Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Locavore Trend and Growing Edible Gardens

I'd like to think it's not a trend but I have a feeling it is.

With a recession on many Americans are not focused on oranamental flower gardening or renovating their yards for ornamental reasons. A trend is on for local food and the locavore movement as well as a wee bit of the idea of growing your own edibles in order to save money due to the recession or personal financial issues with families.

In Cleveland the Botanical Garden had trouble getting sponsors for their biennial flower show so they turned their efforts into edible gardening of local foods. This sparked an interest.

Here is the story from The New York Times: Botanical Gardens Are Turning Away From Flowers.

I am sorry if I appear pessimistic about this, but I'm a realist. I had an edible garden in 1996, the first full growing season after owning my own land that I could do what I wanted with. I grew edibles as they were superior in taste and quality to what could be bought at the store or even from local farmers. I did this before it was a trend when people thought I was weird for spending my time that way. I composted and did other green things and my friends and family thought I was nuts. I also had flower gardens and enjoyed that, back in the mid-1990s that was the trend. Around here the flower gardening has waned, less plants are available at local nurseries, some nurseries have gone out of business, and many flower gardens I see around have gone to weeds or have been planted over with grass seed.

Now all this is locavore, eating local and growing your own edible foods is "in" but I'm skeptical. It takes a lot of work to keep even a small edible garden. Results are inconsistent. Stuff happens: mildew, bacteria, bugs, squirrels, woodchucks, rabbits and deer wreck the crop for human consumption. This is discouraging. Only the most persistent gardeners keep this up year after year, putting money, time and sweat into their gardens for uneven results. This is not in the character of most Americans today. It was the way of my grandparent's generation but it is not the mindset of the Baby Boomers, most of whom love their grocery stores and still praise processed, easy, fast cheap foods. It's definatly not the way of my generation, Generation X, most of whom can barely cook let alone want to spend their time growing vegetables.

I'm a gardener. I'm a realist. And that's my two cents on that.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thoughts on Wave by Suzy Lee

The ZooA quick comment about the picture book Wave by Suzy Lee. My first exposure to the work of Suzy Lee was in a picture book The Zoo which I reviewed on my blog here after receiving a review copy from that publisher, Kane/Miller. I loved The Zoo.

For Christmas last year I was shopping on for a gift for my husband's godson and discovered Wave by Suzy Lee, published by Chronicle Books. Having loved Lee's work in The Zoo I bought it sight unseen.

Wave is a wordless book about a child at the beach. I had confidence that Suzy Lee would do a good job with this book.

This boy was about to turn two and spends a week a year at a beach for summer vacation. I had a gut feeling this book would be loved by the family so long as they were open-minded and creative enough to talk about the book and what they see as they went through it. (Not all parents read books in that way with kids.) Knowing that both parents are Yale grads I was crossing my fingers and hedging my bets that they'd handle the book "reading" well.

When it arrived, thanks to UPS delivery, I loved it. I didn't have much time with the book before the Christmas holiday, so didn't do a book review on it. I "read" it through and realized how much could be told about this story of the child playing at the beach just through illustration.

A few months later the mother reached out to me to share how the book is a giant hit in the family. The two year old begs for the book to be "read" over and over. They talk about the book. The boy made up a story to go with it and "tells" this story. The book was being read daily in their home!

Hearing things like that, how a child can be enraptured by a book and really loves the reading experience with their parent, and how a book can help parents and a toddler bond and talk to each other is what really warms my heart. It doesn't get any better than that.

I have a bit of melancholy knowing that Wave was published after my kids were past that stage and that I can't have that same experience with them. I can always hope the day will come when I can have that with my future grandchildren! In the mean time I am trying to just focus on loving my kids and enjoying the experiences that we have as I parent these tween-aged sons. I'm not letting myself think of what is not happening here, just focus on what is happening and the goodness of that.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Trip to the Drive-In Movie Theatre

While in Cape Cod in July 2010 we did a family tradition: attending the Wellfleet Drive-In Movie Theatre which opened in 1957. Much of the place is the same now as it was then.

Here are some photos I snapped casually with my camera phone. Some I took from the moving car as we drove in and others waiting for the sun to set. (As per my husband's wishes his photo does not appear in this blog post, or any other post on my blog, but he was with us!)

We had a great time. There was a steady breeze which kept the bugs away. It was a cool evening so we were comfortable. Toy Story 3 was great, and Karate Kid was good, but a bit boring in parts and seemed too long.

We let our kids go to the snack bar alone. They were gone for a long time which made me nervous but it was just due to long lines. I'm letting them to more and more things by themselves rather than always supevising them. You can see them walking back in one photo.

Also pictured is my son on that dangerous yet my favorite playground ride when I was a child. The one that some call a Merry Go-Round. You hold the bar and run like crazy then jump on and let it spin. Some kids just sit still for the ride and other kids run non-stop. This thing was flying. This ride has been banned and removed from every other playground we visit. I was happy my son got to use one.

I will admit that some kids were falling off the fast moving ride due to not holding on tight, and getting hurt  with mild injuries (ankles or scraped skin). Other (stupid kids) were jumping off bravely only to realize it was a dumb idea. One kid came inches from hitting his head on the wooden fence when he came off the thing, he could have been paralyzed or killed at worst. So while I celebrate that such fun rides are still in some places as a mother I was a bit leery, especially with so many kids on it at once and some teenagers running the thing with kids as young as two years old also on it. It was also really loud there and kids (girls) were screaming and screeching so it was hard to shout advice like, "Don't get off the thing until it stops, it's going too fast!".

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Son's at the 2010 Boy Scout National Jamboree

My twelve year old, First Class Rank Boy Scout son is at the National Jamboree this week. This is a big deal for him and us, maybe even a turning point.

Preparation for the Jamboree began ten months ago. Boys from across the Council's area were organized into special Troops just for the Jamboree. In addition to all his regular Boy Scout activities he now had to attend special Jamboree Troop meetings on weeknights to get to know new Scouts and new volunteer leaders. He has two friends in his Jambo Troop. Preparations began last year. As time went on the number and length of the meetings increased. It peaked in May when Troop meetings were four hours long on a school night and he had a Saturday and Sunday meeting of five to six hours each building a decorated gateway for their camp. This has been a lot of work.

There are a lot of rules about what to bring to Jamboree and the week before he went I was still scrambling to buy stuff. The height of craziness was about the Boy Scout uniform socks. New, different colored socks were issued in late 2009 or early 2010. I had a feeling these would be scarce when it came down to the wire so in March I bought a half dozen pairs. I didn't know the new, unsold socks would get pulled off the shelves due to some manufacturing problems such as rubber in the socks (made in China) caused some people to break out in an allergic rash. They did not let us return the purchased, used socks. My son had begun to wear his to the Troop meetings as per the rules. After two or three washings they had shrunk up (abnormally) to the point where they no longer fit him. Now there were no socks to be found. Unfortunately the last minute shoppers were left scrambling like crazy to find socks. Finally the new-new socks were in stock and many had to buy them via the Internet. We tried that but the shipping was going to be $28 and I put my foot down and refused. (We have already sunk approximately $2300 into this endeavor.) Before the trip I sat and stretched the socks out as best I could and told my son to just wear them at the required Class A uniform dinner then take them off right afterwards if that’s all he can stand of the too-tight socks.

So last Friday my alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning and at my son's request I made him a big, delicious, hot breakfast to send him off. Sixteen boys from our home Troop are attending the Jamboree and over 400 Scouts from this Council are there, making ours the second largest contingent second only to an entire state (someone said it was New Mexico and someone else said it was Nevada, I don't know which is correct). We gathered at a state park on Long Island Sound for our departure ceremony.

This trip is the longest time my son has been away from me or his father. This is the farthest he's been away from us too. We are unlike other families in our area who send their kids to a few weeks of sleep-away summer camp at age seven or eight. This trip is twelve days long. My biggest concern was that he'd get homesick or really tired out due to the heat and humidity (temperatures are often 105 with a heat index of 120 degrees). It's a lot of activity and stimulation. My son needs some down time to recharge, especially at the end of the day. When my son is around too many annoying people or in hard physical conditions he needs some space to regroup. If he does not get good sleep the next day can be really hard for him, putting him on edge and 'testy' or feeling just 'off' enough that something small can set him off into either a rage of anger or getting weepy, depending on the nature of the thing. I worry about those things. However he soon turns thirteen years old and I've been working with him on how he can control his reactions and calm himself down, or remove himself from a situation and keep calm before he snaps. I hope he puts these into practice this week.

A few days before the trip began I woke up at four in the morning and saw a light on. My son had never gone to sleep! He said he was so nervous he couldn't sleep and wound up watching TV, watching You Tube videos, reading a book and playing with LEGOs. The other nights he slept, thank goodness. The night before he left he was nervous about going.

The morning that we sent him off he was keeping his distance from me and my husband. Instead of hanging out with us before boarding the bus he practically ran on. I somehow squeaked out a couple of photos of him and one of the two of us and one of him and my husband. He ran on the bus and didn't come off as instructed. I made him get off to actually say goodbye to us and give me a hug (as the Scoutmaster had directed them to do too). He hugged me really quickly and ran on. (This was not out of embarrassment as other Scouts were being affectionate with their mothers and some were crying.)

My son had asked my husband if he thought I'd cry. I bet he was worried that if he saw me cry he'd also cry and get upset. I therefore forced myself to keep a dry eye until the bus pulled out of the parking lot. It was hard for me to do and to achieve it I had to stand alone and stay away from some of my friends who were bawling their eyes out.

I am sure my son is having a great time down there. I don't actually know as he has not phoned us. He has a phone card and can use a pay phone to make calls. I figured he’d miss us and be calling here all the time but here it is, day six of the trip and we’ve not heard a peep. Cell phones and all other methods of communication are banned (i.e. the Internet). We have received only one update from the Troop which was received on day two saying they arrived on day one without problems.

I am happy to see the Boy Scouts in the media often (or at least on FoxNews). This is also the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Boy Scouting so that is the main talking point in the media stories. I sometimes listen to the QBSA radio station via the Internet; it has Scouts as the DJs. They give updates and information about Jambo in between the songs. The BSA Jamboree site has photos on Flickr that the public can view so I’ve been glancing at those.

I have a feeling this is a turning point for my son. This is a rite of passage for him. It’s a big thing for him to be gone for so long and to also be so far away and to a new place (we have never been to Virginia). It is something that I think will be a hallmark of his growing up and maturing. Just a few days after his return he turns thirteen and becomes a teenager. This year of being twelve has had some changes both emotionally and physically, and he is on the path to leaving childhood behind and becoming a young man. I just can't believe that my first baby is almost a man. On the one hand time has gone so fast but on the other, it feels like it was so long ago it was another lifetime of mine, that I was a different person altogether before motherhood.

I'll share how this all turns out. Let's hope our story does not include homesickness and a special trip going to Virginia to bring our son home!

(I'd hoped to share photos but computer problems prevent this, I'm so disappointed about that!)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 239 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 239 has been published at The Common Room.

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

I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.

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 238 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 238 has been published at Homeschool Post.

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

I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.

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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Fixed my Droid's Camera "SD Card Error"

There is a problem with some Android (Droid) smart phones and the camera, having to do with the SD card. I'll share how we fixed it, since a lot of misinformation is out there and people are saying that the staff at the phone stores are giving misinformation.

I downloaded an app to make the Droid photos I take look like they were taken with antique or vintage cameras. This edited photo is saved to the SD card by the app, automatically. While doing this I received an error message that said something about having to do a force close. The system shut down.

When I turned the phone back on and attempted to use the camera (with or without a camera app) I got an error message saying something like it can't read the SD card and to insert an SD card. Well the SD card was in there.

When trying to view old photos I'd taken in the "gallery" it said there were none. I was a bit freaked out at the idea of losing all the photos since I'd not backed them up or removed any from the phone in the few months I've owned it.

I shut the phone off, took the battery out, took the SD card out, reinserted them and powered up. Nothing was fixed.

Next I uninstalled all my photo-related apps. This did not resolve the problem. I still could not use the basic camera in the phone or view anything in my photo gallery. I shut the phone off, turned it back on and tried again, to no avail.

From what I read online Verizon store employees are telling people the first thing to do is to reformat the SD card. If you do this you will lose all your photos and other stored data.

Following directions on the Internet, at home, we did a factory reset. For technological dummies like me I'll state what should be obvious: this means the phone was wiped back to its original state. I lost all my contacts, all my apps, and all the custom settings I'd done. I had to reactivate the phone and reconnect to email. Although some people say this works, it did nothing for me. Now I have a fair amount of work ahead of me to set the phone back up so I can use it fully.

Some people are advising to reformat the SD card. If you do this you will lose all your photos. Even though the phone told me by a message on the screen, that there were no photos in the "gallery", I put the SD card in a card reader connected to my PC and all the old photos were there. Well, the photos not altered by photo apps were there.

We removed the photos from the SD card and saved them to my computer's hard drive. Then using the card reader, we reformatted the SD card, put it into the phone and it worked perfectly.

Some people are saying when they reformat the SD card it doesn't work. We wonder if the issue is reformatting it with the phone versus reformatting it with the card reader and PC.

Some people are complaining that the SD card that came with their Droid was garbage and cheap. Mine is a high quality SanDisk with a lot of memory and not cheap.

If you have this annoying problem I hope this works for you. Beware of advice to wipe you SD card memory clear by reformatting if if you don't want to lose all your photos! Take those photos off using a card reader and your PC first!

One more word of caution if you have to buy a card reader make sure it takes the size SD card that the Droid uses because the one we bought did not, and we didn't realize it until we got home, thus another errand to return it was added to the "to do" list.

Computer Problems

Apologies for the gap in blogging lately. We are having computer problems with no less than three pieces of technology at the moment!

My husband's ancient PC is finally dying, the hard drive is going. The priority has been to move the photos to the external hard drive before we lose them. Thus I've not been able to access the photos for blog posts and I can't download my camera's photos to blog other topics waiting for publication.

My own computer has been acting strange ever since activating a Google account to use Google Calendar to sync with Outlook Express to sync with my new Droid phone. So much for me trying to step up to date with technology to have a mobile calendar. Since trying this I can access email at home only some of the time and the calendar has been too much work to make it worthwhile. The worst part is I go days without reading emails and some people are sending urgent emails and I'm not getting them. Other times I need to respond to an email, can't, a couple of days goes by, the email finally works, then I'm reading the new stuff and forget to address the old stuff.

Lastly my Droid's camera stopped working due to an "SD card error". In trying to fix this issue the phone was reset and has needed reprogramming. I can't blog from my mobile, I can't access any of my phone photos with stuff I wanted to blog about either.

I'm busy living life and barely have time to address these computer problems. When my muse is with me, I can't access the Internet to blog.

Sorry, readers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pre-Algebra Plan Decided Upon

I have been struggling to decide what curriculum to use for prep before Algebra 1. Note my careful selection of words there.

I am not happy with Pre-Algebra curriculums. The first half of the year seems to be review of K-7 math (everything) then the second half is the easiest, beginning part of Algebra I. I'm not interested in review and repetition of stuff already mastered. I also don't want to spend (waste) a full year on that endeavor. I expect this can be gotten through in two-four months.

I cannot find a curriculum that is right or perfect as I am trying to use a designed-for-all program with a unique student. (Honestly all students are unique.)

I have made a plan. Note I did not say I found a curriculum.

The plan is I am going to survey all my (to be) eighth grader's math concepts. Gaps will be taught by ME using various curricula (whatever works). Once the review is done and I feel he has mastered it all or reviewed it to refresh his memory and that he's ready, he will plunge into Algebra I in this eighth grade year.

I'll figure out what curricula he's using later. At present I'm seriously investigating Art of Problem Solving using the textbooks and perhaps their online classes. I want to find a best fit for this son who is a very right brained (visual spatial) type learner. Most math programs are very left brained approaches that take something simple and make it very hard for a person whose mind works in another way to learn from.

The long-term goal for this son is before college attendance for an engineering major to have completed:

Algebra I
Algebra II
Calculus I

We have five years until this boy starts college. It is hard to believe. Suddenly time feels like it is flying. The pressure is on.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Thoughts on Various Homeschool Phonics Reading Curriculums

This post is in reply to a question left as a comment to yesterday's blog post: Boy Aged 4 Not Reading Yet.

How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons vs. Alpha Phonics

I bought and used and did not like "How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons". (Full retail is $22 I bought it as I'd heard some homeschoolers rave about it and found myself at a book closeout store and saw a copy for $6 and decided to just buy it (since it was so cheap) to have it on hand for future use, possibly.

Homeschool parents whose first and only exposure to a paper-based systematic intensive phonics system is "100 Easy" and whose children respond positively are "100 Easy's" largest cheerleaders. Those of us who have used it and disliked it but tried some other systematic intensive phonics system tend to prefer the other.

"100 Easy" and "Alpha Phonics" by Samuel Blumenfeld (full retail $29.95) are basically the same price so cost is not a real comparison.

I used "100 Easy" just a little bit and read it through. I disliked it using it and my son hated it. I then switched to, and stuck with, "Alpha Phonics". (The home page website for Alpha Phonics is here). (Today I cannot find the link to view page samples of it, sorry.)

My first issue with "100 Easy" is they link reading to penmanship. The child writes the lower case letter when learning the letter's sound. This makes logical sense. But starting with m and s in the beginning is difficult for preschool or Kindergarten-aged children to make the most complex fine motor skills and to wrap that frustration in with learning to read seemed too be a bad idea to me. My son at age four and five struggled to write those letters. There was also no guide such as a penmanship workbook like the Italic series or the program Handwriting Without Tears uses---those programs suggest size to write on the line etc. If a parent knows nothing about teaching penmanship this could be a disaster, especially if the parent is asking the child to write very small such as on wide rule notebook paper.

Honestly though my bigger issue with "100 Easy" is the page clutter. There is one page that is filled with scripts for the parent to read, general instructions plus the stuff the child is to read. Some of this is in red and some in black, so there are mixed colors on the page (visual clutter and distracting to some readers). I beg you to look at these pages and see what you think and try it with your child and see how they react. My son had a VERY hard time with this. My son did great with a less cluttered page of text such as ALPHA PHONICS which is what we did use. (Look at any lesson in the book, this is on Google Books for free reading, try this link.) If you look at page 49, I ask, "Seriously does any parent need that much direction to explain how to teach a child to read the word mat? Come on." I needed something that wasn't so scripted out and annoying for ME to use.

I didn't like the little symbols and different font sizes they use which are supposed to be clues or tricks to help the child. The silent e is in a smaller font. Basically the child is being taught to read non-standard English writing text. I wanted my son to learn the basic sounds and letter arrangements written in one font size like normal English words are and to decode those. You may view these weird fonts and smashed together letters in the "pronunciation guide" on page 17 in "100 Easy" which also happens to be available for free viewing on Google Books. (Try this link to see it on Google Books.)

Lastly, the Alpha Phonics program takes them through it all. This means near the end AP teaches random or odd or seemingly illogical letter combination sounds (AP does that in an effort to be thorough to cover all 44 phonics sounds in English language, but some parents don't like that. Really, this is an issue with the complicated or odd phonics in the English language not an issue with AP!).

A few homeschool mom acquaintences said that "100 Easy" doesn't go through all the phonics, and left them hanging at the end of the program to somehow find a way to teach the untaught stuff. They were left trying to figure out what next resource to use to be "a full program". I don't have experience with that and can't give examples but it's something that people have complained about.

I used Alpha Phonics which is systematic intensive phonics. The child is taught a sound and they read off lists of words with that sound. Repetition helps them remember it. Alpha Phonics is flexible and easy. You can go slowly or fast to meet the child's pace. The base Alpha Phonics system is a student book that is just read from. There is no penmanship handwriting, no songs, no games, no workbook pages to do. AP sells a larger kit, the creator of it told me he made it to meet consumer demand. I did not use that.

With Alpha Phonics my goal was to work with my son and stop before the frustration point. Most days I could sense when he was tiring or had been pushed enough and stopped before he went over the edge. Other days he would get upset or even cry. I did the lessons based not on lesson numbers or doing page numbers but tried for 10 or 15 minutes a day. We started off at 5 minutes a day. Some days 5 was all he could handle and I don't think we ever went beyond 15 minutes.

Using Easy Readers with Alpha Phonics

I used Bob books and phonics readers along with AP. I bought some readers but used hundreds of easy readers and various phonics reader sets from a few different public libraries. I spread these readers through the AP program to reduce boredom and to increase interest. I matched the readers content to my children's interests. My first born preferred nonfiction and my second preferred fiction and especially silly books. I also, with my slower-to-learn reader, used old Dick and Jane textbooks and other antique reader textbooks, but we used them with decoding words methods not as sight words to be memorized.

There is an old teacher textbook which uses the same systematic intensive phonics method as AP which is in the public domain and is free to see on the internet at Don Potter's site. Here is a former blog post of mine about Don Potter's reading site with the links to multiple free curriculums (you print them off and use them on paper) and also some articles he has compliled, studies about reading methods and so forth.

Free Phonics Curriculum Online

One more comment on Alpha Phonics.

Some parents complain the program is boring. It is black text on an uncluttered white page. This teaches a child to read. Reading is usually black text on a white page. These parents say their child wants fun and games or something exciting. I have two reactions to that. First, reading is not a game. Unlike on Sesame Street or Reading Between the Lions (two TV shows on PBS) the words are not colored or textured and they do not dance and move and sing to us. The letters don't entertain us. Kids need to learn to read the written word so what is the big deal about spending a small amount of time per day (five or ten minutes) with a Kindergartener teaching them to read black ink letters on a white page? This is not torture, even if the child tries to tell you it is.

When my oldest tried to tell me I was torturing him and when he rebelled against my parental authority, I got my first whiff of the fact that I'd seemed to have somehow raised an over-indulged child, which was never my intent. It was true that I'd made his life a charmed existance full of fun and games. This was the first time in his life he really had to work for something! So why should we parents whose kids have great easy lives full of physical and mental comforts and fun rebel against doing something that is un-fun or not easy to learn? Who really wants to do stuff that makes one feel stupid or taxes the mind after five years of all fun and games?

Second, if the child is asking for fun and games with learning to read, that can be done in the other 23 hours and 50 minutes in the day with you with a myriad of other actual games on the market, board games, card games, or any other kind of good fun play like dressing up in costumes and playing with toys using their imagination. Reading is not a game.

(I did try using some reading games and felt they did not result in real learning and were just a waste of time. Some of them also were really bad game design.)

Not everything a child will have to learn is an entertaining fun game. Not every concept they are exposed to will instantly shift from working memory to long term memory. It seems to me that working for five or ten minutes on something the child might think is pointless or stupid or boring is just the first step in a learning a little bit of discipline and perseverance through the boredom or repeating things that is hard to learn (to move to long term memory) is a good thing for a child of even five years old to learn. If you worry about asking a five year old for five or ten minutes of attention to a lesson they don't want to do you had better brace yourself for the many more challenging concepts that arrive in the middle school years and really buckle up for homeschooling the high school years!

Two Comments About What My Kids Thought About Alpha Phonics

I tell a story about my older son that people who know me may have heard. In his Kindergarten year I was trying different programs with him gently and he was not ready to read. He had all the signs of reading readiness so I was confused. I bought a number of different programs looking for the right fit. I also would try something a little while, then shelve it and leave a month or more before re-trying some or trying something new. In the end it was Alpha Phonics that he used and did come to love.

Once when he was struggling and before he was truly ready he went running down the hall away from me yelling "No, not the red book!" I'll never forget that. But later we did use it and loved it. We spend February-May on it, in his Kindergarten year, then took a summer break and then used it September to January of his first grade year, at which point he was done. When he was ten I was clearing out homeschool curriculum and he begged me to not get rid of Alpha Phonics as he was so sentimental about it and loved the program. "No! Keep the red book!" So there is a turn-around for you.

My younger son begged to use "the red book" when he wanted to learn more phonics concepts that he didn't absorb in natural living or learn from the "Leap Frog" videos which he watched for entertainment (after a homeschool family gave him one for his fourth birthday in May).

I put him off until September which was the actual start date for his older brother's third grade year and then we launched into using Alpha Phonics. He flew through it, begging to do 10 lessons a day, as he remembered the reward system I gave his older brother that was an ice cream cone prize after finishing 10 lessons. That son blew through Alpha Phonics effortlessly in three months which didn't even include doing it daily.

Phonics Pathways

Another program on the homeschool market that some of my homeschooling parent friends used was Phonics Pathways. This is another systematic intenseive phonics system that seemed logical and fine to me. I hadn't seen this when I was searching for options for my first born. I have glanced at it and it seems fine to me. You may have seen this recommended in The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. If you are shopping for programs you might want to take a look at it.

Veritas Press Phonics Museum

I was seduced to buy this program by the lovely visual presentation. It is sold by a Christian Classic Education homeschool provider so it sounded wholesome and educational and almost elitist with it's lack of silly-ness and focus on lovely images and nonfiction content readers. It is expensive.

The best thing was the song CD which teaches phonics sounds within the lyrics (similar to what Schoolhouse Rock does).

What I don't like is the 44 sounds of the English phonics system are DRAGGED OUT over two full years (Kindergarten and First Grade). These are in structured lessons. The worst though is the teacher manual and the whole program was designed for a school teacher to use on a class of students. There are activities such as teaching the sounds that ask you to have students raise their hands and such. The lessons take about 45 minutes to get through and have a lesson every day for the 180 school days in the school calendar. I feel most of this is busy work intended to fill the lesson plans so the school has complete lessons plans for two full grades of classes. This requires a lot of adapting on the fly when working one on one with your homeschooled student. This is more work than I wanted to deal with for a program I spent a $200 on (buying it used).

Perhaps a larger issue with the adapting to teach one student is when a student masters a letter sound quickly I want to move on, not to do a bunch of busy work. The lessons are so dragged out it seems they are geared toward the slowest learner in the classroom. To even go through this book to carve out parts to skip with my son who already mastered the sound was time consuming and stupid. I found myself skipping more than what we actually did. I didn't want to use my time in this way and ditched it to use Alpha Phonics at my son's pace.

Please Read This Little Book!

Ruth Beechick wrote a great little book (or three booklets depending on which binding you buy). It covers how to teach reading, all of language arts, and math with 28 pages per topic. It covers the time from birth through the end of grade three. It is simple language and down to earth writing style. It is definately worth the small price and will give you teaching methods and philosophy that demystifies the teaching experience. It discusses developmental stages and things you need to know abou teaching kids at that young age. This can help you pick good curriculums and avoid busy work or stupid curriculums. It is "The Three R's". You get a ton of information for what Amazon is selling for under $9 today. That's the price of two good cups of coffee at a Starbucks. Splurge on this book, read it and learn from it please!

My Final Advice

Use what works for you and what works with your child. I honestly don't care what program you use so long as it is effective and you and your child are not hating the lessons. If you love "100 Easy" and it's working I'm happy for you and your child!

I've shared what I used and didn't use and why to give insight and details about the programs so you can figure out if those may be issues for you as well.

I really don't care if you use a free curriculum or spent $350 on some huge boxed program. It's your money!

Each child is unique as is each adult and we need to find what works for both the child and the parent-teacher. What you choose to spend is none of my concern, so I'm not pushing cheap or free programs per se.

Good luck on the journey of teaching your children to read!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Boy Aged 4 Not Reading Yet

On a homeschool chat list a mother expressed worry that her four year old son has a great time playing but has no interest in learning to read. She asked about teaching a four year old to read, and curriculums.

Others have responded, most were in the "don't worry they will learn to read even if they are 12 when it happens, they will be okay" camp.

Here is my response:

Learning to read is portayed as such a big deal in America regarding pushing it on really little kids (like the teach baby to read commercials). I felt the pressure when my oldest was a preschooler. I read a lot about teaching reading and decided on methods I felt seemed right (i.e. the phonics vs. sight reading methods).

I was fine for that period of ime as I had a plan and was waiting for the timing to be right for reading readiness. I was an unschooler then and we did lots of great stuff that didn’t look like formal schooling in the age 4 prek homeschool year.

When my oldest was 5 and I started in on lessons (in the Kindergarten year) because I felt pressure from relatives. It didn’t go so smoothly despite all the signs of reading readiness being present. I was freaking out for a good part of that year. I bided the time by buying one curriculum after another thinking if I found the right one some magic would happen and reading would click. Well it all clicked in February of that year (child was still 5 years old then) with one curriculum that formerly I’d labeled as “obviously not a good fit”. (It was the child that was not ready, it was not the curriculum being a bad fit.)

In that time of unease, I got good face to face support at one particular HS support meeting in which I was moved to tears and it’s not me to do that. I understand your concern, I won’t downplay your feelings...

I was never on the bandwagon of “they’ll learn someday and don’t worry if they are 8, 9, 10 or older when they read” so I won’t make that case (but I feel every family has a right to develop their own educational philosophy).

I guess what I want to say is I understand your worry with all the talk in America about teaching kids to read and how it’s so important and supposed to be so hard. Just try to be calm about it and enjoy your age 4 year with your child. They do grow up so fast. Do great stuff with your son and use your time that way. There is nothing worse than forcing a child to do formal lessons IF they are not ready.

Then again for the Kindergarten year 5-10-15 minutes of lessons for reading a day is NOT torture in my opinion even if your son finds it not fun. Hey they have the other 23+ hours in that day to do fun stuff.

I wanted my second child to follow the same footsteps but he taught himself to read 90% of everything by himself and after watching Leap Frog videos “Letter Factory” and that series. (I highly recommend those cartoon videos!) He begged for the Alpha Phonics curriculum so I did that starting in September of his age 4 year and was done in 3 months and decoding at a grade 3 level. So much for being relaxed about the reading, I was now being put down by other CT HSers for having a child reading at age 4.

The truth is, a large part of it is the child’s readiness. You CANNOT stop a child from learning if they are ready, they actually pick it up from the environment and it sticks.

Hang in there.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teaching as Leadership Book Review by ChristineMM

Teaching as Leadership Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher's Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap
Author: Steven Farr Teach for America
Publication: Jossey-Bass, February 2010

My star rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

Summary Statement: Inspiring and Practical Information for Teaching Methods for Highly Effective Teaching for Under-Achieving Schools (That Can Work in Any Classroom)

TEACHING FOR LEADERSHIP is a book for teachers explaining teaching methods with practical information that can be put into practice right now (if only the teachers are willing and allowed to make the change). With Teach for America (TFA), college graduates agree to teach for a couple of years (even when their major was not education) in order to do service to discount their student loans. They work in cities where kids are underprivileged, they’ve been labeled as failing and they are at-risk. I have heard in the media that these are places that are hard to lure union teachers to work in so TFA has been welcomed in to help out.

The book starts off trying to convince the reader that these kids who have failed, have imperfect home lives, low incomes, really are capable of learning and excelling at school. This teaching method not only teaches at grade level it works to raise each learner up from the point at which they are behind. Students can make multiple-grades advancement in one year with these methods. This book is an attempt to boost the reader’s confidence that these kids are not lost causes and that the teachers possess more power to effect change than they may believe (even with constricted budgets or broken down classrooms).

Once that pep talk is over the book launches into a detailed explanation of the ‘core values’ of TFA. The book’s website lists their core values (if you want to learn more about what is in the book). This book expands each item in the framework in detail. Case studies are given to illustrate the ideas. Sidebar quotes tempt the skimming reader to stop skimming and read the whole thing instead.

Before reading this book I didn’t know that TFA has a certain teaching method that is completely different than what is normally done in public schools. I’d heard of TFA in the media and assumed they taught by whatever method the schools told them to, boy was I wrong! This TFA method is not winging it by any means. The method is taught to the TFA teachers in a short training period then the TFA teachers are thrown into the fire.

The most surprising thing to me is that a TFA teacher uses their method in a classroom right next door to a union paid, experienced teacher using the same old, same old way that isn’t working. Despite no extra money and the building being in whatever state of imperfection or disrepair that it may, students in the TFA classroom suddenly are learning more and scoring higher on tests. There is an attitude change and a new positive outlook on learning within the children. They are said to make multiple year’s strides in one school year using the TFA teaching methods.

I see this TFA initiative as a kind of back door education reform but happening in limited locations and only in certain classrooms within one school building. What a shame that a more wide-sweeping reform is not happening across our nation.

It also seems to me that the TFA attitude instilled in the students is more motivating and energizing than what is happening in middle class and upper class towns across our nation. If every school uses the TFA methods I can’t imagine what our nation’s children could accomplish.

This book is fantastic!

I’m a homeschooling mother and read these books to get inspiration for my home education teaching experience. One reaction I have is that what homeschooling parents like me are doing is actually outlined in this book as the optimal way to teach! Yet I had never seen it written out in one place like this. Much of this I have learned through experience and trial and error with my own kids or hearing a tidbit here and trying it then seeing how that worked in real life.

How to set goals, how to plan lessons to achieve that goal, and how to custom design an education is all here, in an attempt to persuade teachers to take on this way of teaching. The book also includes rubrics for measuring academic performance and outcomes.

I recommend Teaching As Leadership for any teacher who is looking fore new ideas to boost learning in the classroom (and for homeschooling parents too).

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Amazon Vine program. I was not under obligation to blog this review. I was not paid to write this review. My blog's full disclosure statement can be found at the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

25 Essentials Techniques for Grilling Fish Book Review by ChristineMM

25 Essentials: Techniques for Grilling (Harvard Common Press)25 Essentials Techniques for Grilling Fish Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: 25 Essentials: Techniques for Grilling Fish
Authors: Karen Adler and Judith Fertig
Publication: Harvard Common Press, April 2010

My Star Rating: 4 Stars = I Like It

Summary Statement: Teaches 25 Techniques and Fish Grilling Tips is NOT Just a Small Book of 25 Recipes

My husband and I cook, grill or bake nearly everything from scratch. We are foodies and love to learn new cooking techniques.

The first time I looked through this book I made an error in thinking this was just a recipe cookbook with 25 recipes. I thought, "Who would buy a book with just 25 recipes in it when other cookbooks in this price range have hundreds of recipes?" I kept reading and it opened my mind.

This book is unique as it teaches specific techniques for grilling fish. Yes, there are 25 recipes each with certain techniques, but by making these and reading the accompanying information you learn the techniques. You learn through the experience of trying these new dishes and new techniques. Thus this book is like a self-guided course in book format on how to grill fish. Other information in the book's introduction or with each recipe's preface gives information about substituting these recipes with different fish that may be fresh and available on the day you are shopping.

The book is hardcover with a protected spine of metal spiral binding. This is nice because the book lies flat when in use. Each technique has an introductory page of general information with a high quality color photograph of the finished dish on the facing page. Turn the page to see the ingredients listed on the left page and the method with its directions on the right facing page. The book is not word-heavy; it gives just the right amount of information before diving into the actual teaching of the technique.

The recipes are varied with dishes from around the globe. The fishes range from mild to strong in flavor. The chapter at the beginning of the book has a great chart of fishes defining them by both their texture (firm, moderately firm and delicate) as well as flavor (mild, moderate or full). This was very helpful to me and demystified selecting fishes to match my personal preferences. There is also some information about charcoal vs. gas grills and tips for using each, since they are so different.

This book is one in a series of books that teach grilling techniques. I think this is a fresh way to approach learning to grill. I like the idea that a book can be gone through (grilled through) at home and winds up being basically a "teach yourself to grill by making everything in this book" course. I like that it teaches a variety of techniques instead of a regular old cookbook with recipes, which sometimes don't expose the reader to a wide range of techniques or flavors or fish types.

This book is short and sweet. It is visually appealing and not scary due to the fact that it talks in down to earth language and is not text-heavy. This would make a good gift book. It would also appeal to people who normally would never consider reading a book that teaches cooking (but who are people who are more open to just making a recipe from a cookbook).

I rate this book 4 stars = I Like It. The only reason I'm not rating this 5 stars is as a reader who is not intimidated by longer books or more information and as a frugal person, I'm thinking other cooking books on the market have many more techniques and more recipes for this same price. Instead of four separate books on grilling by this publisher as a series, I'd rather have all their content in one book for double the price that teaches 100 grilling techniques. (These two authors wrote [[ASIN:1558326685 25 Essentials: Techniques for Planking]] and Davis and Powers authored [[ASIN:1558323929 25 Essentials: Techniques for Grilling (Harvard Common Press)]] and [[ASIN:B0022NGE8U 25 Essentials: Techniques for Smoking]].)

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program. I was under no obligation to blog my book review. 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.

Dante's Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation Book Review by ChristineMM

Dante’s Divine Comedy A Graphic Adaptation Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation
Adaptation by: Seymour Chwast
Publication: Bloomsy ry USA, August 2010

My Star Rating: 3 stars out of 5 = It's Okay

Summary Statement: Not a Replacement for the Original; If Context is Lacking Reader Misses a Lot

Unlike some others on the market, Chwast’s graphic adaptation, I don’t feel, is a replacement for reading the original book. The language is simplified and the story is laid out with large graphics (not small boxes comic-book style that fit more content on each page). There are few words on the page, so even at over 120 pages this read like a fast-forward outline of the original work.

I have not read the entire original book by Dante, but for this review I read excerpts of Dante’s original to compare. I have read some other graphic presentations of classic literature, some of which use all the original language and some that use modern language and still others use simplified, easier reading type language and am comparing this to those adaptations. All of the others I’ve read and seen have more illustrations with greater detail than this also.

Having read Chwast’s adaptation from cover to cover, as a reader who has not read the original classic I had trouble connecting to the story. It just went so fast and I didn’t feel emotionally tied or even very interested in the story. The scariest parts were not horrifying but came off as funny to me in a way that I thought, “I don’t think I’m supposed to think this is funny but it is”, such as in some torture scenes and I’m unsure if this was the intent or not. I found myself scoffing at some religious ideas instead of aligning with Dante’s vision to inspire the reader to lead a moral life. I’d hoped to feel hooked in to read this cover to cover in one sitting or at least within one day but I found it boring and uninteresting. I wound up read this over two weeks time picking it up and reading along for short bursts.

The book’s simple language is easy to understand but my gaps about Catholic church history, history of the Saints, and with the political history of Italy I was lost in some parts. (I fully acknowledge that my lack of context and my ignorance on these topics is not a fault of Chwast, the adaptor but am explaining this so readers of this review may think about whether this graphic adaptation is enough to read as a stand-alone or for what purpose this would be read. For example, a school teacher reading my review may wonder how this could be used instead of or alongside a reading of the original work.)

To be honest, reading this graphic adaptation underscored for me the importance of context and how certain works of literature really deserve a careful reading and study to not just understand it but to educate and enlighten the reader in the process of reading it through further study to fill the reader’s knowledge gaps. Honestly I now want to read Dante’s original as my curiosity is piqued. I was left with a feeling that I’d like to learn more about some of these things that I don’t know about in order to understand Dante’s journey more deeply.

The characters in the story are illustrated with 1920s American styles of dress which was an interesting choice that I don’t quite understand. The illustrations are in black ink (unlike the full color book cover) and the illustrations are not very detailed. The faces of the people usually have just the eyes with eyebrows, nose, mouth, and facial hair, most have no additional lines to show emotion on the face. The illustrations remind me of coloring book pages with outlines and white space inside (even the clouds—are those white clouds on a blue sky or storm clouds or what?). There is no shadowing or cross-hatching to show light and dark areas, it’s either solid black or white space.

I can only speculate that some who understand the original work who also enjoy graphic adaptations may find this adaptation entertaining yet I am sure some would dislike or hate this feeling it cannot ever compare to the original, longer and more detailed allegorical poetry version. I don’t think I can predict how you will receive this book no matter how hard I try!

I rate this book with Amazon’s rating key of 3 stars = It’s Okay comparing this to other graphic adaptations of classic works of literature currently in print such as those published by Classical Comics Ltd.

Disclosure: I receieved an advance reading copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program. I was under no obligation to also post my review on my blog. I was not paid to write this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Need Help with Homeschoolers Scripps National Spelling Bee

I can't find info on the Scripps National Spelling Bee site about how homeschoolers register, or what may differ for homeschoolers from school rules. This is the only page I could find which is not helpful. I also searched using a search engine and couldn't find anything with specific information on competing.

If someone can help me, I'd really appreciate it.

This is yet another new project that I have taken responsibility for starting in fall 2010.

My younger son has been asking to do this for years. This is the first year he is old enough to participate. However due to busy-ness I'd not researched it until now.


My Family Fills the Schedule

Last night we got home from a seven day vacation in Cape Cod with my family.

On Friday my twelve year old leaves for a twelve day Boy Scout camping trip out of state for the National Jamboree with 45,000 other Scouts. Yes, I said 45,000.

For scheduling I was careful with regard to the time before my son leaves. This is his longest time away from us and the farthest also. I wanted a calm time beforehand for his emotional well being. I wanted him rested up before he left. I also wanted time to do the packing and any last minute trips to buy stuff we forgot.

The only appointment on the calendar was to get our teeth cleaned, an appointment I had difficulty making due to the busy family schedule during the school year and the dentist's distance from our homeschool activities.

We had to postpone our family vacation at the last minute because a mandatory important meeting was called for the Jambo trip. Instead of leaving Friday at 9am we had to attend a family picnic and left right from there at 7pm on Saturday. So we lost two days of vacation due to my son's participation in this thing. We wound up driving mostly in the dark and getting to the house and throwing the stuff indoors then falling into bed at midnight.

At that picnic thing we found out we have to bring my son's stuff (through rush hour traffic) to be packed onto a truck for shipment to the Jamboree one evening this week. This means I have another appointment and that I have to have him packed two days earlier than I thought. Great.

Also, the morning we were leaving for the trip my son spent over an hour on the phone with a homeschooled friend of his. He begged to arrange for the boy to spend an afternoon here in this week. I agreed and slotted it to overlap with the guitar lesson for my younger son (multi-tasking).

On the way home from the trip last night I asked my husband how we would celebrate his mother's birthday. He decided to invite her here for a home cooked meal from scratch TODAY. He wants me to make a cake from scratch for her. He is inviting his two brothers who like to scruitinize my house for cleanliness and lack of clutter. My plan for the day had entailed unpacking, checking on the garden, tidying up the house since when we're gone the cats still use the litter box and the dust still accummulates. I also was going to start packing for my son's camping trip. Now instead I will be cleaning the house and tidying up and making a cake and entertaining his family.

After getting home my son talked on the phone with another homeschooled friend who is begging him to go see The Last Airbender before they both leave for Jambo lest it leave movie theatres while they are away. I added that onto the schedule.

In catching up with reading my emails I see an important meeting with the person in charge of the homeschool Science Olympiad team has just been added this week in between now and when I have to bring the gear for the trip. This meeting is not just the business part there is also social fun time for three hours at a lake. This extravaganza will take an entire afternoon and we'll get home in time to go to bed.

As it stands right now my only time to shop for last minute stuff for my son will be two mornings this week, since the afternoons are booked up with appointments. Also on those mornings or at night we will have to pack for the trip.

I'm sharing this just to show how hard it is to find balance and how difficult it is to lead a laid back lifestyle when you homeschool and do some community events. It is hard for me, the mother, to control it all. Oh, I meant to say "manage it all" (you know how our society hates that word control). My husband resents having to "ask permission" before he schedules things for the whole family to do and also for projects that I have to do alone (like bake a cake from scratch).

So much for having some rest and relaxation on our family vacation. I am so stressed out about all of this I woke up at 3:30 a.m. after just four hours of sleep with my mind reeling. By the time the party is over today I will be thoroughly exhausted and facing a rat race of a week to boot.

Okay my husband is awake now so I'm going to review the schedule with him and see what he thinks about this craziness. I wonder if we can put off the birthday celebration until next week?

Update: He didn't budge. I asked that he buy something instead of me making a cake from scratch since now I have to clean the house today. And my husband feels he can help pack my son while is mother is here for her visit. The fact that this is on a day when I have PMS is just not good timing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Google Reader

I'm finally catching up with some of you. I am starting to use Google Reader to read my favorite blogs.

Gone from my sidebar today is the list of blogs I faithfully read and my favorite podcasts. I used to look at that list, see a new post, and click through to read it. Instead my Google Reader is filled with their subscriptions.

If you haven't tried Google Reader, give it a try. It's free. Go to, click 'more' then 'reader'. Sign up for a free Google account if you don't have one. Then 'add subscription' and search for the blog name you want to follow.