Thursday, January 31, 2013


We just finished watching Simon Schama's Power of Art which concludes with Mark Rothko. Schama said the paintings were not still or inactive at all, which is the opposite to what this MOMA curator states. Schama also said that Rothko wanted the paintings viewed at a distanct of eighteen inches, so close!

I saw a temporary exhibit featuring Rothko's work at The Met a few years ago, while we were there for a homeschool class (something completely different than Rothko), before I knew anything about him. The color was vibrant and the artworks were stunning and surprising to me.

Through homeschooling I am learning a lot that I was never exposed to in public school or college. Sometimes, to be truthful, my kids don't seem as interested as the content as I am but as I said the other day, if they only remember a fraction of what they are exposed to, it'll be great.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Going to Start Gardening in the New House Soon

We moved into this house in August of last year. I am still clueless about gardening in Texas zone 9. All my knowledge and real life wisdom and experience has been with a zone 6 garden.

It is so hot and humid here that those two things kill the plants. Zone 9 has two growing seasons but they are different. Tomato seedlings should be started indoors at Christmas and planted out six weeks later (in February). Mid-February is when you may start most seeds directly outdoors. Nurseries start selling some vegetable and herb seedlings en masse in January. By August 1, I am told, the tomato plants die from the heat.

The second growing season starts just before Labor Day but the risk is that if too-hot weather arrives it can kill the seedlings or young plants. Yet if you start the plants outside too late they won't have enough sun or heat to yield a bountiful harvest.

Some plants survive without protection year round, such as parsley, sometimes basil (if a hard frost is not had in winter), and some root vegetables, I am told.

By watching my yard last year I found that just a slice of my large fenced in backyard gets sun for eight or more hours a day. I am getting ready to install raised bed gardens in that area. The reason for the raised beds here is that when the subdivisions are developed they scrape the topsoil off the top and sell it to nurseries who resell it to farmers. This leaves pure clay. The builders add a layer of store bought sand to the top and build on top. They then lay sod of Bermuda Grass on top for lawn. If I dig down two inches I have solid clay. The rains are torrential and heavy and the clay cannot absorb it quickly. We often have standing water and local flooding of streets and yards. There are drainage trenches in my front yard and my entire lot has underground drainage pipes to direct water off the property into the large ditches that the master planned community diverts to larger runoff areas. So, I have no topsoil and no loam, and I'll need elevated beds to add enough quality garden soil to in order to have a place for the plants to grow. If they are on top of too much clay the roots would get wet and they would die from rotting, molding roots.

I have been researching raised bed options. We have a nicely landscaped backyard and I don't want to add an eyesore. However we have to prioritize our expenditures. A nice tumbled rock, curving, 16 inch high garden bed would cost me $10 a foot to construct, which is too much money. We are going to install a two-high stack of cinderblocks (sadly) in a (plain) rectangle shape, or possibly a U-shape. Like a local friend, I will try to grow an ivy to cascade down and cover up all the cinderblocks. That would improve the looks.

I am excited about gardening here and have a lot to learn. Last year I attended a four hour lecture series about how to garden for low water usage and to draw bees, humminbirds and butterflies, and organic gardening. This spring I will attend a series about vegetable gardening in Texas. I also heard a speaker this winter talk about how bumblebees are underappreciated by farmers because they are better pollinators than honeybees -- interesting.

One of the best things about gardening here is that I enjoy learning new things and stretching myself. I am so glad to have something fun to do just for me, something that is not homeschooling or parenting related to do with my mind and with my energy. I need more things in my life to recharge and refuel myself.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fell Into a Homeschool Rhythm

This is week three of the new schedule which includes two half days at medical appointments. I am happy to report we have fallen into a good rhythm.

I am enjoying homeschooling my kids again. The younger is now rebelling a bit so it is not perfect here. The older has been fantastic to be around in general and I am enjoying teaching him now that he lets me.

It feels great to enjoy my kids again. I think I am on the healing side of homeschool burnout. I still feel overwhelmed with all that is going on regarding my older son's learning challenges and medical conditions but hopefully all the care he is getting is going to help.

Still unresolved is that I have no time to exercise for fitness. My weight has not changed since I gained ten pounds during the move in the summer of 2011 but I'm feeling fat. I just can't seem to get everything aligned to be balanced and ideal, but maybe my ideals are too high.

This schedule we're using started three weeks ago and will be in effect through May 12. After that the co-op classes end so I can revise the schedule again. Having finished those courses my kids will have time for new things. I plan to fill that time with art electives, some museum trips, and probably my older son will returning to doing geometry.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby (Interest Driven Learning)

I never read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald because it was not assigned reading in my public school or at college. I planned for my sons to read it in our homeschool since it's a classic.

Last month at the library's small used book shop I spied a used copy of the book for a buck so picked it up. Then my husband mentioned it was his favorite assigned reading in all of school and college. While going to see Les Miserables as a family they showed the movie trailer and my fifteen year old whispered, "Can I read that book now? The book is always better than the movie so I want to read it first." Given all that we've been through lately and his rebellion and resistance I nearly wept to hear that.

The book was handed over but my son still is not reading a lot. Given our current many hours in the car for medical appointments schedule I checked the audio book out from the library and we are listening to it together.

We're on chapter eight tonight (of nine) and we are rivoted. The only thing I'd heard of this book from (Christian) homeschoolers was it is a corrupt book that is horrible. Speaking of the writing I am enthralled with Fitzgerald's ability to write with such detailed descriptions so as to evoke the scene completely as well as his ability to describe people, culture, and attitudes regarding social standing and ways of life of that era in time.

This afternoon my son said that he felt that The Great Gatsby was "a good certain kind of story similar to To Kill a Mockingbird". I asked if he meant the two novels were somehow connected and he said, no, just a high quality of writing. (That's why it was elevated to be called literature!) Oh Praise God, he is starting to get it. I was starting to think all hope was lost...just two months ago he was ranting that literature is BS and all sucks.

Tonight I believe we're already in the denouement and we crave to know how it will all wrap up. We watched the trailer and both of us came to the conclusion that while we were drawn in by the movie trailer we worry that it will overly focus on the glamour and played up the party scene and show an excess of wealth that goes beyond the book's description, as well as vamping up the sex at the risk of losing the true personalities and the overall message of the issues regarding old money and new money on Long Island. Now I need to say I don't have a sheltered nerd weird kid (I am sorry if this offends you to hear me talk about some kids like that but...) to hear him say this about loving the story in the book and how Hollywood changes it was just unbelievable. We will have to wait until May 2013 to find out though, what Hollywood has done to this classic. Let's hope the real message comes through.

And by the way you can appreciate a story and see the corruption and sin and which is the entire point, to be revolted, without calling the classic novel something negative.

We both love the remake of "Happy Together" done by Filter, (originally by The Turtles). After hearing this new version I had my son play the original and he thinks it's too sappy. I knew the original song from my teen years when I went through a 50s & 60s oldies phase and like that too. But the new version is powerful and shows passionate love, a hunger, and anger, all appropriate to the story.

Original by The Turtles

The cool music into to the trailer is the official theme song "No Church in the Wild" by Kanye West and Jay Z but when you hear the original you get also the vocal tracks which are hip hop which does not interest that son and I at all.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why Most Parents Who Want To Don't Even Try Homeschooling

Penelope Trunk blogs The Real Reason Parents Don't Homeschool which she feels is money: saying they need two incomes to survive and thrive.

I disagree. It isn't the first time. Trunk seems to like to make controversial statements which generate blog traffic and lots of comments. It's her schtick and that's her perogative. Having been in the homeschooling trenches longer than she and having interacted with lots of homeschoolers I just disagree.

I have homeschooled my kids since birth, they are 15 and12 now. Having helped provide free support via homeschool support groups and prior being a La Leche League leader for seven years working with mothers at home who talk about mothering and juggling work with mothering, and having worked with college educated women who like their middle or upper middle class income, I don't think money is the issue.

There are two reasons that people don't homeschool. The first begins with motherhood in general.

Some mothers choose not to be mothers-at-home when their children are babies because they are afraid they will be bored. Thus they begin their mothering journey as working mothers. I only know a few women who worked full or part time with their first child then became a mother-at-home for child number two (and subsequent). Most cited that child care and private preschool was too expensive to handle on their dual incomes, that it was cheaper to come home and live on one income.

Most people do not homeschool because they don't feel it is necessary (schools in our town are the best!). Why would you ever want to do that, they asked me. If you don't like the school just send them to private school. Parochial schools are often under $10K for K-8, so they think they are not that expensive (and they give scholarships for financial need if they qualify). I know less than a handful of parents who quit private school and chose homeschooling because they could not afford the private education for all the children once number two child (and sometimes subsequent) came along. Of those families one wound up using public school and boarding schools for high school after multiple years of homeschooling (and suffering with what I will discuss below all the while).

Many parents assume they are not at all equipped or knowledgable about how to homeschool (teach is what they are thinking). They worry of their inadequacy. This could be credited to fear but at the same time there is caring behind it because they feel the best thing they can do for their children is provide them with a good education and they feel they are not capable of the task. So they think they are being a good parent if they reject homeschooling and use the schools. They do not think there is anything wrong with their fear, they do not think it is a myth to bust or to question much. They take little or no action to fact search or talk to homeschooling parents to see if their fear is justified. They just march in line with mainstream America telling themselves that everything is just fine or else why would so many kids be in public school anyway?

Some who make statements that homeschooling seems good or that X at school is bad (social scene in middle school, bullying in elementary school, or learning disabled child struggling) say they are scared to even try homeschooling. They often will say they looked into homeschooling a little and think it's great for other families but not for them. They fear it will be too much work or that they will not be able to handle parenting their own children in the homeschool lifestyle because being a school parent and nagging about homework is already challenging and un-fun.

Bottom line is the answer is fear.

They are afraid to step outside of the mainstream. There are things we know from psychology that speak to human nature's desire to stick with the pack and to not do things that are too different.

They are afraid to do something radically different than their established friends and peer groups have. They worry about losing their network of contacts in the school world: they fear they will lose their own friends they met through the PTA and the ones they complain about the school with. They fear being alone and losing their established social network. Many people fear abandonment. Some fear judgement from peers and fear that they will be shunned or rejected if they reject school and embrace homeschooling.

They fear they will fail (even if the worst that could happen is if learning less in one school year is a tragedy should they choose to re-enroll into school the next year, heck, you don't even have to wait the entire school year to give up and re-enroll them). Some fear school staff will reject them and should school be used in the future for that child, worry of negative repercussions from staff to the child such as punishment by assigning the student with the worst teacher in the grade, et cetera.

They fear that their spouse will not be in agreement with them about homeschooling which may put their marriage in jeopardy. It's a fact that in some families, divorce has been threatened about the homeschool issue. They fear criticism from their siblings and the grandparents. They are scared to death that those closest to them will do battle with them about their choice to homeschool.

Parents of learning disabled kids either think the school does a lot for the kid already and wonder how they could handle homeschooling. They fought for years at PPT meetings to get appropriate IEPs and wonder how they could homeschool that child after expending so much effort to get that IEP. Some think their child needs more than the school is giving but if a school full of experts is inadequate so how in the world could they handle homeschooling that child? Don't good parents try to make sure that the best experts render the care their children need? They wonder how they could homeschool when they are not a teacher or a special education expert in that field. They think the child is too hard to handle and they are inadequate, which is a fear based issue.

Homeschooling is not a clean and concrete process. Homeschooling has freedoms which allow homeschoolers to do things all different ways and provides freedom to make changes at any time. This uncertainty of a clear path to success or an easy path to ease of delivery of the education scares some people. The number of choices for curriculum and learning materials alone paralyzes some parents so severly that they never try homeschooling. A handful of parents told me they tried homeschooling in the summer for one week "as a trial" and it bombed so that was their proof that it would never work. Funny, they didn't use one week in school as a litmus test for keeping a child in daycare, preschool, or elementary school -- if they had, many children would have been withdrawn due to "failure".

Homeschooling is like running a marathon and it can lead to fatigue and even exhaustion. Some parents face burnout at some point. People hear about these things and are scared that it will happen to them as well. It probably will, but the point they don't seem to realize is we all struggle in life with different challenges and the fact is that most of us overcome them and come out thriving, not just surviving. As with all suffereing in life we become wiser for having gone through the struggle, we learn something about ourselves and others that we then use to improve our lives in the present and in our future.

There is a perception that parenting truly full time such as is done with homeschooling is hard, and that is true in different ways for different seasons of a child's life. Those struggling with a teenager ask themselves why they felt it was so impossible to keep a baby fed and in clean diapers while also feeding ourselves and taking a shower daily. What was our problem back then that we could not handle such a thing, we ask ourselves, life was so much more simple back then.

Some parents fear they are incompetent or they do not desire to live in a way that they think is going to be harder than what they are already living. It is easier to keep on keeping on with an established lifestyle than to make a change and to face the unknown which may be even more difficult! Whole books have been written for the self-help market about opening one's mind to change and then how to muster up enough courage to make that change happen. You have to really want the change in order to do what it takes to make a change. People with this concern have fear mixed with lack of desire - there is not enough desire to build courage to research and try something new to them.

Fear is the main reason why more people do not homeschool, and the lack of desire is another reason.

There is a grassroots network of wise homeschooling parents out there who are ready and willing to mentor you through the information gathering stage and they will walk by your side when you are ready to start the homeschooling journey (free of charge). If you truly want to give it a try, face your fears, overcome them and make the change happen. When you eliminate one thing in your life you make room for the new. When you close a door, a window opens.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Homeschoolers Working Above Grade Level?

The main reason we began homeschooling was so that our children could learn -- actually learn, which meant that the studies could be sped up or slowed down or adapted in any way including working on certain subjects above or below grade level. Of course ideally our children would be working at least at grade level, but even if they were not, due to some deficit such as a learning disability, they'd have that freedom. What we were looking for was a customized education.

What is an ideal homeschool education?

This is up to each family to decide.

In figuring out what an ideal education would look like there were these options, my husband and I thought about these issues.

1. Decide that what the public school did at X grade was not good enough or stupid and to reject doing that. This would include forcing down formal lessons to two year olds in preschool in some attempt to "get ahead" or to try for "early literacy". This would include forcing a child to learn to read when they were not ready. This would include not using ridiculous reading methods when the intensive phonics method of old was superior.

2. Decide what better thing a child of that age could be doing with their time and do that instead. This would include not using a dumbed down lesson plan to teach "my neighbors" for social studies in kindergarten and instead to learn about Ancient Egyptian pyramids, mummies and other much more intellectually stimulating topics.

3. Choose to use interesting materials to learn from and avoid all the boring stuff. Avoid repetition. Avoid drudge work. Avoid busy work. Use documentaries not just books.

4. Focus on learning not on testing.

5. Do real things as much as possible. Avoid worksheets and book learning for every single subject. Add in more hands on activities to make learning interesting. This goes beyond history themed crafts. In our case it also included wilderness school courses similar to Outward Bound and Nature's Classroom.

6. Go places and do things that school kids are unable to do because of time they are forced to be inside the classroom. Have freedom to travel more and do great things while in different places. Do things that are worthwhile but are out of reach of the public school's budget. Focus on family learning field trips rather than group activities because our kids would focus better on the subject matter when with just family.

7. Have more efficient learning activities that didn't monopolize all their day so they could have psychologically and developmentally appropriate free play time for optimal childhood development. Have time for developing friendships.

8. Use materials or different teaching methods to achieve learning if the traditional way of teaching was not working. This applies to all kids, but really helps kids struggling with a learning disablity or medical problem that impedes learning for a season or for multiple years.

9. Avoid long homework such as school requires in order to make time for extra-curricular group activities on afternoons and weekends.

10. Have time for physical fitness exercise for good health.

Working Toward Mastery

My husband and I believe that working toward mastery is a superior way to learn, instead of allotting a certain time frame to learn subject X then moving on when the date arrives.

This means, for example, that with our spelling words, the word does not disappear on Friday if the word was not yet mastered. The tricky word stays on the spelling list until our students master the spelling of that word.

Math, reading, spelling, grammar, and other skills are easy to recognize mastery in. Other topics, and in the higher grade levels, can be harder to assess if the work that is being done is not easy to rate, grade, rank and measure. However if working toward mastery, you have to figure out how to assess mastery, and if testing is the choice, you soon realize that it is a flawed way to test mastery. Testing requires that a test be given on a certain date. What if the learning is achieved after that date?

To illustrate: Algebra I systems of linear equations. The student does the lesson and the work and scores 11/12 on the practice work. The student goes back and figures out what went wrong with that one problem. The student takes a test and messes something up and scores an 83. (If in school at this point the class would move on to the next topic and the student's time would be taken up with the new material.) But, our homeschooled student does not advance to the next lesson right this second, they now go back and revisit that content again and do even more practice to help them learn what they had not mastered, later scoring 100% on practice examples. Should the student bother to be re-tested? That's your decision. If the student is tested on that same topic and tests at 100%,  how do you grade this student? Do you ignore that 83 and use the new 100 score since mastery was now attained? Do you average the two scores, and if so, why would you choose to do that? If a score is to measure true learning and the student has it all mastered the 100% should stand, not 91.5, the average of the two scores, in my opinion. Ask yourself why it is important to rate a student based on what they knew on last week's date versus what they learned and mastered for content a week later. Is it not important that the content was mastered and learning did occur with 100% success?

Another question to ponder is if real learning is a goal, does mid-term and final course testing serve a purpose? I am still trying to wrap my mind around that. One might say that if true learning is to be achieved it should be able to be measured by an end of the year test. Others may aruge that cramming memorization of material such even reminding oneself of the exact definitions of hundreds of science vocabulary terms is a dumb exercise. Does that measure true learning? This is debatable because even when scoring well on a mid-term test most students forget most of the content before the time to take the final test and have to review it and cram to get it into their short-term memory. The more we learn about the brain and how the brain's memory works the more we realize that most of what we experience and learn in life does not remain in long term memory for immediate recall should we desire to remember it.

This mastery issue comes into play when thinking about what "on grade level" means.

Above Grade Level

I was asked what I think about working above grade level in our homeschool. This very question begs pondering. In order to figure out what is "grade level" you have to trust the opinions of some strangers. There is not firm concensus on what "on grade level is". Different people have different definitions of "grade level". Do you want to trust those people? Why? In the early years when childhood development is so swift this is the most mushy. One child can read at three and another at five and another gets it at six, thanks to brain development.

When homeschooling does it really matter what the grade level is? In our family the main reason to declare a grade level was for admittance to sports, Scouts, and even homeschool paid group classes. I go by the date of birth year. But I digress.

Do any these artificial measurements of grades really mean anything anyway?

When using packaged homeschool curriculum or curriculum intended for schools you will see these lines drawn about grade level. Also content gets chopped up and split up by grades not always because it is on grade level but because you have to divide up the content in some manner and spread it over time. For example to split up science topics, it is not that weather is a topic that only a fourth grader can understand or that a child must be sixteen before they are introduced to the term atom. But other topics are taught year after year, such as English grammar. Some feel they are over-taught. Someting like spelling words and vocabulary should fit easily into a grade level list but you will always have students working below, at, or above grade level who will either struggle, find it mildly challenging or too easy.

My son is in tenth grade and we are reading The Great Gatsby. He asked to read this now before the movie is released "because the book is always better than the movie". When looking at high school English courses for college prep I see a common theme. Grade nine introduces or reintroduces plot, character, etc and they study two or three whole fiction books, read a lot of excerpts in the textbook, short stories, read poetry and one play. In grade ten the same thing happens all over again with general content with a span of old and modern literature (fiction books, excerpts, short stories, poetry and one play). (When I see some of what is read I ask myself why was THAT selected when it seems silly or stupid or unremarkable.) Grade eleven is often American Literature and grade twelve is often British Literature or World Literature. So does this mean that by reading The Great Gatsby in grade ten that my son is "working above grade level". I don't think so. Should I count this book in his grade 10 literature course but have it as a gaping hole as it is usually a staple in American Lit? Should I plug that title onto his grade eleven course instead? Dates can be mushy in homeschooling. Since outside parties such as college admissions officers like to see content areas pigeon-holed into traditional school courses it would benefit my son to have Fitzgerald's book in grade 11's American Lit course.

Math can easily be deemed into grade levels although the content will vary from curriculum to curriculum. At which grade are fractions introduced? They value different things, some stress mental math while others us the new Chicago math and others use the old fashioned methods from my childhood including memorization of multiplication tables.

I feel each homeschooled student should be challenging themselves and not doing work that is "their grade level" and being bored and scoring 100s and then act smug about being smart. Instead, do work at their level, if that is a year or two ahead in math, so be it. Just please don't get braggy about it to others, no one wants to hear it! The parent you brag to may have a child even more advanced than you but they keep quiet out of a desire to be humble.

For the sake of this discusion I will share personal details. In the arithmetic years my younger son was working two grades ahead. Due to busy-ness and choosing to do other things his math time slowed so in grade six he finished a grade seven arithmetic program and stared on pre-algebra, which some kids don't do until grade seven or eight. In grade seven he is solidly working at pre-algebra, some of which he already did last year but already forgot. His gap of being ahead is slowing down now. That's fine by me. We're not in a race although for certain college majors he should be on track to do at least Pre-Calculus if not Calculus by the end of grade 12. Ideally he'd finish and master pre-algebra in grade 7 and start with Algebra I in grade 8.

Abstract math such as algebra needs certain brain developmental changes to have taken place before the student can handle it. I knew of a boy in grade six who started algebra through a rigorous online course and with an advanced curriculum who spent three hours a day seven days a week trying to get through the material. The kid and his mother were stressed out so after one semester they moved away from that course. (Thank goodness!) Formerly she took pride in saying her son was years ahead in math. What is the point of pushing an advanced math onto a student who is not yet ready? I felt this was most likely a case of "the struggle" being brain development issue. There is sometimes a time in preteen's development where the arithmetic is easy and was mastered but they can't yet handle algebra - that is normal.

Then again if a kid is a math whiz and can do higher maths without unhealthily stressing them out, go ahead and do it. There is a difference between working ahead and having too much of a struggle and working ahead and feeling appropriately challenged. Working ahead should be at the student's pace not the choice of the mother who might just want bragging rights to say her child is ahead. Education is about the child not the mother's ego.

Another example is at a co-op my seventh grader was to use a volume two of the writing curriculum which the writer said was grade 9-12. He really struggled. The program was supposed to be used after completion of volume one, which my son didn't do, so he wasn't prepared. I brought him back to volume one which was labeled for use up through the end of grade 8. He finds this easy. Learning is more fun and casual now. And it could be said that he is still working ahead of grade level if he finishes this in grade seven.

Early readers who find the leveled reading books too easy may be able to read above grade level. True reading comprehension is questionable, especially if the child is left to read on their own. It may feel good to brag that our ten year old has read Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird but did they get all the nuances? Do they even know what rape is? Do they know about racism and attitudes in the South in those time periods? Their limited knowledge base of history and culture may make them miss quite a lot that the parents assume they understood.

Graduating Early

I know of some homeschoolers who used a school in a box curriculum based on what schools do and crammed the easy work to be done fast, such as working six days a week and working through the summer. I know of two girls in a family who graduated at 12 and 11 years old in this manner. I read an autobiography of a family who was spanked and worked six days a week, through the summer, and rarely was allowed to take a sick day. In this way the oldest graduated at sixteen.

I would ask that you ponder what that means to use an easy curriculum and to graduate early. That same student could have done things like participated in some extra-curricular activities or done projects or did deeper learning and graduated at eighteen instead. Is a fourteen year old homeschool graduate smarter and more knowledgable than a deep learner who didn't use a school in a box program at eighteen? I doubt it.

I'll leave the discussion there without getting into AP classes and dual credit courses taken in the high school years at community college or four year colleges.

Please leave your thoughts if you wish to discuss this interesting topic.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Simon Schama's Power of Art Documentary Series

My kids and I have been watching a documentary series about art history on DVD called Simon Schama's Power of Art (2007) and produced by BBC. I stumbled upon this in the library stacks.

This is a serious and interesting look at famous artists which includes a telling of the place and time and how the artist interacted with that world and how the culture and politics influenced and shaped their work. Another element is the psychological side of the artist suggesting that the great artists with extraordinary works were usually passionate people, sometimes dealing with problems such as terrible tempers, rages that sometimes led them to murder, or mental illness. Of course we also learn why this artist was significant for their time and why their work still enthralls us today.

The three DVD set covers eight artists: Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Rothko, and toals 400 minutes of viewing. This is serious stuff. It is engaging to watch as portions are dramatized with actors playing the part of the artist, usually without speaking parts, but narrated instead. Scenes of the places are shown, where they lived and so forth, so we get a taste for what they may have seen and experienced in their lifetime. There are the wheat fields and sunflower fields that Van Gogh painted. There is the seashore that Turner painted.

This series is for adults and it goes deep. I will be honest to say my sons sometimes yawned and said this was too much information. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope that a fraction of this content sticks to my kid's memory which will be good enough.

The DVD series has a white cover with swirls of red paint.

There is a companion book to the series (red cover) which I have not seen (yet).

Today I noticed some of the episodes are on YouTube for free viewing. You really should treat yourself to a high quality video viewing of this if you are interested in art history and history.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Changing It Up To Achieve Learning

To me one of the hardest things to deal with as a homeschooling mother is the sometimes almost constant changing of plans and tweaking and shifting gears with curriculum or methods used.

Looking back on all these years today I realized that truly this has been almost all for my older son who has struggled with various illnesses and symptoms of learning disabilities. I have rarely had to tweak anything for my younger son who seems adaptable and able to handle almost any material or method, so long as it is at grade level (not above). The recent necessity to get prescription reading glasses was the biggest shift, the shifting of plans or curriculum was usually more of a want than a need, such as being sick of that math curriulum and desiring something else. With my older son the changes were necessary not just fulfilling a desire for a switch.

It truly is a blessing of homeschooling that we have the freedom to alter plans and change paths when needed. This very element of homeschooling is the thing that is compromised when we enroll into group classes but even with that we can pick and choose, we can choose to reject a course if something about the course will not work for our student. When we use full programs such as "school in a box" or full programs with online programs we throw this out the window as most times there is not the ability to change materials or to change dates, such as to adapt the schedule should a medical need arise. Those programs also don't allow the freedom to slow down the learning so the learner masters the concepts, or to speed through them faster if learning is coming easily.

The challenge that hit us this week is struggling with the Algebra program my older son is using. It is hard for me to help when I have not looked at the material in about 15 years and when I've not watched the video lecture myself.

I realized that someone needs to work with my son on a close basis to help him learn this math. I don't feel up to the task out of sheer exhaustion and burnout, not out of math phobia. I loved math in school and liked the black and white nature of it and how predictable it was. There was something comforting in the routine, especially since I rarely struggled and found success easily.

I thought about hiring a tutor to do the teaching but that is expensive if we consider more than one session a week, which would not suffice for what my son needs. I want him to essentially have a private math teacher.

So here is the plan I hatched. As of today my husband is going to learn the Thinkwell Algebra alongside my son by attaching the laptop with internet to with a cable to the television. Then my son will do the math and my husband will check the answer after every problem and they can discuss and fix it right then and there. I don't know what is happening with my son that he is not understanding the concepts and realizing what it is he is flubbing up on so that he can target it and learn that one thing so he is on the right path. He seems to get off the path and then to wander and get lost. As with chemistry, according to his tutor sometimes my son just needs the concept explained in a slightly different way and then he gets it.

This is the very first thing that my husband is doing to teach in our homeschool except for being the head coach on two stock market simulation teams and being co-coach of First LEGO League. This will be the first time doing true tutoring, one on one teaching.

I have high hopes for this change.

Let the quality learning begin. Let no homeschooled child be left behind.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

LEGO Star Wars Barrel Organ

The four worlds of Star Wars are depicted on this working barrel organ which plays the Star Wars theme song.

This is so cool! I am in awe of the creativity behind this!

Story and photos here: Builders of Sound

Shorter story, photos and a video which tells the making of it and plays the organ here: Makezine.

Hat tip: Make magazine email

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Neurofeedback Round Two

Fifteen months ago my older son began a round of neurofeedback therapy that lasted four months and totaled nearly 40 visits. He also had a QEEG brain map performed to aid in the customized treatment planning.

With new symptoms that began in August 2013, we decided after months of deliberations, to do another QEEG brain map to assess the situation. The three areas that were worked in 2011-2012 all showed improved an at normal levels (within one standard deviation from normal or at normal). However there are new changes in different areas and signs of current damage from a concussion from a recent minor head injury. (Apparently new findings are that concussion damage can occur from much smaller injuries than we previously thought.)

So we have begun another round of neurofeedback for our son as of last week. This basically is four hours door to door so a whole afternoon is spent each time. During treatment the brain is worked hard and is completely depleted of glucose, making the patient tired and sometimes he falls asleep immediately. To prevent this extreme fatigue, the therapist and I are trying to encourage my son to eat protein before and immediately after the treatment (he does not always comply). The treatment also leaves my son impaired for the rest of the day, with an inability to read, concentrate, memorize, or do math or other higher level thinking skills.

Thus we have had to change our family's schedule which changes how my younger son can be homeschooled by me, as well as of course, having to change the academic plans for my older son. My son cannot do lessons or class homework at night on those two days, for example. Since this treatment will probably take 35-40 visits spread over 18-20 weeks, the changes will be in effect through June.

This changes everything. My older son and I have talked and brainstormed ways he can still get learning accomplished given the restrictions and his continued participation in a varsity sport and with the robotics team. We have added listening to literature on audio CD in the car while driving around. I probably will add listening to some college courses from The Teaching Company next. Although it's not optimal due to bright sunlight in the Texas daytime, he could watch documentaries on DVD on the small TV screens in the car. I have added in more watching of documentaries at home, since he can only accomplish so much text reading in a day, in order to get good content into his head in a method other than reading books or textbooks. We watch as a family and discuss them, so I know he is not goofing off or bluffing about having watched them. He still resists doing schoolwork on weeknights after sports and dinner and he resists doing anything but chemistry class homework on weekends, two things I would like him to do.

My son does not want to stay back a grade but I fear not enough is being done during treatment times as well as last year when he had four months of treatment (two and three times a week). I have discussed this with my husband and he feels we should not make a declaration on the grade level and see what happens going forward. If my son commits to learning extra over the summer or doubling down next year and the next he may be able to pull off graduating in June 2015 as he had hoped.

I continue to try to not stress over homeschooling and to not feel anxiety about the situation of what should be getting done versus what is getting done. It takes a lot of effort for me to let go and just let things flow. I had a long talk with a homeschool mom friend on the phone and she made a good point that it is best to let teens go through this slacker phase (which mine is in plus he is having the health challenges) and let them take the reigns of responsibility for their own education rather than continue to try to have me force the situation. She had those worries about two teens who slacked in grade nine and ten then wound up waking up in their junior year and really cracking the books after that, and both are succeeding in college now.

I keep telling myself that my son's health is the first and foremost priority right now. If I were to give up on homeschooling out of anxiety over his home education not being good enough, and to enroll him into school, he would not be able to get the neurofeedback care he needs due to the conflict with the school hours and the office hours of the practice. He would not be able to do homework on those nights either. Homeschooling is best for him right now. Perhaps most important is he is asking and begging to continue homeschooling.

Now that I know he is having some true neurological brain-based medical problems I can stop blaming his struggles on slacking, laziness, lack of motivation, a bad attitude or bad character traits, puberty, thinking about his girlfriend, addiction to this or that video game played online, Facebook, or (fill in the blank). Knowing something is truly going on medically that is causing these problems actually took some weight off of my shoulders. (The symptoms we see in real life are symptoms of people having two or three standard deviations from the norm in those areas of the brain).

I am confident this neurofeedback therapy will help him. I am grateful we can afford this out of pocket expense. Whatever changes we have to make, such as not taking vacations, not going back East to visit family, not throwing a 50th birthday party for my husband, or reducing the number of times we eat at restaurants are just some of the things that we'll have to do to in order to provide our son with the care that will help him.


Lyme Disease is still being blamed as the root cause of these neurological problems (except for the concussion) but the cause is irrelevant, the treatment is the same no matter what caused it.

We are still investigating a possible food allergy or allergies or intolerances as well as hypoglycemia, all of which can cause issues with attention span, focus, and lack of clear thinking aka "brain fog".

Learning Disabilities

Symptoms experienced while having these abormalities can wind up being labeled as learning disabilities. People can have an LD label while not knowing the cause or not knowing that some of the reasons the cause of the symptoms can be cured with neurofeedback.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Anne Frank House Video Tour by a Tourist

When I visited the Anne Frank house in 1993 photography was banned. I bought a souveneir photo book so I could remember the sights. Little did I know back then that one day we would have access to YouTube and amateur videos.

My older son read the "definitive" (complete) diary of Anne Frank last month as part of his homeschool history. I'd imagined we'd have read the book years earlier but it was one of those things that slipped through the cracks. I recall reading it in public middle school and felt that it changed me forever, I grew up and my eyes were opened to the wider harsh world by reading the memoir.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Supporting Other Homeschoolers

A homeschool mom friend's blog post about homeschooling in Connecticut. This is the community I moved away from last year.

Supporting Other Homeschoolers

Homeschoolers Learn: Is It The Result of Not Cheating

Knowing all the imperfections of most homeschooling families, even those who claim their kids turned out alright in the end, it is hard for me to believe sometimes how well homeschoolers do when compared to schooled kids. Everyone I know has grand plans for their homeschool and they seldom actually do it all. Those enrolled in courses sometimes do the same thing as schooled kids: they cram, they procrastinate, and they worry they won't do as well as they'd like as far as grades go. My family is imperfect, trust me.

Homeschoolers consistently do well on standardized tests and homeschool girls fare better on the math SAT than their schooled counterparts. Community colleges sing the praises of high school aged homeschoolers, saying they can't believe how well they do compared to high school graduates. Four year colleges claim the homeschoolers arrive on campus with better time management skills, act more mature, seem to have a grasp on their sense of self, and are more interested and serious about their studies: they actually go to class, do the work, participate in class and perform well. No one complains that the homeschoolers are less socially adjusted as schooled kids.

How is this possible? Homeschoolers are imperfect! Some of us worry about not doing enough, or not studying everything as in-depth as we think we should.

While watching the documentary Race to Nowhere a few years ago, a statistic was reported that 96% of high school students admit to cheating, even those taking high level courses, the so-called "smart kids". It dawned on me only recently that one reason homeschoolers may fare well is they do not cheat.

Having grown up without testing, other than spelling tests and checks to see if artithmetic assignments were done properly, my kids have no desire to cheat. My kids are not grade strivers. My kids want to learn, or they say they do not want to learn that subject, but they do it anyway. For example my older son this year is angry at the system of memorizing using short term memory then being tested for a test score to be reported then being allowed to forget it all afterward (in his chemistry homeschool co-op class). He wants to learn in a more interesting way, with a more interesting book than the textbook the class is using. He wants more hands on chemistry work for fun (let's blow something up with chemicals!) and more experiments. He asked me what the point is of all that memorization if everyone knows they will forget most of it when the class ends.

Another thing is the homeschoolers actually read the assigned readings. Most of us actually read the whole book, not just excerpts of literature. We do not read JUST the Cliff Notes. (One schooled student my older son knows advised him last week to stop reading To Kill a Mockingbird and instead to read only the Cliff's Notes, he said he did fine on his test using that method and he said the book sucked.) In our homeschool there will be no test on TKaM. We are doing discussions instead using prompts in Reading the Classics by Center for Lit. (Shortly I will begin having him do more writing relating to his readings.) I am fine with using Cliff Notes after and alongside in order to provide context and background information but we do not use them IN PLACE OF doing the readings. (I will admit in high school and college to reading ONLY the Cliff's Notes sometimes. I want something of higher quality for my own kids hence, homeschooling.)

Could it be possible that the reason that homeschoolers learn so much and are able to test well on standardized tests and perform well in college simply because they do not cheat and actually do the readings?

That's my working hypothesis and I'm sticking to it until someone can convince me otherwise.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Free Online Poetry Resource

One thing I like about the Poetry Out Loud website is that it lists poetry elements (alliteration, persona, rhymed stanza etc.) with examples of the poems.

You can view the poems free online.

I stumbled upon this resource while doing high school English lesson plans and reading a website of a public school teacher. She listed this source as one source for poetry studies she uses with her class.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Food Issues Diet In Progress

My older son is having issues with food affecting him. He has symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia, but only when not eating for 5-6-7 or more hours. He may also be having food intolerances (food allergies) again.

In the past he has had problems eating wheat and dairy. The diet to eliminate those resulted in adding in soy which he then reacted to. After three years off all that (ages 3-6) we added back the dairy in moderation and the wheat (lots) and saw no problems per se. One could argue that perhaps his immune system was taxed by an offending food and thus he fell prey to contracting Lyme Disease multiple times, as well as mono at age 12, then chronic tonsillitis which ended in 2012 when they were surgically removed.

At moving time in August of last year my son was getting picky about eating and got down to dairy and wheat again, the thing he did when younger which resulted in bad things happening when eating those foods. This is probably all related to leaky gut due to NOT eating a more balanced diet. Also that month he began daily antibiotics for acne, which can kill off good bacteria in the gut that can lead to leaky gut and/or food intolerances/allergies and/or to candida overgrowth. With teens you have to pick your battles and after the stress of the move and my own health problems such as extreme fatigue from severe anemia and low vitamin D I was not up for doing battle.

Well this is day six of the diet. What is happening is my older son is on the candida diet, since he has multiple symptoms of candida overgrowth, something that some feel is controversial or perhaps in and of itself is a sham. We are treating this 14 day candida diet like a detox cleanse. In solidarity my husband and I have joined him. I have removed all the offending foods from plain sight or thrown them away so we are not tempted. Basically all we can on this diet is meat and vegetables, nuts and wild rice. No dairy, no sugar, no fruit, no alcohol, no vinegar, which rules out most condiments and many salad dressings. Most flavored drinks are out thanks to either the sugar or the dairy restrictions.

So how are we faring?

My husband feels no different.

I feel a stable energy level all day and a stable happy mood. Things that formerly would have angered me or made me irate are rolling off of my shoulders. Something bad that happened failed to rouse my usual anger levels. Bad news reported by the media and political events are not affecting me negatively. I have no headaches or cravings. I do miss the chocolate though.

My son does not want to admit any positive change as he loves his wheat and wants it back. He says he misses the rush and the highs he got from eating sugar or wheat, that he likes the rush up and doesn't care about the plunge down. (The fact that he now admits he feels those is a red flag that something is wrong.) In reality his ability to learn was made difficult from bad moods, negative self-talk, low energy levels, being so tired that he could not read, and "brain fog" / cloudy thinking which impeded memorization or remembering anything such as what assignment was due, so forth and so on. What we observe from our vantage point is a happier, more talkative kid like the one we used to know before the change which we attributed to being teenage angst or "teen moodiness". My son is laughing with me, talking with me, and being affectionate again. I am thrilled to have my old son back.

The plan is on day 15 to reintroduce wheat and see what happens. If the food offends his system he will see it plainly and we hope he will choose to acknowledge this fact. The counselor is working with him on learning to trust his own body and to make decisions on his own rather than being Mr. No to anything the parents say such as "It's time to eat dinner with us" and "Instead of eating an enitre loaf of bread with butter for lunch you should have some meat on a sandwich with some fruit or a vegetable".  Anyway...on another day dairy will re-enter. On another day, fruits and natural sugars.

My son was curious to see what happened as he knew he was feeling low in energy and that food made his behavior change. He willingly entered this diet although he kept postponing its start date and was lured mostly by a big monetary prize which awaits at the end if he finishes the 14 days. Meanwhile he is taking vitamins and probiotics in order to heal a leaky gut in case that also exists.

I hate restrictions for me and for my kids. The hardest part of the diet for me is being in the real world and being surrounded by food that I cannot eat (even if it is for 14 days only). I hate being in a restaurant and not being able to eat all that comes with that meal, or the idea of not being able to have a sandwich on bread or a roll with my hamburger. And I miss chocolate. Oh, I already said that, right?

I'm sharing this story just to check in and let you know how we are faring. I am so happy to see in my son the great kid he used to be. I thought I'd lost that part of him in the change from boy to young man.

The pediatrician does not believe in candida overgrowth or food intolerances. The pediatrician does not feel an endocrinologist consult is warranted after the easy fasting blood sugar overnight came back normal. I wonder if the hypoglycemia should be checked out with an endocrinologist anyway. I am undecided about that. I wonder if my son is just very susceptible to insulin rushes and if he is somehow in a pre-diabetes stage. I don't think it is normal to feel an energy rush after eating two slices of bread. Plus, if you could see what happens if he goes 6-8 hours without eating you would want to get some kind of help, trust me. I honestly think he has reactive hypoglycemia since recent experiments with eating every 2-3 hours with protein at every snack or meal helped keep those rages away.

Truly I am sharing this story on the Internet because I know other parents struggle with food allergies and food intolerances and hypoglycemia.

Link: Hypoglycemia FAQ

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Misconception about "Writing Voice"

A friend said something negative to me about IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing - a homeschool writing composition curriculum) even though she has not used the program. We are (finally) using it consistently this year and I only have positive things to say about it, so long as it is used on an appropriate level for the student. (Pushing any student to do above grade level work if not ready is abuse, no matter what the curriculum is).

I was re-watching the DVD series by Andrew Pudewa for teachers (TWSS). I'll paraphrase what he said: that the formula of the program was designed to expose and force the student to use different writing techniques (what they call dress-up's, sentence openers, etc.) than they naturally may have used. By forcing them to stretch themselves they are exposed to numerous different writing stylistic techniques. He then said that after the basic program the student would go on to do writing for their school subjects and that hopefully some of these stylistic techniques would have stuck and would naturally occur in their writing. The checklists and assignments to do 1 of this and 2 of that in each paragraph are learning activities, not a map for every piece of writing that the student will ever do. Knowing the large variety options gives the writer more options to choose from and in the process the writer learns to dislike boring and simple writing.

The friend told me that she worried if her student used IEW that they would never form their own writer's voice. In thinking about her concern, I have come to the conclusion that any thinking person (children and teens included) has opinions and those opinions and ideas form one's writing which is the real basis for their voice. I think what needs to be freed is the person's mind and then any flowing forth of ideas would form the writer's voice. The only time, I think, a writer feels stunted and trapped is when they have not opened their mind and when they are just plain stuck about what to write about, such as with what so many call "writer's block". Usually writers get stuck when they are assigned to write about something they either know little or nothing about or something they don't care about and thus have no spirited opinion to communicate.

To me writing is like talking but is done with the written word on paper (or on a computer screen and shared paper-less-ly). I wonder why so many "very verbal" students and adults so fear writing? If you just recorded what they so easily state orally and wrote it down it would probably be a well written piece of writing. Do those people realize that some excellent writers struggle with the spoken word? That when faced with thinking quickly on their feet they are speechless, yet later with pen in hand and time to think and with the abilit to edit that their written work is eloquent?

There is nothing to fear about writing, all it is is communication. Think about what you want to say, think about who your audience is so you can explain it in a way that the audience can understand, and just write. Writing is easier than talking because the words will be there for you to re-read later, with a fresh mind, to see if you really wrote what you had wanted to say. See if it flows well and if it says all that you had intended. Make sure you didn't repeat yourself or use the same words multiple times in a paragraph, which makes it awkward sounding. Read it aloud to yourself to hear how it sounds. Then clean it up for spelling and grammar mistakes and you are done.

The only way to improve your writing is to practice it. I recommend typing on the computer's keyboard, because editing is easier when using a word processing program instead of pencil or pen on paper. Just write, about anything, to improve your voice and to get used to writing for a specific audience and to improve the organization of your thoughts so it has a good flow.

Curriculum is a tool that homeschoolers use. Curriculum can provide a basic structure. The content of what is written and the opinions are the student's own, and there is really nothing to be afraid of.

Writing composition: just jump in and practice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When a Blah Day Hits Your Homeschool

Tired of the same old, same old routine?

Sick of doing the same lessons in a scheduled format?

Feeling tired from yesterday's activities or last night's late bedtime?

Is it raining and gray out?

It's time to make a change just for today.

Here are some ideas of what we have done recently on such days. These suggestions can take a couple of hours or can last a the whole daytime, depending on your schedule, especially if you have a late afternoon appointment you still need to keep.

Declare the day a movie day. Mom picks an educational movie to watch with the reward being the kids can pick an entertainment movie of their choice. Recently we watched West Side Story, a musical, which is educational, and my sons complained and didn't want to watch it but we did, and talked about it, then we watched a movie of their choice.

Declare the day a documentary watching day. Surf what's on live television or use your Netflix account, watch them free online or go to the library and bring home a stack of them.

Watch some spoken word poetry on YouTube. Discuss it.

Pull out a book of poetry or surf for poems on the web pertaining to certain interests or topics. Today we are reading a poem about nature and snow and the weather in January. Mom read the poems aloud and talk about them with the kids.

Watch a classic movie that it seems everyone has seen but your kids have not seen yet. Discuss it. Use your parental guidance of course, but you may venture into controversial territory if it has merits to view and discuss. Better that the kids see it with you and you discuss it than seeing it with their friends. A recent example is we watched The Godfather (years after their same aged peers have seen it) and disussed the history of prejudice and stereotypes of Italian immigrants. This is relevant to our family since my kids are half Italian. They needed to know what some people think when they hear that they are Italian.

Have an art making day or make crafts.

Bake or cook something extravagant and time consuming. Let the kids read the cookbooks and make some selections.

Experiment with making digital art with programs on the internet or with software you own.

If you want to get out of the house, go to a museum or to a historical site. Go to a restaurant for lunch, perhaps something unique to your area such as a famous pizza restaurant, a great BBQ joint or a small family run dive that is known for its hamburgers, or whatever. An old favorite of ours was to declare it ice cream lunch day and get a giant ice cream sundae at a favorite ice cream parlor.

Instead of slogging through the same old routine every day, when you are just plain sick of it, change it up and do something different.

Moshi iVisor Anti Glare Screen Protector Kindle FIRE Product Review

My Rating:  2 stars = I Don't Like It




The text for reading is made fuzzy by the anti-glare screen. This is unacceptable to me. My primary use of the KINDLE FIRE is for reading books which are 99% or more text. The fuzzy text font occurs with all three colors of the screen. I already have the font enlargened. I did a side by side comparison also by putting the anti-glare screen protector on the bottom half only and viewing the clear font on top and the fuzziness below.


It is hard to remove when you want to take it off. I had to rely on my young son's thin fingernail to pry it off, but the first time it went under his nail bed and hurt him. My own thicker fingernail was to thick to remove the shield.




This is one piece of thick-ish plastic. It does not bend.


This is very simple to install, it places right on the screen inside the raised up border.


The way the shield is made is impossible to have bubbles of air trapped under it, it's amazing.


This can be washed with soap and water, dried, and placed back on.


This truly is an anti-glare screen.


The screen responsiveness is excellent.


I rate this product 2 stars = I Don't Like It because I need the clearest and sharpest font to read books with. The reason I didn't rate it 1 star is because of the great responsiveness with your finger touching the screen, the fact that indeed it is anti-glare, that it is really easy to install and because it is washable.

NOTE: This company makes a "crystal clear" screen protector which is not anti-glare. Perhaps that is what I need?

Disclosure: I received one unit of this product from's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it for I was not paid to write the review or to blog it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Older Son Says He Likes Deadlines (Again)

In November my older son was cranking out some chemistry homework. He was not happy about doing it. He had left it to the last minute and he wished he was doing something else.

In the next breath he said he realized that deadlines are good because without them he would not do the work. I nearly fell over. I can't tell you how happy I was to realize he made that discovery himself.

My son also said he likes leaving things to the last minute. He likes the rush of fear that he may not get the work done on time. He says it helps him buckle down and do what he has to do, even if he really doesn't want to do it. Who am I to fault him for that? I was the same way in school. I am still a procrastinator about many things today. I am more productive for assignments that I'm held accountable for than for work that I choose to do yet am only under my own guidance to do and then to actually complete.

I told my son that studying is something that is not always best to leave to the last minute, since cramming does not always yield the same quality of actual learning if the goal is to actually learn not just to score decently on the test. As for the rest, I don't care if he leaves it to the last minute but that sometimes it is less stressful to get it done earlier, such as when the night before it's due and you are sick, or something comes up that uses your time that evening (both things have happened recently).

This is yet another reason why radical unschooling does not work for my son. Left to his own devices he would fool around on Facebook all day, play videogames and make new playlists for his iPod. Similarly, on days when there is no sports practice he chooses to not exercise on his own even though the coach recommended that everyone continue exercising during Christmas break. Whatever! I kept my mouth shut about the lack of consistent exercise.  My son says he is motivated by group participation and appointments rather than an internal drive, even if it gets him closer to his goal of being a good rower.

I am glad that my son has realized two things about himself: he does more academic work for outside teachers with hard deadlines and assignments and that he prefers to do things with a group than individually.

And that is another reason why I am so tempted to just put him in school and be done with homeschooling, because I am tired of being the taskmaster and he is not internally running his own home eduation, and if he performs better for outside teachers and if he likes the peer pressure of the group better than isolated learning at home then, maybe school is the right place for him. (For the record he asks to continue homeschooling for the rest of this academic year.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Older Son Wants a Real Job

Where did I get the idea that it was a federal law thing that said that people have to be 16 to get a real job?

I knew Connecticut had specific state laws, such as the one put in place after a teen at my high school had her arm cut off at the elbow after getting it caught in a deli slicer at work, which banned use of deli slicer machines until age 18.  But I thought everywhere you had to be 16 to work at what I call a "regular real job".

I questioned this and thanks to Google I discovered that I was wrong. I found an easy to read summary of the Texas child labor laws. In Texas a 14 or 15 year old can get a real job in many different job fields, certain dangerous jobs are prohibited until age 16.  Hours of work are limited but they are not as restrictive in Texas as in Connecticut.

I recall another Connecticut law put in place that even a 16 year old had to get written permission from their school in order to take a job and also that the hours of work were severely limited. What I worked when I was a senior in high school is illegal in that state today. It is illegal to work at 14 in Connecticut other than babysitting or other under the table jobs and 15 year olds can hardly do much more other than working at a summer camp.

I always wanted my kids to get a job before they graduate from high school. I think it teaches kids a level of responsibility that parents cannot replicate at home. I think learning some hard knocks from working with seasoned and sometimes hardened-hearted people in "the real world" is valuable. Working with the public such as in a food service job taught me a lot about human nature and made me think about how we treat others in our daily interactions. I learned a lot about myself by viewing myself as a responsible employee not just who I was as a public school student or the oldest kid in my family or as the only girl in my grade in the neighborhood.

My older son yearns to get a job and make money and have real responsibility. I am so sick of the teen angst that I am ready for him to go get a job now instead of waiting until he is seventeen, at which point I'd hoped he'd be driving and own his own car to get himself to work in.

I can't help but wonder if any of his homeschooling rebellion would end once he feels he is in the real world working a real job and earning real money. I am willing to roll the dice and see how it works out.  My fear is he will struggle to juggle a full academic load and his varsity sport, and will he ever get his Eagle rank in Boy Scouts? What about the excellent opportunity in the FIRST Robotics team? My son may learn a lot about how to prioritize his time and maybe he'll realize he truly is more in charge of his own life than he currently believes.

I'm willing to let go and see what happens.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

He's an Independent Thinker

My older son is going through a teen angst phase. One of his major complaints about life is that he feels he does not want to live with restraints placed by our government. He wants to be self-sufficient and living as an independent person free from restrictions placed on him by society. One was that he wants to be able to get a real job right now, something we thought was illegal per state law. (I will share more on that issue in a future blog post.)

During a conversation (on the eve of the fiscal cliff Congressional vote) he cited specific examples of his issues with our government and our politicians including our representatives in Congress. I was frustrated with his passionate feelings. Things are not as bad as he was making them out to be. I didn't want him to worry about the big issues in our federal government such as these. I just want him to do his math lessons, stay current with his chemistry class homework, to finish reading To Kill a Mockingbird, to enjoy his varsity sport, to laugh with friends, and to just enjoy life, since he has a pretty darned good home life situation going here.

I want my son to be able to feel gratitude for the good in his life and to be aware of all the good so that hopefully it will outnumber the problems, whether the problem is worrying about federal debt or being sick of listening to the music his little brother has on the car radio.

I feel strongly that people have a right to feel the emotions they are feeling. I do not agree that anyone should ever say things like "you should not feel angry". We have a right to feel anger if we are angry. It does no good to tell a person they are basically silly or stupid to let X issue get them angry. The same goes for fear, hurt feelings or any other emotion. Parents, spouses, and everyone should allow people to communicate their true emotions and they should have a safe place to discuss them, especially if the person is a very verbal person who releases stress and anxiety through processing the emotion by releasing it through talking. You may choose to write it out and tear up the paper or go for a sprinting run or whatever, but my son is helped by talking and being heard. And I am here to listen.

Then it hit me: my husband and I had raised an independent thinker with high verbal communication skills. And due to our parenting choices we have raised a fifteen year old who still opens up to tell his mother a lot of what he is thinking and struggling with.

It is also important to know that my husband and I follow current events and news. My husband reads and listens to talk radio two hours a day while commuting from work. Sometimes we have cable news on TV but honestly not as much now as previously due to the kid's increased time at sports practice and our need to drive them to and fro. We all have less time for watching TV. But we listen to news in the car sometimes and we talk politics at the dinner table. My kids know more than the average kid, who holds what position in government, what the hot topics of the day are, etc. My kids also hear news via friends on Facebook and Twitter. Why should I be surprised that my fifteen year old has political opinions?

To my mind, both of those are things that signal successful parenting. Both of those things are good for an individual to have going for them.

Mothering my teenage son is challenging. Some days I feel that I'm a dismal failure because my son struggles and grapples with ideas and is sensitive about problems in our social circle or in American culture. Those are signs of an independent thinker, and is that not what we wanted: a kid who could think critically, who could see the big picture, and who actually cares about big issues as well as possessing the ability to communicate his feelings about them?

So rather than thinking I've failed either thanks to our parenting style or specific choices we made or due to homeschooling, I think that we are on the right path. The path may be bumpy, but we're moving forward.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hot Crab Dip Recipe

On Christmas Day we tried a new-to-us recipe to bring to a friend's house as an appetizer: Paula Deen's Hot Crab Dip.

We ate this with toast points by Ile de France.

The spicy-ness will vary depending on the brand of pepper jack cheese you use. Most of the dip was mild but when I got a piece of the hot pepper it set my mouth on fire. We used Boar's Head Pepper Jack cheese.

This was a delicious special holiday treat for us.

Highly recommended.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Teen Boys and Getting the Stress Out

This is a follow-up post to Boxer's Fracture.

Funny the stories and memories that come back when people saw my son in a cast. We were all truthful about what happened when asked. No lying here.

First I'd forgotten my own brother, as a teen, did the same thing but my father refused to get him medical treatment. My grandmother finally took him to her own family Dr. with her own money but the guy just splinted it. It healed in a displaced way and is all crooked and he has had arthritis in the joints every day of his life ever since. This was relayed to me by my brother when I told him what happened.

Next a homeschool co-op teacher said her house is full of holes from punches from one son. She said many teen boys she knew wrecked their parent's houses in anger destruction fits.

I heard three other families' tales of how their sons all punched walls and broke their hands.

Better was the constructive advice to get boxing gloves and a punching bag, and other hitting implements. The orthopedist and other doctors have all said BOYS need things to hit and destroy or else hard work to do like farming chores, splitting wood and other hard work that WE DO NOT HAVE AVAILABLE TO US LIVING IN THE SUBURBS.

One male nurse said he grew up on a farm and when he got angry his father sent him to the field for the day to mend fences. He said some days he was out there for nine hours until the dinner bell rang. By that time he said he was too tired and hungry and whatever the problem was he'd already forgotten.

One doctor said a lot of teen boys are finding their way into psychiatric hospitals, with mental illness diagnoses and on psych meds to calm down the ya-ya's that in the previous generations were gotten out of the system by hard work or hard sports.

I am glad my son has 3 hours a day of vigorous exercise at his team sport to get some ya-ya's out.

Now that the hand is healed we will shop for some boxing equipment to hang in the garage to beat up on when he's mad or has too much energy.

My son realized he does not want to hurt himself again because it impairs basic daily living, primarily. I frankly think he should also do work to earn money to pay his medical bills. We have a 10% co-payment on all medical services rendered which adds up after many specialist visits and multiple x-rays not to mention the expensive emergency room visit (the pediatrician refuses to see possible bone fractures and refers to the ER).

Jarrow Bone-Up Product Review

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

Summary Statement: Heard a Fracture Healing Story Then Our Family Experienced Two Fast Healings While Using Bone-Up – and I Use It For Osteoporosis Prevention

Our family was introduced to this Jarrow product with an anecdotal story. My son (age 15) had fractured his ankle while rolling it while running on a bumpy field, and was on restricted movement and unable to play at his sport. A mother of another athlete who does his sport reported her child had the same fracture and used this product and had full bone healing in two weeks instead of the estimated four weeks, confirmed by x-ray with the orthopedist – which left her orthopedist stunned. Since my son’s fracture was new and I had yet to add in a calcium supplement I figured, why not give it a try? My son took three capsules twice a day, with the morning and evening meal. After two weeks his fracture was deemed essentially healed and he was able to stop wearing the walking boot cast. Thus, claims that Jarrow’s Bone-Up seemed to be true….that was six months ago.

In the meantime I have been taking Bone-Up daily as a general calcium supplement to try to stop any future bone loss and osteoporosis.

Last month my son (still age 15) fractured his hand (boxer’s fracture with a 20% angle of displacement). The healing time estimate was 4-6 weeks by the orthopedist and he was splinted 24/7 with no use of that hand allowed, estimating four full weeks on the splint and two weeks with fingers taped. My son begged to restart taking the Jarrow Bone-Up so he could possibly heal faster so he could resume playing his sport since a competition was upcoming. The recheck x-ray on day 19 showed a fully healed bone and the doctor removed the splint. My son was advised to use two tiny pieces of tape to bind the fourth and fifth fingers and to do avoid weight lifting and other athletic use for two weeks then to return to normal activities. Thus again his healing was deemed faster than was first projected by the orthopedist!

I still choose to take Jarrow Bone-Up on a daily basis for osteoporosis prevention. Anytime anyone else in the family has a bone injury I am sure they will be happy to start taking Jarrow Bone-Up to aid in the healing process.

Here is what Jarrow claims about their product having a superior type of calcium and additional minerals that aid in the absorption of the calcium:

“It starts with the finest source of calcium available: Australian bovine bone hydroxyapatite from chemical-free, range-grazed calves less than two years old (bones from veal calves are never used). Skeletal health, however, requires more than calcium. Scientific evidence conclusively demonstrates the need for other nutrients like vitamin D3, vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, boron, and trace minerals such as zinc, copper, and manganese.”

Jarrow Bone-Up has worked well our family so I see no need to switch brands! I have no reason to doubt their claims.

NOTE: I am not giving medical advice, I am sharing personal stories.

Disclosure: After purchasing bottles of Jarrow Bone-Up for our family's use I received one bottle from's Vine program for the purpose of writing a review on's site. I was not paid to write the review or to blog it, or to review it favorably.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Reducing My Homeschool Anxiety

This fall I turned a corner. I started letting go and that allowed the anxiety to dissipate.

I realized I was in a state of anxiety about homeschooling. This terrible mindset started when my oldest began 8th grade and I began to learn of how to homeschool high school with a rigorous education level aimed for college admissions. I had pressure from peers in Connecticut fueling my fire. I joined some new co-ops. Being there and teaching there, I had contact with more homeschooling parents and heard their fears and saw some were truly anxious about it.

Look: in the earlier years I would question and contemplate and research and investigate and ask questions, that was one thing. But to have true anxiety and a state of constant stress over worrying about homeschooling or doing the homeschooling was another thing entirely.

The long distance move just before grade nine threw me for a loop and that whole thing took over as the top family task and priority in our lives. Yet the big change was in and of itself stressful not to mention the fact that we were trying to sell our home from long distance and managing construction, repairs, and modeling from long distance. Oh, and my older son's new diagnosis of brain injury from Lyme Disease, the treatment, then his later tonsillectomy took up our time and was a focus. Living in that rental unit last year presented its own challenges.

Although grateful for the sale this summer of our home, the whole thing was not without stress and the sale nearly fell through two days before the closing. Then there was the move to this house to contend with. My plate has been full with this move for the last 18 months, and that was preceded by 6 months of stress about my husband's sudden unemployment. So I have been living with major stress for the last 24 months.

Here we are half way through grade 10 and where are we? We are stressed out. The attempt to reduce stress and ensure a high quality home education by enrolling younger son into a "not a homeschool co-op" this last fall actually created more problems than it solved. My worries for my children's education was now about both of the kids, not just the high schooler, it was not just worrying "Are we doing the right thing, is he studying enough to get into engineering school?"

So where are we now? A couple of major medical events occurred in our family in the last five months which shook me to the core and frankly each of them can be traced back to stress as the main culprit. (Not everything has or ever will be blogged.) First and foremost it was made plain that we need to live a life that does not create new problems with our physical and mental health. Three of us are experiencing medical problems, or are in the process of treating them so they hopefully go away for good.

If we have to stop homeschooling in order to improve our physical and mental health, we will. In the meantime things are actually shaping up well that for this semester at least, homeschooling will help us get on the road to recovery faster than a sudden shift to using public school will.

I hit a place in November where I realized the state of mind I was living in was truly a state of anxiety. I had never, ever, thought myself to be a person prone to suffering from anxiety. I always fancied myself a person who could weather any storm and come out fine in the end. Well my body is not accepting that any longer, apparently, as it is starting to break down.

Events happening in our lives had me on edge and jumpy. I was unable to relax and actually enjoy much of anything since there was so much stress. I felt like I was always rushing to do this or that and then was putting out this fire when the next one started.

It got to a point where I had a hard time recollecting what our former lives used to be like since the group dynamic in this family turned into something foreign and negative. I wondered some days who these people were that I was living with? They certainly were not my sons. That was not my husband. Even worse, I began to question my own sense of self. Was I a monster? Had I turned into a taskmaster ranting and raving, yelling and screaming, threatening and coercing bitch?

For the first time ever we changed our parenting choice and I started using corporal punishment on my twelve year old in order to get him to do his homeschool class assignments before the due date. I had previously been so anti-caplital punishment. Was this worth the price? I didn't think so, so we ended that short experiment.

Who was I becoming? Was this who I really wanted to be? These were the questions I grapped with in November and December 2012.

For most of November and all of December my younger son did not attend the new co-op. I basically "deschooled" him by having him do extremely minimal work and letting him do whatever the heck he wanted with the rest of his time. The kid was burned out after three plus months of doing almost 50 hours a week of intense learning. The kid he used to be reemerged around Christmastime. I am so grateful.

In those two months I was more available to work with my older son doing homeschool lessons. We also were busy getting him the care he needed from professionals.

I started working out, and even though it is only 2-3 times a week so far, it is something. My husband has stared exercising also. At present we are debating some major nutritional changes such going gluten free or doing a candida diet to clean the slate then to add in dairy, wheat and corn to see if any of us reacts to any of it.

I have also backed off from volunteering with Boy Scouts as I have nothing left to give of myself. I have reduced what I do for my son's sport team temporarily; since my husband is on the nonprofit org board he is doing more than enough as a member of our family. I am skirting the co-op's request for parents to help out, we take one class there so it's not like we are a major user of their services anyway.

We thought about it long and hard and came to the decision to remove our younger son from that "not a homeschool co-op". I notified the organization two days ago. He will be homeschooled by me this spring and will continue the one easy writing class at the other co-op. He probably will remain homeschooled for grade eight but we plan to have him take entrance exams for private high schools in the fall of grade eight, just in case, so we see what options he has. If private school is not in the cards for financial reasons he could attend public school or be homeschooled. My outlook about homeschooling him for high school is that given the stress I have gone through with my older son for high school homeschool I don't think I have that energy in me to go through should my younger have the same type of push-back. First and foremost I need my own physical well-being and I need to have a sane state of mental health!

My older son will remain homeschooled by me this spring, and he is still taking the chemistry class at the homeschool co-op. We are still trying to align his studies so that if he chooses to attend public school in the fall, he can enter without going back a grade (that is his choice to work hard so that happens). The worst case scenario is he enters publc school a grade earlier (and since he's an August birthday that is no big deal anyway as I never red-shirted him). He also might remain homeschooling for grade 11, and/or could take five years for high school if he needs it. Soon we get results of his latest brain scan which will tell more of what he is up against which negatively affects his general living and ability to learn and do schoolwork tasks. Later today we go pick up his new prescription reading eyeglasses which should help his ability to read books and textbooks.


In summary in order to refocus my perspective I did a few things.

First I backed up and looked at the big picture to reframe our priorities, which was difficult because when filled with anxiety and when stressed out it is hard to pull back and let go enough to get calm in order to see things on a macro level.

Second I focused my attention on the micro level to hyperfocus and live in the now in order to get small tasks done each day that were necessary for general living and homeschooling. Instead of living a lot in my head and thinking of ideas I focused on just doing stuff that needed to be done. I acted instead of just pondered. I also actively worked to not do things that threw me off track. I stuck to doing what had to be done rather than being lazy or procrastinating or letting this or that take me away from doing what I really should have been doing.

Thirdly I let go of expectations and started blocking out the noise of some people who did nothing but psych me up to worry that we were not doing a good enough job regarding academics, when in fact our reality is probably not that bad after all.

Fourth, I decided to let go of some common modern parenting notions such as trying to produce some perfect ideal students and instead focus on good enough learning of kids who are physically and mentally sane. I seriously could care less if my kids get into an elite college now. I am tired of thinking about it. If they land in state school that is good enough. I want them to be good people (in their hearts not just looking good on college applications). I want my sons to be happy instead of anger-filled, I want them entering adulthood optimistic not stresed out, anxiety-filled or depressed.

I thought back to the way we used to homeschool and my former goals, back when we were all happier together and when we were all so happy to be homeschooling, and realized that to try to achieve some academic goals I had let go of some core philosophies I used to feel so passionately about; I lost my way in the quest to do things just so in order to try to help my kids on their path to college. I realized my old educational philosophies, which I'd abandoned, were still what felt right in my gut so I started making changes to get us back on the old path we were formerly on. We are going back to being a more relaxed homeschool, a homeschool with goals but one that does not make the parents or kids sick in the process. For one thing I am relaxing back on core classes and making room again for creative pursuits, doing projects, and making art.

After our three week Christmas break and after making all these changes I feel like we have all started a new chapter in our family's homeschool journey. I feel renewed and excited and less burdened. My sons are both happier and relaxed and feeling less pressure and stress.

I can't tell you how great it is to feel excited and happy again about parenting and homeschooling my kids.