Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Leaving Blogger...Still Blogging

My old blog at the new site: Left to Their Own Devices

I've been a little frustrated with Blogger lately. Hiccups in posting text and pics. Plus, to my eyes, the layout doesn't feel as polished here as it does at WordPress. I am a big fan of changing things up from time to time and thought I'd give this new spot a go. Titles the same. All the old posts have been exported. Hope you will join me.

I'll keep this kicking around for a bit until I get everything where I want it to be. I'll only be updating through my WP site though.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Big "Thank-You" to Aunt Kelly

Kelly gave Alex The Big Book of Gross Stuff, by Bart King, for his birthday. It has become a bible of sorts. He is constantly quoting parts of the book to us:

"Did you know that if you eat fatty foods, your poop floats?"

"Did you know some woman drank her own puss?"

"Did you know that Vikings used pee to clean sheep's wool?"

And on and on and on...

Without fail, we are almost always eating when he decides it is time to discuss this book. It is fairly standard for us to tell Alex that there is to be no discussion of the gross stuff book at the dinner table. This obsession is going on for over 2 months now and even though he has read it from cover to cover, he still carries it around, giggling while he flips through over and over again.

So thank you Kelly. And Mr. King too, I suppose. You've thoroughly entertained the boy and grossed us out at the same time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Just Thinking

It was this time last year that we started getting Izzy ready for school. Registering her with the school and attending some orientation stuff. Mentally prepping ourselves. Getting enthusiastic even.

What a difference a year makes!

I have some opportunities popping up for next September (I know, already!) and went back to read old posts from the previous Septembers, checking out what we were up to, reminiscing. The ones from last year are still upsetting to read. We were such a mess. While I hate the path we had to take, I am thrilled with where we have wound up.

So, last year we were prepping for school, making sure her skills were up to par and working with her to get ready for upcoming changes. Now we are in a whole new place with homeschooling. We are very comfy in our skin and feel we are exactly where we ought to be. The kids are happy to be homeschooling and school is a brief, distant memory.

I am looking forward to the rest of Spring and a relatively angst-free summer. In a cool turn of events, the pioneer village school program Alex participated in last year is happening again this September. Aside from the stress of last September, it was the one thing both Izzy and I lamented missing. It feels like an amazing do-over.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Canadian Air & Space Museum

We took a field trip on Friday to Downsview Park in Toronto. They have an airplane museum there and since we are doing a topic on flight for the next co-op, we thought a class trip would be a lot of fun. It wound up being one of the best field trips I've ever done. Here it is in photos:

This gentleman with Alex is named Philip Gray and he was at the museum doing a book signing for his book Ghosts of Targets Past. He was a pilot on a Lancaster Bomber, one of the planes being restored at the museum. He spoke with us for a few minutes and brought out some old maps to show us where he had been in WW2. We picked up the book to read together at home.

It was a great day! The staff was fantastic with our group. The kids got to ride in a simulator, flew the foam airplanes they put together after lunch outside the hangar, went on a scavenger hunt and saw a lot of cool stuff. I can't recommend this place enough.

Izzy eats a hamburger!!!

Its a miracle! She has never eaten a burger before. Not once. She always turned her nose up at them. Rob isn't a burger guy either and he has never eaten a burger for longer than I've know him. Well, I made homemade burgers last night and they loved them! I just had to share my recipe. I based it on a box of frozen gourmet burgers I saw last year but never picked up.

Portobello Swiss Beef Burgers

Lean ground beef (I think I used over a lb but I bought it in bulk.)
2 eggs
Chopped up bits from 2 or 3 lg portobello mushrooms (I even used the gills & stems.)
App. 1/4 cup of italian bread crumbs
Sauteed onions and garlic
Worchestershire sauce
Asiago cheese (freshly grated)
Parmesan cheese (freshly grated)

I worked all the ingredients together in a large bowl. I can't say how much I used of the spices, cheese or onions. I just toss it all in as I go along. My family is used to extra garlic in everything.

Grilled on the BBQ. Toasted some whole wheat buns. Added a couple slices of swiss cheese to the meat when cooked and let them melt before serving.

It was the best burger I've ever had. I like the savory flavours so we just ate them as was - no ketchup or mustard. Lettuce, or better still, spinach would have been a good addition but they were quite perfect bare.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Homeschooling is Easy

This was posted on a parenting site I frequent. I copied it from The Link - The Nation's Homeschooling Magazine. There is so much truth in this article, I just had to post it. I am only three years in but I can't begin to even explain how painful it is to watch the newest homeschoolers suffer through fear and doubt. The general population at large would be so shocked if they knew just how easy it was.

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me At The Beginning

by Kim Kimble

When I first began home educating ten years ago I was very nervous. In part this fear was because everyone was always so positive about home education that I sometimes felt like I was buying snake oil. I searched for the negatives and couldn't find anyone to talk about them (well, other than the NEA, whom I didn't trust anyway). This is, in as honest a form as I can say it, what I wish someone had told me. My advice to new homeschoolers is as follows, take from it what makes sense for your family, leave the rest.

1. Relax, have fun, enjoy each other. This is my one mandatory suggestion.

2. Be a facilitator.
I make an effort not to be a teacher. Instead, I try to facilitate learning by providing resources, opportunities, information, materials, and sometimes suggestions. I also try to mentor, but I have been most successful when I have arranged for others to mentor my children on specific topics.

3. Be a student or co-learner.
A child who learns to teach is forever altered as a learner. Even a young child has something s/he can teach. As children step into this role they have increased respect for the imparting of information as well as a heightened awareness of the value of information. Our current educational system is set up with a division between learners and teachers.

A homeschooling community or family of learners, where adults are on par with the children, has synergy not found elsewhere. Some of my favorite homeschooling memories are of being taught the crawl stroke by a twelve-year-old in green goggles and being the most challenged student at a 10-year-old's Irish step-dancing workshop.

4. Role model what you want to see in your children.
If we want to raise lifetime learners we must be lifetime learners. Children need to see us reading, writing, taking new classes, accepting challenges, questioning, researching, and creating. Over time, as we challenge ourselves to be what we want our children to become, home education becomes a lifestyle instead of an educational philosophy.

5. Talk to other homeschoolers about their educational style.
There are as many ways to homeschool as there are people home educating. Some unschool, some have small schools in their homes, most are somewhere in between. Take from conversations with those, what makes sense for you and your child.

6. Define your goals in writing.
There have been many times over the years, when my husband and I have worried and had “lively discussions" about the education of our children. In our case it was often about where we were on the school-in-the-home/unschooling continuum. Having a predetermined set of goals for your child's education gives a bench mark which can greatly simplify the times when you are so caught up in the day’s progress (or lack of it) that you lose sight of the big picture. Take the time to put it in writing, refer back when needed.

7. No matter what type of homeschooling you choose, make sure you afford yourself of its advantages.
A women once asked me if I knew of any books which covered our area's local history. I told her, no, but there was a store ten minutes away, run by a local Native American whose mission in life was to share his knowledge of the local tribes. Additionally, she could walk to the original homes of our area's first European settlers and take a tour any day of the week. She told me she didn't have time to do field trips, she had to finish their prepackaged curriculum and just wanted a book which she could make her kids read.

Most often, the homeschoolers I have seen who fail, are the kind that try to replicate little schools in their home. Most homeschoolers I know do some "seat work," but in my opinion, to have workbooks and end-of-chapter questions be the main focus of the day ruins the real-world, authentic possibilities of a home-based education.

8. Find other homeschoolers for support.
During the long, wonderful, inspiring, and exhausting days ahead, the support of other home educators can help you work through the challenges and share the joys of your triumphs. Giving and receiving support from fellow home educators can be a great pleasure as well as a benefit. Places to look: Conferences, books, websites, homeschooling periodicals, local support groups, and e-mail lists.

9. If you live in a state that requires reporting, know the laws better than the people to which you report. Many homeschoolers don't understand the regulations and rely on the school or state officials for answers. Without exaggeration, I have been given misinformation from school officials more often than accurate information.

Equally important, provide only the minimum information required by law. When I first began, I spent hours writing pages of information with each quarterly submission. If I am honest with myself, I think my need to do this was because I thought that by illustrating the wonderful job I was doing I would single-handedly convince the powers-that-be that homeschooling was a great alternative. I was probably also still trying to convince myself. Anything other than the basics required by law is a waste of time and can cause trouble for other homeschoolers as well.

10. Don’t spend a lot of money on curriculum. This advice is difficult for new homeschoolers. It is like having only eaten at one of those national-chain buffet restaurants for every meal of our lives. As a result, we have trouble visualizing the taste of Thai food or fresh-squeezed orange juice. Our instinct is to go out and buy an expensive prepackaged curriculum which sometimes includes a grading service, because that structure is all we have ever known and it feels safer. If using a prepackaged curriculum helps you sleep at night, by all means buy it, but only with the intention of using it as a flexible guide.

After ten years of homeschooling, I’ve learned the number one item in our homeschooling tool kit is the library card. (OK, really it is the car, but that is another story.) Sit down with the kids and ask them what they want to learn about and then use library skills to find that information. Follow their lead. When that topic loses its appeal jump to another. One example of a homeschooling day: We do about 15 formal math problems approximately three times a week using mostly Saxon Math. We also do a little phonics from a workbook, because reading and spelling are still a challenge for my nine-year-old daughter, but we wouldn’t if these topics came easily. Everything else is just living our lives and following our interests. Social studies, history, the arts, physical education, and science all come to us in various unexpected ways, but they do come, we are always busy. We don’t watch much T.V. or have a video game. This is what works for us this year, with this child. The only thing I can say about next year is that it will probably be different.

11. Keep track if you get nervous. Many homeschooling activities don’t lend themselves to the traditional methods in which we were educated. If the "Are they getting enough?" question begins ringing in your ears, observe and record: Make a grid listing all the subjects you think your student should be covering down the left side of a paper and the days of the week across the top (don’t forget the weekends). Next, fill in each activity you do in one of the squares.

If you talk about the Russian prime minister because of a cartoon in the newspaper, mark it down in the Social Studies square for that day. Pumpkin carving, Easter eggs: art. Bike riding, snowball fight: physical education. Chinese food for dinner: home economics, social studies, history, nutrition/health, geography. If the kids ask, "Why does the snow around the trees melt first?" This is science. If you have to look up the answer: library skills. Of course more traditional work is also included. At the end of the week you will sleep better when you realize how much they have actually covered. This system also helps with paperwork if you live in a state that requires reporting.

12. Be ready to change/evolve.
The beauty of homeschooling is that it can be altered easily. Be ready to admit something is not working and try a new approach. Society has little knowledge of the realities of homeschooling and few obvious examples of its results. As homeschooling parents, our views of homeschooling change as we educate ourselves by reading, talking, and experiencing homeschooling. In addition, our children mature and their view of their own learning also evolves.

13. The decision to home educate is not irreversible. Often when talking with potential homeschooling parents or homeschooling parents who are considering sending their kids to school, I remind them that few decisions can’t be modified if needed. I don’t advocate switching in and out of environments frequently, but a year at home or in school, if that is what is needed due to family situations or to just try something new, rarely causes lifelong permanent damage. It is not uncommon to talk with parents who are so caught up in the agony of decision making, they lose sight of the fact that this single decision need not decide the fate of their child’s entire life. If it doesn’t work out, change it.

14. Avoid sleepless nights. If you still feel nervous, talk frankly with other home educators about your challenges, i.e. a hormonal preadolescent student who treats the parent whom s/he just asked for help with math, very differently than s/he would a teacher in a school. Contrary to many of the glowing articles that you read about home education, all days are not perfect teaching bliss, neither are those of a public school teacher. But the fact that you are concerned means you care and will make sure your child gets what they need. If there isn’t a smidgen of uneasiness somewhere inside a new homeschooling parent, that is when I begin to worry.

15. Don’t be intimidated by homeschooling success stories. It is inspiring to read about homeschooling kids doing amazing things. However, after a few years, I was still homeschooling average kids, doing average things. I was putting a lot of energy into my kids and kept waiting for the “amazing” to kick in. I was sure I was doing something wrong.

One day I wrote a column about my son’s paper route -- pretty average stuff. As I wrote I began to make connections to all the things he had accomplished and done over the years as a result of his paper route. Eventually, I realized I was writing one of those amazing homeschooling success stories. He looked great on paper. Somehow, caught up in the day-to-day of getting him to pick up his socks, I had missed the “amazing.”

16. This is only one view of a home-based education. Keep searching.

Copyright 2010 by Modern Media. All rights reserved. a

Sunday, April 18, 2010


It is absolutely silent right now. Well, almost. The dryer is tumbling but it is a very soft, scratchy noise that oddly adds to this zen-like moment I am having. The living room is toasty warm. The sunlight is filling up the rooms. And there are no kids. Not one. This happens but once a week, when Rob shuffles the kids off to swim class.

Sure, it is an noisy ordeal getting them out the door. They come back home like a herd of cattle too. We are definitely going through a very noisy stage in parenting right now so this warm, bright and oh-so-silent room is as close to bliss as I'll come this week.

It just clarifies this intense need for mommy time. Alone time. Time to relax, reflect or (wouldn't it be awesome) write. The family is pretty good about leaving me alone to read a book or cook a meal but I am still aware of the din. The situation plays itself over and over again while I pretend not to notice, "...Mommy!", "Shush, Mommy is ---, what do you need?", "I need Mommy to...", "Well, I could have done that! Don't bother her now.". It could be either child - always with a need to get a glass of water, show me a paper cut or to just tell me something.

I love them to death. But breaks are nice. Going without them for a certain amount of time makes you forget you even need them - or how much. Once in a blue moon I get to hang out with Rob. Or friends. I rarely get to be alone though. I miss it a lot.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring has Sprung

We've had quite a winter, in that it was completely non-existent. I shoveled only twice. Barely into April and my raspberry and rose bush are well on their way. I am chomping at the bit to get into the garden. A friend suggested sweet potato vines in the sunny corner. I want to extend the soil bed to give this year's crop of tomatoes more room and add herbs this year. The front needs a little attention too but since I won't have the money this year to change the storm door I am feeling less compelled to beautify the yard with the entrance looking so shoddy.

Inside there is much to do as well. I have a pretty ambitious set of goals. We'll see how far I get. Not off to the best start. I feel emotionally spent after dealing with the death of Rob's cousin last week. I hope that Rob gets a small reprieve at work too. Just one more thing that could keep us off track.

So, in the interest of the spirit of renewal, I hope to clean and purge my way through the contents of my life. Old clothes, books, toys and trinkets will have to go. I have this need to minimize the amount of stuff in my life. Live simpler and cleaner. May be a bit harder to get the kids on board though.

I would kill for a magic wand right about now.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Another Izzy Funny

I am not sure what I did, exactly, though it certainly ticked Miss Iz off. She gave me her trademark sour look and said, "I hate you. I am going to write you a note too that I hate you. How do you spell that?"

I laughed, then spelled it out for her, I-H-A-T-E-Y-O-U, and smiled at Rob. Most of the time her little fits make me laugh. Most of the time. Passing me the note she said, "I really don't hate you. I love you a lot. But I hate you so here is the note. Except I love you. Hmppphh!" then spun around and walked away.

A few minutes later she made sure to tell me that yes she still loved me and that she loves all of us, because we are family and we have to love each other to live together.

My Izzy. What a character!!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Night Mommy Duct-Taped The Couch

If there ever comes a day when the kids wonder just what exactly I did for them, or what sacrifices I made for them I hope they read this and smile.

Our 11 year old leather couch which is well past its expiration date has been taped with blue duct tape. Why? Because there are rips and holes. The old duct tape is coming off. Your daddy is getting mad that his pants are sticky when he sits down. Thankfully I do most of the entertaining in the kitchen.

We really need a new couch. I'm sure we'll have one by Christmas. We need to do the flooring this summer. Paint, maybe. Still, for all the money I have forked out on French lessons, art classes and everything else under the sun, I could have had this room professionally decorated and then some.

You kids are so lucky.

For now we'll have to live with our patched up couch. I still need tires and a timing belt on our 8 year old car first. Just remember when you look through old pictures and see such oddities as this [picture to be added soon] that you two always came first. And likely always will.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hug your Family

My neighbout 2 doors down is at a major trauma centre waiting on the outcome of her husband's surgery. Yesterday a car pulled in front of his motorcycle and nearly took his life. He is 33 years old with two young children. At worst, he may not survive. At best, he has months, if not years of recovery ahead of him.

I feel just sick for them. I've experienced family traumas in the past and remember well all those hospitals, doctors and always, the uncertainty.

I made Rob promise he would never put me through that. Irrational, I know.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I Love 'The Onion'

Increasing Number Of Parents Opting To Have Children School-Homed

WASHINGTON—According to a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education, an increasing number of American parents are choosing to have their children raised at school rather than at home.

Deputy Education Secretary Anthony W. Miller said that many parents who school-home find U.S. households to be frightening, overwhelming environments for their children, and feel that they are just not conducive to producing well-rounded members of society.

Thousands of mothers and fathers polled in the study also believe that those running American homes cannot be trusted to keep their kids safe.

"Every year more parents are finding that their homes are not equipped to instill the right values in their children," Miller said. "When it comes to important life skills such as proper nutrition, safe sex, and even basic socialization, a growing number of mothers and fathers think it's better to rely on educators to guide and nurture their kids."

"And really, who can blame them?" Miller continued. "American homes have let down our nation's youth time and again in almost every imaginable respect."

According to the report, children raised at home were less likely to receive individual adult attention, and were often subjected to ineffective and wildly inconsistent disciplinary measures. The study also found that many parents expressed concerns that, when at home, their children were being teased and bullied by those older than themselves.

In addition to providing better supervision and overall direction, school-homing has become popular among mothers and fathers who just want to be less involved in the day-to-day lives of their children.

"Parents are finding creative ways to make this increasingly common child-rearing track work," Miller said. "Whether it's over-relying on after-school programs and extracurricular activities, or simply gross neglect,† school-homing is becoming a widely accepted method of bringing children up."

Despite the trend's growing popularity, Miller said that school programs are often jeopardized or terminated because shortsighted individuals vote against tax increases intended to boost educational spending.

"The terrifying reality we're facing is that the worst-equipped people you could possibly imagine may actually be forced to take care of their children," Miller said.

Parents who have decided to school-home their children have echoed many of Miller's concerns. Most said that an alarming number of legal guardians such as themselves lack the most basic common sense required to give children the type of instruction they need during crucial developmental years.

"It's really a matter of who has more experience in dealing with my child," Cincinnati- resident Kevin Dufrense said of his decision to have his 10-year-old son Jake, who suffers from ADHD and dyslexia, school-homed. "These teachers are dealing with upwards of 40 students in their classrooms at a time, so obviously they know a lot more about children than someone like me, who only has one son and doesn't know where he is half the time anyway."

"Simply put, it's not the job of parents to raise these kids," Dufrense added.

Though school-homing has proven to be an ideal solution for millions of uninvolved parents, increasingly overburdened public schools have recently led to a steady upswing in the number of students being prison-homed.

A Movie and Some Chicks

We took the kids to a 3D viewing of How To Train Your Dragon. I absolutely adored it. The kids liked it too. I had Alex read the book first and it turns out it was nothing like the movie.

Afterward we went to White Feather Farm, about a 1/2 drive South into the country. Aside from picking up some yummy food and fresh eggs, the kids got to hold on to baby chicks, an Easter tradition at the farm. They were cute little things.

They are Just so Darn Big!

I really should be in bed but I can't sleep. Instead I will entertain myself musing about the kids and how gosh-darn-big they are getting.

This is a recent photo of my nephew Liam with Alex. Alex just turned 7 and Liam turns 7 in April. It is hard to believe how old these boys are getting.

Rob came downstairs this morning saying he had to let out the elastic liner in Alex's jeans from Old Navy. The elastic that holds up long pants on skinny kids. While Alex has never been skinny he still could always use a little support. Anyway, the pants Rob was referring to were the new, not-yet-used size 8 pair that I had picked up on sale and threw in the back of the closet. Size 8 pants! With his giant head he was already 8/10 in shirts but this...

It isn't surprising that they are growing. Just that it seems to happen over night. I just went through this with Izzy. Less than two months after refitting her closet with size 4 clothes, she jumped to a 5.

These kids are starting to cost me a fortune in clothing. Not once have we ever worn out clothes in this house. I now have a 7 year old boy who is 4 1/2 feet tall, about 70lbs with a little sister coming up on 4 feet and over 40lbs.

Sometimes they still ask me to snuggle with them like I did when they were babies. It is near impossible to do now and always reminds me of that book by Robert Munsch, Love You Forever, where the older mom cradles her growing son. It is hard to believe these are the kids I could once cradle in one arm.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Article Copied From Psychology Today

When Less is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in Schools
In an experiment, children who were taught less learned more.

[By Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, is a specialist in developmental and evolutionary psychology and author of an introductory textbook, Psychology.]

In 1929, the superintendent of schools in Ithaca, New York, sent out a challenge to his colleagues in other cities. "What," he asked, "can we drop from the elementary school curriculum?" He complained that over the years new subjects were continuously being added and nothing was being subtracted, with the result that the school day was packed with too many subjects and there was little time to reflect seriously on anything. This was back in the days when people believed that children shouldn't have to spend all of their time at school work--that they needed some time to play, to do chores at home, and to be with their families--so there was reason back then to believe that whenever something new is added to the curriculum something else should be dropped.

One of the recipients of this challenge was L. P. Benezet, superintendent of schools in Manchester, New Hampshire, who responded with this outrageous proposal: We should drop arithmetic! Benezet went on to argue that the time spent on arithmetic in the early grades was wasted effort, or worse. In fact, he wrote: "For some years I had noted that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child's reasoning facilities." All that drill, he claimed, had divorced the whole realm of numbers and arithmetic, in the children's minds, from common sense, with the result that they could do the calculations as taught to them, but didn't understand what they were doing and couldn't apply the calculations to real life problems. He believed that if arithmetic were not taught until later on--preferably not until seventh grade--the kids would learn it with far less effort and greater understanding.

Think of it. Today whenever we hear that children aren't learning much of what is taught in school the hue and cry from the educational establishment is that we must therefore teach more of it! If two hundred hours of instruction on subject X does no good, well, let's try four hundred hours. If children aren't learning what is taught to them in first grade, then let's start teaching it in kindergarten. And if they aren't learning it in kindergarten, that could only mean that we need to start them in pre-kindergarten! But Benezet had the opposite opinion. If kids aren't learning much math in the early grades despite considerable time and effort devoted to it, then why waste time and effort on it?

Benezet followed his outrageous suggestion with an outrageous experiment. He asked the principals and teachers in some of the schools located in the poorest parts of Manchester to drop the third R from the early grades. They would not teach arithmetic--no adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. He chose schools in the poorest neighborhoods because he knew that if he tried this in the wealthier neighborhoods, where parents were high school or college graduates, the parents would rebel. As a compromise, to appease the principals who were not willing to go as far as he wished, Benezet decided on a plan in which arithmetic would be introduced in sixth grade.

In 1929, the superintendent of schools in Ithaca, New York, sent out a challenge to his colleagues in other cities. "What," he asked, "can we drop from the elementary school curriculum?" He complained that over the years new subjects were continuously being added and nothing was being subtracted, with the result that the school day was packed with too many subjects and there was little time to reflect seriously on anything. This was back in the days when people believed that children shouldn't have to spend all of their time at school work--that they needed some time to play, to do chores at home, and to be with their families--so there was reason back then to believe that whenever something new is added to the curriculum something else should be dropped.

One of the recipients of this challenge was L. P. Benezet, superintendent of schools in Manchester, New Hampshire, who responded with this outrageous proposal: We should drop arithmetic! Benezet went on to argue that the time spent on arithmetic in the early grades was wasted effort, or worse. In fact, he wrote: "For some years I had noted that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child's reasoning facilities." All that drill, he claimed, had divorced the whole realm of numbers and arithmetic, in the children's minds, from common sense, with the result that they could do the calculations as taught to them, but didn't understand what they were doing and couldn't apply the calculations to real life problems. He believed that if arithmetic were not taught until later on--preferably not until seventh grade--the kids would learn it with far less effort and greater understanding.

Think of it. Today whenever we hear that children aren't learning much of what is taught in school the hue and cry from the educational establishment is that we must therefore teach more of it! If two hundred hours of instruction on subject X does no good, well, let's try four hundred hours. If children aren't learning what is taught to them in first grade, then let's start teaching it in kindergarten. And if they aren't learning it in kindergarten, that could only mean that we need to start them in pre-kindergarten! But Benezet had the opposite opinion. If kids aren't learning much math in the early grades despite considerable time and effort devoted to it, then why waste time and effort on it?

Benezet followed his outrageous suggestion with an outrageous experiment. He asked the principals and teachers in some of the schools located in the poorest parts of Manchester to drop the third R from the early grades. They would not teach arithmetic--no adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. He chose schools in the poorest neighborhoods because he knew that if he tried this in the wealthier neighborhoods, where parents were high school or college graduates, the parents would rebel. As a compromise, to appease the principals who were not willing to go as far as he wished, Benezet decided on a plan in which arithmetic would be introduced in sixth grade.

As part of the plan, he asked the teachers of the earlier grades to devote some of the time that they would normally spend on arithmetic to the new third R--recitation. By "recitation" he meant, "speaking the English language." He did "not mean giving back, verbatim, the words of the teacher or the textbook." The children would be asked to talk about topics that interested them--experiences they had had, movies they had seen, or anything that would lead to genuine, lively communication and discussion. This, he thought, would improve their abilities to reason and communicate logically. He also asked the teachers to give their pupils some practice in measuring and counting things, to assure that they would have some practical experience with numbers.

In order to evaluate the experiment, Benezet arranged for a graduate student from Boston University to come up and test the Manchester children at various times in the sixth grade. The results were remarkable. At the beginning of their sixth grade year, the children in the experimental classes, who had not been taught any arithmetic, performed much better than those in the traditional classes on story problems that could be solved by common sense and a general understanding of numbers and measurement. Of course, at the beginning of sixth grade, those in the experimental classes performed worse on the standard school arithmetic tests, where the problems were set up in the usual school manner and could be solved simply by applying the rote-learned algorithms. But by the end of sixth grade those in the experimental classes had completely caught up on this and were still way ahead of the others on story problems.

In sum, Benezet showed that kids who received just one year of arithmetic, in sixth grade, performed at least as well on standard calculations and much better on story problems than kids who had received several years of arithmetic training. This was all the more remarkable because of the fact that those who received just one year of training were from the poorest neighborhoods--the neighborhoods that had previously produced the poorest test results. Why have almost no educators heard of this experiment? Why isn't Benezet now considered to be one of the geniuses of public education? I wonder.

For decades since Benezet's time, educators have debated about the best ways to teach mathematics in schools. There was the new math, the new new math, and so on. Nothing has worked. There are lots of reasons for this, one of which is that the people who teach in elementary schools are not mathematicians. Most of them are math phobic, just like most people in the larger culture. They, after all, are themselves products of the school system, and one thing the school system does well is to generate a lasting fear and loathing of mathematics in most people who pass through it. No matter what textbooks or worksheets or lesson plans the higher-ups devise for them, the teachers teach math by rote, in the only way they can, and they just pray that no smart-alec student asks them a question such as "Why do we do it that way?" or "What good is this?" The students, of course, pick up on their teachers' fear, and they learn not to ask or even to think about such questions. They learn to be dumb. They learn, as Benezet would have put it, that a math-schooled mind is a chloroformed mind.

In an article published in 2005, Patricia Clark Kenschaft, a professor of mathematics at Montclair State University, described her experiences of going into elementary schools and talking with teachers about math. In one visit to a K-6 elementary school in New Jersey she discovered that not a single teacher, out of the fifty that she met with, knew how to find the area of a rectangle.[2] They taught multiplication, but none of them knew that multiplication is used to find the area of a rectangle. Their most common guess was that you add the length and the width to get the area. Their excuse for not knowing was that they did not need to teach about areas of rectangles; that came later in the curriculum. But the fact that they couldn't figure out that multiplication is used to find the area was evidence to Kenschaft that they didn't really know what multiplication is or what it is for. She also found that although the teachers knew and taught the algorithm for multiplying one two-digit number by another, none of them could explain why that algorithm works.

The school that Kenschaft visited happened to be in a very poor district, with mostly African American kids, so at first she figured that the worst teachers must have been assigned to that school, and she theorized that this was why African Americans do even more poorly than white Americans on math tests. But then she went into some schools in wealthy districts, with mostly white kids, and found that the mathematics knowledge of teachers there was equally pathetic. She concluded that nobody could be learning much math in school and, "It appears that the higher scores of the affluent districts are not due to superior teaching but to the supplementary informal ‘home schooling' of children."

At the present time it seems clear that we are doing more damage than good by teaching math in elementary schools. Therefore, I'm with Benezet. We should stop teaching it. In my next post--about two weeks from now--I'm going to talk about how kids who don't go to traditional schools learn math with no or very little formal instruction.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Some gems I've been meaning to jot down. Some go back a ways, copied them from facebook.

On my birthday: Mommy its not fair that you and Alex have your birthdays near each other. I have to have mine with daddy. [insert pouty face] If you love me you will change it so our birthdays are together and Alex can go with daddy.

This morning after a particularly bad one, for all of us, as we are going out the door: (Alex) Mommy, I hope your days gets better! (Izzy) [Stomping her way past me] I don't!! That actually did make me laugh.

Last week: Mommy, how come I don't have back up dancers? I really need back up dancers!

In the car one day: She was telling Alex about a new game she invented: snatch-away. Her version of keep-away. She was mad when mommy and daddy wouldn't stop laughing.

Back in January: A child of the times? A computer/gaming addict in the making? (Izzy) Can E go on my sled with me tomorrow, even though it's not for 2 players?

How (Excessive) Reading Pays Off

It is amazing what reading can do! I have been quietly tracking what the boy has been reading. Thanks to Mommy's crackdown on television and video games, and the fact that we were home most of last week, I counted over 60 books read by the boy. Some were Dr. Seuss books. He also likes to reread Geronimo Stilton or non-fiction fact books. Other titles included Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda, How to Train your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, a few of from The Boxcar Children series, biographies of The Wright Brothers and Albert Einstein, The Big Book of Gross Stuff and many, many more.

I would guess he averages 30-40 books a week, my little speed reader. He is a true lover of literature. It is paying off big time!

This afternoon he came upstairs with a sign that said "Bos's Room" and asked if he had spelled it correctly. I told him he missed an S but was super impressed that he knew possession required an apostrophe. I never taught him that. Not in a sit down and learn grammar kind of way.

It got me thinking about many little things I have been noticing these days. His spelling has dramatically improved over the last few months. This boy, who would misspell a simple word six months ago is spelling words like "ready" without help. The mistakes he makes are not the ones I would expect either. Great was "graet" which he knew looked wrong even though he had the right idea. Not too long ago he would have written "grate" instead.

He reads so much that he now recognizes rules of writing and spelling without necessarily knowing what it is called or why he has to do it. Pretty decent stuff for a newly 7 year old boy. He is finally developing an interest in writing too. And with writing comes a new need to be able to decipher what he has written down. Last year if he wrote "kat came bak" he would know exactly what he wrote. Now the mistakes would bother him and he would see there were errors, even if he wasn't sure how to correct them.

Great things are happening. I really hope Izzy embraces books like her brother. We are off to a good start. She is very proud to be a beginning reader. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times. reading has to be my absolute favourite milestone of all. So exciting!

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Conversation Upstairs

There was a little bickering and then Izzy started crying. I didn't hear how it happened but the follow-up conversation had me cracking up!

Alex: "It was all my fault!"
Izzy: "No it was my fault."
Alex: "No, really it was all my fault!"
Izzy: "No, it was all my fault!"
Alex: "No, really, blame me..."

This went on for a few minutes, lol. Shortly after this was heard:

Alex: "You know if you say you can't do it than you can't do it. But if you think you can do it than you can do it. You have to think you can do it."

Izzy comes down the stairs a few minutes later and says to me, "I don't think I can clean my room by myself. Alex says I can't because I think I can't but I can. So I need to tell you the truth that I can't and I need help."

Oh, these kids crack me up. I told her to start with putting her dress up clothes away and than I would be right up to help her along. She shouted thank-you and was grinning ear to ear.

Funny, funny kids!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Alex's Birth Story - Part 2

There was always a debate over when Alex was due thanks to our finding out about him in the second trimester. My due date moved around by a few weeks over the course of my pregnancy. Eventually I think it was settled on March 5, his actual birthday but I was induced on March 3, a Monday morning. The doctor was getting anxious about my blood pressure and since we weren't firm on the due date, he was worried about an overly late baby. The boy was always measuring quite large but did that mean he was older than we thought or just a big baby. Rob and his sister, after all, came in at 9lbs5oz and 9lb12oz respectively. To a very tiny mother no less.

Monday morning at 8am I walked into my doctor's office where he took one look at me and grunted something about hoping I had already gone into labour. He told me not to take my coat off, that he was calling the hospital and sending me in asap. I called a cab, went home to collect Rob and my hospital bag and we set off immediately for the hospital.

By 10am I was hooked up to an IV and then the wait was on. I wasn't dilated at all. It was going to take a long time. A really long time. A whopping 41 hours in the end.

We started off in a recovery room with a mom that was being sent for a c-section. We checked in before her but she had her surgery and new baby long before I was even a few centimetres dilated.

Once a birthing suite became available, I was moved. The drugs kept coming. Around 2 centimeters I had an epidural. This was well over 20 hours of labour at that point. I was exhausted and had no idea what was in store.

I went through several shift changes. At one point I sent Rob home to change, shower and nap. They filled the epidural machine three times! Finally, not long after midnight on March 5th a doctor came in to assess me, again, and get the ball rolling for a c-section. He had paperwork for us to sign, a gown for Rob to change in to. Unfortunately, they had just topped up my epidural and not very happy doctor was going to have to wait for the medicine to wear off before they could take me upstairs for surgery. I remember feeling relieved. Though I wanted what was best for the baby I remember feeling quite upset at the idea of going through 30+ hours of labour just to get cut open in the end.

Well, Alex had timing. A few hours later I half-woke to the nurses clucking with disapproving tones because I started pushing. On a lark, one checked me to see I was fully dilated and the baby was on his or her way. I was fully wakened by a glaring white light and tons of new activity in the room. About 2 minutes into pushing I gave up. I wasn't exactly coherent, time was some abstract idea and I felt like I had been at it for hours. I was completely convinced the baby was stuck and told everyone so. I am sure it was a funny thing at the time. Finally I was cajoled (by what seemed like 20 people) into trying again and he was born about 3 minutes later.

Next, I remember one of the doctors holding up a scrunchy-face baby, then the alarms went off and the babe was shuffled away. Poor Rob was beside himself. With the alarm came more doctors and much more activity. It may have been the drugs but I was very calm and had complete faith our son was going to be just fine. Rob struggled with wanting to stay with me and heading over to the crew working on Alex. I remember taking his hand and telling him I was okay, just go be with our baby.

There was one funny moment we'll never forget! Alex's labour took so long (and his blood pressure was diving near then end of his birth) that they were already worried before he came out. I think he pooped on his way out so meconium was a concern too. His colouring was just awful. Yet his vitals were fine. They kept looking at him, checking his vitals (which were perfect) and shaking their heads in confusion. Eventually a nurse turned towards me and the next words heard were, "well look at the mom...she is gray too..." Poor pasty little man.

After all the fuss with his birth, everything had turned out just perfectly. Sadly I was one of the last people to hold my boy but his dad was by his side the whole time. He was taken, as a precaution, to the neonatal room for observation. It took more than five hours to have him in my arms. In that time I relaxed, chatted with the nursed and ate a little. Eventually I got to shower, visitors came and went...the whole day passed quickly. Just before midnight, still on March 5th, I passed my little Alex to Rob and complained about feeling quite ill. While settling back into the bed we realized that I had been up and about, without so much as a nap, since I had given birth more than 20 hours earlier! I got a little sleep that night and was finally discharged around lunch on Thursday March 6th.

The boy came into this world at 7lbs 15oz. A crabby nurse who was upset that I wasn't breast feeding him and must not have realized we were feeding him with formula we brought from home took him after chastising me for not feeding him enough. She told us he was going to get weighed and if he lost too much weight than we wouldn't be going home that day. Well, she sheepishly brought back our boy who had actually gone up to 8lbs 2oz. Seven years later, I can say this growth trajectory hasn't slowed one bit.

So that is how our boy came to be with us. It was an adventure. I haven't forgotten very much about that day. Hard to believe so much time has passed.

A little late...but Happy Birthday Alex!!

We had the family over on Sunday to celebrate Alex's 7th birthday. I made him a LEGO Atlantis underwater birthday cake. He was happy with it! He was happy for two reasons, he told me. The first because now he was more than half way to being a teenager. (Made me kind of miss the birthday where he cried because he was getting older and never wanted to leave home, lol!)
The second because he got a raise on his allowance on his birthday. They get their age in dollars every two weeks - or half their age a week, depending on how you want to look at it. I just find it easier to pay them when Rob gets paid.

So, now I have a seven year old boy and I couldn't be prouder! I adore this kid, which I know every mom says, but he is just such a kind-hearted boy and a treat to be around. His aunt gave him two books for his birthday and he jumped up and down like he had just been told he was going to Disney. He is always so gracious and considering how spoiled he is, he takes little for granted.

I know I did a birth story for Izzy and would like to try and piece together the fragments of my memories from Alex's birth. I am in between computers right now and when I regain access to my photos I'll post one of the not so teeny, tiny boy as a newborn.

To say that finding out we were expecting Alex was a surprise would be an understatement. Eight years ago I sat in a doctor's office being told how difficult it would be for me to get pregnant and that I needed to go home and decide when we were going to start pursuing aggressive options. I was 27, so it wasn't a dire situation but there wasn't a lot of time to lose. My doctor didn't want me coming back at 35 feeling like I had really missed the boat.

I went home, had a good cry and Rob and I decided we would do what we needed to do when the time came. Some fertility treatments, perhaps look into adoption if that didn't work. At any rate, we were still going to wait another year or two before we proceeded with any plan.

Several weeks later I was talking to my pharmacist, talking about my PCOS and why the birth control wasn't regulating my period as it had done in the past. She told me to grab a pregnancy test so I could officially rule it out when I went back to the doctor. Sure thing!!

When I got home that night I told a distracted husband that I was taking a pregnancy test, hardy-har-har, and that if he heard a scream and a thud he should come check on me. Well, a few minutes later there was more of a yelp and a whole lot of "Oh My Gods" going on. Rob came running towards me having totally forgotten (or not even heard) what I had said to him and only registered what I was saying when I started waving the pee stick in his face. I totally freaked out. I couldn't have been less prepared for that possibility.

I was up all night googling possible reasons a pregnancy test would come back positive because I couldn't possibly be pregnant. As soon as the stores were open, I was at the front door with a full bladder to purchase another couple boxes of tests. All of which told me the same thing. I was pregnant!

It was a Friday morning in August, which I remember because I begged to see my doctor that afternoon and my blood work wouldn't come back quickly because it was the weekend. She did immediately book an ultrasound just to see what was going on. On my way to that Friday afternoon appointment I remember telling Rob that I would call if she heard a heartbeat, thinking what a great joke that was. If only I had known...

So I was pregnant and had no idea how far along I was. We had the ultrasound booked a week after discovery. Well, not only was there an audible heartbeat but the screen showed us a very well developed baby - around 18 weeks along. We were dumbfounded! Into the second trimester without even knowing I was pregnant. Heck, I was pregnant the day the doctor told me I may never even have kids!

He was the easiest pregnancy. Never gave me a problem until the end when he didn't want to come out. Since this post has gotten so long I will leave his birth day for another post. It is nice remembering. Feels like a million years ago though.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Not Feeling Bloggy Lately

I have a ton of posts to catch up on. Birthdays have come and gone. Activities are about to take a short break. Rob's been ramping up at work again.

Anyway, I will hopefully post a lot next week. I have new incentive too. The nice delivery man dropped off my new hp laptop today. After I finish 'tweaking', I should be ready to get this puppy to work.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Birthday and Some Gratitude

I turn 35 today. Half way to 70 is the big joke around here. I can no longer deny that if I am not "middle aged" now, I am certainly on my way. I am happy today. Not just because it is my birthday but because life just seems pretty swell all the way around. I've had a fair share of bumpy years so I will gladly embrace this feeling.

In this vein, I want to list some of which I a grateful for:

My kids are happy, healthy and thriving.

Rob loves his job (most of the time) and is succeeding in ways we never imagined. He is being groomed at work for bigger things to come and just got managements approval to change 50% of his job to something he found lacking in the company. Great things are coming his way.

The kitchen reno is almost done. After a year long break, the details are being tended to and I must say the final picture is stunning!

I feel healthier than I have in years. I am down about 20lbs and counting. I need to exercise even more and am working on this around hubby's more hectic schedule.

I have a lot of great people in my life. Homeschoolers, neighbours, old friends and new...I have a lot of support and people to turn to when I need it. Friends are truly what keep you going!

Homeschooling is about 90% of what I imagined it to be way back in the early days of deciding to head down this road. In the last three (official) years of homeschooling the kids are learning what I had hoped they would learn and surpassed in some areas. I imagined time for family dinners and lounging on the bed reading great books. I imagined the kids taking music lessons, art classes and hanging with their friends. All of this is happening just like I had hoped. We are living the life we had hoped to create, which is awesome!

Life is good right now. Everyone has their share of bumps along the road but I am glad I can see the good times for what they are and just be happy.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Milestone!

Izzy brought me a BOB book today, Dot, and wanted help reading. Well, she managed about 80% on her own and we were both thrilled! She is well on her way now.

To celebrate reading her first book, mommy's birthday on Monday (and the fact that we are in the final stages of kitchen disaster - the backsplash went up yesterday) we walked across the street to Swiss Chalet.

My baby is growing up.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Free-Range Mama in Training

Izzy wasn't feeling well this morning so my hectic Tuesday turned into a very relaxing day. I spent some time reading some articles on sites that I haven't been to in a while. One of them was FreeRangeKids and it reminded me of a recent situation.

I signed Izzy back up for dance at the Y. They have a pretty terrific schedule during the week. In theory, I could drop Izzy off for 45 minutes of dance and then a volunteer would come collect her from the studio and bring her (and the other kids) to the big gym to play for an hour. Alternately, Alex spends 45 minutes in the gym and then can come to dance for an hour. Now Izzy is still coping with some separation anxiety so I have to stay for dance and we skip gym altogether - hence the leaving her in theory part.

Last time we were there we were running in a bit late. I took both kids to the dance room to make sure Izzy was on time. Then I was struck with a dilemma. I couldn't leave her while I signed Alex in at the other side of the building and taking her with us defeated the purpose of running in to get her there on time. I looked at Alex and asked him if he was okay getting himself there. Sure! He was thrilled. Heck, he was half was out the door without me before I even asked.

I gave him his card and told him to ask the guy with the clipboard (the one we parents use to sign our kids in and out) to hold it for him. Then away he went.

As I sat watching Izzy I started asking myself, will I get in trouble for sending him without signing him in? Did he make it there alright? Did he tell the supervisor why his negligent mother wasn't there to drop him off? I could see the exit from where I was sitting in Izzy's room and started noticing how busy the place was. I saw that he could have easily slipped passed me and out the front door. Then years of exposure to CNN and Law and Order started these niggling little thoughts that were hard to quash. The what ifs... We all know what they are. The usual horror and fear about kidnapping and molestation. So this bad thought would pop into my head, my heart would race a little and I began fidgeting in my seat. Then I would reason it right back out. Sure, something bad could have be happening but it was extremely unlikely. I kept resisting the urge to grab Izzy and run down the hall just to make sure he was okay.

My boy will be 7 in a couple of weeks. He is pretty tall for his age. Looks much older. I trust him. In general, I trust humanity too. It is humbling though - this feeling of not being in control.

At the end of dance class, this very large, male volunteer coach came into the room with Alex and a few other kids. The boy was red-faced, sweaty and grinning like a fool. He had just spent the past 45 minutes running and playing. It was no big deal for him. This "incident" at the Y seemed out of the ordinary to me. A moment I will probably remember for a very long time. If it happens again though, I will be much more relaxed. I have learned that the hard part is trusting everything to be okay. When it is okay then the next time it gets easier.

Fear. It is the most insidious predator parents face. Unfortunately I feel it is a battle I will be fighting for a very long time.


I feel like Izzy is right on the cusp of reading. What is so interesting to me is how differently it is happening for her, at least, compared to Alex.

Alex was pre-reading for quite a while. It started around 2 1/2 and since his dad was beginning to read at that age, it was sort of expected. Not that we thought he had to read that early. Just that a boy who isn't even 2 having full sentence conversations with you and being able to express his feeling and frustrations through words sets the bar pretty high. It really didn't take until 3 1/2 but around his 4th birthday he graduated to the Magic Tree House books and never looked back.

I didn't teach Alex to read. I read to him, of course, be he gets all the credit. I remember bits and pieces of how it came together. There was the constant asking about what that sign said and what that paper said. He was relentless for a while and I couldn't wait to get past that phase. One of the first signs he read on his own was "The Beer Store". Too funny! We usually buy all our liquor from the LCBO (a government run liquor store - you can only buy booze in Ontario at those two places or small wine outlets run by the vineyards) so it was funny that it happened on one of those rare trips. I spent what felt like a long time right on the edge of waiting for it to happen. It wasn't gradual like I assumed it would be. It was like a flood gate that had opened. Someone recommended that I show him some Calvin and Hobbes, which he loved, and that induced him to read on his own.

Basically Alex went from asking me what it said to reading it back to me. I wish I knew if or what the middle step was but I don't. He watched a lot of the Leap Frog dvds on reading and letters but that was about it. I also own early reader books but didn't pull them out for him until it was too late to use them as learning tools.

Now I have Izzy and we are getting to the part where she asks, often, what this or that says. That is pretty much where the similarities end though. She is a kid who will only take life at her pace. She won't be prodded along even with level one princess books to entice her. No, she comes to me with the early readers and tells me what we are to work on together.

I see a system coming into play. She loves to write and will sit beside me for hours asking how to spell words. She has memorized quite a few of them now. I think she is breaking these words apart (by knowing what they are at first) and is now beginning to apply some of the rules to words she sees written elsewhere.

There is something methodical about this girl. She doesn't do things by accident and works until she achieves perfection. I get a kick out of seeing her learn through spelling. Especially since Alex could read so well and is only now catching up to his grade level in spelling. She will be a fantastic speller. Izzy reminds me a lot of myself at her age. I was a champion speller in school - winning end of year prizes. I also have a hard time moving on to other sentences until I feel the one I just wrote is up to snuff. That free-form writing was agony for me. There are a lot of similarities between the two of us.

It really is fascinating, watching their little brains go through these processes. They never do what I expect of them. I think she will be reading before her 5th birthday.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tired, Busy but Happy...Mostly

I am a big fan of all or nothing and well we are up to our eyeballs in *all*. It starts innocently enough but then I seem unable to stop myself.

So right now we have (I am thinking by day here) piano, gym, dance, art, gym, a group play-date, beavers, co-op, more gym, swimming lessons (starting up again this week) and are about to add in french class and 2 hours of chess each week. Oh, and I am supposed to find some cheap dance or gymnastics through the city for Miss Iz. This is on top of play time with friends and neighbours, people popping in for a cup of tea, errands, chores, stuff I do for the condo board (which wants me to consider becoming president in the coming term!) or ------schoolwork!

I added something here and another thing there and voila! Chaos!

It sounds worse than it feels like. Some days are crazier than others. Many of these activities come in smaller chunks, like 6-10 week sessions and then break for a bit. I do better when I am busy. I need some sort of schedule to keep me moving along. I don't feel overwhelmed because I know that these are things we chose to take on and we can just as easily choose to drop out.

Still, for the first time in my life I am looking forward to summer vacation :-)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Izzy's First Trip to the Symphony

That is Roy Thompson Hall in behind Miss Iz. The concert was called Paddywak. It featured more modern music, which isn't my favourite but any live orchestra is pretty fabulous sounding to me. She enjoyed herself but preferred the more traditional music the concert started with.

Alex and I have had season tickets to the Toronto Symphony Kid's Concert Series in the past. Most of the kids at the concert were school groups (we went with a group of homeschoolers) and there was one moment I will remember forever. As soon as the lights dimmed, the audience quieted right down and then orchestra started to play. The audience of mostly children let out a soft gasp. Izzy was among them. It really does take your breath away. Nothing beats a live concert hall with a full orchestra. Absolutely nothing.

Back to Math

Alex has a hard time transitioning back into work he deems difficult. Meaning he whines and moans about how "haaaaaaarrd" it is and that he is too "stupid" to do it. This is not only annoying but clearly wrong. We both know it. It started because he doesn't like to write and pages that he went over orally took minutes while the ones I made him write down the answers took forever. Not sure what the answer to motivating him is. It isn't exactly my, or Rob's, forte. I cringe a little inside anticipating many years of "Alex, do your work"...."but it is too hard"..."you either do it for me or for a teacher at school"...and so on.

On the other hand, there is Miss Iz. I told her she couldn't start the workbooks until she could read, write and recognize her numbers up to 12. She could count, of course, and recognize some numbers but I figured we'd have to work a little together before she was ready for Miquon. Ha! She showed me. She taught herself what I requested in about 10 minutes and then did 7 pages of math sheets. What a girl!

I think it is part perfectionist and part competition. Alex can read and read very well. She can't yet. She can, however, blow the pants off him in writing and she knows it. She practices to be better. When she heard Alex complain that math was too hard she decided to show him up. I would bet that just through sheer determination she will be doing the same work as him in a year or two.

Below is a picture I took after she went to practice her numbers. After writing a 3 backwards over a picture she drew of the family (complete with ages written above our heads) she went downstairs and wrote out 31 as many times as she could fit on the sheet. That is my girl. Relentless.

For the record, it is Rob who is 31!

I was impressed!

Had to share. My kids aren't big on drawing so I was really surprised at last art class when Alex spent more time drawing than socializing. Not too shabby!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Our Family Vacation

Our first trip to Great Wolf Lodge. We scored half price rooms a few months back and planned a late January get-away. We stayed for 3 nights. Homeschooling friends also went to the lodge that week, for the first 2 nights we were there.

The weather was not great on the drive to Niagara Falls so traffic was a mess. We left early so we could go to the butterfly conservatory before heading to the hotel. It was a very nice place but Izzy was terrified, especially when I stopped near a feeding dish and some of them started to land on me.

We could see the Lodge across the gorge from the park area when leaving the conservatory. The kids were chomping at the bit to get there.

We arrived before 1pm and though our rooms were not ready (not guaranteed until 4pm) we were issued out wristbands and decided to hit the waterpark. The wristbands are very cool in that they work as your room key, lock for the lockers and a way to charge stuff to your room. Though by the last day Rob and I were dying to get them off. Alex still has his on. It will be a week tomorrow.

The place was fabulously clean and the lifeguards seem pretty diligent. Everyone is quite friendly. There is a lot for the whole family to do. Alex was tall enough to ride all the slides. Izzy was a big fan of the lazy river and the wave pool. I preferred the hot-tub myself. Especially the outdoor one!

Just after 3pm I was able to check in to our room. The lady at the front desk asked it it was okay that we were at the end of the hall on the water park level. I figured, why not?! Well, the place is deceptively large and it was a running joke our entire stay about the amount of time it took to get back and forth from the room. The place is massive!

The kids were thrilled with the bunk beds. The fact that their room had cable was the icing on the cake. We don't have cable at home anymore and this was just an added treat.

I was happy that they thought to add laundry lines in the room to help dry our bathing suits. I noticed a lot of small things they added for our comfort and made us very happy with our mini-break choice.

At 8pm each night they have story time. We had friends over to our suite for a pizza supper than after relaxing a little met upstairs to the kids could watch the live show.

It was a busy day and it wasn't long before the kids were out cold.

The next morning was a breakfast buffet at the Antler Shanty. The food wasn't amazing but the selection was pretty decent. We purchased an add-on meal plan. Something like $45 an adult buys you a breakfast buffet, lunch and drink at one of the smaller cafes or pizza hut and one dinner buffet. I found it to be a pretty good deal since it included the taxes and gratuity. We only purchased one meal plan for each family member because we left the park or brought food for the meals.

Followed by some activities and crafts in the lobby.

Then another romp in the waterpark.

Over the stay there was:

A religious experience for Izzy when she had her first manicure at a spa. The place is called Scoops and designed for little girls. The said it was, "...the best day of her life." My little girly, girl!

Play time at the arcade.

A severe case of the (over-tired girl) grumps.

A ride on the SkyWheel - a small version of the London Eye. It was horrible, at least for me. I am terrified of heights and yet, in a moment of insanity I suggested this would be a great way to see the Falls lit up at night. I paid $10 to have a panic attack! The worst part was that there was no one else there and he let us go around an extra turn!! I wanted to faint. It was pretty windy too and the car rocked quite a bit on that last run. The kids thought I was hysterical. Happy to have entertained them.

Of course, there was a trip to the Falls with a quick stop for hot chocolate at Starbucks.

It was pretty chilly and we made the kids walk from the Skylon Tower down to the edge of the Falls. It was cold, wet (obviously) and they weren't very impressed. The Falls isn't exactly pretty in the winter.

We got to go behind the Falls. One of the decks is closed in the winter but we got up pretty close.

There are two open passages behind the Falls. This one was frozen right over but the second one was pretty cool. I didn't get any good pictures of the second one because a giant amount of fast rushing water isn't easy to capture on film. Alex got pretty soaked though getting up as close as he could.

The last morning was a quick breakfast and me packing up the car while Rob took the kids to the waterpark one last time.

Before we left Niagara Falls, we still had to use up our tickets to the show 'The Fury'. The website says, Experience the Creation of Niagara Falls in 4-D! The temperature will drop 20 degrees. Water will bubble and spray while snow falls all around. Standing in the mist on a massive platform you will feel the full wrath of Mother Nature as the floor tilts and trembles beneath you. You'll never look at the Falls the same way again!

On the way home, we passed through Niagara on the Lake, grabbing some wine from our favourite vineyards.

We really did have a good time. It was nice to just be away with Rob since he has been so busy lately. We will definitley go back. Poor kids were so upset to leave. They do a great job of taking care of families there and was pretty impressed.

More On The Co-Op

This has been something I have dreamed about being a part of since I heard of a group from a homeschooling friend that attended one about an hour west of us. It is a group that has been going for several years and my friend was a big part of their success. Now that we lived further East, we thought, wouldn't it be nice to have something like that closer to home.

It took a while to find a venue. We eventually found a library willing to give us the community room for 2 hours, every other week. In turn, a librarian handles 15 minutes of reading (material related to the topics) and also puts together a table full of books for us to check out at the end of the session. It is a win-win situation. The libraries depend on funding from book circulation and we provide homeschooling families from surrounding communities to come in and check out a lot of books.

Since my friend had been involved in a co-op before, she knew what worked and what didn't so we put a lot of work early on into setting the tone for the group. There are rules, like participants must contribute to a session at some point by hosting it themselves. It is a co-op, after all, not a few moms trying to educate the masses. It isn't a drop-off service either and parents are required to attend and help out. More basic rules too, like being quiet during activities or not running around and distracting the group.

The kids range from about 3 years old up to 8 or 9. We try to gear the activities to a second/third grade level. There is usually something for everyone. Here is a sample outline of a previous session:

Topic: Solar System/Gravity

ARRIVAL TIME (greetings & set up)
1:00 – 1:15
Please ensure you are ready for the librarian to start at 1:15

1:15 – 1:35
Readings and circle activities based on the day's theme

1:35 - 1:50
Children can share their learning on the day's topic with the rest of the
group(this is a voluntary part of the program)

1:50 – 3:00
For this session there will not be centres and all activities will be run as a
whole group.

We will be doing a number of different activities and experiments examining the
orbits of the planets, there relative sizes and discovering how they are
governed by Newton's laws of Motion.

We will be walking the orbit of the earth and discovering how the tilt of the
Earth on its axis effects the seasons/equinoxes. Using hands on activities and
experiments we will be exploring Newton's 3 Laws of Motion and how they relate to the planets in our solar system. [Example activities included making balls out of newspaper and attaching them to strings so the kids could whirl them around their heads to see how/why the pulling kept it in a circle rather than throwing it off into the room; and using magnets and ball bearings to see how one celestial body affected the movement of another.] We will examine how a combination of inertia and gravity keep the planets orbiting the sun. We will examine the sizes of the different planets and how that effect the amount of gravity they have. We will discover how gravity would effect our weight on each of the planets.

Clean-up and sign out library materials

It has been a great success and is something parents can be proud of while the kids just have fun learning together. We started with 4 families and now have a pretty solid core group of 9. We are averaging 20-24 kids lately and word of mouth has been spectacular. I see great things for this group. The only problem I see in the future is having too many people interested.