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.