Monday, February 27, 2012

Doing Math Online With Classic Offline Tools

T was working on his math today on Time4Learning when he started having some difficulty.  Since he has gotten so far ahead for his age, it isn't a surprise.  Anyway, he was working on some addition and subtraction that had some nuances.  After I talked to him about how to approach the problems I saw him revert to his hands as a study aid.  With numbers under 10 there is no harm, but now that these types of problems are regularly featuring numbers up to 15 I had to think fast.  Then I remembered the nuns in catholic school never let us use our fingers to count.  We drew sticks and crossed out or added whatever the problem called for.

I am glad that I have been saving used envelopes and receipts as scrap paper.  It looks like we may be in a new phase with math where it will definitely come in handy.  He seemed to do better after he got confident with this technique.

By the way, I also use the back of junk mail to print out worksheets.  Since I rely on the score reports for records and don't save the worksheets after I go over them with him, it is fine.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Learning Spanish in Homeschool

While I seemed to excel in other subjects throughout my schooling, learning languages was difficult.  I learned a small amount of French in elementary school, Latin in high school, and Spanish in college.  Little if any of it stuck in those traditional environments.  My husband was a little more successful with Spanish, but not enough where he can claim to be bilingual and do better in the job market or anything.

We hope that with the extra flexibility of homeschooling that our kids can spend more time on Spanish while learning at their own pace.  Of course, even though we are trying to learn with them, it isn't the same as speaking to native speakers or even going to a well run class in Spanish.  At some appropriate point, we are going to need to find some sort of class or environment to help with this, but in the meantime, we are working on exposure to the language.

So far, until they can read and do a more sophisticated online course or go to a real class with native speakers (maybe in a couple of years), we play Spanish Bingo or have them watch Kids Love Spanish.  We have had them watch many different sets, but this seems to be the favorite.

Spanish is important for several reasons.  First of all, in an urban environment it is clearly an important language.  When we ride the bus, many of the signs are in English and Spanish indicating the prevalence of people speaking Spanish.  Also, the hispanic population is growing at a faster rate than other groups in the United States so that Spanish will continue to be of value in the job market.

That said, I am not sure the need to speak Spanish will proportionately boom even though it will be pretty important.  Hispanics are one of the newest immigrant groups and are likely in another generation or two to blend in more language wise.  Just as my great-grandparents spoke fluent Italian (Sicilian dialect with one great-grandmother refusing to learn English only going to Italian stores in her neighborhood), my Dad, just two generations later, doesn't speak any Italian.  Ironically, my sister now is learning it to travel to Italy where my brother-in-law has dual citizenship.  Funny how things end up.  Anyway, we are going to try to emphasize learning Spanish as much as we can.  Any suggestions would be helpful!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Science Museum Visit

We went to the Buffalo Museum of Science last week.  We had a great time.  The kids especially love the Explorations section where they learn through play.  Check out some of the things T & C did:

We went to the exhibits too, but this was the part that was most fun for them.  It is interesting to see what exhibits they are drawn to, mostly the more hands-on ones, but sometimes they surprised me.  I know that I thought that rocks in glass cases would be of no interest, but because of the interesting shapes and colors, they actually wanted to stay in that part for a while.  I will need to keep that in mind.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Homework Lie, Modern Child Labor

At first, I wasn't going to read this book because we homeschool and don't deal with traditional homework:

However, since most of my childhood and teenage years were consumed by homework to the point that college was more of a break, I was drawn to it.  The book is well written and hard to put down, even though it is a research type book.  It pretty successfully debunks the mainstream ideas about homework showing that there really are not compelling studies for it.  Often times, the researchers defaulted back to the myths despite no research evidence.

It was hard not to get angry about all the wasted time in my life on homework.  According to the book, I was likely to be just as successful without it and probably healthier and less stressed since I would have had more free time and more sleep.  It is scary that no one challenged it including myself.  I suppose I could have gotten lazier like some of my peers and not been so good about it, but since it was assigned, being the conformist that I was, felt inclined to push myself.  I kept pushing until I completed graduate school and further into my career until, due to health, I was forced to slow down.  Crash!  Homework can't be blamed completely.  My mother has similar health issues so there seems to be some genetic predisposition.  Still, hers set it at about age 50 and mine by age 30.  She had a lot of homework too, from the same catholic schools, but not as many of the career and graduate school stresses in her twenties, not getting her masters degree until her forties.  Perhaps after all those years of stress, when we heaped full-time work and graduate school onto them, it got to the tipping point with the genetics.  Who knows? But worth contemplating when I think about my own daughter, C.

Should I blame my parents?  In the 1980s, there was not anywhere near as much literature challenging traditional school so I can be more sympathetic to going with the flow back then than would probably be appropriate now.  Also, even though homeschooling was legal, without the internet, resources were quite scarce more challenging to come by.  Given this extremely high likelihood of going with the traditional school grain, my parents were far better than most.  While most parents kept their money for new cars and vacations, my parents sent me to the best catholic schools money could buy in our area.  When most parents thought education was so unimportant that they pulled kids out of school to go to Disney, mine had a whole family schedule: daily, weekly, and yearly that put the focus on school.  Education was the top priority even though it was manifested in the misguided idea that everything about school was good for us.

Now that I am grown up with my own kids, like my parents, education will still be important to the point that I am outside of the mainstream in homeschooling despite the still significant peer pressure to use conventional schools.  "School", however, will not be the priority.  Conventional school takes too much time from the family robbing it of the true education, health, emotional, and spiritual needs.  While I have said before that our homeschooling doesn't have anything to do with religion, we do have more time to read the Bible and make it to Church more consistently because we homeschool.  My kids can sleep when they need to get sick less than their peers despite lots of exposure to germs in parks, libraries, museums, and buses.  Instead of my husband struggling to help them with "homework" when he gets home, he has the joy of playing educational board games with T & C and reading with them, low stress family time.

While I enjoyed the book, it may be more important to recommend it to our traditional school parent peers!  Maybe it will at least get people to change the debate from how much to whether or not to assign homework or even use conventional school.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Homeschooling and Less Wasted Time

When I look at homeschooling, it is hard to not see so many benefits, but for me, one of the most compelling one is less wasted time.  Some of it is obvious.  When kids do their lessons at home, they don't need to wait in line or for the class to settle down.  There is also the much better commute time.

What about when you are waiting at the doctor or dentist?  Today, I had some ear discomfort and decided to go to the urgent care clinic at my medical group.  Of course, depending on how many people are already there, there can be a lot of waiting (even though it is comforting to know you can go when you are sick and not worry about getting an appointment).  While we waited, we read five of the optional reading books that go with T's unit in Time4Learning .  They spent less than an hour on their online curriculum earlier and the rest we took care of while we waited at the doctor (actually more than usual, we usually do one or two of the optional books a day).  Homeschooling turns some of your potentially least productive time into the most productive.

The verdict about my ear, unfortunately, was a bad ear infection.  I talked the provider into letting me go three days with continuous over the counter decongestants first to see if it would go away without antibiotics, but I took the script anyway in case it doesn't work.  Since 80% of ear infections go away on their own if you are properly hydrated and draining, I hate to mess up my micro balance unless I have run out of options.  That being said, if it comes down to it, at least antibiotics are temporary and loads of yogurt can be eaten later to compensate.  It is still a better medical technology than some of these new drugs for blood pressure, cholesterol, or pain whose expected use seem to be indefinite.  Medical consumers need be skeptical and ask a lot of questions these days.  While doctors aren't bad, their training is biased toward trusting the drug companies and the FDA.

Sorry to get side-tracked, but I just wanted to share how homeschooling can be so efficient.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Buying Socially Conscious Sunglasses

I had part of an Amazon gift card left and decided to use it to get sunglasses for the kids and I for this spring and summer.  I decided to try to find sunglasses made in the USA or at least another western country with good working conditions, like Canada.  While trade imbalances are more the result of policy than anything, it occurred to me that much could be done by thinking about where items come from and trying to make responsible choices.  Of course, because of a variety of factors, including homeschooling, I had very little extra money to put towards it beyond the gift card.  Perhaps with the economy so bad American items aren't that expensive anymore?  As far as sunglasses for the kids, I couldn't find many from the US.  However, I was surprised by researching other sites also that many safety sunglasses are made in the USA.  I found these and am quite happy:

From the picture, they appear a bit more "safety" than "sunglass", but not only do they have good cover from the sun and blowing snow (without being too dark), they actually look pretty good:

Not only full coverage with adjustable frame, but not expensive at all!  I think I am going to continue my quest for products manufactured in the USA.  Of course, with our budget, this naturally won't be very often, but I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loving the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

One of the questions that seemed to come up in the Time4Learning forums was getting a hold of some of the optional reading materials that can go with it.  Some would say that their library didn't have them.  I would respond, of course, that they should put a hold on it from another branch or request an interlibrary loan.  I took for granted that all libraries have these features. 

I was shocked to find out that some people didn't have these services at their library.  It seemed that either they were in small towns or their library wasn't part of a larger library system.  This is a good reminder to all of us in in Erie County that we are very fortunate to have such a great resource in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

Not only can the library help you get what you need, but they have great programs too, including story hours and crafts for kids.  If I wasn't so nervous about missing something, I might not even use our online curriculum, but homeschool completely with materials from our library.  Thank you Buffalo and Erie County Public Library!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Skipping the Mall

I haven't been too big on malls generally because I hate shopping and the setting is pretty artificial compared to shopping in a thriving urban setting.  There have been times in my life though that I have gone to malls more often.  One time was when the kids were babies and we wanted to walk during the winter.  When I used to work, I went a little more often to shop too even though I still thought of myself as less of a mall person than many.  Recently, though, I have gone very rarely and hadn't been in several months until this last time.

The kids were long overdue for new sneakers and I exhausted the really close to home places.  Then our coffee maker broke.  Tom and I decided to take the kids shopping at the Boulevard Mall to buy the items we needed.  I am not stupid in that I know that certain stores have sexually suggestive ads in them.  When you walk by Victoria Secrets there are exploitive photos of women.  When you walk by Hollister, there are pictures of teenagers (thankfully at least female AND male) engaged in intensive kissing.  This time, however, it seemed worse.  The ads for some stores were in other parts of the mall, not just their own store.  Perhaps it had always been like this, but now that T & C are 5 and 4, I am noticing it more.

I am not big on shielding kids from everything because that just makes them more curious.  I am probably less apt to worry about hiding the occasional racy content in movies than many parents are.  I would rather them encounter things with us than not with us.  However, exposure to sex or nudity in art or even in movies (providing it isn't gratuitous) as part of the story is completely different from the blatant, in your face, way it is used to sell products.

That's when I was thankful for homeschooling.  It is bad enough that kids see these things when visiting the mall to buy near necessities, but what about the pressure in schools to go to the mall.  In schools there is a lot of pressure to fit it which includes hanging out at the mall or at least buying the right things to wear to fit it in.  If I am uncomfortable about C seeing pictures of women in underwear all over the mall on the rare occasions it happens, how bad is our society that many girls, who spend all week in school away from their parents, go more frequently to the mall (than C) and even feel pressured to do so?

Many would argue that parents should just restrict how often their kids go to the mall.  I am not sure that is the complete answer.  With the level of peer dependency so high, the peer pressure of not fitting in may cause more stress and thus more harm.  Not fitting in may seem like nothing to parents who know better, but to a kid who is couped up with peers full-time, it is everything.  Explain the many child/teen suicide stories on the news.  Eliminate the peer pressure with homeschooling.  That is the answer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not Ready For A Pet

We are sorry to report that less than 5 days after getting our fish, Snow White, she (or he - not sure) died.  I am not sure what we did wrong, but I think we will wait before trying any other pet. 

The only plus to it being a short experience is that T & C took the death rather well since I am not sure they had gotten too attached yet.

We will do more research before taking on a another pet.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Family Size

Welcome to the first Family Size Blog Carnival!
This post was written for inclusion in the Family Size Blog Carnival hosted by Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling and Patti at Jazzy Mama. Today our participants share their decisions on family size and whether or not to grow their families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Ironically for us, this carnival is happening less than two weeks after officially "closing up shop" by way of vasectomy.

With a boy and a girl less than one year apart, it would appear to many that we chose this family size and spacing, but circumstances dictated most of it.  When we first set out to have children, we wanted three and thought that we would shoot for 2-3 year nice age differences.   First of all, we didn't get T, our son, until 3.5 years after stopping birth control.  Because we were so young we didn't rush out the the infertility doctor for at least 2 years.  Then we needed some medications and minor procedures.  Thankfully we didn't get as far as invitrofertilization or anything with actual embryos outside the body which would have required much more consideration of the moral aspects.

Then T didn't nurse all that well due to a neck problem that wasn't fully diagnosed until later (luckily it has gotten better as he has gotten older and doesn't seem to be causing issues now).  After the heart wrenching amount of time to get T we weren't going to use birth control even though we weren't trying to get pregnant all that quickly the second time.  Then, surprise, surprise, we were pregnant again two months after T's birth.  C, our daughter, was born less than one year after T.  The timing means that for several weeks each year they are the same number before T turns the next number.  C did nurse well, but since we had two so close together we were very cautious about getting pregnant again. 

While we had intended to pursue a third child, circumstances continued to rule and the idea of a third got less and less appealing.  With one of each so close together (and such great friends together), our family just felt complete so even after several years we didn't try to get pregnant.  Finally, C was about to turn 4 and we realized that we were done.  That was just too much of an age difference from the other two.  Since Tom and I each are five years apart from our siblings, we didn't want to do that in our family if it could be avoided.

Vasectomy seemed like the right thing to do for several reasons.  First of all, it is less invasive for men than women to have something done.  Second of all, anyone considering it needs to be sure because it is permanent.  While two people may feel done having children, what happens in the case of a death or divorce?  We are old fashioned about divorce.  Unless, you are cheated on or suffer significant abuse, stick with the one you are with, end of story.  But what about death?  Tom felt he is done having children with anyone no matter what.  I on the other hand, if Tom died, I would consider one more under very limited circumstances.  If I got remarried to someone with no children at all, I would consider having one only because I know how heart wrenching it is to be childless.  Other than that, I am completely done also.

It just feels like the perfect family, one boy and one girl.  Tom got the son he always dreamed of and I got the daughter I always imagined having.  Out and about, we each have a child to take to the restroom when they have to go.  They are great friends and can do similar homeschool activities.  It just proves that even when things don't go as planned, it can still be perfect.



Visit City Kids Homeschooling and Jazzy Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Family Size Blog Carnival!

Please take some time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants below:

  • The Perfect Family The family at Living Peacefully With Children isn't perfect, but the size is just right for least for now.
  • Family Size Carnival Zoie at TouchstoneZ discusses how she loves the extremes of being happily child-free for life to being a mom of several. And on knowing when her family is just the right size.
  • Is Adoption for Me? Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares why she would consider adoption as the socially responsible way to have a large family.
  • Getting Used to Having Kids Lauren at Hobo Mama went from "probably one, maybe two" to wanting a handful, but not without some major struggles and soul searching along the way.
  • Magic Number For a while, Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales has wondered what the magic number will be for their family, but now thinks she's finally settled on an answer.
  • How Did You Get That Size Jorje explains how she "chose" her family size and why they aren't planning to grow again on Momma
  • Family Size On A Per Kid Basis Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how plans change as families grow.
  • More Babies: How, When, Why Joella at Fine and Fair writes to her daughter about when, how, and why she might get a sibling.
  • Family Size Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares how she has no idea what size her family will end up being; though she used to be sure, a few factors have recently come up to change everything.
  • Thy Will Be Done CatholicMommy hasn't decided how many children she'll have. And she never will. Because, you know, she's Catholic.
  • Sanity and Health Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment talks about sanity and health considerations when deciding on her family's size.
  • Love Comes In All Sizes Melissa at White Noise and Mothers of Change shares her family's journey to becoming a family of six!
  • Family Size Liz at Homeschooling in Buffalo discusses how this carnival occurs less than two weeks after "closing up shop" by way of vasectomy.
  • Family Size Blog Carnival Billy, a single mother by choice, writes about the size of her family at My Pathway to Motherhood.
  • Creating Your Perfect Family Size Dr. Alan Singer shares insights from his new book, Creating Your Perfect Family Size.
  • Our Family Size You might not be surprised to learn that Patti at Jazzy Mama can't find any reasons NOT to have more babies.
  • Economics of Family Size Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling uses an economic cost-benefit analysis to determine her family's optimal size.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Real Art by Ylli Haruni

The best part about homeschooling in an urban environment is coming across interesting things in your own neighborhood.  Last week, on one of our mid-day outings (it was 40 degrees out) we walked by Ylli Haruni, a real artist, doing an oil painting.  I didn't want to disturb him too much but asked if we could watch him work for a few minutes.  He graciously said that we could, so we stopped and watched him as he worked on Four Corners at Bidwell.  We got to see him paint the red awning in the painting.

I had seen some of this work in the window at Brian Art Galleries so we stopped there to get more information on Ylli Haruni.  Brian Cheman graciously gave us the correct spelling of the his name so we could look him up online and right there in his store, still a little wet, was the complete painting we saw him working on.

It's experiences like these that make homeschooling in Buffalo, or any urban environment, so interesting.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hands-On Science

Friday we decided to do an experiment from:

We did the Falling Orange one on inertia.  The kids had a blast as you can see from the short clip below:

They are beginning to beg to do experiments more often.  We are hoping to accommodate as much as possible an keep the interest in it high.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bad Teachers or a Bad Model

While I like books on homeschooling, I often read books about education in general or economics.  I recently read this one:

I never see Dr. Steve Perry on CNN because we don't have cable, but I thought it would be interesting to see what he has to say.  Warning, I am not a snob about foul language, but there is a bit too much in this book.  While not over the top conversationally, it feels strange in print.

He does make some excellent points about teachers behaving as professionals.  Instead of whining about the kinds of kids they get in terms of poverty and home life, if they were good teachers they would be able to get good teaching results regardless.  In some ways I agree with this because if you turn your kids over to certified professionals full-time, it seems shameful to not be guaranteed reasonable results.  He even goes so far as to talk about suing school districts over poor results which is not a bad idea.

That said, is it really that simple?  While he isn't wrong, everyone knows excellent teachers who work 10 or 12 hour days regardless of their union contract or poor pay in the case of private schools.  They certainly do far better than bad teachers proving competency does matter, but even in their classes there are still a few students who struggle at times.  Can even the best teacher follow up and guarantee success for twenty or more students?

It seems to be a tall order.  A talented teacher can work his or her butt off and not necessarily get through to all students.  I, as a homeschool mother, don't work any harder than my conventional school parent counterparts (following up on homework, meeting with teachers, calling about a bus problem or bully takes more time than people acknowledge), but am getting far better results than the schools (so far).

Am I a great teacher? No, far from it.  Again, I don't work that hard at homeschooling - for many reasons I can't.  The self-pacing, low stress, and resulting high motivation of my kids take care of all of it.  When will everyone get off the merry-go-round and see that the model is to blame and not necessarily the people?  Sure, there are plenty of incompetent professionals in education, but by focusing on that everyone just stays wedded to the model when it should get thrown out.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Always Learning

Even on our vacation to visit family in Florida, T & C were still learning.  Check out these photos from our visit to Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island.  Hands on science beats classroom lecture hands down!

Daddy even fed sting rays:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Our First Pet

We are allergic to dogs and cats, so we always knew that we could only get fish.  The unit that T is working on in Language Arts extensions in Time4Learning is oceans and we read several books from the library about fish.  It seemed like the perfect time to give it a try.

Of course, only time will tell if it was the right thing to do.  The Elmwood Pet Supplies store was very helpful if you are considering getting fish.  T & C named the fish Snow White after one of their favorite characters.  We were inspired by reading What's It Like to Be a Fish.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Homeschooling: The Best Kind of Pizza

Whether you want pizza but have a tight budget or just savor the idea of cooking with your kids, making homemade pizza is a great family activity.  Saturday, I decided to try a homemade pizza with the kids.  Truthfully, it was semi-homemade because I didn't make the cheese or even the dough homemade.  I bought mozzarella cheese and pizza dough.  Realistically, I will probably never make my own cheese for it, but will try my own dough next time.  For Saturday, though, I did use my homemade tomato sauce left over from spaghetti on Thursday. 

If I may brag, the sauce made a huge difference compared to even the best pizza places in Buffalo.

That said, the experience making pizza was not without incident.  The first one stuck to the pan big time because I forgot to put a thin coating of oil on the pan.  The second one was much better since I coated the pan a little and put more sauce on it.  I used a convection setting reducing the time and temp by about 10% each.  It cooked amazingly even helped by having the right pan with holes in it - very much like this one:

Again, next time, I plan on a homemade dough, but in a pinch the dough from the supermarket works fine if time or energy runs out.  Happy cooking!