Sunday, May 27, 2012

Uggg, the record keeping...

Another year has slipped by me. You ever feel that way? "What? Wait a minute! How did you get to be a MIDDLE SCHOOLER?! I'm not ready for that yet! I never got to cover x,y,z, with you!"

It's been a very trying year in my life. I spent a large part of the school year having and recovering from foot surgery. I was house-bound for several weeks and dependent upon family and friends to get the kids time out and away from me (for which I am eternally grateful). When I was finally out and about, I was physically slow and trying desperately not just to keep up but to try to make up for time lost.

I'm so much better now, but as the traditional school year comes to a close and we start slipping into summer, I know it's time to tackle the records I was supposed to have been keeping all year. The huge pile of papers and other work on the floor of my office has grown to such huge proportions that you can hardly walk in there.

For some reason, the State of North Carolina requires that each homeschool keep "attendance" records (seriously?!) (Yes, my kids are here... they LIVE here... duh.), a copy of immunizations, and some record to show that you haven't been letting them sit and watch TV all day every day for the past 9 months.

Well, I'm finally getting my ducks in a row. I had a general plan at the beginning of the year of what I wanted to cover with them, but I didn't really follow it. I've kept a log of our daily activities, so that's good, but it's very time consuming to go through it all and tease out the various topics and subjects and say, "See, we did these classes and field trips and went through these books for Math." It shouldn't be too hard to make it sound like it was all planned that way. Don't get me started on "Social Studies", what does that mean exactly? I think it means "whatever else that doesn't fit into all these other categories".

On the bright side, I know it is good for me to go through and make an accounting so I can remind myself what we were doing in October (I tend to forget) and have a better picture of how to go forward for next year. More often than not, when I have the list in front of me I go, "Wow, did we really do all of that?!". Suddenly, all the stress I was feeling about things not covered recedes and it seems like it was a productive year after all. I'm sure that will happen if I just stop blogging and get to work.:)

We also usually take part in a year-end event my homeschool group sponsors each year called the "Homeschool Showcase". Families and students present some of their work from the past year for family, friends, and anyone in the general community who is interested in seeing what homeschoolers do. Many come because they are thinking about jumping in and want to get a feel for what it might entail. For these people, it's a great way to meet and talk to families who have been homeschooling for a while, and for the kids, it's a great way to show off their accomplishments and put a period at the end of the "school year" (though I must say that many, like us, are "year round").

For the first time since our family started this adventure we will be out of town and not taking part in the showcase, but if you live in the area and are curious you should come by. Here are the particulars:

Cary Homeschoolers Showcase
Saturday June 2, 2012 2:00 - 3:30 PM.
Middle Creek Community Center
123 Middle Creek Park Ave  Apex, NC 27539

The organizers have even put up a website this year. You can take a look at it here: 

On another note, I have been evolving my daily record-keeping over the years. I never did buy any packaged organizers because I know myself well enough to know that I would never keep up with something that I didn't tailor to myself directly. I think I have finally hit on something that is simultaneously easy to keep and glance at on a daily basis, but also allows me to preserve the details of our daily life. 

In the past I have just kept a large notebook and written by hand everything done or accomplished that day. Again, somewhat tedious to review and sometimes illegible.:) Mid-year this year I decided to go to a grid broken out by topic. The idea is that I write down very briefly what was done by subject and then I keep a more detailed log on my computer, which I update when I have time. So far I think this works. I'll let you know in a few weeks if it has made this end-of-year tallying easier.

Do you keep records of your homeschooling? If so, what works for you? 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What will they be?

I can remember holding my daughter when she was born. Me not knowing the first thing about raising a child and she so, so small. She she was just over 5 pounds and looked like a skinny little alien at first, but after she plumped out into a cute little thing, I often wondered what kind of person she would turn into. I had two very traumatic and difficult births, so I don't think I really became attached to either of my kids right away. It took a little time to put the trauma behind me and get to know them. I can remember holding my son and really seeing him for the first time and loving him and wondering who he really was.

As toddlers, those personalities definitely started to come out. My daughter was  a fairly early speaker and social to the hilt. She loved people and she loved to ask questions, and even back then I could barely keep up with her needs and her active mind. She needed me, and people in general, all the time. The dress-up and role-playing started. She asserted herself by rejecting the unisex outfits I had selected previously in favor of pink, pink, and more pink. Also, nothing but dresses please.

If Jessi was a typical if rather precocious girl, my son was the typical boy. Trains, trucks, cars, balls. He loved them all. He had to move. He liked to cuddle, but only on his terms. I could see he had a gentle nature but also very particular ideas about things and how they had to be. He was much more discriminating when it came to food, toys, books, games. It HAD to be THIS way. This insistence on things, like what order we all came down the stairs, worried me for a bit. It just seemed rather OCD, and yet on a daily basis I think he and I got along in a much easier way than my daughter and I ever did.

In preschool I finally got a good glimpse of some of the things that would start to define them as people. Jessi showed significant strengths in socializing, reading, writing, memorizing in general, and natural science. She avoided math as much as possible and also talked way too much and too loudly. Noah had significant strengths in math, music and sports of all kinds. He continued to get bent out of shape if the world didn't stop for him to finish a puzzle before "circle time", but these were things we worked on. He still has a very strong sense of justice and right and wrong. Those early trends continue.

 This time of year there are so many young people graduating. Some are graduating high school, and some are graduating college. My husband's twin cousins are graduating college and heading off into the world; one to be a teacher and one to try to make it in the film industry. These are things I never would have guessed for them, and I wonder, what are my kids going to end up being? Here I am trying to give them everything they are going to need in life before sending them off into the world, and I have no idea really what the world will be like in 10 more years. What are they going to need to know? What will they want to be?

In my daughter's case I thought it might be the sciences, but now I think it'll probably be something creative. I could see her wanting some day to be a chef, a costume designer, a song writer, an actress, a playwright, a director, a writer, an artist... she's trying her hand at so many things, I just don't know. She could also be a lawyer, a social worker, a lobbyist or a politician! She could end up using her gift for languages in some capacity. It is so hard to guess.

My son wants to be a soccer player. He's only 9, so I think there is definitely time for that to change, but he really seems to have a natural talent and I could easily see him becoming an athlete, or working in sports somehow. Yet, even though he is shadowed by his older sister, he is a smart kid and he may end up doing something completely different. I see a strength and conviction in him, and a kindness toward others, that could take him far and in so many directions.

Do you ever look at your kids and wonder who these people really are? What kind of creatures you are shaping? Do you ever wonder what contribution they will end up making to the world? These are the thoughts I am having this month while commencement speeches are made and young people full of energy and ideas head out to try to make it on their own. I was there once and someday my kids will be too. It's a scary place, the edge of the cliff, but also one full of promise. I wish these young people all the best of luck in making their dreams come true. I hope they jump off that cliff and glide down in a parachute, or better yet, fly off by whatever means they can devise.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Maple View Farm Tour

Last week we finally got the opportunity to visit Maple View Farm and do a couple of their educational classes. This is our favorite place to go to get ice cream if we are up in the area of lovely Chapel Hill, NC. It's really nice to sit in the rocking chairs on the front porch of the store and look out at the fields and cows, while eating some top notch all-natural ice cream made from the very same cow's milk. We also occasionally drink their milk, which is available at our local Whole Foods and comes in returnable glass bottles.

Three years ago, this local diary farm opened up a new educational facility for camps and classes. When I was trying to set up a tour at a dairy farm a few years back, I found out that it's not an easy thing to find. There were concerns at the time about the spread of hoof and mouth disease. We did go see a farm called Homeland Creamery, and it was a wonderful outing, but it was also quite a drive (More than an hour west of Cary.). Homeland Creamery is a much smaller operation than Maple View and the tour was mostly a "hay ride" to view the various cow pens. We did, however, get to go inside the milking facility there, and that was pretty neat.

Our tour at Maple View was longer because it also included two half-hour educational classes as well as a look at a small garden and some penned animals before going on the "hay ride" around the premises. Maple View also claims to use organic practices even though they don't have the organic label. I have to say that it all seemed very clean and well run. They grow and process a lot of their own feeds... mostly hay, silage (a fermented mix of corn or sorghum plant leaves and stalks), as well as cotton seed and grains.

Upon arriving we were ushered into a very well stocked classroom for a class on plants. Our group, typical of many homeschool outings, had a wide range of ages. I will say that many of the older kids were rolling their eyes. They knew all of the material already and as a result were a bit bored. It was well presented, even if it was clearly aimed at your typical public school classroom and the younger age group. When I say "aimed at public school classrooms", I mean that they weren't invited to ask many questions or allowed to give a lot of feedback. It was a well planned if relentless stream of information from what a seed is, to the parts of a plant, what plants need to grow, and what some seeds look like.

After this class we went out to look at the small garden plot and some animals they had in pens. There was a goat, a sheep, a cow and calf, a llama, some chickens and some rabbits. This was really more like a restricted petting zoo. I think a few years ago I would have been charmed by this, but after having started my own garden and had the pleasure of some really wonderful experiences on other farms, I felt it was a bit silly. The littler kids loved it though.

After looking at the animals and petting a few, we went back inside to another classroom for a second class on diary cows and how the diary is run. This I actually found very interesting, as there were things that I had not known about how a typical dairy farm works. They pretty much gave us the facts without glossing things over too much, but I still found it a little sad. Holstein cows (in think it was between and ages of 3-7 years) are bred every year for milking. Once they have their calves, the calves are taken away the next day and bottle fed in little huts where they live for about a month (that's the sad part). The moms are meanwhile milked three times a day and can produce about four gallons of milk a day on average. The cows are constantly bred and rotated so that they always have a good number of heifers producing large quantities of milk.

Bottling also occurs on site, as well as butter and ice cream production. We saw the outside of these buildings but didn't get to go in, unfortunately. The butter and ice cream making is done in relatively small batches with machines. Most of what they produce is sold locally.

Overall, I'd say the tour was well run and it's a pretty nice educational building they have created (four classrooms, seating for lunch, a kitchen, nice bathrooms, etc.). My complaint is that it seemed to be aimed at larger school groups and so the tour was lacking in some of the intimacy and charm our family has experienced on smaller tours. There are other classes you can choose from if you want to set up your own tour, but I'm not finding any listings on their website right now. You'll have to call ahead and ask.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some Art... Reuben and Calder

I have just run across the remarkable art Reuben Margolin. He is an artist that does kinetic sculptures.

You can see some of of his work in action in this TED talk he gave this month.

I think his work is just fascinating. It seems like a more sophisticated version of what Alexander Calder started when he invented the mobile. I'm certainly not an art expert, but I sure do appreciate it, and Reuben's work is sure to also fascinate a few kids as well.

 I also love what he has to say about the beauty of something when you omit the details versus the knowledge of the complexity of something... like a tree or a two year old. You can love the shape or outline of a thing while also being fascinated with the details of how it works, but those perspectives work on different levels and there is a tension there between the two.

We have a Calder exhibit open right now here in the Triangle area at the Nasher Museum at Duke. I have not been to see it yet, but it will be open until June 17th. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 7-17. If you don't want to pay the money or don't have time to go see it, there are some nice pictures up here to peruse.

Finding things and creating something out of them can be a lot of fun, and I see that both of these artists do that. It's something kids and grown-ups can get into at all levels. Home art project anyone?

Incidentally, I've been told that there is something called the Maker Faire coming up. Again, I have never been to this and won't be in town to try it out this year, but it really seems like a blast. It'll be at the NC State Fair Grounds June 16th, and the website says that it is "a celebration of everything made". Here is some more of what the website says:


Maker Faire is the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. It’s a place where people show what they are making, and share what they are learning.
Makers range from tech enthusiasts to crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, artists, science clubs, students, authors, and commercial exhibitors. They are of all ages and backgrounds. Maker Faire’s mission is to entertain, inform, connect and inspire these thousands of Makers and aspiring Makers.

People I know have been with their kids and highly recommend it. Someone check it out for me and report back! I'd love to hear how it went!

Here are a couple of pictures of Jessi's creations. One is a fairy house she made out of popsicle sticks and the other is a bunch of stuff she made at a Town of Cary art camp out of all kinds of "trash".

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Textbooks are (mostly) stupid

I just wanted to share this very illuminating article about textbooks from an editor who seems to know what she is talking about. You know, I always thought textbooks were a bit stupid, and now I know why. It's a long read but very worth it if you care. Even the relatively good quality math books I have have errors and problems that make no sense. It just goes to show, a good book is rarely written by committee.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Summer here we come!

This past week we did our mandatory yearly testing and so I decided that we would play hooky the next day. We spent a lovely afternoon with friends at Jordan Lake and it felt like Summer was here and I could definitely use more of it. It's not just hanging out on a beach (I would vastly prefer an ocean beach, but a lake beach will do in a pinch.). No, it really was just the fact that we had the time to go hang out on a beach. It was the fact that we could spend a productive morning at home doing school work and then spend a lovely free afternoon without other commitments... and on a weekday at that!

I know some parents dread the summer and can't wait for September to come so they can send their kids back to school. I never felt that way. I love the free flowing days, the trips, the time at the pool. We do our school work and then do whatever else we feel like without outside pressure. Some weeks the kids are at camps, and some weeks we are away on trips exploring or spending time with friends and family. To me this feels like the best of homeschooling, and so I mourn the loss of it when the Fall comes and our regular activities start up again.

Don't get me wrong. We do those activities because we enjoy them (mostly) and I consider them worthwhile, but the little rebel inside me (Yes, I really do have a rebel locked in my very planned, respectable, non-partying self.) chafes at the structure. The endless days and nights of planned activities that demand money, commitment, and time for months on end.

Maybe I'll be ready for planned weeks again in the Fall, but for now I want to soak up those summer days... but maybe not so much sun just yet. I've got a terrible sunburn already.