Jul 162014

Hookity-Tookity-Tah (English version) at amazon.com.

Hookity-Tookity-Tah (English version) at amazon.com.

Húkiti-Túkiti-Tá (Spanish version) at amazon.com.

We are in the middle of celebrating numerous birthdays this month and it seems the perfect time to review a book about sweets!

Hookity-Tookity-Tah, written by Antonio Mugica and illustrated by Hermann Mejía was sent to me to review by Hunter Hackett of the La Jolla Writer’s Conference.

This is a story about a town with a dragon problem. To prevent the dragon from eating the villagers, the King negotiates a deal to provide the dragon with “One thousand pies! One hundred cakes! And then a bonbon wagon!” to fill him up instead.

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Without giving it all away, there are a few culinary disasters along the way and a nutritional message.

The story is imaginative and fun and the illustrations are wonderful, bright and detailed with a sense of whimsy to them. The King, for example has the body of a cupcake and the desserts made for the dragon look deliciously surreal. You will never find desserts quite like these 50 foot cakes with towering piles of frosting. The characters use pulleys and ropes to cope with the massive scale of the sweets.

The author, Antonio Mugica, is a man of many talents. His day job is serving as CEO of Smartmatic, an international voting software company that appears to produce many of the electronic voting machines we use here in the United States. He is also a musician and bilingual(!) writer.

The illustrator, Hermann Mejía, has won international awards for his caricature drawing. This is a 35-minute video of him presenting to the International Society of Caricature Artists with several examples of his incredible work. At the 31 minute mark he shows some illustrations from Hookity-Tookity-Tah and then shows a short video of him painting.

Hookity-Tookity-Tah is a treat much like the sugary sweets it depicts.  It is fun and engaging and perfect for summer reading.  

*Disclosure: I was provided a free review copy of the book.

Posted by anne
Jul 062014
Thai-inspired lettuce wraps with peanut dipping sauce.

Thai-inspired lettuce wraps with peanut dipping sauce.

I was tasked with brining a “side or salad” for a recent party and needed an idea. Virginia summers are hot and humid and food does not tend to keep well. I needed something that would not spoil in the heat. I also wanted to see if there was something I could make that was both delicious and healthy.

A few days before, we went shopping at IKEA and had lunch in their bistro. One of their menu items was a Thai lettuce wrap. It came out deconstructed but it was delicious nonetheless.

IKEA's lettuce wrap platter

IKEA’s lettuce wrap platter

I thought I would try to make summer rolls, which are kind of like lettuce wraps but with rice paper exteriors. I couldn’t find any rice paper at the grocery store so my only option was to use the lettuce for the rolls.

Ingredients for the lettuce wraps.

Ingredients for the lettuce wraps.

SHOPPING LIST

  • 1 package Asian salad mix
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 jar dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 package Mai Fun rice noodles
  • 1 jar Thai Kitchen peanut dipping sauce

DIRECTIONS

  1. Wash the iceberg lettuce and separate the leaves.
  2. Wash, peel and dice the cucumber into quarter-size pieces.
  3. Soak the rice noodles in hot water for 10 minutes and drain.
  4. Take a lettuce leaf and fill with the ingredients. Carefully roll and secure with a toothpick. You may also need a piece of cucumber at the top to prevent the toothpick from slipping out.
  5. Serve with peanut dipping sauce. The sauce was a bit thick so I thinned it with a little water to be more user-friendly.
Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Rolling the lettuce wraps is kind of an art. The longer lettuce leaves seem to work the best. Sometimes the leaves will crack and break while you are rolling. Sometimes the toothpick won’t hold them together. You just have to adjust as you go along.

Assembling the lettuce rolls.  This part can be a little tricky.

Assembling the lettuce rolls. This part can be a little tricky.

If you try this and it just doesn’t work out for you, you can always go with Plan B, tear the iceberg lettuce into small pieces and toss it in a large salad bowl. I did this with all the leftover pieces. It still looks beautiful.

Plan B: Thai lettuce wrap salad!

Plan B: Thai lettuce wrap salad!

Since I was attending an outdoor party, I also filled up two gallon-size zippered bags with ice and set the tray on top of them to keep the rolls from wilting in the heat. It worked well! The leftovers were still crisp by the end of the party.

Lettuce rolls on an ice pillow to keep them fresh.

Lettuce rolls on an ice pillow to keep them fresh.

It was then time to go shopping in our closets for red, white and blue outfits. Here is what we came up with:

Showing some national pride in our red, white and blue!

Showing some national pride in our red, white and blue!

Then it was time to eat and party!

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As to the ultimate test: did people eat the lettuce wraps? Yes and no. I took home about half of my tray. The salad section in general, however, was not as well eaten as the desserts (which were completely gone by the end of the night!). It’s hard to crave vegetables and fruits. Those that did eat my wraps said they were delicious and my husband and I thought they were perfect for a warm summer night–cool and crisp with a little bit of spice from the peanut sauce. It was a fun twist on salad and we will keep trying to make more cravable vegetable dishes.

Hope you had a wonderful 4th! Eat anything marvelous? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 032014
Starting point: rabbit sans clothes.

Starting point: rabbit sans clothes.

One of my favorite accomplishments in June was finishing up the knitted ballerina rabbit I started around Easter. After finishing the bunny, its sweater and ballet slippers, there was just one important piece missing . . . the tutu!

Ballet sweater, check. Ballet slippers, check.  Just missing one important element.

Ballet sweater, check. Ballet slippers, check. Just missing one important element.

And to my great luck, our local public library came to my assistance!

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The library read my mind!

The workshop was led by one of the librarians who declares herself “obsessed” with making tutus. She makes them primarily for her collection of antique dolls and toys. The directions are so simple and require no sewing. I finished my tutu in about an hour.

The leader gave us a great design tip.  On smaller projects (like the dolls), using one color is often preferable.   When you get too many colors going in a small space, the visual impact can be overwhelming.  On the larger tutus designed for humans, multiple colors of tulle provided an interesting twist.  I started off trying to add in light and dark pink in my tutu but found that her initial recommendation was right on.  I switched to a basic pink.

The best part of the workshop, however, was the great company. The women were of varying backgrounds, including a fellow homeschooling mom and her daughter and moms of all stripes. We were all there to treat ourselves to a few rare hours of adult conversation and learning. None of us had met before but we were all soon chatting like old friends. There is something about group crafting that spurs conversation.

The leader told us about her son who just graduated from the University of Virginia “. . . and he has a job!” she proudly announced. We all congratulated her on her success and she told us that seeing her son graduate college was one of her proudest moments as a parent. It was fun and inspiring to hear about someone else’s successful parenting adventures.

When my rabbit was finished, the leader insisted that all good toys need names. She asked what my rabbit’s name was. I said I didn’t have one just yet. The inspiration for that was to come.

My ballerina left the workshop with an ultra-long dramatic tutu.

My ballerina left the workshop with an ultra-long dramatic tutu.

I left the workshop with my finished tutu as well as some extra scraps of tulle to teach my daughters some tutu skills. They were excited to make tutu hair elastics to wear around their buns for ballet class (or to use as tutus for their dolls as they saw fit).

My girls insisted the dramatic tutu needed to be cut down.  So, I started trimming.  Here was the first cut.

My girls insisted the dramatic tutu needed to be cut down. So, I started trimming. Here was the first cut.

There are two categories of television programs that seem to define my summers: mystery on PBS and ballet programs. In the latter category, PBS American Masters aired a profile recently of dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq. She is famous for many things, including, 1) inspiring two of the greatest choreographers of the twentieth century: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins 2) single-handedly changing the aesthetic ideal of a ballet dancer to someone who is more model-like, thin with long arms and legs; and 3) being cut down at the pinnacle of her success by polio.

Her story is both tragic and inspiring. I was moved by it and felt that my ballet rabbit would be a great tribute to this great dancer. Hence, my rabbit’s name: Tanaquil.

Introducing: Tanaquil!

Introducing: Tanaquil!

When you have a lot going on in your life, it is nice to have at least one small thing you can celebrate as “complete.” It helps to remind you that there is an end to every project and makes life seem just a little more manageable. I now have a ballerina bunny to remind me.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jul 022014
These guys were hanging out in our front yard one evening.  It is unusual to see so many bucks together.

These guys were hanging out in our front yard one evening. It is unusual to see so many bucks together.

In my last post, I mentioned my summer “unscheduling,” but did not realize exactly how unscheduled I was about to become in terms of my blog.

Part of my blogging absence has been having too much to do in my “real” life.

We are making good use of the library.

We are making good use of the library.

The girls had a dance recital.

The girls had a dance recital.

There is no shortage of tasks to be done in the garden.

There is no shortage of tasks to be done in the garden.

Inside as well, everything is getting a thorough scrub.  Here: I am setting off an explosion of OxyClean on my stairs.

Inside as well, everything is getting a thorough scrub. Here: I am setting off an explosion of OxyClean on my stairs.

In the middle of all this activity, life happens too, including a sudden blackout for about 7 hours one evening.  We were grateful for the crank-flashlights that never run out of batteries.

In the middle of all this activity, life happens too, including a sudden blackout for about 7 hours one evening. We were grateful for the crank-flashlights that never run out of batteries.

June was also a time of many celebrations.  We celebrated Father's Day. . . .

June was also a time of many celebrations. We celebrated Father’s Day. . .

We celebrated birthdays with our friends.

We celebrated birthdays with our friends.

 . . . and we celebrated our wedding anniversary (complete with fireworks provided by an exceptionally timed early 4th of July celebration in our county).

. . . and we celebrated our wedding anniversary (complete with fireworks provided by an exceptionally timed early 4th of July celebration in our county).

In addition, we finished up the required subjects for our homeschool curriculum and administered standardized tests and are beginning some home improvement planning as well.

What a month! I can’t believe it is July already! This summer “vacation” business is hard work!

Hope you are enjoying your summer so far! Thanks for indulging me in a much-needed break.

Posted by anne Tagged with:
Jun 032014
A new project underway in our garden.

A new project underway in our garden.

My mom called the other day in alarm that there had not been a Ruly post in over a week! She wanted to make sure I was OK. Yes, all is well! We have just been extremely busy with a ballet recital last week. Between our homeschooling efforts, the extra practices and rehearsals and the performance itself, it just got a bit much to add blogging to the mix as well.

So, it’s June! We are now halfway through the year and everyone is transitioning into summer schedules. It seems that this is a stressful time for many. Just as you have just about nailed your schoolyear schedule and activities, it all changes up for the summer and you start again finding a new rhythm to your life—only to change it back again in a few months for the fall.

In general, I don’t mind changing around my daily routines but I have to say that once several children enter the picture, the prospect gets more and more overwhelming. There is just so much more to manage when you have more people in the mix.

My biggest (literally) organizational challenge of late is how to manage all the watermelon we want to eat.

My biggest (literally) organizational challenge of late is how to manage all the watermelon we want to eat.

Solution: Clear a bit spot in the fridge for watermelon, cut it up and keep it ready for snacks.  Yum!  Cold watermelon is the best.

Solution: Clear a bit spot in the fridge for watermelon, cut it up and keep it ready for snacks. Yum! Cold watermelon is the best.

It also doesn’t help when all your best plans seem to fall through. I thought I had my summer plan in place but when I went to register my children for their intended activities, we learned they were all full! While I could have scrambled around to find other activities, we instead decided to take this as a sign that maybe this summer is the one to take things a bit easier. I already had plenty of fun homeschool activities planned in subjects like art and music as well as some exercise activities with the kids and reading lots of great books from the library. We are going to be self-taught learners this summer. We will go on our own field trips and local excursions and we have another epic road trip planned as well.

I came across this chart in my summer reading and loved it!

I came across this chart in my summer reading and loved it!

For me, it was important to take a moment to visualize what I wanted to have done by the end of the summer. I realized that it was important that there were activities in there that constituted a “rest” or a treat for me. I didn’t want to go into fall feeling exhausted. Summer should be a time of rejuvenation and enjoyment.

Summer is a busy time for everyone.  I came across this busy spider in my garden toting its egg sac.

Summer is a busy time for everyone. I came across this busy spider in my garden toting its egg sac.

One of my treats to myself was reviving one of my favorite childhood summer reading memories. Every summer our local library had great summer reading programs. My favorite was the year you registered at the beginning of summer for a sort of reading board game/treasure map. Each square had a suggestion for something to read. It wasn’t a mandated book but rather a general category, like “Read a book about animals.” or “Read a biography.” You had to know how to research to find the book you needed, know where to go to find it in the library and then you had the great pleasure of choosing which book on the subject you want. If you completed all the assignments, you received some sort of prize (a free book, I think). It gave you the satisfaction that you had “earned” it.

Our local library does great summer reading programs too but I have never seen the board game style that I so fondly remembered. So, I created my own version. For my children, my husband and I came up with a list of topics for them to read. For myself, I just left it blank. I fill it in as I read through the huge list of books I have waiting to be read on my bookshelf at home. I have read two books already! In case you want your own summer reading adventure, you can download my blank form here.

For summer on my blog, I have decided to let things get a bit random. I have a few more posts for you in mind about homeschooling. I have a few updates on my diet and exercise program and there will be another road trip series as well. In between, perhaps I will share gems from my summer reading with you.

I hope you also have some grand (or restful) summer plans and that you take a moment to treat yourself. You’ve earned it!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
May 232014
Fredericksburg has one of the most moving Memorial Day celebrations.  The luminaria at Marye's Heights is so touching--walking in darkness among the lights on so many graves--the majority unidentified remains.

Fredericksburg has one of the most moving Memorial Day celebrations. The luminaria at Marye’s Heights is so touching–walking in darkness among the lights on so many graves–the majority unidentified remains.

It is hard to believe it is already Memorial Day weekend and that the beginning of summer is upon us!

Thinking today about veterans, past, present and future. Their work secures our great nation. I am always inspired and a bit in awe when I meet people who take on the responsibility of protecting society at large (whether in the military, police, fire department or other capacities)– a special and rare gift.

If you want to be reminded of the many sacrifices military service requires, I strongly recommend the new PBS series “Coming Back with Wes Moore,” that you can watch online for free. It profiles the challenges soldiers face reintegrating into society.

Wishing you a restive and meaningful weekend!

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
May 182014
My daughter considering a problem in her Common Core workbook.

My daughter considering a problem in her Common Core workbook.

I was an honors student at the public high school I attended. From the 9th grade onward, I was always placed in “Honors” English and the most advanced math courses for my grade. I took AP classes from 10th grade onward, including AP Calculus.

I never felt special or brilliant for doing any of this. There were about 100 other kids in my grade who were doing variations of the same thing and my sisters were all on the same track too. To me, these advanced classes were just what it meant to attend high school.

While Virginia is one of the handful of states that has not adopted the Common Core standards, our family has been exposed to them in the “Daily Review” workbooks we use throughout the year to prepare for standardized testing. I chose the Common Core books only because they were cheaper than the other workbooks I had been using. When I first opened the Common Core books at the beginning of the year, I remember thinking, “Wow! This is quite a bit more challenging than what we are used to.”

I have smart kids. They learned to read early. They work hard at but don’t struggle with math. They have no significant learning disabilities or developmental delays. I have always felt that they performed a bit above their respective grade levels. The Common Core workbooks indicated that my “smart” kids were merely performing according to standard and it was even stretching them to work just a little bit harder.

For my children, Common Core is like being in the honors program while in elementary school. For them, Common Core works. Common Core is not that much different from what we are doing already. The math is almost, but not quite, as challenging as the Singapore Math curriculum we are using. Language arts tracks similarly to the Brave Writer program.

The Common Core standards for high school seniors are not that different from the honors track I pursued. The language arts standards seem a smidge more demanding in the details and the math does not require calculus but substitutes statistical analysis and data modeling instead. Below are some of the more challenging of these 12th grade standards:

  • Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
  • Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
  • Develop a probability distribution for a random variable defined for a sample space in which probabilities are assigned empirically; find the expected value. For example, find a current data distribution on the number of TV sets per household in the United States, and calculate the expected number of sets per household. How many TV sets would you expect to find in 100 randomly selected households?
  • Resolve issues of complex or contested usage, consulting references (e.g., Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage) as needed.
  • Vary syntax for effect, consulting references (e.g., Tufte’s Artful Sentences) for guidance as needed; apply an understanding of syntax to the study of complex texts when reading.

What makes me wonder about Common Core, however, is how this works for parents who don’t feel their children are academically gifted. Common core assumes a natural, linear progression for child academic development. This is true for my children but I have met many parents with children for whom this is not true. Some children are still struggling with reading at 8 or 9 and catch on later. Some kids are still working on their attention spans. Some are still learning not to wet the bed at night. These children aren’t doomed by any means but their academic progression might be in irregular bursts rather than steady progress. How do these children fare when the standard is set about as high as it possibly can be and increases in difficulty each year?

This year, the math program for my third grade daughter has been especially challenging. She can do it but she does have to put more energy into learning math than she ever has before. Sometimes it is frustrating and it makes her cry.

I'm not smart!

she will sometimes wail when I correct a mistake. The despair passes fairly quickly when I reassure her that she is indeed very smart and when I point out that she has completed by herself whatever assignment she thought she couldn’t do. She smiles, feels proud of herself and moves on.

The psychological aspect of Common Core is what I wonder about the most. Children obviously do pick up cues about their self-worth based on how they are performing in school. There is a fine line between being challenged and being demoralized. How does the Common Core continue to motivate students who fall short of expectations? How does it motivate teachers when despite best efforts their classes don’t perform where they need to be? How do we avoid threatening parents or siblings with the prospect that younger generations will know far more than they do? As human beings, we only have to be told once that we are not good at something to adopt a permanent mindset that we shouldn’t try. I wish I saw more psychological support associated with Common Core. Funding for motivational speakers for teachers, parents and children during this time of change would be a marvelous idea.

The other thing I wonder about is whether Common Core gets right the fundamental question of whether we have chosen the right educational aims for all American children. This is a huge responsibility. We don’t know what the future will require of any of us. Is “every child an honors student” the right path?

Are we discouraging individuality and innovation with these standards? With the Common Core standards so demanding, it would be hard for any child to have enough time to learn on their own to pursue their own interests or for a teacher to introduce any elective subjects. The two quotes below, while not on the subject of Common Core, raise the importance of allowing children space to learn and experiment.

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It is easy to find any number of ways to attack the Common Core standards. But if the Common Core needs a defender it can look no further than my husband.

I have had many discussions with my husband about Common Core. He doesn’t find it much of interest to debate whether Common Core is a good idea as his natural inclination when faced with an intellectual challenge is to accept the standard and meet it. He believes strongly in the value of intelligence and learning. When I point out the difficult reality of implementing these learning objectives as a teacher, he has little sympathy for me. Finally, he came up with an argument that converted me to his point of view, looking to the past for guidance about the future. I asked him to write it down for me.

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His words were very powerful to me. We need to get out of the weeds when thinking about Common Core and stop focusing exclusively on the nitty gritty implementation details. We need to remember the bigger picture of expanding human potential. This is our gift to the future.

Just as the peasant farmer may have found it pointless to learn to read and could not have anticipated that the simple act of reading would one day lead to newspapers, email and the Internet, we can’t imagine what it will mean to the future when we raise proficiency for English and mathematics.

So, I will go on record as a newly converted Common Core supporter. There are likely still many problems to iron out and if nothing else, the program will require a lot more funding and maybe a revised implementation plan that gradually ramps up the difficulty year by year, but I have decided focus my efforts on resolving these problems and moving the effort forward rather than accepting the status quo.

How do you feel about Common Core? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
May 142014
Social media at the conference.

Social media at the conference.

Every year, I consider it a mandatory part of my homeschool teaching responsibilities to attend a homeschooling conference. The conferences help me to learn teaching techniques, find new curriculum options, network with other homeschoolers and receive support and encouragement for our homeschooling efforts.

Last year, I attended the HEAV conference, which is aimed primarily at conservative homeschooling families. This year, I went the other direction and attended the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VAHomeschoolers) conference, which aims to be broadly inclusive although a majority of their membership seems to be liberal unschoolers. I don’t belong squarely in either one of these groups. I have found, however, that even when I don’t agree with something I end up learning something and taking away lessons that help me and my children.

Broadly speaking, the VAHomeschoolers conference is dominated by language/liberal arts topics. Nearly all of the speakers have college in mind for their children. I have come to appreciate that a focus on language and liberal arts makes for wonderful conference sessions. The speakers all love to talk and they speak and write beautifully. They are completely at ease in front of an audience and their handouts and presentations are well-organized, spell-checked and otherwise perfect. When I went to this conference, it felt like spending a weekend at a small, private liberal arts college.

Below are some of the highlights of my notes from this year’s conference:

Keynote Speaker: Susan Wise Bauer

If you hang out with the VAHomeschoolers crowd, you have to know who Susan Wise Bauer is. She is quite a celebrity in this crowd. I confess I had heard her name before but I wasn’t exactly sure who she was. You can read a profile of her in The Washington Post here.

2014-05-14-welltrainedmind Essentially she is an incredibly intelligent and accomplished expert in languages, literature and history. She was born and raised in Virginia and was homeschooled primarily by her mother, Jessie Wise. She has gone on to homeschool her own four children. Together, mother and daughter wrote The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home and Susan Wise Bauer has gone on to write a popular homeschool history curriculum called The Story of the World. 2014-05-14-storyofworld

The topic of the keynote address was: “Homeschooling the Second Time.” We missed the first 10 minutes or so of her speech so I am not quite sure what context “the second time” meant. I assume it means her experience homeschooling her own children and continuing homeschooling to a second generation. The audience was packed and we actually had to sit on the floor during her lecture.

8 of My Favorite Ideas from Susan Wise Bauer’s Lecture

  • Read a lot of books. Have a lot of books.
  • Limit TV and control all screens in your house.
  • Consider implementing a 2-hour naptime in your homeschooling household, even for kids up through high school. Moms need a rest. Introverts need a break from the other children and extroverted children need to learn how to entertain themselves.
  • Do the bare minimum in subjects you are not interested in or good at.
  • Enroll your children in outside classes.
  • Be careful putting too much energy into teaching co-ops. Sometimes the energy required to participate in a co-op will detract you from your own children’s education.
  • Don’t be in a rush to send your brilliant child to college early. “Some kinds of learning only occur after the sun goes around the earth a certain number of years.”
  • Don’t become so wedded to homeschooling that you ignore opportunities for your children to attend the public schools. “I can educate the brain better but we are educating a whole person.”

Cindy Gaddis: Individualized Education: Identifying Learning Styles

I really wanted to attend this session but since I had my children with me, my son decided that he was not going to behave and we had to leave very soon after it started. Cindy Gaddis is a self-described “20-year homeschooler and the mother of 7 right-brained children.”

Before I left, I got these gems:

4 Inspirations from Cindy Gaddis

  • “My goal is to honor the natural path of creative, right-brained children.”
  • “If you want a different outcome, you need a different system.”
  • “Every person has an innate learning style. This transforms your view of what education can be.”
  • “To determine the learning style of your child, the most reliable source is not tests but observation/determining what the child is interested in.”
2014-05-14-cindygaddis-rightside So, I am incredibly fascinated by this subject and wish I had been able to listen. I did purchase her book, The Right Side of Normal, and look forward to reading it this summer. From the notes and handouts I picked up from this session, the “left brained” learner enjoys all the traditional school subjects, like math, reading, spelling and writing. The “right brained” learned is more prone to creative outlets, history, science, and social studies. Cindy Gaddis provided a handout with suggested books and curriculum materials for each age group.

 

Marjorie Cole and Gwen Peredo McCrea: Organizing for Real World Homeschooling

So, of course, I couldn’t resist this workshop with “organizing” in the title. This was a great session by two homeschooling mothers with different styles. They spoke about how to create a plan/set goals for your homeschooling and then go about executing that plan, taking into account the demands of real life.

Great Quotes from Marjorie Cole and Gwen Peredo McCrea

  • “It will all work out even if I don’t know how.”
  • “I follow the non-insanity approach to homeschooling. We don’t do stuff that drives us crazy.”
  • “In some cases, too much planning can be a form of procrastination and perfectionism.”
  • “It’s OK to be ‘fallow’ for a while and not do very much in your homeschooling sometimes–especially if you have just been very busy.”

There were lots of great real-life anecdotes in this seminar both from the speakers and the women in the audience. I learned the phrase “Mom-stalking,” which is described as making your kids sign up for activities they don’t want to do because one mom thinks the other mom and her kids would be great friends to have.

At this point, my children were not behaving again so we had to exit early. Their handout looks like they went on to discuss specific organizing tools like calendaring, to do lists, prioritization matrices and specific physical tools like hanging files. I’ll have to try to catch this session again another year!

My children had great fun petting the robotic dog that a homeschooler built.  There was a robotics demonstration for kids and I had a great conversation with an eloquent high school aged homeschooler about his participation on competitive robotics teams.

My children had great fun petting the robotic dog that a homeschooler built. There was a robotics demonstration for kids and I had a great conversation with an eloquent high school aged homeschooler about his participation on competitive robotics teams.

Jan Reed: Community College for the High School Years

High school is way off in the distance for us but since both my husband and I have in mind that if our children continue homeschooling through high school, we want them to take at least some community college classes, like math or sciences. Our reasoning is to prove to a prospective college that our children are capable of learning in the traditional college environment and interacting appropriately with their peers.

Jan Reed has been specializing in homeschooling and dual-credit enrollment at Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) for the past 10 years. Of the 23 community colleges in Virginia, PVCC ranks in the top 5 for academic achievement.

This was a wonderful session with a lot of Q&A from the audience interspersed with her presentation. We learned that PVCC has taken students as young as 10 (but generally for more recreational courses like art or ceramics) but most serious academic subjects require a student to be about 16 (although they evaluate this on a case-by-case basis). We learned that any time a student enrolls in a course bearing official college credit, this will start the college GPA calculation that will follow the student forever.

The first big issue raised was how to know whether a student is ready for community college coursework. Ms. Reed indicated that a good sign is when the student is able to come sit down and chat with her individually (without parents speaking for the children) and indicate what he/she is interested in learning.

To apply, the student fills out a standard application, sends in a homeschool transcript (prepared by the parent), takes placement tests in math and English and meets with Ms. Reed. The mention of math testing put many in the room on edge. It was then clarified that you don’t have to take the math test unless you are taking math or science classes.

The second issue was how such young students fit in with the general community college population. Ms. Reed indicated that at PVCC the faculty LIKE homeschoolers! She said the faculty even go so far as to request that homeschoolers be put into their classes because they are so focused, know how to study and they keep the rest of the class on track. She said that girls tend to blend in better with the class than boys because the girls look more mature.

Of concern to many was how to afford the cost of community college classes. Apparently once a student has officially graduated from homeschool high school (which can be at the discretion of the parent), the student is potentially eligible for federal student loans to help cover the cost of tuition. There are some complex issues involved with this, including transfer credits to 4-year institutions, scholarship considerations, etc. so the timing of financial aid is something best thought through carefully.

Great quote from Jan Reed:

“You can always tell a homeschooling family because their kids are reading books and are not on iPads.”

Amy Wilson: MOOCs for Homeschooling High School and Middle School

Amy Wilson, who has been active in the past on the VAHomeschoolers Board of Directors and is a homeschooling mom of two children, gave a wonderful introduction to MOOCs.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course and it is a method of online learning where thousands or hundreds of thousands of students can be enrolled in a course at one time. These courses are generally free of charge and do not convey college credit but are generally taught at the college level and offered by many prestigious universities. Anyone can enroll in them and there are no prerequisites for each course. Because there are so many students in a class, there is not much personalized attention from the instructor and it appears all assignments are graded automatically by the computer system (if they are graded at all).

Based on statistics from the moocs.com blog, Ms. Wilson indicated about 60% of all students in MOOCs are not from the United States and the median age is 35. 74% of MOOC students already have Bachelor’s, Masters or Ph.D. degrees. Only about 7% of students enrolled in any given course will ultimately complete it. The primary use of MOOCs seems to be for recreational learning or keeping up to date on developments in a field of study.

Some of the courses Ms. Wilson has tried with her children include: Duke University’s “Think Again: How to Reason and Argue,” UVA’s “How Things Work (an introduction to physics),” Rice University’s “Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python,” and Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s “A Brief History of Humankind.”

I was amazed at how professional the content appears to be in these MOOCs and that many if not most are taught by bona fide college professors! This is a wonderful gift to homeschoolers in particular. It certainly takes away the anxiety of trying to teach material that starts to get beyond your field of expertise. After I learned about these MOOCs, I have no concerns about teaching advanced subjects. If I can’t do it, there is a professor somewhere on a MOOC that will do a brilliant job. These MOOCs will also be great preparation for college work.

Ms. Wilson indicated that when you are using these courses for young children, feel free to drop out at any time if the MOOC is not of interest or too hard. You can also mix in your own material and pick and choose what parts of the MOOC you want to use.

To find a MOOC, you can search on Coursera, EDX or Udacity, some of the biggest MOOC providers. There are other sources as well, including on the websites of many universities.

My attempt at a selfie while on lunch break at the conference.  We had the best spring-like weather!

My attempt at a selfie while on lunch break at the conference. We had the best spring-like weather!

Barbara Smith: You Don’t Wear a Superwoman Cape?

At every homeschooling conference there is always one speaker who is the mother of an extremely large family. Within the homeschooling community, this is the equivalent of inviting a Fortune 100 CEO to speak. These mothers of extremely large families always have something interesting to say.

For the VAHomeschoolers conference, the mother extraordinaire was Barbara Smith, mom of 14! Her children range in age from 10-34 and she is still homeschooling 6 of them. One thing I loved about Barbara Smith was her incredible sense of style.

Barbara Smith's great fashion sense with colorful shawl, dress and black booties.  This really suited her personality.

Barbara Smith’s great fashion sense with colorful shawl, dress and black booties. This really suited her personality.

For some reason, I picture a mother of 14 as worn out and exhausted but Barbara Smith certainly wasn’t. She was full of energy and loved speaking. She spoke so easily and comfortably with warmth and a great sense of humor.

She went over a lot of logistics on how to make a homeschooling home run smoothly, including managing chores, cooking and managing the homeschooling for multiple children. On this last point, she gave some detailed examples of how she was very relaxed as a homeschooler and insisted early on that her children take responsibility for their own education. She didn’t give grades or supervise every math problem. Her philosophy was “I taught my children to be self-learners. Once they have basic reading and writing, work yourself out of a job as quickly as possible.”

2014-05-14-barbarasmith-homeschooling I don’t know that I could ever be as relaxed about my homeschooling as Barbara Smith is but hearing her talk about how this method actually can work certainly gave me food for thought. I bought her book on homeschooling which has a great Q&A format and is much like hearing her speak in person.



Great Quotes from Barbara Smith

  • “If you are miserable, you are doing it the wrong way.”
  • “If you wait until a child can do [chores by themselves], it’s too late! They will view it as [Mom’s] job. This should be everyone’s work.”
  • “Get over glitter. Kids need it! It will get everywhere.”
  • “A lot of projects are messy. Let your home have this.”
  • “The purpose of school is to become an educated human who can function and contribute to the world.”
  • “It goes so fast. If you spend all your time lining up your towels and being angry you will regret it. If you will relax, they will call when they are grown. They will come to visit and work overtime to earn a plane ticket home.”

Julie Bogart: Creating a Language-Rich Lifestyle

Julie Bogart has a well-deserved cult following in the homeschooling world. She homeschooled her five children, worked as a professional writer and created the popular “Brave Writer” series of language arts curriculum and online writing classes. She is an incredibly engaging speaker, so well-spoken, charming and funny. Some conference attendees just sat in her sessions alone for the entire conference!

We have been using Brave Writer’s “The Wand” for our homeschool language arts this year. It has been challenging for me because I have a lot of preparation to do before each lesson but the results have been amazing! The way the text covers language, phonics, spelling and reading has been so helpful to my children.

We plan on using the follow-on series “The Arrow” next fall. I had the chance to chat for a moment with Julie at her booth during one of the breaks and showed her our workbooks for The Wand. She chuckled a bit at my organization because I am far more uptight about implementing her curriculum than she would expect anyone to be. She said she loved seeing family’s workbook materials and even took a picture of ours for reference! I was honored. She also said that The Arrow curriculum will be more of her own Brave Writer philosophy and more relaxed and that The Wand is more structured and was written primarily by an expert on children’s language development.

Julie Bogart in action!

Julie Bogart in action!

For her seminar on “Creating a Language-Rich Lifestyle” she indicates there are 3 key practices: 1) copywork (copying down meaningful words and thoughts) 2) reading aloud and 3) writing. There are also numerous other practices like “Tuesday Teatimes,” “Wednesday Afternoon Movies,” and making sure to spend time one-on-one with each child. There were lots and lots of great suggestions.

At the end of the lecture, however, she gave out the interesting fact that about 60% of a language-rich lifestyle is talking. The remaining 40% is split between reading, writing and having great experiences worthy of writing about. “You need engagement. Talk, talk, talk. For you poor introverts, it’s harder. I’m sorry.”

Great quotes from Julie Bogart

  • “Even professional writers don’t ‘write every day’ but they do engage with writing in some way every day.” (such as editing, reading, etc.)
  • “Think about doing one thing, prepare for it and then while you are doing it, forget about all else! Give this activity your full self. . . . You can get a lot done one thing at a time.”
  • “A need provokes speaking. A want provokes writing.”
  • “When your kids are happy, take note of what you did right.”
  • “It’s OK to have a habit but not drudgery. Keep it fresh.”

Renee Jackson: Preparing Young Learners to Think Mathematically: Logic, Reason and Critical Thinking

If there is any downside to the VAHomeschoolers conference, it is that there are very few conference sessions dedicated to math and science. I was excited to see Renee Jackson’s math oriented session.

Renee Jackson is a homeschooling mother. She struggled personally with geometry and other forms of math in high school and wanted to see if there was a better solution for her own children. Her solution was to relate math proofs to logical language-related proofs.

In theory, if you understood something like:

All oranges are fruits. All fruits grow on trees. Therefore, all oranges grow on trees.

you could just as easily understand:

If A>B and B>C, therefore A>C

It’s a great theory and if any child could actually make these cross-connections in different disciplines it would be a tremendous feat of education!

In practice, however, I wonder if some of us are more wired one way than another. To me, the math question above is far easier than the logic puzzle above it and it gets a bit messy trying to relate one to the other. It seemed to me that for Renee Jackson, the opposite is true for her.

Renee Jackson indicated that she has not yet found a logic-based curriculum for young learners and that she has had to make up her curriculum as she goes along. (Coincidentally, I just heard from a homeschool mailing list about a company called The Critical Thinking Company which offers a logic-based curriculum for ages PreK-12.)

Ms. Jackson gave critical thinking curriculum suggestions for each age range. Some of her helpful suggestions for the 3rd to 6th grade age range are: discuss the difference between an argument and a fight, discuss complex social issues from the newspaper and play logic games (software, board game or paper-based).

To me, Renee Jackson’s session was really about how to translate math concepts to the language arts oriented brain. For many people, math is an anxiety-inducing subject. When I worked at a university, I encountered many students attempting to claim a form of “math disability.” As far as I know, no one, including the U.S. Department of Education, has ever accepted “math disability” as a recognizable condition.

After listening to Renee Jackson’s lecture, I began to appreciate that there might really be such a thing as math disability. Perhaps not a permanent disability where you are incapable of learning math but rather a hardwired brain challenge where you might not interpret math in the same way as others do, making routine math problems harder.

This session gave me a lot to think about. Teaching logic is not something I had really thought about before and now I am trying to figure out how it would work into what we are already doing.

Vendor Marketplace

I didn’t spend too much time in the vendor marketplace but I did come across a few finds:

The Usborne Books booth was very popular.  These wonderful books are colorful with great pictures and layout.  I picked up this book for next year's geography lessons.

The Usborne Books booth was very popular. These wonderful books are colorful with great pictures and layout. I picked up this book for next year’s geography lessons.

Another Usborne find, an interactive lift-the-flap atlas for children.

Another Usborne find, an interactive lift-the-flap atlas for children.

Used Curriculum Sale

The VAHomeschoolers curriculum sale tends to be on the small side. I went through quickly toward the very end of the sale when everything was 50% off. To my great surprise, I found this gem:

2014-05-14-storyoftheworld

All in all, the VAHomeschoolers conference was excellent and very much worth the cost of attendance. I took away so many great ideas and felt renewed and inspired by it.

*I am a member of VAHomeschoolers but otherwise not affiliated with them or any product or vendor mentioned here.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
May 112014

Wishing all the mothers, aunts, grandmas, dear friends and all those who help make the job of mothering and nurturing children possible a very Happy Mother’s Day!

The above viral video clip made me laugh til’ I cried. While everyone mothers in a different way there were some sentiments in this video that rang incredibly true for me. Hope it brings you a smile as well.

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
May 092014
Our favorite school activity this winter?  Skiing!

Our favorite school activity this winter? Skiing!

At the moment, the children and I are consumed with intense homeschooling in order to complete our homeschool curriculum for June exams. We are a smidge behind in a few subjects and have had to double up on math in particular. It is time consuming and tiring but we are all working now to avoid having to school throughout the summer.

As we focus on school this month, I wanted to take a moment to review some of the homeschool-related events of this year.

With the temperature hovering around 80 degrees lately, none of us are thinking about winter but one of the most fun “school” activities we did this winter though was ski school!

We had to leave very early in the morning for lessons.  In January, we often were driving in the dark while the moon was still out!

We had to leave very early in the morning for lessons. In January, we often were driving in the dark while the moon was still out!

All of the snow we had this year made for terrific skiing!  Here, cresting the ridge of Shenandoah National Park on the way to the resort.

All of the snow we had this year made for terrific skiing! Here, cresting the ridge of Shenandoah National Park on the way to the resort.

Anyone with a child who is a "Cars" fan will appreciate that the real-life Mater was in front of us at one point as we entered the resort.  My son was thrilled!

Anyone with a child who is a “Cars” fan will appreciate that the real-life Mater was in front of us at one point as we entered the resort. My son was thrilled!

We did this last year and I wrote about it then. We returned to the same resort but this time did a slightly different program. Last year, I had one daughter in the 2-hour homeschool ski school group and one daughter (who wasn’t old enough for the homeschool group) in private lessons.

This year, my youngest was still not old enough to participate in the homeschool ski school program so I put both daughters in the “Slope Sliders” program, that runs for 4 ½ hours with a break for lunch included. Children are grouped both by age and ability in this program. My girls were put in separate classes based on their ages.

2014-05-07-slopesliders

All of the kids get personalized ski boot fitting service from the instructors.  My girls will have a rude awakening when they have to put their own boots on.

All of the kids get personalized ski boot fitting service from the instructors. My girls will have a rude awakening when they have to put their own boots on.

The resort groups the children by ability in a color-coded system, red is a beginner, orange can stop, yellow can turn, green begins the stem christie and purple starts parallel skiing skills. While you can progress quickly out of red into the orange and yellow levels, it can take a while to progress through the yellow and green levels. For these levels, there are low, middle and high levels within the color. Over the course of 5 weeks of lessons, my eldest started in the yellow group and ended up in the high green group. My youngest started in orange and ended up in green.

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Moving up to the yellow group!

Moving up to the yellow group!

The instruction was excellent! While you would not expect that we would have a lot of talented ski and snowboard instructors to choose from here in Virginia, they had a team of at least 20-30 ski school instructors, all of them wonderfully trained. They also all had wonderful personalities for working with children and the environment was very fun and encouraging.

The Slope Sliders class was designed primarily as a sort of day care for families visiting the resort on vacation. Each week we attended class there were different kids in the group. Some were international with accents ranging from European to Latin American to Asian. There were different ratios of boys and girls in each group as well. Once when my eldest daughter was put in a class primarily comprised of boys, I asked, “Were you able to keep up with the boys?” To my surprise, my daughter responded:

slow boys quote

That’s my girl!

At the end of each class, we received a report card that checked off which skills were practiced or mastered and which skills the child was still working on. My eldest was described by many of the instructors as a “joy” to have in the class. She had a positive attitude, worked hard and had good skills. Her areas to work on were matching her skis more often in preparation for parallel skiing.

My youngest daughter was often at the top of her class in terms of skiing ability but the instructors were hesitant to push her forward into a class with older children because she had trouble putting her own skis on by herself and sometimes when she fell down she needed (or wanted) the instructor to help her get up. Both of these simple skills are necessary to master in the early levels because in the advanced levels the instructor doesn’t have time to climb up the hill to help someone who has fallen or lost a ski. She also liked to lean back in her stance, which the instructors said was normal for a young child and that she would grow out of this tendency as she gets older.

"I've fallen and I cannot get up."

“I’ve fallen and I cannot get up.”

There was another “ski school” student this year too . . . my son! Since he could ski free with my paid ticket, I decided to see how we might handle the slopes together. This was a challenging effort.

Looking longingly at the snow as his sisters head off to class.

Looking longingly at the snow as his sisters head off to class.

He didn’t like wearing all the ski gear. The bib pants, ski coat and gloves were tolerated OK. The ski boots caused him some sensory challenges. He couldn’t get used to the strange walking motion required in ski boots and insisted I carry him. It was hard to haul him and all the skis at the same time. The helmet was pretty bad. He hated having anything on his head. But worst of all were the goggles. He really didn’t like having anything over his eyes. I couldn’t risk him getting an eye injury from the snow glare, however, so we had to struggle through his screams until he forgot about them.

Suited up and ready to go!

Suited up and ready to go!

Not so thrilled with the ski gear.

Not so thrilled with the ski gear.

Once we finally got all the gear on, we made our way first to the “magic carpet” ski escalators. My son was not thrilled at first. There was a lot of whining and crying. We finally got to the top of the lift and made our first run down the barely steep slope. Once my son realized that it was kind of fun to go down the hill fast his attitude changed. He no longer complained riding the magic carpets and when we got to the top he called out:

2014-05-09-321go

My son got a lot of attention particularly from other men at the resort. Although men don’t really have a maternal instinct the way women do, they do have a “rescuing instinct.” I think they saw us getting ready to go down the hill and thought “Oh dear, that could be a disaster in the making. Better keep an eye on that.” The men (and dads in particular) were always pointing out that my son’s goggles and balaclava hat were falling down so they covered his eyes. I couldn’t see him since he was skiing in front of me. The poor guy was practically skiing blindfolded down the hill! One of the ski instructors gave him cool points for his effort though, “Dude, he can brag to all his friends that he started when he was 2!”

Mother son skiing selfie.

Mother son skiing selfie.

While I had purchased a special kids skiing harness and wedge tip clips my son didn’t need any of that. He would not ski at all unless I squatted down in a deep snowplow and held him around the waist. It was a tremendous thigh workout for me! Had it not been for the yoga and Tracy Anderson workouts over the past year, I would not have been able to do it!

2014-05-08-skilift-view

We tried the chairlift exactly twice. We went on the easiest lift. Getting on and off the lift required that I carry my son in my arms, skis and all. He was not frightened at the height of the ski lift and just enjoyed the view. Once we unloaded and started skiing down the hill, he would panic halfway down and want me to carry him. That was not an option so we would just ski as quickly as we could to the lodge. At that point, my son would pass out for a nap that lasted several hours. Skiing was a great way to tire him out!

Taking in the view from the chairlift.

Taking in the view from the chairlift.

It did not take much skiing to completely exhaust my son.  He would tuck into his ski coat and snooze until his sisters were done with their lessons.

It did not take much skiing to completely exhaust my son. He would tuck into his ski coat and snooze until his sisters were done with their lessons.

So, skiing with a 2 year old wasn’t a great success but we both had at least a little fun. I ran into my daughter’s private ski instructor from last year at the resort and she told me that 2-year olds can be taken for a “ride” skiing but at 3 they will actually start learning skills. We will see what happens next year!

2014-05-08-crossedskiboots

2014-05-07-skikids

2014-05-08-snowangel

2014-05-08-slope-chillin

Zonked out for the car ride home.

Zonked out for the car ride home.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
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