Sunday, September 30, 2012

Peer Pressure to Lose Weight (From Boys to Boys)

My younger son was approached by two boys in grade eight on the sports team. He was told he should lose weight but cutting his caloric intake to 1500 per day.

The team has a personal trainer who is a nutritionist. The nutritionist has reviewed nutrition, caloric intake, fat content, protein vs. carbs et cetera. My younger son is on a 3000 calorie a day diet to match his energy needs and calorie burning from 15 hours of intense practice a week.

I approached the nutritionist to discuss this matter and he said 1500 calories is dangerous. At minimum my son should have 2500. Being in grade 7 and not yet in puberty, his testosterone level is low so no matter how much weight lifting he does he will not be able to bulk up muscle. He can burn calories to burn off fat but he won't get ripped. My son has a body type that looks just like my husband's body: he is stocky and solid, and is built to be a football player, as my husband was.

I frankly am shocked that BOYS are discussing thin-ness, and in grade eight at that. I plan to have a conversation with the mothers, casually, to let them know of this so they may choose to do fact correction with their sons. I think they should know their sons are doling out bad nutrition advice and putting negative peer pressure to do a dangerous activity on their friend and teammate.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Quizlet is another studying website similar to Study Stack.

We started to use this as it is used by the alternative school - homeschool thing my younger son is enrolled in.

If you are looking for other options for memorization help, go to Study Stack and scroll to the bottom to look for a list of links to other free sites.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Learning to Take Notes

As a homeschooling family who used alternative education, taking notes was never a priority.

I have reached a point where I realize that notetaking is not intuitive and natural. This disappoints me greatly. Apparently this is a learned skill, at least for some kids, and my two are both in that category.

I now regret not having required my kids to take notes earlier in their lives.

I resent stories of unschoolers who told tales of teens who suddenly took on more serious academic work all under their own guidance. I only know one kid that fits this category of all the kids I have known over the years. That kid only learned the skill as it was mandated and necessary to get good grades in "outside classes" he took. That kid also is one who is motivated highly by grades and wants acceptance and accolades from his teachers.

For my kids notetaking is going to be a learned skill that is only started under duress. I hate that they don't want to take notes and that they feel this is a negative experience in their lives. We had many great fun years of homeschooling and my kids are both resenting doing the nitty gritty no matter how mainstream and common it is. It is an uphill battle for me. Since both plan to go to college they have to learn to learn by reading boring textbooks and listening to lectures. Since they do not have photographic memories they will have to take notes. Period.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

To Help Homeschooling, I Changed Some of My Routines This Fall

In order to give myself more time working 1:1 with each of my kids I have changed some of my daily habits and routines. Some of these are things that may distract me and derail me from getting to the actual homeschooling. Perhaps some of these ideas will help you free up your time during the day to focus on 1:1 lessons with your kids.

1. I quit drinking coffee in May. I used to check Facebook and Twitter while drinking my coffee before doing anything else, while I woke up. This fall I still am not drinking coffee and I stopped checking Facebook and Twitter in the morning. Actually I have much less time for Facebook and Twitter and mainly peek in on them via the iPhone or iPad in downtimes during the day instead of sitting down at the PC for longer scans.

2. I stopped checking email on my PC first thing in the morning. That would lead me to clicking off to other sites to read articles or blog posts or other things. Using my iPhone or iPad in small downtime slots during the day I skim and delete emails. For example if my son is doing grammar and I just helped him and have a few minutes free until he asks me something else I will look at email on the iPhone or iPad.

3. I download previously non-deleted email onto the PC in the evening and respond to emails that need longer responses (which I loathe doing on the iPhone). Also in this time I have started to unsubscribe to more company's emails such as sales promotions, so less email finds it way to my phone.

4. The snail mail is picked up in the evening before or after dinner. Mail is gone through at night not during the day.

5. Phone calls and appointment making calls that I have to make are made after the kids are at sports practice when I am home alone, they are not during the homeschool day. The same goes for me phoning my relatives back East to say hello.

6. Since the kids are so busy with homeschool lessons and since their sports practice time has increased I have started helping by doing the laundry. I do this in the evening or on weekends mainly. If I sneak loads in during the school day I never let the folding and putting away part of the task interfere with homeschool lessons.

7. I screen calls and do not answer most calls during the school day time. Since moving we are getting a ton of new telemarketing calls. All my homeschool mom friends are busy also so I rarely call them to chat in our busy times unless I'm desperate to talk about something and then I ask them if they can spare the time.

8. I have stopped house cleaning during the day except for little things here and there such as emptying the dishwasher while something is being heated on the stove. I clean the kitchen while working in the kitchen as I am doing other tasks, mainly at dinner prep time when the kids are at sports practice. My husband usually picks the kids up from practice on his way home from work leaving me to have some free time for the gym or dinner prep or both at that time of the day.

9. I am trying to go to bed earlier and unwinding by reading in bed and watching some light entertainment on TV in the bedroom. Our old routine of watching a TV show as a family before bed has ended this year. The kids are busy doing independent school work at night and their new longer sport practice time has shortened their evening. They also need a lot of sleep due to being tired from sports and due to puberty so I am trying to get them to bed earlier. I am trying to have both my kids and myself not be exhausted when the alarm goes off to wake us for the morning outside classes. On days when we are home doing lessons I set an alarm for 8 o'clock so we don't oversleep. I usually am up before that. I will probably get up earlier once my anemia problem is resolved but right now per doctor's orders I need to try to sleep 8-9 hours ever night.

10. As of next week, I hired a housecleaner for twice a month house cleanings. We will see if that works out. I have already tried two services but they both were terrible and were expensive to boot, so I fired them. I hope this company works out, they swear they will not do the shortcut things the other companies did and they are half the price as well. I have not been able to handle doing the big stuff, I'm too tired from the anemia which is not yet resolved. Formerly my kids helped do house cleaning but honestly they have no time this year due to academics and sports.

11. I have stopped blogging or doing anything blog related in the morning before homeschooling starts. (Except today which was a mistake.) I let myself skip a day of blogging here and there if I'm too busy or stressed out. I try to set my blog to publish ahead of time but I have not always had time or have beeen too tired to sit and pre-write the posts.

12. Both of my kids now do homeschooling work in evenings and on weekends as they just cannot finish up during the day or they procrastinate. This means I am doing some homeschooling in evenings or on weekends which robs time from doing the things I listed above that I said I planned to do in those times. We are not in a more ideal groove yet. I would like to protect some of my time as sacred not-homeschooling time in order to not be exhausted and to not burn out of homeschooling.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Letting Go of More Stuff

I have reached the point where I want to have my home and garage a certain way, and that means that I need to get I need to get rid of more stuff. I want to park inside my garage like I used to in Connecticut, for one thing, so I don't want to use the garage like a storage unit as so many people here do, and like I am right now.

This house and garage are both smaller than what we moved from. The houses they build in Texas are nothing like what we are used to in Connecticut. The open floor plan spaces and low and large windows and more doors leading outside to link indoor and outdoor living spaces leave little room for traditional furniture. So, furniture that we paid to move here does not fit inside this house. Here people rely more on walk-in closets for clothing storage. Some children's bedrooms are such that there is not room for a bureau or any type of clothing storage furniture, for example. We also own some desks that are not computer-use friendly. This house also has a built in counter for an office area and we wound up buying a fancy masculine desk from the former owner for my husband. So we have desks galore not being used hanging around here.

I am using the fourth, empty bedroom as an art and craft studio. However at present it is also filled with boxes of packed up educational and children's books mainly used for homeschooling or in our general lives as readers. I have the luxury of a closet that is 8x8 with four solid walls so I can stash some boxes of books in there. However this space is a far cry from what I had in my former home where I had to much indoor closet space that I didn't even have to use the basement or attic for book storage. The attic was basically empty since we had so much dry (non-mildewy) storage space for various other stuff in our basement. Perhaps you don't know that in Texas we build on slab foundations due to the always shifting ground, and we can't use attics for storage since temperatures reach 120 degrees or higher. Not many things we wish to store can make it in the hot and humid attics, everything gets destroyed. In Texas if you can't fit it in your house you either fill your garage, rent a storage space to keep it in, or you get rid of it.

After doing more unpacking and reorganizing this weekend I have come to the decision that it is time to let go of even more books and sentimental stuff I have saved. Back in Connecticut I donated a ton of things that I felt we had no practical need for. It was hard to let go of some sentimental things back then but now I feel motivated to let go of even more stuff. I saved far too many of my sons' favorite childhood toys and high quality items that my husband hoped we'd save for our grandkids. I want to live for the here and now and I want to claim my space not clutter it up with stuff that maybe someday my sons will be happy to inherit for their kid's use.

I am ready to let go of more homeschooling materials. I am letting go of already used and enjoyed books and curriculum. I am letting go of great stuff bought that we never had time to use that they are "past" now. I am letting go of things they could use now but are not a good fit for them learning-wise or interest-wise. I need to figure out the best way to get rid of this stuff, most of it really should be resold for at least the price I paid for it used, especially the much sought-after out of print and antique books. The thing is I'm busy living life now and homeschooling my kids so I don't have time to manage a big project such as individually listing everything on eBay.

I am excited to live the way I want, with my new definition of what that life looks like. I don't feel sad or bad about getting rid of more stuff, instead I feel happy because I am redefining how we use our living space. I want to enjoy the space and feel glad to see it. I don't want it overstuffed with boxes of things we are not using or to not be able to find something useful when I need it.

Stuff doesn't define me. I would rather live in a space where I can move and do things that I want to do (like park inside a garage instead of getting into a 150 degree hot car every time I go somewhere) and if that means being surrounded by less stuff in order to live the way I want then so be it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Did I Create This Monster?

One of the recent big talks my husband and I have had with our fifteen year old son is about his refusal to take notes in his chemistry class (for homeschool kids). It started out with my son having procrastinated about doing his homework which included math problems for scientific notation. It was now the night before the homework was due and no fewer than five days had passed since he could have started work on it. He worked himself up into a panic about his inabilty to do it.

My son forgot how to do the math operations and asked my husband for help. My husband didn't remember how to do it since it has been twenty or more years. I inserted myself into the conversation and asked where his notes were since I knew the teacher went over that operation in class (as I was there for that part of the orientation class). My son admitted to not taking notes and doodling in the notebook instead.

I pulled out my notes. Yes, I took notes. Why? Because I am a note taker and as I sat there in class one I thought to myself that one reason my son was in this traditional class was to learn notetaking and other basic school skills that our alternative education has not mandated he practice. I realized the teacher was writing fast and I know my son writes slow so on a hunch I decided to take notes. I figured at home if he needed help I could pull my notes out and then gently tell him next time to take more detailed complete notes so he could actually learn the material and do the work for the grade (note I list those as two different reasons). In my mind my son would say, "Oh, I didn't realize how important it is to take notes. I am so glad you took these notes. Thank you Mom you are a lifesaver. From now on I plan to take detailed notes in every class." As I write that I feel like an idiot for thinking that would be his reaction.

My son argued with us about notetaking and insisted taking notes was stupid and pointless. I reminded him that if he took the notes he would not have trouble doing the work and the work could be done quickly and then he'd get a good grade to boot. He again argued that note taking is stupid and there was no reason to do it.

I have been mentally prepping my son for the shift in academics since grade eight. That year was not as rigorous as I planned, we did too many co-ops and outside classes and we did not buckle down and learn some core skills like notetaking, outlining, and study skills to ramp him up for traditional studies in the high school years. Grade nine was full of challenges, the move, and health issues for my son. So here were are in supposed grade ten still discussing these things and we are still getting flack.

I would like to believe that kids can have an alternative education in the elementary and middle school years and be capable to shift gears to traditional academics for high school and college but so far my older son's attitude and actions have not shown this to be the case. In the past he has struggled with health issues (Lyme Disease multiple times, Mono, Chronic Tonsillitis and surgery to remove them, brain injury from Lyme Disease, and visual processing disorders from Lyme Disease). However as of today I am sick of hearing of diagnoses and reasons and possibly excuses. It is time to buckle up and just do what has to be done. Frankly I don't care what the past diagnoses are it is time to figure out how to get the work done and just do it. It is time to stop complaining that not all learning is fun, that not all the books are exciting enough, that the learning is not entertaining enough. It is time to just sit your butt in a chair and get the work done. It is time to learn to study and to memorize and to regurgitate facts and to parrot explanations back as taught. It is time to play the school game, even if (for the time being) we are still homeschooling.

I pray to God that this laziness and poor attitude are not things that I have cultivated in the name of trying to have deep learning by using exciting and rich reading materials supplemented by engaging hands on activities and cool in real life experiences like visiting historic sites and museums.

Did I create this monster of a bad attitude? Can I really have helped contribute to my son being a slacker and a disengaged student? I refuse to accept that it's my fault.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Computer in the Bedroom Experiment is Now Over

When we moved in to this house in August we realized the computer desk area is too small for three people (my sons and I). It is too tight to work in without bickering. I decided to, for the first time, let my fifteen year old son have his laptop in his bedroom. I was against this for years for a very good reason: I didn't want my kids having unsupervised internet access and access to play video games and other things at any hour of the day and night. I also worried that my son would not do his homeschool lessons on it but instead would goof off.

My son said he was ready and mature enough to follow the family rules. He said he would not do the things we do not permit.

The bottom line is he did not live up to what he said. My son was not getting his work done when left to his own devices. He would say he was doing online math but when I went to check on him, he was on Facebook or was playing Minecraft or discussing Minecraft on bulletin board forums or watching videos on YouTube or other such timesuck activities.

We went through a rough patch where he would lie to me and insist, angrily, that I was unjustly accusing him of doing things that he swore he was not doing. It is amazing and horrible how people can manipulate a situation and wind up making the accurate accuser seem like they did something wrong.

Our plates are full and my husband and I were trying to figure out the best way to handle the situation. The first decision was to let him keep the computer in his room but to try to limit his ability to surf the net anytime he wanted. We used the parental controls on our internet service provider to lock out the ability to use the internet for anything at bedtime. We locked out the ability to visit Facebook and YouTube and certain other sites during school hours. Somehow my son figured out how to hack it. He continued doing all the banned things and lying about what he was really doing with his time. The last infraction was he said he finished his chemistry homework on Wednesday and Thursday but then late Sunday night he said he just remembered he never did it and stayed up late into the night to complete it before Monday morning.

My younger son was doing this type of sneaking as well but his laptop was in the office area. He would just wait until I left the area to sneak to do something else instead of his schoolwork. He also snuck out of bed to use the computer at night since the office is near his bedroom and not near our bedroom, so we did not know at first. One night I went upstairs to get something and it was dark up there, it was after eleven, and I was scared when my son popped up from his computer where he had been playing a video game in the dark!

As of today we have decided it is time to end the computer in the bedroom experiment. As of tomorrow during school hours my sons will be in public rooms WITH ME IN THE ROOM to supervise their activities whether they are laptop computer activities or other activities. I am not quite sure where we will do our work, maybe in the famil room / kitchen connected rooms. Since they have laptops and they don't demand real desks I guess I could have them follow me around the house so I could be where I want to be.

I can't tell you how disappointed I am that my kids have let me down on this. I trusted them to do what they said they would do and they lied and deceived my husband and I. Perhaps some of you are snickering at the idea that we were so trusting but truly we have had a strong bond and trust has always been a part of our relationship with our sons and in the past they rarely have faltered. I misjudged my kids, I believed them when they said they were ready to have less supervision with computer access. Since they cannot live by our family's rules by placing academics before entertainment we will step back and make new rules and become more strict and see if they can comply and start to rebuild our trust.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Older Son Dropped His Online Classes

A major update to our homeschool plans for this year is we have dropped our older son out of his three online classes.

I want to be careful about what I say here as I (always) feel uncomfortable at the idea of the company owner or the teacher reading this blog. My intent is not to cause the company harm. I also do not want to invite litigation such as was done to the editors of Home Education Magazine when they said something negative about a homeschool product on the market which they had negative opinions about.

If I must boil down why, here it is: "the classes were not a good fit for my son".

Contributing factors: I felt the classes in reality were not a match to the description offered. I was unaware that one class was using a college level (dry and difficult) text. Communications were irregular and the teachers were not using the same website in the same ways so both my son and I had a hard time even knowing what the assignments were and how or where to submit the work. A class was not uploaded as promised and the next was not even recorded. It is hard enough to do the actual work and to follow along correctly but when administrative confusion occurs it is a real nightmare. In a nutshell the classes were like AP classes without that label. I was not looking to put my son in one AP class let alone three at once. He is not that kind of homeschool sophomore kid. For one course I had a serious disagreement with the teaching philosophy and felt they were not delivering on what was promised in the course description. I do not belive in "student discovery" method of teaching. To get good grades and to get through the assignments students needed mastery of a skill that was said to be taught INSIDE the class, a skill my son has not mastered yet. That's what I was paying them for, but that is not what was being taught.

I signed up for the courses without knowing a single person, not even an online stranger, who took those classes and could recommend them. I took a risk and it was a mistake. So I have learned from that mistake. It's time to move on.

Therefore, when we did this about ten days ago I found myself realizing I needed to scramble to come up with a plan to teach English, writing composition, and history. Great. Last minute planning and scrambling, just what I needed on my plate.

Why don't we just put him in community college instead of trying online classes, I have been been asked. My son had started the admissions process to apply to community college but he has not followed through to take the required admissions test (probably out of fear). He does not have a right attitude for success in CC right now anyway.

At the present time my son requests to continue homeschooling. I was looking forward to more outsourcing so he would be accountable to other people since he seems to be doing this teenage son thing where he wants to be independent from Mom and he also accuses me of being too rigorous. He now has seen even more rigor than I had wanted for him so I think he gets it that my plans seemed easy compared to those classes.

If my son will not cooperate with me for homeschooling (as was the case for some subjects last year) then we will have to look for other options, such as using public high school. If my son will not commit to studying and learning what he needs to learn for basics for Texas state law then I will not sit back and let him do some kind of half-assed homeschool plan on my watch. Not only is it technically illegal but it's just unethical for me to accept and do. If he is going to slack and goof off then he can do it in public high school and let someone else deal with him all day. Let someone else handle the attitude and dole out low grades. Then I can sit here and complain that the schools aren't doing enough to reach all the students and blame the teachers. (Actually after what I have been through I have more empathy for teachers now than ever before. But the ease of blaming someone else and avoiding personal responsibility seems tempting right now. Actually what I have learned is that you really can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink. This applies to homeschooling just as much as it applies to kids enrolled in a school. I just can't believe I am dealing with this attitude now after having so many happy homeschooling years with my kids.

We were at a really low place about ten days ago but in the last six days with some new family rules about homeschooling and time management it has gotten better. I won't get into that right now.

In the meantime I am buried with homeschooling my younger son with a gigantic workload for his new one day a week classical homeschool "thing". I was just told by a teacher they intend to assign 40-48 hours of work to do in the six days that he is not in their program - so this large workload is not a figment of my imagination. I thought the classical thing for my younger son and the outsourcing of teaching to other for my older would give me a lower workload and less stress so I could sit back and have less to do while I unpacked and settled in to our new house. Instead I have more work than when I decided what he should do, and I have more stress than ever. I may just have to put them both in school so that I can have a chance at having good physical health.

Regarding my health I will learn more in the next couple of weeks about if I'm healthy or sick with a bleeding ulcer or something worse.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Started Composting Again

When we moved from Connecticut I left my two compost bins behind. The sixteen year old plastic box type we bought from the store which was too small for our household and gardening scraps sat alongside a homemade compost bin I designed based on something I saw in a magazine which my father happily built for me about fifteen years ago. We figured taking apart and cleaning off dirty bins partially filled with compost-in-process was a bit nuts. The realtor disapproved of my leaving them there and wanted them removed from the property so the house would look brand new. The house was 23 years old, it was not brand new, a fact plain to potential buyers, so if compost bins behind the garage in the woods were a problem for a buyer then that's their problem. They could throw them away after they bought it if they wanted.

For the last 13 months we have thrown away our household scraps which was very hard for me to do and felt quite wrong. I value compost and it killed me to throw away perfectly good scraps that I knew could transform into black gold. I appreciated compost in my Connecticut garden and new it helped plants thrive. Here in Texas I met a new kind of soil which is either a very sandy dry nothing or a dense clay mass. If ever there was soil that needed compost, it is this Houston soil. However the gardens in the rented house were thriving thanks to past loving care from the former owner so I didn't feel too badly for not contributing to their future success. They were boring tropical plants that didn't stir my heart or soul.

Since moving to the new house I have enjoyed looking at the many garden plantings which have not required much maintenance from me. Now that the hardest part of moving is over, now that the total chaos phase is done, I actually have room in my brain to wonder what lurks beneath the surface of those gardens. I took some time to poke around this weekend and noticed small dead shrubs and some suffering rose plants, thanks to being planted in shade instead of full sun. I also noticed the sandy areas and the dense clay. It's horrible. These established garden beds need compost and they need it badly. They also lack mulch and the whole place needs yards and yards of mulch.

Yesterday my husband and I headed to Home Depot and I was pleased to find a plastic garden box type compost bin just like my old one only double the size and half the price. I wonder how they managed to pull that off? Perhaps the old one was made in USA and the new one is made in China? Remember the days when things slowly got more expensive over time and when you wanted something larger and it cost more than the small one? I do, so when I see the opposite phenomenon it seems so strange.

Today we are setting up the compost bin. I am curious if the increased heat here will make the scraps break down faster, I bet it will. I have read that finished compost put on the garden breaks down twice as fast. We'll see. I started collecting scraps already and can't wait to turn them into black gold. There is something satisfying about taking trash and turning it into treasure with minimal effort. Walking the scraps to the bin and tossing them inside is all the manual labor it takes.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Oprah, Bill and Melinda Gates on Education (2006)

While decluttering paper files I found my notes taken during an Oprah show that aired on April 11, 2006, a two part show with Bill and Melissa Gates. Here is a summary from

I wonder how much has changed in these last six years?

I decided to share my notes here, publish this then I can recycle the paper I took the notes on. I had intended to blog these back in 2006 but never did.


O: Oprah
BG: Bill Gates
MG: Melissa Gates


Oprah Show Special Report Schools in Crisis

Part One:

Oprah: "We are in a state of emergency."

20 years ago, American students were #1 in the world. BG: If this were a business it would be bankrupt.

BG: Sums up a 2005 speech "High schools are obsolete" and he "is terrified".

50% minority dropout rate

33% overall dropout rate

40% college students doing remedial work even at community college level

MG:"How could this be?"

BG: We are dooming a generation to dead end jobs and poverty.

O: I'm blown away that this isn't on every parent's mind when it comes to election day.

MG: Kids are falling through the cracks and nobody notices.

O: I wanted to do this show because most Americans don't know how bad things are.

(Me: Some of us do!)

Math: USA placed 24th in the world.

O: Shocked that poorer countries are doing better than we are. "We are raising a nation of childrne who are not going to be prepared to work at anything! We are not going to be able to hold our #1 status on anything!"

Some facts shared that show inner city kids scoring higher than suburban kids. Suburban kids take their resources for granted.

Graduation rates by state shared. New Jersey best at 88%, worst Mississippi at 59%.

BG: 6% of low income kids will not graduate.

52% of people think school worse now than 20 years ago.

Called Indiana schools "dropout factories".

Why do kids drop out? Lazy, don't want to get up in the morning.

Lisa Lling showed a school doing $36 million dollar renovation, curriculum is equal to other good schools, why failing?
Principal: "We need new ways to motivate students -- don't have the mindset that education is important to them -- it's not that they don't have the opportunity--it's just that they've had it -- they don't want ot go through the effort to get the high school diploma because they don't see a need for it."

Parents don't care.

Lazy kids.


Anderson Cooper: building maintenance not being done, work order from 2002 still not done. Kids do vandalism to ruin school.

The Education Trust West Director Russlyn Ali, lawyer working 16 years to fix schools "happens all over", "learned helplesness", "cycle of low expectations".
O: "cycle of NO expectations".

12th graders Latino reading at 8th grade level

O: Schools operating for 1950s when not getting kids ready for 2006.

White 2004 college valedictorian 4.0 GPA couldn't use lab equipment behind a year in math and math.

Tennessee Hancock County: student Beth Martin: "I feel that it will be impossible for me to catch up. I don't feel smart at all in college I feel like I'm stupid. I feel like I'm not prepared at all, not prepared for anything that comes my way."

Study 34% college grads have what they need to start college.

Jonathan Kozol, author on education and educational inequality: wants amendment passed for improving quality of education for all.

O: "Many devoted teachers, I love teacher, and there are good schools but there are enormous problems."

O wants every American child to have the best school.

1954 Brown vs. Board of Education segregation ended was mentioned.

O: All my friends say their kid's schools are great schools. I tell them it does not matter if YOUR kids are all in a great school because what matter is the rest of the nation.

(Me: Everyone thinks their school is great but it just cannot be true.)

"It's going to take activism."

"This is the most important social issue of our time." lawyer said.

At the end she says inner city kids need to have higher expectations of themselves. We need to "expect more of them". They have the same hopes and dreams as others do.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

When a Thunderstorm Suddenly Comes

...the rowing team stays indoors and blasts this song while lifting weights, laughing, and learning this dance.

Most say it was the most fun practice ever. Co-ed sports teams can be so interesting.

Read about Gangnam Style and the English translation here.

The storm as it loomed at practice time:

After the storm passed:

Houston storms are a whole different animal than what I'm used to in New England. They come fast and furious, they are dark and scary, and the rain comes down literally in sheets and drops hit your windshield two to three inches wide. The lightning is huge and zaps across the sky like some kind of special effects light show, unfortunately, houses and buildings do get hit and we hear the fire truck's sirens scream as they race to put the fire out. These storms are fast and furious, and rowing on open water is not the place to be during a thunderstorm. Period.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Not Writing the Math Down

My older son is finally seeing negative consequences from refusing to do math work out in writing rather than just doing it in his head. He also has suffered from not taking notes while listening/watching math lectures on his Thinkwell math.

Last year I pushed and pushed my son to take notes in math and he started doing it but then quit. I ran out of energy and gave up. Then my son was getting good grades in Algebra I so I decided to let him do what he wants. If it works for him to not take notes, fine.

This year as he works at Algebra II he has no notes to look back on. Also the quick review of algebra rules is not being written down and he does not have them memorized. He sees the negative consequence but does not want to admit that it would be solved if he took notes.

My son likes to do math in his head. He is receiving points off of homework for math work done for chemistry because he is not showing his work. Despite that negative consequence he still is not doing as the teacher or I instruct.

This is the thing about teenagers, many or most of them. They see something plainly logical and when the consequence doesn't match up to what they want they choose to claim to not see the logic and to hold firm that their way is the right way. My son is so stubborn. It is maddening to see that harm comes his way either in frustration at trying to learn something or by receiving a lower grade for class work.

The more complicated math gets the more one should take notes and look back on them to see the rules or to see one's own examples of how one solved that type of equation. My son is hearing none of this though. Right now all he cares about is what he wants versus what Mom recommends and he wants to be independent and to make his own decisions so anything I say he automatically thinks is wrong, false, or a bad or stupid idea.

I never knew what to expect with parenting a teenager but now that I see some of it I can say this is the hardest and most frustrating and least fulfilling part of the parenting journey I have had thus far.

Update May 2013: My son has been officially diagnosed with dysgraphia and it is being blamed as the cause for avoiding handwriting of any kind.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Younger Son's Attitude About New Learning Endeavor

To answer two reader's questions after they read this post and this post:

Up to the last month of sixth grade homeschool in (May 2012) my younger son loved check lists and assignment sheets that he could work on independently and check off and then feel successful at having completed the work. When given a list he would work on it diligently in the morning with hopes of finishing up as quickly as possible so he could have free time. I loved seeing that internal motivation. The only thing that bothered me was he was a "do the work and get it out of the way" type of person and that meant that he would not do more than was assigned such as spend hours more deeply reading about a certain topic that piqued his interest. In other areas of his life he has been product centered not process centered. Given all this, I felt this new endeavor would be a perfect fit.

Here are a few other aspects of his personality that affect schoolwork this year.

When doing art it was about having the finished thing look perfect not any enjoyment of the process. (This is the opposite extreme from mine and his brother's.) He is not interested in "enjoying learning".

When talking about a line of work he wants to do, he wants to live comfortably and to that end wants to make decent money and to not suffer living hand to mouth. He thinks he may want to be self-employed so he can work autonomously and be his own boss (answering to no one else and being in control of his career). A first question about a profession that he asks is how much money it makes. Perhaps you think it is greedy but honestly it is about survival. Having lived with unemployment and underemployment and a long-distance move for work, my son seeing that inconsistency, he wants something that gives him more control and something more stable for an occupation than my husband has experienced.

My son is willing to do what it takes to make money not to live a life enjoying doing a certain thing yet suffering monetarily. He has also shown physical endurance and internal drive to do manual labor such as attacking shoveling snow off the deck when he was a little tyke as he was told he could earn a dollar if he did the job. My son is tenacious when he chooses to be, just like me. When he sets his mind to do something, he cannot be stopped.

Anyhow, last May he started slacking at his schoolwork. I chalked it up to burnout as it was the end of the schoolyear and we were getting ready to take our long summer vacation going back East to see friends and relatives. That month he turned 12. Which part of this slacker attitude is developmental, I do not know.


One reason I signed him up for this "not a co-op" class thing is he has enjoyed co-op's in the past. He enjoys being in a classroom with kids. He was asking to go to school and wanted a social scene of being with kids during the day. We were told we would have two full days a week with others in group learning: classroom day and study group day. (The study group day has not materialized yet, no one in my town is running a study group. I offered to host one but no one in the town wants one.)My son has also done school work well under other teacher's guidance. All these things indicated to me that this would be a good fit.

When I mentioned in the prior post about crying I meant the mothers crying over stress not the children.

Right now my son feels overwhelmed with the experience. He fears failing. He feels out of control and confused, that is not something that sets him up for academic success. So we are struggling here.

I thought that my son would be able to work independently but so many of the assignments require parental involvement. How can we discuss literature if I have not read the books myself? Shall I just listen to his answer while I'm ignorant and believe what he says even when it is incorrect?

The readings are taking up a lot of time, about 15 hours of reading of historical fiction and the classic novel. He is having a hard time slogging through 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea due to the 150 year old vocabulary, many words I have not even heard of. I have borrowed the audiobook from 20,000 from the library but it still takes hours and hours to listen to. My son is suddenly having a problem with reading comprehension. I now see he is struggling with the historical fiction (Across Five Aprils). He reads it and it goes in one ear and out the other. I am reading it aloud to him right now and am trying to think of what I can do to help him get better at reading comprehension with independent silent reading. (He had Lyme Disease and a bad strep infection in June-July and I am praying that he does not have a new visual processing problem related to that.)

Adapting to the new processes and procedures is difficult so far and he is not able to take off and run with the independent work. I am overseeing everything. I have to say, "It says here to read pages XX-XX in the architecture book, go get it and read it. Then I have to say, "Find the definitions for these four architectural terms and write them out on the word processor or by hand in your notebook then put the paper in the blue folder to turn in this week." I sure hope that he begins to take on the initiative to do the independent work more as he gets comfortable with reading the long task lists and as he gets acquainted to the books and websites he must use.

To be blunt my son is acting like a lazy slacker. This is very new for him. This does not jive with handling this type of workload. If I am to help my older son with homeschooling at all then I cannot spend 30 hours a week in direct instruction with my younger son. Something has to give.

Not only is it hard for me to figure out all the new systems for my younger son but I feel stress and pressure because I also need to give some time to my older son. At the same exact time my older son was struggling to learn to use a website for three online courses in which all the teachers used the same website in all different ways. I needed to help both kids and did not have enough time to help either one sufficiently.

A piece of advice for anyone designing classes and various formal learning situation "schools" for homeschoolers is: I think more administrators need to put themselves in the seat of the learner and realize the importance of having systems that are the most user-friendly as possible. Instead of thinking what is easiest for the teacher to do, they need to think what is manageable for the minor aged children they are teaching. Kids are still learning organization skills and they need systems that are consistent and routine and organized. Each school should have guidelines to define standard operating procedures and they should make their teachers follow them. Every company I worked for had a standard operating procedure and schools should be no different.

Enjoying? Fun?

So, I was asked if my son is enjoying this.

Answer: no, not yet. And that is okay.

I am a firm believer that as a child gets older, in my case, we are talking about seventh grade, junior high, the work will get harder and it is not all fun and games. Learning skills such as how to write a good paragraph or how to take notes in class and better ways to memorize for a test are not fun for most students.

The rest of the learning should be as least-torturous as possible, I believe. But here is where the compromise lays. If we homeschooling parents feel capable of designing our own courses, and if our kids will actually learn from us, and if we are qualified to do things such as evaluating their writing, then by all means the parent perhaps should continue this method of homeschooling. However if any of those things is no longer functioning, then outside teaching should be sought. If the student is giving their mother too much push-back and won't do the studies, then something must change so the student can learn those topics. If the mother is too busy doing something else (like teaching the other kids in the family) or any other number of things are happening that prevent the mother from doing what she should, then outsourcing should take place. At the very least there are state law requirements for minimal teaching that must be done but in some cases even that is hard to administer.

When we choose to outsource the teaching, we have to make compromises. One such compromise is dealing with the fact that the main text for a course may not be what we personally would have selected. Perhaps the science text is more religious than we think is necessary. Maybe the history book is boring and does not bring history alive in the way we prefer. Perhaps there are more tests than we think are necessary or the teacher gives pop quizzes that we think are unnecessary. Compromise is a must. Anyone who uses regular school already knows about compromise. For us rebellious homeschoolers this compromise may seem offensive but for school kids and their parents this is a way of life that they have dealt with from day one. A little compromise and learning to deal with situations that are less than perfect never killed anyone and some adversity builds character.

We are sticking this out and as more time goes by we will learn if the pros outweigh the cons. I would like to think that we are just suffering through a steep learning curve.

I haven't cried in a week and hope the two crying spells I had are done and over with.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Long Live the Bookworms Too!

This former bookworm girl is sharing a link to an article published at The Independent (United Kingdom source).

Long Live the Geeks!

"The triumph of the geek is most obvious in the explosion of computing in the past 30 years, and everyone knows what happened there: the kids the cool kids sneered at are now worth millions and sometimes billions, and they have changed the world in their own image. But the world has always been shaped by people who were awkward in youth, strange of speech, often laughed at for doing things the wrong way. The history of literature is full of awkward misfits. Scientists and philosophers, thinkers of all kinds, were almost always regarded by their contemporaries as weird, withdrawn, obsessive, never without a book."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Watching Documentaries About Auschwitz

My 10th grade son and I are watching a documentary series about Auschwitz, produced by BBC and released in 2005: Auschwitz Inside the Nazi State, which we access on Netflix. It is a six part series.

I feel that documentaries can bring history alive using visual images of photography or video dramatizations. Additionally the newer documentaries are making good use of CGI (computer generated images) of 3D models and showing things such as how a site changed over time. We just saw the original plans for the gas chambers at Auschwitz comparing the original plans and then changes made over time. There is nothing like a great book to read but then again a high quality documentary with excellent visuals is also hard to beat.

Interviews with former concentration camp Jews and hearing their stories brings this horrible event in world history to life in a way that makes it feel real to viewers of any age. The atrocity is so horrid that to read about it in a book almost seems too distant and it is easy to think to oneself, "This cannot be true." With the video, seeing the places, hearing the voices of survivors, and seeing photo and video footage of the concentration camps challenges us by showing that it was very real indeed.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Younger Son Dropped Two Online Classes

Before I signed our younger son up for this, I signed him up for a reading comprehension class and a writing class online.

Once I saw and began working with the high workload of the big thing, I worried about keeping up with the homework deadlines for the online classes. Once the online classes started (later than the first thing) I realized that juggling the different communications and assignments was just too much.

The homework for the online classes was interfering with my son's ability to get the other class work done. I needed to set our priorities.

As of this week my son has dropped out of the two online classes (reading comprehension with juvenile literature and a writing class).

I'll get an 80% refund on tuition but have purchased books he will no longer be mandated by an outside party to use.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Heavier Workload Than Expected from Classical Homeschooling Endeavor

I don't know what to call this thing that my younger son is a student in. It is not a co-op. We pay fees and they go to classes one day a week, some are professional teachers earning income from their work. It is still homeschooling because they have assignments that must be done at home AND the work is not all independent work, they have to work with Mom and do things like have parent-child discussions.

In any event the way they described it to me when I signed up was kind of vague. The marketing materials didn't flesh it out enough for me to fully comprehend what my involvement would be and exactly what work my son would be doing. I thought he would be doing more independent work than he is doing. I am very much involved now.

I had to sign a form that said I would not talk negatively about the company on social networking sites (all the parents have to sign them). I am not doing that here, I am sharing our experience.

I am happy with the overall plan but we are suffering through a learning curve. One mother said she cried for the first year and a half due to frustration. Another said she cried for just the entire first year. I heard this after classes began. One said it took until the end of the second quarter to understand all the processes and procedures. I have never cried over my kid's classes before. Until now.

It is a bit time intensive for administrative work. I have to go to a few different web pages and print of worksheet pages, assignment lists, maps to color, and other such things. For example I have to print a map from an eBook and a map from a website every week. I have to follow multiple links to read materials online. Other materials are in eBooks we own or in books or workbooks.

I have to oversee my son doing lessons in textbooks. I have to give spelling tests. I own teacher manuals and have to use them in addition to student texts and student workbooks. We are drowning in curricula here that we are indeed really using.

Some of the confusing processes are what to turn in for homework review versus what he does that the teacher never sees or what gets turned in once a month but was supposed to have been done one piece a week for each week. Where the papers go is confusing: in the three ring binder or keep in a spiral notebook or in the folder and what gets writtin in the composition book journal? They want it done in a specific way and they are strict and regimented but the directions are a bit unclear so it's hard for a newbie to understand. That's why they assign newbies a mentor to call to ask questions of.

For history there are four pages of assignments to do every week. There is a spine text to read online, an out of print book that is free online. There is a historical fiction juvenile lit book to read. He has to take notes on both readings. He has to answer reading comprehension questions in writing. There are parent discussion questions about the reading. There are lists to fill out and various other activities in writing. Then they have a Socratic Dialogue discussion in class.

In English there are three or four pages of assignments each week. They are reading a classic novel (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea right now). Everything I said about the historical fiction book, ditto for this. There is a spelling text and a grammar text (A Beka). They are doing writing composition with IEW.

Vocabulary words are everywhere. There are those in the spelling text, those in historical fiction book, those in the classic novel, and those in the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) US History Based Lessons volume 2. In addition they are to write out every word they find in the books that they did not know the meaning of.

They also have to keep a journal discussing a couple of things or thoughts about each book they are reading.

Also he is doing architecture, art history, Bible education and memorizing a Bible verse every week.

There is memory work for history, they are memorizing states and capitals. They are doing a four year history cycle and this is year four. There are also history related presentations, 3D models to make, multimedia presentations and more.

He is also taking a class on General Science (Apologia text) and Latin (Wheelocks Latin) and Logic (Fallacy Detective).

We have finished week three and I am starting to get it better now. We are behind in the work and yes I have cried out of frustration. We are still trying to understand various processes and procedures.

And the uniform finally came from Lands' End but the pants don't fit.

I feel like we are a work in process.

I am glad we are doing this but I am exhausted and stressed out about following someone else's plans and having such tight deadlines and so many different procedures. Each week we "get it" a little bit more and we get better at managing our time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My 7th Grader is Dropping Spanish

My younger son wanted to learn Spanish this year. I cannot teach him Spanish as a Mom-taught homeschool class. I learned French in public school and in college.

I signed my son up for online classes with a native speaker who resides in Mexico. I wrote of this company here.

After I paid for the five classes as a trial package deal I signed my son up for a nearly full curriculum homeschool program. That program includes Latin. The academic work load for this "homeschool school" or whatever you call it is large. He attends classes one day a week but there is enough work to do to keep he and I busy working at home at least 25 hours in the rest of the week. I would count the hours for a more accurate tally but it would not be accurate since we have been behind from day one.

My son's workload is higher than we expected from that endeavor and there is no time left for the Spanish class. My son begged to not pay for more Spanish classes. He enjoys learning Spanish and is annoyed that he won't continue but he just can't take the workload.

I know some of you will ask how the class went. He complained that the teacher/native speaker talked too fast but I am not upset with her or the company because my son refused to speak up and ask her to slow down. Surprisingly my argumentative stubborn son somehow is shy when it comes to reasonable requests, he suddenly loses any ounce of assertiveness he has. He also reported this complaint to me at the end of class three and I said to speak up in class four but he chose not to. He complained again before class five and he didn't ask her to slow down then either. He knew that we would not renew after class five.

This class had little homework. The problem is my son is already busy enough doing the rest of his work. I would recommend this class and this company. I still cannot judge how this workload compares but I bet for grade seven it is light compared to school. If you want to learn a lot you will have to pay for two or more classes a week I feel. Or if you are using a textbook to learn Spanish you could supplement with the native live teacher to at least help with pronunciation only.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Q: Should I Start to Homeschool After We Move?

While making a call to a company about a mistake on a credit given to me on a return I did on an online order (at a giant name company) I was asked homeschool advice. There is a first time for everything.

Here is a bit more fleshed out reply than I gave over the phone.

The question was:

My child has always been in school. We are making a big move next month (October) and my wife and I are thinking of homeschooling her. What do you think? Is homeschooling a good idea?

I responded that I am very pro-homeschooling but that in this case it may not be a great idea. I said that any transition from school to home has its challenges as the family gets used to the switch. Kids often have an adjustment from mom as mom to mom as teacher. It is a big change for both mom and child.

However the bigger issue is the risk of isolation. Moving to a new place and not knowing anyone will require work to make a new social network. The child will not have school to provide the usual social outlet that the child is used to. If homeschooled the child will have to make friends via Scouts or sports or other extra-curriculars.

I mentioned that last year we moved 2000 miles, after homeschooling my kids from birth and having years to develop a place in the local homeschool network, we left it behind. I said being in a new place was challenging and it was hard to make inroads and friends having arrived here knowing no one. Not going to school made it harder for my kids to make friends, and Boy Scouts and sports was the way they found friends, but it still was not easy.

I said if the schools were thought to be really bad then consider it, but it would be a big change that takes hard work.

The response was that the schools they think might not be as great but they are not really bad. He said I gave him some things to think about.


I hate to sound negative but that was a truthful answer from a person who just went through a major move. Moving is about leaving friends and sometimes relatives behind. It is kind of a death, you mourn the loss of your friends. Even if you still technically are friends it is not the same to have phone calls or emails as seeing them in real life and sharing experiences together. Depending on the age of the child, maintaining long distance relationships may simply not happen.

Putting a child through the emotional experience of moving is a lot, and to add in a change of schooling method to something as drastic as stopping school and keep the child home to homeschool is probably not a good idea. The child will miss her old way of life and will miss her old friends and now she will be "stuck" at home with mom.

Mom will be implementing a whole new struture to life: schooling at home and the relationship dynamic will change. There is a certain intensity to the homeschool parent-child relationship that does not exist between mom and schooled child. The last thing you want for your child in the moving process is to feel trapped and isolated in their new home.

The first year homeschooling is a challenge for any family but to do it in October (after fall experiences have already begun and it is too late to enroll your child) is not a good thing. This means the child will have less options to do things away from home to meet new friends and have a change of atmosphere.

To combine the first year of homeschooling with a big move and all the changes that come with unpacking and finding one's way in a new place is putting a lot on Mom's plate.

Speaking for our family as I have discussed here previously since my younger son was not in a fall or winter sport he found no friends through a sport after the August move. The spring sport was only 3 hours a week for about 8 weeks and they were so busy and spread across the field that no one was making friends, they were all about doing the sport they were there to do.

My older son immediately enrolled in a four season sport upon arriving in Texas and his first circle of real friends has been through the sport team.

In the first year here we have failed to make connections in the local homeschooling community, so we have no friends in this first year here among homeschoolers. That is so different from what I was used to in Connecticut.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sharpie Brush Stroke Markers Product Review

Sharpie has just released a new product, to respond to artists who use Sharpie markers but had to formerly choose between fine tips and fat tips, you now have more choice with the brush tip marker.

The brush tips allow the artist to vary the stroke pressure in order to make a fine line or a thick line or something in between all in one stroke.

The colors are bright and super saturated just like other Sharpie markers.

This set has 12 markers: the basic rainbow color shades, plus pink, black and brown.

If you love Sharpies for art making, what is not to love about these?

Disclosure: I received one unit of these for product review from I was not paid to blog or write this review. See my blog's full disclosure statement near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Taste Nirvana Coconut Water Product Review

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

This is the third brand of coconut water I have tried. This one tastes much different than other brands, it has a definate SWEET taste and tastes like the coconut taste Americans are familiar with from various coconut desserts or drinks.

According to the label "Our coconuts are harvested from the prized Nakorn Pathom province, where they grow larger and taste sweeter than from any other region in the world." These are made from "natural coconut water" only, there are no added ingredients. This is a product of Thailand. It is distrubuted by a Taste Nirvana of Walnut California.

Some people are curious about sodium content. The label says 42 mg of sodium per 9.46 fluid ounces. It has 50 calories and 600 mg of Potassium.

There is a little pulp in this. It doesn't bother me but may be visually unappealing to some if they are used to a more clear looking coconut water.

(I tried Vita Coco first which had a taste that I got used to after a while. I then tried Zico and decided I liked that "flavor" better than Vita Coco. Now I that I tried this, I like this Taste Nirvana water best of all.)

What drew me to try Coconut water was the high potassium level (one serving is said to equal to two bananas), the electrolytes, and the fact that it is all natural. Coconut water is an excellent natural hydration beverage that does not have various negative things that the popular brand artificial sport drinks have in them.

All coconut waters taste best when served very cold. The fact that this comes in a glass bottle makes it seem more chilled and it holds the chill longer than an aseptic pack or plastic bottle. They also package their product in aluminum cans although I have not tried that packaging.

Disclosure: See my blog's disclosure statement near the top of my blog's sidebar. I purchased this with my own money.

Study Stack, Again

We are back to using to help study and memorize information for homeschool classes my children are enrolled in which require memorization and testing. is free. You can custom design study information.

But here is what I want to share most of all: content inputters can decide to keep their data private or to make it public.

Thank you to the data inputter students and/or parents who chose to publically share the data. This means we do not have to type in everything from the textbook.

My 10th grade son's chemistry text's vocabulary words and vital content has already been inputted by someone else. And we get to use it for free.

To see if someone has already inputted the same data, use the search box.

We are so grateful for this, so thank you anonymous person!


If StudyStack's features are not up to par for your personal preferences, scroll to the bottom of the home page to find links to many other free websites.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Kindle Fire Distracted My Kids From Reading

My sons were given Kindle Fires by their grandmother for Christmas 2011. It was not my idea. I consented. It was our family's first foray into any type of eReader. I thought it was time that they have access to read eBooks.

I regret it. I should have consented to the use of a plain old basic Kindle instead.

Before I tell what happened I know I am the parent and I know I supervise them. However policing the use of the Kindle Fire is very difficult and sometimes impossible. I had no reason to mistrust my children as before this they were trustworthy. They were readers who read books every night before bed.

The issue is that the Kindle Fire has Internet access.

This was also my kid's first time having web access in their bedrooms or in a portable way. They were 14 and 11 when they received this as a gift.

Our home had WiFi. They knew the access code because they had to use it daily to login to the Internet from their laptops which were never moved around but stayed put in the family office area, an area which I had full view of all the time since it was a small home with an open floorplan on the first floor.

Before the Kindle Fire was received we had a habit of each kid reading silently to themselves in bed at bedtime, pleasure reading. My kids are readers and they read a lot more books than typical American kids. However they are not bookworms like some kids I know, and like I was. Unless they are hooked on a page-turner, they would do other activities in the daytime.

After the Kindle Fire was received, they were tempted by Amazon's free app of the day which is usually some silly video game. They got into a habit of getting every single one. I would estimate that in the 10 months that we have had the Fires they have spent less than $5 on apps. This is because my husband and I said they were not to waste money every day on silly app games. So they want the free ones. Their app collection is huge and it is mostly filled with games they try and don't like and abandon after just one try.

The first thing that I realized was before bed I found out they were playing video game apps instead of reading. The second thing that I noticed was that in-bathroom reading stopped being books or magazines and instead was video game app playing. I found this out by receiving emails from Amazon telling me of the purchase of a free app that was delivered when I was at my computer and my kid was still on the can (in the middle of the homeschool day). When each kid spends an hour on the toilet once or twice a day that can equal a lot of good book reading or a lot of stupid timesuck activities using video game apps.

The last book my now 15 year old read for pleasure was finished in February, I believe. That is seven months ago. He only read it as he loved the trilogy and was excited to get the last installment in the trilogy. The last book my 12 year old read was finished in June, that is three months ago.

The owning of the Kindle Fire, loaded with books they said they wanted to read for pleasure has not resulted in them reading those books for pleasure.

The owning and use of the Kindle Fire has resulted in them reading less paper bound books also. The ones they own and say they want to read sit untouched. Libary books we check out that they said they wanted to read go unread and are returned untouched or unfinished. Even when they borrowed an eBook and knew it was expiring, my son was not reading it because he was fooling around with it instead.

The latest thing they have started to do is use the Internet while in the bathroom or for "before bed" use. They use YouTube to watch music videos or videos of people playing their favorite video games. They access Facebook. They go to bulletin board sites to have discussions about their favorite topics. There have been some attempts at age inappropriate Google image searches. I know this because I started looking at their Internet browsing history.

As to late night use, we shut the family computers down at night so they can go to bed. Yet the use of the Kindle Fire right in their beds keeps the Internet alive for them. We just didn't realize they were doing that.

We just moved and our internet provider changed, as did our physical set-up of the family's computers. My husband and I have had enough of the over-use and mis-use of the Internet and of video game apps. We see Facebook posts published at two in the morning when we thought our son was alseep. I am sickened to realize my kids are no longer reading for pleasure.

The kids have an increased reading load of both books and textbooks dictated by their online and live classes. They are reading when coerced only, at this point. The kids had been losing regular books so I decided to use eBooks. I bought the eBooks before I realized that the mis-use of the Kindle Fires would escalate during and after the move last month. Now I have a situation where the kids need to read those eBooks with their Kindle Fires but they are abusing them or faking it by saything they are reading an eBook when they are instead listening to YouTube with earbuds.

The other night my husband worked to set up parental controls though our Internet Service Provider. For now we have set the Kindle Fires to have no Internet access at all. When we buy a new eBook we will have to manually open the Internet access up, dowload the book then shut the Internet down again.

We also set up parental controls to limit what websites the kids can access during school hours and after bedtime. So far they have found a way to hack this so my husband and I have more work to do to figure that out.


Five months ago, my older son won a drawing, the prize was a lightweight Kindle (the $79 one). He actually prefers reading with this as it is lightweight and he can hold it with a few fingers. That does not have web surfing ability or video game apps to lure the reader away from the task of reading the eBook. If you want your child to have an eBook reader and worry they may wind up using it for other entertainment only purposes, I would recommend that you consider one of the basic Kindles, not the Kindle Fire. Hey, you'll save money too.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Presidental Candidates and Science Issues

From Scientific American: Obama Romney Science Debate

In case you have time for reading and pondering. It would also make for good discussion with your kids.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Hit an Unpacking Plateau

The homeschool year and everything else that kicks off in the fall is in full swing. I have been busy teaching my kids, facilitating or overseeing their studies. I have been driving them here and there. I have been buying, returning, re-buying, or returning to the stores or websites to buy more things than I ever thought they would need.

(I have also been halted by a broken radiator in the minivan, and another day lost to a flat tire. One of my cats had a life-threatening urgent medical problem that took half a day on Labor Day. That was an emotional day and was not at all what I had planned to do on the holiday.)

The related fall activities means the volunteer work the parents do has ramped up as well.

I had been unpacking at an insane pace with such fervor by hyperfocusing on the task, that some who know me and have seen the progress I made may wonder if I had ADHD or OCD. I have neither condition, but knew that doing much unpacking would become harder once homeschooling started so I worked like a maniac. The house is functional, but not optimally organized in every room.

None of the wall art has been unpacked and neither have any of the framed family photos that sit on horizontal surfaces. The place doesn't show who lives here since there is no evidence of baby photos or a wedding portrait. There are bare walls lacking artwork. Whatever.

My art studio and craft room is the lowest priority. The movers did not listen to my instruction and then later balked at my request to put boxes of homeschool books into the walk in closet. Instead they dumped them into the center of the craft room. I can barely walk in that room and the boxes are a jumble of boxes of yarn, art paper, paints, sewing supplies intermixed with heavy boxes of biographies, math texts, and history books. It is depressing and scary to contemplate tackling that.

I have hit a plateau with unpacking. In order for my kids to learn and meet deadlines for their classes, and to eat and sleep, I basically cannot unpack Monday through Friday. The kids have activities on weekends which interrupt the time. I am not happy about this but I am trying to accept that the fast pace of unpacking has hit a wall and trying to not feel badly about it. I am focusing my thoughts on the positive, thinking about all that we are accomplishing with learning and the extra-curriculars instead.

And I guess I'll have to purchase a second copy of Sister Wendy's Book of Painting since that is buried somewhere in the crowded and unorganized art and craft studio. At this rate I will never find it.

Update: I just got the call from my doctor that I am very low in Vitamin D and moderately anemic, two things which can give me fatigue. Now I have a biological excuse for feeling so tired and unable to get everything done that I want to do.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Learning Curve

What a learning curve: the transition from alternative homeschooling to the use of more paid classes which, although sometimes delivered in alternative or new technology ways, still are traditional classes. These classes require note taking, turning in homework, reading and answering questions to measure comprehension, memorization, and studying for quizzes and tests. This is not unreasonable. It is just traditional and it is not what my kids are used to doing.

I had been told that when a student is mature enough they can handle this, no matter how annoying or tedious or useless it seems or (fill in the blank with some other negative thing you think about school ways of doing things). It seemed reasonable and I bought into that. I have heard this mantra since I first started meeting homeschoolers and reading magazines and books when my oldest was just a baby. Well now that time is here for our family.

Further complicating the transition is the fact that the frequency of homeschool classes with outside teachers is usually once or twice a week compared to five days like the school kids. Homeschool kids wind up doing more independent learning in order to cover the content, I get it, that's fine. But it means that they are on their own to manage their time for both basic learning plus the studying. It is also hard to handle more assignments due once or twice a week instead of smaller bits learned daily and homework just on that stuff due the very next day. The way schools do it forces the kids to not procrastinate (except for long term projects or big tests). Doing homework on that day helps move the information from very recent memory into short term and long term memory. If you don't understand something you can ask about it the next day too. Homeschool classes allow more time for procrastination and misjudgements about how long the work will take have bigger consequences. Then a deadline is looming but the work required to do that large assignment is five or more hours in duration which is not easy to cram in and complete!

(Actually the model of 1-2 meetings a week is closer to the delivery method of education used by college, so maybe this is a good thing to learn at age 15, I guess, it's just painful to live through this learning curve.)

The one having the hardest time adjusting is my older son. He is rebelling against the school way of learning and the over-focus on memorization and recall of facts instead of a focus on deeper content and enjoyment and pleasure in learning. He doesn't like boring materials that he must digest then parrot back information. The dry content doesn't spark the mind enough to help the facts stick.

I am trying to teach and guide my older son into "the school way of doing things" but he is pushing back. Most of that, I believe, is related to his developmental stage and puberty. He wants to be independent. He wants to be in charge, but he is not ready. He can't teach himself work habits and study habits he does not yet know exist. I am trying to guide him. He tells me he doesn't want my help. When he does do what I say he has success. When he wings it and flails, he fails. You would think he would learn that it is time to stop resisting and do what Mom recommends. He wants to be independent and not have to rely on Mom, I get that. I keep saying that I will help him learn the techniques now and then I will back off on teaching that once he can do that on his own.

When asked if he was ready for the test today he got mad and said it was annoying to hear me ask and next time he was just not going to even tell me when he had a test scheduled. I couldn't help thinking that if my son fails a test the teacher may judge our family by saying, "What kind of family is that to let their kid come take a test completely unprepared? They must have a low achievement or slacker mentality in that household." Ouch. That's not what the situation here is but what we do have is a teenage boy that has stubbornness and independent thinking running on both sides of the family.

I want to say to my son, and I think I have actually: gee whiz, forgive me for trying to help you succeed kid.

I am not doing the work for him, I am trying to guide him and give ideas and advice about how he can fulfill the class requirements, so he can actually learn, and how to get good grades all at the same time. But he doesn't want my help. I can't just let him sink or swim so I am spacing my offers of help out, and not nagging him. When I offer to help I make sure I have time and am ready, then I give him space and leave him alone to work it out by himself for the majority of the time.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

"Tapping the Brain Out of Energy"

My intention with writing this post is to help parents know what is going on and to help homeschoolers realize that some changes they can make at home may improve their child's learning experience.

To the parents of schooled kids, I think you should know about this. It will help explain that your child is not just lazy or unmotivated.

To those whose child is struggling in school who are thinking about homeschooling maybe this post will help you see that it may make a big difference in your child's education, even if you have self-doubt or worry about your own ability to handle home education.


I noticed this phenomenon with my older son when he began struggling to learn. It was first apparent with reading text. He would hit a wall where he could not read any more. Whatever he read would not sink in. If I was reading aloud, he could listen longer but he would hit a wall eventually. Whatever he heard would go in one ear and out the other.

Later at homeschooling conferences I heard of this when talking about kids with various learning disabilities. Parents with kids who do this know it is real, not a joke, not a figment of the imagination.

It was not until we worked with a board certified neurofeedback therapist, a psycholgist, that we heard the biology behind this. Essentially what happens with people with various brain challenges, brain injury, neurological problems (Tourette's or others), or the list of learning disabilities is this. The brain does not know what to focus on and what to filter out. It is on a high alert state all the time. The brain is supposed to constantly judge what to focus on and what to filter out, what to forget vs. what is important, in order to conserve energy and to be efficient and not wasteful. When it is impaired it is on full alert all the time. This means that it runs out of energy fast, hours and hours before a neurotypical person's brain would. The biology behind this is the brain runs on glucose and when using a lot of energy it literally uses up all the glucose and is empty. It needs refueling then. And anytime a person hyperfocuses on something that they find challenging to grasp the energy level is increased and the fuel is used up at a higher rate.

After my son's neurofeedback treatments which lasted about 45 minutes long, his brain was so fatigued that it was empty of glucose. He would fall asleep almost as soon as we got into the car, and this was at noon, after being awake for only about four hours. We were counseled to eat a nutritious breakfast, then a protein and healthy carb (i.e. apple) snack right before the session, then to again carb load with fruit and a protein immediately after the treatment. My son would not always comply with this. The neurofeedback was so tiring to his brain that he could not learn for the rest of the day. We selected an 11am time slot due to traffic issues in Houston (a question of wanting to spend 40 minutes driving there or 90-120 minutes). A late afternoon appointment after a full day of studies was out of the question, and it conflicted with his sport practice too.

The recommendation we received for optimal learning on non-neurofeedback therapy days was this.

Go to bed at the same time each night.

Wake up in the morning at the same time each day.

(Sleep the number of hours he recommended based on what gave the most normal levels of delta and theta waves.)

Wake up, eat eggs for breakfast (protein and not a huge bread based carb) and get outside in the sun, do vigorous exercise 20-30 minutes to wake the body and brain.

Shower, get dressed.

Lessons for 50 minutes.

Eat snack with protein for 10 minute break.

Lessons for 50 minutes.

Eat snack with protein, for 10 minute break.

Lessons for 50 minutes.

Lunch break with a healthy lunch protein and carbs.

Lessons for 50 minutes.

Eat snack with protein for 10 minute break.

Lessons for 50 minutes.

East snack with protein for 10 minute break.

1 hour nap (approximately at 2pm). Do not sleep longer.

Wake up, eat snack with protein.

Lessons for 50 minutes.


Sport practice.


Eat dinner.

Relax in the evening.

With homeschooling we can focus lessons to be high impact and a low waste of time in order to not waste brain energy on dumb assignments. Homeschooling an LD child or a brain injured child or any child with something that causes this challenge should be tailored to them custom, not just using some time wasting program intended to be a one size fits all curriculum as that is not much better than using school. The goal is to be efficient and get the learning done when the brain is on, before the brain wears out.

As for my son, at fourteen and fifteen I am having a hard time enforcing this schedule. He wants to make his own decisions. His picky eating habits prevent him from having a large selection of foods to eat and he gets sick of eating the same thing all the time. When we did that schedule it worked great.

Other People's Kids

Once I learned that the "tapping out of energy" had a true biological basis it was a relief. However it was bothersome also as now I feel pity for the LD schooled kids. The schedule of early waking to catch the schoolbus and the wasting energy before the first lesson is even done is, well, a waste of their brain's energy. Later, they will tap out and tune out during the school day before the lessons are all finished. They will not be able to eat frequent snacks, and I question the nutritional value of the typical schooled kid snack that they eat, usually just one in the morning. They can't nap to restore the brain after lunch and before the afternoon lessons resume.

Then when they get home they have homework to do, so their learning day has not yet ended. Since naps in America are thought to have no need past age three or four, I bet elementary schooled kids and older kids are not napping when they get home. And if the parents do not understand the biology behind the need for the food to be a fuel then it is probable that the after school snack and perhaps the dinner (and dessert) also may be foods that do not restore the brain's glucose supplies quickly enough, thus setting up the brain for failure when the student needs to be able to focus and learn at homework time.

The American school system with its rigid traditional scheduling and with the mainstreaming of learning disabled kids does not allow for schedule alterations such as I have addressed here. Napping and more frequent snacks are not common in IEPs, not yet at least, except maybe for Diabetics with their easily measured insulin levels that are a mainstream medical diagnosis. This brain biology and emerging technology is so new that it has not tricked down to help change educational policy yet.

The fact is that school teachers' efficacy is limited if the children's brains are not turned on and engaged. Leaving nutrition and adequate rest (napping) out of the equation is a problem because it sets the student up for failure. If the brain is fried and has no glucose to pull from, nothing that is done via teaching in the classroom will be effective, not great teaching, not mediocre teaching, not differentiated instruction, and not IEPs. Instead kids will daydream, or appear to be listening but not really hearing, or they may just fall asleep! Later they will recall nothing that was taught which will lead to struggles with homework completion later that same day and it will negatively impact the learning in general and for the longer term.

I don't have an easy solution for the schooled kids but I think awareness of this can be the start of a conversation.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

More on Learning and Fun

Not all learning is fun. Period.

I take pity on school teachers. I don't know how they do the teaching job and deal with the kids with all the different challenges they have, then how they deal with administrators.

It is hard enough to teach kids, I can't imagine having to take responsibility for their test scores. Even fantastic teachers can't guarantee fantastic test scores. Why? Because the student is involved. How do I know this? Because I teach my own kids at home and I know what they understood and saw that they demonstrated that they learned. I thought they learned it and they were "done", then later they forget it and act as if they never heard of the concepts before. It's frustrating for me to handle with my two kids. If I were a school teacher, I can't imagine handling it for 20-25-30 kids in each of my classes.