Whew – We’re back!

Where have we been?  Oh, just at home.  But for most of the summer we have been trying to remodel the house.  Everything went a bit haywire when we discovered a leaky pipe underneath a slab of concrete behind our closet.

What followed?  Home owners insurance (who were actually qite helpful), lots of estimates from plumbers, contractors who would repaint and remove tile (and subseuqently disappear), and then when contractors could only be so reliable, my wife and I went at it alone, and redid our downstairs floor. (Thanks Ikea!)

But enough about our boring home repairs.  How has the homescooling world been treating you lately?

Things have been great here.  The girls have returned to a routine: a little math each day, a lot of self-directed reading, and history, science, and writing once or twice a week (hopefully our productivity will increase now that the house is finally in order).

Hope all is well in your world.  I’ll be getting this blog back on track once again.  Thanks for reading!

Resisting the “Ha – Ha Factor”

The kids in our neighborhood have been sulking a bit lately.  Most of them have the “End of the Summertime Blues.”  They scooter around the block, just as they have been doing all summer, but there heart isn’t in it anymore.  They know that in just three short days, they will be returning to public school.

When the neighborhood kids were quietly grumbling about their situation, my two daughters nodded sympathetically — but in a way that suggested the neighborhood kids experience s a form of sadness they haven’t been exposed to.  When I hear the neighbor kids talk about returning to school, I must resist a very immature part of my mind that wants to burst out with a Simpsons-style: “Ha-HA!”  There’s a little child that’s lurking somewhere in my cerebelum, and its gleeful that my girls don’t have to slog through years of the dull and dreary institution known as public school.

That’s not to say that my kids don’t get burnt out with their homschool activities — but the amount of fun, happiness, family peace, and love-of-learning-hours they receive through our choice of education infinitely exceeds the whatever experiences they might have received in the public school.

I am so glad we detoured away from elemntary school.  Now I just have to be humble about it and not say “HaHa” to the neighbors who decided to have their children stay on the conformist avenue of academia.

Spy Missions – Homeschool Style

Today, the kids and I are on a spy mission.  This one involves my two daughters as well as my nephew, who is visiting us for the summer.  First we had a healthy breakfast to give us energy.  Then we loaded up our Nerf Guns, and waited for a message from Headquarters.

Around 11am, I told the children our assignment.  We were to find a message at the recycling center and deliver an important package to headquarters via the Post Office.  We hopped in the mini-van and were on the look out for Spectre Agents — they always drive red cars.  Whenever we see a Spectre Agent we wave at the driver — that’s our way of staying undercover.  NO one expects a spy to give you a friendly wave.

Once we arrived at the recycling center, we began unloading the bottles — trying our best to look like your average non-secret-agent family.  One of the Tejava Tea Bottles contained a rolled up piece of paper.  We obtained the document.  It read:

Protect the Recipes: Whoppers, Sugar Babies, Red Vines. (All snacks that will come in handy for our upcoming movie night.)

We dropped off the package at the post office, and then dashed to the car.  We drove to the Dollar store and purchased water balloons and the necessary snacks (not exceeding the amount of money we earned from the recycling facility).  While we were in the store, a woman in a black dress walked toward the checkout stand.  I quietly told the children that she was a Spectre Agent, and we must avoid making eye contact otherwise she would hypnotize us, and we would be forced to wear a dopey grin while swaying to the store’s Muzac tunes.  Needless to say, I was hypotized twice and the children had to snap me out of it.

Now that we have returned home, the children are writing a list of the ingredients to the candy items.  Perhaps that will dissuade them from eating too much of the darn stuff!  Now we’re waiting for our next assignment — and in the process my nephew and my two girls are passing the time by playing chess.  Later on today, our mission will involve building a fortress out of free boxes from Costco.  And what else will be happening?  Who knows!

James Bond

The point of today is to have fun and use our imagination.  Along the way, the girls are spending their time reading, writing lists, getting lots of exercise, and playing logic games.

If you have a day that is part free time / part errands, I highly suggest you take your family on a spy mission.  It’s a great way to get a few things done and go on an adventure at the same time!

Adopting a New Pet

For the past three months, my youngest daughter has been longing for a pet mouse.  Nevermind that we have fish, a dog, and a bird (we had a cat too — but after ten years of allergies, we moved her to our kind hearted distant relatives).  But no matter — depsite all of the animals in our lives, my seven-year-old wants to introduce our household to yet another species.  She wants a mouse.

Pet Mouse

Well… I’m a sucker for animals.  I love having pets.  However, before I gave in completely to my daughter’s wishes, I laid down some rules.

#1) She had to earn the money to pay for the mice (we decided she get could two so they wouldn’t be lonely), the habitat, and the food.

#2) She had to do her own research and learn how to care for the cute little creatures BEFORE she purchased the mice.

And I am happy to say, she has spent the past few weeks checking out books from the library, and reading online articles about the care and feeding of pet mice.  In fact, her research led her towards hamsters for a while — but then, after reading about how social mice are (with other mice, not with people), she went back to her original choice. She’s learned a lot about their behavior, their needs, their diet, and their lifespan (around 1-2 years… so I have a feeling they’ll be heartache in the not-so-distant future).  She now considers herself a mouse expert.

So, today, she proudly walked into the pet store — with money that she has earned from extra household chore– and she selected her two new companions.  She quickly named them Button and Popcorn.  Now the mice are snuggled in their new habitat, and my seven-year-old is asleep in her own bed, dreaming happily.  All is well.

Except now my ten-year-old wants a frog.

Re-Discovering Classics for Kids

TIME magazine recently published a review of Lizzie Skurnick’s “Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading.”  Her book explores children’s and teen fiction, but from a grown-ups point-of-view.

I have my own book shelf filled with books that I never stopped loving.  And so you can bet I have intoduced them to my kids.  Here are my top five:

#1) A Wrinkle in TimeWrinkle in Time
I read this in the 5th grade and was blown away by some of the scientific concepts mixed in with elements of fantasy and spirituality. And who doesn’t love a book that ends with a climactic battle between heroic kids and a giant pulsing brain?

#2) The Hobbit
The Hobbit

I would be lying if I said this was an easy read for me when I was a kid. It wasn’t. I was a slow reader (still am by comparison to most of my friends), but I was in love with the cartoons I had seen about the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I used to check the books out of the library, study the maps of Middle Earth and start to read… and get stuck somewhere around chapter two. But in 7th Grade I finally got serious and got past Hobbiton… and into an incredible adventure.

#3) Dr. Seuss Books
Dr. Seuss

Just about any Dr. Seuss book is a work of creative genius. The rhymes. The characters. The illustrated world of Seuss that is truly like no other. But I have to say that “The Butter Battle Book” had a huge impact on me. It was about the arms race during the Cold War. And, now that I think about it, that book freaked me out! (Which might be why I haven’t read it to the kids — we read everything else though!)

#4) Where the Sidewalk Ends (and other books by Shel Silverstein)

Where the Sidewalk Ends

My favorite poet when I was a kid. Here’s a classic:

I made myself a snowball As perfect as could be.
I thought I’d keep it as a pet
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for its head.
Then last night it ran away,
But first- it wet the bed!

#5) Choose Your Own Adventure Books
Mystery of Chimney Rocks

These books are probably responsible for my love of reading. Because before the 4th grade, I just couldn’t get into books. These interactive stories, such as my creepy favorite “The House on Chimney Rock” were fun to read over and over again.

The Extra-Curricular Challenge

We all want to raise Renaissance children, don’t we?  We hope our children we develop a love of mathematics, arts, music, literature and everything else under the sun.   Fortunately, homeschooling provides families the time and opportunity to explore endless eduactional avenues.

But with all of that academic freedom comes tough choices.  Your kid can’t do everything at once — now matter how much they would like to.

Case in point: My two girls.

As September approaches, we have been planning our fall schedule.  In additional to the usual stay-at-home school activities, the girls will sign up for a few extra-curricular activities.  But which ones do they want to select?

Our local homeschool co-op offers terrific classes in geography and forensics.  Our local community theater has a great drama program for homeschool kids.  And there are countless music instructors from which to choose.  But all of these classes cost money.  And we’re not made out of that green stuff.

So, how do we decide?  Well, we let our girls decide for the most part.  We discuss their options, try to give them a bit of clarity as to what they would like to try, or what programs they would like to continue.  But for the most part, we let the girls choose.  This is usually a fun selection process for them.  Such as when both girls decided to join the theatre class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  They were thrilled to find out that their best friends will be taking the class too.  However, my ten-year old had trouble picking a second class.  She loves her forensic science class, but she also loves being p a part of chess club — and this year, they both take place at the same time.

So, she had a challenge in front of her.  Which extra-curriculuar activity should she pursue?  We told her to take her time… so she’s decided to sleep on it.  A good decision, I think.  Sleep always clears my head.  Speaking of which, it’s off to bed!

Meet the Masters: Part Two

During the last week, the girls and I have continued to learn about the classic painters of the past.  After learning about the life (perhaps a little too much about the life!) of Vincent Van Gough, we moved onto other lessons.

We loved learning about Mary Cassatt — the American painter who moved to France and became an intrinsic part of the Impressionist movement. Here’s one of our favorites:

Mary Cassatt

Creating a life-like portrait was very challenging, and at times frustrating for my two daughters. For one, they were a little bit disappointed that they had to use a baby doll as a model. I think they wanted a real toddler!

Yesterday, we explored the life and work of Piet Mondrian. Now — even though I’m not a fan of abstract art — I enjoyed the way my daughters embraced this man’s paintings. They loved to emulate his style — and I have to say, I can’t quite tell the difference between his work and the kids… But here’s an “official” Mondrian painting:

Piet

(I’ll take Ms. Cassatt any day!)

Turning Trouble Into Teaching Moments

Whew! It’s been a heck of a week.

About seven days ago, my wife and I were looking at our finances.  So far, throughout this recession, we haven’t been doing too bad.  I’ve been working enough hours at the two colleges that I work at (in fact, I added another one to insure job security — ah, the life of a part-timer!).  But for the most part, we’ve been making end’s meet for the past four years.  Or at least it seemed that way.

Like a lot of people, we have dipped into our home equity line of credit to make car repairs or to pay for a visit to the doctor.  So, basically when my wife and I were taking a good hard look at our finances, we knew that it was time to buck-up and spend our money wisely — because all it would take is one expensive emergency situation to drain away our savings.

So, of course, it was just a few days later that we discovered that a hot water pipe is busted — and that the damage and repair will be into the thousands.  It’s too early to tell how much it will be, and we aren’t yet sure how much home-owners insurance will cover us.

But I’m not saying all of this merely to vent — theraputic as it might be.  We’ll weather this little storm, and tighten up our proverbial belts.  I’ll give up my weekly visits to Chipotle for a while, sigh… — uh oh, I’m venting again!

No, aside from venting, I’m writing about how this little financial hiccup has become a useful teaching tool for the girls.

First of all, it was my older daughter who discovered the problem in the first place.  She noticed that the closet was more humid than the rest of the house, and after investigating further, she discovered that the back part of the closet was wet.  So, we certainly have praised her observational skills.  Thanks to her, we caught this leak pretty quickly.  We told her that she saved us from mold.  And then of course, she wanted to learn all about mold and fungus.

So, after we made calls to the proper repair people, we pulled down some books from the shelf and started to learn about fungi.  Then, my older daughter scanned the internet, and we were happy to discover that mold in such plumbing diasters takes at least 72 hours to form — whew!

When the plumber and contractors arrived, the girls watched as they investigated the problem, and listened as the workmen talked about the solution.  They even got to look through this cool heat-sensivite tool that detects where the hot water is leaking from behind the walls.  And then of course, when the workers cut out part of the wall, so they could fix the leak, the girls were thrilled to see the hidden chambers (that’s what they called them) that lruk behind the wall.

And now, the girls are probably going to spend the rest of the evening looking through these “how-to” plumbing books.  So, whenever there’s a mishap or a patch of economic trouble, I try to keep in good spirits, and thinking of it as a learning experience — for me and the girls!

Homeschool Printables

Normally, my kids and I use the internet to find interactive learning websites — often filled with games, flash animation,. doctumentary video, and all sorts of snazzy multi-media-driven information.

But sometimes it’s nice to be able to find a collection of simple printables — pdf files that contain useful educational items such as:

  • Crossword puzzles
  • Word searches
  • Fill in the blank quizzes
  • Maps and Charts

These are available all over the web, but it seems that the best one-stop-shop (that’s absolutely free) can be found at:

http://homeschooling.about.com

Every week, author Beverly Hernandez creates and publishes printable worksheets, ranging from a multitude of topics: reading, math, social studies.  She also offers lots of holiday themed printables; so whether your child loves Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day — there’s bound to be a worksheet that captures your little one’s interest.

Teaching vs. Tears

My ten-year old and I had a rough day.  During the spring, my daughter took guitar lessons.  Now that it’s summer, she isn’t taking any classes, but we do expect her to practice two or three times a week.  Since I have been teaching myself how to play the electric guitar, I decided to “jam” with her for a bit.  And that’s when we entered some bumpy territory.

It all started when I wanted to show her how to play a “G chord.”  I showed her how to position her fingers, and strummed my guitar to demonstrate the chord’s sound.  She then told me that I was wrong.  She played a different chord — one that she claimed was actually G.  So, I showed her  the guitar tabs in the book.  Then she said that I was playing it backwards — that her teacher showed her the real way to play a G chord and that she knew what she was doing.

A few moments later she burst into tears.  Gradually, I convinced her that she might be thinking of a different chord.  And when she finally agreed that I was right — she was too distraught to position her fingers, let alone learn any new chords.

Afterwards, we had a family meeting — led by the most level-headed member of the household: my wife.  She asked why the music session had ended so traumatically.  I explained the situation and also added a bit about my recurring frustration with homeschooling.  I’ll sum it up for you readers:

When I work with the girls on subjects that I excel at (such as writing, spelling, art, history), they enjoy working with me for hours on end.  They are eager to learn, and eager to put their newfound knowledge into practice. However, when I am working with them on subjects in which I am admittedly NOT an expert, the girls resist my instruction.  This happens mainly when I try to help them with math.  It’s not my favorite subject, and the girls know this (in retrospect I wonder if I should have been so open about my academic preferences).  However, I am more than capable of completing math assignments from 1st through the 10th grade.  But those girls would much rather hear from their mathematically  inclined mother.

I think the meeting ended well.  I told them that I was enthusiastic about them learning all sorts of subjects — and that even though I have my favorites, I am constantly learning about science, music, and even algebra.  I wanted them to know that their tears seem to be an attempt to curb my role as a teacher.  (I know that most of the time they would rather have me as their playful father).

We’ll see how things go.  On Friday we’ve scheduled another jam session.  Cross your fingers for us!