Diary of a Wimpy Kid

When I first saw the book, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” sitting in the kid section of our local Barnes and Noble I gazed at the title and assumed that somebody had written about my childhood. I was a pretty wimpy kid growing up. Still, it turns out that I was nothing like the main character Greg Heffley.

I’ve decided that this best selling series is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I’m always thrilled when a book series can capture the interest of young readers, in particular young male readers. There are thousands of kids who would rather plug themselves into a gameboy rather than crack open a book. So, I applaud author’s success. Also, I love the simple yet hilarious illustrations, supposedly crafted by the middle-school narrator.

On the other hand, I’m not crazy about that Wimpy Kid. He does a lot of thoughtless things. In particular, he’s a terrible friend to his supposed best buddy, Rowley. Greg Heffley spends most of the book series making lousy and often deceptive choices. True, he does get busted most of the time. But he is always sorry about being caught, not about his actions and their hurtful consequences.

Of course, there are lots of characters in literature who are lovable trouble makers. Huck Finn, Bart Simpson, the kids from that gross yet guffaw-inducing Captain Underpants. In all of these examples, the trouble-maker is either struggling against a greater evil — and Diary of a Wimpy Kid is no exception. The adversarial character is Rodrick, Greg’s cruel older brother. Rodrick is such a complete jerk, that Greg’s decisions, by comparison, seem much more reasonable, even compassionate by comparison.

So, long story short, the girls and I have been reading and enjoying these books. But at the end of each reading session, we talk about the serious mistakes the narrator makes. We discuss his character’s flaws, and we imagine how we would feel is our friend was that Wimpy Kid. We’ve all agreed he wouldn’t be our friend for very long!


Fun with Google Earth

Lately, my kids and I have been addicted to Google Maps and Google Earth.

By now, if you have surfed around on the internet, you have probably looked at your neighborhood via satellite. When you stop to think about it, it’s pretty amazing isn’t it? You’re looking at a photo graph of your house that was taken from space.

Well, the girls and I got pretty bored of looking a satellite photo of our backyard. So we’ve been scouring the entire globe. Some of our favorite locations are:

The tropical isle of Kiribati

The Great Wall of China

The Sahara Desert — man that’s huge!

Recently, we discovered that in many U.S. cities you can use Google Maps to “jump in” to the specified location. So, we’ve been all over the streets of New York, Chicago, and Seattle. Some other nations feature this option. We’ve “virtually visited” London and Tokyo. (And hopefully they’ll be adding more cities soon. I want to “travel” to Dublin!)

And, if for some reason you get bored of the Planet Earth, then move onto the next step:

Google Mars!


Journal Writing All Day and Night

Well, it’s 10:30 at night where I am. I tucked my kids into bed. My younger daughter fell fast asleep, but the ten-year-old had insomnia. I read to her — just a couple chapters of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid — Rodrick Rules.” Then, when she still couldn’t get to sleep she called downstairs: “Daddy, I can’t sleep. Can you bring me up a pad of paper and a pencil?”

Now, of course, since I LOVE to write, I am always thrilled when the girls adopt my favorite pastime. I am so pleased that they have developed a passion for filling up blank pages with their thoughts. This passion isn’t constant. Both girls go through phases where they would rather read or watch a movie. They have their moments when the idea of writing a paragraph feels more like punishment rather than a pleasure. However, most of the time, they look forward to writing — especially if they have their own journal.

That might be why those “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books are so darn popular. The books demonstrate how entertaining and humorous everyday life can be. (The amusing cartoons don’t hurt either.)

Being a bit old fashioned, I am also pleased that the girls value writing by hand. Perhaps penmanship books and hand-written correspondence on actual paper will become artifacts for the museums of the future. But for now, as much as I enjoy tinkering on the computer, I absolutely love to write my first drafts by hand. I carry a journal with me wherever I go. ONe never knows when the opportunity for literary genius might arrive. The girls have known about my love of journals since they were toddlers. And I’m glad to see that my affection for journal writing has rubbed off on them.

Just yesterday, we were at the Renaissance Fair, and instead of wanting to by a toy sword or a princess crown — both girls wanted to buy these cool little leather bound journals. I was happy to spoil them. I sure, in no time, they’ll be hooked on blogging or whatever weird stuff the future has in store. But for now, I’m delighted and flattered that they have adopted their daddy’s fondness for journal writing.


Does Happiness Make You Fall Behind Schedule?

Sigh… I’ve had an interesting week — personally, it’s been a fantastic week — although I can’t say that it has been a productive week for me as a homeschool parent.

You see, normally my work-life is routine. Not to hectic compared to most folks, but busy. I’ve got papers to grade and classes to teach — not to mention my various writing projects. But despite all of that stress, I’ve always been committed to spending time (both playtime and academic time) with my children.

But last week everything got turned upside-down in a wonderful way. My picture book was accepted by a publishing house! I had been waiting for months and months, and the response finally arrived. Even better, it arrived on the same day I received an “excellent” evaluation from the dean of my college. Professionally speaking, last Thursday was the best day of my life!!!

Needless to say, the family and I celebrated. We had a fun, lesiruely weekend that segues into a fun, leisurely week. My wife, who is much more practical than I am (thank goodness) kept on track of her scheulde. The girls worked on their usual amount of math, music practice, and spelling exercises. But my projects? Science? History? We didn’t even touch them this week. We did some writing — because Daddy has been extolling the virtues of fiction — but for the most part: WE ARE WAY BEHIND!

On the one hand, it’s not too big of a deal. After all, Homeschoolers can learn at their own pace. Some don’t even bother to keep a schedule. ON the other hand, I’ve selected some projects and reading assignments that are important to me (and hopefully to them), and I’ll be disappointed if I don’t catch up during the month of May.

In the end, falling behind schedule has helped keep me grounded. When there are triumphs or set-backs in life, it’s nice to take a bit of time off to deal with whatever fate decrees — so long as we can get back on track and return to the learning process.


Paranoid About the Swine Flu?

It’s hard not to be paranoid about pandemics… especially when you watch the news.

Due to the recent medical emergencies,schools in Mexico have been closing, all in an effort to minimize the spread of the “Swine Virus.” Depending on what happens next, we might see a lot of public schools shut their doors throughout the United States.

I’m hoping the disease we be contained, and while I’m deeply saddened at the recent loss of life, I’m thankful to know that those who have contracted the virus in the United States have not died. Still, I have to admit, in times like these, I’m thankful to be a homeschool parent. Our children certainly are not secluded all day long. In fact, just today we went to a guitar lesson and Field & Track practice. Yet, I’m guessing they avoid a lot more chances to catch the flu and other bugs, unlike most public school children.

We’ve been using the recent events to remind our children about hygiene. We’ve been telling them how important it is to wash their hands, to avoid coughing / sneezing into the air, and to refrain from touching their face, eyes, nose, etc. But it hasn’t been all serious stuff today. We’ve also been watching YouTube videos of germs and viruses and other microscopic stuff, to see what makes those little critters tick. The girls and I love watching that science stuff!


The Joy (and Futility) of Keeping a Learning Schedule

My wife is so darn organized, it makes me green with envy. She makes a list of what she wants to accomplish during the week — not just educational stuff, but everything. And then, in a rapid manner, she spends each day completing the tasks and then check off her accomplishments.

What about me? I make lists, sure– but then I lose them about a half-hour later. It’s very maddening.

Still, I think it’s important as a home school parent to have some sort of a game plan — whether it’s a mental list or a yellow piece of notepad paper stuck to the fridge or a family scroll of parchment nailed to the barnyard door. (I don’t know where that third one came from). Lists can be wonderful things.

Lately, because I’ve been so busy with a whole bunch of other nonsense (something I call “work”), I’ve been using a calendar. I cut out two weeks worth of days, and then write what I’d like to accomplish. I leave a few of the days blank because I’m either too busy that day or, more likely, the kids already have a lot of educational activities scheduled. So far, the girls and I have been accomplishing about 70% of our goals. Not great — but not bad either. Then, if we ever have any “downtime” during the rest of the week, we try to catch up on what we missed.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on the following:

“The History of US” — I’ve already given a thumbs up on this text book, but I’ll say it again: I really enjoy this. (So does the 10 year old — the 7 year old is indifferent so far.)

“Natural Science” — We’ve done a lot of great stuff a couple weeks ago, but now we’re getting behind. (Probably because I’m making up the curriculum as we go along.)

“Journal Writing” — Good progress here. The girls have moved from “Take Turns Writing” and I now creating their own stories and essays.

How are things going with your learning schedule (or lack thereof?)


Our Grand Canyon Adventures

Wow!

My family and I had never been to Grand Canyon before. In fact, before this trip, the most relevant Grand Canyon experience I could recall was watching a three-part episode of the Brady Bunch (that’s the one where Bobby gets lost in the Canyon and rescued by Native Americans — remember?) I had assumed that I would find Grand Canyon to be beautiful, like a familiar postcard come to life. But I didn’t really think I was going to be awestruck. I mean I had seen the images of Grand Canyon in IMax movies and so forth — how much more impressive could it be in real life?

Well, there’s no photograph that can come close (and there some amazing photographers, mind you) to capturing the majesty of this natural wonder. I think the Romantic Poets would have called the experience: Sublime.

Long story short, we had a blast. And of course, since this wasn’t simply a family outing but an educational adventure, we learned gobs of stuff! I was pleased that our reserach of Native American cultures paid off — we encountered many words and references to the various tribes we had recently read about in “The History of US.” For example, one of the train cars that we rode on was named, “Anasazi.” The girls remembered this tribal name from last week’s history lesson. “Hey, Dad, aren’t those the cliff dwellers?” (I was beaming with pride as I thought, “They remembered! It’s actually sticking!”)

We picked out some great books and field guides. When we were hiking about or dining at the lodge, we were reading. The girls were fascinated by a handy geology guide. And they had also brought along a Guide to North American Birds. (They were even more hooked on the bird book after the Ranger’s California Condor lecture.) Oh, and by the way, we did get to see a Condor — and a whole lot of Turkey Vultures. The book I selected was a bit morbid: “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.” Like the title suggests, it documents all of the known deaths that occurred in the national park. Anything from dehydration to dropping off a cliff is covered. It was creepy yet fascinating, and it made me a VERY, VERY CAREFUL DAD as we walked around the park. After reading the book, I was shocked to see so many poeple hoping over the walls and disregarding signs, just to take a snapshot.

Our favorite part of the trip was the Jr. Ranger Program. The girls completed four activities and attended two ranger talks. Afterwards, they received a signed certificate, they pledged an oath to protect and enjoy the Grand Canyon, and then they earned a plastic (yet adorable) ranger badge.

Fun was had by all… And not a single fall.


Preparing for a Field Trip: The Grand Canyon

Tomorrow the wife, kids and I will be heading to the Grand Canyon — a place I’ve never visited. (Which is kind of funny because I’ve been to each corner of America, but I haven’t gone to the Grand Canyon, despite the fact its only about a 7 hour drive away).

Normally, I’m a vacation-control-freak. I plan every day and every detail. But this time around we’re traveling with an Uncle who has made all of the arrangements. So, it’s been a nice change of pace for me.

But of course, just because our itinerary has been established doesn’t mean our preparations are in order. There’s still lots to do. And while we’re getting ready for our family trip, the girls are learning along the way. Here’s how my wife has made Field Trip prep educational:

She’s given them a “Check Off List”. The girl’s are responsible for packing their own things. And my wife has given them a list of what to pack. My ten-year-old is what I call a “slow blossoming reader,” and so my wife has made certain that the list is filled with words that my daughter can either sight-read or sound out. Today, she read all of the words on the list, and not only felt good about packing, but felt good about her newly improved reading skills.

Also, to prepare for our adventure, we’ve been learning about the Native American tribes that once lived within the valleys and along the plains of the Arizona landscape. The book I blogged about earlier, The History of Us, has proven to be a wonderful resource for the girls. In addition to Social Studies, we’ve also been reading up on:

Geology
Geography
and
Math

How did we throw math into the mix? Well, I’ve been having the girls calculate the distance that we’ll be traveling. Then, I ask them: “If we drive 65 miles an hour, how long will it take to arrive at our destination.”

Well, time to finish packing up. Wish us luck!


Cosmeo: Homework Help “Discovery Channel” Style

About two years ago, I was wandering through Costco and I happened upon a software program that seemed too good to resist. (Which means I probably should have resisted it.) The 8 disk set was called “Elementary School Success Deluxe.” It was a mere $30 and offered to help my kids with everything from Language Arts to Pre-Algebra. Well, long-story short, it was pretty darn lame. The graphics and the text were boring. The activities were repetitive and hardly educational.

The biggest disappointment was their Science Disk. I falsely assumed that the software program would touch base upon all the science topics one would expect in elementary school: planets, nature, the human body, weather, and so forth. Not so. The science portion was basic an expose on earthworms — and even that wasn’t as interesting as the stuff you read about on Wikipedia!

I learned the hardway not to expect a single computer program or website to provide all of the answers — or even to provide that much inspiration. However, I do have to give a “thumbs up” to Discovery Channel’s kid-friendly website: Cosmeo.com

Now, if your kids like programs seen on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and the History Channel — then they’ll definitely get a kick out of Cosmeo. On the one hand, they aren’t terribly different from other educational websites — however, they do have lots of video from their decades’ worth of top-quality documentaries.

The girls and I signed up for a free one-month trial.” We used it for two-months and absoultely loved it. Around month three, the girls moved on to other interests… Mainly they got old enough to start searching the web themselves (with an over-protective Dad at their side shielding them from all the icky stuff). But for most science-enthusiasts aged 6 to 10, I think Cosmeo would definitely be worth signing up, at least for a few months!


Lego Engineering

Here’s one of my favorite things about being a parent:

I get an excuse to play with a lot of awesome toys!

I didn’t play with Legos very often as a kid. I had a few sets, but I wasn’t really into following instruction manuals. That’s a sharp contrast compared to my two daughters (not to mention my wife). When they came out with Harry Potter legos my wife got hooked on collecting the Hogwarts set — and my girls got hooked along with her.

As with any sort of building toy, creativity is fostered through these amazingly intricate lego sets. They way more expensive than I think toys should be — although not so pricey as those Thomas the Tank engine jerks. Still, I must admit those Lego folks assemble a lot of details that help to create a unique miniature world.

Of course, one’s lego obsession can go beyond basic lego structures. For a while now, homeschoolers have been forming clubs that create lego robots and remote control lego vehicles. This educational craze is called Lego Engineering — and if you have a young one who is fascinated with mechanical engineering, construction, architecture, or robotics (or simply obsessed with legos) you should definitely check out their website:

http://www.legoengineering.com/

Last year, my younger daughter took a class with a homeschool mom and twelve other kids. They learned about how suspension bridges are constructed. How skyscrapers are built and torn down. And how submarines submerge. Along with every lecture, they built lego creations — each one incorporating the lessons of the day. It was a fun class. I think if the opportunity comes around again I’ll sign both girls up this time. Heck, I might just sign up myself!


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