Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On Late Mornings and NOT being with the program

I'm still not on the ball and feeling with the program so to speak. We are mid-August and still trying to finish up last year's stuff. It makes me feel a little like the white rabbit, perpetually late and never quite up to speed. 

Now let me be clear, I don't have a huge curriculum we do every year. In fact, the sum total of my home curriculum goals last year was the completion of as much Singapore Math as possible and a review using the "What Your _____ Grader Needs to Know" Series... in addition to as much writing and unstructured reading as possible. I had outsourced most everything else. Still, with what little I had wanted to do, we are behind. It's not that I'm fretting about being on grade level or anything, I know that we are ahead in some things and just a tad behind in others, but I had just wanted to try to start September fresh and clean with new books in hand.

The main reason for lack of progress this week is that my son has a soccer camp that starts at 8am. I think one mark of a truly converted homeschooler (with "older" kids - I know that most toddlers like to get up before the sun) is that we don't usually get out of the house very early. I mean, it's a struggle to get somewhere by 10am, really... so this week has been painful. I think I could eventually adjust to getting up at 6am, but my son was NEVER an early riser. The boy still continues to need 10-11 hours of sleep a night. Even in preschool it was painful getting him out of bed in the morning. When I brought him home it was a huge sigh of relief to be able to let him sleep until his body said he had had enough. Even camping, when the rest of us wake up with the sun, Noah is still in bed until I go and tell him he better get up or there will be no breakfast for him. He is a physical guy. He burns a lot of energy, so he really does need to recharge. 

This week, however, we have been slogging to bed around 9 or 10pm (additional 6 or 7 pm activities aren't making this any easier) and I have been shaking him awake around 6:30 so that he can have an hour to blearily choke down some food he's not really awake enough to eat, and get his cleats on. Then we head out for our half hour drive in the morning traffic. On the way we pass the moms and kids at the bus stop waiting to be picked up for their first week of school. 

I see them and send a silent prayer of thanks that we will not be having to do this for the rest of the year like they do, and then think to myself how terribly spoiled we have become. Spoiled for the time being for the world of relentless schedules and endless shuffling around and morning commuter traffic. Even my husband works from home and can mostly make his own schedule. I feel very privileged indeed.

Maybe because of the bus stop, my kids were asking me about school this week. They are a bit curious, and I think all the attention of popular culture makes them wonder if they are missing out on something. My daughter did the school bus thing for a few weeks, and she's pretty much had enough of that, but popular culture has been rearing it's head in the form of dance and pop music and popular movies in our house. My daughter, in particular, is wondering if she should go to high school in a few years. She's redefining herself as a pre-teen and trying to figure out what that means. It's made me re-think the whole issue, and this is what I have come up with... 

In a word... No... they are not missing anything. Yes, if they went to school, they would get to spend all day with other kids their age. That would probably take some pressure off of me and I wouldn't constantly be arranging their social lives. It's entirely possible, though, that they wouldn't really like the other kids their age that they would then be stuck with, and there would be no opportunity to pick and choose, because you are in the class you are in and you gotta deal with whoever is there. In the case of high school, my memory of it is endless shuffling from class to class and not really getting to talk to anyone. The only way I was able to make friends in high school was from extra-curricular activities and who I got to sit with at lunch. My kids have no shortage of "extra-curricular" activities, and get to see the kids they like because we tend to the choose the same activities as those families and make time for each other. I really think they have better long-term friendships than many of the schooling people we know. 

This may not be true everywhere, but in this area at least, there has been a lack of consistency in the schools kids are assigned to, and each year kids get reshuffled, often to another school, but sometimes just to different classes. We have been lucky to find great homeschool and schooling friends of the same age but also be able to interact with kids and adults of all ages. This is a tremendous advantage I think, being able to interact with whole families and not being stuck interacting solely with just kids of one age. There has been a lot written about the benefits of this (a good article with a link to a study is here). Our lives and activities are varied and they get the wider picture, even if they have to deal with just me and themselves sometimes. 

Are they a little bit sad to not be able to see more of their friends this summer? Yes. Are they missing out socially. I really don't think so. We even have homeschool high school dances and social events in the area. Needless to say, I can check social interaction off of my list of things to worry about.

I have been a bit worried about being able to provide all the classes they will need for high school. As with most things, I like to be somewhat prepared for what is to come. If I can't provide what is needed, I have no problem rethinking school. There are any number of online courses and there are local class opportunities, but I wasn't entirely sure it would be enough, given my daughter's reluctance to use the computer for learning for anything other than research. 

Just talking to another mom with a teenager was enough to allay my fears. Here's the truth. The coursework can be done over a number of years in any number of ways. There is nothing that says we couldn't do high school level work starting in seventh or eight grade. The advantage of this is that there is less pressure each year, and if all goes well, we might even be able to take advantage of college courses early at little or no cost. Our state has a dual enrollment program for advanced high schoolers. Also, it seems to me that homeschooling high school is a lot more like college than high school is. You take individual courses, you have choices, you have responsibilities, and it's up to you to get the work done. Also, as my friend pointed out to me, it's entirely too easy to go to high school and not learn a thing. What a waste of a life full of possibilities to get to that point in the system where you are just treading water and biding your time and hating the whole "learning" process! Not that that is necessarily what happens with all kids, but from that perspective, public high school would be a step backwards. I want my kids to be well prepared to take care of themselves. I don't have any desire to be directing their lives past their teens, and when it comes time to start looking at college, I hope they are able to navigate those waters without too much input from me, and build a life that they are happy with and proud of. 

Well, my tired mind has wandered a bit. At the end of the week we will all get a good snooze and get back to catching up with schoolwork and fun at home. We'll all still be in bed when that school bus comes by... and thank goodness! It's still August for heaven's sake! Maybe we'll harvest something from our new garden, or set up a playdate or two, or learn how to make Japaneese onigiri. Piano, Spanish and art lessons will be starting in a couple of weeks, and we'll be able to do that in the afternoon while everyone else is still in school. This Fall we will be taking in some science classes at the state science museum in downtown Raleigh, and my daughter will be auditioning for some acting experiences. Sports will take up our evenings as will 4H and any number of other things that come up. 

I may not always be with the program, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Linville Falls, Linville Caverns: More Summer Travel Review

I usually try to set up at least one camping trip a summer. Since it's kinda miserable camping in the heat with a lot of bugs, we generally head to the mountains. This year, we decided to check out Linville Falls and the Linville Gorge area.

We had heard so much about it, but it was one area we had never visited.

The Linville gorge and falls are about 4 hours west of Raleigh and just off the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Linville River. The visitor center and trails are administered by the National Park Service. The falls, themselves, are spectacular. The last portion of the falls is a 45 foot plunge, but before that the water winds through an amazing spillway for a total of 90 feet. You can hike to several overlooks on some wide and well-used trails. It was a nice climb and only about .8 miles to Erwin's View Overlook, which is the highest point on that side. My backbacking sensibilities would have liked a few less people and a less worn trail, but the spectacular views made it all worthwhile.

There are trails on either side of the gorge from the visitor center, but we only climbed the south side. There is also a trail that is more rugged that goes down to the base of the falls, but I would not do this if you have small kids with you. There is no swimming here.

My kids did want to get wet, so after seeing the falls, we took the very easy Duggers Creek trail around the parking lot and through a rhododendron thicket to a lovely creek spot with a nice little waterfall. It was so beautiful, I could have stayed all day.

A great website to see some more pictures and get a more detailed description of the trails is here.

On the trail up to the falls I noticed a rare mix of hemlock, sourwood, and Fraser magnolia trees, and the geology is somewhat fascinating as well. In this region, ancient forces have upturned the rock so that the older rocks can be found near the top and the younger at the bottom. A great source for all things Geology in North Carolina is this book: Exploring the Geology of the Carolinas. One of several good books for trail descriptions is North Carolina Hiking Trails. Also, if you just want to look online, here is another great description and a map, although that map does not show the access road and visitors center near the falls. For that you can go to the National Park Service website.

While in the area, we also had to go see the Linville Caverns. I have not been to the Luray Caverns, so I can't compare the two. Linville Caverns are rather small, but still pretty neat. I was fascinated by the trout that like to duck into the caverns and hide in the clear stream there. In fact, the trout are what tipped people off to the presence of the caverns in the first place. Some of the formations in the caverns are thought to be millions of years old, the the Eastern Pipistrelle Bat hibernates in the caves during the winter.

This is a private commercial operation, so they have created a wide and even series of pathways through the caverns that is well lit. The temperature in the caverns is 52 degrees year-round, and when we were there there were several guides leading groups into the caves about every 15 minutes. Each tour lasts about 30-40 minutes.

There was one portion that my daughter, who suffers from some mild claustrophobia, did not appreciate. Our group was asked to file onto a very narrow metal grate where the walls were just wide enough to squeeze between and the other end was a dead end. The guide then turned on some underwater lights under the grate and told us just how far we were under the ground and how deep the water was (nobody had yet found the bottom). I was also somewhat uncomfortable with this, but to be fair, the guide did ask us to step aside if we didn't like enclosed spaces before-hand. I'm just sorry I didn't opt out.

There is another portion of the tour where they turn off the lights to let you see just how dark it is and to help you imagine how it must have been for the Civil War soldiers who had hidden out here, and the various people who had come in and gotten lost. I say all this to give you fair warning if you have a nervous child. My daughter came out in tears. Still, I enjoyed it and would recommend going if you are in the area. The fees are $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for children.

While in the area, we stayed at a small private campground which also had sites for RVs and small cabins to rent in-between in the tiny town of Linville Falls. The Park Service also has a primitive campground on the road to the Linville Falls trails and visitor center. I understand there are no showers there, however. We have found car/tent camping to be very doable for our family. It gives us all a chance to rough it just a bit (flexibility is a good trait), cook dinner and roast marshmallows over a fire, and explore new places for very little cost. I still appreciate a proper bathroom and a shower if I can get it, but it's wonderful to go to sleep with the cicadas and wake up with the birds. This trip was perfect in that there were very few bugs, it was cool without being cold, and the rain managed to hold off until we were about ready to leave.

I wish we could have stayed longer to explore more of the sights in the area. Other things to do include riding the Tweetsie Railroad, exploring Blowing Rock and Roan Mountain and seeing Grandfather Mountain. We did get to Grandfather Mountain on the way home, and I'll describe that adventure in my next post.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Revisiting the Museum of Life and Science in Durham

Even though we are members, it has been quite some time since I went with my kids to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. My husband took the kids a couple of times in the past year to give me a break, but I had not been back myself. We went for a visit last week.

This is probably our favorite museum to visit in the Triangle area, and even though we have been going back periodically since my kids were preschoolers, I had not seen some of the newer things that have been added, so it was wonderful to discover some new things in an old stomping ground.

When we go, we usually have to pick and choose what to see because there is just so much to do there. On this last visit, we headed outdoors first to check out the new "Into the Mist" area. This was pretty darn neat! It looks like the area isn’t quite finished, but there are cool tunnels to go through, astro-turfed misting areas to run in and out of, and even a sand box to get dirty in while also getting damp. There are plenty of benches for the grown-ups, which is a big plus in my book! It was a pretty hot day, so we ended up just being hot and damp instead of cooling off, but I think cooling off is pretty much the idea.

After checking out the playground and water area, the dinosaur trail and the misting area, we headed back inside (skipping the butterfly house, zoo area, wind area, train, and petting zoo).

We had fun with the kapla blocks as usual. If we lived in Durham, I think I might take them every week just to play with the Kapla blocks! It's pretty neat to have a whole room of them to build with. We have a small box at home, but I don't think I could ever afford to buy enough.

Next we zoomed past the weather center and discovered the Math Moves exhibit outside of the Native Animals wing. This was very neat, and I think a wonderful place to go to illustrate various math concepts in a fun way.

Graphing movement with a friend.

Frequencies, graphs, shadows, the scaling of things, and balancing weights are all part of this exhibit.

Just off this area we discovered the Contraptions room.

 Oh… My… Gosh! 

We spent an entire hour in here. It is a room filled with just a bunch of things like pipes, pulleys, funnels, balls and the like, and the kids are encouraged to "build something that does something". There are videos on the wall of various Rube Goldberg contraptions made there, and Jessi was able to come up with a short one with a bit of work.

 I will caution that if you are in there and it happens to be busy and crowded, it can be a little frustrating. Kids have a tendency to keep showing up, taking the supplies and generally trying to “Help”, which was a bit frustrating for my kids, though they were good sports about it.

Upstairs is the technology section, and I realized that these were some of the same things I had seen at the Tech Museum in San Jose. I think it was all, quite honestly, a lot more well used and not quite as clean and sparkly as "The Tech", but it's still neat to use the video wall that shows things pouring onto your shoulders off of your shadow, and do computer-based painting. There are demonstrations of optical illusions, volume tests, mosaic creating, and more. Again, very educational and a great place to go to round off a math or science lesson.

When I say this Museum has pretty much everything, I really mean it. It seems like they keep adding things as well. There is stuff about space travel, stuff about the human body and microbes, stuff about the functional anatomy of various animals, a big ant colony, and a little play area for smaller kids. 

The Museum also has classes that it offers to individuals and groups. You can find a current listing here

It was a really great way to spend a summer day, and my only wish is that we lived a little closer so we could go more often. If you have a day to kill with the kids, or need a place to finish off a lesson, I definitely recommend it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Tech Museum - San Jose California

When we were on the other side of this lovely continent this summer, hanging out in San Jose and surrounding area, we took a day and spent it at the Tech Museum. I was a little unsure about it. Was it going to be dry and boring? Was it going to be a lot of displays about the history of computers or were they going to have some hands-on stuff? Well, we had exhausted most of the other one day options in the area, so we went to check it out.

I couldn’t have been more happy and surprised! This is probably the best museum experience we have ever had. We had no agenda, and so just went through it at our own pace. We spent the entire day and still didn’t quite manage to see and do everything. After a point, it’s all just too much to take in anyway, but boy did we take in a lot!

If you are ever hanging out in the area of San Jose, CA and have a day, and kids between the ages of 5 and 20, I highly recommend it. The cost was $12 for adults and $9 for kids, and it is money well spent. 

Here is a sampling of what is there:

Putting small circuits together with a power source to run a fan or a light.

Optical illusions.

Design your own roller coaster and try it out!

There is a section on deep sea exploration. You can drive a deep sea submersible...

Learn about earthquakes and be in one...

and then learn about space exploration and try out a "jet pack". It's surprisingly hard to maneuver the chair under a red dot exactly.

Upstairs was a section on new technology. 
You could have your face photographed and taken apart and put with other people's...
Have a robot draw your portrait...

Have a robot find blocks and spell out just about anything you want it to...

Dance inside of colored bubbles and bump into other people and trade and mix colors. This was a favorite. It was supposed to be about connectivity and how people interact on the internet these days.

You can use blocks and light to make music. I was so entranced by this. If you turn the blocks over and connect them in different ways they change the music.

There was so much more. Creating music, art, computer characters, blog pages... it goes on. There was a whole genetics and biotechnology section that we didn't even go into. All around are quotes like this last one. 

We came out exhausted but happy and my son was already asking if we could go back sometime. It's now officially his favorite museum ever.

Anyway, if you ever have the chance, check it out!