depravation, our priorities as parents and as a culture are skewed.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A not so simple question

I cringe when people ask my girls what they are learning.  It does not happen often but when it does, I can pretty much guarantee that they will look at the questioner with a blank expression as they struggle to find the words to answer that simple question.

Except that question is not so simple.  We don’t really categorize our learning by subjects.   They could say, “In current events we learned about the challenges facing Washington in 2014” - yeah right.  Or they could say, “In math I read that Fred is attending a conference and with the money he received he bought an 800 serving ice cream machine to feed the audience and demonstrate the concept of long division.” - not gonna happen.  Or they could say, “I’m still working on a collaborative piece of fiction with three other girls and it is about a boy who gets kidnapped and his rescue and we have been working on it for months and it is pages and pages long.” - but that won’t come to mind.

Tonight I was watching Little House on the Prairie with Grace when I realized how odd it must seem for them to be asked this question.  Through our study of history we have learned much about the history of the Jewish people.  We learned about the Diaspora in Story of the World.  We learned more in Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman.  We learned a great deal about the Holocaust in Hannah’s Suitcase, and more still at the Maurice Sendak exhibit.  Little House, season 5, episode: The Craftsman, deals with an elderly Jewish craftsman and the prejudice he faces from townspeople in this country.  His young apprentice also faces bullying and teasing for his association with the craftsman.  Grace looked at me and I at her, and without saying a word, we  understood that yet another layer of learning was added.

Grace does not have a chapter test on the Jewish Diaspora, nor does she have a test on the Holocaust, yet she has an understanding of both.  She is not cramming vocabulary words or memorizing dates, yet she knows that this issue spans centuries, countries and still continues today.

This is why I must keep records, for to go back and “prove” that this learning happened without a test or a text will be challenging four years from now.  Today, Little House on the Prairie gets listed under history, alongside the biography on Maurice Sendak and the time spent listening to Hannah’s Suitcase.  

Monday, January 6, 2014


We don’t do New Year Resolutions.   We would just be setting ourselves up to fail.  We do what feels right when it feels right.  We had the idea to quit cable so we quit cable.  We I don’t miss it one bit!  We phase in and out of daily green smoothies.  Right now we are detoxing from overindulging in holiday sweets, so we are smoothy-ing almost every day.  We try to exercise as much as possible, but we realize this is an area that we can improve on.

Our lifestyle should allow for more exercise, given that we have the freedom to schedule it in, but we find ourselves with very little time.  Greg gets off the train at 8pm and going for a run in the dark is not very appealing, especially in the snow and ice.  I loved and craved my yoga classes but my girls do not like staying home alone at night in the dark, which makes my 6pm class impossible to attend.

We realized that for less than what we were paying for cable television, we could join the YMCA.  If we change our weekends just a bit, we can all get what we need.

The girls are old enough to swim, or sit in the lounge without a parent, which frees Greg and I up to take an exercise or yoga class.  Greg has started his class, a TRX suspension class and I am hoping to join yoga this week.

The girls are enjoying the pool.  They swam twice last week and I have written time into our schedule so that we can go at least once a week.  Time will not magically appear.  I am always considering our schedule and the needs of our family.  There will be some other new additions this winter.  Things to keep active, keep in touch with friends.  We will spend time pursuing new activities and we will open ourselves up to the possibilities of new friendships.

Grace received an Olympus tough camera which is waterproof up to 30 feet.  It keeps their creative side busy while in the water!

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...