Sunday, August 31, 2008

Double Day Picture Classics Good for Readers with Eye Tracking Problems

I continue to keep my eyes peeled for books that are laid out in a way that make them easier to read for children with eye tracking problems. These books also of course, are fine and well for all children!

I stumbled upon a book at a library fundraiser book sale and bought it. I realize now it is one in a series. Perhaps you can find these at your public library, still in circulation or maybe you can watch for them while shopping at used book shops, thrift stores or at library fundraiser book sales.

The books are classic books which are abridged. They are oversized at 9 x 13 inches. The margins are 1.5 inches at their smallest. The book we own is “Treasure Island” and it has one illustration on every two-page spread, hand drawn, some are in pencil or charcoal pencil in gray tones and others are watercolor painted in full color.

The series is by Doubleday and my book was published in 1960. I am under the impression that these are out of print. This is before ISBNs existed so finding them to purchased used online may be difficult. At the bottom of the front cover it says “A Doubleday Picture Classic”. At 87 pages this is not a skimpily worded picture book for preschoolers. The vocabulary is super dumbed down and the sentence length is pretty long.

Our book is “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson the original story abridged by Johanna Johnston Illustrated by Robert Frankenberg, a Doubleday Picture Classic.

Here are some random quotes to illustrate the vocabulary and sentence length.

“Mechanically, I obeyed and the next moment was face to face with a pirate, cutlass upraised above my head. I leaped in a trice upon one side and, slipping in the sand, rolled headlong down the slope.” (page 48)

“I was hard put to it not to weep, when I heard how everyone had worried about me. Then the doctor himself, fearing I might be tortured by the buccaneers, suddenly whispered to me that I should scramble over the palisade and run for it.” (page 70)

A Note on Classics for Young Children

While I’m on the topic of recommending classics I want to mention the opinion expressed by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise in the book “The Well Trained Mind”. They feel that it is a good idea to expose elementary grade children to a simplified version of classics. In the middle school years the children again should read abridged but more difficult classics of the same stories. Going a bit deeper as age appropriate, revisiting the familiar story. Then in high school years the teen will read the original, unabridged classic. Being familiar in general with the characters and plot they will not be afraid to tackle the sometimes difficult language and will be open-minded to read the story in its original form.

So that is another reason why reading abridged but not completely watered down versions of classic stories in the elementary and middle school grades is a great idea.

The general idea of exposing children to easy information in elementary school and going deeper on the same topic in middle school and then even deeper in high school is a foundational principal of the classical education theory. How to home educate a child in the classical education model is explained in “The Well Trained Mind”. As well some parents of schooled children are using that information to teach their children at home in the after-school hours, they call that ‘after schooling’.

I was able to find this “Treasure Island” book for sale, used, online at Amazon, here:

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

When American Environmental Groups Make Changes in Other Countries

Here is something to think about.

This would make a good discussion with teenagers and older children.

Frankly this left me thinking these environmetnalists at the Nature Conservancy are putting the creatures above the humans. I’m also bothered that an outside nonprofit agency from America is going in to change these people’s religious and spiritual beliefs (by forbidding the offerings made to the Komodo Dragons).

Article Title: When Good Lizards Go Bad: Komodo Dragons Take Violent Turn; Villagers Blame Environmentalists For Reptiles' Mood; Ban on Goat Sacrifice
Published in: The Wall Street Journal
Publication Date: August 25, 2008; Page A1

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Added More Books

In the past few days I have been going through books I purchased at a library fundraiser book sale in July as well as some materials purchaed at a homeschooling convention.

I had started putting my books into an Excel spreadsheet in 2001. It includes books, consumable workbooks, and anything education related such as an educational game or a teaching kit or math manipulative, or an educational DVD or video.

In December 2005 I opened an account on Library That holds only books (not games, not manipulatives etc.). Since joining Library Thing I've been doing dual entry into both systems.

As I let go of books I remove them from the inventories.

Believe me as I look at all these books and the numbers I sometimes ask if this is all a little too much. I think this today because I have now turned over to new thousand's for each.

In any event the Excel spreadsheet is at 8026 and the Library Thing account is at 3074.

Registration is Open for the 2008 Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature

Registration is open for the 2008 Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, held in Westport, Connecticut.

Information about the 2008 Festival

Quote from the website:

The Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature for 2008 will be held on
October 23, 24 and 25, 2008
with authors and illustrators focused on elementary school students.

The theme this year is Bringing Life to Literature,
featuring six creators of ground-breaking picture books for all ages
who will discuss how their lives inform their work.

The Rabbit Hill Festival is named to honor Robert Lawson, the only author/illustrator to win both the Caldecott and Newbery Medals for excellence in children's illustration and literature. He created his work in his Westport home and studio, which was called "Rabbit Hill." Except for the dinner and lunch, the festival is free and open to the public.

2008 Speakers

The Festival Opening speaker (on Thursday night) is H. Nichols B. Clark, Founding Director of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. It is a lecture about the connections between museum art and picture book illustration.

The author/speakers for the Saturday event are:

Steve Jenkins

E.B. Lewis

Grace Lin

Barbara McClintock

David Wiesner

Mo Willems

For more information on each of the author/speakers, read the information on the website.

History of the Festival

Quote from the Westport Public Library’s website:

The festival is named to honor Robert Lawson, the only author/illustrator to win both the Caldecott and Newbery Medals for excellence in children's illustration and literature. He created his work in his Westport home and studio on Weston Road, which was called "Rabbit Hill."

Lawson's evocative characters and meticulous line drawings graced such classic children's books as The Story of Ferdinand, Mr. Popper's Penguins and his Newbery Award-winning Rabbit Hill. The Caldecott Medal was awarded to him for They Were Strong and Good. Lawson died in 1957. His work continues to inspire illustrators, writers and readers throughout the field of children's literature.

Thanks to Mrs. Martin S. Davis, who with her husband lived for a time at Rabbit Hill, the Westport Public Library is able to honor Robert Lawson and his tremendous contribution to children's literature through the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature held in the spring.

Update to the above from me: the scheduling of the Festival was changed to the fall so as to not clash with teacher’s administration of or prep work for the Connecticut Mastery Tests (the standardized tests that Connecticut public schools use).

More history of the Rabbit Hill Festival can be read on the website, including a list of past Festival speakers.

I have been to three Festivals in the past and will also be at the 2008 Festival. I love this event. I find it inspiring to hear the stories about who the authors are, how they came to writing and/or illustrating children’s books and about the actual writing and publishing business. Most of the attendees seem to be public school teachers and librarians. A smaller number of people are children’s book authors, homeschooling-book loving mothers and some book-loving parents of schooled children. People come from all over Connecticut as well as from other states for this event.

The full schedule is online. You can sign up for part of the event or all of it. There is an opening lecture on Thursday night. There are Saturday morning lectures in an auditorium, where all the speakers lecture for about a half hour. Then there are two small lectures given by one author. In your registration you make a list of who you’d like to hear speak; those are filled on a first come/first served basis. All the lectures are for adults only. There is an autograph session on Saturday afternoon, at the end of the day, and children are welcome to attend that part of the event.

Books by all the speakers and Robert Lawson will be sold at the Thursday and Saturday events.

Registration is open now, and it can be done online. If you purchase meals the website links to PayPal to make that payment. I’ll underscore that the Festival is free with the exception of the optional meals. However they do take donations if attendees so desire.

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Homemade Stock Tips for Busy People

I have two tips about making homemade vegetable and meat stocks for busy people based on things that our family does.

Before I share them you may ask why bother making homemade stocks? Well there are numerous reasons. One of these may be more important to you than the other or maybe they all appeal to you. The first is that if you use raw vegetables and cook from scratch, you already have the scraps and left over foods on hand. To be not wasteful and to save money, you can use them to make your own stocks. Second, the flavor of homemade stocks can be superior to store bought stocks. Third, if the sodium levels in store bought canned stocks bother you, you can make lower sodium stocks from scratch at home. If you use organic vegetables and meats, you can have free stock made at home versus paying higher prices for organic prepared stocks in the store (if you can even find them). Making stock from scratch at home only costs you the energy you use to cook it on your stovetop. Making homemade stock is using resources more fully and being less wasteful. Lastly if you like to know where your food comes from and if you want to avoid factory made foods making stocks from scratch will appeal to you.

Making Stocks from Scratch

The first tip I heard on cooking television shows in the early 1990s, I don’t recall if it was one or both of these chefs, one was The Frugal Gourmet (Jeff Smith) and the other was New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme. The tip that one or both gave was that when making stocks you don’t have to use just the choice pieces of vegetables, but you can use all the scraps. At first that idea grossed me out as I used to think that only the choicest parts of a vegetable should be used, but I am over it now. I used to think that those scraps should be thrown away, but I was wrong!

So the first thing is that when you are cooking you can use the onion peels and ends, carrot ends and peels, celery leaves and scraps. You can use other vegetables also if you want those flavors of foods in your stocks (mushrooms, green onions, scallions, garlic, whatever you want). Note: You do not ever use the spoiled parts of foods, and do not use moldy foods!

The second tip I came up with myself and have been doing for years. That is to freeze the scraps in gallon zip top plastic freezer bags and collect them to use for later. For example if I peel carrot sticks and celery to eat raw I will throw the scraps into a bag and freeze it. On another day I take other scraps and add those to the same bag.

When we have a chicken carcass left over from a roast or beef bones, I freeze those also. I don’t always have time to whip up a stock right when we finish eating a roasted chicken.

When I have enough stuff to make a stock, and when I have time, I use the frozen stuff to make a stock.

Now if you are having a big cooking day and are cutting up a lot of fresh vegetables and you have time to make a vegetable stock at the same time, go for it. However if you use fresh produce regularly, such as at each meal or for snack foods, you don’t necessarily have time to be making stocks constantly or you don’t have enough of all the ingredients to make a big batch of stock.

This tip also works well for people whose ovens heat up the kitchen in the summer months, and you want to avoid that excess heat. Just imagine saving your summer produce scraps for a cool autumn or winter day when you have the time and desire to make a big pot of stock or a homemade soup! How great is that?

Making the Vegetable Stock

First I put lots of water in a big pot and add in the frozen vegetables. I add a little salt and fresh ground black pepper. I boil it like crazy until I think most of the flavor is out, that could be two hours. Using a strainer or my chinois, I take the cooked vegetable scraps out. I then have vegetable stock.

(I compost, so I take those cooked vegetable scraps and add them to my compost pile.)

Making a meat-based stock

If I am going to make a meat stock and if I am going to use some of the meat on those bones for a soup base I first do the vegetable stock step. After straining out the vegetable scraps I then add the meat in and cook it to reduce it. When all the meat has fallen off the bones and it seems that it has reduced enough I remove it from the heat. Usually I have that simmering for a few hours on my stovetop. I skim off the scum periodically and discard it. After cooling down a bit in the room, I refrigerate it. A top layer of fat accumulates on it and when it is cold that is easy to remove and discard (that will make for a lower fat and less greasy stock or soup).

The reason I make my meat scraps in two steps (first make the vegetable stock then add meat for meat stock) is twofold. First I take those vegetable scraps and put them in the compost. I do not put meat in the compost. Second sometimes I want to use the meat pieces for the soup. It is easier to get all those vegetable scraps out and to not have to deal with them when sorting through all the stuff for usable pieces of meat for a soup.

When making homemade chicken soup, depending on how much meat was on the carcass, if there is not much I just use my chinois to get rid of all the solids and I am left with a clear meat broth. If I had a lot of meat on that carcass I would use the chinois to separate the solids. I would then hand pick through the solids to get out choice pieces of meat to use. Sometimes that is not worth the time and energy. Other times if you are being very frugal this may be worth the effort. It is something you have to decide for yourself.

I also taste the stock to see if I think it needs salt or pepper or if it seems to have a dominant taste (not enough onion or something). I then make a note of this for when the time comes to use it, so I can balance out the soup’s flavor by adding more onion or whatever it needs.

Sometimes when I have the fresh stock I will choose to make it immediately into a large batch of homemade soup. I would just follow my recipe for the soup adding in choice pieces of the vegetables and meat. I usually made huge batches of homemade soup then freeze them in one or two serving size containers to eat later.

Other times if I want to keep the stock just for stock I divide it into plastic freezable containers in sizes that I usually use (i.e. one pint size) and then I freeze the stock.

Everything that I freeze is labeled and dated. I don’t always have freezer tape so sometimes I use masking tape instead, a permanent marker and note the contents and the date.

I have an upright freezer. I store all the stocks and soups on one shelf. The freezer is organized by category so that I don’t end up having to sort through chunks of frozen meat to find marinara sauce or a chicken stock or a soup. It just makes it easier to know that one shelf is all pasta sauces, one shelf is stocks and soups, one shelf has raw meats, one shelf has breads, one shelf is frozen vegetables and fruits, so on and so forth.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Links to Inspirational and Funny Homeschooling Video

This is a great son: "I Will Survive (the First Year of Homeschooling)"

Set to tune of “I Will Survive”, which was originally written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris. Original song was performed by Gloria Gaynor. Words altered “with apologies” by homeschooling mother and blogger Natalie Criss. Video has been created by Julie Melendez featuring photos from CHEER homeschooling mothers “and survivors”.

Blog post of Natalie Cross with her revised song lyrics can be read here.

Video can be watched on YouTube at this link or by watching it below.

When I first read the words online last week, I loved it and it made me laugh.

When I saw this video I smiled, especially when I see all the happy mothers and happy kids!

I love it!!

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Carnival of Education Issue 186 is Up

The Carnival of Education #186 was published by Sharp Brains. This contains blog posts about education in general, teaching, schools and a few about homeschooling.

Check it out.

Younger Son Loves Code Breakers A

I was sorting through things purchased at the spring 2008 homeschooling conference that I attended. I found a book in the stack that I had totally forgotten about. I found the workbook at the Rainbow Resource Center booth. It is called “Code Breakers A”. I had never heard of it before. I recall scanning the book and thinking that it was a fun way to do math using logical thinking. The book is for grades 3-6. I cannot recall which child I had in mind when I bought it, one, the other or both.

"Code Breakers A" is a consumable workbook. With effort a person could try to use the book without writing in it. The full retail is $12.95. Rainbow Resource Center discounts it down to $10.25 (when I bought it). The book uses three colors of circles and uses math and they have to figure out what number goes inside each colored bubble. There are three sets of problems that use three colors mixed in with three problems. So it might say for the whole thing:

Red + blue = 5

Green + red = 8

Green + blue = 7

I was doing homeschooling planning and pondering when I found the book. I took a look at it and thought perhaps I should show it to my younger son and see what he thinks. And so I dropped what I was doing and called him over to the kitchen table. I explained it to him and I was surprised to see how quickly he took to it. He could do the problems instantly using mental math and logical thinking. He really enjoyed it.

I was just looking at the book again and see on the cover they show to use a pencil and make it into an algebraic formula using x and y. My son (age 8) is doing all the work mentally, silently thinking to himself.

When the problems moved up to a harder level I explained the logical way to reframe the problem to be able to come up with an answer, he took to it immediately. Basically it is easy algebra.

My younger son loves the book. I’m going to get another copy of this same book for my older son. I also just ordered the level B of this book which the publisher says is for grades 4-7.

Amazon sells these for full retail but with free shipping in their super saver program or with Amazon Prime.

One of my goals this year is to mix up math a bit by adding in more of these types of fun activities rather than just focusing on our regular math curriculum.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 139 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 139 was published yesterday at Life Nurturing Education.

I have an entry in this blog carnival.

This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading.

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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Book Delivered & Kids Fight Over It

Tony DiTerlizzi, the co-author of the Spiderwick Chronicles books has published a new children’s book in the juvenile fiction (age 9-12) fantasy genre. I ordered a review copy of the book, “Kenny & the Dragon” through the Amazon Vine reviewer program.

When it came I made an announcement:

"One of the co-authors of The Spiderwick Chronicles" has written another book with a dragon in it and got it from the Amazon Vine and our copy is right here!"

My kids (age 8 and 11) immediately fought over who got to read it first.

Since my older son is three-quarters done with "Eldest" by Christopher Paolini, I asked that he focus on finishing that and let his younger brother read “Kenny & the Dragon” first.

Although I hate disagreements I am thrilled that the source of this squabble was who gets to read a new book first.

I had hoped my children would come to love reading and books. It looks like my dream has come true!

One more note: Since I had mentioned previously inmy blog post "Transition Books for Children with Eye Tracking Problems" that the page layout of The Spiderwick Chronics was great for children who are having eye tracking problems I wanted to comment on this book. This book is hardcover and is a bit larger in size than the Spiderwick books. The font is not large but there are wide margins (an inch on the sides and over 1.5 inches at the bottom). There is a black line illustration on averaging about every two or three pages to break up the text. DiTerlizzi is also the illustrator. At 152 pages the book’s size is not intimidating by any means. This puts it into a category, in my opinion, as being a good book for readers who are struggling with eye tracking problems as they try to transition into reading books with smaller font, no illustrations and with less white space on the page.

Older son, age 11 is currently reading Eldest by Christopher Paolini.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Learn the Parts of Speech

If someone can tell me or point me to an explanation of why children need to learn the parts of speech I’d appreciate it.

I’m having one of those moments when I’m wondering when learning English and when hoping to teach my children to be good communicators with the written word (in English) what part does knowing the parts of speech play? I’m suspecting it plays no part. Well one part could be to provide a structure for a teacher to discuss writing with the students. For example when correcting a grammatical error the teacher could say “you used too many adjectives”.

I want my children to speak well, but knowing parts of speech I don’t think has contributed to that skill either.

About half way through this upcoming year I am going to need a new curriculum for my sixth grader for English grammar. Right now I am researching the options. I want something that teaches sentence diagramming so we can continue where we left off with the last curriculum. Too bad this curriculum does not go to the next grade level.

A homeschooling mom I know told me she hadn’t planned to teach English grammar, except perhaps as a fast study in about fourth grade because she didn’t think it was useful. She began teaching her child Latin using a homeschooling curriculum. The mother did not know Latin. The mom said that knowing grammar was key in the ability to learn Latin. She then felt grammar was useful and began teaching it to her child.

Back a number of years ago I had the image of my children learning Latin, how it would help them on their SATs and would be useful in their lives. I know that my knowing some Latin which I learned in a medical terminology course has helped me in my private life when dealing with medical stuff, such as hearing a new diagnosis.

Confession: we have never gotten around to starting Latin. Yes, I researched the Latin homeschooling curriculums. Yes, I bought one. We have been too busy to begin using it. I have had no motivation to spend a long time figuring out how to use it. Since I don’t know Latin I am intimidated at the idea of teaching it. There, I admitted it. Note that as yet another imperfection of mine (some people I know have remarked that I only blog ‘the positive’ and some suspect I think I’m perfect and that being perfect qualifies me as a person worthy of sharing my thoughts on a blog).

When I went to public school in the progressive fad years (the 1970s), somehow I escaped a couple of trends. One was that I was taught to read with phonics from first through third grade (I have my completed worksheets to prove it). Second in Language Arts we learned English grammar including sentence diagramming. I recall still learning English Grammar in sixth grade but my memory does not recall if it went beyond sixth grade. I remember enjoying sentence diagramming; it was fun to pick apart a sentence and to organize the parts by following a set outline. I have no clue what parts of the content I learned helped my general knowledge base to contribute to the writing abilities I have today. Could it be that learning a lot of English grammar helped build a foundation which I later built upon?

A friend in my town tells me they are not learning parts of speech in the public schools here. Despite my town getting high Connecticut Mastery Test scores (the standardized test used in Connecticut public schools) and despite my town’s schools ranking very high in the ranking of schools across the state, not much English grammar is taught.

A friend who started homeschooling last year whose children both tested very high on the CMTs and got excellent grades found out when they began homeschooling that the kids were never taught English grammar. (The kids were in sixth and fourth grade.) Both parents were shaken as they had been told for years, and believed what the schools said about their education program being top notch.

Honestly in my own writing, I suspect that knowing the names of the parts of speech is not helping me write. Further evidence is the fact that I have forgotten the names of the more difficult parts of speech. As I homeschool my children using a Language Arts curriculum I am re-learning long-forgotten parts of speech. Sentence diagramming, while fun to have done in public school, leaves me wondering what the purpose was. I also have forgotten how to diagram sentences and the homeschooling curriculum is re-teaching me as I teach my own children.,

This is on my mind as I am making homeschooling plans for this upcoming year. I am including these topics in our family’s scope and sequence but I’m asking myself why I am bothering. I thought this information was somewhere in the book ‘The Well Trained Mind’ but so far I can’t find where it is buried (the book is so comrphensive that sometimes information that I know is in there eludes me). If you can clue me in please do, I’d really appreciate it.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Curious About Math Books by Theoni Pappas

When I saw this book “Math Talk” at the booth of Bright Ideas Press at the spring 2008 homeschooling convention (MassHope), I knew I had to buy it.

I chose to buy it from them for full price out of gratitude for exposing me to this book’s existence. I didn’t know if it was discounted on Amazon and I was tempted to go home and order it online for a discount. However come to find out, Amazon does not discount it. The full retail is $8.95 and that is the same price that Amazon sells it for today.

Anyhow my point is that I want to share this unique book that is poetry about math. Who ever thought the two would meet?

The title is “Math Talk: Mathematical Ideas in Poems for Two Voices” by Theoni Pappas.

If such things interest you, check it out. This is the type of rare thing that usually one does not find in public libraries. However Amazon is here as our convenient source of the sometimes hard to find items. So go for it if this sound too tempting to pass up.

I thank you in advance if you purchase this through my blog, as I will earn a small commission.


I see that this author has written some other books about math, books which attempt to show children that math has applications outside of doing math operations with pencil and paper. Now I’m curious about those books too.

It is not helpful when Amazon has no real information about the book and when no customer reviews exist. If you know anything about these titles how about leaving a comment on my blog to share your thoughts? You might also consider writing a customer review on Amazon!

Some other titles by Theoni Pappas that I’m curious about are listed below. Since all are under $9 on Amazon it is not like purchasing them will break the bank, but I’d just like to know a bit more about them before I start buying them all.

Math for Kids and Other People Too! (no information on Amazon, no Amazon reviews)

The Joy of Mathematics (this book has very mixed customer reviews on Amazon)

More Joy of Mathematics

Fractals, Googles, and Other Mathematical Tales (one reviewer says is good for all students up to and including high school)

The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat (story for elementary grade children)

Further Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat (story for elementary grade chidren)

Perhaps I should navigate over to to see if Julie Brennan has anything to say about these books before I make any buying decisions.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Still Doing Homeschool Plans

I am still working on the homeschooling plans.

I am not emulating 100% the schedule in "The Well Trained Mind" for my older son which I was freaking out over in my blog post: 40 Hours!. For one thing the curriculums that I use don't take as long as some that they recommend, to have the same learning objectives achieved. For another thing, they are not touching upon everything that I want to cover. For another thing, my son needs more work on writing composition basics than the way they handle it.

Despite having finished "Marva Collins' Way" and feeling very energized to have high standards for my kids, I just don't feel I should drop some of my ideas and plans to just conform to do what is laid out in "The Well Trained Mind".

I then turned to read sections of "Home Learning Year by Year" by Rebecca Rupp. This has been a useful exercise. I do like this book and think it is helpful for me and many homeschooling families. It was interesting to see what that book lays out versus "The Well Trained Mind". If my memory is correct, the recommendations in "Home Learning..." are more in alignment with what is taught in American public schools. The things they recommend to do are much more do-able. Then I have a voice in the back of my head saying, "But you have different ideas and some loftier goals than are done in public schools".

For one thing in case you want to know what is so different, I have my boys in an experiential nature/science class for 156 hours per school year. The program is great. It is good exercise, being outdoors is good for them physically and mentally, and they get six straight hours a week of social time with friends of mixed ages and both genders. It would be simple and nice to just say, "Well, The Well Trained Mind lays out 108 hours of science for a sixth grader and my son is doing 156 hours in that class so we are done". However the fact is that the class is not all academics and they are not doing all topics, there is no chemistry, there is no physics. There are other science topics that are just not covered in that class. So our dedicating one full weekday to that program takes time from our schedule and it also leaves me wanting to add more science content study time to our home based lessons the other days of the week.

I have also been looking at some new programs that I bought and figuring out how the curriculum creator intended the program to be used. I found that some are truly just a supplemental tool; they are not a full course in and of themselves. For example it is my opinion that the much-praised "Editor in Chief" program is a supplement, because it does not teach English grammar directly or sequentially. In fact in order to use the level that I own, intended for grades 4-6, the student must already have a strong foundation in grammar. If they don't they may be unable to do the exercises, get frustrated at their own ignorance, get discouraged and may cop a bad attitude. In that program the students read poorly written passages and the child plays the editor and has to find the mistakes in grammar. Some include spelling errors for things such as using the wrong tense. If a child has their grammar rules down pretty well this could be fun. If the child is rusty or has gaps in their knowledge, or is a bad speller, this could be frustrating.

Last night I was feeling a bit annoyed at this whole process. I sat down before I went to bed with a new spiral notebook and a pen. I started brainstorming what I think would be good to learn and what topics should be addressed. I tried to clear my mind of everything that I knew that this expert or that expert said SHOULD be done. I took into consideration some topics that were gaps from the past that I think need to be covered now before it is too late (before the kids are too old for those materials or books). I put down some things that would be fun. I put down some things that have high interest for my children right at this moment. I thought about time constraints and ideal times.

For example I figured if we do thirty minutes of reading poetry every week that would be good.

I figured if we study one composer every two weeks it would be good enough. We would not have to have overkill. We'll read biographies of that composer, picture book editions we own or that are at the library. If an Opal Wheeler book exists, we'll read that. We will casually listen to that composer's music in those two weeks.

I think I can have my older son do one writing composition per week based on history readings he is already doing that week, instead of having some new made up assignment just to get the writing composition work in as a separate subject.

For my younger son I am going to start doing writing composition in a serious manner but more stretched out. I will do that lightly in third grade, rather than punt it off to a later grade like I did with my older son (when I was doing the Charlotte Mason method more purely).

Today I hope to finalize my general plans.

I will be sitting with piles of books all around me and looking at what I own. If I see stuff that is useless to me I am getting rid of it. I will figure out if I am missing something really important that we really, really need to own.

Lastly, I will be placing an order with Rainbow Resource Center later today for the last things we need.

Along this process I'm finding out all kinds of things that make things more confusing. For one thing I goofed up due to lack of adequate research and mistakenly bought some Singapore Math that was the Singapore version not the United States version, when I had wanted the U.S. version. I now know which of their tricky titles indicate the US version versus the Singapore version. I found out another curriculum I wanted has been rewritten and instead of being sold in a set of two is now one larger book. Great. I own just one half of the set. So I either can use half of it, what I have, and buy the bigger, more expensive book later (half of which I won't need) or I can bite the bullet and buy the newer, larger book now.

I don't have a schedule all laid out. If I do that it will be done tomorrow or at some future date.

For right now I am still in the phase of making decisions to stop using X curriculum, to switch to Y, and how I can start using Z that I already own but had never gotten around to actually using. In some subjects we need to finish up half-done programs and what we’ll use when those are done, half-way through our year, will have to be decided on at a later time.

Wish me luck.

One more thing: a confession. This is not all fun and games for me. Actually I’m feeling a bit frustrated. At times like this I ask myself why I am not just buying a big school in a box curriculum like Calvert so I don’t have to do any of this. I keep asking myself why am I putting myself through this? Even when buying curriculums that are laid out, just figuring out each for every subject is still time consuming.

Books and Companies Referenced in this Post

Calvert homeschool curriculum

Here are some of the Opal Wheeler books in reprint. They were originally published in the 1940s in hardcover, the reprints are in softcover. I own some old copies I found at used bookstores and library sales before some went into reprint. These books, CDROMs with teaching aids on them and study guides can be purchased from the homeschool supply company The Book Peddler - Zeezok Publishing (a vendor that I buy from).

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Article on Government Monitoring of Homeschoolers

Here is an opinionated and blunt article about why a few child abuse cases with homeschooling families does not necessarily mean more government oversight of all homeschoolers is necessary.

This is exactly the same type of discussion that happens frequently on online homeschool discussion groups. So this content is not new to my ears.

I thought I’d pass it along in case you want to read it.

Article Title: Homeschoolers say, enough already
By: Patrice Lewis
Published by: WorldNet Daily
Date: August 23, 2008

Hat Tip: Google News Alert keyword ”homeschooling”

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Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books August 23, 2008 Edition

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books August 23, 2008 edition has been published at Semicolon. Take a look at what bloggers are saying about the books they are reading. Consider posting a review too.

Marva Collins’ Way Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Marva Collins’ Way: One of America’s most effective educators demonstrates how parents and teacher can make any child an achiever
Authors: Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin
Format: Softcover book
Full retail price: $12.95

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Summary Statement: Inspiring Story of a Teaching Using the Classical Eduation Model

How I came to read this book: Two years ago a local classical method homeschool support group leader recommended the writings of Marva Collins to me to provide encouragement for having high standards in educational content for children, even young children. I was going through a time when I was being pressured by some homeschooling parents who feel that education should be dumbed down and that little should be expected of elementary grade children. Later another classical homeschooling mother/ blogger whose writing and opinion I respect credited Marva Collins’ books as providing inspiration for her educational model for the very same reason. I decided to obtain a copy of Collins’ books and I read her first book this month (finally).

Originally published in 1982 (revised and re-published in 1990), this book tells the story of who Marva Collins is, starting with her childhood and what contributed to her becoming the person she is. The book explains her start as a public school teacher and dealing with the negative politics of schools, then about how and why she opened her own private school where she was freer to use her own teaching methods including the ability to have full control over the curriculums and books she wanted to use.

While working in the Chicago public school system she held her students to a higher standard and taught more difficult material than the school felt was necessary. She felt that children would rise to the level of the teacher’s expectations. In times of civil unrest regarding black and white relations, she felt that children from the “ghetto” are indeed teachable. Even the students who have been labeled as having numerous disorders (by school staff) or who are said to have been unteachable, indeed are teachable.

This book tells the story of what Marva Collins believed, the general philosophy is clearly explained. Why she feels a return to the classical education method is a good idea, including why rote memorization of math facts and some other information is explained. She believes a liberal arts education is right for all children of all races and income levels. Her anti-progressive education stance is explained. What specific content she taught and why is there. A good amount of information is given about why she believes that intensive phonics education is necessary and good for all children (and avoiding the look-say / sight reading method). How she taught Shakespeare to young children and her use of the classics and other, more difficult older books is covered. (This is not a curriculum guide for school teachers or homeschoolers to read and copy her method.)

What is not stated that was clear to me is that Collins is a truly brilliant person who used her own knowledge to make many connections within the classroom. Her teaching methods do not rely only on use of certain curriculums but rather depend on the teacher having certain knowledge from their own education and then using that in classroom discussions to make connections between the books and facts that the children were using and what they were learning. In order to teach in the exact way that she does, the teacher must have a foundation of education present, specifically a good liberal arts education herself. Collins realized this was an issue when she first began hiring teachers to work in her private school.

Collins also criticizes many teachers who she feels are uneducated and blames them for not only setting low standards and looking for easy ways to teach but for not being able to have the type of discussions that she has with her students. Collins comes out being quite harsh on public school teachers. Collins’ blames teachers for being a main cause of the breakdown of public education. She thinks that some are products of inferior educations themselves, leaving them ignorant and uneducated without a strong foundation from which to teach from. She feels there are teachers who don’t know how to teach, who are then subject to various educational fads that clearly are not working (i.e. the look-say method of teaching reading). She also condemns teachers who have low standards about children’s abilities as being the issue, feeling children will rise to the level of their expectations.

This is the first book written about Marva Collins. It is a good read to get the beginning of the story and the general background of her theory. She has a second book if you are left wanting more “Ordinary Children, Extraordinary Teachers” is the title.

“Marva Collins’ Way” would be of interest to educators who like to read success stories of teachers who do things differently, those who want to or like to buck the status quo or try to stand up to ‘the education machine’ to do what they think is right and best for their students.

Teachers and others interested in charter schools or private schools who have different standards for their students would also like this book.

Anyone interested in the topic of the history of American education or education reform would enjoy this as well.

This will appeal to anyone concerned with the education of inner city, low income level minority children and their experience in public schooling.

Lastly homeschooling parents may learn a thing or two about standards in education and expecting more from students.

At the very least the book is a good read that is inspiring. At its best it may influence you, in whatever role you have with children or education, to raise the standards and to stand up to a failing system in whatever way is applicable in your life.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

40 Hours!

In the last two days I have been working on homeschool planning. My hope was to nail down how we’d homeschool each subject, with what book or curriculum, and set learning objectives and goals for each child. I’m not a big schedule writer-outer but in a corner of my mind I imagined maybe I’d come out at the end of this with such a thing of beauty having been created.

To start off I was thinking of what I know we did last year. I know what programs I liked and didn’t like using from last year. I plan to finish up some of the half-done or nearly-done curriculums. Next up was to write out the goals and materials.

I then assessed gaps and filled in those blanks. For example I remembered a logic workbook that I though would be great and did buy (two years ago) but still have never used. I began filling in that type of stuff.

Due to having to deal with deadlines, in the last few months I have already been signing my children up for some outside classes and programs. I have been saying no to many of the opportunities, even the last minute ones that have been rolling in, no matter how tempting it is, no matter how great they sound. That takes real effort and discipline for me to do. I am pretty confident that we are not doing too much.

Last night I was feeling a bit confused. So I pulled “The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home” (original edition, not the revised edition) off the shelf and wanted to peek at their sample schedule for sixth graders (the grade my older son will be in). At first glance the schedule looked intimidating. As I read it I began thinking, “This seems like a lot to me”. I made my own list with estimates, such as filling in the estimation of how long would be spent on the ‘write a history composition once a week’ and other things with no time attached to them. I then had to get the calculator out to add up all the times and it came out to 40.5 hours.

Forty hours?!?!

Forty hours of direct learning time. To be very clear, that does not include using the bathroom, taking a break, time off to eat lunch and other necessary things. That does not include any time for physical exercise either (i.e. taking time in the day to work out at home or time to commit to participation in a community sport).

I noted also that there was no reading of literature; there was just reading science, reading history and ‘free reading’. There was no reading of poetry. There was no reading comprehension, whether that be with a workbook or even through discussion with Mom.

Other things would take more time. For example they allotted 10-15 minutes a day for teaching religion at home. However if a family does that and also does one hour of religious education outside the home would add one more hour to their schedule.

I have one day being used for an experiential science/nature class (a six hour long class plus commute time).

I have a homeschool Bible class at the same time as an adult Bible study for me in the morning on one weekday. I let my friend talk me into this and I’m already regretting it. To be honest it will be hard to get any homeschooling work done before we leave and by the time we get home it will be time for lunch then it is off to the homeschool park day or airsoft day. We are going to alternate airsoft club with park day to try to satisfy each of my children, as the older wants airsoft every week and the younger son wants park day every week. I can’t be in two places at one time. I refuse to take away those things as they are both times to run around as well as social time with friends who are otherwise too busy with academics to make a playdate with us. So, I imagine that no lessons will get done that day, unless I want to start a new after dinner homeschool lesson time. Never in my wildest homeschool planning dreams was that EVER an idea that seemed appealing.

Nothing in that schedule for “The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home" contained the numerous “extras” that so many homeschoolers do. That did not include participation in any kind of Bee, or any kind of co-op, and no FIRST LEGO League. There was no time set aside for the many outside classes and events that homeschooled children can and do regularly participate in. Well sometimes something might cross over such as instead of doing one hour of art instruction per week at home it could be done outside the home. Yet squeezing in 40 hours of instruction and adding in commute time to the outside things is racking up the challenge if you ask me.

Anyhow my point is that with me trying to do homeschooling three days a week I would have to do 13.5 hours of teaching each day and again remember there are no breaks, no eating meals or anything in there. That is pure insanity and outright impossible.

We also have our younger son in Cub Scouts and our older son in Boy Scouts. Both kids want to do those activities and my husband and I want both to do them. However those are two evenings and sometimes weekends filled with more events. My husband and I also volunteer with Scouts. The volunteering actually makes us be diligent about attending, so we are not a slacker Scout family, doing it half way. I do need to say though that after being around some other parents we are absolutely not uber Scout parents and families either. We don’t live for Scouts believe me. We only volunteer to help our kids have a good program for themselves; we are not in this for our own selves, for power or to relive our childhoods or anything like that.

Another issue with that schedule is that it assumes all past taught things were mastered. For example to do the weekly essay on one topic and the weekly composition on the other topic the child will have to have mastered writing composition. For those children who need some more work on those areas, they will have to add more time to the schedule. A family will have to tweak or even add in more instructional time to satisfy that type of situation.

To say I’m a bit overwhelmed by the recommendations in “The Well Trained Mind” right now is an understatement. I’m just feeling that if one were to pull off such a schedule it would require five days of home lessons (I’d pick Monday-Friday) and it would not allow for any outside activities Monday-Friday. Of course another option would be to add lessons to Saturday and Sunday but that seems insane to me. Weekends for us are filled with worship and religious education, Scouting activities like a weekend campout once a month, celebrating family birthdays and other events, not to mention plain old relaxation time with our immediate and extended family.

My psyched up high standards and high expectation notions of homeschooling are beginning to wane and I’m starting to feel like an excuse-making slacker.

Perhaps it just would have been better for me to make my own schedule and do what I think is right and best for our family instead of turning to ‘the experts’ for advice. I’m a pretty confident homeschooling mom normally but at this moment I feel intimidated and inferior not to mention a bit nervous and worried.

Post Script: I now wonder what changes were made in the revised edition of “The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home”. I might have to bite the bullet and buy the new edition to find out. I’m not sure if the Mrs. Wise and Mrs. Bauer have lightened the load or not.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 138 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 138 was published yesterday by Janice Campbell.

There are a lot of entries in this blog carnival. It provides a lot of homeschool-related reading (and its free, too).

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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Story of the World Audio Books Narrated by Jim Weiss

A friend called to ask me what I thought of the two Story of the World audio books, narrated by Jim Weiss that she knows that I own.

I know she has already read the books and likes them. So my response was, well you like the books, this is the same content and read by the wonderful Jim Weiss! Since she is already well acquainted with Jim Weiss’s excellent storytelling recordings, I know she likes his voice.

So without reviewing the books themselves, what can be said about these recordings other than they are typical excellent quality reads by Jim Weiss?

In our family I read aloud the Story of the World books to my children. Also now that my older son is capable, he is reading them to himself. We have listened to these over again while in the car, like an entertaining review of content. My kids have also listened to them while playing with LEGOs (while I was in another room).

The confusing thing for potential customers is that some of the Story of the World books were first read by another person and they are, let’s just say, not that great. So volumes one and two of the books were revised, and the revised versions were re-recorded by by Jim Weiss. The older versions are going out of print and only the Jim Weiss versions of volumes one and two are being sold, new, now. So when shopping for Story of the World audio books, if you want Jim Weiss readings, make sure you are ordering the correct ones. Note that today the older versions are being sold by third-party sellers on Amazon, so buyer beware.

Volumes three and four were only read by Jim Weiss so those are less confusing to shop for.

Additioanly while shopping on Amazon today I noted that one listing has an incorrect image of the product. Another of these as of today, does not state in the authors area, that Jim Weiss is the reader. I submitted a couple of requests for Amazon to update their catalog, we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime if you are planning out your homeschooling year and are in the market to buy Story of the World audio books, which are excellent to go along with the paper books, check out Amazon as they have the lowest price I can find and they do have all four volumes read by Jim Weiss in stock as of today.

Here are the ISBNs to help you find the Jim Weiss listings and also direct links to Amazon if you want to buy them now. If you buy these through my blog I thank you in advance for the commission I will earn from your purchase.

Here are the ISBNs for Jim Weiss read versions of Story of the World.

Story of the World Volume 1, revised, audio book, authored by Susan Wise Bauer, read by Jim Weiss (orange colored cover)

ISBN 13: 978-1933339047

Story of the World Volume 2, revised, audio book, authored by Susan Wise Bauer, read by Jim Weiss (blue colored cover). Note this one today has the book image on the product which is very confusing to me.

ISBN 13: 978-1933339122

Story of the World Volume 3, audio book, authored by Susan Wise Bauer, read by Jim Weiss (green colored cover)

ISBN 13: 978-1933339177

Story of the World Volume 4, audio book, authored by Susan Wise Bauer, read by Jim Weiss. (burgundy colored cover). Note today this one does not state in the author information, that Jim Weiss is the reader but the cover image of the product clearly shows it and the product description does say it is the audio book.

ISBN-13: 978-1933339030

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Real vs. Processed Foods, a Story

This is an actual conversation that took place with an eleven year old, a friend of my older son’s who was eating breakfast at our house after a sleepover. The boy is a picky eater, doesn’t eat cold cereal and has even declined toast in the past. I know he eats frozen waffles but we don’t eat frozen waffles at our house and I was not about to whip up a batch of waffles from scratch on this day. Homemade French toast is much easier.

Me: “Do you like French toast?

Him: “French Toast?? Do you mean French Toast Sticks?”

Me: “No I mean real French Toast. Regular French Toast, you know.”

Him: “French Toast? What is that? I’ve only had French Toast Sticks and I like those.”

Me: “Well if you like those you’ll love these.”

Older Son: “It is really good I am sure you’ll love them.”

I made the French Toast from scratch, keeping it warm in the oven so that we could all eat together. I heated up the Pure Maple Syrup (made by a family we know in Maine.

I decided to put the syrup on for them as the last time my kids did it themselves, they used way too much, both eating too much (one tried to drink it off of his plate) and the rest was just wasted, with left over syrup going down the kitchen sink's drain.

Me: (to the guest) “Do you want maple syrup on yours?”

“I don’t really like maple syrup.”

Me: (shocked) “You don’t LIKE maple syrup?”

Him: “Yeah I don’t really like it.”

(A thought dawns) “Have you ever tried REAL maple syrup? Because most people eat imitation maple syrup and it is gross and I hate it.”

Him: “Do you mean the kind of maple syrup they serve at diners?”

Me: “No, what they serve at diners is imitation. Fake. Chemical flavored maple syrup. This is REAL maple syrup. Here, taste this, just try it. I bet you will love it.”

Older Son: “Real maple syrup is really good.”

(Tastes it.) “This is okay.”

The boy later used the knife and fork to cut the French Toast into strips then ate it with his hands. He refused to pour maple syrup onto it or to dip into it. He also cut the crusts off and would not eat them. When I saw him eating that way I said gently, "When you eat normal French Toast you cut it into bite-sized pieces and use a fork to eat it with, just so you know."

It is odd to see American cultural norms changed by the processed food industry and the Fast Food Industry. To that boy the food is French Toast Strips to be eaten with one’s hands. The real, base breakfast food was not even known to him. The fact that he didn’t know that the original pure maple syrup exists and that the imitation syrup he’d been eating and had decided he disliked says something else.

I take this as evidence of yet another little decline in the quality of life in America. It is, I guess, a small shift compared to much larger issues in life but this is definitely saying something about the way America eats and lives. I’m saddened by this, although you may think I’m over-thinking this.

Note about how our family eats:

We don’t eat French Toast regularly as frankly it is not too healthy. However when we do eat it, it is not hard to make from scratch. Other than the bread, if the bread is not homemade, the other ingredients are whole foods, free of dyes, preservatives, corn syrups and other chemicals. We put real butter on our French Toast. While it does contain fat and cholesterol at least it has no chemicals, no trans fats and no soy. (We are avoiding soy in our home, trying to at least, see this post for some reasons why.)

We buy our pure maple syrup from a family in northern Maine, when we’re up there visiting our family. A family that my family has known for generations makes it and sells it from their farm. (We buy their honey also.) There is nothing like pure maple syrup. Again we do not eat maple syrup frequently but when we use it, at least this is a whole food, organic, produced right here in America. There are no dyes, no preservatives, no chemicals and no corn syrup in pure maple syrup.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

4:50 a.m.

I was in a deep sleep in the middle of a pleasant dream. Then I heard the sound of footsteps in the living room, right below my bedroom, ending the dream as quickly as the remote shuts off the TV. Quickly followed by, the sound of furniture being scraped across the hardwood floor.

That woke me up. I listened for a second and the first thought into my head was, "Are we being robbed?". Sounds from the living room in the middle of the night are not a regular occurance in our home.

Just then, I heard voices, and multiple sets of feet on the floor. I was awake more then. I opened my eyes. It was still pitch black in the room, the sun was not even up yet.

Then a thought popped into my head: "Oh, that's right, the kids are having a sleepover in the living room."

Voices getting louder. I can’t believe they are up and so noisy in the middle of the night! What time is is? I sit up and put my glasses on, check my husband's alarm clock to see that it is 4:50 a.m.!

This is a new record for early waking during a sleepover.

Next I hear a sound. They have turned the TV on! I hear the sound of their favorite video game, bass tones vibrating right up into my bedroom, then I hear talking, loud talking (definitely not whispers), and then laughter.

That's it. This has gone too far. Waking up before dawn to play video games is definately not a good idea. I’ll admit, I was annoyed well, because they woke me up and now there is no way I'll get back to sleep. That means that by the end of the day I will be completely exhausted. Actually by late afternoon I may be completely shot. And being the stay at home mom with no break in child care I will have no way to take a nap. Also from experience I know that by the end of the day one or both of my kids will have a huge breakdown of some sort due to complete exhaustion. Yet both will resist going to bed early, claiming they are not tired. Well at least the next day we have no morning plans so they can sleep in!

I did address the situation though. Right then and there. I told the kids that waking up before the sun has risen is not acceptable. I told them they woke me up and were being loud. I said to shut off the video game and television, get back into their sleeping bags, shut all the lights down (the room and kitchen were ablaze in light when I went to address the situation). I told them they are not allowed to talk and should try to fall back to sleep. And that it was ridiculous that they were all awake at that time of the day and trying to play video games.

I plodded back to bed. I was not able to fall back to sleep. I finished reading a book instead.

I found out later they did indeed all fall back to sleep for a while. I got out of bed after six and as soon as they heard my footsteps above them they were up and talking and playing the video game.

My older son’s meltdown occurred at 11:30 in the morning. Actually a very silly sounding recurring statement was said that revealed to me that it might be more serious than we’ve ever taken it before. The statement was first said when he was six years old and it seemed like a big joke back then, hilarious actually. In thinking about this minutes after it happened, I had an epiphany that it may be something more real and not a joke and the root cause (which is pretty deep) came to me out of the blue. I guess something good came of it as now we can deal with the bigger issue. This is another moment when I’m stretching in my parenting ability. Another hurdle has presented itself that I must figure out how to address and how to meet the needs of my child. This means more growth for me (and him) and this won’t be easy.

Younger son had his overtired acting out issue too. It presented itself with a power struggle issue over dinner. He decided to turn down the two different main courses we served, the soup, and three vegetable side dishes. We offered fruit and raw veggies and a salad he could make himself as an alterative. None were acceptable, he declared. Since we were visiting the delicious family run farm based ice cream stand that night right after dinner the deal was: no dinner, no ice cream. This stubborn holding of his position on the matter ensued through the entire meal and after I left the table to do something I needed to get done. By the time I finished the task and my husband was done washing the dinner dishes he had eaten half of a hot dog, tried one new vegetable dish, tasted the farm fresh corn on the cob, and he’d eaten some grapes. Then we went for ice cream. Younger son fell asleep in the car on the way home (but woke up when we exited the car).

The day was not over yet though as one last project with our foreign exchange student was that we made tie dye shirts. They had to sit for over 24 hours which meant after ice cream we had to rinse them out and then machine wash them. I was dog tired and to boot, my contact lenses were drying out and getting stuck my eyes during the rinsing. I couldn’t even see clearly (everything was in soft focus.) I was too tired to remove them and put my glasses on though. I was surprised and happy to find that my younger son wanted to take over the rinsing job. Being so beat I skimped on my own two t-shirts and cut corners on rinsing some of them (the rainbow spirals were taking forever to rinse out). It was taking a ridiculous amount of water and well over an hour to rinse the 15 shirts we made. So I threw them in the washing machine, started the load, and called it a day. It was one of those times when I was asleep less than thirty seconds after the lights went out. (Factoid: Dr. Mehmet Oz says that means the person is sleep deprived when that happens.)

This morning when my husband was kissing me goodbye I mumbled the request that he throw the wet laundry into the dryer, then I went back to sleep. I woke up later, due to a low flying airplane which was very loud for a long time—mental note, check to see if my town is affected by the FAA flight pattern changes. I was so curious to see how the shirts came out that I groggily got out of bed to retrieve the finished shirts. Most came out great, one of the sleepover friend’s shirts is not so great due to the bad rinsing job but his other shirt is one of the best in the batch. Our foreign exchange student’s shirts all look great, thank goodness. Both of my shirts are wrecked due to the poor rinsing. It is a shame as one had a lot of the white shirt and then yellow and red with some orange. Now the white shirt parts are an ugly purple color. Oh well. They are still useful for pajama tops, which is what I was going to use them for anyway.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

But What About Socialization? Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: But What About Socialization? Answering the Perpetual Home Schooling Question a Review of the Literature
Author: Dr. Susan A. McDowell (Susan A. McDowell PhD)
Publication: Philodeus Press, 2004
Format: softcover book
ISBN: 0974407801
Full retail: $10.95

How I came to read this book: I have been hearing about this book in homeschooling circles here and there but had never seen it. My local public libraries did not have a copy of it available to borrow so I bought it from Amazon and I finished reading it this week.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Summary Statements:
a. A Helpful Summary of Studies on Socialization of Homeschooled Children
b. It is What It Say It Is: A Review of Literature (and Studies)

The author, Dr. Susan McDowell is a researcher who has conducted studies on homeschooling. She wrote that since socialization of homeschooled children seems to always be a concern that people have, she decided to review of all the studies on the topic and to sum it all up in a book with just socialization as the topic.

In the Introduction and from the author’s biography I learned she is married and childless. Since most authors of homeschooling books are homeschooling parents themselves I wondered why she was interested in this topic at all. I learned that her interest in this topic stems from her work doing research about homeschooling and what she has learned about various people and groups of people always doubting or worrying about the socialization of homeschoolers. By the end of the book it is clear that Dr. McDowell trusts the research and she feels strongly that the socialization issue has a good body of research and that despite differences in the studies, all the studies come to one of these two conclusions: that homeschooled students are either better socialized than schooled kids or at worst, homeschooled kids have the same level of socialization of schooled kids.

Although the author stated that she wants to let the research speak for itself (in the Introduction) she does dedicate one chapter to share what various homeschooling parents have to say about their experience and opinion with homeschoolers and socialization. These people range from parents with homeschooling websites to published authors to homeschooling parents who also work for HSLDA.

One chapter also addresses “what is socialization” but I felt this mere two page chapter (three if you count the end notes page) was anemic. An entire other book could be written on the various ideas and interpretations of what ‘being socialized’ means. That weak chapter is one reason why I’m not rating this book as 5 stars out of 5.

The majority of this slim volume consists of summaries of all the studies about socialization and some studies about homeschooling in general which also addressed socialization as just one component. The studies are organized chronologically from oldest (1985-1999). The book was published in 2004. The studies are interpreted in layman’s terms for the most part. I thought that the author should have explained up front what “self-concept” was (although Wikipedia will help those who don’t know, like me).

It was convenient to read summaries of the research and to have the study names and dates rather than only hearing ‘through the grapevine’ what the research says. For that reason I am glad I bought and read this book.

The last topic covered in this book addresses the National Education Association and their anti-homeschooling stance. The chapter covers the what their stance is, why the author thinks they seek to hold homeschoolers in a negative light and how they are already negatively affecting homeschoolers.

There are numerous references in this book to provide study information and source information.

This book will be helpful for new homeschoolers worried about the topic of socialization. It also will appeal most likely to men who love statistics and who like to rely on ‘what studies show’. A mother convinced of the value of homeschooling whose spouse is doubtful should buy this book and make her husband read it.

This book could be placed into the hands of prying and worried relatives of homeschooled children (although my experience has shown me that most who are vocal about opposition to homeschooling know little about it AND are closed-minded to hearing real information and often seem unwilling to even consider that their fears may be unfounded).

Perhaps also this should be placed into the hands of the Pediatricians who express concern about homeschooling yet who love and place a lot of stock in what research studies show.

At full retail price this book is still cheap so one can’t complain of the pretty low page count.

If you want more information and opinion on this topic, in 2007, another book with just socialization of homeschoolers as the topic has been published by a homeschooling mother which has more pages, more opinion and experience shared titled “The Well Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling” by Rachel Gathercole.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Beware Mini Match and Other Free Online Games for Children

Last month Cartoon Network launched Mini Match, free online (computer) games for entertainment for children. These free games are being marketed to Cartoon Network viewers via commercials shown in between children’s cartoons. These are not JUST free online silly games. They differ in that they are based on social networking and they are built around multiplayer games (games played against live people while chatting). This site allows free text chatting although the site claims that certain words are banned from being used. I don’t know how they get around abbreviations such as those to alert the other chatter that a parent is in the room or watching (see this list for numerous abbreviations for those and for many profane language and adult themed abbreviations).

I say, “Beware these games” for two reasons.

First when my husband was home with my younger son yesterday, my husband granted permission for my younger son to navigate himself to this site. Apparently my younger son had seen the commercial on TV. My son (age eight) tried to set up the game but it overloaded my PC and repeatedly shut it down. When I came home and got involved in the problem situation, my PC was slowed to a snail’s pace. So I am wondering if Cartoon Network’s Mini Match is the source of the new spyware that has been loaded into my system. I now need to spend time fixing these issues, running spyware programs and so forth. I had not wanted to spend my time in that way as fixing computer problems is not high on my list of fun things to do nor do I have time in my busy schedule for new problems to solve.

(Update 8/19/08: Clarification... I was thinking that while I think that researching these sites is important I wondered if you may wonder how it is that my husband approved my younger son using the site. My husband assumed it was a regular solo player child-friendly-innocent-harmless-but-possibly-stupid video game site. He did not check out the site himself. In his defense this all happened minutes after the two of them came home to an empty house after being at Scout sleepover camp and my husband was tired, and I was not around to ask for my opinion.)

Second these games as I said before are a different level of game play. They are not just silly free games that a child plays alone ‘against the computer’. There is chat here, and although an article I read about Cartoon Network's Mini Match said the chat is pre-scripted and “kid friendly” that is not true. I checked out the Mini Match site today and confirmed this is free text chat. I feel that exposing young children to multiplayer gaming sets them up for wanting similar experiences with other online free games (RuneScape) other gaming systems (Wii). It is a bit like the domino effect. First they play free social networking games online then they want other networking abilities (like MySpace, instant messaging or the paid multi-player gaming options on home video game consoles such as Xbox360’s Xbox Live platform).

One other word of caution is that if you try to visit the Cartoon Network Mini Match site you may be directed to the wrong site. My son told me the commercial said to go to this redirects you to the right site which is However if you go to you will be directed to a different site which has a free games on it, some of which will download spyware to your site and others require downloading programs onto your computer which is also a virus and spyware risk.

Over the last few years we have tried some of the free online games for children and some for all ages as well. Mostly we were trying to say yes to our children’s requests and to keep them happy. I figured they were free so at least I was not spending money on them. After some time with various sites it didn’t take long for me to ban these in our household (more on why later).

For Christmas 2007 our family finally caved and allowed our children to get their first ever video gaming system. We made it through ten plus years of parenting two boys until this happened (seven or eight years longer than most American families with boys go without a video gaming console). We own an Xbox360 which has an ‘Xbox live’ feature which so far we do NOT use. For those who don’t know, the “Xbox Live’ feature connects the gaming system to the Internet to access some more free games, to access a chat feature and to allow multi-player games with strangers. One reason to avoid the live component costs a monthly fee ($13 per month). Secondly, I don’t like the live chat feature, it allows use of a headset for live talking (not text based talking on the screen). While that may be cool for older teens or adults, I am not interested in having my young boys hooking up online with strangers from across the world for what basically is the same thing as telephone chatting while playing multiplayer games with them! I don’t think I need to spell out the safety issues with allowing my boys, then aged ten and seven, do I?

One reason we bought the video console gaming system was to keep our children off of the free online entertainment games that many of their friends were playing (Millsberry, Club Penguin, RuneScape and so forth). I figured it may be safer and a better gaming experience to own the console and to control the games my children played within the safety of our home without being subject to commercials or live chat features with strangers. I could control the games they played by allowing or banning certain games from being played in our home.

My concern with Club Penguin was the stupid-ness of the game and the waste of time of the silly games, and the high addiction-ability of the game. I really don’t want to hear that Club Penguin is an educational game site as the games that require answering trivia questions are not really very educational at all; it is a stretch to claim that Club Penguin is an educational game site. Kids seem to get hooked in with meeting their real life friends online to say little scripts and to play the games. I have heard many conversations between schooled and homeschooled children asking to meet later online at Club Penguin, and telling what their screen names are and so forth. The parents I know who allow their children to play it formerly were very against video games in general but they let Club Penguin slip in as it is free and they feel they are getting something for nothing, keeping their kid happy to play the online game like their friends are doing, yet are getting away with not buying a $350+ video game console (Wii, Xbox360) plus shelling out for each game played. Well I say if you want to talk to your real life friend pick up the phone and call them or arrange a face to face meeting. Lastly to get some extra doo-dads the kids are enticed to spend real money in the Club Penguin store to heighten their game experience.

I had my children avoid Millsberry because of the high addiction rate; they were getting addicted to it. While playing the game they became irritable and moody and sometimes quite angry, lashing out in anger by yelling or banging the desk or slamming things around the house. This behavior was never before exhibited by either of them. Additionally, I felt that the games are completely stupid. The fact that the games are limited in their ability to move around and so forth, it is sometimes hard to win the game or at least to not get killed, due to the limits of the low end technology of the game’s programming combined with the limitations of the computer keyboard. They got mad sometimes when they got to certain levels and wanted to win but the limitations of the game prevented it. To try to figure out the issue, I played some of the games myself and can personally attest to this, even I experienced inferior technology issues that ‘made me die’. For example sometimes the games have a slow reaction time so even though I pressed a button to tell it to do an action (jump, turn etc.). Indeed it is frustrating to play a game to a certain level then be prevented from going further due to system related problems or low technology based issues. My children and I were both annoyed by that and all of us wanted to replay the game to try to beat it. After a while it seemed that some games at a certain level left us doomed. This type of gaming can end up being more frustrating than fun and it can also lead the player to become addicted to the game as they try to find success.

Some will argue that there is no advertising on the Millsberry but that is just NOT true. There is advertising for sugar cereals on the site, hidden in the games themselves, in the titles of the games, built inside of some games and so on. People have commented on a former blog post of mine and insisted there was no marketing but they are flat out wrong. The fact that some children and parents don’t even see the marketing is enough to make all parents stop and think about what is really going on!

RuneScape is the largest free Internet based role playing game in the world and it has rules to restrict use to players 13 and up. However it does have players under age 13, some with the parent’s knowledge and consent, and I bet other kids are using it without the parents having a clue what is going on. All you do is check a box to say you are over 13 when setting up your profile, and then you can play, making it easy for Internet-savvy younger children to lie.

I don’t like RuneScape for my young children because it is a free text chat type game that specifically matches up players onto teams of strangers from across the world in order to play this long-term team type role playing game. A child or people aged 13 years old and up could be playing against older teens or adults. I fear contact with pedophiles or other negative influence people who may be using this free site to make easy contact with minors. Even if you think that my fears about pedophiles are unfounded, I have other reasons to share about why I ban RuneScape from our home at this time. RuneScape appears to be highly addictive just like other role playing games are (Sims, World of Warcraft, etc.). I am not interested in opening the doors to role playing games yet with my sons as it is so addictive (to some people at least) and I want my sons more fully engaged in real life and putting their priorities into real life pursuits rather than living too much in a make believe world played on a screen against strangers (not real life friends seen in person).

In early 2007 Disney changed their website to jump onto the online social networking scene, aimed at tweens (kids aged 8-12) as outlined in this Wall Street Journal article dated January 2, 2007. The site is called Disney XD.

Later in 2007, Disney bought the popular Club Penguin site in order to own more of the market, as discussed in this August 2007 Wall Street Journal article.

It seems that more and more companies who market products and services to children are jumping into offering free online games or free online games with social networking to young children. I want everyone to realize that this is all part of marketing and advertising campaign, each company wants to get in on the action. Luring children in by means of advertising on children’s television channels and appeasing parents by offering free services, the companies hope to access your children’s time and attention. It seems to me that the buzz created among children as young as Kindergarten and First Grade, when talking and promoting these websites to each other is nothing more than free advertising and it seems to me so far these companies are achieving their goal!

External Links

My blog post dated July 2006 about my opinions of Millsberry.

For a list of blog posts I published in the past on the issues of children and Internet safety, see here (label Internet safety issues for kids and teens)

If you are downplaying the issue of addiction to computer games, here is an article by WebMD.
Title: Detox For Video Game Addiction?
Experts Say Gaming Can Be A Compulsion As Strong As Gambling

Published: July 3, 2006
Source: WebMD
Posted at: CBS News

Millsberry free children's game website run by General Mills cereals

Club Penguin (was independent at first, now owned by Disney)

Disney XD site for tweens for games and social networking

RuneScape free role playing game on the Internet

RuneScape Wikipedia entry telling pro's and con's of the site

Cartoon Network’s Mini Match new children's social networking/multi-player game site

Netlingo list of Internet chat and Text Message abbreviations

Disney targets tweens with social networking site and free online games (tweens are kids aged 8-12)---
Article Title: Updated Offers Networking for Kids Web Site's Strategic Revamp Encourages More Interaction -- But Parents Will Be in Charge
Date: January 2, 2007
Published by: The Wall Street Journal

Later in 2007 Disney made another move in the online social networking arena by purchasing their competitor Club Penguin. Read about that here:

Article Title: Disney Buys Kids' Social-Network Site
Published on: August 2, 2007
Published by: The Wall Street Journal

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