Tuesday, September 28, 2010

a Cinderella story

Sometimes my kids don't get along. Some days, my kids don't get along. The usual array of time-outs, loss of possessions and privileges, and flat-out begging, pleading, and bribes has slowly lost its punch. Many a day I find myself unthinkingly whipping out the phrase, "You are in SUCH big trouble!"

And then what? I've laid it out there, but what exactly is the trouble? The threat has gotten so deflated over  time that my kids now ask, "What trouble?" And then you can hear crickets chirping. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I had an epiphany.

Our new house has ceramic tile floors. Lots of ceramic tiles. Oodles of ceramic tiles. Ceramic tiles that children of all ages can scrub clean with a kitchen sponge, and wipe dry with a towel. Now when they ask, "What trouble?" I can say with confidence, "See those tiles over by the front door? They have your name on them."

My floors have never been cleaner.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

wabbit season!

On Saturday, the whole family invaded our local county arena and learned all the finer points of rabbit showmanship. I bet you didn't even know there were such things as rabbit shows!

They learned all about grooming, and posing on the show table, and different breeds of rabbit. They learned that they are responsible for their rabbits every day during the fair (ten daily trips to the fairgrounds for us next February, may the good Lord have mercy!) 

And Alexei learned that at rabbit worskshops, anything can happen!

And if you're wondering, here's what occupied the rest of our brood. (And if you're really wondering, there was a 4-H poultry workshop just before the rabbit workshop. Thus the chickens!)

Up until a couple of years ago, I never would have equated rabbits with breed shows. What do you mean there are breeds of rabbit? Like what, pet store rabbit and rabbit fricasee? Who ever heard of such a thing? Believe it or not, there are over 40 distinct breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association, including hoppity fellows used for fur, food, and pure companionship. And our two oldest kids picked out their own little pedigreed projects last spring, and will be showing them in 4-H and possibly beyond. They are responsible for feeding, grooming, and training their rabbits, maintaining a project record book which includes a variety of rabbit-themed activities, and keeping track of all the finances for their projects. 4-H also includes opportunities for kids to learn about leadership and citizenship, which are two lifelong skills.

Alexei has an American fuzzy lop, Raney's Toby (aka Fuzzy). I think he looks like a Muppet.

Ibis has a Netherland dwarf, FFC Heathcliff (aka Snowball). He's just a punk. But I love him!

These little furry cuties are also our family pets - I think secretly I have more fun playing with them than the kids. They sit here near my computer and keep me company, and I love their funny personalities. I think I would have fun showing them in ARBA shows but I guess the kids probably wouldn't appreciate me stealing their projects!

Santa, bring ME a bunny for Christmas?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 25

It was a four Cokes kind of day. Now mind you, they were merely 12-ounce cans, and I only drank half of that last one. Well, two-thirds. But I didn't enjoy it.


Once again we had a cousin visitor to the school house. Remind me of this day if you ever hear me say, "Oh, let's just have one more baby..." I can manage four kids, but five is too much! Too much I tell you! Five kids would require special kid-handling gear like toddler harnesses, duct tape, and minivans. And probably a case of Coke instead of just 3 and 2/3 cans.

Thankfully the school part of the school day went well, and after working hard the big kids enjoyed a fun art lesson involving a paper town, paint, and their favorite places in their community.

Alexei's is a tribute to any almost-ten-year-old boy. Two restaurants, the beach, and Toys R Us.

Ibis pays equal homage to McDonald's, our house, our lake, and Wal-Mart.

Hey, I can appreciate honesty. Were you expecting the dentist's office?

The big kids have their 4-H rabbit seminar tomorrow afternoon. I have no idea what exactly that means, but I'll be taking pictures. And I'm pretty sure they won't have any books there for the baby to eat.

Friday pre-K wrap letters D and E

Yes, I skipped a Friday. We've been busy, okay? Don't make me put you in a corner!

So this week, you get the added bonus of an extra week of work. Woohoo!

These past two weeks were all about the letters Dd and Ee! We printed out crafts and activities from DLTK's Alphabuddies section and Coral was able to color and glue independently, and continues developing her skills with the scissors. For letter Dd week, we used the Letter Dd template, Doctor Doggy D, the heart dinosaur, the donkey, and the paper dog craft (one per day). 

For letter Ee week, we used the letter Ee template, Elizabeth E, the Elmo toilet paper roll craft, and the E is for Egg coloring page. We took one day off to entertain her cousin.

For last week, I selected a weekly theme of "transportation" and gleaned ideas from the PreKinders website, shooting for one activity per day. She compared toy car tracks driven through clay, painted a traffic light, colored a name train, play-acted "The Wheels on the Bus," and saw what sort of boats would float. This week was all about pets. We acted out different animals, played veterinarian, and looked at many different animal books. She also got to help feed our pet rabbits.

We read together a new book each day. Ibis has slowly been taking over some of this as she loves to read and it makes her feel very important if she gets to be the one who helps her younger siblings. Bonus, it improves her reading skills and confidence, and (hopefully) will let sisters be friends. Hey, one can dream.

Additionally, she colored pages in her Mead Workbook. She has finished all of the color and shape pages and the majority of the rest of it consists of writing skills. At age 3 1/2 she doesn't really yet have the eye-hand coordination for letters, so I am putting this portion on hold.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 24

Today, our school had a visitor in the form of an almost-four-year-old boy cousin (admit it - you thought it'd be something four-legged and furry!) My sister's son came over to spend the day, and we forged on ahead through our school lessons. This little boy is only four months older than Coral, age 3 and 7/12, so they have a lot in common. Like excitement over sharing favorite toys. Eagerness to clean up their messes. The urge to sit quietly.

They got along sweetly outside.

Until they didn't.

Coral worked on her pouty face.

She even had the baby's sympathy.

The funniest part of the day was when Ibis penciled in some extra reading on her daily school lesson planner so she could read the little guys some storybooks.

Back in the classroom, Hobie digested some Dean Koontz.

It was a busy, family-filled day. And one day I will remember to move my book collection to a higher shelf. Or a different room. Perhaps the garage.

Here are the cousins two years ago. Somewhere around here I know I have the requisite naked-in-the-bath together picture, but I'm saving that one for some important future date. Sorry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 23

Sometimes, life gives you lemons. So you run them over [a zester], cut them in half, and squeeze the heck out of 'em.

And then you make lemon bars.

We had a good day at school; this new plan where Ibis can choose the order of her lessons and place a sticker on each lesson box in her planner as it is completed seems to have made a world of difference in her attitude. This is the child whose stubbornness could put a mule to shame. Allowing her a little bit of control over her daily tasks has apparently made her feel like she is now the one in control of her learning, and she is loving it. For the first time this year she spoke with joy and enthusiasm about a spelling page - yes, spelling! - and she has chosen to read books to her little sister for her daily book-of-choice exercise. In fact, the two of them usually read four or five books a day together.

That's the kind of sight that lets you know all is right with your world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

homeschool = success?

Tonight I slipped up. I let myself get involved in - of all the silly things - online drama over homeschooling. Specifically, a teacher who feels very passionately that public (or private or charter) school is the ONLY way to go, and that kids who are homeschooled by well-meaning but under-colleged parents are going to have children who are behind both socially and academically. So : are kids who learn from home all doomed to lag behind their brick-and-mortar-schooled pals? I thought this would be a great topic to explore since we've personally been traveling down this path for what is now our fifth year.

Who homeschools, and why?
Those of us who do homeschool all have our "what on earth was I thinking?!?" days, but let's look at what the National Center for Education Statistics has to say.

"In the spring of 2007, about 1.5 million, or 2.9 percent of all school-age children, were homeschooled in the United States, an increase from both 1999 and 2003."

So. In 2007, almost 3% of school-aged children (which, by the way, are kids ages 5-17 so this does NOT include pre-K kids) were homeschooled. I'm guessing the number is significantly greater since this only includes kids who are registered with their local school board as homeschoolers; it does not take into account children who are homeschooled under umbrella schools, or private schools that are schools in name only (which is what we use). It also does not include virtual-schooled students. I won't take a stab at what the real percentage is, but it is obviously greater than 3%.

"In 2007, the most common reason parents gave as the most important was a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (36 percent of students). This reason was followed by a concern about the school environment (such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure) (21 percent), dissatisfaction with academic instruction (17 percent), and "other reasons" including family time, finances, travel, and distance (14 percent). Parents of about 7 percent of homeschooled students cited the desire to provide their child with a nontraditional approach to education as the most important reason for homeschooling, and the parents of another 6 percent of students cited a child's health problems or special needs."

That means 80% of those surveyed chose to homeschool because they felt that they, as parents, could provide a more meaningful approach to schooling their child than a traditional public or private school. 80% of 1.5 million (see above) is 1.2 million. 1.2 million parents out there believe that they provide a more meaningful approach to schooling than a traditional public or private school.

Do homeschoolers succeed academically?
So we think we know our children better. So what? Are they learning, or aren't they? Let's see what Dr. Brian D Ray has to say in his article published in 2004 in the Journal of College Admission :

"Many studies have been completed during the past 20 years that examine the academic achievement of the homeeducated (Ray, 2004b). Dozens of researchers have executed these studies. Examples of these studies ranged from a multiyear study in Washington state, three nationwide studies across the United States, and a nationwide study in Canada (Ray,1994, 1997, 2001c; Rudner, 1999; Wartes, 1991). In study after study, the homeschooled scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests in the United States and Canada, compared to the public school average of the 50th percentile."

This was found to be true irrespective of the parents' income level or level of higher learning.

Okay, so maybe they're learning. But how do they fare socially?
We've all heard the horror stories of the "unsocialized homeschooler." How do we know these kids are more than just book smart? Let's refer to the Journal of College Admission article by Dr. Ray again :

"Numerous studies, employing various psychological constructs and measures, show the homeeducated are developing at least as well, and often better than, those who attend institutional schools (Medlin, 2000; Ray, 2004b, ch. 4). No research contravenes this evidence. For example, regarding aspect of self-concept in the psychological development of children, several studies have revealed that the self-concept of homeschooled students is significantly higher than that of public school students. As another example, Shyers (1992) found the only significant childhood social interaction difference between the institutionally-schooled and homeschoolers was that the institutionally-schooled had higher problem behavior scores."

All right. I get it. But how will they ever adapt to college life without having been traditionally schooled?
I think every parent spends time worrying about the college-bound. Should homeschool parents worry more? Looking at the Journal of College Admission article once again:

“The academic performance analyses indicate that home school graduates are as ready for college as traditional high school graduates and that they perform as well on national college assessment tests as traditional high school graduates.”


"Admission officers at Stanford University think they are seeing an unusually high occurrence of a key ingredient, which they term “intellectual vitality,” in homeschool graduates (Foster, 2000). They link it to the practice of self-teaching prevalent in these young people, as a result of their homeschool environment."

Long story short, there are actual, research-based statistics put out there by meaningful, educated people, who show that homeschooling is a viable, healthy school option for those interested in pursuing it. Is it for everyone? Of course not! But it remains one of the many healthy choices we have for our children in this country when it comes to our parental rights over their development, and we should treat that choice with respect.

And lots of silly faces.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Day 21

So we came home with a bedraggled, scabby, hairy, skinny, panting, pathetic little black and white cat that was following us on our afternoon walk. Only problem was, it already belonged to us! Mittens is what happens when you see a cutesy-wutesy kitty-witty peering out at you from a craigslist ad, and you temporarily lose your mind and adopt a cat that was obviously never meant to be indoors.

We've tried mightily to keep her in. She doesn't get along with our other cat (who would not step foot outside even if the house was a raging inferno), and she'll come in to eat and drink but heads right back for the great outdoors. Try keeping her in and she does bad things. Really bad, very naughty things you probably don't want to read about. So she is our yard ornament. I'm not sure how the neighbors feel about it, but we haven't ever had the heart to take her to the pound, and no one else has been dumb....err, I mean, good enough to take her home with them. I actually tried for awhile to advertise her on craigslist as a barn cat but amazingly most people seemed to read, "Free cat! Crazy, ill-mannered, stinky breath, attacks little kids, and yet another mouth to feed!" instead of my listing for a, "Free cat! Smart, a total sweetheart, charming, LOVES kids, will rid your barn of mice and make every day a joy!" Some people just can't read.

Today we finished up school before lunchtime (woohoo!) Shockingly there was a nice breeze blowing about outside, so we decided to take a walk/stroll/bike ride after lunch. I parked the stroller on the porch and loaded the baby up, trying vainly to get shoes on everyone else. I leaned in the door to grab my water and heard a scream of, "Snake!" from the front porch. Now there is not another word on this earth that can make my blood run cold quite like that one. I made the leap from counter to stroller in about half a second - I'm still not sure how I got through the partly-shut door. I may have morphed through it because I can't recall touching it. I yanked the stroller off its wheels and spun it around me and into the house, and grabbed the two closest kids in the same motion and pulled them inside. My oldest son stood alone in the yard, a snake between us. He was on his own. Sink or swim. That mothering instinct only carries so far.

Cut me some slack. He's almost ten.

Turns out the snake was about 6 inches long, a scaly little black beast with a white band behind its snakey little neck. I ran around the kitchen for a few minutes, bringing my heart rate down into double digits, and finally decided to toss the dog's dish on top of it. Hubby has a lovely gift waiting for him when he gets home from work. In all I felt a new level of maturity; the old me might have barricaded the door, herded all the kids into the bathroom closet, four doors shut between us and the serpent, me frantically panting into the phone for the fire department, police, and my husband to come and get the monster off my porch. Now I'm merely gagging at the thought of a *shudder* snake still sitting out there. I hope the little bas.....errr, thing dies under there.

*Smoothing my hair out* Now then, where were we? Oh yes, so we went out on our merry little walk around the neighborhood, Hobie in the stroller, Coral and I on foot, and the big kids on bikes. And the cat. We lasted about half a block before Coral took over the stroller and Hobie got strapped into the Ergo carrier with me. The cat followed us all through our neighborhood and into the next development, a half-mile from home. It dawned on all of us as we reached the turn-around point in our walk that although there was a nice breeze, it was still mid-90's, humid, and the sun was beating down. Florida in September. At this point the poor bedraggled cat was panting, so Alexei scooped her up and she rode the whole way back home on his bike. Not too many cats can claim that.

ready for our walk after the snake incident - Minnie lasted a half-block before mooching the stroller

Sunday, September 19, 2010

real life

Tonight I was planning on sharing our morning's adventure with you - we decided to venture out on our annual let's-play-tourists-and-go-to-Downtown-Disney run and we braved much traffic, much much more waiting at red lights, and much much much more crazy tourists, and spent a cranky, hot, whiney hour of drudgery perusing the stores at Downtown Disney. But you know what? After dinner we went out in the yard with the kids and played catch and swung on the swings and tasted the grass (well, one of us anyway) as the sun set. And that's really who we are.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day 20

And so ends the first four weeks of school. Doesn't that seem like it should be a big milestone? Most importantly, I survived the first four weeks of schooling three kids, with a needy baby underfoot. And a dog. And two cats. And two rabbits. And two tangerine trees. And a move to a new house. Don't I get a parade or something?

We started today with a craft for Coral, and Ibis wanted to join in. Together we made paper bag puppets in the form of dogs (for Coral's letter D week), which took a lot longer than I would have imagined, partly because the baby kept trying to eat all of the pieces. Mmmm, paper.

Coral glues her dog puppet
doggy kisses

Then we got through all of the kids' regular lessons, and ended with our Friday ritual of an art lesson. This week called for studying the elements of sculpture, and using aluminum foil to sculpt an animal of choice. Alexei went with an alligator, Ibis a duck, Coral a princess (after some discussion we agreed that yes, technically that qualified as an animal),  and Hobie sat under the table and chewed on things.

4 kids pursue the arts
alligator, chomp!

Ibis and her duck

the alligator under the table

I also found a new use for the Superyard XT (aka the baby cage) we went and spent $70 on, which the baby won't touch with a ten foot pole.

Snowball in the baby cage
Make that two uses.

Fuzzy checks things out

Sure, now he wants in.

Hobie eyes that rabbit longingly

Alexei, Grade 4
read book of choice : Ice Drift

Ibis, Grade 2
math p 57-60 : comparing tens and ones to whole numbers
reading practice pages 26-28 : preparation for Dogs
reading p 116-134 : Dogs by Jennifer Cline
science p 64-71 : read about reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and journal about an animal from one of them

Coral, pre-K
color and glue paper dog puppet
listen to Ibis read Dogs

all grades
art p 89 : sculpt an animal with aluminum foil