Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Are your kids headed to college? Here's a couple of great articles and resources.

Early last week I had the good fortune to attend a couple of talks hosted by Dayspring Home Educators (even though I am not a member of Dayspring). The focus of both talks were in short "What it takes to see your homeschooled middleschooler on to college". The first presentation was given by Amy and Regan Barr, a highly educated homeschooling couple who have started their own business offering online classes in Greek, Latin, Classical History and Mythology, and Grammar. This is mostly for high school level students and they have a great many homeschoolers and gifted children in their online interactive classes. Their company is called The Lukeion Project. If you have an older child and are interested in challenging classes in these topics, you can go to their website to find out more: http://www.lukeion.org/.

I also heard from Dori Staehle, who has been an Admission Counselor/ Homeschool Specialist at Campbell University, an unschooling homeschool mom, and now the owner and operator of Next Stage Educational Consulting. She is also a specialist in "gifted and talented" kids. She had a lot of the same points to make about what is lacking and needed in college students these days.
In general, the things your need to do for your kids seemed to boil down to two things: teach them how to write and do research reports, and help them to be independent people who know how to manage their time. While poking around I found a couple of great articles by Dori. This first one outlines most of what she had to say, with a special focus on "gifted" children. She also posted a great article outlining her own homeschool journey a few years ago. I feel like I have a lot in common with her story, so this resonated with me and I thought I would share. If you have a little bit of extra time this holiday to do some casual reading :) you can check it out here: A Mother's Reflections on Homeschooling.

Article on Thanksgiving from "The Homeschool Mom" website

I just found this lovely article on "The Homeschool Mom" website by Rebecca Capuano. I liked it so much I thought I would share.

Confessions of a Homeschool Mom’s Thanksgiving


I wish I could say I basked in the glow of the warmth I feel from homeschooling my children every day. I wish I could write that I woke up energized and excited each morning to nurture their minds and souls, and that I creatively and enthusiastically gave the best of myself consistently toward the creation of the persons they are to become.
But that would be someone else’s post.
Realistically? Life happens. And when it does, it often takes my best and transforms it into “good enough”. Along this journey it is not uncommon for me to get bogged down in the details of the daily grind, to become impatient and restless, to lose sight of all the things I love about homeschooling. Stresses of responsibility begin to weigh heavily, and before I know it I have lost track of the very reasons I do this to begin with.
This Thanksgiving, I want it to be different. This year I want to relook at those details of my homeschooling life that might normally cause me complaint or frustration, and see them in the light of this holiday. After all, it is the season of giving thanks.
Sometimes we just have to take a step back from the duty in order to see the beauty.
  • I am thankful for the piles of books in every room, because it means learning has infiltrated every part of our lives.
  • I am thankful for the dust bunnies under my bed and couch, because they demonstrate that the value of my time is spent more on my children than on my material possessions.
  • I am thankful for the times the kids stare off into space, disengage, get distracted, and look bored, because they motivate me to look for better methods, curricula, ideas, and strategies.
  • I am thankful for the sink of pots and pans that need to be hand washed, because they are evidence that I am able to prepare home-cooked meals for my family.
  • I am thankful for the hair that sticks straight up in the morning on every family member, because it shows that we get to be comfortable and be ourselves (as real as it gets) as we learn.
  • I am thankful for the old Jeep with over 200,000 miles on it, because it means we don’t have a car payment and don’t require the additional income to pay for that payment.
  • I am thankful for library fines for overdue books and “the one” we just can’t seem to find, because they demonstrate just how much books are read in our home.
  • I am thankful for the distractions of younger siblings who want to join in, because it means they are developing a love for learning while watching their older siblings.
  • I am thankful for piles of laundry, because they provide me an opportunity to teach my children responsibility and diligence.
  • I am thankful for toys strewn over three floors of the house during school time, because that means my younger child is safely making her own fun, instead of expecting me to entertain her.
  • I am thankful for not having the space for every child to have their own room, because sharing a room teaches them to share, to put others before themselves, and that they are not the center of the universe.
  • I am thankful that we can’t always buy every resource or piece of curriculum right when we want it, because that helps my children (and me) learn patience and gratitude.
  • I am thankful that my kids have more play clothes than “school clothes”, because it is an indicator that their time is spent more in active, creative, getting-dirty learning rather than sitting quietly at a desk.
  • I am thankful for my children’s learning challenges, because they force me to be creative, to individualize my teaching to my particular child, and to learn about my child in an intimate way I never would otherwise.
  • I am thankful for questions like, “Aren’t you worried about socialization?” because they strengthen my resolve to forge the path I believe is best for my children rather than follow the expected societal route simply because that is what the majority does.
  • I am thankful for the worn down places and the paint and marker stains on the dining room table, because they show that our home is a place of learning and fun rather than a place that just looks beautiful.
  • I am thankful for the times my child gets off task from the work I’ve prepared in order to ask a random question about something, because it’s an indicator of her creative, inquisitive mind.
  • I am thankful for hearing “Nooooo, Mom, I don’t want to do school”, because it reminds me that we have the flexibility to sometimes take a break from school when we need to.
  • I am thankful for not knowing everything I need to know to teach my children, because it gives me the opportunity to learn new things and keep homeschooling interesting for me.
  • I am thankful for periodically feeling overwhelmed, ineffective, and frustrated, because those feelings cause me to search out support from other homeschoolers so that I am not alone on this journey.
  • I am thankful for having to spend 24/7 with people under the age of 10, because it means I get the precious opportunity to influence whom those people become, while they are still able to be influenced.
  • I am thankful that every time I look at my kids they seem to be older, because it reminds me of just how fast time goes, how I need to drink in every minute, and how soon the time will come when my homeschooling days will be finished.
What are you thankful for this year?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rembrandt in America

This week, like many of our fellow homeschool friends, we went to see the exhibit now being shown at the NC Museum of Art: Rembrandt in America. I highly recommend it, especially if you have a budding artist or an older child. I will admit that my 8 year old son, though somewhat interested, was pretty bored with the whole thing inside of a half an hour, but that is to be expected with him... that is his reaction to most tours we have taken at the art museum. However, I will say that the docents did a wonderful job, and it is well worth your time to see these authentic works of art. The exhibit will be at NCMA through the end of January, and explores, not only his life and work, but also the history of how his works have been collected and how many have been found to have, in fact, NOT been done by Rembrandt. My favorite was a piece that Rembrandt had actually signed, but after careful analysis of the brush-strokes (he had a distinctive painting style), it was determined that it was probably in fact done by one of his students.

So, here is a famous painter with lots of students under his wing, who is apparently cutting corners by signing his name to their work so it will fetch a higher price? Ok, so some of that is supposition, but interesting to think about. His realism was a novelty in his day, and the way he paints every blemish and wrinkle and at the same time captures the personality of his subjects is what I find so fascinating about him.
There is a lovely documentary up on the NCMA website outlining he life and work (great educational resource!).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Have you ever had a week where it seems like everything comes together in the perfect storm? I feel like I'm having one of those weeks. It's a last minute, before the holiday, flurry of activity. Classes are ending with big presentations, final games are being played, end-of season parties are being had, and make-up classes are being crammed in. This week I feel like I just have to look at each day on it's own and just breathe. Just breathe. DO NOT PANIC. The holiday's are starting... DO NOT PANIC... When am I going to pack the car for that road trip?... DO NOT PANIC... What can we eat for dinner?... DO NOT PANIC. I'll just look at some nice pictures.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Intertidal Bird Feeding

Ever wonder about those birds running along the beach? What are they eating? Why are there so many different kinds of so many sizes and different bill types? I know it's not beach season, but I wish it were. I just found this lovely video by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I think it would be a great addition to any lesson about ecology (food webs, niches), birds, barrier islands, or marine biology.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Town Creek Indian Mound

Last week we took a field trip out to the Town Creek Indian Mound. This is a North Carolina Historical Site about two hours southwest of Raleigh, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Ok, so maybe not nowhere. It is connected to Uwharrie National Forest and very close to Morrow Mountain State Park. We camped at Morrow Mountain over the summer, and it is a nice park, though I would recommend you go some time NOT in the middle of a heat wave. I could say a lot about that trip, but the highlights are: bugs, tame deer, mayflies, people blasting music, heat, and bugs.

The amazing thing about this area is that it's geology and history is just so dang old. This area is possibly part of the oldest mountain range in eastern North America. Morrow Mountain is really just barely a mountain. I would call it a hill, as it is less than 1,000 feet. However, 600 million years ago the area was a chain of very tall volcanic islands. Those volcanic mountains have been worn down over time to what they are now, and as a result, the geology is distinct. Native peoples came to this area as much as 10,000 years ago to fish for shad and to collect the rocks for arrowheads. There is a distinct kind of rock, called argillite, that can be found here, and was prized because of the way it chips and could be shaped into arrowheads.

There are a great many artifacts and burial sites at Town Creek Indian Mound dating back at least this long ago. There is evidence of almost continuous human habitation from then to the present. The mound itself was probably created for ceremonial reasons, and there are re-created huts and a stockade to show how they probably looked.

Inside are some permanent displays outlining foods, weapons, pottery and burial methods. These displays were augmented on our trip with a weapons demonstration, a chance to make some pinch pots, and a talk about native foods, tanning, and tools.

This is definitely a worth-while place to visit, especially if you book a tour ahead of time or are in the area for other recreation. If you are studying North Carolina history, it could be a great place to start.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mourning losses; small burials

When we realized that the bird that had hit our window had died, my daughter wanted to have a funeral service and bury her. She named her, wrote a note and placed it with her, and added some bird seed, a flower and some pine straw, things she thought the bird would like. We discussed how it would probably be better to not do a box and let nature take it's course. Some tissues for a burial shroud were our compromise. We dug a small hole in our little graveyard, the place where several hamsters and a gerbil have come to rest, said some words, and said goodbye.

To some this may seem strange, especially for a creature that wasn't even a pet, but I have to respect the impulse to mourn the passing of a little life and want to honor it. It reaffirms how precious life can be and helps us to deal with death, as we all will at some point in our lives.

The passing of each rodent has been accompanied by a eulogy and a similar ceremony. The same has been true of the fish, though I have to admit that fish have died so often at this point that my daughter is now willing to let them go in a simple water burial down the toilet!

My son is a little more philosophical about all this and less inclined to words and ceremonies. He seems to think "What's done is done, lets just move on... Can I have another?" :)

Fortunately, both were very young when our last dog passed away, and so they do not remember him the way my husband and I do. The grownups in this house still miss him. He was our baby before we had babies. When something is a part of your family for years the way and dog or cat can be, the impact can be that much more wrenching. My kids haven't felt this loss, but I know it'll come eventually, and in some ways these smaller losses can be a dress rehearsal for more weighty emotions.

“Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart” - John Adams

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break.” - William Shakespeare

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” - Hilary Stanton Zunin

Friday, November 4, 2011

Amazing art!... Again!

I seem to be fated to continually be bowled over by amazing art these past couple of weeks. First was the paper art of Beatrice Coron. You can see some of it on her TED talk here.

Next it was the jellybean art and stop motion photography of Kina Grannis and her "Jellybean team".

Now I've just been blown away again by some gorgeous paper art that my friend Carol has shared on her blog, Teaching Your Middle Schooler. It seems an anonymous artist has been leaving presents for the libraries of Scotland. You simply MUST go here and have a look... if you like art... if you love books.

Like Carol, my favorite is the dragon.

Maybe it's the time factor, and the amazing level of detail that makes these all stand out for me. Even more than that is the whimsy of it all. The world truly needs art, if only to remind ourselves of that side of our personalities, and to be reminded of the beauty of this world and of our own minds.

Jellybean video

I just wanted to share this amazing video my husband showed me last night. If this has been out in the news or on TV lately, I apologize for repeating it, but it's the first time I'VE seen it, and I just can't believe the work that went into one music video. It's a work of art! The music is by Kina Grannis.

You'll find on this page the video and then another one of how they did it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fibonacci fun

Fibonacci randomly came up in our house this week. It is one of my favorite math related things to talk about with my kids, because it is so connected with the beauty of nature.

Fibonacci (also known as Leonardo de Pisa) was an Italian mathematician that introduced the decimal system to the Latin speaking world and is famous for a series of numbers that describe exponential growth and are often seen in nature. It's commonly explained as what would happen if you had a pair of rabbits. First you have 1, then 1 more (2), then 3, then 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, and so on. You can get these by adding the last two numbers each time.

My all-time favorite resource concerning this is a video you can find on Youtube called "Nature by Numbers" by Cristobal Vila. It's a gorgeous video showing the various ways Fibonacci numbers and the golden mean are found in nature.

I really think it can be a nice break from the usual basic mathematics to delve into these other mathematical concepts. I am a patently unmathematical person, but this is a fun concept to look at, and it helps for kids to be able to see that math is more than just arithmetic, can be found everywhere, and can, in fact, be beautiful.

 A couple of fun kids books that deal with Fibonacci numbers are:

Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale

This cute little story recounts the tale of a mean wizard who wants to teach some villagers a lesson by planting a couple of ever reproducing rabbits in their gardens. The rabbits, of course, increase in a Fibonacci way.

This one merely counts up the Fibonacci sequence using animals, so maybe not the first I would recommend, but it's fun to look at the drawings.

Another one I do not have, but looks lovely, is Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature

If you know of some other good resources, please do share!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Little lovely balls of life and sad endings

This afternoon, as we were heading out the door yet again, a little bird flew into our kitchen window and knocked itself out. I heard a clunk, saw a flurry of feathers, and the poor thing was on top of our trash can. I've had this happen a couple of times. Each time I have placed the little creature in a safe spot, a nearby bush or something similar, and come back an hour or so later to find it gone. I can only hope that in these cases the bird came back to it's senses and flew away. This time I held the little bird, a female yellow-rump warbler, and wasn't so sure. So tiny it easily fit in the palm of my hand, it had put a noticeable kink in it's bill. It also kept opening and closing it's bill and eyes periodically. I couldn't be sure it had regained consciousness or that it's wasn't severely damaged. Torn between knowing my handling could be stressing it, and wanting to keep it warm, I held it for a little while. We had to leave though, so my daughter made a little nest for it in the bushes between some branches, I put the warm bundle in them, and we went off to our class.

An hour and a half later we returned and it was dark. My daughter went out to check on it and reported that she believed it had died. It was still there and not moving. I know this is something that happens all of the time, birds flying into windows, but I felt so sad that such a beautiful little thing had ended it's life in such a random way.

I realized that the light had been at just the right angle to cause a reflection of the trees in our yard, and must have confused her. A head-on collision at full speed can be devistating. You can be sure, that now that I've take down my hummingbird feeder, I'll be finding something else to put up on the window to disrupt the illusion. Apparently a good half of birds colliding with windows in this fashion don't make it.

You may have had something like this happen to you. A good article on the topic, by the people at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, can be found here. Here is what they say you should do if this happens:

If you find a bird dazed from a window collision, examine it for external injuries. If the wings are both held properly, neither dangling, and the eyes seem normal, see if it can perch in a branch unassisted. If so, leave it to recover on its own.
If the bird has a noticeable injury, get it to a rehabber as quickly as possible. Broken bones usually need proper attention within minutes or hours to heal properly without surgery. Use this online directory to find a rehabber near you.
Meanwhile, place it in a dark container such as a shoebox, and leave it somewhere quiet, out of reach of pets and other predators, for 15-minutes. If the weather is extremely cold, you may need to take it inside, but don’t keep the bird too warm. Do not try to give it food and water, and resist handling it. The darkness will calm the bird while it revives, which should occur within a few minutes unless it is seriously injured. But do not open the box indoors to check on it! Take it outside every 15-minutes or so and open the box—if it flies off, that’s that! If it doesn't recover in a couple of hours, take it to a wildlife rehabilitator. Remember that, technically, it is illegal to handle a migratory bird without a permit. Few state or federal officials are concerned with keeping a bird for a few minutes or hours in the process of bringing it to a licensed facility, but in the United States it is absolutely illegal, as well as cruel and unethical, to keep in captivity any bird protected by the Migratory Bird Act.