Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Grief is a funny thing. You can be doing great, surrounded by positives, feeling upbeat and moving right along when the silliest thing can burst your bubble. It's been almost 2 months since I miscarried our baby and the realization that things don't just magically return to order is a hard one.

I should be 20 weeks pregnant. Feeling baby move, finding out the gender, buying cute little clothes. Instead, our baby's tiny little life is memorialized in a planter on our front porch and my belly is empty.

I never really understood until the miscarriage. Going in at 9 and a half weeks and expecting another glimpse of the heartbeat but seeing nothing; the dreaded confirmation of no heartbeat and no growth a few days later. The endless, torturous waiting two long weeks for my body to recognize the reality of the situation. Hearing the unfeeling words, "spontaneous abortion." I get it now.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

be real

Frequently I am messaged, e-mailed, or hailed over at some event and asked a question by moms who are considering homeschooling their kids, and it almost always goes something like this: "Where do you find your curriculum and which one do you use?" I usually name a few popular publishers, maybe send some links their way, give my typical try-it-and-see advice, and leave it at that. But here's what I really want to say.

My number one job as a mother, as a teacher, as a champion for my children's education, is just one thing: leave them with a love of learning.

That's it.

If I manage to do nothing else but leave that natural curiosity, the joy of learning for the sake of finding out new and exciting things that all kids start out with, intact in my children, then I have succeeded. Everything else will fall into place. It's that simple.

We went to an ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders' Association) show a few weeks ago to show a rabbit and try out something new. I figured it would be at least a couple of hours of sitting around and needing to be fairly quiet and still, so I packed a bag of coloring books, paper, and crayons for the little guys, along with two large books for them to balance their papers on a stable surface in their laps. You know what all four kids wound up doing the majority of the show's downtime? Poring over the books, which were something like 100 Facts About the Human Body and Eyewitness Books: Weather. Because cramming facts and statistics and reading to pass tests doesn't occur in their lives, they didn't know they weren't supposed to sit there and enjoy reading and learning.

There are a million programs you can tie into, books you can buy, ideologies you can follow, and websites you can subscribe to as a homeschool family. Usually you begin your journey a deer in headlights, nervous and unsure and buying everything that feels like "real" school. Stop thinking about what you can purchase to duplicate the public school experience, and start exploring the options that will make education a real, meaningful, joyful, lasting impression on young minds. Find the things that connect you with your kids, and inspire them to explore on their own. Nothing is going to be a lasting success if you're not leaving their love of learning intact.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

the little things

Coral and I were working on some 4-H paperwork tonight, after I foolishly mentioned tomorrow's agenda right before bedtime. She was instantly engaged and not to be put off, so I showed her what needed attending and she immediately wanted to begin. Now the majority of it is pretty mundane stuff: writing name, age, address, club, and the like down for official records. It would take me about thirty seconds to fill it out for her and be done. Now for a recently-turned-six-year-old, it's a pretty monstrous task. It's also one she's not about to let me help with. This is where I've learned patience is a virtue. She got through name and age on her own, and the address took a bit but wasn't impossible. Then we hit a snag.

See that line there? It's kind of small. Our club name is kind of big. It ran through my mind that she'd have a hard time squeezing it in, but I refrained from mentioning it. She got the first part of the club name in there with no problems: "Osceola." Then she started to realize the dilemma on her own. "Adventurers" is an awfully long word. This is where I could have screwed it up by grabbing her pencil and telling her I'd write the rest.

"I don't think the rest is going to fit in there..." she reflected as she stared down at the line. I waited a moment before making a suggestion.

"You could always make a line underneath for the second word. There's space for one."

She sat thinking and then drew a line under the first, and looked at it for a minute. "Do I have to write the second word on that line? There's still space on the first one."

"No," I answered, "you can keep writing on the first line if you want."

"If I run out of room I can just write the rest of the letters on this second line." That settled, she decided to continue writing "Adventurers" on the original line. She got through the first three letters and paused again. "It's not going to fit but I don't like the line underneath."

"What if you made a little line that curved over the top?" She didn't grasp the concept and handed me the pencil, so I drew it in.

"How will the word go over the line? Can I run the letters up the hill or just stick them on top?"

I replied in an even tone, "Whatever you think looks best."

She tediously fit the rest of the letters on the segmented line, letter by carefully-placed letter, and finished the word. Then she neatly erased the bit of excess line sticking past the end of the word.

Sitting with her watching her writing out those two words probably took ten minutes. I could have had it down in five seconds and been on to something else. Instead, I let her call the shots. It was her paper, and her very real problem. By sticking with her and making sure I valued what she was doing, and letting her maintain control, she was able to figure out a solution. Instead of dreading writing large words the next time she comes across them, she knows she can work it out and I won't get frustrated with her questions or how long it's taking.

Sometimes the little things can be very big.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Time4Learning review

A month ago we decided to check out the website as an option for homeschool curriculum. To be honest I've never been huge on technology for kids (I know, I know) but I really felt like trying something different, and the kids are always game for anything on the computer. Here's my opinion on the program, as a whole and by grade. We tried out three grades for our three older kids: 1st, 4th, and 6th. We did vary on language arts using one higher grade, and math using one lower grade level depending on need.

My first impression was very mixed. I had looked over the website prior to the trial, and it shows an organized lesson plan and an Activity Scheduler. We used a virtual school years ago for my oldest, and I was expecting an actual scheduler that would let me pick and choose lessons set over a specified timeframe, and that those lessons would show up day by day for the student's use. Instead, the Scheduler is merely something you can print out and use as a guide. Not what I was hoping for as an all-inclusive program. Something that Time4Learning does very well is maintain grades and activities for a portfolio. If we were in a state that required overview of those items, this would probably be of great value. Since our situation does not evaluate grades or standards by age, this was not a helpful feature for us.

Coral tried out the first grade platform, with kindergarten language arts since she's still learning to read. I wasn't wowed by it and she quickly lost interest in anything but the science portion. Unfortunately that section is rather slim at just 13 lessons; in 30 days I could only entice her to log on four times and every time, the only thing she wanted to do was watch the animal videos, which were certainly cute but not what we were hoping for as an all-inclusive curriculum. There are many other online programs out there that I felt were a better match for this age group.

Ibis was working on the fourth grade level, with third grade math. She spent the most time on Time4Learning by far, wanting to log in almost every school day to complete the language arts lessons and try out the math. Ibis has a very short attention span and can be a real challenge to motivate and teach, so I was pleased with her interest. Over time she became more proficient with using the program, and I could see her scores improve. One of my favorite aspects of the program is the immediate correction of incorrect answers, and an explanation of why they're incorrect. This quick feedback is excellent for the short attention span. The only negative I saw was the ability for her to quit lessons mid-sequence; about half of her activities are marked as incomplete. This is more due to her personality than the website itself.

Alexei checked out the sixth grade level. He was immediately skeptical (typical twelve-year-old boy) and tried the program a dozen times. He was okay with the math lessons but felt like the language arts were too simple and had no interest in trying science on a computer versus real life. He's much happier completing the free math practice sessions at Khan Academy online, and prefers hands-on for everything else.

In the end, we chose to purchase a monthly subscription for Ibis but not for Coral or Alexei. It meets her needs and personality; it gives her the ability to pursue math and language arts independently, and to feel successful when she answers a question correctly and gets instant feedback. It is exciting enough to keep her focused a lot of the time, which can be difficult with standard books and exercises. However, I don't think Time4Learning or ANY online program should be the only curriculum pursued; doing everything on a computer really sets a child up to miss out on real-life opportunities that can't be duplicated virtually.

The above opinions are entirely my own, and I was compensated with a 30-day free trial of Time4Learning for this review.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Time 4 Learning

I've been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid curriculum review. Time4Learning offers an online curriculum for prek-8th, and resources that help with things like homeschool portfolio reviews. This can be useful as an afterschool curriculum as well. Be sure to come back and read about my experience!

Friday, August 17, 2012

a heavy heart

Today I found out that my best friend from childhood was dead. I have not felt this much heartache in a long, long time. It's been over ten years since we've seen each other but I've thought of him often. I've cried myself silly many times thinking about him, wondering why we were apart. Now he's gone and a part of me is, too.

Yes, he was a horse. Not "just a horse," though. Don't be fooled. He was my friend, my mentor, my co-conspirator. My psychiatrist on an almost daily basis. He was there for me any time I needed him, and as a shy, nerdy high school girl I needed him a lot.

We won lots of shows, took lots of long rides. There wasn't anywhere he wasn't willing to go with me and he was always ready to ride. In fact, he was one of those horses that prefers to have a job to do with their favorite human. He was perfectly happy with me in the saddle all day.

He was the bridge between childhood and adulthood and a reminder of the carefree youth you love but never get back. I let him go and with him went all the dreams of a horse-crazy kid. I'm not sure you get a second chance at that.

R.I.P. Scooby.

Friday, May 25, 2012

recipe for a world geography co-op

Many people have told me how much they hated geography when studying it in school as kids. I'm always rather shocked; nerd that I was (, I always thought geography was awesome! History and economics and political science, blah blah blah, not so much, but places and the stuff that goes on there? And maps? Heck yes! When our homeschool group was deciding on the last co-op class of the year, I couldn't get geography out of my mind. What purpose does learning about Bolivia serve when kids (and adults) don't have a clue where Bolivia is? So I set out to create a world geography class to accommodate 19 kids ranging in age from 3 to 12, and I'll show you how you can do it for your co-op (or even just your own kids), too.

First, I had to get it through my thick head that Rome wasn't built in a day. Nineteen pre-school and elementary-aged kids crammed in my living room were not going to appreciate black and white copies of a National Geographic article on the construction of the pyramids, and trying to cover anything in detail was a lost cause. But what I could do for a group of that size and diversity was spark an interest in exploring geography later on at home, and that was my goal. The number one co-op planning rule is to be realistic about your expectations. I wanted this to be as fun and manageable as it was educational.

I jotted down a list of things kids pretty much everywhere seem to love : food, food, and food. Then I remembered that when my kids aren't busy eating, looking for snacks, or asking, "What's for dinner?", they also have an interest in animals, stuff that weirds their friends out, mysteries, and anything that takes up a lot of space. The younger ones also like making things, primarily messes. We tried a craft at the first class but it was met with a lukewarm reception so I scrapped that idea. Preteen boys aren't all that impressed by paper maracas.

Since there are seven continents, the class broke down neatly into a weekly six-week session. I couldn't picture dragging Antarctica out for an hour so I lumped it in with Australia. They're practically the same thing, right? ;) To keep costs down, I chose to draw out a map of each continent on 36" wide paper for wall display, and hand out a simple outline map to each kid as the continent was covered. National Geographic has a really nifty free program you can use to add the features you want (or want to omit) on each map. I also printed out a flag coloring page from the Crayola website and each week assigned a country to each child based on their level of abilities and how complex the flag was to color. The Crayola pages are neat because they show the flag, the outline of the country, instructions on coloring the flag, and a brief fact about the country. We used the states version of these for our Fifty States scrapbook last year. Since we weren't doing much bookwork, the only thing each kid had to bring was a pocket folder with brads. We love inexpensive projects!

Class debuted with North America. Even young kids are familiar with the United States, Canada, and Mexico, so it seemed like a friendly place to start. After handing out world and continent maps, we discussed the term geography and the kids had lots of great comments on what they felt it meant. Then I showed everyone that our North America map was missing all of its labels, and explained that the kids would have to find the labels, their flag page, and a surprise object using a treasure map (a quick sketch of my backyard). They practiced using cardinal directions and were able to take two-steps-north-five-steps-east to find their map labels, flag coloring page, and an object commonly found in/made by that country. Most of the objects were food : coffee for Guatemala, cocoa for El Salvador, bananas for Costa Rica. Every kid got a chance to come up and show their object to the group, and then find the country on the big display map which matched their label and add the label. Flag pages were taken home as "homework" to color. Finally, we had a snack of popcorn. There are about a million great treats that would go along with North America but I was too pressed for time. Don't be like me! Something like Coca Cola cake would have been awesome.

The following week, we met again to learn about South America. Everyone got a continent map, and this time the kids were divided into three teams with a good mix of ages. I went over some very basic landform facts, asking the kids for input along the way, and then we had an open-map quiz bowl. As each team answered a question correctly, one of their team members earned a map label and corresponding flag page. Questions ranged from naming bordering oceans, finding the largest country, and pointing north on the map, to remembering the largest South American river and rainforest. During this class everyone colored their maps, and as they came up to affix the label to their country, they showed their classmates the finished flag. After all the labels were up, we enjoyed alfajores, a South American butter cookie sandwiched with dulce de leche. They were huge and messy (hugely messy?) but very tasty. Definitely use a 2" biscuit cutter and not a 3" cup like me!

Next was Europe. Let me tell you, Europe was no picnic! So many little countries with jagged edges and long, hard-to-spell-much-less-pronounce names. Since Europe has a lot more countries than we had kids attending class, I picked the least confusing ones out for them to label and attached the remaining labels ahead of time. For this class we focused on the many different languages spoken, and I made strips of paper with the word "hello" written in 19 different languages spoken throughout Europe, and we spread them out on my tile floor, one per square. Each kid got to come up and toss a beanbag onto one of the squares, and learn how to say hello in another language. Once again completing the activity earned a map label and flag, which was colored in class and later shared. As a treat after class we tried an apple strudel. Such a tasty recipe but maybe leave the raisins out. I had no idea so many kids were raisinphobes!

Our fourth class covered Africa. Like Europe, Africa covered more countries than we had kids so the easier to find countries were left for the kids to label and the remainder were pre-tagged. We own a glut of little plastic animals so I pulled out 5 different native African species for each team and drew each animal's footprints on separate index cards. A sixth card was numbered one through five with spaces for the kids to write the names of the animals as they decided which footprint belonged with which animal. This was my favorite activity, it was great watching the kids work together! Only the zebra versus giraffe prints stumped one of the teams. As the teams finished the activity they colored their flag pages, and then everyone did the usual labeling and flag sharing. The snack this day was a heaping plate of koeksisters. I wound up making three batches and we ate every one of them! Very interesting taste, sort of like a funnel cake.

Week five led us to Asia. I picked out the countries the kids would be covering and labeled the rest, and then researched in which year each kid was born so we could find out their Chinese zodiac sign. I hung up pieces of paper with the year and the Chinese symbol from 1999 to 2010 to cover the twelve signs and all of the birth years. We talked about the importance of a New Year's celebration in the U.S. and the differences in Asia, and then as each year was called, the kids born in those years came up and played silent charades until the other kids guessed the zodiac animal. Some of them like the rooster were hilariously difficult to act out silently! We added the kids' names to the symbol papers hanging on the wall, and I read out a few of the good qualities that are supposed to be associated with each year. After everyone was finished they labeled the map and opted to take the flags home to complete. I had a hard time finding a treat for Asia that would be palatable to kids, so I finally cheated and just bought fortune cookies and chow mein noodles.

The final class covered Australia and Antarctica. I only drew a map for Australia since our large world map showed the icy south quite nicely. I did hand out maps for both and we discussed the research stations housed in Antarctica. Since we were only covering three countries in Australia, I decided to make the last class a review of the world. I had all of the maps displayed around the room and we reminisced on learning about products grown or made in North America, landforms of South America, languages spoken in Europe, animals native to Africa, and the cultural celebrations in Asia. I was hoping that given the big picture, the kids would see some of the many things geography is all about. As a final activity, each team was given one country label from each continent's map (so six total per team) and they had to work together and use their folder of maps or the large world wall map to find out where the labels belonged. A few less-familiar countries took a little longer to find but in the end they got them all back up. Our last treats were lamingtons, an Australian sponge cake filled with jam and dipped in chocolate and dessicated coconut. They were surprisingly tasty, and huge! Even though I had cut them half the size recommended in the recipe, I had to cut the finished treats in half again to serve.

If you're thinking about hosting a world geography co-op, you should go for it! Seeing an interest sparked right before your eyes is incredibly rewarding. If you have the time and resources, this could be a springboard for much more in-depth learning on the vast array of cultures around the world. If you're teaching just a few kids, you could fully involve them in the mapmaking and cooking aspects. I know that after the summer break my kids will be making some lapbooks on other countries and they can use their maps and their taste of products, landforms, languages, animals, celebrations, and foods to decide what interests them. I can't wait!