Thursday, April 30, 2009

What Do You Think About What They Say

I have wanted to write my opinions of these statements that "they say" but I've not done it yet.

I decided tonight to share what "they say" and am curious if any of my readers would like to share opinions via the comments section.

They say:

American public schools teach to the middle.

American public schools focus on finding faults and problems (learning disabilities or kids who are 'behind' academically).

American public schools want to bring up the lowest performing students to be 'average'.

American public schools neglect the above average students and the gifted and talented students.

American public schools don't identify strengths and don't teach to any student's strengths.

That homeschool parents only see the best in their children (the opposite of what public schools do).

That homeschool parents play to the strengths and areas of easy learning for each unique child and can't even see the weaknesses or learning disabilities (if they exist).

That homeschoolg parents, rather than look at the child's performance in numerous subjects they focus just on the one or few areas of strength.

That homeschool parents sometimes don't do right by their children by not seeing deficits, not trying to fix them, or downplaying the importance of them (instead focusing only on strengths).

All I'll Say Now Is---

I think that homeschool parents come in a wide variety of personalities, knowledge bases and have different philosophies as well as some biases. Therefore no one should really make blanket statements saying "all homeschooling parents...".

I do think most homeschooling parents are able to see their child's strengths and want to teach to the strengths and sometimes may overfocus on those strengths. It is two different things to teach to a child's strengths or interests than to ignore deficits and ONLY focus on strengths. It indeed is possible to work on the deficits, deal with the 'average' stuff and also teach niche topics or teach more deeply to a child's strengths.

However regarding large systems like the organized and planned structure with defined purposes, government polices and laws that affect American public schooling it is easier to make generalized statements about the aims and general practices of typical American schools. Not included in those general statements are reflections of the practices and policies of charter schools or public magnet schools whose operating procedures, admission guidelines and general curriculum differ from the 'regular' public schools.

Note: If you are a person in denial that the American public school system needs fixing you can educate yourself through reading books written by TEACHERS and SCHOOL AMINISTRATORS who have identified many faults in the current (and former) school systems who beg for education reform on a major scale. I find it interesting that the loudest critics of American public schools are the insiders, the teachers themselves. (Sometimes you may also find this information free on the Internet especially on teacher blogs.)

Autism and Me Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Autism and Me Sibling Stories
Author: Ouisie Shapiro
Photographer: Steven Vote
Genre: nonfiction, children’s picture book, Autism
Publication: Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2009
ISBN: 9780807504871
Full Retail Price: $16.99

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 "I Love It"

My Summary Statement: What Living with a Sibling with Autism is Like in the Child’s Own Words; Useful Tool for Parents to Start Discussions with Their Children

This picture book with full color photograph illustrations is a collection of stories written by children and teenagers who have a sibling with Autism. The children appear to range from age eight to nineteen and their siblings are either younger or older than them.

In these stories, the children candidly share details about their sibling’s life including how they are schooled and what their strengths and challenges are. The stories include the neuro-typical sibling’s emotions (positive and negative) about their sibling and how their behaviors, emotions or biologically based issues sometimes negatively affect the family or their experiences doing typical family activities in public places.

Ouisie Shapiro crafted these stories from interviews she had with the neuro-typical children and teenagers. Her crafting of the stories is well done with the same topics being covered in each story. The children whose stories are shared show empathy and perhaps more maturity than their peers may possess yet sometimes their frustration is shared which is entirely understandable for their age. Or perhaps the issue is that the interviewer over-edited the interviews and the younger children come off as being better spoken or more mature than they really are, I am not sure. Regarding the negative emotions, we can’t expect children and young teens to have the maturity level or high patience threshold that some adult parents with children with Autism have been able to summon up. I am happy to see that the stories are realistic and honest which includes some negative emotions as that is their reality!

After reading all the stories the general message and information that I learned is that not all children and teenagers with Autism have identical manifestations of the condition. They are schooled differently and they have different strengths and weaknesses. The challenges and problems are shared but the book is not all negative because within each story the sibling conveys their empathy and love for their sibling despite having to deal with things like public embarrassment, annoyed strangers in restaurants. The empathy and the ability of the children to communicate their emotions, especially the love they feel toward a not always easy to live with sibling touched me.

This book is unique and no other book like this exists on the market today to my knowledge.

I see this book being used as a read aloud to a child whose sibling has an Autism spectrum diagnosis. It is an excellent way to explain how Autism can affect different children in different ways (not everyone with Autism will be just like the child’s sibling). Reading aloud the stories with their positive message as well as expression of some negative emotions felt by the sibling, is an excellent way to start conversations between parents and their neuro-typical child. The neuro-typical child in a family with a sibling who has Autism deserves time and attention from their parents too, and they need their parents to help them process their emotions. For that reason I think this book is a must read and discussions afterwards should be encouraged. The book could be read in parts spread over time (especially if being read to younger children), or it could be read all at once. Owning a copy would allow the family to re-read the book numerous times as good conversation starters which would allow for ongoing discussions not just a ‘one time’ talk.

Kudos to Ouisie Shapiro for creating this book.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book for the purpose of writing a book review for the Amazon Vine program.

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Hello Baby! Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Hello Baby!
Author: Mem Fox
Steve Jenkins
Genre: children’s picture book, toddler-Kindergarten (my estimate)
Publication: Simon & Schuster May 9, 2009
Format: hardcover book (not a board book)
ISBN: 978-1416985136
Full Retail Price: $16.99

This picture book is meant to be read aloud to young children. With simple rhyming text perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, Mem Fox asks the child if they are various wild creatures ranging from safari animals. The creatures are both land dwellers and birds, and span the globe from habitats as diverse as jungles to African savanna to North American woodlands.

(With apologies to Mem Fox's prose), the main attraction of this book for me and my children is the artwork of Steve Jenkins (as my children are too old for this type of story but they still appreciate the intricate collaged illustrations).

In this latest work of Jenkin’s, his artistic talents shine brighter than in his past books. (I have just compared this new book side by side with Jenkins’ ANIMALS IN FLIGHT and LOOKING DOWN). In HELLO BABY!, Jenkins’ use of interesting textured handmade papers for collage has achieved new highs. Jenkin’s has an amazing ability to observe a creature and to replicate it realistically using colored and textured papers to capture qualities of skin, fur or feather and to show accurate tones and shadows by careful selection, cutting or tearing of amazing handmade papers. The lion cub’s soft and fuzzy fur, the hippo’s folds of skin, and everything on his owl are particularly stunning. However the most impressive are the eyes of all of his creatures, which are so realistic that they look like a photograph and appear to be three dimensional. I count nine layers of paper collage on some of the eyes, simply stunning! These illustrations have the WOW factor.

The illustrations on the cover show what Jenkin’s illustrations look like but the larger sized illustrations in this 10.5 x 10.5 inch picture book enhance their enjoyment as some of the detail is lost in the small scale reproductions.

Due to the text of author Mem Fox being so simple this truly is just right for toddlers and perhaps preschoolers. However the illustrations are so fantastic that preschoolers and early elementary grade students would enjoy them more than the story itself. Primary school students learning about collage in an art class as well as art students could benefit from viewing this art by Steve Jenkins. As an adult who has an appreciation for collage art and paper arts I am captivated and inspired by the artwork of Steve Jenkins as well.

I can imagine this book being read to a child over and over. This is a sweet, high quality children’s picture book which is perfect for gift-giving for parents to read aloud to their children. It would also be good to use for read alouds with groups of children such as in children’s library programs, daycares, preschools and Kindergarten classrooms.

I rate this book 5 stars = “I Love It”.

Disclosure: I received a pre-publication review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine product review program.

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Portrait of an Artist Roy Lichtenstein Documentary Review by ChristineMM

Title: Portrait of an Artist Roy Lichtenstein
Produced and Directed by: Chris Hunt
Studio: Homevision, 2000
Format: VHS
ASIN: 630310861X
Run Time: 55 minutes

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 “I Love It”

My Summary Statement: Interesting and Educational, LWatch It To Learn About the Art and Artist from the Artist Himself

I have a personal interest in art history and viewed this documentary twice, once alone and once with my elementary and middle grade homeschooled children as an art history lesson. Anyone interested in the works of Roy Lichtenstein and the Pop Art movement would love this documentary, certainly art students and artists will also love it. This documentary makes art history accessible to the layperson as well, due to the fine job of the interviewer and the director.

In this documentary Roy Lichtenstein is interviewed and discusses his life and art work, what influenced him, where his ideas came from, how his art adapted and how and why it changed over time. He discusses the Pop Art movement, a bit, mostly how he was one of a number of artists making art that was then called Pop Art. Also interesting is Lichtenstein tells what different art critics have said about different phases of his art and he shares his personal reactions to their statements. Additionally some footage of people criticizing and discussing his artwork is included, almost in a “he said, she said” manner which makes the viewer think about how sometimes what others say about an artist’s work may be a bit off or just wrong. Contrary to what non-artists may think, artists do usually have a reason or an inspiration behind what they create. Lucky for us this documentary allows us into the brilliant mind of Roy Lichtenstein.

My children and I were both thrilled that this documentary also showed the artistic process with Lichtenstein narrating his process and demonstrating for the viewer, the stages of how and why he produces his famous Benday dot comic book type large artworks. It is different and better to hear these things right from the artist’s mouth than to only hear it said by people who never knew or met an artist.

What struck me most was how clearly Lichtenstein explained his ideas behind an art process or behind individual works of art he has produced. I appreciated and enjoyed hearing the real reason that he started using Benday dots and his exact reason for the meaning behind taking one frame from a comic book, enlarging it and adapting it a bit makes a personal statement (even if art viewers or art critics didn’t get it).

I felt privileged to hear directly from the artist what he has done in his artwork over time and why. This was an excellent resource to round out, clarify, and amplify what our family has read in biographical books or books with retrospective reproductions of his work. I feel we are blessed to have had the technology to capture interview footage on video of this artist for us to learn from. If only we could have such resources available from other famous artists, who knows how our currently accepted ideas of their inspiration, artworks and their artistic processes may differ from the artist’s reality.

Note to parents, teachers and homeschooling families:
This documentary was produced for adults yet there is nothing in the documentary that would be problematic to show to children even as young as elementary grade aged. This makes an excellent learning resource accompanied by reading one or two short biographies written for children about the artist and his work. My 8 and 11 year old boys were interested enough to sit and watch the entire documentary in one sitting. The children of today seem open to educational information presented in video format underscoring the fact that this video along with a book or two and a visit to an art museum to see Lichtenstein’s work would be all that is needed for an in-depth art history lesson on this famous artist and makes for an excellent lesson as part of learning about the Pop Art Movement.

Disclosure: I borrowed this documentary from a public library. It appears to be currently out of print and not available on DVD, which is a shame.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stray Sock Sewing Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Stray Sock Sewing
Author: Daniel
Genre: nonfiction, crafts, sewing
Publication: North Light Books, October 2008
Format: Softcover book
ISBN: 9781600611995
Full Retail Price: $19.99

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 “I Love It”

Summary Statement: Cute and Sweet Creatures, a Workshop-in-a-Book, Inspirational if This Style Appeals to You

After twenty years working in the advertising agency, author Daniel wanted to do something different with his creative energy. He began creating stuffed creatures with stray socks. Years of crafting these creatures for his personal pleasure and his experience with teaching others to do so in workshops led him to produce this book for home crafters to use to teach themselves STRAY SOCK SEWING.

Part one has 75 pages of photos of Daniel’s sock dolls in humorous poses indoors and outdoors. I’d describe these dolls as happy, cheerful, bright and sweet. They look new, bright, clean, and tight (versus grungy, scrappy, messy or slouchy). Nearly all are creative interpretations of real animals that exist in real life, some are hybrid combinations of two animals, and a small number are figments of his imagination . Only one is a silly monster (reminding me of the STUPID SOCK CREATURES book and creations of John Murphy). Daniel uses colorful socks including socks with patterns or socks with printed graphics on them such as socks for girls with butterflies or flowers on them. Daniel also uses striped socks and incorporates brand names or numbers on the creatures. When the socks are plain, Daniel adds texture and visuals with hand embroidery. Interesting buttons are used for eyes and other body parts or accents.

Part Two has 15 pages of how to directions with many photographs showing each step in the process. The writing is well done, the photos are useful and there are many tips that Daniel has learned through trial and error and finding what works best.

Part Three is 60 pages of step by step instructions in text and photographs for eight projects.

This is an example of green crafting, taking something that would normally be thrown away, a stray sock, adding some thread and embroidery floss, some old buttons and some new stuffing and making something new and original from it. Although after seeing the interesting socks that the author has used you may wind up shopping for new, colorful socks in order to make some sock dolls!

It seems that “stuffies” or “plushies” or "softies" (or whatever else they are being called), whether from new materials or from reused materials destined for the trash is a fad at the moment, with a number of books on the market giving ideas and tutorials on how to make them. Each book has the individual style of the author and this book is no exception, therefore if the creatures in this book appeal to you will qualify as a “must own” or at least a “must read”. It was STUPID SOCK CREATURES that introduced me to the idea of using stray or hole-y socks to make imaginative sock monsters with more of an edgy look. The dolls in STRAY SOCK SEWING are almost opposite looking sweet and cute and mostly fun interpretations of wild animals and pets.

The photos are inspirational and the tutorials are well done. As with all crafting books the projects may be done step by step to learn the technique or the crafter may just glean the information from the tutorials then go off to create their own unique stuffed dolls from stray socks, it’s up to the crafter how they want to use this workshop-in-a-book!

Disclosure: I discovered this book at Joanne’s Fabric store and bought it there for my personal use.

Related Topics:

My blog post: Only In America: Stupid Sock Creatures (about John Murphy's book STUPID SOCK CREATURES) published 4/27/2006

My blog post: Thoughts About My Trip to Barnes & Noble published 12/09/2007 which mentions five books on the topic of sewing stuffies, plushies and softies.

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The Best Plan I've Been Able to Come Up With

The best "big picture" plan for our family that I have come up with to answer the question how to best educate our children to prepare for an ever-changing future and a global market is as follows. I note that I have no clue if this is good enough but it feels right. This is an answer to my blog post earlier this week: How Then To Educate Our Children?

These are in a random order. It would be too hard to put them in some kind of priority order except for religion.

1. Teach my children about God and our family's religious beliefs which we feel will help them develop as people.

2. I am providing my children with a strong foundation in the Three R's. First oral communication, then reading and reading comprehension & a bit later, analytical thinking of the written word, and lastly, strong written communication skills.

Despite what experts say I feel, from experience, that the order that children learn best is: oral communication, communicating about their experiences or what was viewed (videos), reading and communicating what they read from the written word, and lastly, written communications about any topic and lastly, written communications of information that are original thoughts from their own mind.

2. Teaching my kids to question and think and analyze what they hear/read/see and are taught. Critical thinking skills. This includes forming one's own opinion, being an independent thinker, not being overly influenced by groupthink or peer pressure and lastly, being more of a leader than a follower.

3. Homeschool the basic subjects as required by state law to keep our homeschool legal so we are not investigated by the state or told by the government to put our kids in school, or worse, have our kids taken away from us by the state. This means we may teach things that our family doesn't feel are top priorities but they are necessary.

4. If our children's desired career requires college degrees to educate content to fulfill college admissions requirements and hopefully let them into 'good schools' for that career field. Also included is SAT prep to try to get decent/good enough test scores for college admissions. Yes this is "playing the school game" but if our society still requires certain degrees for certain fields then we have to 'play the game'.

5. Realize my children's natural talents or interest areas. Allow superior opportunities for learning content in the areas that my children want to learn. Take advantage of our freedom and flexibility in our lives to do things that schooled kids (sadly) don't have the time or opportunity to do due to school attendance and homework.

6. Have a certain amount of American cultural literacy.

7. Know history enough to realize it is important to know history and to learn from it yet to realize the topic can never be thoroughly ‘know’ that lifelong learning can be done just in the pursuit of learning more about history.

8. Teach my children how to research a topic, how to teach themselves by reading. Have them understand a person can never be 'done' learning as there is too much to know. Maintain a curiosity about a topic (don't kill the excitement in learning) so when they are teens and adults they can always know how to research and learn in whatever areas are necessary or just fun to learn about.

9. Teach my children morals and values; teach them that striving for good character is worthy. Living by one's character will help them all their lives.

10. Teach my children basic social skills and etiquette that we feel is basic and good. This ranges from proper behavior to how to be a good friend to how to deal with stress.

11. Teach my children basics of technology (PC, email, Internet) yet don't over focus on specific applications since programs, technology and platforms are changing so rapidly, what is learned today may not even exist when my kids are 25 years old.

12. Teach my children American history and why this nation is unique and different than other nations. Teach about other countries not in a negative way per se but explaining what makes this country different and letting them come to a conclusion about which they think is a better place to live or which country has ideals and opportunities that seem best to them. Teach my children what it means to be a good citizen. Teach our family's history and why our ancestors left their native lands and chose to live in this country.

13. Teach my children about politics relating to #12 and see which political belief systems lead to the best opportunities or would allow the best kind of life for people. As part of being a good citizen, teach the importance of voting in our elections.

14. Teach my children they have a voice and may affect change if they so desire. Teach them how to be an activist.

15. Know that gaps will always be present. Teach my kids that they don't know it all even if they do all the assignments I give them or if they read a certain number of books, that there is more to learn. Knowing one's ignorance and being humble is better than being a "know it all" as they are even more ignorant than people who know there is yet more to learn.

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Coping With the Parrots and Lemmings and Why We're Still Homeschooling

I am not happy that often people talk about something (like a news event or an issue) but can't seem to formulate their own opinion on it. They may be not happy or they may be happy with the thing but they are unable to discuss it.

At times it seems people do have an opinion because they were able to clearly state their emotion about it but they can't discuss it more than that. The worst is when a person declares a certain politician as being a (insert nasty rude descriptor here) but they can't say WHY they feel that way. It is almost like they can't put their thoughts into words. Sometimes after prodding it seems to me that they actually can't think about it and actually don't have the ideas or words or thoughts to support that emotion. I don't get it. I just can't relate at all.

Look I'm not a genius by any means. When I don't understand or know enough about something I keep my mouth shut completely. Sometimes I am open enough that when having a conversation about something there are times when I know that the other person knows more than I do on the topic. If they are trying to discuss the matter with me I might say something like, "Starting that new tax seems to me to be a bad idea. I honestly don't know enough about that industry to truly understand the full impact that tax will have but I can see that in the very least it will have a negative impact in this way (explaining what I think will happen). That would then affect the cost of goods that company produces which will raise the price and then the consumers and government won't like that it costs us THAT much for that product." Sometimes the other person does know more of the industry then we'll have a discussion where they share what they know and I listen and learn.

It seems to me that some people thrive on reacting to things. Whatever the hot topic of the moment is, they react to it. Some of these people who are Internet savvy thrive on the email bulletins that certain organizations send out. Once that press release goes out, with the opinion the sending organization possesses, these people are like talking boxes or parrots that repeat back what the organization said. Some of them are highly emotional and stressed out about the issue. Some like to engage others in discussion but when they discuss it with me it becomes clear they are just parroting back what was said by the organization rather than expressing their own individual thoughts. When pressed as to why they feel this way or that way, or for examples of how that thing was done, they cannot give them. They fall silent.

(Parrot people of older generations who are not on the Internet or don't get email based bulletins from organizations often will parrot back what they heard on cable news channels, network news shows or in their local city newspaper.)

Often those people never research the topic further, or in the least, double check for one more source to make sure that claim is correct. They don't look for other opinions or different perspectives. They often will view something from one slim angle and fault it for that when in fact the other implications of that thing are all positive and the thing would be beneficial. Most things in life are complex and multi-faceted. Often a decision to do something or make something illegal or to tax something or whatever will have pros and it will have cons. If we listen to just one viewpoint representing one perspective it is not a good idea. It would be better if all people tried to see different perspectives and weigh the pros and cons and figure out their own opinion from a bigger picture perspective.

The worst thing about the parrots is they seem to only want to convert you over to their way of thinking. Yet they lack the ability to explain why they feel the way they do, so they often don't win people over, unless dealing with a weak-minded or passive person who wants to be liked by the other. Little do the parrots know that some people give fake opinions in those conversations, wanting to please the other person so they are liked. Thus the parrot thinks they did a great job articulating the situation and they think they've converted someone over to their way of thinking when in reality sometimes it is not true at all.

I know this about the deceivers as some people have told me they intentionally lie to the parrots so they are indeed liked. A perfect example is some moms involved with the PTA. In order to stay on the good sides of the PTA members, teachers and the principal they parrot back the majority opinion yet in reality they hold a dissenting opinion including voting their true opinions in the voting booth on the town's education budget. I don't get that angle and could never live that way. This is because I am of the mindset that people can 'agree to disagree' and that holding original opinions and being an independent thinker is good. I believe variety and differing opinions can be fruitful for society in general or within small groups of people. We can learn from each other and we can grow by interacting and being honest about differing opinions. Just going with the flow and joining groupthink is a bad thing; it might keep the peace but outcomes may be sub-optimal as a result.

I have a need for a certain amount of intelligent dialogue. When I am around parrots frequently it drains my mental energy. It is a bit of a teaser to be around people who seem to want to discuss things but in fact they are parrots without true opinions and without original thoughts. Parrots are closed minded and don't want true dialogue they just want to parrot back, so intelligent dialogue is not possible. In those cases when I'm around parrots I usually just shut up and change the topic to a lighter one, giving the impression possibly that I'm indeed not smart or that I am uncaring about that issue. I'll have to settle for the parrot thinking I'm uninformed or maybe even stupid to seem to not care about that issue. I am willing to sacrifice other people's opinions of me as their opinions don't really count as I know who I am and what I think, I know the real me. I'd rather be authentic and honest and walk away from a ridiculous and pointless conversation then join in to a stupid conversation with a parrot.

The Internet has brought together strangers and even connected people living geographically close with one another. However on discussion lists it becomes apparent who the parrots are and who the lurkers are. Both types are not good for real discussion. If I don't have some kind of intellectual stimulation with independent thinkers and people able to clearly articulate their thoughts verbally or in writing I start to feel isolated and as if the majority of people in America are stupid. I start to come up with percentages, such as can it be that we have tipped the scales from 33% of Americans being stupid to 50% or is it higher or lower?

At that point I start to worry for my future and my children's future because if the stupid non-thinkers and lemmings and parrots start to outnumber the thinking people (the smart people) then our country is doomed. I don't want America led by the stupid non-thinking lemming parrots. If that is the way we're going I will seriously ponder moving to the Brooks Range in Alaska to live off the land in isolation with just my books for company (and my husband and children if they will go). Or perhaps I could settle to isolate myself inside my suburban home and concentrate on writing books or making art and interacting less with people and instead creating things from my thoughts and my imagination.

It is not always easy or enjoyable to be an independent thinker. It is one thing to hold a dissenting opinion from the mainstream media on TV or in the newspapers, but it is more draining to deal with the parrots and lemmings who we know personally and interact with on a face to face basis.

How This Relates to Our Homeschooling Journey

A major goal of homeschooling my children is to teach them to think and to teach them to see the Big Picture and to help them become clear communicators. I want to help my children become independent thinkers with morals and values that influence their thoughts and actions. We also want them to be responsible contributing members of society who are self-reliant.

A major reason we continue to homeschool our children, even when our family is facing a crisis or in the times when homeschooling becomes not-fun is because my husband and I both feel that if we turn over our children to institutional schools, especially public schools, that the main thing they will be taught is how to be lemmings or parrots. We don't want them to learn to play the 'school game' like we both did. To us home education is more like the a real education and development of a free and thinking individual, and a successful school student has to learn that their role is like participating in a game called the school system. I am not sure that if my children were in school that in the after-school hours I'd have enough time and due to peer dependence that usually occurs with schooled children, I worry that I'd not have enough influence over them to help them develop common sense, indpendent thoughts and opinions. So that in a nutshell, is why we continue to homeschool. Unless something major happens in our lives or if my children truly need some other kind of education (such as gaining admissions to a wonderful magnet school in their area of interest) we'll keep on homeschooling.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A New Type of Workgroup

Tonight I read this blog post published in November 2008 about a group of self-organized volunteers most of whom met online and began this pursuit together. This flattering post was interesting to read since I know one of these people personally and I'm aware of the work she has been doing for years, of all the time and energy she put into this endeavor.

In general the entire topic is worthy of pondering since many Americans would not believe that such an endeavor would be possible at all let alone being done out of people's passion and internal drive and without any monetary compensation whatsoever. The idea that these volunteers could know things before mainstream media or the US Government is also something to ponder.

The folks I'm speaking of have been tracking infectious diseases, it started with "avian flu" and now it has morphed into other things, of course this week, the swine flu. This group has long feared a pandemic and has been calling for people to make emergency preparations for a long time.

There is something to be said about this Internet technology and how it has changed the world. I can't think of something profound to say but the fact that strangers can do this kind of work together for long time periods could teach us about the other good ways we can put our computers and Internet technologies into collaborative work between people who actually do know each other or those who want to band together with people of like minds to work on shared goals such as social activism.

Getting Angrier About White House Photo Op in NYC Yesterday

The more I think about what the Obama administration did yesterday to create a photo op by flying a Air Force One jet low over skyscrapers of New York City, being followed by a military jet, the more angry I become.

I don't usually blog political thoughts here but for my family, 9/11 is a personal matter with strong emotions attached to it. My husband was one of many working fathers in Manhattan on that infamous day and the day was filled with confusion and fear for us. Luckily my husband blew off the class he was to take in the World Trade Center that day so he was spared being a close-up witness to the event. Sadly some men my husband knew suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to what they saw and felt as they exited the WTC building and ran for their lives, seeing also some choosing to jump out of the windows and fall to their deaths. It was still harrowing for me and my children when my husband was trapped in the City when the officials closed the routes of transportation, making it impossible for him to come home to us. The land line phones were out and the mobile phones were going in and out and we did not even have reliable telephone communications (or Internet communication either).

There are too many problems with this situation! I can't beleive the number of issues surrounding this escapade.

First, the blunder of not notifying the Mayor of New York City or any other officials that this low fly-over would occur was a stupid error. It was really, really dumb and actually dangerous to not notify officials in the city that this would be happening. To simulate a terrorist attack like 9/11 and to not have the police and fire deparments know that it was a simulation not a real emergency is unthinkable. Who was involved with that process and where did their logical thinking and critical thinking skills break down?

Second, to people of New York City and nearby New Jersey, those who work there and to those who live there, to stage such an event is a terrible thing to do. It brought back memories and fear about an event that happened JUST eight years ago. To those who lost loved ones or those who were in the City on 9/11, low flying jet airplanes are NO JOKE. It is not entertaining and it is not anything that should be in a publicity photo op. It is not 'cool looking' or impressive to have images of the plane used as Air Force One flying low among Manhattan skyscrapers. It is SICK, really SICK.

It was a cruel thing to do, to fly that plane overhead, with a military plane following it no less, something very odd that indicates to witnesses that perhaps the large plane as hijacked and that possibly this was another terrorist act. My heart goes out to the panicked workers who were evacuated from their buildings mid-day.

It seems to me that the White House and the Obama administration are completely out of touch regarding the serious nature of 9/11 and how deep and raw the situation still is for New York City workers and residents. While it is true that Americans seem to move on to the next thing quickly, for people in New York City and some others around the country who were affected, 9/11 has NOT been forgotten. The emotions that some people claimed Barack Obama possesses, the positive and 'feel good' emotions that he and his administration claim to possess, clearly were ABSENT when he and his administration made the decision to pull that stunt.

I still can't imagine what good or cool photographic image the White House was seeking when they planned this photo op. Why did someone think that image would be good or cool or impressive? That image is downright creepy to many Americans!

I'm starting to feel that President Obama is more interested in his personal publicity machine than taking the office of the Presidency seriously and doing what is right and best for American citizens. What kind of person does an uncaring and scary thing like simulate another 9/11 terrorist attack in the city that suffered the most on that horrible day?

Update 8:53pm: News reports now state President Obama didn't know about this until after it happened and Louis Caldera is taking the rap for this. Source: this article on

The next issue, a less important one to me, concerns the environment and government spending. Today FoxNews reported that the jet used for Air Force One that flew over NYC yesterday costs $70,000 per HOUR to operate. That is a complete waste of taxpayer's money to have used multiple hours of flight time in these times of recession when our President is talking about how government can help the economy--he wastes money on a publicity stunt instead. Secondly, for all the pro-environmental talk and talk of 'green living', that jet used a lot of fuel and carbon and created air pollution for this stunt. The better thing to do for our environment would have been to use Photoshop to create the image using digital photographs (a suggestion made by a reporter on FoxNews today).

Update 8:53pm: the latest report from Washington puts the cost of this stunt at over $300,000, see here.

The latest reports speculate that White House officials, Obama's staff may have been on the jet for a fun trip, a cool job perk or reward of sorts. "Today I'm being rewarded with being on a big jet plane to simulate a 9/11 hijacking in Manhattan! My boss is so great!" Are you kidding me? Some are calling for the manifest to be released so we can see who was behind this and who was on the joyride. I for one want to know who was on the flight.

I am just miffed that President Obama was so insensitive and I can't imagine what he was thinking. Perhaps the issue is he is trying to do too many things in his first 100 days, so he can't think clearly? I wish President Obama would FOCUS on the most important things and to me that doesn't include self-promotion. If President Obama would focus on doing the right things then good publicity and praise as well as trust and admiration will naturally follow; there is no need for staged photo ops let alone one of the type that scared the New Yorkers yesterday.

An apology is not good enough, I think one or more people should lose their job over this. I say that not just for punishment reasons but if a person lacked judgement on this issue then perhaps they are not qualified to continue in their role?

Character is important, the character of our President and of his appointees and all government officials and workers and of our military staff too.

For Further Reading

Our Family's Experience on 9/11 (published in September 2006)

Low-flying planes near Statue of Liberty scared N.J., N.Y. workers at 4/27/09

Air Force One Photo-Op Scares the Crap Out of Manhattan at 4/27/09

Obama's low-flying 747 jet causes panic on Manhattan streets at The Scotsman 4/28/09

White House Official Apologizes for Air Force One Photo Op in New York City at 4/27/09

Thoughts on Phases of Creativity

Since I've beentapping into my creative well over the last four plus years in an intentional manner I have noticed different stages of creativity and production. In speaking to other creative people I found many share these same stages.

There is a time when there are many ideas and just not enough time to do them all. "Real life" gets in the way of me doing things that I'd otherwise be doing if there were no pressures to do something like say, parent my children, homeschool them, or do extended family obligation things.

During times of tremendous output, there can be two types. One is when many things are started or being worked on simultaneously. That is very exciting because working on all of them is so exciting that I cannot choose to focus on just one. That is okay because it is so fulfilling to work on a variety of things that I feel no negative feelings about concentrating on just one or just working to finish just one thing. The other type is when I am very focused and motivated to finish one project and put all my available time to that one pursuit.

In the output times my mind is almost closed off to optional input things. For example if I am knitting a ton I don't want to read about knitting. Or if I am doing a lot of drawing I don't want to look at what artists have drawn (i.e. on blogs or in books). When I am busy with projects I don't want to read art and craft magazines that tell of yet more projects.

I will admit that when my muse is with me I have been known to put off some optioanl things like deep cleaning housework or I let little things slide.

After working on a certain projet or numerous projects of the same type on numerous days it can suddenly turn boring. At that time also it can start to bother me that I have neglected some things, and it bothers me that clutter piles are in the kitchen, or that I really finally should hand scrub the shower stall. So at those times I buckle down and attend to various 'real world' duties.

There is a stage when I have no desire to work on projects. Those are input times when I crave inspiration. I start noticing things when out driving, like the play of a shadow on the ground, blossoms on a tree, or see shapes in the clouds. That is when I read art and craft books and magazines. That is the time when I do major blog and web surfing to see what others are doing.

After much input, I start to come up with unique ideas (I don't just copy what others do).

At some times, such as when I am away traveling, certain types of trips don't allow me any time to do any kind of creative work. There are truly times when I can't even squeeze in sketchig in an art journal. Sometimes I have no compute and can't write anything. After about four days I start to get very antsy. I crave to be able to produce something. That is when I will start writing by hand into a notebook, or sketching on the paper napkin at the restaurant, or join my kids in drawing on the children's menu/placemat. If I have a camera with me I start to take many photographs. I can't help myself. I often then will start craving to do my regular art projects at home. Sometimes I do take art supplies with me but the place I'm staying or the relatives on vacation with me prohibit me the freedom to 'mess up the space' or to just be left alone to create a little bit.

There are certain times when I am very busy with appointments. In that time the necessary appointments must be dealt with and so whatever my muse is doing or whatever my desire is must be placed on hold. If three or more days go where I am running around like a nut and have no free moments to create I get antsy and edgy and it is uncomfortable feeling. Also in that category is when I have a minor illness or when my children are sick and need my attention. My muse is definately not with me when I'm sick or overtired from tending to sick kids.

Lately my life has been pretty calm so when some small problem happens it disrupts and I can't create. However when I was living with daily stress from major life challenges, I was able to create and I used it as a stress reliever. Often making art or crafting or writing for this blog was my therapy that kept me sane and kept me calm in the midst of the storm. So I now feel that for some people art is inspired by stress and problems and it can be helpul and theraputic, yet at other times when life is calm and creativity flows in the peaceful times, small stressful events disrupt and interfere. It is interesting to realize that dichotomy can exist.

I separate writing on the computer and other art and craft projects for me. I think that the reason I separate the two is because (unlike some other mothers) I somehow have trained my children to accept that I do use my computer and that I am to be left alone while at it, to a certain extent. I am overjoyed that my kids will leave me alone for an hour or two to do whatever I want on the computer. Their long attention spans for free play and the fact that they do some of their homeschooling completely by themselves helps (especially the reading educational books to themselves silently assignments). Also I can sometimes write when my husband cooks dinner and cleans up after dinner. I can and do also write early in the morning when my kids are still asleep. I am not a night owl on the computer and I'm not a writing night owl either. I am able to get into 'flow' when writing very easily. I have learned to tune out external noise like my husband's cable news channel watching and the happy chatter of my boys.

When I am doing something like drawing, journaling by hand, making collages and other things it is harder to find a time and place to be left alone enough to get that done.

I knit and embroider and needle felt usually when watching TV with my kids or by myself late into the night when everyone else is asleep. I knit while sitting in doctor's office waiting rooms and other 'waiting times'.

I have never felt what some call creative block or writer's block. Perhaps when people say they have that they are not in what I've called an 'output stage' and instead are craving input and inspiration. Instead of viewing that time as a 'dry spell' of not being able to produce or not having new ideas, or feeling bored, I call that stage the time when the creative well needs filling. To fill the well, I find a break from that activity is called for and inputting with external influences whether it be from viewing nature or seeing a museum art display or watching a documentary about art or an artist or reading a book or magazine about art.

Monday, April 27, 2009

How Then to Educate Our Children?

This weekend, a homeschooling mother shared this YouTube video on a homeschooling discussion group along with the statement that 'school is obsolete', meaning, America’s progressive education system must not be what will help our children. I watched the video, and was reminded that I'd seen this video in 2008.

This blog post is an expansion of my response to the group.

For those who found the video interesting, this same topic was touched upon lightly by Sir Ken Robinson in his online lectures recorded 2008 and prior, and moreso he discusses it in his book tour for his new book “The Element”.

After viewing the video and hearing those stats the question is what should our youth be preparing for? If we choose to homeschool them then what does that mean for how we should guide them and instruct them?

Rather than use the statistics in this video to bash schools and their educational content, and say, "in our homeschool we will not choose to teach what the schools teach", I would love to hear what some of you think we as homeschooling parents could be or should be doing instead. If we know this information, what choices do we choose to make in order to prepare our children for an unknown and ever-changing job market?

If the future requires adult workers to work with things that have not been invented yet then how would one prepare? Or shall we focus on some foundational elements of developing our children as a person, character traits and a good work ethic?

Does a liberal arts education (such as a classical home education) truly prepare people to work in all industries (such as working with computers and the Internet and new technologies)?

I guess the question is 'what does getting an education mean' and what does it mean to be 'an educated person'. The answer would differ for those people to whom schooling or being educated means vocational training or 'preparation for the workplace' than someone with other ideas of what it means to 'be an educated person'.

As to the question of a large scale education reform in public education in America it seems to me, even before watching that video and hearing those statistics, that such an endeavor is impossible due to the size and scope of America's public schools and the large number of people, organizations (including a huge union) that stand in the way of change. A complete overhaul of the system seems impossible.

The only changes in American schooling that seem to work are small changes that utilize small numbers of people and wind up (sadly) helping small numbers of students relative to the overall population. It seems to me the best strides in education reform have been the creation of magnet schools which have specific specializations. I note that often admission to those schools is competitive and usually requires lottery systems in an attempt to be fair with admissions. And some charter schools seem to work well while other charter schools have failed, so they seem not to be the answer either.

Related Posts

My long book review of “The Element” by Sir Ken Robinson

My blog post of thoughts after hearing Sir Ken Robinson lecture in January 2009

For Further Reading

The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

Real Education by Charles Murray

Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto

A Different Kind of Teacher by John Taylor Gatto

Instead of Education by John Holt

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Carnival of Homesteading Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homesteading was published on April 20th at Small Homestead. It’s theme is ‘how to’. This carnival covers topics such as gardening, cooking from scratch, animal husbandry, and sustainable living.

Check it out!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Left Homeschool Conference Happy

For the first time ever, I attended a homeschooling conference and never once felt that my kids have a 'gap' or that I'm not doing enough. It is a liberating feeling to not feel that way!

I went to the conference with five items that I needed for either the end of this year or to begin using in September. I did buy all five items.

I went with an open mind to revisit some curriculums for language arts for my eleven year old. I had a hunch nothing new existed that I must see (I was right). An old opinion of mine that I hated Easy Grammar was reevaluated and now it doesn't look so bad but it is still not what I want for my son. Much to my surprise, Rod & Staff looks like what I will go with for that son. I am happy to have found a solution.

Knowing I'd cover American history next year, I still wanted to do something to study or touch upon each state, learn the capitals and know some geography of the whole country. I wasn't looking per se but did find some great stuff from the company Geography Matters. I found a book to help study each state and a cookbook so we can cook a meal for each state. The bundle pack came with a historical fiction book "Captain's Dog". I also found some supplemental materials for the study of the Lewis and Clark expedition and bought those. I got two better laminated wall maps than the ones I own right now.

Lastly a family run business specializing in fun stuff for American history was where I found some cool reproductions of Revolutionary War and Civil War money, maps, and documents, as well as two inexpensive games about those wars.

Oh, and at The Book Peddlar I bought some new-to-me comic book format US History books for the late 1800s up to the early 2000s.

I attended sessions about teaching children with learning disabilities and neurological issues and even mental retardation and Down's. It was overwhelming as the neuro-developmental approach advocated by Linda Kane was different therapies than I learned last year from Dianne Craft. It was a lot to take in. I also heard a session on teaching literature classics, I didn't learn much new but it was good to hear how important reading is. Jay Wile gave a long lecture on how homeschooling is superior to schooling and provided many statistics and study results.

I left the conference a little early, tired and feeling abundant and happy.

It was nice to know I could have afforded to buy more but didn't need or want to buy more. I did spent more than originally planned but it is all good stuff and frankly it is nothing compared to what I've come home with in the past.

And the best of all is that I feel so happy and grateful to be homeschooling my kids and feel good about their academics and I don't feel any guilt or negative feelings about where they are right now in their academics (or character development for that matter).

I Knew the Answer

I want to spend more time in Cape Cod this summer. I decided against two camps for each of my children to allow more time to go there since I have a free place to stay and just need to allow myself permission to get away and just go!

Photo taken by ChristineMM at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in April 2009.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books April 25 2009 Edition Has Been Published

The Saturday Review of Books April 25 2009 edition has been published at Semicolon. Take a look at what bloggers are saying about the books they are reading.

Consider posting a review!

Typical Cooking Scene in My Home

Cooking from scratch is messy. When kids do some of the work it is messy.

That is just the way it is.

This is homemade pizza night. I made the dough with my kids at noon. My husband and our eleven year old made the pizza together at dinnertime.

They Had the Gap Not My Kids

People worry that homeschoolers have gaps in their education. Some school teachers discuss this frequently.

We had to wait in a short line in order for my kids to have a turn going inside this rocket. However when my kids got in, they went in the opposite way of the other kids and adults. My kids knew the correct way the astronauts laid in the pod. Everyone else had it wrong. When I saw my kids arranging themselves in that way my husband commented that everyone else had it wrong but thought they were right. The ignorant ones had no clue of their ignorance.

It was a realization that this time around my homeschooled boys were the informed ones and the schooled kids and adults had a gap. I don't even recall how they knew this, from what book or lesson or what documentary, but the info was in their long term memory and it was put to use. (This photo was taken was before we entered the museum and saw or read any educational information.)

Photo taken by ChristineMM at the Kennedy Space Center in April 2009.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pole and Floor Art

This reminded me of abstract art.

Art is everywhere.

Photo taken by ChristineMM at Kennedy Space Center, Florida in April 2009.

Free Online Cip Art for Timelines and Other Educational Purposes

HSmof3 at PaperBackSwap shared in the Homeschooler's Corner forum, this website of the Florida Institute of Technology with free clip art. This page is an index to famous people which can be used for timelines, lapbooking, notebooking or anything else you want.

Famous People Index of Free Clip Art

The site has other types of clip art also: adults, children, costumes, faced, and hands on this page: Free Clip Art.

Membership at PaperBackSwap is free. It is a site where we post books (hardcover, paperback and even audiobooks) that we are willing to give away free to each other. For each book you give away you get one free from someone else. You pay postage to mail it to the other person, when someone else sends you your book, you pay nothing. Once you are a member, you can access the forums to chat or lurk. In the homeschooling forums people often post homeschooling curriculum or often sought after books as well as ask questions for information, encouragement or support regarding homeschooling.

If you click through my link and join, or put my name in the referring person line (ChristineMM is my name there) I will be given one free credit for one free book. Thank you! - Our online book club offers free books when you swap, trade, or exchange your used books with other book club members for free.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Environmentalist Hypocrite Spotted

Today I was driving for a while behind a car with nine bumper stickers that were common environmental issue statements. Two were regarding taking measures to keep water clean, one was about cleaning up Long Island Sound. Some were about preserving open space and one was about hiking in a protected nature reserve. One was about wanting clean air. There were all very tree-huggerish in nature, okay, fine.

However, the driver had his arm dangling outside the window and he was smoking a cigarette. Okay that's air pollution. I could smell the smoke coming into my own car (with my windows shut) as I sat behind him at a red light.

But the kicker was that when he was done with the cigarette he flung the lit butt onto the road and kept driving.

Hello! Isn't littering a bad thing to do for the environment?

What a hypocrite!

I'm fine with people having bumper stickers and I'd like all the things that the man was pushing via his bumper stickers. However I can't stand hypocrisy. If he cared about air pollution he'd not smoke. If he cared about not wrecking the Earth he'd not litter. And frankly I think it's kind of sad that he doesn't care as much about his own personal health and continues to smoke. Perhaps he should focus on cleaning up his own act and taking personal responsibility for his actions as he lives on this Earth rather than buying bumper stickers and telling the world he cares about certain big causes that he doesn't live out in his own life.

(I've been doing green things long before they were cool. I just do my thing quietly and don't advertise my causes through bumper stickers.)

Thoughts on Kids in the Digital Age

They can pick up a digital camera and use it immediately without reading instructions.

They found features on your digital camera that you never knew about after three years of nearly daily use.

They figured out how to make audio clips attached to digital photos with the digital camera.

They found ways to edit and manipulate digital images to improve their appearance. Who knew you could change a photo to sepia tones right on the camera itself?

They can make digital video without effort and begin scripting comedy skits with their friends.

They ask when they can open a You Tube account and begin sharing movies in cyberspace.

They ask to begin keeping a blog but never write with pencil on paper on their own. In fact they say they hate writing but will do it to share thoughts on a blog or personal website.

They ask when can they start writing their own Amazon customer reviews.

They know how to use the computer without being taught.

They figured out how to use the Amazon Kindle without instruction.

They figured out how to use the MP3 player, download music, rate the songs and create playlists.

They can figure out how to use a new video game console and learn to play the games without reading any instructions.

They have figured out what all the extra buttons on the remote control for the TV, satellite TV and DVD actually do and can make the stuff do things we parents never knew it could do.

Yet the more basic analog technology confounds them.

My eleven year old complained that the only edition of the audio book he wants to listen to is available on casssette and passed it up claiming it is too hard to use. He asked if we could travel to another public library as he thought they had it in CD format. It's a high class problem to have, I tell you, to want to use the more current or most current technology only.

Suffice it to say I'm not giving in on this one. Today we'll have a lesson in how to use the cassette player function of our portable stereo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Day Like Today

This is what it is like in my town today.

It is:


It made me feel:

Low energy
Like procrastinating

Photo taken by ChristineMM in Fairfield County in April 2009.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 173 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling edition #173 was published today at The Common Room.

I have an entry in this blog carnival.

This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!

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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The Life and Works of Andy Warhol Book Review by ChristineMM

The Life and Works of Andy Warhol Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Life and Works of Andy Warhol
By: Trewin Copplestone
ISBN: 0765196433 (hardcover book)

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 “I Love It”

Summary Statement: Lots of Info in This Retrospective of Warhol's Works

I came across this book in the children’s biography section of my public library and used it to teach a homeschool art history lesson with my children, but as I read it, it seemed to me this is actually intended for an adult audience due to the level of detail it goes into and the technical art world lingo used.

The book starts off with a short three page biography of Andy Warhol then moves on to have a reproduction of an artwork with commentary on each two page spread. The commentary reads as an art critique of the piece and sometimes contains explanations and references to why Warhol may have created the piece. The artworks are in chronological order and as you read through the book from beginning to end, in order, the accompanying text sections explain the change in process and subject matter over the course of Andy Warhol’s life. So this is not a typically arranged narrative type biography, instead we learn about Andy Warhol as a person and of his influences and his artwork as we studying individual pieces. There is a wide range of Warhol’s work not just a focus on the most popular or commonly known artworks.

There are approximately 35 artworks reproduced in full color and discussed in this book. The page size is 8x8 inches so the works are not reproduced in large scale as in some large coffee table books. To make up for the difficulty to see detail some of the art has small sections enlarged to show the detail. There is little white space on the page (unlike some other art books on the market).

As an adult I enjoyed reading this book and found it interesting and a fun way to learn about Andy Warhol’s life and art. A lot of the language is ‘art world-speak’ it is not written in simple layman’s terms. It seems to me despite what my public library thinks, this is not a book for middle school or elementary school students. Because I was looking for books to teach my middle school and elementary school aged homeschooled students with, I used the book with them to skim over the artwork and I talked a little about some of the pieces watering down the information that I read from the book.

If you are looking for a small volume retrospective book of Andy Warhol’s life, something much slimmer than a giant coffee table book or a book just about Warhol not about the entire Pop Art movement, this is a good book. It has lots of information despite its small page size and its 80 page length.

Disclosure: The book I read and reviewed was borrowed from the public library.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Andy Warhol Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists Book Review by ChristineMM

Andy Warhol Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Andy Warhol (Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists series)
Author/Illustrator: Mike Venezia
Genre: nonfiction, children's, elementary grades, ages 4-8
ISBN: 978-0516260754 (paperback edition)

My rating: 5 stars out of 5 "I Love It"

Summary Statement: Perfect Biography and Retrospective for Preschoolers and Elementary Grade Children

Mike Venezia’s series “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists” is a reliable and consistent series of art history books for elementary grade children. Venezia’s books may be read aloud to preschool aged children or younger elementary grade children or children in grades two, three or four may be able to handle reading them to themselves, the large font helps with that although some words are higher level vocabulary. The illustrations in the book are photographic reproductions of Warhol and his artwork and some other Pop Art works, as well as some silly cartoons illustrated by Venezia which add a little humor to the book.

Venezia always scrubs the artist’s lives of anything controversial to provide age-appropriate basic information about the artist and his art and a little of the art movement the artist was a part of. Each of his books follows the same formula. Venezia has a talent for giving just enough information about an art movement and the artist's life and no more. He makes the subject interesting to kids who may not think they want to know about the life of an artist. Venezia's books are not boring nor are they too long or too detailed, they are 'just right'. I recommend all of Mike Venezia's books as they are all consistently written and produced.

This book starts off with some popular works of Andy Warhol and talks a bit about the Pop Art movement. Then the book backtracks to Warhol’s childhood with some detailed information that young children can easily identify with and relate to. Included with the basic biographical information is Warhol’s interest in art at a young age and information about his primary and secondary education, segueing into how his art changed over time and at what point he became a self-employed professional artist.

Also referred to briefly are other artists of the time that were part of the Pop Art movement, with photographs of their work, to compare and contrast Warhol’s work with. This book has many reproductions of Warhol’s art from his childhood through the end of his life and talks about the different mediums he used besides painting also.

The book follows Warhol through his life from childhood to his death. As I said earlier Venezia has cleaned up the information presented to be age appropriate for elementary grade children. As an example, young children are often sensitive or scared about death and may worry about or be scared of doctor visits. Venezia mentions the date that Warhol passed away but no other details about his death (leaving out that he died after a common gall bladder surgery which other biographies for middle schooler students do mention). Another example is that the attempt made on his life and being shot with a gun but recovering from that is not mentioned (something else mentioned in middle grade biographies about Warhol). I commend Mike Venezia for realizing what children may be sensitive about and leaving out those details.

The inclusion of information about the artist as a child and the early interest in art and how Warhol's schooling did or did not support his artistic pursuit will be good for children who themselves love to make art to hear about.

This book is thorough enough to be the ONE and ONLY book used to educate PRESCHOOL and ELEMENTARY grade children about Andy Warhol’s life and artworks. To supplement a lesson about Andy Warhol, I suggest the educator show children larger sized reproduced works from books published for adults (like coffee table type books). If possible, to visit an art museum to see Andy Warhol’s works in real life as their bright colors and larger size truly make a larger impact on even young children who seem very interested in Andy Warhol’s fun and interesting artwork. Art museums often offer age-appropriate educational programs led by museum docents for even young children for school or homeschool groups if you inquire.

I highly recommend all of Mike Venezia’s books in the “GETTING TO KNOW THE WORLD'S GREATEST ARTISTS” for use with preschool and elementary grade children. I’ve been reading his books to my homeschooled children for years. Of course these books are perfect for school teachers to use and for parents to use at home to supplement their children’s school education too.

Disclosure: The copy I read belongs to the public library.

Going to Christian Homeschool Conference After All

I finally made the late decision to attend the Christian homeschool conference to be held in Massachusetts this coming Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25, 2009, given by MassHope. This will make six attendances in the last seven years.

Before going to a homeschool convention, especially a large one with many choices of lectures to hear and many vendors selling tons of stuff, having goals is important.

I decided to go to hear some lectures about teaching children with processing disorder type learning disabilities. I was on the fence as I know nothing abou the speaker and how knowledgeable she is or how good of a speaker she is. In my past career I'd received training on professional speaking and giving presentations to groups and indeed I did regularly give in-services, training sessions to existing employees and new hire's up to one hundred people at a time. Now I have little patience to sit and listen to a speaker with poor delivery skills, it grates on my nerves. My time is precious and I also don't want to sit and hear non-useful information or poorly organized material.

Some of the other lectures are the same topics by the same speakers that I've heard before at this conference in the past so I'm not too excited about the other speakers. I also own some of these recorded lectures and have listened to them more than once at home.

I have a short list of definately needed homeschooling curriculum. Some will be used in late spring this year. I plan to go to the vendor hall with list in hand and buy those things quickly before they sell out, just in case the inventory is low on these items.

Due to the big jobs I've done this year of culling books, reorganizing our books and redesigning the purpose for some rooms in our home I have a firm handle on the fact that I own way too many books than we will ever use. I see all that I own that we still have not had time to use. I have about fifteen boxes in my basement of stuff I hope to resell, somehow, or else it will wind up at a used book store, turned in for credit, swapped out on PaperBackSwap or just given away free to other homeschoolers.

I don't think I'll make many spontaneous purchases this time aroud as I am just feeling surrounded by overabundance.

A weird thing is this time none of my friends are going nor have any approached me to talk me into going. The general reason is they all feel they have too much educational stuff in their home already and don't want to be tempted to buy more. None are feeling in need of homeschooling information or encouragement, they are all coasting along just fine without exterior support.

(I do attend the Connecticut inclusive group's conference also but the vendor halls don't compare and the same topics are not covered for the lectures.)

If you want more information about the MassHope convention such as speaker list, lecture list, vendor list, and location, it can be found on the MassHope website. They accept walk-in registrations for one day or both days.

How the One Hour a Day Plan is Working for Housecleaning

It has been three months since I stared the one hour a day plan of house cleaning. I thought I’d give an update for anyone if they are curious.

To recap, I decided to try to do one hour a day of general decluttering of living spaces, washing surfaces and floors, dusting, cat litter box cleaning and bathroom cleaning. Not included in the one hour is dishwashing, meal prep and clean up and laundry.

If you are not a homeschooling parent, I want you to know that the fact that a family homeschools adds to the mess in a house. When kids are eating three meals plus snacks at home it is messy. When meals are made from scratch like ours are, it is messy. When kids are in a house using stuff in it all day it makes a mess (toys I mean). When little boys use toilets at home all day it makes a mess. When the house must house all the educational materials it can get messy. When every craft project and experiment is done at home (and the kids insist on saving it at least for a while) it can get clutter-y. When kids go in and out of the house in order to be in the yard to play it can make a mess. The hard part is that as a homeschool mom I have a job to do, to prep for and to home educate my kids then I have more house cleaning and meal prep work to do in addition! Worse is the fact that the kids tire me out and I can yearn for a break but what is waiting instead is for me to do housecleaning, not my idea of a relaxing activity at all.

If I were to clean my entire house non-stop it would take me a solid six hours if I was not interrupted for any reason. However I don’t want to dedicate a full six hours a week to that task and it is kind of impossible for a mother with children in the home to never be interrupted anyway. I thought maybe one hour per day, every day, would do the trick.

The way it turns out is that I have been able to do the one hour a day only four or five times a week. The main reason is that I refuse to do that after dinner. I am just tired enough to want to wind down at that point and am just lazy enough to not force myself to do that house cleaning at night. Hence it is happening only 4-5 times a week.

It is easy to get that cleaning done if we are home all of the day or if we do just one or two errands. When we’re home it means eating three meals and snacks at home so that adds to the work I do and the clean up for that takes time. However it is hard to get the one hour done if I am out of the house for more than four hours a day (plus doing meals at home). If I do shopping errands and then at home I have to put them away and so forth that adds time to what I’m doing. It is also hard to get it done if it is a day when I’m rushing out, coming back home, going out again to another appointment, coming home, and then leaving again. The hectic nature of the in and out of the house doesn’t allow for an hour to be spent on housecleaning. On those days basic eating and meal clean up and packing and unpacking from our errands takes up the time.

It is also hard when we travel. The time before the trip requires packing and planning. While gone, the dirt accumulates, the dust settles, the cats use the litter box, the fish filter still gets dirty. Then when we get home I have email to catch up on, snail mail, travel laundry to do and unpacking. So the week before travel is hard and the week after travel is hard.

My Boy Scout son camps about once a month. Prep for this takes time. When he gets home everything has to be unpacked and washed and stowed away neatly for the next month. The times when my husband also goes on the trip (often) doubles that work. Additionally as per the Troop’s requirement, my son comes home with cleaning to do, a dirty tent to air dry and sweep out, or a food prep box filled with kind of dirty pots and pans to all be re-washed properly at home. I don’t do the work for him but at his age of eleven I definitely have to supervise it and that takes time away from the things I’m trying to do.

I am so tempted to hire a house cleaner but I can’t justify the expense. The prices have climbed here; the cost is $25-35 an hour to be paid under the table according to my acquaintances and friends. That is a lot of money to make and to not have to pay taxes on which frankly I resent, as I’ve always paid the taxes on money I’ve earned! That is more than some white collar professionals make in their 9-5 day job. I keep thinking of all the things I could do with the $7K per year it would take to clean this house and what still needs to be done for general house maintenance (new roof, paint the exterior, new boiler) and I can’t justify paying someone to do the task.

My kids help a little with the house cleaning but not much. My kids have been doing 100% of the family’s laundry since October 2008 so that is helpful. At this point I probably should give more responsibility to the kids for the house cleaning but it takes so much effort to monitor them and adds to power struggle issues especially with my one slacker-ish son that I don’t want to deal with it right now.

I am happy with the one hour a day plan. The best part is that the house is not filling up with clutter as I am taking time to put everything away daily as part of the one hour routine. I also have a liberated feeling when one hour has gone by and I am compelled to keep going but force myself to stop because at that point I am not yet in a negative mindset, resentful at those in the family who made the messes, and don't yet feel burdened by having had to do that cleaning. So I end the cleaning on a high note and still full of energy. The worst part is that even when I do the work, the entire house is never sparkling clean all at one moment (the kitchen floor may be freshy mopped but the rugs in other rooms are not vacummed for example). However this is forcing me to accept the “good enough” mindset and is helping subdue the perfectionist within me. Anything that helps me rid myself of the perfectionism is to be encouraged!

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy About Our Poetry Studies This Homeschool Year

Another subject that I have felt ‘behind’ in with my children in the last couple of years is poetry.

A number of homeschoolers feel that reading one poem per week is a good thing and not very hard. Over time that builds up and seems like a fair amount of poetry reading. It is certainly more than the average American adult reads! Well we were not even reading one poem per week.

This winter I decided enough was enough. I pulled some poetry books off my shelf and had the kids read poems to themselves for 15 minutes a day, three or four times a week. They have not complained one iota. My first selections were poems on winter and snow as that was the season. Next I had them read funny and light poetry by Shel Silverstein. The poetry of Jack Prelutsky came next. Presently they are reading children’s poetry on topics of insects and animals (now that spring is here).

My plan was to start them on poems that were witty and funny and not serious. I didn’t want to bore them with serious adult poetry that they may not relate to in any way. I will also use some poetry regarding history when that time arrives in our history studies (such as poems of the American Civil War). Eventually they will be reading more serious poetry of famous poets, hopefully by then they will not be completely intimidated by poetry and will be open minded to it.

It feels good to finally tackle teaching a subject in homeschooling that I procrastinated about for too long and to finally start to cover the topic on a regular basis and have the whole thing going smoothly!