Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In and Out of the Box

Seriously, isn't a big box the best toy ever? If you say it isn't I'm going to have to disagree with you. For years now, whenever a big box finds it's way into my house it's time for some fun. Over the years they have been cars, boats, airplanes, houses, jails, flying saucers, tables, store fronts, and I'm probably forgetting a few. Not bad for free entertainment!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It Takes a Village: Part 1

We have seen a lot of family in and out of town in the past few weeks, and I will confess to a little bit of impatience. We are supposed to be starting our school year after all, and it’s very hard to get any schoolwork done with special guests in the house and entertaining all the time! On the other hand, it’s so rare in this mobile society to have extended family that is close and that cares enough to come visit. How could I possibly get upset? After all, these are the same people who were willing to give up weeks of vacation time to come and help out this summer while I sat in bed or in a chair with my foot wrapped up. Who else would drive my kids around and entertain them and care enough to get to know them as the amazing individuals they are? No, as a child of the military, I truly do appreciate the presence of extended family. I spent a great deal of my childhood on military bases overseas, and while we were there, half a world away, my aunts and uncles started having kids, and I now have a great number of cousins I never really got to know. How wonderful, then, to see my kids growing up surrounded by extended family in all their wacky variations. Here is a different kind of socialization in the best sense of the word. Grandparents who can give perspective to changing times and changing lives, young aunts and uncles out making lives for themselves in different ways. Watching and being a part of the trials and tribulations of others enriches us and, I dare say, helps us to learn to deal with people and all their different quirks whatever the age. I’d rather put the books aside for a bit and let the real “socialization” happen.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I've enabled a small band of ads to go at the bottom of my posts. I've never done this before, so we'll see how this goes. I do want to say that I don't necessarily recommend anything that goes up there. I have no control over what is offered. If you do click on one of them I apparently get a small bit of money for it. If it gets obnoxious I'll disable it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


As long as I'm thinking about wild weeds and native herbs, I should probably mention this game


It's a cooperative learning game that involves some really nicely illustrated game cards of various herbs. The common uses for each herb are given and you work together to cure each other of various mild ailments. Can be played by anyone aged 4 and up. Not a bad little game if this is something you are interested in.

They seem to be out of the game at the moment, but you can get on a waiting list. I will caution you that the makers would love to send you more products for a fee and for free. You might want to be careful about email notices if ordering from them. The listing on Amazon is here:

Little Edible Vines


While I was inside recovering this summer from my surgery, the weeds were slowly taking over our yard. This vine started it’s assault on the bushes around our deck and started coming up on to the deck. I went out the other day and tried to pull out a little of it and discovered these little fruits. This is a vine I’ve never seen before, so I was intrigued. The leaves look kinda like a grape, the little fruits look like little watermelons.
After a bit of searching I found this:
Fortified by this article, Jessi decided we had to try them, so she and Noah ate one each . I tasted it and it does taste like cucumber. The fruits are also packed with seeds. I’m still having trouble wrapping my brain around eating them so have not actually consumed one yet, though the kids have had more than one. Jessi even put them on our salads the other night. 
The article cautions that the ripe fruits, the black ones, are a very strong laxative, which is probably why they were classified as poisonous in North Carolina. We are all still alive though, so I’m am pretty sure the green fruits are safe. They also apparently have a good deal of nutrition. Who knew a pesky weed could be so interesting?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ko's Journey

Here is another great resource we found. Granted, it was a little bit too advanced for my daughter, but she wanted to do it anyway. We learned together along the way.

Ko's Journey

This is interactive project-based math at it's best, and the story line is just golden for a lot of Middle School girls. I would recommend this for Fifth Grade level and above, and they can tailor it to grade level. I am also recommending it because my daughter hates most online learning sites, but she LOVED this. I would caution that it is not a long term math program, simply something to enrich your kids math learning experience.

The basis of the story is a Native American girl who must rejoin her tribe by going on a journey. Along the way she is joined by a wolf pup. Fractions are involved. Calculating velocity, amounts of herbs to put into a poultice, angles of light, and so on. We did this together and she was motivated to finish it within a month.

Check it out!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Making things Official

Each year in June or July I find myself trying to wrap things up so as to take a break before jumping into a new learning year in August or September. Now, in truth, learning never stops. I named my school and based our "school philosophy" for the idea that life is learning and one should learn throughout their lives, no matter the age or setting.  Even though I do try to keep my kids roughly on track with their assigned age/grade, we rarely have everything (book-wise) done by June. Yesterday (just in time for a new years docket of activities!), I finally threw in the towel and gave them their "diplomas" (It's been a tough year.) The yearly diploma is something I've come up with to try to make things official and give the kids a sense of accomplishment at the end of each year.

Other things we do include a yearly "showcase" put on by our local homeschool group. The Showcase is a way for the kids to show off their accomplishments for the year to friends and family, as well as to new and prospective homeschool families. It's also a way for them to see what other families have been doing. It's helpful for me, in that I am forced to review what we have done and catalog all of those writing and art projects. It's usually a great boost to realize just how much we did do! As the kids get older, I am trying to give them more control over what goes on their displays and what we show or don't show. This past year they provided some content, designed the colors, and decided what artwork and other books to show. Our showcase usually occurs in late May or early June. There are very few rules to this. People display all sorts of things in all sorts of ways. This is what we did.

Our homeschool group helps with yearly milestones as well, by organizing an "end-of-the-school-year" and a "NOT-back-to-school kickoff" each year. These parties tend to bracket the summer trips and fun. The kids get to see all of their friends and we usually have a blast.

Finally, if you do any sort of outside classes and lessons, you'll find that many of them run on a traditional calendar. We usually have a gamut of recitals and presentations in May and June (piano, Spanish, Cub scouts, etc.).

Although the learning never stops, I find it's nice to have rituals and rights-of-passage to mark the years. What do you do?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thoughts on Keeping Communication Channels Open

For the past couple of months I have been recovering from foot surgery. Temporarily out of action, I’ve had some opportunity to do some reading that I normally wouldn’t have had time to do. Some of it is my usual mindless fantasy/sci-fi stuff, but I’ve also gotten to some good books on homeschooling and being a good parent. Sometimes these books just serve to remind me of things that I knew but forgot, or things that I needed to hear over again. Parenting can be like that. You have in mind that perfect parent you would like to be, but like a reformed addict, the bad behaviors have a way of sliding back in if not constantly monitored.
I’d like to share some advice from A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children by James T. Webb, Ph.D., Janet L. Gore, M.Ed., Edward R. Amend, Psy.D., and Arlene R. DeVries, M.S.E. I picked up this book because I was curious. My daughter has been given the label of “gifted” a couple of times, and whereas I’m not in love with labels, I was curious what the “experts” had to say on the topic. Rather than give me any new incites on my daughter, so far it has given me some perspective on some of the adults in my life (Ha!), and served to remind me of some parenting faux-pas that I am afraid I must admit I am guilty of.
Communication is SO important, especially as our kids get older and the teen years rear their head with all the accompanying dangers. I think as homeschoolers, we tend to be better at this than the average parent. We ARE with our kids most of the time after all. However, I find that it is still difficult sometimes to communicate well and not do things that shut good dialog down.
Here are some tips for keeping communication channels open with your kids (not all but a few from the book):

1. Be a good listener
. Listen without comments, opinions or evaluations unless the child asks for them. 

2. Accept a child’s feelings whether or not you agree with them. Feelings cannot be “right” or “wrong”, they just are. I tell my kids that they are have a right to their feelings. It is what you do with them that matters. It’s hard sometimes, though, to not belittle their feelings with comments like “Don’t you dare cry!” “or “How can you feel that way?” In better moments I will say, “I can see you are really mad, and that is fine, but it is not ok to hit your sister no matter how angry you are.”

3. Create an atmosphere that promotes communication. Don’t be closed off. Let them know that you are available. This ties in with being a good listener.

4. Share feelings. Communication is a two-way street. You can be a good role model by appropriately showing them you have feelings and letting them see how you deal with them. “I’m really upset right now. I’m going to go sit by myself and calm down.”

5. Use “I” statements instead of accusations. “I feel surprised and disappointed that you didn’t listen to the adult who was talking to you just now.” is more effective than “You were inconsiderate and rude to your uncle just now.” The first is respectful, while the second accuses and puts the child on the defensive.

6. Separate the behavior from the child. Reprimand the behavior not the child. Don’t say, “You never seem to remember the rules. I’ve had it with you!” Say, “That behavior is not allowed here.” The first belittles, the second is constructive.

7. Communicate with touch. Touch in the form of hugs and kisses or a hand on the shoulder convey connectedness and caring. Some families are more demonstrative than others, but this can be very important.

8. Avoid Gossip. Don’t gossip about others in front of your child, and don’t gossip about your child in front of your child (guilty!). Both are disrespectful and could really hinder communication with your child if they think whatever they do or say might be shared with anyone.

9. Reward honesty. If a child admits to doing something they shouldn’t have , it helps to let them know how much you value their honestly instead of just berating them. Positive reinforcement is much more effective than negative. Also, avoid situations that might encourage them to lie. If you are fairly certain your child is the one that left the door open, instead of screaming, “Who left the door open?!”, you could say, “How can we help you to remember to close the door from now on?” 

These are just a few, but I definitely needed reminding on some of them! Now, let me just tell you what my son did the other day...”:)

Life of Fred - Elementary

I have been hearing about Life of Fred ever since we started homeschooling. Since my daughter loves story based learning, I always thought it was something we would end up doing. However, up to this year, it’s only been for Middle School and High School kids and weren’t quite there yet. This summer they came out with some Elementary level books and I just couldn’t wait for them to be available second hand, so I went ahead and got them all. I know, compulsive decision much? 
For those who are not familiar with this series, it’s math instruction in the form of a story about a 5 year old boy named Fred who also happens to teach math at a University. Believe me, it just gets wackier from there. The math is in bite sized chunks and mixed in with all sorts of other interesting information. No separate workbooks or additional materials to buy... with these early books anyway.
I do not regret buying these books at ALL. These are great books and I can’t say enough great things about them. The first elementary book is “Apples”, and it’s really at a Kindergarden or First Grade level, but they have so much additional wonderful information in them (mathematical or otherwise) that my fifth and third grade aged kids are reading them with me and loving them. It’s just so wacky, it is highly entertaining while also being educational. I will check back about this later after we have gotten a little farther into them. We finished “Apples” in 4 sittings (me reading out loud) and are now working on “Butterflies” right now. I’m hoping to zip through the other Elementary books and then get my daughter started on “Fractions” this year. Fractions used to be the first book and seems to be about the fifth grade level as best as I can tell.

Our Homeschool Adventure

I posted this to  Secular as a blog post on their site a few days ago. It seemed like a good place to start.
This will be our fifth year of homeschooling in September. My daughter has been home for four years and my son for two. I started when my daughter was coming out of Montessori Children's House and going into first grade. We couldn't afford more private school and hadn't been able to get her into one of the better Magnet schools. In spite of all of our efforts, she was placed into one of our local public year-round schools, but after the first two weeks I was convinced it was all a huge mistake. Was I being a little too picky and high handed? Why was this not good enough when it seemed to be good enough for all of our neighbors? Everything just felt so WRONG to me, and my daughter, who had always loved school and learning, and who loved the cooperative Montessori environment, was begging me not to leave each morning and coming home exhausted, frustrated, and with an attitude. I could see her innate joy of learning and curiosity was getting squashed by stupid rules, crowd control, socially incapable peers, and work that was way beneath her skills. I hemmed and hawwed and read everything I could get my hands on for about a month and then pulled her out at the first break, and we've never gone back.
My son also went through Montessori school and then came straight home like his sister. I think back now at how scary that decision was and what a huge leap it seemed to be. In spite of the insanity which is our schools in this area, I believe I am the only one in our neighborhood homeschooling. Everything in our society, from the media, children's books, private and public school teachers, says that you have to have a teaching degree to teach children well. Our society tells parents to hand their kids over and let the educating be done by the "experts". But isn't the interested, involved parent the expert? No child is the same and only the parents know all the little things that make that child so special. Besides, I dare say, most parents will have been on the learning journey with their kids from day one. I was going to say "teaching", but that's not quite right. Kids teach themselves SO much. How to walk, how to talk, how to hold a spoon, etc. We are just there to help them along. That is how I now see our homeschooling journey. I am there to provide the best materials and opportunities, and for the most part they learn when they are ready or when they are having fun.
I didn't start that way. I had started trying to emulate the Montessori materials and methods and trying to get my daughter to "learn" with me 3-4 hours a day. She is a very bright kid and a self learner and she made me VERY aware of when she was not happy. If I said do A or B, she would say C. It's just how she is. It took us a year to work things out and for me to relax and let the learning happen. Some days I was determined to get her to do something and we would end up yelling at each other. Some days she would take off on a million learning projects of her own devising and I couldn't keep up with her. Clearly the unstructured approach works best with her, and our yearly testing so far has proved this correct. My son prefers a more structured learning environment, but the wonder of all this is that I can provide pretty much what each needs and punt as we go. 
I'd say our style now is laid back and eclectic. We spend a great deal of time out doing classes and Co-ops. We try to explore as much as we can all the wonderful things available to us, and so maybe more than they should, sometimes the workbooks take a back seat. Every year I get to the end of the year exhausted and wondering if I'm just trying to do too much, and maybe we should be doing "school" at home more, but the truth is that I wouldn't do it any other way. I don't homeschool my kids to keep them from the world (except for maybe the grosser and age inappropriate parts of popular culture), rather, I want to show them the world. My personal feeling is that actual experience trumps book learning any day, and so out there we are. How could a school room compare to that?


I’ve been keeping a personal blog for my family for a few years, but the other day a friend of mine told me that I should really do a blog about homeschooling here in North Carolina and all the great resources I’ve found and the things that we do. Seems like I’ve read so many blogs by other moms, what could I possibly say that would be new? Still, I do actually spend a lot of time researching, reading about, and finding things relating to homeschooling. Maybe some of that research could be useful to others? What is good for us may not necessary be good for all families, but maybe you’ll find something here that will be just that thing you were looking for.
First, a little bit about us. We are a secular homeschooling family in North Carolina. Though my kids were born in Santa Clara, CA, we moved to North Carolina seven years ago and we love it here! We’ve been at this homeschooling thing for four years and are about to launch our fifth. My two kids spent four years each in Montessori school before we ended up on the homeschooling track. Montessori ideas do certainly color my thinking, and I have a great belief and faith in the power kids have to soak up anything they are interested in like sponges. On the other hand, I truly believe that every kid is different and whatever works is free game.
Currently my daughter is ten, and though she is officially of fifth grade status, I would say that she is highly advanced in some things (like science, reading and writing), but in other things (like math), we are a little behind. My son is currently eight and officially of third grade age. He excels at all sports (especially soccer and basketball) and has a gift for math, but is just now becoming a true reader and is a little behind on his writing. I was trained in science and earned a B.S. in Biology and M.S. in Zoology before becoming a mom, and my husband works in the computer industry. We have a big black mutt named Maggie, a gerbil and numerous fish. Other animals come in and out (like frogs and catterpillars), but I try to limit things since we out out of the house so much of the time.
We are incredibly lucky to live in an area with multiple kid resources and a vibrant homeschool community. Our normal weekly activities include Secular homeschool Co-ops, activities and field trips with and without our homeschool group, and paid classes including Spanish, art, piano, karate, soccer, horseback riding, science, and a number of other things that come up throughout the year. My intent is to try to post often this upcoming year about exciting things we are doing and learning about, classes we found, curiculm we like, and so on. Enjoy!