Friday, March 31, 2006

A Little About Preventing Childhood Sexual Abuse

Here is a link to a National Sex Offender Registry data which is online and free to view on the Family Watchdog website. You input any address in the United States and the mile radius you would like to view, then what pops up is a map of that area and colored icons showing the residence and work address of convicted sex offenders. If you click on the icon you will see the personal data for the convict including what they were convicted of and sometimes, a color photo of their face. You can also see the exact street address for these convicts.

I hope that when you input your home address you do not see many square colored icons on your map.

I have checked my home address as well as the addresses of close relatives and relatives who we visit that live out of state.

I love the fact that who these convicts are is now public information and that they can be exposed. I see this as a way of public humiliation and punishment, which is a good thing. I don’t quite know how much this will help prevent our children from being sexually molested, other than us keeping our children away from these specific people.

Despite knowing this information I still bothered by the whole issue of childhood sexual abuse. Over 90% of abusers are people in the family or close friends or neighbors of the family, people that the parents trust. That is a sad and scary thing to think about.

If you are looking for information about warning signs and red flags to look for to identify the adult sexual predators, I recommend reading the book “Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)” by Gavin deBecker. This book also tells the warning signs that your children may exhibit if they have already been victimized or are currently being victimized. The book teaches how we can train ourselves and our children to listen to our gut instincts about who to trust and who to not trust, as often that is the best indicator of who to stay away from. To quickly summarize, our bodies are programmed with instincts to feel fear or have that uneasy ‘gut feeling’ when a sign of danger is present. Many people have overridden these gut feelings using logic and talk themselves out of allowing themselves to listen to their gut feelings. De Becker urges us to NOT do that. One of the chapters that bothered me was to hear the extent to which some parents intentionally live in denial of accepting the suspicion that their own child is already being victimized, because they don’t want to deal with the issue. De Becker urges us as parents to not put our heads in the sand. In order to protect our children we must admit that something is wrong when certain warning signs are being exhibited. And for goodness sake if our children tell us that something happened we should believe it and not accuse them of lying!

De Becker also wrote another book called “The Gift of Fear”, which I have not yet read but would like to.

“Protecting the Gift” is a great book and it is worth every penny! This book should also be in every public library, in my opinion! I think this book should be required reading for every parent. Perhaps if every parent put the effort into learning about this, as they put into other areas of their lives, then fewer children would be sexually abused!

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Book Review: I Love…

Title: I Love…
Author: Minnie
Illustrator: Natali Fortier
Format: soft cover book
ISBN: 1-929132-75-1
Publisher: Kane/Miller
Originally published in: France

"I Love…" by Minnie is an adorable 124 page book. Nearly every two page spread features text explaining something that the author loves and the opposite page is a full color painted illustration. The writing is from the perspective of a girl and many of the illustrations picture an adorable little girl who looks to be eight or nine years old.

I first read this book cover to cover, in one sitting, and enjoyed every minute of it.

Imagine that you were asked to brainstorm every little random thing that you loved when you were a child. That is what this book is like. We are reading the ‘simple pleasures’ and the innocent, timeless, little things that the author is grateful for having experienced in her girlhood. Reading some of these made me remember some things from my own childhood that I loved (but had unfortunately had kept tucked back far into my memory).

I found the book a fun read. I am inspired to ask my own children what they love and to make a little book of their own favorite things. I would also like to make a list of things that I loved when I was a child, and another list of things that I love now.

A unique thing about this book is the way that the author was able to transport me into the mind of a child, so that even I was able to imagine the happiness she feels about her appreciation and joy for these things.

Here are some examples:
I love to feel the wind against my hand when the car is going very fast.
At the table when I’m bored, I like to gather up all the bread crumbs and make little dough balls.
I love the smell of toast in the morning.
I love it when Dr. Suppo taps on my knee with his little hammer and my leg moves all by itself.

I read the book aloud to my two boys (aged 5 and 8) and was unsure how they would respond to the book. They first commented that it was a long book, and asked if I planned to read the whole thing to them, but then later they both begged me to not stop reading it, so we read it straight though to the end in one sitting. They were laughing out loud at some of the favorite things, and they agreed that they also loved some of these same things. I asked them why they liked the book and they both said because they thought it was funny and because they liked some of the same things. They are now asking to make a little book of some of the things they love (which I now pledge to do).

Upon the second reading I noticed that the book includes references that make it clear that she loves her brother, her mother and father and her grandparents. The little girl’s world is not an isolated little bubble, but one that includes family, extended family, school mates, and friends. I am also struck by the timeless nature of these things, and many modern notions are missing from the book (television, music, and cell phones). The little girl has a close and loving relationship with her mother. I am sure that little girls would love to own this book and they’d love to have their mother read it aloud to them.

I feel this book is also a good read for adults, it would make a nice gift book for someone who likes to celebrate simple pleasures and gratitude for the little things that make life enjoyable.

Disclosure Statement: I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review for my blog.

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Not Watching This Season of "The Apprentice"

I just want to go on record to say that our family has had enough of the ego of Donald Trump and of the show "The Apprentice". We watched the first two seasons of Donald's show and we also watched the version with Martha Stewart.

We are burned out of "The Apprentice" so the TiVo's season pass for the show has been cancelled and we are not watching it.

In the past our children watched some/most of the episodes with us. When we had a hint that a topic with sexual innuendo was going to air we'd not have the kids watch it with us.

Overall we have really cut down our television time.

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Thoughts on American Idol Results Show Air Date 3/29/06

I find it very interesting how my predictions are shaking out. I was basically right in the last two weeks.

I wanted Bucky to go on 3/29/06 but he did not go. Lisa was my second guess to go and she was the one to leave.

I realized in my haste I forgot to mention Ace. Ace is no longer a favorite of mine. I feel he is 'fake' and the looks that he gives the camera seem very posed and phony. Yech. With that said I still think he is very attractive!

It is hard to predict just one person because the conflict is who I don't like and who I wish would leave (so I don't have to see them perform any longer) vs. trying to guess what the voting public thinks.

I also continue to wonder how much the voting-robot-machines impact the show's outcome?

I am bored by the show now and was asking myself this week, "Why am I still watching this?" At this point I am watching it not for pure entertainment but just to see what happens and to take part in the voting and to see if who I like ends up winning.

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Homeschoolers Quitting Homeschooling

I have been networking in homeschooling circles for eight years now, in this geographic area where I live. I am starting to see some cycles which I think is typical but it feels weird to experience.

As a newbie to homeschooling and as a person with young children I looked up to those who had older children and were more experienced than me. I got to know some homeschoolers in the area, some as friends and others as acquaintances. We also have a 140+ member local email chat list for homeschoolers that live in this part of my state, so I have cyber-homeschooling friends who live close by as well, who I never see in person.

There was a point when the community was pretty stable with some newcomers entering the scene and things remaining the same with the people with older children still homeschooling and acting as mentors to those of us with younger children.

Now a few families I know are either moving out of state or quitting homeschooling and it feels weird. I know it is not a realistic expectation that every child who is homeschooled will remain homeschooled until college admission. Still, it feels weird when a person who I considered my mentor and an inspiration stops homeschooling and their children enter school. Since each of the families had spoken negatively about various issues with schools in the past it feels weird to now have them accept the school admission and to even be happy with it. One family whose formerly homeschooled children have been in school for two or three years now actually speaks pretty highly of the schools (which is especially interesting for me to hear as they live in my same town).

I also know two families in which the mother wanted to homeschool but the father was more skeptical. Interestingly in one family the children were homeschooled then schooled then homeschooled again then will return to school in the fall of 2006. In antoher family the children were schooled then homeschooled then were put back in school, and the mother still wishes she could homeschool them again. In both of those families the mother and father were not always in agreement about what was best for their individual family, their family dynamics, and for each child (as the personalities and learning issues with the different children give the families unique situations to handle).

I don’t judge anyone who chooses to stop homeschooling, for the record I want to state that so it is very clear.

Each family has different reasons for stopping homeschooling. I think each family must decide for themselves if it is right to continue homeschooling or if school is what is needed for their child(ren). I am not going to discuss the reasons why the families I know are stopping homeschooling as I feel that information is too personal for me to reveal on the Internet.

One family is on their third year in school right now and says all is well. Another family plans to put their two children in high school in the fall. Another family who is in their second year of homeschooling three children is moving out of state and putting the children in a charter school whose academic focus is in alignment with what she was doing with her homeschooling. Another friend who has homeschooled her children since birth entered her oldest child into private high school this year, as a freshman, and still homeschools her two younger children.

Another family with six children and one on the way recently moved 2000 miles away, so although they are still homeschooling, I still feel like I lost a friend, and my children lost a close friend. She is so busy with taking care of her children that maintaining a friendship via email or by phone is unlikely.

This morning I was feeling a bit sad that the homeschooling community is changing but then I realized that this is probably normal. I took for granted the new homeschoolers entering the scene and I guess I was thinking that the homeschooling community here was growing by leaps and bounds and that the trend was upward. It is only natural that some new people will enter the community while the experienced veterans may leave the community, so perhaps the community is actually not growing? I don’t have any statistics so I don’t know. (The way the law in Connecticut is written does not allow for the state to compile accurate records for counting the number of homeschooled children in the state.)

I am a homeschool support group leader. I have been helping other homeschoolers when they ask me for advice or information. I guess it is true, although it feels strange to say it, that I am a mentor for some of the newer homeschoolers. I still feel so ‘new’ to homeschooling that I am not comfortable calling myself a ‘veteran’ homeschooler!

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

American Idol Prediction Show Aired 3/28/06

Okay I am blogging quickly before the results show airs. My TV is off right now, I am not watching American Idol which will air here in just a moment.

I think Bucky was horrible. I predicted he'd go last week. I again predict he will go. If he does not go, it is because he has a lot of fans voting for him, it is not due to his talent. I know the song that Bucky sang last night, as did my husband. He was off-time with the lyrics to the music. I also could not hear the words he was singing as he was mumbling.

If Lisa does not have a lot of fans, she may go. I found her performance bland. I think she is VERY talented and has a music career in front of her. I don't quite know why she is not really taking the show by storm.

At this point I really like Chris for his performing ability and I think he does great with his singing and on stage. With that said I probably would never buy any of his albums. I gave Chris 1 vote last night.

Kelli was my favorite from last night's performance. We gave her 6 votes. Everyone in our family loved her performance last night.

I really do not like Katherine and just don't get why she has such a big fan base. No one in my family cares for Katherine's performances, ever.

I thought that most of the performances last night were not that good.

Chris was screaming and no one in my family liked the song.

Mandisa was yelling as well. I didn't like the song that Paris sang and I thought it was screechy at parts.
Elliot was a torture to listen to. I love Taylor but felt he was boring last night. He got 3 votes.

Thank goodness they pared the show down to one hour. There was little time for recaps and other dragging-it-out tactics.

I wonder who will leave the show tonight?

Also for the record my five year old says he has had enough of American Idol and doesn't want to watch it any longer.

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My Thoughts on Boycotts in General

Sometimes when we want to do something to make a statement or a negative impact on a company, we boycott. The sad thing is, I think the companies don’t usually notice, or care.

The first challenge is that the company must know about the boycott. From my past experience in the working world, I have learned a few things. One thing is that companies rarely think about what non-customers think of them. Most companies care most about their own customers. Sometimes the general overall perception of who the company is, is so very important that they want everyone to have a positive image of that company. This usually applies to companies whose product or service pertains to a very large number of people who are potential future customers as well as current customers. The best example of this is Tylenol. Remember ‘back in the day’ when no products had ‘safety wrapping’ on them, and that one man added something to Tylenol (was it poison?). After that, the company worked hard to improve the overall company image. The fact is that Tylenol was and is probably used by every family in America at some point in their lives (especially for pregnant women as it seems that is all the doctors say is safe to take while pregnant).

Overall I think it is safe to say that companies care about their current customers and their satisfaction. Usually companies do not like to hear that current customers are dissatisfied with something they did or are doing.

Companies sometimes reject the notion of general negative buzz about them. It is easy to ignore or to pretend that negative perceptions exist if no one is contacting the company to complain. This is why communicating directly with the company is vitally important, perhaps more important than participation in a boycott (and being silent about it to the company).

If someone calls for a boycott, the first challenge is that the company must find out about it. There may be times when a boycott is on but the company does not know about it. The person or organization who is initiating the boycott must have a big voice and must somehow get the message out to both the public (to join the boycott) and to the company who is being boycotted. If a stir can be made in the media then more people can find out about the boycott. I remember in the past, some organizations calling for boycotts by doing press meetings and issuing press releases. Greenpeace comes to mind as one organization who has called for boycotts in the past (remember the plastic toys issue from about 1999?). Perhaps blogging is a new way for the word to spread?

The next challenge is to get people to participate in the boycott.

If a person who was never a customer of that company now boycotts that company, then this is a non-event. There is zero negative financial impact on the company and the company was not impacted. Perhaps a letter expressing negative views of the company would have made a larger impact; the writer can just fail to mention that they are not a customer.

Even if an established customer stops using the product, the company may never know that they stopped, and why. If a customer wants the company to know something, the customer should tell the company. In this correspondence the writer must tell specifically that they are a customer, what they are unhappy about and what they’d like to see done about it. For example, if a person subscribes to a magazine and wants to boycott that magazine, I think the best thing to do would be to cancel the subscription and to ask for a rebate of the remaining, unused balance of their subscription price. It would be a non-event if a subscriber continued to get the magazine but just failed to renew it. If something is ‘hot’ right now it is best to communicate it now rather than wait for months in the future then to write and say “I am not renewing because I am unhappy with you about X issue”.

The company may not ever measure the impact of a boycott. In order to see if there is a financial impact they must know the baseline financial or other statistical information before the boycott, then measure the outcome after the boycott. I speculate that some companies don’t care at all about the boycott against them and don’t measure these things. I cite Nestle as one of them. I believe the Nestle boycott began in the late 1970s and it still is on today. Frankly after all this time, I don’t think that Nestle notices. I think that if a segment of customers have switched from Quik chocolate milk mix to Hershey’s chocolate syrup, over a long time like that, the boycott is unnoticed and it may even be statistically immeasurable and may go unnoticed. Boycotters would just be considered non-customers. I know some people who are still participating in the Nestle boycott but frankly I question whether Nestle even knows that a boycott that was begun over 25 years ago is still taking place!

I think that calling for boycotts and participating in boycotts makes the participants feel that they are doing all that they can do to make a statement to the company and to make a negative impact on the company in a financial way. Some people feel the only time a company cares what they say is when there is a financial impact, so participation in the boycott makes them feel they are doing more than if they had written a letter of complaint to the company.

Here is an example of something I did. To make a long story short, last year my husband’s family began thinking of taking a cruise in 2006. We planned this far in advance, and we booked the cruise. We thought, at that time, that by then my husband would have a job and it would be affordable for our family to go. About 20 people dropped out when one relative became pregnant with twins and was due to deliver just two weeks before the cruise sail date. A bunch of us decided to still go on the cruise (as we wanted to go and we didn’t want to lose the down payment money). We were booked on Royal Caribbean and one stop was Aruba. After the Natalee Holloway tragedy, my husband and I began questioning the safety of Aruba and of travel to similar locales in general. We are also upset with the way the Aruban authorities handled the case. I also was scared to go on Royal Caribbean after the Greenwich man disappeared on his honeymoon—and blood was found on the ship. That actually was the same ship we were supposed to be on. That was the final straw for us. We wanted to punish both Aruba and Royal Caribbean cruise lines so my husband and I decided to participate in the boycott of Aruba. However, (due to stress and more pressing matters in our personal lives) I failed to notify Royal Caribbean of why we cancelled. I also failed to notify Aruba of our change in plans of and of our feeling of unease with ever going to their island. So did the boycott work? I don’t think so.

Here is information about a boycott that is going on right now within the homeschooling community, a boycott of The Old Schoolhouse (a Christian homeschooling) magazine, a boycott of HomeSchoolBlogger blogs, and a boycott of Debi and Michael Pearl’s books, other products and services. I hope to blog more about this, but for now here is a link to some information about this hot topic. The boycott began when a boy died as a result of child abuse, of corporal punishment he received, and the mother is said to cite Christian parenting advice for “obedience training” given in the books written by Michael and Debi Pearl in their books “To Train Up a Child” and “No Greater Joy”. To read a newspaper article about the boy who died, go here.

I would like to persuade all people who are unhappy with a company (or even a country) to notify that company or country of their issues. If you are a customer then tell them you are a customer. If you cancel or stop buying their services, tell them you are doing that. I think communicating that is more important than participation in the boycott itself especially if the boycott is done but the reason for it is not conveyed directly from the customer to the company. If you both communicate your displeasure and boycott, then all the better.

To summarize I am not against participation in boycotts but I wonder if the power of the pen is stronger, so to be sure our voices are heard, we should at least voice our opinion to the company and also consider participation in the boycott.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The 13th Carnival of Homeschooling Has Been Published

This is week number 13 of the Carnival of Homeschooling. This week the CoH is being hosted by its creator, Henry Cate from the Why Homeschool? blog.

There are nearly 30 articles written by experienced homeschoolers. Grab a cup of your favorite drink and check it out!

I have an entry in this edition. (I love to read your comments, so please consider leaving either a comment or clicking on my profile to access my email link to send a private message.)

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Homeschooling: Think, Decide, Then Start---Just Do It!

This piece is dedicated to Julie V. at LiveLearnLaugh because reading of her worries inspired me to share these words of encouragement which are based on my own experiences with homeschooling.

There are lots of choices in the homeschooling world today, too many choices, I think. I am hearing more and more of people getting hung up on the decision making process. Some ponder using a book or curriculum for months, others ponder homeschooling for two or three years (while their child suffers in school, according to the parent).

Something else that complicates matters is that if a family ponders homeschooling when the oldest child is a baby (as I did) then there are many years to read and ponder before putting much of it into practice. That is a lot of time to think and ponder, and there is plenty of time to worry and perhaps try to become a perfectionist about it.

Here is what it boils down to: think about your goals, look at choices, make a decision, and just start. Period. Stop that indecision in its tracks!

Don’t get too hung up on any one of those stages for too long because it may interfere with enjoying life with your children right here and now and it may also incite worry or perhaps even fear. Living with worry and fear is not good. Don’t get stuck in an indecision rut, which is when you begin to fear that any choice you make won’t be ‘good enough’ or won’t be perfect. Make your decision, buy or borrow what you need, and use it (and stop looking at what else is out there to buy) and enjoy this time with your child.

I know it may seem scary. I know that you may be afraid that the reading curriculum you are considering buying is not the perfect reading curriculum or if the homeschooling style or method that you chose is best or right for your child and family The problem is that most times you will never know this until you try it.

I hereby give you permission to make a decision, get what materials you need and just do it. Just homeschool your children and live life. Enjoy this time with them. As you use program A or method B, just do it and see how it goes. Stop spending mental energy worrying if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. What other families do does not matter. If what you are doing is working for you, then that is a success.

With regard to curriculum, I will break the news to you now. What is perfect for your friend may not work with your child and what worked with your first child may not work with your second child. This is because each child is different. Another element is that you are different than your friend (or your cyber-friend, or the homeschool magazine product reviewer, or the homeschool conference speaker, etc. etc.). It is good and a responsible thing to research things but it can sometimes go too far or go on for too long. Don’t let that happen to you.

Another thing about curriculum or books is that they are not ranked with one being the best, 2nd, 3rd, etc. There can be many 'great' curriculums or books. You may already own or be using a 'great' one, so pondering about some other 'great' one serves no purpose. We are not competing with other homeschoolers, so if a friend uses program A and you use program B and you both think they are 'great', guess, what, you are both right and neither of you is wrong and neither is using a 'second best' program. If you start out with some book or curriculum and it is working, then you are meeting your goal and there is no need to change just because you hear of some other program that is 'great'.

Regarding homeschooling method, I advise this. Think about your own philosophies. Think about long term goals. Know what public schools do in your child’s grade and decide if you are matching up to what they are doing exactly, loosely, or if you have a philosophical reason to be very different than the public schools. (You may want a different time table than the public schools a la Waldorf schools that delay reading instruction or you may want a more rigorous academic program such as a classical method a la “The Well Trained Mind”). Once you figured this out, set a short term goal, goals for this school year. Work toward the goals. The goal is to make progress, to move forward.

It is best to have a plan and move forward with it. Believe me, if it is not working out, for whatever reason, you will know it and you will have to deal with it. The advantage then is that you know what didn’t work with your child and you will then know what to look for in a different curriculum, book, game, program or whatever it is!

Here are some simple examples of things learned through trial and error that I have experienced or I have heard from my homeschooling friends.

The math curriculum was too bight and colored on the pages. My child needed pages with just black ink on white paper.

The phonics book was too cluttered on the page (100 Easy Lessons). My child did better with reading plain black words on an otherwise bare page.

My child was using the pictures in the story to guess at the words rather than sounding out the words, it didn’t work. We switched to a program with just words on a page and it all clicked.

My child learned the math facts quickly by listening to them arranged in a song format. It seems any information delivered in a song is instantly memorized.

My child begged for me to turn off the math facts song CD.

My child struggled with the multiplication facts until I tried a game with large numbers placed on the floor that included jumping from one answer (number) to the next answer (number). Suddenly the facts were memorized.

My son learned to read numbers larger than 10 by playing Bingo.

Playing Monopoly taught my child to count money.

Unschooling worked for two years then my child wanted a routine and a structure to the day.

My child hated the same schedule every day, so now we like a looser schedule and impromptu learning.

I wanted to do the Charlotte Mason method and not start formal lessons until age 6 but then my son began teaching himself to read at age 3.5. What then?

I wanted to follow the classical model a la “The Well Trained Mind” but my son was not ready for ‘seat work’ until aged 5.5. If he had done what is recommended in “TWTM” then he would have flunked out!

Do you get the idea? What works for one child doesn’t work with the next. Just try something and see how it goes. Adjust as needed when the time arises.

I believe it is a good thing to have opinions and ideas about educational philosophy. It can be a problem, though, if my child does not respond to that method and I must do something different. I have learned through experience that as a homeschooling mother I need to do what is right and best for each of my children rather than pushing my own personal preferences or agenda onto them (when to do that would be problematic for them). I think that do respond to each child and to customize each of their educational plans is the most responsible thing for me to do, and it is ‘do-able’. I have had to abandon some of my preconceived notions about how our homeschooling journey would unfold as our reality turned out different than what was in my imagination. All the time I had put into researching method A and all the ‘proof’ that I build up about how that method would be successful had to be abandoned as it wasn’t working for my child. I know it has worked for other children, but it just didn’t work for my child. What a disappointment for me! (Note here that my child felt no disappointment, only joy to be relieved of the method that he was not enjoying!)

I remember getting flack from my unschooling friends when I stopped unschooling in response to my child’s need for more structure and a set routine rather than our completely unstructured day. Let’s not do that to each other! Let’s not judge each other or even ourselves. Our homeschooling community is so small; couldn’t we work more to get along with each other rather than sub-dividing?

If I purchase a curriculum that I thought we’d love and then we don’t love it, I don’t beat myself up about it. I sell it to someone else at a bargain price, recoup some of my financial losses and move on. When the budget calls for it, I buy some items used. I have found some great bargains and was grateful for them—those were someone else’s mistakes! So really, we help each other when we let go of materials we don’t use and sell them to other homeschoolers at bargain prices.

Another lesson here is to have an educational philosophy and an image of your ideal situation, but DO NOT judge others who choose something different for their family. You don’t know their personal situation. You don’t know what negotiations and compromises they may have had to make with their spouse just to keep homeschooling and to remain happily married. Some husbands really come down on their wives if the wife is not doing the method or using a curriculum that the father perceives as the best and the right way. I know of some families in which this was the subject of heated arguments and even threats of divorce resulted. What is better, a divorced family who homeschools 100% the way the mother wants or an intact happy family who homeschools using a curriculum or method that is not Mom’s favorite? Is the child better off doing Mom’s choice B for homeschooling or being forced to go to school, which is Dad’s option to not doing choice B?

Pick a method and just start it. Jump in and try it. If the method isn’t working for your family, guess what? You can change it. If what you thought was perfect ends up feeling like torture, change it. Once you are in the middle of doing it, you suddenly learn new things that you’d never have known before if you were still pondering about it.

If you end up making changes, it is not a sign of a failure, it is a sign of a success, because you realized that things were not going ideally and you are trying to remedy it. You are meeting your child’s needs and providing what you think is the best education for them at this moment in time, and you are to be commended for it. Given how children grow and change over time, the liklihood is that at some point something in our homeschooling journey will need to be tweaked and that is not a sign of a failure!

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Contest to Inspire Connecticut Children to Spend Time Outdoors

I heard about this from Melissa, another homeschool support group leader in Connecticut.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Agency is holding a contest this spring for Connecticut residents as part of the “No Child Left Inside” initiative.

Welcome to the online home of "No Child Left Inside", a special initiative designed to encourage Connecticut families and visitors alike to enjoy all the recreational resources and outdoor activities that Connecticut's state parks and forests have to offer! From Campbell Falls State Park in Norfolk, to Talcott Mountain in Bloomfield, to Squantz Pond in New Fairfield, it's time to discover the fresh air and fun of the great outdoors!

Registration is free.

The contest is called “The Great Park Pursuit”.

Does your family have what it takes to play The Pursuit? The Great Park Pursuit, that is, the Connecticut State Parks Family Adventure! You'll compete against other families statewide as you hunt for clues in some of Connecticut's most beautiful state parks and forests. Collect all the clues and you could win great outdoor prizes like mountain bikes, camping equipment and more.
Go here for info and to register.

You must have a team name, so have that ready at the time that you register!

The contest is eight weeks long. It involves getting clues, decoding them for hints as to which park to go to, being assigned tasks to do at each park ranging from fishing to scavenger hunts and more. Points are earned and the finalists will compete against each other in a final challenge to determine the winner.

The first thing I thought of when I read about this contest was that is similar to the goal of Michael Stadther’s “A Treasure Trove” book and contest, in which families read a book and deciphered codes and clues and had to go to public places such as state parks to find golden tokens hidden in the knotholes of trees. Our family participated in that contest and I blogged about it on February 6, 2005, in my second blog post!

“A Treasure’s Trove”: day one of my experience

Here are some of my other blog posts about our family's experience with the Treasure’s Trove treasure quest.

From 2/8/05
"A Treasure's Trove": Discovering Online Discussions

From on 3/5/05
Today our family met Michael Stadther--author of “A Treasure’s Trove”

From on 5/24/05
Connecticut Residents May Now Participate in “A Treasure’s Trove”

And I nearly found the grasshopper token and blogged about it on 5/29/05.
So Close But Yet So Far: Was Close to Retreiving the Grasshoper Token: A Treasure's Trove

This also reminds me of the reality based television show “The Amazing Race”, which our family enjoys watching together. I wonder if the contest was inspired by the show?

Here is a link to the book "A Treasure's Trove" by Michael Stadther.

There is also a photo of me (from a distance) in the book that contains the solutions to “A Treasure’s Trove”, on the page about the grasshopper token (I am wearing a blue rain jacket and standing near the tree where the token was found).

Official Solution Book

I applaud this effort to get kids and families outside in nature, away from televisions and video games, not only out in fresh air, but out exploring our state's parks. I love that this is a family event, something that families can do together, rather than being an initiative aimed to be presented in a classroom by teachers.

I look forward to "The Great Park Pursuit" contest, and I’ve already signed our family up as a team!

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Correct and Incorrect Use of the Word "Homeschooling"

I feel strongly that we need to use correct terms for homeschooling. If a parent has control of the child’s education and teaches their children with the materials of their choice, that is homeschooling.

Apparently some schools have programs where the child is enrolled in the public school but is in an ‘alternative education’ program which means they don’t go into the school building to learn, but they use school materials to learn at home with the assistance of the parent and with close oversight by school staff. That student is actually enrolled in the public school and their education is being funded by taxpayers. That is not homeschooling! Here is one example from a newspaper article titled “Home is Where the Learning Is” that was published in the Contra Costa Times yesterday (March 24, 2006). I actually found this article hard to follow because they called what this child is experiencing homeschooling but later said that in California homeschooling is not legal and that the child was actually part of an alternative educational plan at the public school. Talk about confusing!

The fact of the matter is that public schools with an alternative educational plan such as that are not common. I would guess they are less common than homeschooling!

Charter Schools
If a child is enrolled in a charter school they are part of the public school system. If the charter school happens to be the kind that the child learns at home for part or all of the time using a computer and curriculums and materials from the charter school then they are still a student of a charter school and they are still a part of the public school system. That child is NOT homeschooled even if their body physically is in the home and they are not required to sit inside of a school building to do their 'school work'.

I am on Larry and Susan Kaseman’s bandwagon that we need to use the right labels in the area of how we define what kind of education the child is getting. They have written about this topic in some of their columns in Home Education Magazine. Here is one of their thought-provoking articles about how homeschooling is not charter schooling and it is not an alternative education branch of a public school.

The big distinction arises from who is in control of the educational content and who is paying for it? A student of a charter school is receiving services and materials that are being paid for by taxpayers. Truly homeschooled children and families do not receive any kind of financial assistance from taxpayers or any type of tax credits or vouchers. A student of an 'alternative educational program' such as the child in the article I linked to is really a student of the public school who does not have the use of a school teacher but is receiving assistance from the parent to help the child learn the curriculum and materials that the school forces them to use. The material may be creatively presented by the parent in a way that is tailored to their learning style but they are using the same materials, from what I gathered from the article.

If a charter school's performance goes down, if the charter school is criticized for the results being not up to someone’s standards, we homeschoolers don’t want to be lumped in with them! Let's be clear about what is what. Charter school problems should not be mixed up with homeschooling issues (we have enough challenges without taking on their issues). We don’t need or want our actual homeschooled children being grouped into the same category as those children. If charter school succeed then they will take full credit, if they fail, they can take the fall. Let us homeschoolers stay separate and standing separately, on our own.

Advertisements for charter schools sometimes try to sell their services to homeschoolers, not for pay but for ‘free enrollment’ and to get a free computer and free learning materials. Taxpayers are actually paying for that, it is not ‘free’. Ads for charter schools are often seen in homeschooling magazines, trying to lure parents to enroll the student in a charter school with the promise of 'free' computers or 'free' books and curriculum.

Students of charter schools are actually students enrolled in a public school, it is just that certain charter schools have the children remaining in their homes to do the work, and that the administrators are privately employed but funded with taxpayers money.

Homeschooling is a heck of a lot more than where the child sits to do their school work. Actually the funny thing is that homeschooled children learn not only at home but out and in the real world, so it cannot even be said that homeschoolers always just learn at home.

The Media’s Use of Terms
The media often uses the incorrect terms. The media helps form public opinion. Every time the media say something about a charter school and uses the word ‘homeschooling’ to describe what the child is doing influences the reader’s idea of what homeschooling is. They often mention the terms ‘charter school’ and ‘homeschooling’ in the same article, which confuses the readers and leads people to believe that they are one and the same thing.

People uninformed about homeschooling also may assume that all homeschoolers are linked with schools and get their materials from the supervising school administrators, have tight teacher oversight and that the materials are paid for by taxpayers. Even if an article is positive in tone about a charter school which mixed in the term "homeschooling", it is not a good thing, because, if some time in the future, when charter schooling is criticized or when negative press is given to charter schools, the public can unfortunately also think the problem is about homeschooling.

So here is a little rundown of the possibilities for children to be educated in America:
1. Public schools (also called government schools)
2. Alternative education program of a Public School (this is not homeschooling it is really a branch of #1)
3. Magnet schools (still a public school)
4. Charter schools (a public school run by a private company which may or may not have the student working out of their home, this is not a private school)
5. Private Schools (school separate from the government which charges tuition for attendance)
6. Homeschooling

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Friday, March 24, 2006

TV Show Review: Top Chef on Bravo: I’m surprised by the Sexual Content and a Few Comments on Disney’s Buzz Lightyear

Top Chef is a new reality-based cooking themed television show airing on the Bravo channel. The gist is a competition in which chefs make individual dishes and the worst performer (in the judge’s eyes) is eliminated each week.

My children watch some reality-based television shows with my husband and I. My children also enjoy watching cooking instruction shows, mostly from the Food Network channel. I thought this might be a fun show to watch as a family, so I set the TiVo to record it. We have many discussions about behavior and how people treat each other after watching some of what goes on, on reality shows. We don't watch shows whose content is overall more inappropriate than beneficial for children to see.

Last night after everyone else was asleep I was looking at the programs which TiVo recorded which were waiting to be viewed. (I was wide awake from having drunk a cup of coffee while a guest at another homeschoolers house for a playdate that afternoon.) The description of the second Top Chef show contained a phrase stating it was about an erotic food competition. I was confused and surprised to see the word erotic in the description of a food cooking show and I wondered if the show was appropriate for my children to watch. Before we get into watching the series, if a later episode was to contain inappropriate content, I wanted to know about it. (Last week’s show was also recorded and waiting to be viewed.)

The rating system on the television did not indicate anything problematic. The show itself did not have a rating system so as a parent I don’t know if it contains language, sexual content, mature themes, etc. It was categorized as a reality-based show about cooking instruction. Period.

The main part of the show was the competition to custom creates a dessert which was erotic and sensual. The desserts would be served at a cocktail reception at fetish shop which specialized in latex and leather clothing. The main judge of the show was the owner of the fetish shop. She arrived on the scene to help announce the challenge in a tight red latex dress with a corset on the outside, an unusual hair style and dramatic makeup. Her appearance was atypical and I am sure my children would have wondered why she was dressing that way.

The contestants then created their dishes.

The contestants had to attend the cocktail party held inside the fetish shop and serve their food. The scenes depicting that portion of the show had various fetish clothing in the background. The contestants were encouraged to dress either in sexy clothing or in fetish clothing. There were 50 guests who were outfitted in fetish clothes. There were also transvestite men dressed in fetish clothing or in sexy women’s clothing. There were plenty of sexual terms being used and also sexual innuendo. One dessert was a necklace that was put onto one person, that had a cookie pendant hanging down, and the other had to eat if off of the other person’s neck.

We saw each food item being described. I found some of the names of the desserts offensive such as the ‘t’ word that means a woman’s breast. Some of the desserts visually depicted sexy items such as a cake shaped as a woman’s torso with colorful, skimpy lingerie bra and panties. Some foods were meant to illicit sensual or erotic sensations in the mouth or to be aphrodisiacs. Some of the contestants dressed in what they thought was sexy clothing while most dressed ‘normally’ but looked attractive in flattering, typical cocktail party clothing. During the judging there were comments made about what the contestants wore such as who was sexy and who was sexually attractive to the others.

There was also a mention by one of the contestants that she was happy that one of the judges of this show knew her because they had both been featured in a magazine article about ‘queer women chefs’. It seems that homosexuality is everywhere now, which is very different than even ten years ago.

This is definitely not a show I wanted my children to watch. I cannot imagine how I would explain what a fetish is. I think that at ages 5 and 8 they do not have a need to know of such things. There was way too much sexual content in the show for my children to see the show. Since we have more than enough television shows or movies to watch I deleted the TiVo’s season pass, gave the show a “one thumbs down” and nixed it off of our family’s ‘now playing’ list.

I went to bed wondering why and how it is that sex seems to be infiltrating into everything in the media? How and why is it that a cooking show was linked with sexual fetishes and that the dessert had to be erotic in nature?

Maybe I’ll take a few minutes to write the Bravo channel and the show’s producers.

I just saw on their website that a Food & Wine magazine employee is one of the judges and that Food & Wine magazine is being promoted on the Bravo website. I think I’ll let them know what I think, as well. I used to subscribe to that magazine.

The bigger picture here is that this is yet another example of how parents are challenged to figure out if certain television programs are appropriate for children. Some people feel that the present TV rating system is good enough as is to inform parents of the content of a television show, to make an informed choice. However this is an example of a failing of that system. There was nothing to help me as a parent know that this show was not appropriate for my children, I had to watch the whole show before I could determine that this episode would feature so many sexual references not just words spoken, but with images of people and also very obvious things that a child would notice, such as the different looking fetish clothing, men with masculine voices dressed as women, etc. The fact is that not all parents can sit and watch an entire show while they are alone to figure this out before their child sees the show. There is plenty of opportunity for children or teens to watch that show on their own. The parental controls I had set up on my system did not keep this show out, apparently due to the show failing to describe accurately what the content was.

I have been speaking to some friends about the current rating system and we are all in agreement that it is not working. The lines of what qualifies a show or movie for a certain rating are unknown to us as parents. More and more movies are being released with PG ratings, movies which are targeted to children as young as two (Shrek, Shrek 2 and more). I think that the powers that be in the media is blurring the ideas about what is acceptable to expose children to and we parents are in the dark.

I don’t see the point of over-sexualizing our children and teenagers. I continue to be surprised at what is discussed and shown on television, even in cartoons. Last week my children were watching the “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command” cartoon on the Disney channel (the only show they watch on that channel) and I overheard this phrase “let’s go cruising for some hot chicks”. Huh? If you talk a stroll down the toddler and preschool toy aisle at your nearby big name toy store chain you will see that the target market for that show is toddlers and preschoolers. I gave the show a three thumbs down rating on my TiVo and made a new policy that Buzz Lightyear is banned in our home now. It is a shame that the original movie “Toy Story” was such a good story, and it was universally appealing to watch for children and adults alike. However with the spin-off cartoon they have morphed the content to what I had already considered twaddle, but I now realize is twaddle that has undesirable content. One of my goals in raising my two boys is that they grow into men who speak about and treat women in a respectful manner. This does not include exposing my young children to derogatory language which is commonly used by young single men when they are looking to get laid.

I could go on and on but I will stop here.

As I see shows with problematic content I will review them on my blog. My purpose for doing this is to alert my readers of shows that are displaying the ‘trickle down effect’ of sex and crude language, to children. I want to open the discussion about when ‘enough is enough’. It is one thing for adult shows to contain adult material and for consenting adults to choose to watch them, but is it really necessary to take something like a cooking show and infuse it with sex and fetishes? Is it necessary to infuse cartoons for very young children with sexual references? Are the adults who produce these shows so used to sexual content being everywhere that they think it is appropriate for all ages? And is the media really doing enough to alert unknowing parents as to the full content of what is in their shows? I don’t want my children growing up in a vacuum but I refuse to sexualize them before they are developmentally ready for it.

Addendum 3/26/06: If you want another recap of this episode which includes a listing of the dessert names, descriptions of each, and links to photos of them, go to this blog.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Susan Wise Bauer to Speak at Conference This Weekend

I was reading Henry’s post over at Why Homeschool? in which he links to some of Susan Wise Bauer’s sites. I got to thinking about how her conference lecture tapes have been very helpful and inspirational to me. I purchased them used on a homeschool curriculum sale and swap board (at The Well Trained Mind website). Usually the price for new cassette tapes is $10 and used ones can be found for $3 or $4. (If you cannot attend a homeschooling conference for whatever reason, then buying recordings of lectures can be inspirational and helpful, and sometimes, less expensive than attending in person.) I love the fact that I can listen to the tapes over and over. Often I will listen to a lecture 2-3 times a year over a number of years. Each time I hear it, I seem to hear something I didn’t recall from past listenings.

I have never heard Susan Wise Bauer speak in person but would love to. In the past I have been unable to hear her when she spoke at two homeschooling conferences on the East Coast.

I checked to see if Bauer had any upcoming speaking engagements.

I was surprised to see she is speaking tomorrow and Saturday in Freeport, Maine, at a conference at Christian Classical School called “Maine Classical School”.

I got a wild idea to cancel the playdate my children have on Friday, and that I could go up there alone, to hear her speak. I have been to Freeport so many times (as it is on the way to my grandmother's house), that I could drive there with my eyes shut. I would leave my children at home with my husband as they have plans on Saturday that cannot be broken.

I realized that Bauer is speaking four times over the two days. I already own lecture tapes of two of these lectures. I decided the $100 fee for the conference plus the hotel room charge and the gas money was not worth my going. I would be better off locating more of Bauer’s lectures on cassette or CD and then I’d have them to listen to over and over. Another reason is that the conference is NOT a homeschooling conference and I’d not have a great vendor hall to browse. I’d also not have other homeschooling related sessions to attend.

Well it was a fun little fantasy while it lasted.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mom’s Blog Statistics as Homeschooling Geography Lesson

This morning I was excited to see that my blog had its 10,000th visitor.

I decided to see what locations they came from. My free Site Meter service tracks the locations of the last 100 visitors.

I asked my boys to get a magnetic map puzzle of the Unites States of America from the closet. I had them empty the puzzle. I then explained that I’d read off the state name and then they were to find the piece and put it on the puzzle where it belonged.

As I went down the list I called off the state name. I did call off duplicate names and let them find and realize that it was already place on the map.

We had a problem as the first puzzle we used clumped some states together. I asked them to switch to another puzzle/game which didn’t do that.

They had fun doing this little project. Perhaps in these small ways some of the U.S. Geography or state names will sink in. I am embarrassed to confess that although I did memorize all 50 state names in fourth grade I am not confident that I could name them off right now. I also was never forced to memorize the U.S. map and I don’t know where all the states are located, even now. I am slowly memorizing some as I do puzzles and games with my children.

My older son asked if he could mark on our world map, the locations of the countries other than the USA which visited my blog.

Here were the results of the last 100 visitors to my blog earlier today, in alphabetical order:

Countries (6)
United States

States within America (28)
New Jersey
North Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Plus Washington D.C.

I am surprised that not all of the New England states were represented, neither was New York state. Why are my neighbors not reading my blog?

Anyway, this was fun for all of us. My children were most surprised that I had readers from Hawaii (was that you, Palm Tree Pundit?) and Alaska.

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American Idol Prediction: Show Air Date 3/21/06

Okay this week I am going to get back to blogging about my thoughts on the American Idol.

The show is not as fun anymore as it feels very stretched out to me, way too much duplication and just too long. My husband groaned last night when he saw that the show was two hours long. It should not take 2 hours to air 11 performances.

I am also getting bored by the judge’s remarks. It seems to me that rather than give true criticism or constructive criticism they say things like, “America loves you”, etc. I want to hear what the judges think. I know what I think. The judges need not speculate about what we, the public thinks.

Mandisa’s performance last night was my favorite of all of hers to date. I was impressed by her vocals and her performance on stage. She also looked very elegant and nice.

Bucky’s performance, I thought was horrible. I used to like him for his ‘raw’ voice. I found the performance awful and boring. It is time for Bucky to go. I predict that he will leave the show tonight.

I was happy to see Paris do a great performance of “Fever”. I have liked Paris from the beginning. Last night reinforced why I like her.

Chris was great and as of last week I began thinking that he will be the winner of the competition. I still believe this. I agree with the judges when they say he should already have a record out and be a professional singer at this point in time. What I like about him the most is that he has his own style and he does not compromise. I was very impressed when he changed the style of last night’s song to really ‘make it his own’. That took guts. He is a unique person whose charisma comes through during his stage performance. He also appears natural and happy to be performing. He does not come across as a ‘faker’ or a ‘poser’. He seems to be a genuine person who is doing what he loves. I admire him for that. I am happy that he is living out what his heart’s desire is. I don’t always personally like the music he sings but when I can get through the phone lines, I vote for him multiple times!

Katherine was beautiful and sang well last night. I don’t know why but she is just not one of my favorites.

Taylor Hicks remains a favorite of mine and I have discussed why in the past. He is unique and sincere; he is a great stage performer. Last night’s performance, though, disappointed me. I just wasn’t as impressed. That does not mean that he is not a favorite of mine. I hope he makes it through to the end.

appeared peppy and young. I can’t believe she is only 16 and she has such great talent. I don’t think she will become the American Idol this year but I think she is so talented that if she pursues it, she will become a professional singer in some capacity, if not in the recording industry, on Broadway (note that she has already performed in “The Lion King” in the past).

Kevin, what can I say? I just don’t like Kevin, I am sorry. He appears wholesome and sweet. He seems like such a nice young man. However I just don’t like to watch him sing. I don’t think he is loose enough on stage; I don’t think he ‘performs’ on stage well, he appears uncomfortable and he doesn’t dance or move fluidly—he appears stiff. Sometimes he stands still or walks slowly. I don’t enjoy watching him. He tries to give sexy looks but I just can’t feel that way toward him, he appears too young and boyish and as a mother I can’t have an adult attraction feeling toward someone who looks like a preteen (or Caillou). I don’t enjoy hearing him either. I hear the judges say he is a very good singer, I don’t understand that. Nothing about Kevin appeals to me, I am sorry. Some members of my family have voted for him in the past, so don’t be too mad at me, as we are contributing to his continuation on the show. Kevin is the person I most want out of the show this week. However if the judges are correct, America loves him and he is not going anywhere any time soon.

I am not a fan of Elliott’s either. Ho hum, I am sorry; I just didn’t enjoy watching him. I find his performances boring. The judges give Elliott kudos. I do like that he appears to be a genuine and sincere person.

Kellie Pickler has been a favorite of mine from the beginning. I think she performs very well on stage especially for a true amateur and inexperienced singer and inexperienced performer. She has a great figure which I envy! I think she is beautiful. I think the way she dresses is appropriate also. I hope she does well in life in whatever she ends up doing. I had a sad image of her as a ‘one hit wonder’ last night. All I wish for is that if she does make it in the recording industry that she comes out well in life and that she has a long, happy life. She had a rough childhood and I hope that from here on out things are better for her.

I am getting sick of Ace. Ace is no longer getting any votes from me. I don’t know why but as the weeks go on he seems more like a ‘poser’ to me and does not seem genuine. I also sense an air of conceit.

I had a very hard time getting through the voting lines last night. After last week’s strange ‘bottom three’ I decided that in the future I’d vote for every person that I wanted to stay in the competition and that I’d vote perhaps 10 times for my favorite person and perhaps 5 times for my second favorite contestant. However I was unable to do that last night. I only got through to vote once for two of my non-favorite singers. If I had gotten through last night, I would have voted for Chris 10 times and Taylor 5 times, and for Kellie, Lisa, Paris and Mandisa once. In reality I voted for Mandisa once and Lisa once. Perhaps the strategy for next week is to first vote 10 times for the favorite then 5 times for the second favorite then if able, one vote to each of the others who I don’t want to see leave the show.

We will see what happens tonight.

I also want to say there are way too many commercials and I am happy to have TiVo. What I do is delay the time I begin watching the show. We then watch the show using the fast forward button to get through the commercials or through any of the recaps. If we are feeling tortured by a performance we also fast forward through to the end of it, then listen to what the judges have to say.

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Celebrating 10,000th Blog Visitor

On March 21, 2006 at 10:49 pm my blog had its 10,000th visitor. It was an AOL subscriber from Mountain View, California, USA. I don’t know much about this person but I do know that they found me by first visiting the 12th Carnival of Homeschooling over at Phat Mommy’s site then linking through to my blog.

Site Meter captured this information for free. I have the free version of Site Meter and seeing statistics like this is fun.

Anyone can read any site’s Site Meter statistics simply by clicking on the icon.

I should also state that participating in the Carnival of Homeschooling (CoH) has increased my blog’s traffic a lot. Traffic to my blog can be seen peaking after the CoH is announced, tapering down until the next week’s CoH is published at which time an immediate peak occurs again. For information about participation in the CoH see the Why Homeschool? Blog.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The 12th Carnival of Homeschooling Has Been Published

The 12th Carnival of Homeschooling has been published here.

The host is Phat Mommy.

I have a submission in this Carnival.

Once again for your reading pleasure there is a cornucopia of articles and essays! Check it out, here.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Buying Clothes for Kids: My Advice on Timing and Quality

Here is what I have learned about simplifying buying clothing for children.

The climate where I live requires basically two types of clothing: summer and winter. Summer clothes are worn 4-5 months and winter clothes are worn 8-9 months. We also need heavy outerwear for winter snow play. We also need rain gear for outdoor play and for some hikes.

One thing I experienced over and over is that each manufacturer has different size charts. It was very frustrating to me to have my child outgrow a 3T Carters pair of pants but when I bought a 4T Osh Kosh it was already too small (on the first wearing). I prefer that my children get a full wearing cycle out of clothing. I want them to either wear out the clothes or to grow out of them before they wear out (due to the high quality of the clothes). It took me a few years to get the gist of this notion and for me to switch over to buying from one company in an effort to not to have to deal with irregular sizing.

I also have a pet peeve about children wearing clothing that is too small such as long sleeve shirts which are an inch or higher then their wrists. When I see pants which are an inch or more too short, it drives me crazy. I also know what too-tight clothing feels like and it is awful, with the worst being a winter coat which is too small, such that arm movement is restricted or their arms are exposed to the cold winter air. With our cold climate here in New England, I feel children deserve to be warm at all times.

Shoes which are too small can damage feet. I already pontificated on that subject so I won’t address shoes today. I guess the main point I am trying to make is that you can’t usually get away with skipping buying a size of clothing for children, at least in my climate. The only way this could be done is if a child is first made to wear the one-size-too small clothes then is switched to wearing one-size-too large clothes which are so high they swim in them, then keeping them in those until they grow into them and then out of them again (and they are forced to keep wearing them even when they are too small).

I have already blogged about my views on children and shoes, on November 11, 2005, you can read that here.

Fall/Winter clothing is put into retail stores in July and August. By the first week of August usually a full line of fall/winter clothing is available in retail stores. If you purchase clothes in retail stores I advise that you go out in late July or the first week of August. The minute that the ads for “back to school” sales start being advertised in the first or second week of August, it becomes hard to find clothing in all sizes and in coordinating colors. If you shop right around August 1 you will have the pick of the colors, patterns, styles, and sizes. If you shop with your children and they see a shirt with a graphic they like but it is sold out in their size they will be disappointed or if they are young enough, will have a tantrum right in the store. Clothes shopping is frustrating enough without dealing with that. I also advise shopping without kids in tow if that is possible. If you must go as a family, I advise sending Dad off with the kids so that Mom can quickly shop for clothes. I can imagine that this would also be helpful when shopping for girls clothing, especially if modesty is an issue for your family. I don’t know what is in the heads of some of the clothing companies but I see clothing for children aged three and up which is way too sexy and revealing. For the life of me I cannot understand why parents would dress their little girls in clothing which is intended to display their bodies in a sexual way, to draw attention to private body parts, but I digress.

If you shop through mail order catalogs or online you will receive back to school catalogs in July. It may seem strange, but don’t hesitate to order immediately. I have found that if I wait until mid or late August or even September, that some styles are sold out and other are backordered, sometimes until December.

I have also tried buying clothes at discount stores such as the big name retail chain stores, but found that the clothing often shrinks in weird ways. Some shorts shrank in length (riding high in the thigh) while the waist stretched out and became too loose. A bunch of shirts also stretched wide and weird at the neck while the length shortened to expose their belly (before the shirt was outgrown). What is the point of having a clothing item ruined and being forced to replace it in that same size later in the season?

I also find that quality shirts from Land’s End are very comparable in cost. At $8 for a tee shirt and $10 for a mock turtleneck, who can complain? Land’s End also has quality guarantees. I have never had shrinking problems with Land’s End and if I did, I’d return them.

By the time my older son was in 4T clothing I switched over to Land’s End for all of his pants. It is so simple to shop at just one place. When one size is being outgrown I buy the next size up from that same company, that way I know they will fit. No more remembering that The Gap’s clothes are larger than their competitors, or that Osh Kosh seems to run smaller than Carter’s. All of my children’s pants that I buy come from Land’s End.

We used to have a factory outlet store in our area which sold all items for $10 or less. They sold overstocks and factory seconds. When they were in business I could buy Land’s End overstocks, or Abercrombie and Fitch or Mulberribush or Flapdoodles or other well-known brands for $8-$10 per shirt (full retail was up to $25 per shirt). For whatever reason they always had a larger inventory of shirts so I’d buy a lot of shirts from them. Now that they are gone I am using Land’s End almost exclusively for shirts. I say almost because sometimes we buy a souvenir t-shirt. Also my children receive some shirts as gifts. (That is an odd thing, people buy shirts or sweaters for my children but not pants.) For a time when my husband was employed I was indulging my children with shirts with graphics of their favorite subjects, from C.W.D., and those shirts were usually around $22 each. Now we are on a tighter budget so that is no longer what we are doing!

Bathing suits come out in the first week of February. I think this is to satisfy those customers who go on some kind of spring vacation to a warmer climate. I have found out the hard way that if I wait until May or June to buy a bathing suit in a retail store that often they are sold out of the preferred color or even are sold out of my children’s sizes completely. So the lesson is that if you are buying in a retail store, buy in February, or March, or April at the latest. If you shop online or through the mail, order your bathing suit when the first catalog advertising them appears in your mailbox.

Spring and Summer clothing is usually in retail stores by late March or early April. I advise shopping at that time, again, to get your full choice of colors and sizes. Just buy the next size up from what your children are wearing and put it away until they need it.

Sandals are another issue. If you buy those through the mail buy them as soon as the first catalog comes out which sells sandals. If you buy in local retail stores, buy in late February or March.

If you shop in catalogs or on the internet, order the summer clothes when the first large catalog hits your mailbox. If you wait until the hot weather appears, they will be sold out or backordered on some colors and sizes.

Ditto for rain coats, rain pants, and rain boots. You may receive a catalog with these items in the mail in January or February. Order then to have a full range of colors and sizes available. Our family loves Land’s End for their reasonably priced rain outerwear. (Note that I have seen consignment shops try to sell used Land’s End rain boots for equal price or just a couple of dollars less, that is ridiculous. The price is $19.50—they are not highly priced!) Rain pants are worn when my children are playing outdoors in the dirt and in the wet dirt, especially. They love to play in the rain and for that they wear the full outfit. Mud washes off of these rain clothes very quickly, does not stain them, and the kids stay dry. You can’t ask for much more than that. The dirt in my yard is so full of iron that any clothing item it gets on is stained permanently (even a pure white t-shirt which I bleach over and over and even used a special iron removing laundry product on).

I didn’t follow my own advice this year for winter outerwear. I tried to save money and not buy a new pair of snow pants for my older son. However by New Years Day the pants from last year were too small. I tried ordering from L.L. Bean but the only colors they had left were classic red and mulberry (a dark pink or light purple shade). I had to change brands (to Land’s End) but when they arrived I realized they are actually too large for my son due to the differences in sizing between the two manufacturers. Now my son complains the waist is too loose and the pants are too long. Again, the lesson about buying from the same company and buying early applies. I should have followed my own advice. Sigh.

I would buy more from L.L. Bean if their clothing line was larger for boys clothing. They don’t sell enough types of pants, for example, for me to shop exclusively at their store. I need some chinos’, some jeans, and some sweat pants for my children.

I wish someone had given me this advice when my firstborn was a baby, it would have saved me money.

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Blog Game: Four of Things

Blog Game: Four of Things

Four Jobs I have had in the past:
1. Doughnut and Coffee Waitress
2. Seafood Breader and Prepper in a busy restaurant’s kitchen
3. Medical Billing and Collection Manager
4. Corporate Trainer

Four Movies I have watched over and over:
1. The Breakfast Club
2. Phantom of the Opera
3. Star Wars (all the episodes)
4. The Sound of Music

Four Places I have lived:
1. A small town in Connecticut, population 7272 (where I am now).
2. Another small town in Connecticut, population 13233 (last place I lived).
3. A medium sized town in Connecticut, population 28683 (where I was born and raised).
4. There is no fourth place. That is it.

Four TV Shows I watch:
1. Survivor
2. Oprah (interesting episodes)
3. Dr. Phil (interesting episodes)
4. American Idol

Four Places I have been on vacation:
1. Baxter State Park, Maine
2. Alaska
3. The Netherlands
4. Carribbean Islands

Four Websites I visit more than once a week:
1. Google
2. Yahoo Groups!
3. Mapquest

Four Favorite Foods:
1. Ice Cream
2. Chocolate
3. Fettucine Alfredo
4. Frozen drinks (from Frappucino’s to Margarita’s!)

Four Places I'd rather be:
1. In a physically fit body
2. Living in a home with no mortgage
3. At the bank making a large deposit
4. Living in a house on a lakefront in a remote wilderness area (but with running water, flush toilets and electricity)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

How to Answer the Question: How Long does it Take You to Homeschool Each Day?

Today I am writing about something important which involves how other homeschoolers (or potential homeschooling parents) perceive how we do what we do. What these adults think of the homeschooling lifestyle that others lead can boost or deflate their own self-esteem or their feelings about whether or not they ‘measuring up’. The way we answer the question “How long do you spend homeschooling your children each day?” is very important. This is about being truthful, being realistic, about not being prideful, not exaggerating, and about being honest about the amount of time and effort that it takes to homeschool our children.

The other night I was at a homeschool support group meeting. It was my first adult meeting for this academic year (which was not my own group meeting). I arrived a bit late so I missed the introductions. There were two people present who I had never met before. I knew everyone else and I knew them all to be what I will classify as “eclectic” homeschoolers who all ‘do lessons’ with their children at least four times a week. Some like the Classical method. Some have said that they are unstructured both in their daily plans as well as their plans for the school year, and consider themselves bordering on unschooling (yet they do structured lessons daily). One person says she leans toward unschooling but she uses the Sonlight curriculum (but not the scheduling part as outlines in the ‘teacher manual’). Also this was a unique group as three families present had children with special needs and I know that they all do ‘school-ish’ type work but in a way that is suited and adapted to their child’s learning challenges. (And by the way hearing some of their stories makes me realize that I take for granted that my children learn things easily and that the things I worry or complain about are really miniscule. Despite the serious problems going on in our family which are beyond our control, I need to get back to feeling more grateful for our situation, but I digress.)

Anyway we had various conversations including a discussion about how to find balance and how many outside classes/sports/other activities we do on a regular basis. In this we described the running around, the juggling of multiple children to various classes, etc. The consensus was that doing too much can drive us nuts. We also acknowledged that at various ages and stages children sometimes need more socialization and some of the busyness is arranging social time with other families or with larger groups and that sucks up time but is necessary.

Then one of the newcomers asked a question and wanted to verify if basically everyone unschooled and did anyone not do school daily or at least on a regular basis. The question blew me away as I couldn’t figure out how she came to that conclusion based on anything that we had been saying.

We all replied that yes, we do ‘do school’ four if not five days per week (and I admitted that our autumn had been spotty due to various family issues and children’s illnesses). One mother shared that recently her son with special needs has been doing one busy academic week then one week off from academics in which socialization with other children is the main focus. She is finding that the schedule is working best right now (but she fears they won’t meet the end of the year goal).

This then led to the other newcomer asking “how many hours do you do homeschooling lessons per day”. So what I want to say about this is that before you as a homeschooler answer this question I think it is important to define how we define it. Before your read further, stop and think about how you would answer this question. Okay now you can continue reading…

What I realized last night was that some mothers count up the ‘on task’ time and then it comes out very short such as 1.5 or 2.0 or 2.5 hours per day for their elementary or middle school aged children. They are not counting the breaks, the snacks; the other kind of thing that happens that takes up a block of time. One mother said her ‘school time’ is about 2 or 2.5 hours per day but then said it takes up from 8:00am to 1:00pm, which I injected to say was actually 5 hours. She defended her opinion that she wasn’t counting the short breaks, or the longer spurt that the kids went outdoors to blow off steam, etc. I hold fast that she ‘homeschools’ for 5 hours a day. This got me to thinking about how the two of us can come up with two very different perceptions of ‘the time spent’ homeschooling.

My perspective about my own family is that when we ‘do school’ it takes us 3.5 to 4 hours. I do count the breaks and whatever else happens in the middle when I think about how long we spend ‘doing homeschooling’ per day because to me I can’t do other things during that time, so the time is spent ‘doing homeschooling’. I don’t count lunch into our homeschooling time either as usually lunch doesn’t happen in the middle of school time. (I also try to just do it all in a block of time so that the rest of the day is either 'unstructured free time' or is open for the various appointments we may have scheduled for that day.

My children do short lesson times a la the Charlotte Mason method. For example for math my younger son does 20 minutes a day (I set a timer so I know it really is 20 minutes). I don’t care how many pages he does a day or how many lessons that is but he is to do 20 minutes per day. In this way if he is having trouble with understanding a concept we work on it and then after 20 minutes are up he is done, which is good because if a child struggles for a bit then the lesson is mentally taxing and 20 minutes is long enough. If instead, I had said he had to do 4 pages in the math workbook but on a struggling day, that may take him 60 minutes and that is unreasonable for a five year old, in my opinion! Also if I had the goal that every day he’d do 4 pages of math, then I’d always be living with ‘he is behind’ on the days when he doesn’t finish. I don’t think that with homeschooling a child should feel any kind of deadline pressure (at least in elementary school). What I want, at least for these elementary grades is for constant progression and mastery of information. I don’t say “by the end of March I want subtraction with borrowing to be mastered”. I just say “daily we will do 20 minutes of math”. I have not been let down by this system yet and on the subjects that I apply this method to, my children are ‘ahead’ of grade level. I apply the timing of lesson to “The Three R’s”.

Let’s also remember that if a child is “in school” they are not “on task” all day. A school or a teacher does not ever add up ‘on task’ time. They have a period for a subject and included in that is the set up, the explanation of the lesson, the work, and the clean up.

I think a more fair way to answer it would be to say the total amount of time that it takes to do all of homeschooling. That is the taking out of the stuff, the doing of the work, the eating of the snack, the going to the bathroom, and putting the stuff away.

Why do people ask the ‘time’ question?
I think that the reason the person asks "How long does it take?", is because they are thinking about scheduling and how they can fit homeschooling into their life. If a person says they do two hours of schooling a day but that takes five hours of the schedule then to me to say "five hours" as the answer is correct. If we say “two hours” and the person is figuring to be busy with other activities in the other hours of the day they will be shocked to find they can’t get all the homeschooling stuff they wanted to get done in that two hours, or else they do the homeschooling and it takes longer but they can’t do the whatever other thing they were trying to do such as doing errands or activities that take them outside the house or cleaning the house or making meals or exercising or whatever!

I know some people don’t want to say they ‘do homeschooling’ for some long period like five hours as it songs very long and they don’t want to think that homeschooling takes them a long time. Perhaps they think that saying "five hours" would be dishonest? Others may not want to say the total time because they like to think only about the ‘on task’ time such as ‘how much a child can learn about spelling in just 10 minutes’. Sometimes there is also a little comparison going on about school vs. homeschooling, to think, “Well those children are gone from home for 8 hours a day and they are behind my child in the math concepts, how can that be if I do only 20 minutes per day of math and they are in school all day?”. Sometimes I have thought this and I know others do also, that there can sometimes be a little pride thing going on about “Well look at all we accomplish in short amount of time with one on one instruction and that is so superior to the classroom environment”. I think we need to stop doing that. Stop the comparisons and stop the boasting or pride as it is founded partly on a half-truth.

Of course for unschoolers who have no routine at all or do no ‘lessons’ per day or who live with zero structure regarding the academics in their homeschool, they will laugh at my thoughts and will say, “We learn all day long and we can’t separate and define a number of minutes of the day, my children learn every minute that they are awake!” They may also go on to say, “We love learning and cannot separate it from real life and what we learn is so enjoyable and just a part of normal living so how can it be measured and counted?” So if you are of that mindset then you may scoff at my pondering about this entire subject.

However, all homeschoolers should at least ponder this for one very simple reason: by being truthful and realistic in our descriptions of ‘how we homeschool’, especially to others within our own homeschooling community, we can help make all in the community feel more empowered and capable. If we downplay the work involved in homeschooling to another homeschooler, the other may feel that they are inadequate, which may lead to various problems including negative self-esteem and in the worst case, an end to homeschooling for that family just on the basis of the parent’s idea that their family is not measuring up to the other homeschooling families in their own homeschooling community.

In my opinion, it doesn’t do any good to downplay the effort or time that it takes the parent or the children to ‘do homeschooling’ and in fact it can actually do harm.

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