Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Prepping for Compute This Event This Week

This week in between some major "problem" things happening in our family I am finally taking the time to work with my seventh grade homeschooled son to prepare for one event he wants to compete in at the Science Olympiad.

We have ten days until the event and so far my son has put only two hours into preparing for this particular event. (He is competing in a total of three events and much time has been put into the other projects.) He'll be working with one other student on this one, and they have only spent two hours together so they don't have a 'working relationship' yet. Oh well.

In order to prepare he will have to become more familiar with working with Microsoft Word. He will have to learn some of the Microsoft Excel program including how to create charts and custom charts. He will need to practice answering complex questions by doing research on the website. He will need to learn to note source webpages to document where he found his answer. There is an option to make cheat sheets or other notes to publish on a public website that they can use during the event so he might choose to create a public post on his (presently inactive) blog.

He'll need to take note of this year's event rules and make sure he's following them. Last year a judge told me a full half of the entrants did not even put their team name on their submissions which meant they could not be scored for all that work they did! I note that the directions to do this are right on the paperwork challenge they are given as well as being VERY clear in the rules. I bet the kids were so worried about the challenge itself something as basic as putting your team name on the report submitted was not on their mind. (This is further proof of my theory of late that following directions and showing up is half the battle in doing well at something.)

This event is called Compute This! for Science Olympiad. The SO website explains the event. There are samples from past competitions that you can look at if you are curious. We are using one of these to practice with.

My son insists he wants to do this but we've not taken the time to prepare until now due to busy-ness which seems pretty pathetic, huh?

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 222 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 222 was published at The Home Spun Life on March 30, 2010.

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

I have an entry in this week’s carnival.

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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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 221 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 221 was published at Home Grown Mommy on March 23, 2010

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

I have an entry in this week’s carnival.

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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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 220 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 220 was published at About Homeschooling on March 16, 2010

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

I have an entry in this week’s carnival.

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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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rebellion Begins

Me: "Put your uniform on."

Son: "No."

Me: "It's a BSA rule. Everyone else is doing it. Put it on."

(Appears with Class A shirt on but not buttoned and regular jeans. Has to wait five minutes which apparently is too long to bear unentertained so flip on the TV and sits. Note the body posture and look on the face.)

Me: "Where are your uniform pants?

Son: "It's a stupid rule that the Boy Scouts make you wear the full uniform while you drive up to the campout. What's the point? We're just in our car. Who's looking at us? I'm not doing it"

Me: "You ran for Patrol Leader and were elected. You need to be a good role model for your Patrol. And there are brand new Scouts who just joined. They are looking up to you to be their example. That's the way it is with leadership positions. You have to do what is right even when you don't feel like it."

I got a stare back.

I decided to compromise. I know some kids there will not have theirs on. I am so strict about rule following usually that some people say I'm too intense.

Me: "Button up your shirt."

Son buttons shirt. Leaves it untucked, at which point I said, "Tuck the shirt in. And bring your pants with you on the camp out."

Upon arriving at the meet-up location I see the Soutmaster's son in gym shorts and a tie dye t-shirt. A couple of others are wearing only half of their uniform. I told this story about the uniform to an Assistant Scoutmaster to get some sympathy for the puberty hormone surges. He said I should have threatened him to not go unless he fully dressed. I said I was picking my battles and 100% of the time for the last two solid years my son has been in proper uniform. And honestly I wasn't ready to dole out the threatened consequence if he challenged me on it.


There is a certain look that I don't like to see, the posture, slumping of shoulders, mouth downturned. The eyes also seem to be half closed. Sometimes a hoodie's hood is up and stays up, blocking his face. Son is asking to let his bangs grow longer "it keeps my forehead warm". I replied something about the hair being in front of his eyes and it's obstructing his vision to which he replied, "I can see just fine and I like it this way".


I don't think attachment parenting or homeschooling is saving my son from experiencing some of the negative's of the teenaged years (despite the claims that some make).

Please let me get through my son's teenage years! I feel lost already!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Garden in March

Here is my zone 6 garden on the morning of March 22, 2010.

Tasks completed by this point:

Torn deer fencing removed (not yet replaced)

Garden beds cleared of last year's dead plants

Removed fallen leaves from last autumn and dead branches that fell during fall and winter winds

In the garden at this point:

The oregano overwintered, as did the fennel and lavender.

Meanwhile, indoors:

I'd made 300 soil blocks to start seeds under lights in my basement

Garden planning still going on which will determine which seeds get sown directly in the garden now versus sown indoors. (I'm either right on time or one week behind on this depending on which 'last frost' dates I choose to use.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Doing Today...

Time to breathe thanks to no appointments for me and my twelve year old son. He was so happy to hear he had a free day. He asked to stay home and do nothing. That 'do nothing' does not include time on video games due to being punished off them (last weekend and this weekend). The boy/young man must learn to curb the testosterone surges in non-violent ways. Period.

The nine year old had Lacrosse practice in below-freezing temperatures, outside. I sent my husband off with him. I look forward to getting back to drop-off practices but until the situation with the bully is over one of us is observing. (There are other parents there too, it's not just us.) I note also the bully bothers other kids and at least three parents are not happy with that boy. I'm holding off on blogging details of this. That was the only appointment today for those two.

Today I am:

baking two loaves of chocolate banana bread (to use up the overripe bananas). One will be a gift to relatives whose mother just passed away.

baking four loaves of artisan bread (see here and here)

cooking one pot of Maine style baked beans using my grandmother's recipe

making final plans for which garden seeds need to be sown indoors under lights

planting said seed indoors on the soil blocks I made last week

planting peas outdoors in the raised bed garden

researching if the spray on the bushes to keep the deer away is poisonous which would alter my plans to use the same garden bed for edible herbs

setting up the new home security video surveillance system to test the product for Amazon Vine (the first experiment will be to use it with night vision to see if any wild creatures are visiting our compost pile!)

writing more book and product reviews for Amazon Vine

Sportcraft Ladderball Product Review by ChristineMM

Product: Sportcraft Ladderball
Type: an indoor and outdoor ball throwing game
Company: Sportcraft

My Rating: 3 Stars = It's Okay

Summary Statement: Two (or Three) False Claims Made by Manufacturer Affect Game Play and Storage

Overall this is a fun game. The set up was easy, done in about ten minutes by my twelve year old and nine year old sons without adult supervision. We played this as a family together.

The main reason that I’m not rating this “I Love It = 5 stars” is the manufacturer makes two claims that are false that negatively affect the game and its storage and portability.

The first is the product description says it comes with a carrying case. Mine has no such case nor does my instruction book say the case is in this product (leading me to think this is an error in the marketing materials rather than an omission at the factory). These are constructed of 32 PVC pipes. If you lose one part you are doomed (unless you pay for replacement parts via Internet order from the manufacturer.) I’d love it if indeed there was a carrying case so it could be easily moved to a beach or other location. The carry case would be helpful for storage over the winter. I am not excited about the idea of using the cardboard box to store everything in; I guess I’ll find some kind of plastic bin or a fabric sack of some sort to use as a carrying case.

Second the instructions state the score can be kept with the numbers on the side. While there are numbers on it, there is nothing to mark the score. It seems to me there should be a small piece of plastic that hooks to the PVC pipe that can slide up and down to indicate the numerical score. The numbers on that pipe have no purpose if there is no way to mark them! We have to keep score in our heads despite the instruction manual’s directions to keep score using the numbers on the leg.

Also odd is the manufacturer is marketing this as also an indoor toy. I disagree that this should be played indoors! These are hard plastic weighted balls that look like golf balls. There is no way I’d ever let my kids or even an adult throw these inside my house. Can you say broken window? Banged up walls?


In general the game is fun. You can make the units closer together for younger kids. As with all throwing sport games one must practice to have success, that’s part of the skill that has to be developed to play new game. Most people will not have instant success but that’s normal!

I also recommend standing way back or to the sides when your opponent is throwing so you don’t get hit. Worst case scenario: you could lose a tooth if hit on the mouth.

(My kids and their friends have more fun playing with their grandparent’s old wooden croquet set that we’ve inherited. Maybe we’ll have a resurgence of croquet soon?)

Disclosure: I received this product free of charge from the Amazon Vine program in agreement to publish a Vine review on I was not paid to write this review nor was I obligated to publish said review on my blog. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dr. Aardsma's Spelling Drill Curriculum Review

I made the mistake of buying this product before I fully researched what it was. After I was disappointed I researched it more and still could not find much information about it. This was about three years ago.

So before I try to resell the two products I don't want, I decided to blog about it.


Product: Dr. Aardsma's Spelling Drill grade 3-4 and Dr. Aardsma's Spelling Drill grade 5-6 (CD-ROM)

Full Retail Price: $19.95 (each)

From the user manual "Dr. Aardsma's Spelling Drill is conceptually simple. It gives old fashioned spelling tests designed for use in grades 1 through 6. The big difference is that a computer takes the place of the teacher presenting the test."

Each program has approximately 8000 words.

The program is on a CD-ROM and is installed onto your computer. When the child uses the program the computer speaks the word and uses it in a sentence. The child has to type in the word. The system tracks the time the child takes to enter the word and it sometimes prompts them "too slow hurry!". If the child misspells the word the system tells them they made a mistake and asks them to try again.

The system keeps a log of the child's scores and it retests them on the words they got wrong.

You can try a free demo of the program on the company's website: Dr. Aardsma's Drills.

These word lists are from multiple spelling list sources. A problem some people may have with the program is it is not one philosophy of spelling. For example if you feel your child should do spelling based on phonetic families, this program will not fulfill this need since this is a mish-mosh of different programs. The words presented have no relation to the other words being presented. Some words seemed to me to be way too easy and others seemed difficult (yet were presented in the same test) which was odd.

Another con is this is not a spelling program or curriculum. The homeschool parent would have to teach their child some type of study skill to do to practice the words that were wrong (I guess) in order for the child to learn the words. (Unless the parent just wants the child to sit at the computer and take test after test hoping that somehow they'll absorb the correct spelling of the words they don't know.)

Let me repeat all this program does is provide a human voice reading a word and a sentence and the student types in the word.

The system does re-test errors and it does keep a log of mistakes.

Another con is the prompts to "hurry up" can bother some kids, especially those who have not yet mastered touch typing. Also when the child is told to 'try again' yet is under a time constraint they have no choice but to kind of hurry up and take a guess at what the right spelling might be.

Once I had the program in hand and once both of my kids tried it and hated it I re-read the homeschool catalog's description of what this product was to see how I'd been duped. Everything they'd written about it was accurate so I could not be angry with the company! This was a case of me not knowing what was NOT said or perhaps me thinking this was something other than what it was.

In any event, this is the case of me buying a homeschool curriculum product that just wasn't a good fit for either of my children.

We have been using Spelling Power for the last five years and are happy with it. (I tried Dr. Aardsma's after having used Spelling Power, thinking maybe it was better for us, but as I said I was wrong.)

Disclosure: I purchased all these materials for our family's use. I was not paid to write this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Is This Age Discrimination?

A gifted thirteen year old's family feels he is the victim of age discrimination. This concerns a trip abroad to study in the field connected to his studies at UCONN.

Prodigy, 13, claims age discrimination by UConn

I don't have much to say about this except "blame the lawyers". Life in America has been so restricted thanks to lawsuits and fear of lawsuits. It's a shame.

Hat Tip: homeschooling mother posted to a homeschool discussion group

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pondering a Standard Curriculum in American Public Schools

I turned on my DVR to see what the recorded BookTV author lectures had to offer me. My service provider is imperfect with regard to the timing of their recording of these and there is no program information provided (which probably accounts for their recording errors). So when I hit the play button a man was in the middle of giving his lecture. There was nothing on the screen to tell me who this man was. I had never seen the man's face before.

I was knitting and listening, not looking at the screen. I was immediately drawn in by what he was saying, talking about the lowered academic standards that have been steadily occurring since the end of World War II. Who was this guy anyway? I liked what he was saying. I was also interested as he didn't have good things to say about the decades I myself was a public school student, and I thought things were better then than they are now.

Come to find out he was none other than E.D. Hirsch, the man behind the Core Knowledge Sequence. He was discussing his latest book "The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools". I didn't even know he had a new book published.

The lecture was short. I encourage you to view it free on the CSPAN BookTV website here. Following the lecture he answers questions from the audience. The beginning focuses on test scores to demonstrate dropping scores. He discusses that academics and teachers blame dropping scores on opening the SAT to more minorities and urban students who were seeking college admissions. Hirsch shows statistics to prove that this cannot account for the drop as the drop occurred also in nearly all white, middle class, non-urban Midwestern areas.

Hirsch makes the case that one reason it is hard for teachers to teach is because of a lack of a standard curriculum grade by grade. I don't believe he means curriculum as homeschoolers think he means, he doesn't mean the actual texts, but an overall plan (scope and sequence) of what should be taught in each grade. By having different content in classrooms within one school, within different schools in an area, (and so forth) the teacher cannot build upon past knowledge as the students in the class come with different content and mastery levels. As the grades get higher and higher this become a mess as each year the students enter the classroom with varying academic experiences from prior years.

Hirsch labels this different style of content, this thing that is NOT a national standard progression in a grade by grade manner as being a 'child-centered' curriculum. Once you understand his code word for that, understanding the rest of what he says is easier.

Let me tell you something about my own research and our decision to homeschool. The seeds of homeschooling were planted by husband when I was just six months pregnant. Later I wanted to homeschool for some other reasons. When my oldest was two I began reading about preschool. I wanted to know what went on in American preschools so I could take this into consideration for our home preschool or shall I say, what we'd do with the free time we had by our not sending our kids to preschool.

The first thing I realized was the non-existence of a general plan of education (scope and sequence) for public schooling or preschool in America. I thought maybe I wasn't looking hard enough, so I paused that search and began reading about private preschool methods using "alternative" education methods such as Montessori and Waldorf education. These were all started in countries other than the USA and now were used in some expensive private preschools in America. Some Americans think these were elitist methods of education for the wealthy only. I set about figuring out what went on in those preschools to justify hefty tuition for two and three year old children.

While reading the writings of Maria Montessori I was overwhelmed by the detailed thought process behind the philosophy, then the detailed application of classroom content and procedures in close alignment with that. I then went on to read about the Waldorf method and some of Rudolph Steiner's philosophies (the founder of Waldorf education). Again there was a lot of information about developmental stages of the child, what they should be taught when, and timing was very important, windows open to introduce this content, and so forth.

I then turned back to the American public education system for K-12 and also this nebulous thing called "preschool". I still could not find a solid philosophy or what Hirsh calls a "curriculum" or a national scope and sequence. The only thing I found was E.D. Hirsch's proposals in the Core Knowledge Sequence which was referenced in The Educated Child. Some parents use the Hirsch books in the "What Your ## Grader Needs to Know" series.

I need to insert here that at this point I was firmly in the unschooling camp. I read and respected the views of John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. I had strong opinions like "who is to say a child should learn this fact in this grade" and "why can't learning be different and all fun and games". When I read "The Educated Child" I bristled. I wrote a book review for that when my oldest was five years old and published it on Amazon. I recently re-read it and was surprised at my point of view back then because over time as my two children have grown older (they are now 12.5 and 9.5 years old) my educational philosophies have changed. Learning is not all games, struggling to learn something is not all fun and sometimes hard work must be done to understand a concept or see a point of view and the learner has to dig deeper to 'get it'.

But anyway back in those days when my oldest was in preschool I was still searching for answers about what was done in American public schools. I knew some classroom teachers (friends and relatives) and talked to them. They told me that what they did in their classroom was under their control and they had freedom. (Note this was before NCLB which has changed the focus of the classroom work in certain schools to be largely test prep for the standardized test.) They said what went on in different classrooms in the same school varied widely. I was surprised as this is so different from what Montessori and Waldorf education provides.

This sealed the deal that as long as I could, I didn't want my children in public schools (nor did my husband). There was not enough thought behind what was taught and when, there was no way to control what teacher they had, who was good, who stunk, and who was burned out. This was way too chaotic for my taste. Let's not even get into what is done in different schools in different towns or in different states! I was upset just thinking about a lack of a cohesive scope and sequence (or "curriculum" to use Hirsch's term) in one SCHOOL.

Back to the Hirsch lecture, the beginning of it was recorded separately, so I was able to go back to watch it from start to finish. Since that time over the next few months I've watched this lecture a total of four times. Each time I listen I seem to hear new things. (I only wish this lecture was longer!)

About Finland

Unschoolers sometimes discuss Finland. They say the kids enter school at age 7 or 8 and are late to learn to read as well as having that late exposure to formal lessons. Their school day is also shorter.

Yet Finland achieves high scores compared to other developed countries, including America. Hirsch said something I'd never heard the unschoolers say. First, there is a national curriculum. The government prescribes what is to be taught in what grade. Schools can offer different teaching methods but they must use this plan.

Second, the money follows the student. The students are free to apply to different schools, they are not forced to go to the school that their place of residence allows them to attend (for public school). The good schools thrive and the bad schools close for lack of enrollment.

Neither of these things happens in America. So it seems to me that the success of Finland is not due to delaying formal education to a later age or late reading being somehow beneficial, it is due to stricter prescription of content determined by the government and the student's having freedom to go to the school of their choice and the money being attached to the student, wherever they choose to go (what some in America call a voucher system).

Homeschooling vs. Public Schooling

I think that when pondering what should be taught when we need to divide homeschooling and public schooling.

With homeschooling we have a lower student to teacher ratio. Parents can also hire subject matter experts or teachers to instruct their child. There is more freedom with homeschooling. It is possible to match the books and curriculums (textooks etc.) to the child's developmental stage.

When there is more freedom with homeschooling the students can progress forward at their own rate. This progress may be slow sometimes or may do fast jumps ahead. That is fine.

Learning styles or different methods can be used with homeschooling. Customization is easier.

When dealing with large groups of kids in a public school classroom it is just not possible to customize as homeschooling families do. There are limits of budget, the challenge of one teacher assigned to 15-20 or more students and all kinds of other issues. In my volunteer work with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, working with groups of boys of the same age but different abilities and developmental stages, I shudder at the notion of what school teachers have to deal with. I don't know how they do it. The spectrum of abilities is staggering. Add into the mix, the personalities and group dynamics of the kids interacting with each other and it can be a real mess.

I feel that it is beneficial to consider a national curriculum for American public schools. With that said I also would like to see more magnet schools available to all students which provide customized learning or niche topic learning.

I'd like to see schools for computer science or classical education or schools that specialize in teaching visual-spatial learners. I'd like students to be able to test into schools with specialized instruction. Additionally I'd like to see schools that teach vocations for high school for students who CHOOSE to seek a specific path. Why push all kids through a college prep track then make them pay for a private education after high school graduation to learn auto mechanics or heating and air conditioning repair or medical assisting or some other skill? Why not teach them The Three R's and a vocation for the high school years?

Dumbing Things Down

In the lecture Hirsch talks about dumbed down language in textbooks from pre-World War II and post World War II. He feels we are using easier language and requiring less work of our students. He feels this accounts for dropping scores.

Another item of interest to me in the Hirsch lecture is the over-focus on skills and the reduction of teaching content in the elementary grades. This is something that Joy Hakim also discussed in her three hour long In Depth interview on BookTV.

Take a Look

I encourage you to listen to this short lecture by E.D. Hirsch and to look at his charts and visuals.

Even if you think you are against a national standardized curriculum keep an open mind and just think about where the system as it is now has taken our students (downhill).

From what I understand Massachusetts has a plan for their state which is a standard curriculum.

I honestly have not thought much about the 'state's rights issue'. I am more concerned with a system that appears to be highly flawed with no real action moving toward education reform. Something should be done.

Some Books Mentioned in This Post or That Influenced Me

How Children Fail (Classics in Child Development)

How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some Thoughts on Bullying

I just read this nine page presentation on bullying which you may find informative if you're interested in this topic. It explains the basis for some bullying such as the pecking order and why bullying increases at the middle school level. However like all writing on bullying this falls short in the end.

I recall Barbara Coloroso saying in her book "The Bullied, the Victim and the Bystander" we all fit into one of these categories:

- Bully

- Victim

- Bystander (looks on and does nothing)

Additionally one person can also fit into more than one category. The child may be a victim of one bully but be a bystander when he sees another child being picked on. Some psychologists would say that child bullies are often victims of bullying at home (by their parents or older siblings) and that's what started the bully on the cycle of violence in the first place. Hypothesizing about these origins is of little concern to me. Outsiders cannot fix problems inside a bully-child's home.

Of primary importance to me, is helping the victim and changing the situation so the bully is given less opportunities to do their bullying. Also when bullying does occur, I'd like to see the adults in charge dole out appropriate consequences to the bully to send the message that they are not going to accept that behavior.

The solution given to victims by most experts is boiled down to main two things. First, stand up for yourself. A victim can only take so much so this repeated advice to "stand up for yourself when confronted" starts to ring hollow after just a short time. No matter how good the child's self-esteem is in their private life one can only take being physically hurt over and over for so long. Verbal taunting and abuse over and over, especially when done in front of other kids is humiliating and winds up tearing down the child's self-esteem. It's a bit of a back and forth to be boosted up at home then torn down on the school bus. So honestly I'm not a big fan of "make the child feel worthwhile at home and it will be alright' because, sorry, that's just not good enough to stop the bullying.

Second, they recommend that peers and adults become an advocate to stop bullying they see happening with other kids. Some (like Jay McGraw) feel the best case would be if bands of kids can come together to stand up to their bully-peer. The problem with their proposed solution is that many people (children and adults alike) will not stand up and accept the role of the advocate.
I have little confidence in new converts to advocacy. You can teach a child to stand up for themselves (be their own advocate) but with persistent bullies this doesn't work. The other kids who side with the bully ONLY because they want the bully on their side so they do not become the victim themselves will not then switch sides to stand victim in the role of advocate. Actually what can happen in real life, is if the victim stands up to the bully then the bully looks to their cohorts who can then join in then all of a sudden you have a group of kids bullying a single victim. Thus in a matter of seconds, those who were bystanders are now bullies too.

A child-victim can only do so much to follow the advice to stay away from the bully. The very fact that kids are in school together, riding a school bus, or playing on a team sport puts these kids in constant contact with each other. These kids must rely on the adults managing these situations to follow-through on stated anti-bullying policies that are intended to provide a safe environment for supposed positive childhood development and/or achievement of a quality academic education.

At the end the advice falls short. I have a pessimistic outlook for lowering or stopping bullying in schools and in groups. This is because the bottom line is the adults who work with children, such as most teachers, school administrators, and coaches are not usually of the ADVOCATE mindset. They are usually bystanders. Perhaps they like their jobs when things are going well but when faced with challenges such as dealing with bullying incidents some don't want to handle it. Even when faced with direct observation of the bullying or when they are informed that it is happening, they may be afraid of dealing with conflict and they would rather avoid dealing with it at all costs. These adults in authority who work with kids may say they enjoy working with children and that they care about them but the fact of the matter is that most of them let bad and sometimes dangerous behavior continue year after year with little regard for the damage being done to the victim.

Let's stop and do a fact check. Teachers and others getting paid to do a job to work with children usually have clear rules, policies and procedures for acceptable and non-acceptable behavior and how to handle bullying. In Connecticut we even have an anti-bullying law that outlines processes and procedures and mandates reporting to the state of bullying events. The sad fact is that usually those adults choose to ignore the policies and laws. The craziest of all is when Principals allow bullying to continue. Let's not even get into trying to figure out why some children of Principals, teachers and coaches are the worst bullies, I have no explanation for that, do you?

If you read the writings about bullying carefully you will find the evidence that the advocates are few and far between. I find the fact that many teachers, principals, and coaches do not fall into the advocate category pathetic and shameful. Given the numbers of adults who work with children the statistics for the numbers of advocates should be HIGHER. Adults who turn a blind eye to bullying but claim they love working with children should be ashamed of themselves. Rather than prop themselves up on feeling happy for the percentage of kids that are doing fine and ignoring the kids who are suffering under their care, they should look at where they are failing and work to reduce those numbers. Rather than saying "92% of kids are not bullied once a week" they should try to reduce the 8% of victims to a smaller number! (I'm using the statistics mentioned in the report I linked to earlier.)

Sadly too much literature about bullying is too hard on the victim, blaming them for not having enough self-confidence or being fearful to stand up for themselves.

I find that the literature about bullying goes much too soft on the adults in authority who choose to be bystanders. The adults should be pushed and forced to switch their mindset and to act when action is appropriate. I am sick of adults turning a blind eye. I am tired of people in leadership positions who lack the leadership skills to do their job well.

I'm tired of people who say they don't deal with problems as they "hate confrontation" or "dislike conflict". Dealing with a problem is just dealing with a problem, it is about communication, it doesn't have to be a 'confrontation'. Dealing with an issue does not require aggression. The person who chooses to deal with a problem situation is JUST doing their job--that's what they are getting paid for!

Schools, school buses, sports teams and Scout groups are supposed to be safe places for kids to do good, worthwhile things. Adults who accept positions of authority who work with children have a fiduciary duty to do right by the children in their charge that includes following rules, policies, procedures, and laws.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way!

Do your job fully and responsibly, or find another profession!

Maybe by your leaving another more qualified person can take your job!


Books Mentioned in This Post

Read my review of Jay McGraw's book here.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post. See my blog's disclosure statement at the top of the sidebar if further information is wanted.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wright Stuff Prep for Science Olympiad 2010

Since the new year, my son has put in about 55 hours of work so far between two events for Science Olympiad with his homeschool team (and they are not done yet)!

One of the events is Wright Stuff, an event where a wooden plane is built by the students. It is to be powered with a rubber band. The plane that flies the longest wins. The planes are flown indoors in a gymnasium. They go around in circles, slowly flying around and around. If the plane goes too high and hits the ceiling, supports or basketball equipment it is doomed. If it is too low its flight pattern will be shorter and it will be out of the running for a win.

This is my son's first time participating in Wright Stuff. He chose to do this activity. He loves the process of working on this project. He likes both the project work and spending time with these boys. My son has already purchased additional materials to work on model planes at home on his own (for fun). He has already drawn plans for an interesting plane design.

This is an example of where a scholastic competition geared toward schooled kids showed my son a new thing that could be done in his spare time for fun.

Unschoolers take note that organized, structured, formal events like this for kids (designed for school kids) can wind up helping a (homeschooled) child find a passion--not all (homeschooled) kids can find a new passion all by themselves. Some unschoolers I know shun anything related to school or anything competitive or anything created for schooled kids, so others of that mindset is who I'm directing that to.

Here are some photos of my son flying a test plane. Due to privacy concerns I am not sharing photos of the other team members (but I wish I could so you could see the fun they have interacting with each other and their positive teamwork).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fun with ShapeScapeS

I discovered this cool thing (toy or art material -- you decide) at the gift shop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and just had to buy it immediately. It is called ShapeScapeS Sculpture in a Box (which is actually a cylinder).

Over 90 pieces of durable plastic interlock in hundreds if not thousands of ways. Some shapes look like arms with hands and some other body parts and something that might be a fish head. Most are odd shapes that could be anything or might be nothing specific at all. There are a few rings which are intended to help convert a sculpture into a mobile.

There is a really small pamphlet with the product giving a couple of ideas--this is not a step-by-step make-it-this-way-only thing (thank goodness).

As soon as I opened this my kids went wild. I can see playing around with this for hours.

This would be fun to leave out in a family room. I'd love to see some adults dig in and play around with it. I bet no two people would make the same thing.

Fun, fun, fun.

Disclosure: I was not paid to review or blog about this product. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pizza From Scratch (Again)

Two days ago my twelve year old asked for homemade pizza from scratch. He asked to make the dough himself which was good because I had no time for such a project.

I directed my son about where to find the favorite pizza dough recipe, in what cookbook kept on that shelf there. When he couldn't find the recipe I reminded him of the thing they call the index and voila, he found it.

He made the dough himself (for the first time). I answered a question here and there. I only came running when I heard the Kitchen Aid mixer begin to make a terrible sound. It was binding up. Oh boy. I'm still trying to figure out if it's broken or just needs an adjustment, but I digress.

My kids decided they wanted bacon on the pizza (not something we usually bother with). Since we had it on hand (a treat), they began bickering about who would fry the bacon. I didn't have to step in because they decided to use two frying pans for the project. They also decided to do a taste test, the low sodium versus the hickory smoked. Each cooked one type. They decided they loved the hickory smoke despite the protestations they made at the grocery store about my suggestion to try it. "This tastes just like the delicious bacon at King's!" (a family run restaurant in Newtown Connecticut, with an incredible breakfast). On his own my older son let the bacon cool then crumbled it.

When my husband got home he fired up the oven. Both kids helped my husband make the pizza and we dined. Two pizzas were plain mozz and the third was bacon and mozz.

We probably make homemade pizza four times a year. It's not the healthiest thing, or the fastest meal to create or bake (as it comes out of the oven pie at a time) but it is delicious. I like mine with a cold beer.

I enjoy teaching my kids to cook and bake and I like working alongside them, as does my husband. We consider this a family activity and a good thing that all kids should know how to do. (I don't go so far as to count this as a homeschool math lesson in case you're wondering.)

I wish that more kids were learning to cook alongside their parents. Parents, if you don't know much about cooking or baking it is never too late. You can learn alongside your kids. All you have to do is find a recipe, buy the ingredients, and follow the directions. You can do it.

Note: The recipe we've been using is in the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. The next time we make it I want to try the slow rise recipe in the book My Bread.

 Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post or to mention these books. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I Use Soil Blocks for Seed Starting

Last night I created 300 soil blocks that I will use to start seeds growing indoors. I will be planting vegetables, herbs, and flowers for transplanting to my raised bed edible garden and the foundation planting in front of my house which I'm redesigning this spring.

Soil blocks are compressed soil in a block shape. They are made using a special soil block mold maker. Different types of soils, my homemade compost and different organic fertilizer items are combined in a special mix for this project. Water is added to this mix and then the blocks are made.

When the seed grows in the block, when the roots hit the exterior the air seals them off. This keeps the roots strong and prevents roots from becoming overcrowded or root-bound as can be the case when raising transplants in pots. Another great thing is the strong roots exposed to the air do not get root shock at transplanting time as pot-grown transplants can. Lastly dumping the tender seedling is not done, a process which can sometimes damage not only the roots but the fragile stem itself.

There is no waste here. There is nothing to throw in the trash or to rot. The soil block goes right into the garden and that's that.

I first learned of this process in the 1990s on a gardening show that used to air on cable TV's The Learning Channel, "Gardening Naturally" featuring Eliot Coleman and (his wife) Barbara Damrosch. I found the recipe for the soil mix in Coleman's book The New Organic Grower. This book is excellent although perhaps a bit overkill for the home gardener, it is geared toward small family farms but I found it contained information I could not find elsewhere. I bought it back before the Internet really expanded so honestly I don't know how much of this is available online. I value Coleman's many years of experience. If you are interested in gardening year-round or gardening in the colder climates, check out his subsequent book Four Season Harvest.

(I see that Johnny's Selected Seeds sells a potting mix for this. I've never used that, I make homemade using the Coleman recipe.)

For soil blocks this is what I do. I do own all three sizes but for me, a home gardener with a high germination rate, I didn't feel the effort and time was worth it to use the tiny soil blocks ("mini 20").

Also since I plant my transplants out about 6-7 weeks, I don't need the four inch size soil block maker ("large single"). To try to gain 1-2 weeks of extra indoor growth for my zone 6 garden, this seems too labor intensive for me. People living in cooler climates who need longer time growing transplants indoors might find these necessary. (Given the price this thing sells for today I should consider reselling my barely used 4 inch mold!)

So, the bottom line is I only use the two inch soil block maker ("medium 4").

The mold makes a little hole for the seed. I place vermiculite on top of the seed. I have these in plastic trays with solid bottoms ($1-$2 each at a garden supply center). I water them by putting the water in the bottom of the tray. I don't water from above as I find it can disrupt the germinating seed or the tender seedling. I grow these under lights in my basement using a 40 year old shelf system that my father made out of wood for my mother when she first began hybridizing and showing African Violets. When she quit the hobby she passed on the shelf to me. (Now that she has restarted she has not asked for this back which makes me very happy.)

I don't recall where I bought these but now they can be found at Johnny's Selected Seeds.

I do not use heat trays, never have bothered to. My seeds are started in the basement close to the furnace. It is usually in the 60s in my basement near the furnace.

Here is a video tutorial about making soil blocks. I almost made one myself until I realized there are some online now, so here you go.

Amazon now sells the soil block makers.

Related post of mine: My Experience with Soil Blocks for Seed Starting

Here is the one I use:

I own the giant one but don't use it.

I own the mini one but don't use it.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post or to mention these books, products or companies. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chocolate Cakes Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion

Author:Elinor Klivans

Publication: Chronicle Books (January 27, 2010)

Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook

ISBN: 978-0811868723

Full Retail Price: $22.95

My Star Rating: 4 out of 5 = I Like It

Summary Statement: Finally the Cookbook I’ve Been Waiting For –but—Text Too Small and Crammed In

First and foremost I’m a chocoholic. I’m an avid home baker and enjoy making things from scratch that taste superior AND wind up being less expensive than store-bought prepared foods. I enjoy the process of creating things. I have a collection of over 350 cookbooks. I have been disappointed in the past when a book all about baking desserts has just one or two chocolate cake recipes and just one chocolate frosting recipe. I didn’t get that, given that so many bakeries produce fancy chocolate cakes, there is a lot more than Devil’s Food Cake out there, and so where were the recipes for the home baker?

I was thrilled to receive a review copy of this cookbook from the Amazon Vine program, sight unseen. However, I was immediately disappointed in the graphical layout of this cookbook. I’m really let down by the publisher’s design team. Yes, the full-color photographs by Ann Stratton are gorgeous (they remind me of the photos in Martha Stewart Living). However, the photos are almost too large and take up a full page. It’s perfect for skimming as a coffee table book but that’s not what I was looking for. It is great that nearly every recipe has a photo and that it’s right on the page with the recipe (unlike the older cookbooks with the color photos in the center of the book). These photos tempt us and entice us. Bravo for that.

The page size (8 x 8 inches) combined with full page color photos and 50 recipes in 144 pages means that something has to give, something must suffer, and that is the TEXT SIZE. The text is too small! Is this four point font? This is crazy! And before you accuse me of needing reading glasses, I just had my vision checked and I still do not need even the weakest reading glasses prescription! Six to eight paragraphs of tiny text all jammed in is not easy to read when one is busy whipping up the ingredients! I want this to be a practical book that I can actually use! The introductory paragraph for each cake has useful information but the very slim font style chosen for that and done in (chocolate) brown ink is also not the easiest on my eyes.

These recipes can get pretty complicated which does NOT scare me off but please, if we have to go through six or more 200 word paragraphs with critical steps, we need to be able to read them easily and quickly! First and foremost a cookbook must be practical and usable.

A technical note which some will like to know, all the recipes use standard measurements and also have metric system weight and volume measurements and the cooking temperatures also supply the metric and a gas mark number.

So far I’ve tried three recipes. I tried the Milk Chocolate Chip-Chocolate Loaf which was easy and fast (although I substituted bittersweet chocolate for the milk so it was super chocolate-y in a delicious way). However that recipe contained an ERROR. We are told to melt unsweetened chocolate but the recipe does not state what to do with it, when to add it, so I used my common sense. I wonder if other errors exist. I made the Simple Chocolate Buttercream frosting (she gives just this one which contains confectioner’s sugar and coffee), I prefer a little more complicated recipe using granulated sugar and my family prefers no coffee. It would have been nice to have both the complex and the simple recipe in this book. Lastly I made the Devil’s Food Cake which was delicious and moister than other recipes I’ve tried.

I have a well-stocked pantry so I can whip these up basically at any time with what I have on hand. The only ingredient I don’t regularly have at home is heavy cream which is a staple in a good amount of these recipes, all with the ganache frosting and some cakes with fillings. This is unlike some other cookbooks that require buying niche products that are hard to find.

Frugal bakers take note I compared the Devil’s Food Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting with the same cake from a local bakery. I estimate my cost was $7-$8 for ingredients bought at retail price versus $35. What a bargain to bake from scratch can be! (The chocolate is the most expensive part.) I recommend American made GHIRADELLI chocolate sold as chips or in baking squares which comes in a variety of types including unsweetened. They are easily found at a local grocery store or are available on While I’d love to bake with more gourmet chocolate I have some budgetary constraints. Everyone who tastes my baked goods raves about how good they taste: all I do is follow the recipe, use that brand of chocolate and pure vanilla extract. Honestly that’s all I do (and following the recipes is not rocket science).

My children and I have flagged many recipes we can’t wait to try. Chocolate lovers will be tempted by these lovely photographs. I encourage home bakers to forge ahead with courage, as it’s likely that some of these recipes are more complicated than you may be used to baking. It will be worth it, believe me!

About my star rating,I give this 4 stars = I Like It, although I love the many recipes at a low cost I struggled too much with the too-small font to give this book 5 stars (sorry author, blame your publisher’s graphic design deparement for the book's shape/size and the font size issues). If I could divide the rating it would be 5 stars (“I Love It”) for the recipes and 1 star (“I Hate It”) for the font and 5 stars for the photographs. So that averages out to 4 stars.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program for the purpose of writing a Vine review to publish on I was not obligated to blog this review here nor was I paid by anyone to write this blog post. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We'll Be Doing the Opposite This Spring

I am trying something that seems illogical and contradictory.

In reaction to feeling like we're not getting as many homeschool lessons done at home than I'd wanted and in reaction to wanting more relaxed time at home, I have decided to spend LESS time at home and to keep busy with more things done elsewhere and with more people.

Does this sound crazy? Maybe it does. Maybe it is.

I've been thinking about complacency, the type that involves laziness or a slowed pace that prevents getting things done that should be able to get done. I'm talking about the fact that we spent more time at home in order to get more homeschool lessons done but that relaxed time is so laid back that not much actually got done. I'm talking about a slowed pace, a loss of enthusiasm, a loss of vigor.

Last August I spent a week helping my brother-in-law by working at his retail business. I did this again a few weeks ago. I realized that this life I'm living has a different pace than the life of a working person. I hadn't realized how laid back my pace was until I had to go to work at certain times and juggle motherhood and homeschooling with the demand of an employer (no matter how temporary). I got a feeling for what life must be like for the parents I know who work outside the home. It hit me that if our homeschool academics were that fast paced and disciplined, we'd accomplish more.

I think I applied the "do more by doing less" idea incorrectly because for my children and I when we have a full day at home without appointments I have grand plans for what we can achieve but we wind up having relaxed days and not getting a lot done. Different things could be the reason for this but addressing those things has not worked (making schedules, making assignment lists). My new thinking is if we have less time at home to do home based academic lessons we might accomplish more at home than when we have large sweeps of free time at home.

I also wonder if my kids might be at a point in this academic school year that they have burned out of being around me, the homeschool teacher of the home-based lessons, and they just have tapered down their output.

Usually we are busy in the fall running around, have a couple of months in the winter to buckle down and get a lot of work done at home, then are out and about and very busy in the spring. This winter though, the output in the winter has been lower than I'd wanted.

I considered not re-enrolling my younger son into the spring experiential nature class he has been doing for four years in order to spend even MORE time at home. However he loves the class and wants to do it. It is good for him to be with kids his age for a full six hours having fun outside and getting exercise. He needs some time away from his brother to be his own person rather than being ‘the little brother’ and he loves spending time with old friends.

My older son asked to not re-enroll into the class he took last fall. At first he said he didn’t like the content of the new class held on the same day as his brother’s class. I offered a different class on different day but he declined. After a few weeks of consideration, today he asked me to enroll him in the class. The sun is out, the weather is warm, and it looks like winter is definitely over. He probably wants to be outside more.

Another reason I'm doing this is related to puberty. I know for a fact that he is feeling like he's around his younger brother too much. He seems to want more time with same-aged peers. He is dealing with raging hormones of puberty that can negatively affect his relationship with me and with his brother. I also just found out last night (four months after this was over) that a girl was talking to him a lot at every class last fall and he felt she had a crush on him. Whether it is true or whether she was just trying to be a platonic friend I may never know, but what is important are his emotions related to that. It made him uncomfortable. I was thinking he should feel flattered, but I'm recalling from my early teen years that it felt creepy knowing that a boy had a crush on me when I wanted no part of him in a romantic way. I think that is yet another reason why he refused to re-enroll in that class, to avoid seeing that girl.

We are also joining a new homeschool co-op that begins in two weeks. It is a one day a week co-op with three courses and lunch. I'll be teaching at it.

In addition to those three days of the week, we still have some other series classes taught by subject matter experts, and the Science Olympiad competition this spring to be done on other days.

This is not to mention our continued participaton in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts where both kids have interaction with peers.

So to recap I have shifted the plan of execution for our homeschool for this spring. Rather than doing a certain low amount of outside classes I am increasing the number of outside things we do. I am increasing the time my children see same-aged peers. These things involve seeing kids of the opposite gender and mixed ages but not being in the same classes as their sibling.

I'm putting "getting through puberty" as a top priority for our family. So if this means my older son does different academic work at outside classes than I'd have him do here at home, so be it.

Regarding the slacker mentality and 'brain mush' that seems to occur at the same time as puberty, I'm hoping that by keeping busy in outside classes he can get enough mental stimulation from those pursuits and be held accountable to get the work done by adults who are not Mom.

The increased time my younger son will see other kids for home education pursuits will help him also as he is my 'very social' kid who comes alive and lights up when in groups of same-aged peers. Between that and the competitive Lacrosse team he joined for the first time this spring, I think he'll have enough way more than enough social interaction with other kids his age.

The dew is already coming off the rose. He was asking for more time with other kids and to make new friends but just with the Lacrosse clinics and the team, he has already discovered that most kids are not friendship material, not only are some of them not nice, some are shy and silent, some are bullies, some are stupid, some are babyish, and some are outright annoying to be in the presence of. This child of mine suffers from “the grass is always greener” syndrome, which he sometimes applies to his homeschooling, thinking that school may be a utopia that he wants to explore. He is getting cured of that pretty darned quick thanks to Lacrosse.

I’ll let you know how life is for us when we make the shift to spending most of our homeschooling days not at home and most of our evenings and weekends at Scouts and at our children’s sport events. We’ll see how this affects my children’s home education and how our family dynamic shifts during the puberty years. I have a feeling we’ve closed multiple windows all at once while opening new doors at the same time. I’m a bit nervous but I’ve committed to these changes. I’m pernicious and tenacious so there’s no turning back. The plans for our spring schedule have been set in stone.

Oh, and I am excited and optimistic about all this. I think I forgot to mention that!