Thursday, November 15, 2007

NaNoWriMo, Week 3

Today is the first day of the third week of NaNoWriMo. it's also the fifteenth of a thirty day month. So event the mathematically challenged among us can easily figure out that NaNos should be near the 25,000 word mark.

That is actually in shooting range for me, although I've had a busy week. I'm within 1667 words of 25,000.

I cracked the chapter of No Plot, No Problem that talks about week 3 this morning. Week 2 is notoriously hard, and my experience was, indeed, that it was difficult. Last nightI used a scene that I had saved in a different file to bolster my word count -- now that buffer is gone. The urge to quit is strong. Why am I doing this again?

Well, Week 3 is supposed to get easier as the story takes off on it's own. So I'm hoping that's what happens to mine. On the other hand, the support network tends to get pretty tired of this endeavor.

I'll keep pressing forward. I have no idea how I'm going to tie up my novel, but my experience has been that I can write another 1700 words (or so) each day, and move the plot forward somewhat.

Please continue to wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NaNoWriMo update

I'm still writing. I'm on track for 50,000 words, although it's only the one-fifth benchmark at midnight.

What's easy: I don't find writing 1667 words in a day that difficult. Even when I think I'm too tired I've managed it. On the other hand. I stop when I reach that goal, which could easily come back to bite me if anything happens this month -- like, say, hosting Thanksgiving (oh yeah, we're doing that). I have a rough story. The details that are part of my own life are easy.

What's hard: actually coming up with made up stuff is hard. Creating characters is hard. Creating a reasonable story arc is hard. Filling in the mystery's details is murderous.

Please wish me luck!

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I'm looking for more outlets for my energy than houswork, cooking, and Sudoku puzzles. Every now and then the universe bops me on the head, and that's how I felt when I heard about National Novel Writing Month. Can I do it? I have no idea. But I really like the idea that you don't have to have a plot to start a novel. And since I think I would like to write fiction, and I'm not working right now (for money), this seems like the right thing to do.

So far (day 3) I'm on course for 1667 words per day (for a total of 50,000 words in 30 days). That gives me ten extra words, but who's counting (well, I am, about every thirty seconds)! I find that the power of a goal is amazing. It's only day three, so we'll see how it goes, but I think I'm out of ideas, but the word goal pushed me on. What I have is not great, but I'm pretty happy with the whole process, and I'm interested to see how the process goes.

The NaNoWriMo community is faboulous, so I have hope that when I get stuck, I'll be able to get help from them -- at least some questions to get the juices flowing again. On the down side, the boards are really slow.

Students need different tools for success

A teacher writes about school from much the same perspective that I wrote my letter. In Waging a Battle on Standardized Tests by Dan Brown in the Boston Globe today a teacher writes about his students unique needs and how the current system, with its emphsis on testing, fails to nurture students individual strengths. He writes "American public schools have more money than ever, but students are still widely denied the most crucial tools for their success: individual attention and specialized support."

No answer here, but an agreement on the problem.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

NaNoWriMo Warmup


Imagine that you’re trying to write a novel – 1500-2000 words a day for a whole month. What would that be like? In the beginning, there’s the lack of a plot – or maybe just too many fractional plots. Fantasy pops into my head – like Crystal Singer or Wrinkle in Time. Or maybe an upscale romance like the Luanne Rice book I’m reading right now, or the Eileen Baker I just finished. I love historical fiction, but that seems like it would need too much research. I don’t have time for research in addition to one thousand words a day – I have a household to run and children to homeschool! I’ve been saying that there should be more romance novels (good for sex life) for married ladies. If it’s true that minivan drivers have sex only three times a month, and that romance novels improve sex life (according to Christiane Northrup), then that seems like a niche waiting to be filled. But what does that look like? If you don’t get the thrill of a new love, that makes the story much harder to write – it might even need actual skill! Yikes! Plots are what I don’t have. I can put one word after the other, I can write non-fiction, but fiction is elusive to me – I feel like it’s just out of sight of my peripheral vision, I can’t quite reach it. I have a scene written of a minivan with a mom and three kids crashing into water – my own fear. If I can include that, it’s a whole three hundred words. Woo hoo.

Alright, so it turns out I’ve already written about a thousand words – I opened my other file and found them. Of course, some of them are in the form of a list – not exactly fiction. But here’s the idea – a woman living my life (because I know that) and her daydreams of living an exciting life. She can live in a Jennifer Crusie novel, a Janet Evanovich novel, a Judith Tarr novel, a Diana Gabaldon novel. I can combine them all – how’s that for cheating! I’m not sure where the tension will be in the “real life” side, but, hey, this is all about word count, right? About people not actually throwing up when they read it? And about finding my inner fiction, because, god dammit, I’m sure it’s there. Hidden under layers of junk, but there somewhere. And, oh – I challenge myself to put in a sex scene.

Can you imagine? Delusions of grandeur already. A published novel! Ooh, that part is pretty good. Alright you – yes you, author lady! You have to actually have a plot to publish a novel! Some pretty words strung together is not enough! What a surprise. It takes actual work! So let’s say seven hundred words in the morning and seven hundred every evening. Now that the Red Sox have won the World Series, baseball season is over and there are three extra hours in every day. Of course, Christmas is also coming, but hey – two hours to write and one to plan for Christmas. If the words will flow, one hour to write might do it. Is that true? I’ll have to measure my speed some day – that will be good for a few more words.

I need to name my protagonist. Christine is a nice uptight name. But Aria is prettier. Gives her something to live up to . More Luanne Rice-like. Hmm.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What's wrong with kids these days?

A recent letter I wrote to our local paper was chosen as Letter of the Week! My pen (gift from the paper) arrived today!

Columnist David Brooks writes about the odyssey years, the years of wandering during young adulthood. He claims this wandering is a sensible reaction to the uncertainties of the modern world.

I think he comes closer to the truth when he quotes, “Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods, but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering.”

How do we prepare our children for life in a world of uncertainty? By putting them in a highly structured environment for 13 or more years; by teaching them many facts, facts that are at their fingertips in this wired world, which they know how to navigate better than their elders.

We separate them from the fluid world so they don’t get the chance to figure out how they are uniquely qualified to serve the world and live a fulfilling adulthood until they are on their own. The system doesn’t encourage the creativity and innovation we need in the world today. Do children have the opportunity and encouragement to enable them to find their gifts?

If we can figure out how to structure childhood to give children a basic smattering of facts, to learn how to find out what they need to know, and, most of all, to nurture their individuality and give them the freedom to figure out where they will fit in the world, we might find that young adults had a tremendous amount to give to this troubled world.

A friend wrote me that on reading my letter her husband was convinced that they should homeschool, even though he had never considered it before.

This is, in fact, my philosophy of why we homeschool. In it's current incarnation, I do offer my kids a fair number of facts, but not for more than an hour a day or so, and they have most of the rest of the time to explore their own interests. This is what works for us now, but as time goes on my kids may need/demand something different.

I believe that every child should have the opportunity for a childhood like this, not just those whose parents have the time to nurture their individuality. I don't know what this model looks like in an institutional/mass setting. It is not a simple change by any means, but an important one. If I figure out how to work toward it for society, you'll hear more about it here.

More thoughts on Kindergarten

On a whim (or maybe it was a parental panic attack (PPA) day), I bought a used copy of My Father's World kindergarten package. Here is my review.

I'm very happy with it, but first the issues I have with it. I think it's a bit too academic in general and for my kindergartener if you do everything, and some of the crafts are a little too "canned" for my taste, but it has a fabulous list of topics and activities. Another caveat is its religious name and themes, but those can easily be omitted (or included only when they are in line with your values) without losing the value of the curriculum as a whole.

It starts with the Biblical creation story which I decided to include. I hope we will discuss many creation stories, and this one is quite beautiful. It suggests many pre-reading activities, some of which I will do, and some that I will skip. After the creation unit a week is spent on each letter of the alphabet and a science topic that begins with that letter. The list is available here. It suggests books and activities for each topic, and there is plenty of content to choose from, and plenty of content for your kindergartener to soak up. The letter flash cards are really nice, and I like the inclusion of simple games. Of the programs I've looked at (Oak Meadow and AmblesideOnline Yr 0) at this level I like this best. That said, please read the articles referenced in my other Kindergarten post about not pushing your Kindergartener too much academcally!

The recommendation in the curriculum is 90 minutes six days a week. I'm thinking I'll do more like 30 minutes at a time!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Why Homeschool

An On Point show this week on innovators and entrepreneurs, which prompted me to think again of why I choose to homeschool. The show featured some innovators, mostly scientific, I believe (I missed the beginning). As I listened I was thinking of what I want for my kids. At the same time I am trying to define my own goals, and I'm reading I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was. This book encourages the reader to discover why they are not following their gifts, and one step is to consider what those who know/knew you want/ed you to be.

To take this back to homeschooling, I have multiple thoughts. One is not to have expectations of what my children will do as adults. On the other hand, listening to the show on innovators, I want them to have the education to do whatever they wish -- I would hate for them to be held back by choices that I make about their education -- although, if I set the level of preparation at the same level as our public school, perhaps the bar is lower than it could be. And a point that seems difficult for non-homeschoolers to grasp is that I don't want to damage our family relationships in my effort to provide the education that I think is required. Although I do expose them to topics, and I do strongly encourage handwriting and math and I do not push to hard. Some exposure may be important, but force isn't required for them to find and follow their gifts.

We have a small high school at a local technology institute. I would like for them to be equipped to go to that high school, if that is what they wish. But I don't wish that for them if that is not their interest. It may be that my eldest will want to pursue some aspect of film, or some as yet unfound interest. I want to remember that for all of them to pursue a livelihood that uses their unique gifts is the most important gift I can give them. It is most likely to lead them to the happy life that I wish for them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eating Right: Local and Organic

I've recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and I'm thinking more about the way we buy and eat. It's not easy to do the right thing! Here are some of the things I'm thinking about.

I would like to stop buying factory farmed meat. Although I've toyed with vegetarianism, Kingsolver makes a good argument for omnivorism, and then, as always with this issue, there are the practical concerns -- such as my husband really likes meat! So I need to find local meat, and I can. There is a farm about 20 minutes away that sells their own pork, chicken, lamb, and beef. These animals are locally and humanely raised, but I don't know if they're fed pesticide-treated grain. There is a turkey farm another 10 minutes away that has pretty good practices, but could probably not be considered organic. So if I can do the trip just once a month or so, I can probably meet that goal. I am concerned about the cost, but so far the prices are somewhat reasonable, and if I save extra trips to the supermarket, I will probably save some money.

Produce is more difficult for me. I shop irregularly, and try to shop without the kids, so working Farmer's markets into my schedule is more difficult than it should be. There is a farm (not far from the meat farm) that sells in season produce, and they use IPM, so I feel comfortable buying from them. I am not an expert at planning my menus around what I found. I like to choose a recipe then get the ingredients. Also, my husband calls our crisper drawer in the fridge the "rotter drawer" which is sadly too accurate! Frozen organic produce may be my best choice. I'm just not seeing myself buying up all the in-season organic local produce I can find and canning it or otherwise processing it for use the rest of the year. I've considered joining a CSA, but have so far resisted, because I'm afraid that only I would eat what we got, and I'd feel guilty about any waste. As I've said before, I may have gone wrong way back in terms of what my kids will eat!

After reading Kingsolver's book, and with my newly raised conscienceness about pesticides, I find trips to the supermarket excruciatingly frustrating. What's safe? Everything has pesticides or high fructose corn syrup! Of course you know this, but there are whole aisles of junk -- an aisle of cookies and crackers, an aisle of sugar cereal, an aisle of corn syrup salad dressing, and aisle of crunchy pesticide chips. There is no organic bread in my supermarket. I realized that of the healthiest foods I buy, I eat most of them, and my kids get the SAD (Standard American Diet) stuff. (Medium SAD only -- I have some standards!)

I'm getting ready to make our bread. I have a Bosch Universal on my Christmas list, and I think I'll get the Family Grain Mill package from Survival Unlimited with the Bosch adaptor and the hand base. They have the best price I've found. I don't have much of a plan for food stores in case of an emergency, so I figure some wheat berries (which last for years) and a hand mill would be part of that plan. The trade off between time and healthiness is very clear to me. I think I'm willing to take on bread, especially if I'm making 6 loaves at a time. There is the worry that my family won't like what I make, but I've been making bread off and on for a while, and it generally gets eaten. I might not be able to go to 100% whole wheat, but I think it will be healthy bread, and I can buy organic wheat berries. There is a store about 50 minutes away that carries organic whole grains -- worth it if I go only once or twice a year.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Kindergarten thoughts and links

While I mostly unschooled P for Kindergarten, I enjoyed having some structure for first grade last year, and I’m afraid that M (who is five) may not demand my time if I don’t schedule anything for him.

I appreciate the attitude that less is more, especially for this age group. Here are some articles along those lines: (linked in the first article)

I’m already seeing that self-direction will take him where I want him to go – he’s asking to write words every few days, and I help him with that, and today he expressed a wish to read (perhaps the first time I’ve heard that from him). So I’m looking for a gentle structure. I’ve found some great booklists – too many maybe! Some activities that fit with the way our family works would be a good addition (that is, non-twaddly, and of interest to my kids). At some point during the year, when he seems interested, I’ll help him make a calendar with holidays and birthdays on it. I continue to hope to get outside more. We watch Between the Lions mainly for him, although I’m not sure if he gets any literacy education from it – enjoys the stories, though! I may buy Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books.

These are some of the curriculum/book lists that appeal to me, and that I'll draw from this year:

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fonts and other resources for handwriting (mostly italic)

August 2009: See my updates a review of BFH and plans to create my own curriculum.

I've been thinking about buying either StartWrite or Educational Fontware, but I'm on the fence. I really only need one set of fonts, so I balk a bit at spending $25 - 35 for it. I have some educational fonts that I've found for free, so I thought I'd share what they are. I haven't seen these listed in one place. I prefer a slanted font, and currently I plan to teach cursive italics rather than traditional cursive. This is not intended to be a complete list, just a list of what interested me.

I would like to be able to make lines in the same proportion as the fonts, and so far that's been an issue with the free fonts I've found, although I could use the lines from the Learning Curve font even though I'm not planning to teach cursive.

When you evaluate a font, look at all the letters, upper- and lowercase. Is the lowercase a the form you like? How about the uppercase G? I'm partial to a nice upward slant on the bottom of a lowercase a, so I look for that. Check each letter, perhaps comparing them to the handwriting workbook of your choice.

These are the fonts that I've found that look useful:
  • Possibly the most useful font is free on all Windows computers -- Lucida Sans, when italicized, looks an awful lot like a nice italic hand. With this or any other font that doesn't come in a dotted or dashed version, you can use the Font dialog box to choose Outline format (or another format you like, such as engraved or raised). You could also make the font color gray, so that you can see what your child has written over the top. Windows Vista has some additional Lucida fonts such as Lucida Handwriting and Lucida Calligraphy that you may like.
  • Neal Font: a dotted slanted font. Possibly useful italic-like font, but difficult to read.
  • Jarman and Jardotty (select your computer type from the menu at the left): Nice dotted italic font. Make a worksheet based on Jardotty here. The creator of these fonts writes about handwriting here, including some animated suggestions for better handwriting.
  • Precursive New: a slanted font available with arrows, dashed, or as a regular unadorned font from BJU.
  • Foundation Handwriting: I don't like the C or c and the uppercase G, and I'd rather have a lowercase k without the loop. However, in italics, it's an italic cursive font (lowercase only), which may be it's most useful feature. I got the basic font for free, but I haven't found it again except as a set for sale. (Possibly here. Use a virus checker please!)
  • Print Clearly: An upright printed font available in a dashed version. From Blue Vinyl Fonts.
  • Skyland: an upright printed font with arrows.
  • Learning Curve: a cursive learning font, also available in a dashed font. Quite pretty. The font also includes dingbats for learning characters to create lined paper. From Blue Vinyl Fonts.
  • Kid Letter Font: D'Nealian style, includes lines, arrows, dots, and other options. $15

Some other resources:

  • has a page on free teaching fonts here:
  • had a category of school fonts (I think I've included the best above, but the one with only a bottom and a middle guideline may be useful to some)
  • has some cool handwriting fonts that could be useful helping an older student to develop a personal style.
  • This site has some great ideas about teaching italics -- could easily replace a book (click the Quick results, easy work link).
  • Another great site on learning and teaching italics, this one by Ted Power.
  • Donna Young has some handwriting pages, although she doesn't favor italics.
  • An overview of handwriting styles from Zaner Bloser. (Not actually from Zaner Bloser, according to Kate Gladstone. See comment section.)(Looks like Zaner Bloser actually bought this link since I made the post and Kate commented on it.)
  • Kate herself has a list of handwriting resources here (click the Resource People link at the bottom of the page).

For money:

That's it! Let me know if you find anything here useful!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Charlotte Mason outside time

The weather has broken here after a long hot humid spell, so I decided today would be a good day to try to get our 4-6 hours outside, as Charlotte Mason recommends. This has been a typically up and down day.

I went out around 10am with the clippers. First I had to chase the kids off the non-Charlotte Mason approved computer. I took out my tree book to identify a tree near our driveway, and tried to get my five-year old interested in that, not particularly successfully (I think it's a Hickory tree). I spent awhile clipping, and after a little moping, the boys got busy drawing in chalk on the driveway. That is, until the five-year old freaks out about his brothers messing up his drawing. I have a little talk with the oldest about how important it is for the five year old to feel that he can draw (since he’s intimidated by how good his brother is at it), then I go around to clip in the back, after suggesting we separate the driveway so that middle boy can have his own part. Of course, the three-year old isn’t very good about following rules like this, but I’m not sure that came into play. Pretty soon the seven-year old comes running out with the five-year old in pursuit. Turns out the middle child has been throwing ice cubes at his big brother because he’s still mad about the drawing. thing. So I sent him to his room, and on the way he yells at me that I’m stupid, which earns him a little extra talking to.

Later, they swang for a bit, and then we had lunch outside, which was a little hard to coordinate, but we managed, and had a good 10 or 15 minutes, including noticing an interesting bug. I commented on our trees—which ones matched and which ones were different.

Later, my oldest wanted me to read with him, and at my suggestion he set up a spot for us with cushions while I did a little cleaning up in the kitchen. That worked for about fifteen minutes, and then the other two got a little too rowdy and we stopped to look at clouds for a few minutes.

After another break inside, I came out again to practice throwing a Frisbee. The middle boy turned on the hose, but the three-year old ended up in control! They had a good time, that is, until the five-year old freaked out about getting squirted when he didn’t want to be.

Tonight we have a Frisbee game, so that will be more time outside, so we’ve definitely exceeded the recommended time, but it ain’t easy! I find that most outside time is like this – some good, but a lot of issues, too.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I Surrender! I Take It Back!

When I was a new mother of a single baby, I did not immediately surrender to motherhood. I especially did not surrender to homemaking. But as time went by and I had two additional babies (eventually, three children under five), I did. I was a mother and a homemaker, and I came close to embracing that role in my life as well as in at least one holiday letter sent out to friends and relatives. My relationship with housework has always been rough, but I do accept it as my responsibility, currently, although I do expect some help (and I don't do laundry).

But now I'm wanting to take a little back, to find a little ambition and figure out what to do with it. The first step is to permanently give up any thoughts of having any more babies. I know we're done, I really do, and there are plenty of good reasons not to have any more babies, but I still find it hard to state definitively that this is it. Nobody I tell believes me.

The second step may be to figure out which ambition to follow. Should I try to save the world? Should I try to write that bestselling historical novel? I have enviable leisure to figure that out; well maybe not leisure, exactly, but I don't have to work for a living, currently; I just have to take care of a house and three kids.

My biggest problem? I feel like my creativity is stuck, and I don't know how to crack it open. I think that my calling is to write. I am a published technical writer, but that, I'm almost sure is not my calling. I love to read. Lately my reading list has been a bit bland -- books about homeschooling, homemaking, and chick lit, mostly. But I'm a historical fiction nut. I love A Midwife's Tale, by Laurel Ulrich. I read fantasy: Judith Tarr, Ursula Le Guin, Shari Tepper, Anne McCaffrey. I like mysteries, but of all the genre's I read, I'd be surprised if I ever wrote mysteries. But where do I find the stories? I don't seem to have them. Maybe a scene here or there, but no complete story arcs. Maybe non-fiction is a better bet for me?

And then there's this baggage from my last worthwhile endeavor -- that is, being a mother to young kids. I still have those kids, and I'm still committed to giving them the best childhood that I can. It's just that I want to find a little something meaningful for myself, too. I'm petrified, that I'll look up in fifteen years and wonder what I thought I was doing with all that time. I recently listened to an interview with a homeschooling mother of one, whose life still seems to center around homeschooling -- her only daughter is 28! I don't want to send my boys to school, but I recognize that I'm afraid of the work of finding and following through with an alternative. There is an alternative school within commuting distance, but I'd have to work to pay the tuition. We have a relaxed lifestyle at home now, and that would change if we went that route.

And somewhere in there is finding some time for this new ambition. Although it's true that my kids are less work than when they were 0, 2, and 4 (they must be, right?), I find it hard to actually find that time in my day. Apart from creating and cleaning up three meals a day, plus snacks, plus keeping the house in acceptable shape, not to mention answering a hundred questions an hour with a smile on my face, there are plenty of family-type projects to work on, from photo albums to family movies to family room shades. And I've always struggled with routines -- I think I want one, I may even spend time creating one on paper, yet they never last for long. Yet I think that is what I need to carve out time for me.

Part of me is ready to jump right in, but another part of me thinks I need to educate myself first. I don't know enough to be able to write like Diana Gabaldon. And even though J. K. Rowling gets plenty of criticism, she seems to know plenty of history, mythology, and literature. Natalie Goldberg says to be specific: not just tree, but sycamore. I don't know anything about trees! But how to get there? What the heck did I do for nineteen years of school?! I think it has to be independent study, but I wish I had a way to make myself accountable for it.

But that is the beginning of my plan: 1) Read. Read more widely. Read things that are difficult. Think about and form opionions about what I read. 2) Write. Attempt to write fiction. If scenes are all I have, then just write scenes.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sewing t-shirts

We've been bleeding money lately (new hot water heater, new tires and brakes, and too many other things), and I need some t's and have some fabric, so I'm making shirts. Burda 3197 is my basic pattern, but I'm looking for options so that they don't all look alike. I've searched for a page, and I'm sure it's out there, but I haven't found it, so this is a compilation of what I have found on methods to vary a t-shirt pattern:

This is a page on making a t-shirt:

A video on binding a neckline:

An article from Threads on sewing Ts:

A pattern for a twist top:

My first shirt has a double front, and I'm struggling with it! The fabric is pink silky rayon/cotton/lycra jersey. The directions I'm using for the lining are here:

I just bought a shirt with a peasant neckline. The fabric is a slightly stretchy jersey. The neckline is simply serged and hemmed, with some elastic inside theres a bound notch in the front (a little v) and a tie at the top of the notch. I might try to recreate it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Educational Labeling

There's a lively discussion at Twisty's about gifted education. I have thoughts that I thought I'd written about, but I can't find them, so here goes.

One of my biggest concerns about institutional education, especially at primary school age, is labeling. There's the clearly harmful labeling children as slow. I find this particularly troublesome at young ages because children mature differently, read at different ages, grasp ideas that someone has decided are important at different ages. Often, the labels stay with them even as they outgrow any issues. Whether or not they outgrow problems, whether or not the problems have any relevance to their adult life (and I think this is key), the harm is done. I'm sure in most cases the label stays with them internally, inhibiting their success. For instance, an acquaintance of mine’s husband makes a fine living doing plastering. Yet when people who knew him in school hear my friend married him, they’re surprised, because he was such a loser (in their eyes). Well, he’s not now, and I’m sure he’s not an isolated example. But I’m also sure there are many people who don’t manage to overcome their early labels, despite their actual abilities.

Then there's the so-called helpful labeling: Gifted or GT, or whatever they call it where you are. Being Gifted often gets you more interesting teachers, more interesting classes, more interesting projects. Nothing wrong with that -- although I strongly believe that all kids should get those things. Sometimes it just gets you more work that you’re not particularly interested in. It also often gives kids a feeling of entitlement – I am smart, therefore I get special treatment; clearly I will succeed at life like I’ve succeeded at school.

In an academic setting, Gifted generally means being good at skills that are valued in an academic setting. People who are good at other skills do not get the same treatment. Academic skills have little bearing on success in life (labels, on the other hand, may have all too much bearing on success in life). Only a few careers need academic skills, yet students labeled Gifted in school may easily go on to expect easy success. Many Gifted kids don't have to work that hard at academics, but in the real world, success nearly always requires hard work. The gifted label doesn't get you there -- not even close. Another example – a very smart friend in high school who understood physics without apparent effort. He never took notes and never did homework and was in general a goof off. He also had a drug problem. Being gifted was not going to get him far in the real world, and I’ve often wondered what happened to him.

For me this is all tied in to the issue of praise that recently got so much press. The idea of too much praise for the wrong aspects of performance resonated strongly with me. And being promoted and given special treatment for being gifted rewards aptitude rather than effort.

What would I like to see? Education that can play to each students’ strengths, while providing them the necessary basics in the least disagreeable way – preferably in a context that makes the topic relevant to each student. At the elementary level that means somehow avoiding labeling – either overt or implicit (and to be honest, I think this is next to impossible). All students should have access to interesting electives. Students can learn the basics through subjects that interest them. Newsweek’s list of best high schools rates high schools according to the ratio of AP and IB tests taken divided by the number of graduating seniors – I am sold on the idea of opening upper level classes to all students, and letting each student get as much out of a class as they can.

(If you like the Newsweek articles on the best high schools, you should also read this.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Software and Online Games Day

Today the kids were on a math kick. My five-year old wanted to try Funbrain's Math Arcade, so we did it together. My seven-year old also did some. He's choking right now on extra tens -- for instance if he knows 7+2, then 17+2 should be easy. Not so much. I think we'll look at a hundred's chart to see if that helps. P is also really enjoying Timez Attack. It helps that I don't care whether or not he learns multiplication in first grade!

We've also enjoyed Study Dog for early reading skills.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ambleside Update

As we're nearing the end of the traditional school year I thought I'd do an update on how we're doing with first grade. I posted some of my modifications to make the curriculum less religious here. We've continued to use Ambleside Year 1 loosely, and enjoy it. We dropped Aesop's Fables a while ago, but I've tried to substitute tales with morals, although finding as many would have been difficult (and unnecessary, in my opinion)! We liked Pinduli by Janell Cannon, the two Owen and Mzee stories, and also The Quiltmaker's Gift.

We misplaced Tree in the Trail in the middle of reading it, and then the Advisory moved it to next year, so we dropped it and are not currently doing Seabird for the third term. We read Paddle to the Sea in the first term and ended up liking it, although it was tough going for a little while. I try to pull out a map occasionally if something geographical comes up.

We have followed the American (biographies of revolutionaries) and World History (European, mostly British Dark Ages), and History Tales closely. We have added some history, since this is a subject P particularly enjoys. We read some Story of the World (Vols 1 and 2), Diane Stanley's story of Joan of Arc (she is a good children's-level biographer to look for, and is writing currently). I really liked Phillip Steele's Castles book, and usually I don't like factoid books. The Nova documentary called Sieges, which was about building trebuchets, was enjoyed.

We have also enjoyed the Natural History readings (Herriot and Burgess), and the Just So Stories. I've substituted for many of the fairy tales, but I think we've done about the same amount as recommended, maybe more. Shakespeare has not been overly successful, but I'll continue to do some exposure to it. I think I'll try the Bruce Coville adaptations.

I've not yet been overly successful with Nature Study, but I've made an effort to include other science -- simple machines (edhead website, Bill Nye video), human reproduction (It's So Amazing), flight (Wright Brothers video, Air and Space Museum and Center), engineering ( Javier Builds a Bridge), stories of whales (Grayson, and Symphony of Whales, both excellent although very different levels, Mystic Aquarium), Boston Science Museum, a mini unit on the Galapagos, and some other stuff here and there.

I read poetry during occasional teatimes from a number of sources: A. A. Milne, the Barefoot Book of Poetry, Robert Frost, and others. I consider this exposure only! We also looked at some art by Turner and Winslow Homer, listened to Music by Copeland, Schumann, and Mozart, and listened also to Mr. Bach Comes to Call. I wouldn't say any of these things sunk very deeply into any of the boys, but perhaps time will prove me wrong! Most of their exposure to classical music comes from the TV show Little Einstein's -- the radio will be on and they'll tell me "this song is called Little Einstein's!"

We are still in the middle of the third term. Since we started in August, I guess that makes us year round homeschoolers! I like the Living Math approach to math, but we also use Singapore. Cyberchase is an important part of our math curriculum! Recently P's been playing a lot of Timez Attack, which is free multiplication tables software. For reading we've been buddy reading Level 3 I Can Read titles. Recently we buddy read the first chapter or so of a Harry Potter book. He was eager to try it, but it's a bit beyond him, really. I think it's hard for the ideas to stick when he's working so hard to read it. I'm hoping he'll go for buddy reading The Sword in the Tree, especially since he seems to like Arthurian stories. I'm very happy with his reading level. We're working with Handwriting Without Tears for handwriting. I'd like him to master lowercase, but he's not quite there. I'm trying to insist of some practice (a few minutes three times a week) but not stress about it. I'm sure he'll do better as his hand-eye coordination improves with age.

Well, we've actually done even more than that, and I consider myself a pretty relaxed homeschooler! I guess I didn't realize that it would look like so much. I don't follow a strict schedule. I use the 12 week term printouts, and check off work as we do it. Non-reading list work (math, handwriting) can get pretty irregular depending on what other learning I see going on. For instance, if there's tons of drawing going on, and pushback on handwriting, I don't push it. Likewise if he's enjoying math related computer games, then I don't push the math book.

I'd like to add Spanish (which I don't speak), but I haven't seen any material that I think would be a good enough fit. I'm also not sure that I can fit it in on a regular basis -- might work if they like it enough! I'm very happy with the Charlotte Mason approach and the Ambleside suggested books. For next year I'm considering using some of the other Charlotte Mason book lists for additional inspiration, but I imagine continuing in the same vein.

I also have a kindergartner next year. I unschooled P for kindergarten -- not sure what approach I'll take with M.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Just this week I started my first batch of Kombucha tea. I bought my scoby from Anahata Balance. I have high hopes for it -- mostly I'd like it to help my fatigue (caused no doubt, by my low thyroid function). But heck, if it makes my grey hairs brown again and improves my immunity, so be it. Fall will be the real test -- I generally get cold after cold in the fall. I'm also looking for a remedy for my five-year old's heartburn and headaches. We'll start slow. I have two friends that are interested in brewing it also, so I'll be sharing scobys with them in the next few weeks, if all goes well.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Homemaker Blues

With a milestone birthday just past I find myself falling prey to the Homemaker Blues. I have been fortunate in my life to be thought mildly exceptional-- bright, talented, going places. I've done a few interesting things, and gone to two top colleges/universities. Now, however, I find myself living a remarkably ordinary life. Quite privileged, but ordinary nonetheless. I even felt that being a mother of young children was quite a special calling. But now my youngest is three and nearly potty trained I no longer feel that I can claim that. So I see two paths -- be content with ordinary, or become exceptional again. This simple conclusion came to me in church today (or perhaps came to me again -- it feels familiar, and certainly not original). My thoughts in the last few months have tended to the exceptional path, but I think being content with an ordinary life is the quicker path to contentment.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Exploring Heat

We spent yesterday morning exploring heat and cold. I used the ideas and question (only a page) from the Playful Learning book that LLL puts out. We talked about heat not being visible, and a little about conductivity. I put a potato in the oven and pennies in the freezer. I mentioned that people used to use warm potatoes to keep their hands warm. We noticed that the penny got warm in our hands and our hands got cold. We held ice cubes with a mittened hand and a bare hand. One of the more interesting (at least, to me) activities was wrapping up a container of ice in a blanket, and leaving another container next to it not wrapped up, and observing the results an hour or so later. My seven year-old thought a blanket could only keep things warm. We talked about friction. And lastly, we put food coloring in cold and warm water -- I thought this would be cool, but in fact we saw very little difference between the behavior in different temperatures. But my kids sure liked the colored water! And just for kicks, I demonstrated siphoning for my seven year-old.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Feeding kids

I feel like I made a mistake -- maybe years ago. My kids like mac and cheese and chicken nuggets, oh, and McDonalds, and not much else. The mac and cheese in Annies, and the Chicken Nuggets are Trader Joe's, so I feel a little superior about their tastes, but I still feel I've failed. Oh, and to further justify myself I could tell you how many meals a week include none of those three foods, but why bother? They're all a little different in their willingness to eat different foods, but the most interesting fact about that is that my pickiest eater has also been my healthiest child.

Personally, I like good food. I tend toward vegetarian options, but not always. I like good ingredients and yummy meals. I enjoy few of the meals that my kids also enjoy, but as the mom, I have to make three meals a day. So cooking good food that my kids dis can really be a downer.

I'm tempted to try to go go cold turkey on processed food, but I'm not sure that sure that's realistic for any of us. I think I would have to work pretty hard to come up with food they would like, and there would be a lot of failures. And I think they would feel that I'm being mean. And grandma, who has them once a week, would never agree (you should have heard her justifications when I asked her to limit them to three hours of screen time when they're at her house).

So I try to steer a middle ground -- offering new food, trying to limit processed options, and, importantly, trying to note successes, even if only to myself. And although I continue to look for the perfect cookbook (the one that will actually make dinner), I realize that I probably don't need yet another cookbook, especially with all the internet recipes available.

So let me know what works for you. Any suggestions for family friendly, quick to prepare, healthy foods for kids who've tasted the dark side?

Here are some recipe sites I'm going to try:

Monday, January 22, 2007

3 X R = Boring

My experience with homeschooling so far has led me to strongly doubt that any "Back to Basics" approach is going to educate kids. Granted, teachers have more luck with boring drills than parents do, but pul-eeze, where's the hook? Give kids material that is interesting and relevant, and they'll learn to read, they'll learn history, they'll learn about the world around them, they'll learn science, and they'll learn math. Give them individual letters, words, and math problems, and they'll tune out -- wouldn't you?

I heard a recent NPR report on 12 year-olds who can't read, and I just wonder, how the heck are they stopping those kids from learning to read when they are 5, 6, 7, or 8? My guess is that they don't get to hear quality literature that makes them want to read, and there isn't reading material around that makes them interested in reading. And maybe other aspects of the atmosphere at home and at school don't encourage reading.

Right now (because I know my ideas are subject to change!) I believe in enriching the environment -- in reading quality stories of interest to the child (in our case I pick many, but not all, of them and may drop a reading if it isn't interesting to the student). For math, I'd love to find a project based curriculum, but the chance of any curriculum meshing with my son's particular interests are slight. So I look for opportunities (i.e. how many yous at 50 pounds would it take to equal a 600 pound hippo baby?)

Perhaps I got lucky, but I don't really know how my seven year-old learned to read. He can read though. Lately, I haven't been pushing him, although I did in the fall. Why would I? He reads at grade level. When he's ready, or when the right material appears (and I do work on that), he'll start reading books. Why make him dislike it by pushing it? I see no benefit to that at all. Certainly public education is not succeeding at creating a populace who loves to read, so I won't follow their failing model of reading x number of books a week.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sick, sick, sick

All three boys are sick. What fun. The oldest has chickenpox. All three were exposed, but he's the only one with spots (he's had them for three days now). The middle son has an earache, a cough, and a fever, and the youngest has a cold-type thing that he's had for about a week. Oh, and my husband has a cold, too.

My mother-in-law is freaking out about chickenpox (I wouldn't have told her, but my husband did). That conversation went to the point of her asking if our oldest had had his other vaccinations. I think my husband may have lied to her, but I haven't seen the email so I take no responsibility for it.

Every so often I'm reminded that the many of the decisions that I've made with relative confidence are not the same ones that other people make. And my paradigm is just so different that it's hard to explain my choices. The possibility of convincing anyone that my choices are correct is small if they don't have a predisposition to agree; my best hope is to persuade them that I've made decisions in a thoughtful way, and that I've done research along the way. At least, I think that's the best I can hope for.

I'm not happy about having sick kids, but I stand fast on vaccinations. I think they are a mistake. They may have limited usefullness in areas with high mortality rates and high disease rates, but in my situation the risks far outweight the benefits. My kids can weather a bug -- brain damage and autoimmune diseases are harder to overcome, and affect quality of life in the long term.