Monday, February 28, 2005

Parents: please ponder this idea: “(Mothers) can have it all, but not all at once”.

My husband had FoxNews channel on television while he was making lunch on 2/25/05. I overheard the interview from the other room and went in and was able to catch a piece of it. There was an interview with book author Suzanne Venker on the Dayside program, hosted by Linda Vester. The book is titled "7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix".

I heard this quote “you can have it all but not all at once” and was surprised, as I knew that this phrase was first coined by Arlene Cardozo in her book “Sequencing” which I read when my oldest was a baby. Unfortunately, “Sequencing” is out of print, but apparently the subject matter is still of interest to some readers since new books are being released on the same subject.

Vester explained that she was a working mother at one point but now is a mother-at-home. She explained that her book is about her experience and her opinion that working full time and trying to mother children is not easy or possible for some careers. The gist was that she feels that society is not being truthful with mothers when they tout the image of the “Supermom” who can work full time, mother children, be happy and healthy, feel fulfilled career-wise, and have a wonderful family life. She stated that what is not often discussed is the health and well being of the mother; that many times working mothers suffer from poor health. She stated that she felt many moms felt tired, stressed, and some are living with health problems from “doing it all”. She did not put down working mothers but she was saying that she felt that the option to dedicate some years to full-time mothering and then to return to a career later on in their lives should be an option that American society should consider and that the continued touting of the Supermom as the ideal--may not be doing working mothers any favors!

A great book which I read last year, written from the angle of what is best for the baby/child is "Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment isn’t telling us” by Brian Robertson PhD. This book, I feel, ideally, should be read by parents before they make the decision about child care. In my ideal world adults would read and know this information before marrying and before getting into financial obligations (i.e. having expensive mortgage that requires two incomes before their baby even arrives). Ideally adults would know the information about the effects of daycare on babies and children so they could make a truly informed decision regarding whether the mother will stay at home with the baby or if the mother is definitely returning to work, what type of day care provider will be BEST for the BABY/CHILD. My ideal situation includes an overall happy family with a happy and healthy mother, father, and baby/child(ren). Everyone’s needs are met and life is good.

Robertson analyzed 30 years of research about the effects of daycare and it was scary and alarming to me that studies continually point to certain issues but that the American society does not seem aware of them vis a vis the continued trend toward dual income families and the large increase in use of institutional day care facilities. The bottom line recommendation in this book is that the best provider of care for a baby and child is the mother and father. It is recommended that families do what they have to do in order to be there for their children, including downsizing homes so fathers don’t have to work as many hours, or for mother to be home full-time, or for parents to work flex-time shifts. The next best option is for a relative to care for the baby/child. Next in line is an in-home Nanny and after that, in-home daycare (the type with 3 or so other children). According to Robertson, most problematic for babies and children are institutional day care settings. Robertson is not saying all mothers should stay at home (other books tow that line), but rather is providing information so the parents can make an informed choice about which care is best for their children. Comparing this to other books, some argue that all mothers should be at home full-time and some argue that a woman has a right to a career and children at the same time. Robertson’s book focuses on what the research shows us that children need.

I still am living with the mindset that parents want to do what is best for their children. Oprah likes to say, “parents did the best they knew at the time”. I am not sure if this holds water, though, if books such as “Day Care Deception” spell out what is best for the BABY/CHILD yet adults or parents don’t care enough about the subject to actually read a book about it, and other people don’t even wonder about the effects of day care on children.

Links about these books:

About: “7 Myths of Working Mothers”: Article titled "The Trouble with Mary Poppins" by Mary Walsh dated June 24, 2004

About "Sequencing": Article titled "Sequencing" By Betsy Liotus published in New Beginnings Magazine in the July-August 1997 issue.

Organization supporting women who are sequencing: Mothers and More.

About "Day Care Deception": Long transcript of an interview by Donna of First Voice Books titled "Has America outsourced the kids?"

About "Day Care Deception": National Review article titled "Day Care Deception”: Stay-at-home moms are undervalued." dated August 12, 2003

About "Day Care Deception": Interview with Brian Robertson, PhD, by Kathryn Jean Lopez for National Review titled: Who’s Minding the Kids?
Opening the day-care-center doors."
dated October 1, 2003

About "Day Care Deception": Book review titled: “Suffer the Little Children” by Matt Kaufman, published by Focus on the Family in Citizen Magazine: family policy issues in policy and culture.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Roadkill candy: what trash are they peddling to kids now?!?

I am very disappointed in Kraft Foods. Their latest addition to their Trolli brand's gummy candy line is called “Road Kill Gummi Candy” and is shaped like flattened snakes, chickens and squirrels, complete with tire treads. What is the world coming to? Is road kill supposed to be funny? Maybe it was intended to appear “gross” yet when eaten, tastes “yummy”. Perhaps this is an attempt to mimic the “every flavor” jellybeans that were written about in the Harry Potter series that later were made into actual candies by the Jelly Belly Company. Can’t candy just be candy anymore? Why do children need the extra stimulation? Remember the first gummy bears? There was no story to them, they were not part of a movie tie-in; they just existed. They were just gummy bears. There was no hidden agenda and no joke. We just bought them, ate them, and enjoyed them. Back in the 70s and 80s things seemed much simpler. Now the gummy candy must have some other appeal to it. I still want to know why the product development staff thought children would like gummy road kill animals, complete with tire tracks.

However, it was not parents who were disgusted by this latest product, it was the animal rights activists. It continually amazes me how some parents have no opinion and don’t want to pass judgment on negative things or products peddled to their children. Yet in this same American society, the animal rights activists never fail to step up to the plate to voice their opinion on anything that offends them. It is something to ponder: why some Americans value and fight for the rights of animals, with protests, boycotts, press releases, print advertisements and bulletin boards, while so few Americans think critically about speak out against issues which may negatively affect our children.

It was the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who stepped up earlier this week to Kraft and threatened boycotts and letter-writing campaigns about this product as they felt it encourages children to be cruel to animals. I am not sure that the road kill candy would inspire children to want to intentionally run over animals but apparently there are some people who will believe this. I will withhold judgment about that, although I am one of the parents who won’t let their kids play with toy guns, as I don’t want to desensitize them to gun use, violence, or think that killing is fun. I am a parent who didn’t even know this candy existed though, as we don’t buy candy for our children except on holidays or when making a Gingerbread House!

Well production was halted on 2/25/05 according to an AP story. Here is CNNs article, with photo of a road kill candy snake. Here is a BBC article.

Kraft representatives state they never meant to offend anyone.

Again my question is why do parents tolerate the garbage that is marketed to their kids and why wasn’t it the parents who spoke out against it? Sigh.

I wonder if this will be the next “collector’s item” that will fetch high bids on Ebay? Let me go check…yes, there they are, 15 auctions so far, with the auction ending soonest at a current bid of $23.50 for two bags! Again the collectors will buy and save anything that they think may increase in value over time, so very typically American!

Friday, February 25, 2005

How we homeschool history

When I decided to homeschool, I was a bit worried about history as I felt I was weak in it. I attended public school from K-12 and have a liberal arts Bachelor’s Degree as well as a diploma in a professional trade. My memories of history were of reading textbook chapters, answering the comprehension questions at the end of the chapter, memorizing dates, people’s names and place names, and then being tested. Thank goodness that when I studied I had good short-term memory skills or I would have flunked. I passed the game of school but left with little knowledge. I do not have ANY memories of history being fun or interesting. I also feel weak in world history as well as lacking an understanding of current world cultures and geography. I actually looked forward to learning things for the first time or re-learning them as I homeschooled my children.

First thoughts about homeschooling history
When I decided to homeschool my children I wanted to make history as fun as possible. I knew there were so many resources available, running the gamut from boring homeschool textbooks to interesting books, games, videos, and hands-on projects.

Discovering “The Well Trained Mind”
When my oldest was still a preschooler, I was given a copy of “The Well Trained Mind” (TWTM) by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. The homeschooler who gave me (a new copy) of this book (because she wouldn't give up her own) said that this book “was a lifesaver” because it helped her figure out what to teach when, at a time when she had worried about “gaps” and was confused about how to cover a mass of information over the child’s home education of grades 1-12. She also felt that TWTM outlined a quality curriculum and was suitable for preparing a child for college after homeschooling high school. Her husband also touted the excellence of the plan laid out in TWTM.

When I first read TWTM, the first thing that appealed to me was covering history in a chronological way, rather than jumping from country to country, skipping some countries, and jumping from this time period to that time period. The history plan in TWTM is to split history from the first civilizations through the present into four years. The entire plan would be to start the first four-year sweep in first grade, repeat in more detail in fifth grade, and repeat again in greater detail with more analysis and critical thinking, in ninth grade. This made perfect sense to me. “Why couldn’t public schools do this?” I wondered.

In TWTM, the authors provide lists of key events and figures that should be studied, which I find helpful. There are also in-print book suggestions to use “real books” to teach history. Hooray, no textbooks are listed!

I was in an over-buying mode at one point when my son was in Kindergarten and I bought Story of the World Volume One(SOTW) by Susan Wise Bauer, a history book for the first year of the four-year sweep. This is a story-format telling of history, in a chronological time arrangement. Volume One covers the years 5000 BC to 400 AD. I also bought the “Story of the World Volume One Activity Book” (SOTWAB) edited by Susan Wise Bauer. I did not look at these two resources much, at the time because I didn't feel I would use them for he Kindergarten year, so they were shelved. Both came highly recommended by fellow members of our local Classical homeschooling support group.

What we did for Kindergarten
I did not teach history in this Kindergarten year. We watched random history documentaries that we found on TV that interested us. My older son was interested in dinosaurs and pyramids, so we read books and I searched the TiVo and recorded documentaries about those subjects. We received a National Geographic magazine in the mail with a cover story about mummies (May 2002 issue: “The Race to Save Inca Mummies”).

So we began reading and watching documentaries about all different mummies. My son’s favorite by far was The Ice Man.

What we did for First Grade
For the first grade year I decided to use TWTMs chronological format but designed my own curriculum. I did not use the SOTW resources because at the time I loved the idea of “creating my own curriculum”. When I first looked at SOTWAB I thought, “I don’t want to follow someone else’s plan, I want to make my own”. I thought it would be fun to design my own curriculum, and that it would be easy. I did not read SOTWAB thoroughly or try it out, at that time. History was not our primary goal for first grade. My primary goal was to get my older son reading, secondly to practice penmanship and do math. Science and History as well as fine art, arts and crafts, and music history were all lesser priorities. That year it was not easy to plan out our studies. I bought a book on Egyptian crafts and recipes. I bought coloring books about Egypt. I bought new books online, and went to the library to find books. I actually burned out of the library experience. I found that I was not able to get what I needed at my own town’s library. I traveled up to 30 minutes in either direction of my home to scan the stacks at the library and borrow books. Online interlibrary loan requests were unpredictable and not timely. It does us no good to receive a book when we finished studying that subject three weeks prior! Returning the library books on time and keeping track of what was due back to which library and when was a pain in the neck, and costly!

Assessing First Grade Accomplishments and Planning for Second Grade
Over the summer I reviewed what we had done. The primary goal of teaching my son to read was accomplished and he was doing well with math and penmanship. I was content with those completed goals but then my mind turned to what we had not accomplished and how I could address that. For history, by the end of first grade we had (only) covered Early Man, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. I was disappointed that we had not gotten further along. in the timeline. I got worried that we’d be trapped in the Ancients for two years or more! I went through the books I already owned and began planning for second grade. I suddenly worried about planning out what to cover for each country, how should I make sure I explained the changing empires, who conquered which country, etc. My own knowledge base was sketchy and I needed some resource to guide me so I could make some logical plan with minimal gaps. I realized many of the children’s picture books leave out who ruled the country and when. Each country is treated apart from the other, such as missing what was going on in Ancient China versus Ancient Greece at the same time period.

A treasure found: “Story of the World Volume One”
It was then that I realized I had a treasure on my hands—SOTW Volume One. I realized that a narrative format of history was a superior way to teach (after reading a good amount of dry fact/text the prior year). I also realized what a treasure and convenience the SOTWAB is. I realized that some of the books I had used were on the lists of supplemental nonfiction readings. I appreciated the literature/fairy tale book lists. I realized the same crafts and recipes that I found in separate books were right in the SOTWAB, and they were so convenient. There was no need to buy or get craft ideas and recipes from other sources! I realized that the mapwork was right there, each map corresponding to that time period/chapter, and I suddenly realized that I had skipped mapwork entirely for that first grade year, and was disappointed for not being thorough enough. I also liked how the corresponding reading in the Usborne Book of World History was right there, which pages correlated to that exact chapter.

I realized also that we did have gaps. For example, although we did a lot of Ancient Egypt studies, we didn’t talk about which Pharaoh came after which and we skipped Babylonia and Assyria. We had too much pyramid and mummy learning but not enough geography or information about how the country changed over time.

For our second grade year I was determined to do it differently and better. I decided to start SOTW Volume One with the first chapter. We breezed through the chapters that we had studied the prior year, because we didn’t need to do the supplemental readings for many chapters as we did them in first grade. We did all of the coloring pages and mapwork, though.

How much time to we spend on history?
My original intent was to do history daily for 20 minutes per day, inspired by the short lesson time advised by Charlotte Mason. I aim for this, but have found that it doesn’t work for my children, this year (it did work for first grade). Both of my children enjoy history and beg to not stop after 20 minutes. We often do history for 45-90 minutes a session.

I find that doing science on the same days is too much, so I try to do one or the other each day (coincidentally, this is what TWTM recommends). Our history studies end up being 2-3 hours per week. My 4 year-old continues to listen in on the readings and do the coloring pages and mapwork with us but he has no pressure from me to participate and he does not narrate.

I have modified the study methods as outlined in TWTM to mix in a bit more of a Charlotte Mason flavor. Here is what I do. I read from a new SOTW chapter, and then my 7 year-old son narrates it back to me. I believe in Charlotte Mason narration methods, not the narration methods stated in TWTM and the SOTWAB. In SOTWAB the narration is asked to be 2-3 sentences and hitting all the dates and names and places. Instead, my son states everything he remembers.

He has been narrating since before his 6th birthday (almost two years now), so at this point he is pretty good about starting at the beginning, summarizing and condensing and hitting the major points, and stopping at the ending. He does not always remember the names, especially when they are long, not English, and not easy to pronounce. Sometimes he forgets the place names, especially if it is the first time he has heard it. I console myself with Charlotte Mason’s theory that making an impression with ideas rather than setting a goal of parroting back dry facts is a goal to strive for. I write down the narrations for my records. His narrations are usually two or three paragraphs long. I am happy with his progress and continually surprised at his ability to retain information and his ability to sort the information and communicate it. He often remembers more than I do (I somehow can read aloud and not pay attention to what I am reading, my mind is thinking about something else entirely).

How I organize their completed work
As recommended in TWTM, each of my children has a history notebook (a three ring binder). I place all the coloring pages and colored maps in the binder. When it is convenient for me, I transcribe my older son’s scribbled narrations into the computer’s word processor (I type quickly and it is easy for me). I print these narrations and put them in his history notebook (a la TWTM).

About the coloring pages and mapwork
Coloring Pages
Much to my surprise, I found that my 7-year-old son loved the coloring pages. My 4-year-old son loves to color and he wants to sit with us and hear the history readings and do the coloring pages as well. With our new Prismacolor colored pencils, coloring was fun, neat and clean. My children do all the coloring pages and mapwork pages in SOTWAB. I would not push the coloring pages on my children but they love to do them; I would not have a problem if we skipped some of these coloring pages. My older son never liked coloring books and I never pushed them when he was younger, following the recommendation to avoid coloring books for children before age 6, in "Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation of Art” by Susan Striker.

My children do not enjoy coloring alone nor do they like to do it in silence or to music. They prefer me to sit with them at the kitchen table while they are coloring. I find the most effective use of our time is for me to read aloud about that subject while they are coloring. I read from UBWH (as recommended and laid out in SOTWAB) and other supplemental readings while they color. I pause reading to give the mapwork directions from SOTWAB. My children like to color the entire map, finishing each landmass in green and each body of water in blue.

Lessons in cooperation and patience occur when debating over who gets to use a favorite shade of blue or green or who has to wait patiently while the other child finishes using the colored pencil sharpener so the other can sharpen their pencil. I purposely have them share one sharpener and one set of pencils to teach these character values.

I am grateful for the maps provided in SOTWAB because they are aligned for that exact time period, showing things such as the boundary lines of certain empires in a specific time period. I know that blackline map books are sold (and I already own one) but trying to find just the right map for that time period is yet another project that I am happy not do have to do. It is so convenient to turn the page and have the map there with directions for what to find and highlight and what to look for, and what to color. What a relief.

Dover Coloring Books
I also bought in some of the inexpensive Dover coloring books such as "Life in Ancient Greece" but we are not using many of the pages. I have been lucky to find some of these at library sales for 25 or 50 cents each. The Dover book illustrations have a lot of detail and are more difficult to color--they would even be challenging for an adult! The Dover books have a paragraph or two with each illustration to describe the picture. The text is dry but chock full of information.

Cozy couch reading
Once or twice a week we are on the couch and under the quilt for read aloud’s of supplemental picture books, ranging from nonfiction subjects on the country and time period we are learning about. I find most of these books unsuitable for narration, so I just read them aloud and we look at the illustrations. I also pull books off my shelf which are primarily used for browsing, such as books showing artwork from that time period, coffee table books for adults about that country, or books written far above their level that have lots of nice photographs, illustrations and/or detailed maps.

There are unabridged audiobooksavailable for the first three volumes of SOTW. I was very excited when I learned that the professional storyteller Jim Weiss read for the Volume Three. I have not heard any of these yet and can’t wait to own them. A homeschooling mother I know said she used these as a dictation exercise for her son last year (I think he was 11 at the time). He would listen to the tape and write out the words using their computer’s word processor program. She felt this helped him learn grammar and notice writing composition patterns. She would double check his work against their book. Her son did not look at the book for hints.

Almost done with SOTW Volume One
As I write this we are very close to finishing SOTW Volume One. I already own SOTW Volume Two and the corresponding SOTWAB and plan to start those as soon as we finish Volume One (while my oldest is still in second grade).

I highly recommend Story of the World!
I recommend the SOTW story books to all homeschoolers as I feel learning with a narrative format is superior to reading dry facts. I tell anyone who asks that the SOTWAB (view sample pages here) is convenient and easy to use. Planning time will be saved in finding supplemental books to read. There is room for flexibility--you pick and choose which supplemental readings you will do, as well as which hands-on activities you will do. I am enjoying learning history as I homeschool my children!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Book Review: 50 Veteran Homeschoolers Share...Things We Wish We'd Known

Title: (50 Veteran Homeschoolers share…) Things We Wish We’d Known

Author: compiled and edited by Bill and Diana Waring

Information is regarding ages: all ages and grades

Attempts to help new homeschoolers with sharing wisdom learned over time from others so you don’t repeat their mistakes. Essays are written by 50 different experienced Christian homeschoolers write what their mistakes were and how they fixed them. They want you to avoid making the same mistakes. Some of the essay-writers are well known in the Christian homeschooling community such as curriculum-authors, Christian homeschooling book authors, homeschooling magazine column writers or homeschooling conference speakers.
It is not mentioned on the front or back cover but this is very religious content to the point where it may not be helpful to every reader (such as saying if you don’t like your curriculum to pray about it).

Many of the homeschoolers wrote that at first they were very rigid and doing “school at home”, some even requiring the Pledge of Allegiance, having a flag and desks, and taking attendance. These parents learned over time that learning can be fun (which was a revelation to them) and many ditched the rigid schedules for a looser or very loose learning environment. Some people remain shocked that learning can be fun and are trying to get this point across to the reader. If you already are in that groove you will not learn much.
I found many of the essays to be repetitive of each other, with the same issues and the same resolutions. I have the suspicion that all were included as they are respected and often well-known people in the Christian homeschooling world. Some of the writers are now curriculum authors, are homeschooling conference speakers, are Christian homeschooling book authors, or are authors of regular columns in Christian homeschooling magazines.
Despite the title implying that the book is written to new homeschoolers so they avoid burnout, I felt the book still speaks primarily to a mother who is already using a highly structured form of homeschooling and is burning out. With all the homeschooling books, magazines and free online chat lists I would think that all parents considering homeschooling would be aware that a more loose method is an option that is being used by many happy homeschooling parents and that those children are actually learning! Also if you want a book of advice that is full of Christian references then this is the book for you (there are others on the market without a speck of religious reference that may not appeal to you if you want religious references).
I read this book after we had already begun homeschooling. I also had done research about homeschooling before we “officially began” and for whatever reason was under the impression that more homeschoolers had a “loose” style than a “rigid” style. I already knew learning could be made fun. This book did not reveal much new information to me. I also was a bit bored by the amount of repetition, for example, multiple essays driving home the same point. I don’t know if that was done so that the major point was repeated over and over so the reader would believe it or if the editors wanted an essay from those specific writers, or 50 essays, or what. I am sure many Christian homeschoolers will enjoy this book.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Twaddle picture books = Children’s movie and TV shoe tie-in’s

If you are looking for an example of twaddle fiction picture books, try reading a picture book with characters from children's TV shows or movies. I find many of these stories to be of poor quality. After you read them, you think to yourself, "so what" or “boy was that boring”. Sometimes the story itself is so skimpy due to an over-simplified (aka dumbed down) vocabulary, or an attempt to limit the word count per page. Sometimes, especially when the book tries to condense a movie or an episode of a TV show, they are over-edited and made too short, so that the story in the book actually doesn’t make much sense. Other times the text is not flushed out to give background information so that an uninitiated reader can understand it (i.e. Grandma). If the story was better written the reader would want to go watch the TV show or movie afterward, to get more exposure to the content. I am surprised the marketers don’t realize this potential.

I realized after not too long that the point of the book existence is to market that character/show/movie and NOT to publish a good or great story for children to enjoy. While it IS possible for a TV show to inspire a good book, often that is not the case in reality. It seems to me that the toddler or preschooler who knows the character wants the book because it features a favorite character. I used to cringe when we’d visit a large bookstore teeming with wonderful books only to have my children gravitate toward the special displays of TV and movie tie-in books, which prominently placed near the entrance to the children’s book section or are within the play areas. I have bought some of these books before I read them (or we have received them as gifts) only to find out that most always, the book disappoints.

There is also the assumption by gift-giving relatives and some parents that just because a book is connected to a good TV show that the book will be very good (unfortunately this is usually not the case). One example is a Barney book we have that serves to teach letter identification and the letter sounds for each letter. The storyline is nonexistent and Barney is illustrated throughout but there is no great connection to having an actual story nor is there a good use of Barney himself. I have read books for other PBS shows such as Sesame Street and Teletubbies. I do have one about Little Bill (a Nick Jr. TV show) which is actually a very good story that any child would enjoy, even one who never saw the show "Little Bill"; the story has positive relationships with kids and mom and dad and they also live with Grandma and the point of the story has lots of free play with a friend with creative imaginative play and shows the way friends should treat each other. It is a simple story about what these city kids do for a playdate when it is raining outside and they can't go to the park, as planned. They have a great time together and it doesn't involve watching TV or playing video games (yippee!).

You may be wondering what my beef with these books is. I don’t think that they will harm your child. However, there is a lot to be said about the benefit of exposing children to great books or at least very good books. There are so many wonderful books that there is no reason to read poor or fair quality books to children most of the time. Perhaps a middle road can be found. You may choose to read a few twaddle TV or movie character books to your family but have great books as the majority. With my children, I decided I never wanted to turn down a request to read a book. However, there were some books I hated and could not stand reading. I was able to weed these out, to secretly take them away and hide them in the closet for a while. If one of my sons begged for the book I would take it out again (when he wasn’t looking), but if they didn’t notice I’d turn it in to the used book store for credit or give it away. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there are so many wonderful quality books that I’d never get to read or own them all, so why waste money and shelf space on twaddle? I am constantly culling, getting rid of the inferior to make room for the superior, and advise you to do the same. (Side note: while editing this I double-checked the definition of “cull” and found this definition on the web: “Product rejected because of inferior quality”. How funny is that? I WAS using the term properly!)

Please do read to your children and read wonderful stories that inspire. A good TV show does not always equal a great book. Alternately, a great book does not always inspire a great TV show or movie, but that is a subject for a different blog post. Now go read a great story to your child!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Can living books be used with five year old boys? YES!

On a living book chat list that I am on, a newbie asked if living books could be use for a 5-year-old boy? I expanded my reply to share it here. My answer was a resounding “YES”!

In my opinion a living book can be any book--starting with picture books for very young children--possibly a board book could also be a living book. Living books can be fiction, great stories that inspire us and thrill us and move us in some way. Living books can teach lessons, morals and values (but don't have to). Living books can deliver to us a message or an idea that inspires us, lifts us up or inspires us to be better and greater than we already are. Living books do not depress us or demean us or make us feel shameful or guilty, they lift us up and inspire us to appreciate, to be grateful, to do good or be better people. Living books can be picture books or chapter books. Living books could also be books with glossy pages and great photos--coffee table books, so long as the text is wonderful and inspirational. Living books could be nonfiction material. Living books can be for any topic: religion, science, history, etc.

It is easy to pick out a living book. For chapter books, open to any random page and begin reading. Is the story interesting? Are you hooked? Open to the start of a chapter, does the first paragraph make you want to continue? Repeat this a few times. A boring and dry book or one with patronizing tones will be apparent very quickly. Put that book back on the shelf! Once you find a great author, check to see if they have authored other books. Some books have a bibliography, check it and see if any of those books would also be good for your family.

Living books are often written by people who are passionate about a certain subject. Some authors are very narrow in their subject matter, perhaps knowing and loving all owls, or knowing a lot about just the barn owl, or bluebirds, or the ruby-throated hummingbird. They are often people who do work in a certain field, such as a marine biologist, or they are a person who is a nature lover who then writes a book. They are seldom a writer first who is writing about a subject "because they have to" or “as an assignment”. They love something first, then they write a book to share their passion with others. An exception could be made for history professors who focus on a certain historical time period and are passionate about it, who then write about it. Paleontologists and Archeologists have written wonderful books on their favorite subject. Text book companies whose goal it is to make money by selling texts to schools, hire writers to compose words to fit everything about a subject X, Y, and Z "within the covers" often do not produce “living text books”. Compare a science oceanography text to a book written by Rachel Carson or Jacques Cousteau and you will quickly get the point. First the author is passionate about something then they write a book about it. An example of homeschooling science curriculum textbooks that read like living books are those written by Dr. Jay Wile of Apologia. Dr. Wile was first a scientist and is now writing homeschooling textbooks with a Christian, creationist bias. Dr. Wile’s books read like interesting stories and while they are textbooks, they are not boring. Apologia is now offering a new line of elementary school science books called “The Young Explorer Series” which uses Charlotte Mason teaching methods.

Living books are often written by single authors. Rarely are books written as a collaboration of several or many individuals living books, because their individual opinions and unique passionate voices are usually drowned out, or edited out in favor of trying to cover all the knowledge tidbits. Cramming a lot of information into one volume often reads like a series of dry facts rather than passionate or thrilling opinions or observations. When many authors contribute to one book the piece often lacks emotion and reads more like dry facts. I am not speaking about books that are a collection of essays where one author writes an essay on a topic and the essays are gathered into one volume. I am referring to books where multiple authors are consulted and their ideas and information are melded together.

The term living book has more to do with the quality of the book and the quality of the text than anything else. The opposite of a living book is twaddle (as Charlotte Mason called it) or "garbage" (as I sometimes call it). I am sure that by now you have read some fiction stories to your son that you dreaded or that were just bad stories. By bad I mean stories that are: boring, have no point to them, poorly written, or are not inspirational in any way. You know the kind that you finish and think, "So what" or "that was so silly but was not funny, what was the point?" Sometimes the story could be so illogical or not believable or so wacky that it isn't even funny or enjoyable.

The book could also be clearly trying to teach some lesson or belief yet the story itself stinks. With some books, it is very clear to me that the author wanted the child to learn X idea but they failed in their delivery because for whatever reason the author made the “issue” easy to pick out, but the delivery was not as good enough (which is a shame), so the end result will be that the child will not take that message to heart. It seems to me that some publishers of children’s books will publish certain books just because books on that topic are rare and they feel that a book on that subject is desired that it will sell. Examples of these books are often written about situations or problems: a book to make a child feel better about wearing eyeglasses, a book intended to make a child who is bullied feel not so bad about themselves, a book to espouse certain lifestyle situations as normal and acceptable. Some of those books are sought out by preschool and elementary school teachers to teach tolerance or multiculturalism or to teach good behavior to children. When the main point is to get a point across or to teach something, but the text or story is not great then I feel that the book is twaddle and is not a living book. Every subject or fact could be made to be a living book, it is all about the text itself, whether the story is well written and crafted; it is about the writing style and if the author is able to convey their passion into words that the reader can relate to.

The language in any living book should not be “dumbed down” and give very watered down facts, it should not give information that is too skimpy. Nor should the tone be in a patronizing manner that implies the child is stupid. Children will rise up to our expectations if we allow them to. Children can understand information that is read aloud to them on a higher level than what their current reading ability is, therefore beginning readers should not only be exposed to what they can read to themselves. Read great books aloud to your children so they are exposed to better and more information on a topic, and so they are exposed to higher levels of syntax and language.

The Five in a Row(FIAR) curriculum is short unit studies using children’s picture books as the subject. FIAR uses great living books and is intended for use by children aged 4-7. Once you know what to look for you will be able to pick out good living books for both fiction and nonfiction. I read one picture book to my son today about squirrels (nonfiction); it is called "Squirrels” by Brian Wildsmith. It didn’t go as deep as I wanted so I added a short chapter book about squirrels called "Meet the Squirrels" by Martin Cass. We are reading these as part of a science forest unit. I found one at a Boy Scout fundraiser Tag Sale and another at a public library book sale, both for 50 cents. You can find living books anywhere (once your mind and eyes are trained to look for them) and sometimes for very inexpensive prices.

Living books can be read for enjoyment from babyhood through adulthood. Living books can serve as a way to expose children to information and facts. All parents can use living books. Living books can act as the primary material for a homeschooling curriculum.

As our children grow older the living books become longer and more complicated. Of course there are also adult level books that are that can be read aloud to middle school students or read independently by high school students. One of the best things about using living books is that the information conveyed in them is interesting and the information is easily retained, and they are enjoyed by the parent as well as the child. Reading aloud to children of all ages is wonderful and a parent surrounded by living books will never dread reading aloud to children. I am not sure who is learning more from our homeschooling adventure: my children or me!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Connecticut Mastery Tests for public schooled students

It seems of a sudden, parents of public schooled elementary aged students are talking about the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs) and what their elementary schooled kids are or are not doing in the classroom. Two weeks ago, I overheard a group of mothers of public schooled children having a (loud) conversation at the YMCA. They were complaining that too much class time was being spent on “test prep” and they complained that their children were expressing anxiety about taking the CMTs. (CMTs are given in grades 4, 6, and 8.) They complained that the regular curriculum was being displaced to make time to practice test-taking skills. They said that discussions had been going on during PTA meetings about putting too much pressure on these young children to perform well on these standardized tests, and that lots of parents were upset about this.

Last week, a friend whose oldest child attends first grade in the public school in our town mentioned that our town’s 2004 CMT scores were lower than in previous years. She stated that a group of Moms were complaining that the curriculum for their first graders was too weak, and they felt the lower 2004 CMT scores had a direct relation to the present first grade curriculum. (Note: I just read the CMT score summary as prepared in a presentation by our Board of Education and the scores went down about one percent in each category—reading, writing and math. The scores are still quite well above the state’s “at goal” score level.) This small group of mothers had older children as well, and claimed that what their older children did in first grade (in this same school) was more difficult academically than what their younger children were doing. They also complained that there was not enough homework for their first-graders. They did not cite specific content issues (i.e. they used to teach addition with regrouping but now were not teaching it). I stated that I wondered if they had concrete information or if they were relying on memory, which sometimes (unfortunately and unintentionally) is distorted.

My friend expressed that since her first grader was her oldest child and that she had no opinion about how good or how bad the present curriculum is but was now curious. She asked me how one would know what should get taught to first graders in American public schools. I have read and considered the typical scope and sequences as part of planning our homeschooling, so I was prepared to answer her.

First I shared that the school has an obligation to share the “scope and sequence” with anyone who wants it. I suggested she ask the office staff for a copy of it so she can see just what this school says they intend to teach, and she could then compare this to what her daughter is learning. I turned on my computer and showed her that some towns put their scope and sequence on the Internet. We referenced the Greenwich Public School’s website, whose entire scope and sequence is online and free.

I also referred her to World Book Encyclopedia’s site, which has a free scope and sequence online, which is a compilation of what they gathered from American public schools.

Next we moved to my bookshelf. I lent her "Living is Learning” (scroll down) which is a booklet written by Nancy Plent who is a homeschooling parent. The author gathered information about what public schools were doing and compiled it as a reference for homeschooling parents. The edition I lent her was for preschool through first grade.

She also chose to borrow "Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School”by Rebecca Rupp and I explained that this book lays out what is commonly taught in American public schools and was written for homeschooling parents to use to custom design a curriculum for their child: IF they are trying to match up what the public schools are doing grade to grade. (It also gives book and curriculum recommendations which is useful for homeschooling parents).

Not being able to stop myself at this point, I then contrasted this to others’ ideals, first I told her about E.D. Hirsh, who created a nonprofit organization named Core Knowledge (registered trademark)
. The organization conducted a survey of worldwide curriculum, with considerations of which countries scored well or poorly on certain subjects, and came up with their ideal curriculum called the Core Knowledge Sequence, which is sold in a paper/book format. There are different editions by grade level, one is called "Core Knowledge Sequence, K–8” and sells for $35.

I also showed her my copy of "What your First grader needs to know: Fundamentals of a Good First-Grade Education (The Core Knowledge Series)” by E.D. Hirsh. This book includes facts and stories, so the parent can use this book to teach the child the information that Hirsh feels they need to know (it is not just a listing of curriculum goals). I also showed her my copy of “The Educated Child: A Parents Guide From Preschool Through Eighth Grade”
by William Bennett, Chester E. Finn, and John T.E. Cribb, which uses Core Knowledge’s recommendations for what should be taught and when. I explained that this book contained what the authors feel children should be taught in each grade and that the book is intended to be used by parents of schooled children. (In case you are curious, this book is negative towards homeschooling, even though after it was published William Bennett hooked up with the K-12 charter schools.) The parent is to compare the information in “The Educated Child” to what the child is getting at the local school and the parent is urged to teach their child at home on evenings and weekends, to fill the gaps and to work with the public schools to ask for improvements to their curriculum.

After having these discussions and thinking about the CMTs, I am more grateful than ever that both my children and I are living outside the public school system. I am grateful that I am able to be an at-home parent who has freedom to design a curriculum that is right and best for each of my children. I am happy that homeschooling in my state is not over-regulated by the government. I am glad that my children have no clue what the CMT is and they don’t have to waste their time learning testing skills (at least until it is time to take the SAT). I am so happy to be living with freedom and autonomy!

Friday, February 18, 2005

Started taking cardio (aerobics) classes again…

Things sure have changed in 14 years since I’ve taken group exercise classes. I just restarted taking “cardio” classes at a big co-ed gym. It actually took guts to go in to the room and join with the others, knowing once I entered I was basically trapped there for the next 60 minutes, because I don’t have the nerve to walk out before the class is over, I am too proud to quit! Looking around the room, I noticed that the others were mostly more fit than I. The gym’s motto is that it is a “no judgment zone”. The only judgment I have been aware of is my own, as I compare myself to others. I don’t think that I have been too harsh on myself, and I was comforted to see that there were others who were as out of shape as I was, and some who were much larger than I am. The younger more toned women serve as a reminder of what I am striving toward.

In the 90s the classes were called “aerobics” classes and were sub-classified as “low impact” and “high impact”, and in the 80s they were called “dance aerobics” or “jazzercise”. These new classes have names such as “Combat Cardio” and “Energy Zone”. Upon entering the room, the first thing I noticed was that my eyes had trouble adjusting to the light in the class, you see the bright lights gone, the lighting was subdued and such a dim level a la Mexican restaurant. The dim light prevented me from seeing the sweat on my face and the flush that I could feel in my cheeks, which now that I think about it, is a good thing. There are also flashing colored disco lights that move and shine over us as we work out, which I actually felt added an element of disorientation.

A huge change, though, is the complete absence of the mention of “target heart rate” and the fact that no “target heart rate chart” is posted in the room. The goal of each class that I have been in is to work out like a maniac; heart rate is irrelevant. We are lucky to get one water break and there is no pulse-checking going on, except my self-initiated checks. I checked it as I was in such a frenzy that I actually worried my pulse rate was over 250. I can’t wait to get the replacement batteries for my heart monitor just so I can see how high my heart is actually going during these crazy classes. Are the experts are still standing behind the “fat burning” heart rate range vs. the “carb burning” range, or did I miss the abandonment of that philosophy during my exercise class leave of absence?

The intensity of the classes is unprecedented. I have been doing kickboxing moves, brutal moves that seem more like military boot camp maneuvers, and some exercises that had been banned in the past, such as regular sit-up’s, which, last I knew, had been decided to be very bad for low backs as they used to be cited as causing injury. I do see a presence of men in the class, which is a good thing, because it is fun to see them suffering along with all the women, and so far they are not out-performing the women. I actually had to laugh the other night when one man was loud and quite abrupt about defending his “spot” before the class started. Those of you who have taken exercise classes know that people are territorial about their favorite spot and try to not allow others to crowd in on them once they have claimed their space. This man actually barked loudly at someone who he thought was infringing on his space! I found it pretty funny to see how his testosterone reacted to the encroachment.

I am looking forward to more classes as just as I remembered, there is nothing like burning a load of calories in one of those classes, it just doesn’t compare to a hard workout lifting weights or when doing cardio work on the elliptical machine or the treadmill. Let’s just hope I survive the boot camp sessions without having an M.I.!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Getting real about exercise

So I had an epiphany about my body size and eating and exercise recently. Since the birth of my children I have been recalling a myth that I thought was reality. I just realized that what I considered reality was a myth and am trying to “get real” about this (yes that is a Dr. Phil-ism). What I am talking about was telling myself how in “the good old days” when I was younger, I was thin (true) and that I was able to eat whatever I wanted (true). I have been telling myself that my issue now must be a naturally slower metabolism (possibly true). However I now remember that when I was working out I didn’t crave high carb foods (cake, cookies, pasta) nor did I crave sweets. I also didn’t want to eat a lot of bad foods as I just didn’t feel I wanted it and I also logically thought that after all that work exercising why would I want to cancel out the burned calories by increasing my caloric intake? I also got to a point where high fat foods would repulse me and went years without eating real butter or eggs or anything fried.

I had also somehow blocked out the fact that back then I was addicted to exercise and would exercise 5-6 days a week regularly, for 90-180 minutes per session. This is not possible with my current lifestyle as a mother at home who homeschools her children. I also was thinking that back then I loved exercise and it was easy. What I recently remembered was that I dreaded it, would try to avoid it at all costs, and was bored through it. When I’d work out with weights it was like a torture, and what got me through it was either talking with a workout partner or daydreaming and ticking off my mental list of sets and reps. When I’d take group exercise classes I’d stare at the clock and countdown the minutes until it was over. One reason I’d take those group classes was that I’d not walk out before they were over and was therefore kind of trapped in there and would do the class until it was over. When I swam laps I’d keep a count of the laps and just try to get from one to the next, and often worked toward a goal of a certain number of laps to get to “the end”. When bicycling or mountain biking I thought of one circle of the pedals at a time, around and around and around…

Since my kids were born I have been focusing on them, meeting their needs by nursing them and holding them and not separating from them. I have been kidding myself, though, about some of my memories. I realized that most of the time I was sore from exercise, with aching muscles. I used to make exercise my number one priority after working at my career. Exercise certainly is not my priority now and it shows. Those years of my life were pretty light in the responsibility arena: things that came after exercise were things like eating, housework, laundry, etc. Most of those things were done by others or not done at all: when I lived with my parents, my mother did the cleaning, when I rented an apartment no one cleaned. Food was either take-out or made by my mother or was very fast and basic food such as boiling pasta and reheating jarred spaghetti sauce. Back then I did no community service, no volunteer work. I didn’t do anything except for things that benefited me and honestly my non-working hours were focused on having fun and entertaining myself.

What I have concluded after thinking about all of this is that if I want to be in shape I must exercise. I must make exercise a priority in my life. I need to carve time out of my existing schedule to make room for exercise. If I wait for exercise to be easy and fun before I do it, I will never do it. If exercising means I must be sore afterwards, then so be it. If I want the most bang for my buck I’ll have to do something that burns the most calories in the shortest time. The plan is to get back into group exercise classes at least three times a week, and lift weights on other days. During times when I think about ditching this plan, I try to remind myself of some of the benefits of exercising: increased energy levels throughout the day, feeling physically well, and sleeping like a rock. Time to get off my butt and into the gym!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On cheap toys and shoplifting

Our kids had an unexpected lesson this week: about shoplifting! It just so happened that on the night of Valentine’s Day our family was shopping at Toys R Us. It was nice; the place had only a handful of customers. The employees were busy putting up the Easter displays (right from one holiday to another, you know). My husband and children were in an area next to an emergency exit when all of a sudden a man ran by them quickly and exited through the emergency door, sending off a loud, shrill alarm and sending the employees running to the scene. The employees explained that it was a shoplifter. See the excitement I missed while in the ladies room? This prompted a whole discussion of shoplifting and theft, etc. all the while trying to not upset them about the idea of a robbery having taken place right in front of their eyes. The employees got all worked up about this turn of events in an otherwise boring evening and the air of calm quickly changed to an air of anxiety. It was dark outside and pouring rain, and as we left and viewed the scene of the crime, we hypothesized that the getaway car must have been waiting right outside the door. The thief was not caught immediately. And who says homeschooled kids are sheltered?

Anyway, we were there to buy a certain toy that Son-4.5, wanted for his reward for finishing his phonics curriculum (Alpha Phonics). He remembered that when his older brother finished the same program (during first grade at age 6.5), that he got a toy (which I needed as a last ditch effort for inspiration to get it done and over with). Son-4.5, didn’t need inspiration to get to the end at all, but he is the type of child who wants things just like his older brother, to be “fair” and “equal”. Anyway I am thrilled to have one child who was teaching himself to read by himself, and when I started Alpha Phonics just to teach him the tricky things that he was getting so mad at himself for not naturally knowing, he sailed through it with ease and at a ridiculous speed. Despite my hating reward programs and other bribes, I gave in to his request to also get a toy reward, as I could not come up with a cruelty free reason to deny him the equal prize.

Well the first complaint was that the item was in stock at R Us at a price of $19.99 but they wanted $12 to ship it, which I couldn’t agree to on principal. So we spent over an hour trekking to store, shopping, and back and they didn’t have the item in stock. Son agreed to another toy in the series, a set of Animal Planet brand little toy arctic animals. What a disappointment it was when in the second hour of playing with it, the little woman’s arm broke off. I can’t stand these cheap toys!! The disappointment on the child’s part is so heartbreaking.

To remedy this my husband trekked to another Toys R Us store to return the broken toy. We hoped that they’d have the original set he wanted (horses), but it was out of stock. He got a refund. I called another store, 30 miles in the other direction but they didn’t have the horse set either. So off to yet another store (another 90 minute errand), and still no horse set. Growl. He settled for a different Animal Planet set.

I have noticed at every birthday and each Christmas for the last three years, we have issues with new gifts. Last Christmas there was a little plastic pinball type game that upon removing it from the box, it sprung open, balls and springs flying. So much for that. There was a flashing light ball necklace thing that didn’t work upon taking it out of the package. A remote control car set didn’t work right out of the box, nor did a remote control boat set. An electronic board game didn’t work either. The big issue here is the disappointment that the child feels. And as a parent I don’t appreciate it either. I am faced with an upset child, usually right in the middle of a birthday party, then faced with trying to figure out where the giver bought it, returning it (usually taking up about two hours of my time). The worst is when a giver states something was bought at a certain store but the store employees deny this, or when they give me a $5 refund for a $20 toy, citing $5 as the “lowest sale price in the last 12 months which is our refund policy for items without a receipt”. I understand the logic but was two hours of my time only worth $5? No, my time is worth more than that. Sad to say that it is “cheaper” to just throw the new but nonfunctioning toy away. It is also frustrating to see things made so poorly that they don’t work right out of the box! At times like this I wonder if the “good old days” were better when kids had simpler toys and less toys, toys that worked properly and were of such good quality that they lasted over time.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Restarted chapter book read-aloud’s and enjoying it!

I hate to admit it, but we fell out of the habit of fiction chapter book read-aloud’s. Well I’m happy to report that we’re back on track and have just completed reading
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Konisberg". Son, 7 and I really enjoyed it. Son, 4.5, was in and out of the room and went from on my lap to down on the floor playing with LEGOs, so he missed some of the story.

My memory of this book was distinct: I was in third grade in public school when our Language Art’s teacher read this aloud to us. I remember the story being spread out with portions read aloud each day. I remember the carpet squares on the dusty linoleum tile floor, and how two classes were brought together to hear it at once. I remember the class being well behaved during these sessions and I remember loving the idea of two children living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City by themselves. I remember them hiding in the bathroom stalls during the guard’s checks and sleeping on a famous bed and taking a bath in the big water fountain and collecting coins from its’ bottom. I hadn’t remembered all the details such as why they ran away from home or how it ended or what they were researching. It was fun for me to read the book again and fill in the gaps.

How did a person like me, a book lover who feels so strongly about reading aloud to her children, stop reading aloud for fun? Here is how: when we started the school year last September, I found it hard to keep up with what I had planned for homeschooling lessons. This year was different than last year, as this time around I was teaching two children. (Why I am teaching my 4 year old, I will explain in another post.) I found it hared to deal with teaching both of them. Because my younger son demanded to “do homeschooling”, dropping his lessons was not an option. I put the regular homeschooling lessons as the priority for the day, and planned to do fun read-aloud’s of fiction picture books and chapter books in the afternoon. However that was interrupted by classes, activities and playdates.

The biggest roadblock was that despite my vow to not do it, I did end up signing up for too many classes and activities, most all at the last minute. Most people would not think we were too busy, but for us we were too busy. A homeschoolers general physical fitness and sports class was in the late morning, one day each week, at a time of the day that didn’t allow us to do any lessons before we left. After we arrived home and ate lunch, it was already 1:30pm and somehow we weren’t in the groove for lessons. Cub Sout den meetings were in the afternoon on another day, so that ate up that time. The free weekly homeschool park days also were at a time that didn’t allow us to get any homeschooling done on those days. Add in errands, doctor visits, and playdates, and there was no time left in our schedule. By the time the calendar year ended, I was relieved that almost all of those activities were finished. I vowed to get back on track with our regular lessons after Christmas.

January was a great fresh start. Because of time and budget considerations I allowed each child to pick one paid sport activity from January through June. Son, 4, picked gymnastics class, which began in January, and I was able to get him into a class on the same afternoon as the Cub Scout meeting. That way we have appointments on only one afternoon per week. Son, 7, plans to do a spring outdoor sport. Phew. I am enjoying the freedom that a more open schedule allows. The revised plan is to hunker down and hit the books in a serious manner, which we’ve been good at doing, and we start right after breakfast each day. I aim to finish all the homeschooling lessons before lunch or shortly thereafter. February arrived and I restarted reading aloud fiction chapter books. When spring comes we will be more than ready for spontaneous breaks from our lessons to spend lots of time outside in the wonderful spring weather. But until that time comes, you will find us cuddled on the couch under a quilt, enjoying some fiction.

We really enjoyed “From the Mixed-Up…” and I highly recommend it. Perhaps some parents would not like that the book is about two siblings running away from home, for eight days (defying parental authority)! Perhaps they’d not like that the siblings bicker throughout the book and criticize each others’ grammar (not demonstrating perfect sibling relations), or that the boy admitted to gambling and cheating his best friend for two years at the card game of War. However the teamwork between them was good, they were getting to know each other more by the end of the book, and as the children realized, their busy lives and separation at school didn’t allow them much time to get to know each other. The storyline included a new angel statue being put on display at the Met and the children went to great lengths to research the history of the statue to try to figure out if it was crafted by Michelangelo (bonus points for learning being self-initiated and enjoyed by both children). The ending was nice as well, with the children having met the childless Mrs. Frankweiler and vowing to adopt her as a grandmother.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"A Treasure's Trove": Discovering Online Discussions

My friends will laugh but not be surprised that before our book was delivered, I checked to see if a discussion group already existed on Yahoo Groups!. Of course, (at least) one does and I joined one immediately. I began reading some of the posts and couldn’t wait for the book to arrive. Some people are worked up into frenzy already and seem to be examining everything in the book. Were the dots in the border spelling out words? Were the colored lines in the border actually Morse codes? Did the shapes of some of the objects resemble the outline of certain states? I couldn’t wait to get started and see if there was anything to these theories.

The first negative thing that happened was that I learned via the Yahoo Group! that one person complained that some of the content of the illustrations was inappropriate for children. Other posters began chiming in with agreement and proclaiming the book was unfit for the eyes of young children, well, at least for their children. The original poster complained the book allegedly contained one incident of bestiality as well as sexual references between a male and female fairy, and lastly, a scary looking human baby holding a dagger. My mommy-radar went up. I still did not have the book in hand and tried to calm myself by telling myself it is best to make my own judgment, that I should avoid worry until I could look at the book myself. I was also a bit disappointed that what seemed to be a fun family activity may be tainted by some inappropriate content (such I felt the movie “Shrek 2 “was). I called the friend that introduced met to the book to ask about it and she said replied that she never noticed any of those references but she’d double check and get back to me. Later she reported that she felt the baby with the dagger was weird and creepy but that the other references seemed unfounded, in her opinion. I still couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the book!

Next I learned from the chat list, that a person named Jet Wintzer had been posting that he had already solved the entire puzzle, and that he had collected some tokens and had already published his entire solution on his own website. The solution has since been pulled off Jet's own site but can be found on other sites such as
this one. Of course I could not resist and I began reading it. I stopped when I read that although Jet claims to know the solution, not all of the tokens have been recovered by Jet. Since, to date, according to the official website, "no tokens have been found". I am skeptical of all claims to have found the solution and of tokens having been found. Although I do wonder about the photos of gold tokens that Jet has posted on the internet.

The idea that the treasure was found before I even got involved was quite disappointing. I had been thinking that this really could create a media buzz and that the country could possibly get caught up in this treasure hunt. I imagined children talking about it in school (or with other homeschoolers). I imagined parents reading and re-reading the book aloud to their children. I imagined children sharpening their critical thinking skills and sharpening their logical thinking and thought, “hey, this could be a good thing for American children”, a move from the addiction of Game Boy and Playstation to reading books, deciphering clues and actually thinking and decoding! Can you imagine it happening? I loved the idea of it actually happening.

The anticipation was getting too much to bear!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

“A Treasure’s Trove”: day one of my experience

Before my friend could finish telling me about the newspaper article she read about the book “A Treasure’s Trove” by Michael Stadther which held clues to find twelve treasures worth $1 million, I knew I had to be in on this. A book lover like me could not be left out, even though I found out that the rules prohibit me from accepting any of the treasures that I may find (due to the state I reside in being deemed exempt from participation).

Despite my friend’s assurance that the nearest bookstore had many in stock, I was unwilling to make the 30-minute drive (each way) to buy it for full price plus sales tax. Of course, I headed online to find out how to buy it at a discount plus receive free shipping. I was surprised and disappointed to see that Amazon had the book on a 2-3 month backorder, and happy to find that
Barnes and Noble's online store stated shipping would occur within 24 hours. The same author has written a companion puzzle book “100 Puzzles, Clues, Maps, Tantalizing Tales, and Stories of Real Treasure: A Treasure's Trove Puzzle Book Companion” and I chose to purchase both, thus providing me, hopefully, with more tools to solve the puzzles while boosting my purchase to a level that granted me free shipping. I considered buying the audiobook with sound effects but restrained myself, in an effort to not break the budget.

My friend had mentioned that our local newspaper had an AP feature on the book in the previous day’s newspaper. I don’t subscribe to it, so I headed to google and did a search to read more about it. I found a
CNN story and devoured that. Google also revealed that the author/book has its’ own official website which revealed a new clue not found in the book as well as errata.

I then sent off emails to some friends asking if they knew of this fun treasure hunt. I couldn't wait to begin!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Book Review: Dance With Me by Elizabeth Johnston

Dance With Me, written and compiled by Elizabeth Johnston, self-published, price unknown. ISBN: 1-4116-1912-9.

This paperback children’s picture book is a simple narrative about the joys of babywearing. The message is that babies and young children need to be nurtured by touch, and that by using babywearing devices, a parent can go about their usual business with baby being held. The narrative explains that babywearing can be done with happy children, grumpy children, tired and sleeping children, and nursing children. The book ends with the acknowledgement that this time of needing such close physical contact is short when viewed in hindsight, and we see on the last page, an image happy little girl (perhaps three years old), who has turned her sweater vest into a sling for a stuffed animal—very cute.

Each page shows a photograph of a mother or father wearing a baby, toddler or preschool-aged child in various babywearing gear; that is, strapping the baby to the front or back of the parent’s body with various types of slings and baby carriers. While the preface encourages parents to wear their baby and go about their usual work, almost all the images are of a parent standing still simply enjoying their baby (with hands empty or holding onto the child). While these images are sweet, if the message was to be that much can be accomplished while a baby is being worn, more images of simple activities such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, or other activities could have been selected. Breastfeeding advocates and breastfeeding parents will be be happy to know that two images show babies discreetly nursing. All the photos are black and white and were submitted by various contributors. The quality of the images varies from excellent to poor; unfortunately, some are fuzzy due to poor resolution.

To my knowledge this is the first children’s book purely focusing on babywearing as the main subject. If you want a children’s picture book in your home that shows babywearing as a normal, everyday and joyous occurrence then this is a must-have. If you are looking for a very professional book with high quality photographs, you may be disappointed.