Thursday, May 31, 2007

Connecticut Homeschooler Made It To The Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals

Tonight at 8pm EST on ABC the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee will be shown, live.

One of the 15 finalists is a homeschooler from Connecticut, Joseph Hernares.

You can read more about the other finalists, here.

(By the way, students from all over the world are in this “national” spelling bee, I hadn’t realized that.)

Hat Tip: email from my friend K., email from homeschool support group leader that Joseph Hernares is a member of, and then Consent of the Governed.

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Thinking and Writing Are Not So Easy, Eh?

I accidentially found this blog today. You must read the first and only entry ever made, dated May 14, 2004. I found it HILARIOUS, because an accusation of stupidity was made, then goals were laid out, and never fulfilled. We are more than three years past that blog's first entry and statement of intentions and so far the blogger didn't deliver.

This tells me that thinking and writing one's thoughts is not as easy as some like to think.

Public Schools Reporting Homeschoolers to DCF in Connecticut

For months in Connecticut we homeschoolers have heard buzz about some horror stories about public schools making immediate reports to DCF for "educational neglect" the minute that a parent informs the school that the child is being dis-enrolled in order to start homeschooling. There have been private emails circulating and face to face discussions between homeschooling families.

I had not blogged about this previously as I felt I was treading on dangerous water to be the one to break this news on the Internet and blogosphere. I “didn’t want to go there”.

I am happy to see that today Judy Aron has bravely published a blog post outlining this problem on her blog Consent of the Governed. Included in her post is a link to a newspaper article written by Jennifer Abel, which was published today in the Hartford Advocate: Teach The Children Well: Homeschooling Parents Claim The Department Of Children And Families Is Threatening To Take Custody Of Their Kids on this very topic.

So now that the news is out there in newspaper article form and on Judy’s blog I will chime in on this topic.

If you are a Connecticut homeschooler I beg you to read Judy’s blog post and the newspaper article, here is the link once again.

I have met some homeschooling families whose children were formerly in public school but who were withdrawn after having various problems at school. Without disclosing a lot of details I will share that in both cases the children’s safety was at stake and was violated by other students. I have spoken to these mothers face to face and these are real stories, real people and real children. My stomach actually got sick hearing some of the stories, of how children were suffering with mental angst from bad things happening at school and how once the leap to homeschool was decided upon (which was not an easy decision to make as they were formerly happy with the notion of having their children educated in a school)--then they then faced the battle to defend themselves to DCF. Can you imagine both adjusting to a new homeschooling lifestyle as well as having to defend yourself about false allegations to state officials? Talk about a stressful situation.

It makes no logical sense to report a family to DCF for "educational neglect" the second that the family tells the school that they will homeschool them instead. The homeschooling has not even begun so how can a family be accused of educational neglect? Especially since homeschooling is clearly legal in Connecticut, how can a school say instantly that just because a family says they are going to START homeschooling that the child is being educationally neglected?

It seems to me that the automatic referral to DCF upon withdrawal to homeschool is nothing less than an act of bullying.

Isn’t making a false report of neglect a form of harassment?

From what I understand making false claims of abuse or neglect to DCF is an illegal activity. How school staff can make "automatic" claims of neglect based simply on the submission of written intention to stop attending school and to start homeschooling is beyond me. If you ask me that is a false claim and it is therefore illegal.

How can these schools get away with making false claims? Why is there no repercussion for making a false allegation?

Furthermore from what I understand DCF is mandated to investigate every accusation they get.

Once educational neglect has been deemed “not substantiated”, I wish some of those families would sue the schools, maybe then the schools would stop their false allegations. Do people have to sue to get something to stop happening? (I am not a sue-happy person so it surprises me that I am even suggesting a lawsuit.)

Additionally one family told me that their understanding of the current policy and process is that once a family is INVESTIGATED there is a permanent notation on their file, regardless if the claim was found to be ‘substantiated’ or ‘not substantiated’. This can then be detected during background checks such as are routinely done for things like when the parent is VOLUNTEERING to be a Brownie or Girl Scout or Cub Scout or Boy Scout Leader. Can you imagine a parent who already was a helpful volunteer being denied leadership the following year because of a mark on their background check, even if that accusation was found to be ‘not substantiated’.

From what I hear from the parents who have been through this, the situation in Connecticut has gotten so nasty that many of us (even experienced homeschoolers) are more scared than we have ever been in the past. When I began homeschooling I read the laws and guidelines and I felt I was standing on solid ground to homeschool my children in this state. I daresay I was a bit fluffed up about my right to homeschool and may even have been a bit arrogant about it when we first began. “Just let them challenge me and try to say that homeschooling is not legal, I’ll show them!” was my attitude at one time. I have calmed way down at this point. However years later, here we are, and after so many false allegations I am nervous. In addition to continuing my membership to NHELD I recently (gasp) joined HSLDA. I used to think I had enough smarts to represent myself in juvenile court. I have since found out that when a family goes to juvenile court on the subject of educational neglect the lawyer must do the talking on behalf of the child and that the parents are not even allowed in the courtroom to listen to the proceedings! This makes no sense to me. (This was explained to me by a parent who went to juvenile court after a false DCF report for “educational neglect”.)

What is working in our favor is that we are flying under the radar a bit as my children's names don't appear in public school records. In this area if a child attends private preschool, the preschools release their students data including date of birth and home address to the public schools. (How that is legal is another mystery but it is reality.) Then the schools follow-up with the families to invite them to Kindergarten orientation and an enrollment session in the winter before the Kindergarten year would begin.

Because my children did not attend preschool of any kind the schools don't have their names. Because my children never went to any public school for elementary school, the schools don't have their names. So we are not in their records.

We are not isolated, though. We are involved in Scouts and were in community sports. Our Scout meetings used to be in the public school so my children and I would, oddly, walk into the school before school was even let out, and we'd have to walk right by the administrative offices (with their large windows) so all could see that my children were not in the school during the school day. We attend children's activities at the town library. My children and I visit town hall, the library, and the town’s post office in our town during school hours, if we have business to do in those places. Lastly we vote at the school and to avoid crowds I usually vote in the middle of the school day, with children in tow. Some of the people we know from participation in these activities are on the Board of Education or are officers in the PTA. Our next door neighbor also worked as a secretary in the school and she knew we homeschooled. So our family is known to citizens and to school workers albeit we are not on the school’s records anywhere.

Last year our family was on the front page of the town newspaper and in that it stated we homeschool. I nearly flipped when that was mentioned in the article as homeschooling was not the subject of the article. I wondered back then if anyone higher up in the school administration would take note. Maybe the fact that it was published in the summer was a saving grace?

Many times I have been tempted to write letters to the editor for the local paper about issues with the public school system or the education budget, but my husband has asked that we not draw that much attention to ourselves. He doesn’t want us to be publicly critical of our town's school system and the issues that go on in our town's schools. My husband fears retaliation by the school officials with something such as a report to DCF that we are educationally neglecting our children. As it is my friends whose children are in the schools are afraid to speak out to other town citizens or to the PTA or to write letters to the editor due to fear of being blackballed. I am told that the complainer’s children get assigned to the worst teachers or are treated not nicely by school staff or get a bad name within the community.

Here on my blog for these confidentiality reasons and for some other self-protection purposes, I don't share exactly who we are. I have not published my last name, the town I live in or my street address. I changed my email address for this blog so that my last name no longer is a part of it. I don't talk specifically about problems in my town's educational system as they could easily be traced by someone with a little research savvy or if you know of the issues in this town and could link it without further research. I don't share photos of my husband or photos of the faces of my children either. I don't use my boys first names.

To gear up just in case we ever do get investigated by DCF, I have gotten a bit more strict on how we homeschool. I am not as lax as I used to be. I stepped up to add in more coursework that the public schools are teaching even though it used to be against my personal educational philosophy to teach certain things to children of this age (grammar/parts of speech to a first grader is one thing). I have become more diligent again with record-keeping and keeping track of what we have studied. If I ever have to show someone what we've done I want it to be honest and to also blow them away. I also seriously considered starting voluntary standardized testing but ended up deciding against it in the end.

I also have been paying more attention to my housecleaning lately, specifically, to make the foyer look nice in case someone comes to the door and peeks in and can see the state of affairs.

Home Visits
One particularly scary thing to contemplate is DCF knocking on my door and asking to do a home inspection. I am not quite sure what they are looking for but I would not be willing to let them in! Would a dirty sock on the living room floor be considered a dirty environment? What about the latest meal’s dirty dishes stacked up waiting to be washed after we are done with our homeschooling lessons? What about the pile of dirty laundry on the laundry room floor that is in the process of being washed? I would fear that those things may be flagged as a problematic situation.

I have reviewed with my children that if the doorbell rings they are not to open the door nor are they to even go to the door to peek at who is outside. They are to remain where they are and to let me decide if I will answer the door or not.

I have read the recommendations of both NHELD and HSLDA about what to do if DCF comes knocking on my door. I have discussed these with my husband so we are on the same page. Together we have talked with our children about the doorbell policy.

And lastly, I hate to admit this, but I have even restricted my children’s ability to go outside and play in our yard during school hours. We don’t not go into public but I don’t let them play unsupervised outside nor do I let them go in the front yard during school hours.

You must read the newspaper article and what they said about DCF home inspections, specifically what homeschooling mother Christine Canfield has to say.

One horror story

This family’s story is a direct quote is from the Hartford Advocate article published today.


Windsor Locks resident Isabelle Hall-Gustafson begs to differ. She says she
hasn’t seen the file DCF keeps on her and her 12-year-old son David, whose
medical problems caused multiple absences.

He also had doctor’s notes,
but according to Hall-Gustafson, “The principal said there were too many
diagnoses; he wouldn’t believe them anymore. … He [said David’s] always got one
excuse or another, never the same diagnosis.’”

DCF social workers
visited Hall-Gustafson on April 9. She allowed them to enter her home and
interview the family.

“One week later, my son said, ‘I don’t feel so
good but I have to go to school so I don’t get arrested for truancy.’” That day,
“He went to the school nurse four times, said, ‘I’m in pain,’ but she sent him
back to class each time. … [At home] he went to the bathroom and … the toilet
bowl was filled with blood.”

Off to the emergency room. David missed
school because he was in the hospital, but his mother says the school reported
him truant. That led to her homeschooling David at the end of April, and now
she’s awaiting a court hearing like the one that has Christine Canfield worried
about losing custody of Jessie.


Flashback: Homeschoolers Rally to the Capitol in 2002
At the end of Judy Aron's blog post she calls homeschoolers to contact their legislators and says we may end up in Hartford doing a big rally or something. I actually hope that does happen. I will be happy to take part in it!

Back in 2002 I was one of the over 1000 people who showed up to speak at a public hearing about homeschooling when there was an attempt to make stricter rules and to increase monitoring of homeschooling by school officials. There were so many people there we were in a line hundreds of feet long to sign up to speak. We filled the room where the public hearing was an overflow rooms were opened up which showed the meeting on a television screen. All the normal overflow rooms were filled up and some other room was put into use with a portable TV. The rooms didn't have enough chairs so people sat on the floors and stood up (for hours). The halls were lined with adults and well-behaved homeschooled children. As I sat and listened to the meeting over a TV screen there were quiet children all around me. Some were playing card games quietly, some were playing board games. Some children were doing their homeschooling work without complaint and diligently, despite the distractions of that environment.

Hearing the adults speak about their own experiences and why homeschooling was fine without more government oversight was very inspirational. Hearing the questions asked by some legislators was laughable. Some homeschooled students spoke; I think the youngest was five years old. All the students were brave and eloquent. One teen of about 13 was asked by a legislator if he ever gets out of the house to go on field trips. The boy didn't flinch when he replied that after studying the region, his family took a field trip and hiked the Andes Mountains. He also spoke of his passion for flying and his desire to become a pilot and to serve in the military. He was already in training for his pilot's license and spent time with some organization related to flying (I had never even heard of that opportunity but he was doing it).

During the public hearing two or three superintendents spoke of their opinion of the need for more oversight. One said that teenaged girls were being pulled out of school to act as free babysitters for their younger siblings. The day was then followed by many testimonies by the homeschoolers. When the day ended they shut off the speakers and would not let the rest of us speak. That one day was dedicated to the hearing (and some other matters on the calendar for that day). The bill was killed in the end.

I was personally boosted up and energized by hearing all that was said that day. I have wished to have a video recording of that testimony as it was priceless.

Final Words
I do hope that Connecticut homeschoolers have another chance to appear in Hartford to defend ourselves and to hopefully stop these false allegations of "educational neglect" by school officials who are just angry that they are losing more of their students to homeschooling.

I should stop writing now, thinking about the potential home visits is motivating me to go mop the kitchen floor!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007



A collage I made yesterday. Publishing this here to brighted up the blog as it is too word-heavy lately.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 74 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 74 was published today by About Homeschooling. Beverly shares some photos of her Alaskan cruise in this Carnival. This will be a little flashback for me as an Alaskan cruise was one half of my honeymoon.

There are over 35 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, too). I have an entry in this blog carnival.

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.

Enjoy!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Math Ability and Finger Length

I saw this entry and link to a scientific article on Mental Multivitamin last week.

So now we are to believe that math ability is all our DNA and is enhanced by increased testosterone received while in the womb and can be measured by finger length?

Does then teaching have anything to do with learning math?

To be honest this has be befuddled.

Boys vs. Girls and Math

Here is a fantastic video about the issue of math and boys vs. girls and gender vs. ability. It speaks also to the issue of boosting up school children’s self-esteem.

You must watch this. Trust me.

I am ashamed to admit that I love this so much as it is a clip from the TV show “The Simpsons”! There is nothing problematic in this clip so it is fine for even the youngest children’s eyes.

(I have not been a fan of this show since I was in my early 20s, back when it first came out, for the record!)

This is also relevant to some recent blog entries I did on teaching math and the girl vs. boy thing and the issue of having received praise or not while in school. (To read my past blog entries on this subject either scroll down or click on the label below “teaching math”.)

Hat Tip: My friend K. (who doesn't blog or I'd give you her blog URL)

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How to Properly Dispose of Unwanted Medications

Have we not been told for years and years to throw old, expired or unwanted medications down the toilet to get rid of them? This is for over-the-counter medications and for prescription medications. The reason was to avoid accidental ingestion by other people, children or adult, (or pets or animals, I assume).

I saw today that the State of Connecticut DEP says this is polluting our environment and our drinking water. Instead we are asked to throw the pills in the regular trash, following their recommended guidelines (read here).

Here is the State of Connecticut's announcement asking us to use the trash not the toilet to dispose our medications.

Interesting. Yet another example of what we were told to do for years, even by doctors, is now “wrong” and “bad” and we’re being told something different.

And I wonder if anyone knows what will happen when we inhale the air pollution that results from burning Connecticut’s trash? I bet someday we’ll hear about how burning the medications has done something harmful to our Earth (and possibly to anyone drinking the water).

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How To Solve Clues For Connecticut's Great Park Pursuit

I keep getting asked how to solve the clues to find the answers to the Great Park Pursuit (GPP) challenge, part of the State of Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection Agency's "No Child Left Inside" initiative. (Our family is competing in this family activity/competition.)

Frankly I'm surprised that some people don't know where to look.

I love research and finding information. I know not everyone enjoys it; maybe that is why ideas for where to look are difficult for some people?

At the start of the week's challenge the GPP gives one clue. Throughout the week three more clues are revealed. On Friday you can find the answer just by clicking on it. So there really is nothing to complain about, in my eyes, but yes, people are complaining "I can't find the answer".

There are a bunch of different ways to find the answers. The sources overlap so often multiple sources can reveal the same answer.

I found last week's clue by taking the easy route and doing an Internet search using Google.com and the keywords in the clue. Bingo, I found the answer. Well first I found one park but it didn't match the clues so I did a different keyword search and found a different park. I then read about the two parks to narrow it down.

I found the GPP 2007 Park #4 by simply looking at a map. The clue was that it is the largest unbroken state forest in this state. Well, so what I did was I looked at the map for the largest chunk of continuous state forest and I found one state forest. I saw another that looked large also but it was a bit broken up. I checked online and quickly found which one is stated to be the largest state forest, the other one I was questionable about was said to be the second largest. The history section of the state forest also had a fact that was in hint #1. As of right now hints #2 and #3 are not published yet.

Here are some places to look for clues:

1. Google.com using keyword searches will often reveal the answer, leading you to either an official State of Connecticut site or private sites.

2. Connecticut state map that shows the parks in green colored in areas. You can use any map you own or get a free map from the Department of Tourism or even use the other free map from that same department which is an agricultural map (showing farms).

3. Connecticut Department of Tourism 2007 Vacation Guide, a free publication. Look at the back for the key showing all the parks and what recreational activities are offered at each park. This also shows the location of the parks. Last year I used this to solve a clue about the only park in Hartford County that offered swimming. Another clue was about a handicapped accessible park.

4. The Connecticut DEP website that gives information on the state parks and state forests.

5. The GPP home page, link over to the listing of all the state parks.

6. Private websites run by hiking groups, dog walking groups, horse riding groups, or private camping businesses. I find these by using a Google search which leads me to them for the data rather than always leading me directly to an official State of Connecticut site.

7. My last clue is about one of my favorite things in the world: books! When I need information I usually check in books!

There is a book with many details about the Connecticut State Parks and State Forests. I bought this before the 2006 GPP began because I wanted to spend the summer of 2006 exploring Connecticut's state parks, with the $40 season pass (a huge bargain). (Lyme Disease prevented us from doing it in the end, unfortunately.) However after I had the book in my hands I realized that it was perfect for helping solve the clues of the GPP. It is not necessary but it is helpful. After reading all the clues that are given, you will see that usually all those clues are revealed in the book. (The first and only exception was Park #3 for 2007 GPP which didn't talk about the "split rock" at all.) The book is called "A Shared Landscape" by Joseph Leary and if you can't find it on Amazon you can buy it directly from the DEP Store (they have an online store also). If you are in the GPP and want to buy the book they have been selling it at every guided event, in both 2006 and 2007 (can you get the hint? They sell it right at the GPP events so maybe it would be helpful!). The book is fantastic and is worth its cost. It gives a history of each park and forest and tells you what activities are there, what the hiking difficulty is like and other information in order to plan trips. The book is full of full-color photographs and is nicely laid out on nice glossy paper.

There is a ton of information out there you just need to poke around a little, do some research and spend a little time finding it. Then again if you hate the search, and you are in the GPP, just wait for Friday and check the GPP website for the answer.

Actually once I began doing the research and looking through the various publications, Department of Tourism publications and through “A Shared Landscape” I realized that there are a ton of things to do right here in Connecticut, so thinking about out of state vacations is not necessary in order to find “something to do”. Maybe like me, searching for the answers to these clues will get you excited about living in Connecticut and will give you even more ideas of ways you can spend your time.

(I bet my husband will ask why I am sharing with this with you, as if you are competing against us to win the competition, I am actually helping my competition out. I am not worried about it, as I said all the answers are given on the website before each event, so there is no secret.)

And I hope to see you in the finals!

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Maybe Now the Feds Will Find Funding For Lyme Research

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is reportedly being treated for Lyme Disease after walking through the woods to check dams which are said to need improvement, this FoxNews article reports.

The article on FoxNews reports that he is on a 21 day treatment, the shortest most basic treatment regimen. I hope he gets better. I do wonder if he will be one that, after getting just the 21 day treatment, has a recurrance, relapse or is not healed.

Hat Tip: Robynn's Lyme List

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thoughts On Wallowing

A reader of Mental Multivitamin named J.B. wrote an excellent email to MMV which she published on her blog, the subject is wallowing and how negative it is.

I agree wholeheartedly and have seen this in action. Reagarding various negative things that I am living through I also have been brought down by other people's probing and emoting. There is a big difference between sincere discussion and asking how I'm doing versus probing and emoting. I agree with J.B. that wallowing can bring a person down. If a person is living through some problem, trying to cope or get better or to resolve the situation, the last thing they need is more negativity layered onto them by the probers and emoters.

I have also witnessed this over and over again with other people probing and emoting and bringing down other people. I try to steer as far away from those probers and emoters as possible. I don't want to be within earshot of this probing and emoting.

Also sometimes those people cross into the gossiper label as well, first probing and emoting then turning around and gossiping by spreading whatever they dug up all over the place, in a way that is not helping the situation. I have watched one person do the probing and emoting then, at the same event/party/gathering, turn around behind the other one's back and reveal all the information in a gossip-y way.

My heart goes out to J.B. (who I don't even know) for dealing with his Cancer and trying to not let the probers and emoters bring him down. I know exactly what J.B. is talking about and dealing with it sucks, to put it bluntly.

Most days I try to not use my blog for complaining and whining. Some days I write that stuff as it is on my heart or in my head and choose to never publish it. But if you find something on my blog too wallow-y please feel free to just skip the whole thing as the last thing I hope to do by publishing it is to bring YOU down.

Currently Reading: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak



While at a used book sale held by Friends of a public library last week I saw a book for sale which immediately caught my eye. The book was in a stack of books in the Young Adult section. The book is hardcover and was in like-new condition. The title, of course, caught my eye and when I realized that the book is about the power of reading I had to buy it.

I ahd never heard of the book before. Of the 100 books I bought that day this was the one that I felt I needed to read right away, for me, for enjoyment. I was hooked right on the first page.

I’ve been reading it each night before bed and am on about page 100 at this point. I need my sleep and so far have convinced myself to put the book down and to go to sleep, although it has kept me up past midnight on some nights.

I wanted to know a little more about the book. I found out online that the book was originally published in Australia in 2005 as a book for adults. It was then published in America in 2006 and marketed to children as a young adult novel (grade 9 and up according to the publisher, Knopf).

Since I haven’t finished the book yet I can’t do a review of it yet.

I have read only a couple of the Amazon customer reviews as I am afraid that some may give the story away and I don’t want a plot spoiler.

I’ll share that the story is interestingly told in the third person with the narrator being Death!

Some of the passages are so well written that I actually have been marking them in pencil. I may share these quotes with you a la Mental Multivitmin style.

So far what I can say to you is that if you are a lover of books go and read this book! So far all I can see is that this book is loved by its readers so that says something.

Here is the official website for The Book Thief if you want more information.

Update 6/05/07: I am over page 450. It is rivoting now, nearing the end, it seems to not be close to the end of the story but the pages are running out. I'm at the point where I need to know what happens and am losing sleep and carving out time during the daytime to read it. That is the sign of a very good book in my opinion!

Update 6/26/07: I blogged a short entry after finishing the book here:
I Did Finish “The Book Thief”

On 6/26/07 I blogged a long summary of my thoughts, impressions and opinions here:
Thoughts on "The Book Thief and Ethnic Cleansing"

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My Old Star Wars Action Figures

I am a collector and always have been.

I was ten right about when Star Wars came out. I saw it in a movie theatre twice, I believe, and loved every minute of it.

I saved my money and bought every one of the plastic action figures. I opened them but saved the cardboard backs and even the bubble plastic on the front. I played with them very, very carefully. I kept them in a shoebox. I had an idea that they'd be worth money someday. They were all about $3 when they were new.

At some point in my later years, 20s, maybe, those backs of the original packaging got thrown out.

When what is now called Star Wars Episode One came out, my brother, who had the same figures as me, cashed in on his. He sold the lot for $75 which we thought was a great thing. We both thought that cashing in on this revived Star Wars craze was a good thing to take advantage of.

I could not bring myself to sell mine, though. I kept them. They were still in that old shoebox, dust-free and safe.

Then when my sons got into Star Wars in 2005, I pulled out the old action figures. I decided to let them play with them.

I was surprised to see I had all their little clothes and tiny guns. They were in perfect shape.

Now my son just told me that he and my husband watched a Star Wars 30th Anniversary show on TV and that the figures are worth $400.

I need to go watch that TiVo'ed show now and reevaluate.

I think I hear a “ka-ching”!

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Currently Reading: Celebrating Your Creative Self by Mary Todd Beam



About four nights ago I wanted to read a book with art techniques before going to bed to unwind with. I selected from my bookshelf, a book I bought in August 2007 and one that I have not read in months, “Celebrate Your Creative Self” by Mary Todd Beam.

This book is about painting techniques and also mixed media. The art style is abstract.

Mary Todd Beam is an artist and a workshop teacher, who now shares some of her teachings in this book.

The book starts out with some basic art principles. The book is an interesting format, kind of a like an art course in a book format, you read the book and you learn what the teacher would be telling you. Then the book is like an art workshop in a book format. Different techniques are taught with well-written instructions that are easy for beginners to understand. Nice color photographs show each step in the process. For each technique there are several examples of finished artwork from different artists.

When I read this book I am left with encouragement to just go and play and make art for fun. We are encouraged to try different things and to really enjoy the process.

Lucky for me I already own so many of the art supplies that are used in this book so I can start right in with trying some of these techniques. Some of the frequently used materials are acrylic gel medium, gesso, acrylic paint (opaque), liquid acrylics (transparent) and some other things like aluminum foil (yes, the kitchen wrap variety).

Just looking at the finished artworks in this book was and is inspirational to me.

I jumped right in to try a technique using wax crayon resist which I hope to share with you soon.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic but I doubt I’ll be creating works of art like Mary Todd Beam but I know I can use some of the principals and the techniques to make artist trading cards (ATCs) with and also to make backgrounds for collages and ATCs.

I am sure that amateur and professional artists who prefer making large paintings will also find this book very useful as well.

For an idea of what Mary Todd Beam’s artwork looks like you can check out her website.

Presently Amazon does not offer a “look inside this book” feature for the book but the author has some scans of some of the pages of this book on her site, here.



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Friday, May 25, 2007

Homeschoolers Are A High Percentage Of Finalists In 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee!

"Of the 286 students who will compete in the National Spelling Bee next week, 36 are home schooled. While only 3 percent of all students are homeschooled, they typically make up 10 to 15 percent of contestants in the national bee. And they love to win."


That quote is from this article:

Article Title: Homeschoolers and the Bee
By GIL KLEIN
Published by: Media General News Service
Location: WASHINGTON, USA
Publication date: May 24, 2007

For more information about the Scripps 2007 National Spelling Bee, you can read their official website here.

The finals will be shown on television on May 31, 2007, on ESPN from 10:00am to 1:00pm EDT. I have never watched this in the past but plan to this year.

To read other blog entries I’ve written about teaching spelling, homeschooling and spelling etc. click on the label below “teaching spelling”.

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The Thinking Mother Movie Review: Akeelah and the Bee

One day a few months ago, I borrowed the movie Akeelah and the Bee from my public library. I had planned to watch it alone but my nine year old son ended up watching it with me. Another homeschooling mother who is a friend of mine highly recommended the movie to me. She does not watch many movies and her taste and worldview leads her to reject most of Hollywood’s productions outright (and her family is a pretty much a television-free home as well, having a set only to use occasionally to watch documentaries with). I have helped with a local homeschoolers National Geographic Geography Bee and I have a personal interest in bees.



I loved the movie and my son enjoyed it as well.

Akeelah and the Bee is rated PG due to a few uses of profanity.

The movie was a wonderful story and it brought tears to my eyes.

Without spoiling the entire story, I will tell you a bit about it.

The main character is an eleven year old African American girl from a poor neighborhood in south Los Angeles. Akeelah’s father is deceased and she is being raised by her mother, who does not value formal education much. The mother is burned out and tired from working so hard to make money to raise the family. Akeelah has a teenage brother who is tempted by neighborhood gang members and their mother worries he may join the gang. Akeelah also lives with her older sister who is single and has a baby. Overall the family is pretty unhappy and problem-filled. Akeelah is doing well in school but this seems to not be unnoticed and not appreciated by her mother and siblings.

At school Akeelah is surrounded by students who don’t value school smarts as important or something to strive for. Some teachers seem burned out as well. There is basically no one in her life that is supporting Akeelah’s education and Akeelah doesn’t think very highly of her own talent and ability. But Akeelah has a gift for words and she ends up joining a spelling bee, even after some students tease her for doing so. Some supportive teachers and a university professor guide Akeelah to be in the Scripps spelling bee.

During the competition Akeelah gets to know some students who live in wealthier neighborhoods and whose parents value education in a very different way then in her own community. Some of the parents are very competitive and push their children too hard.

Akeelah’s mother is against the spelling bee and Akeelah defies her mother by breaking some rules to go and study and to compete in regional bees.

Without spoiling it all for you I will say in the end others rally around Akeelah and support her as she progresses through the competition.

The amount of studying that Akeelah and the other students do to prepare for the bee is food for thought. How much should competitors study to take part in such a bee? What is a healthy balance? The role of competition and over-achieving parents are other things to think about that this movie touches upon. Some parents crossed the line of what is healthy, I think. The issue of overly competitive parents is common in America today; it is just that usually it is more often seen by others on the Little League field.

The few uses of profanity were to show crudeness and what is typical in Akeelah’s environment; it was not done for entertainment value. I almost wish, though, that they weren’t there as this movie may be of interest to very much younger children. This was the first time that my nine year old saw a movie with those words in it. In our family I would not ban the movie for an adult or my older child just because of those few words because the movie is just that good.

I think this is a movie that older children, teenagers and adults would all like. The movie leaves a lot of things that a parent can discuss with their children and teenagers. I found it entertaining and engaging, and not boring at all. It was quite inspiring, actually. And for once it was nice to see a movie that showed academic pursuits in an overall positive light.

By the end of the movie I was cautioning myself to not be one of those overly competitive parents yet was wishing that my own children were in the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee! I was also left with the notion that if a person has a talent and drive to achieve a goal and they really work hard at it, that they can succeed, (even if it takes a TON of groundwork and preparation. While the movie made it clear that not all people are supportive of academic endeavors, and while some people may be diamonds in the rough and there is a chance that some children won’t receive the emotional support or the education they deserve, the movie ended with a message that anything is possible if a person works for it. And that is a pretty darned good message for a movie to deliver.

I blogged about teaching spelling and about how spelling was taught in Akeelah and the Bee here.




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A Few of My Thoughts on Teaching Spelling

I just blogged a movie review of Akeelah and the Bee, you can read that here.



On the topic of how spelling was taught in Akeelah and the Bee, I wanted to share some thoughts on teaching spelling.

In the movie when they study for the bee they teach and practice learning the roots of the words, using Latin and Greek roots. This completely makes sense to me and it is something I am using in our homeschooling. That is also the way I learned to spell in public school, a combination of learning the roots with learning the phonics rules and general spelling rules.

It bothers me that many elementary schools in America no longer teach spelling in that way. Some, including the public school in my own town, teaches instead, random words taken from books or a story the class is reading that week. The words have no grouping in a phonetic manner or by spelling rule, and roots are not being taught. An example from first grade spelling would be “beach, sand, sun, boat, waves, hot” which was, as you can guess, culled from a fiction story of a visit to the beach. I saw a list of words once from a child’s homework and the story was a mystery. There were very simple “first grade” words like “hat” and then there was “detective” and “mystery”. The words were all over the place in both simplicity, phonetic spelling and “grade level”. Some words were way below the child’s “grade level” while others were way above. There was no logic, no rhyme or reason.

I have been told by teacher friends of mine that the reason they do this is the philosophy of teaching words in isolation is stupid and bad, and instead, a child will learn more if what they are learning is being learned in context and if it has a meaning. I can debate that just because a child was forced in class, to read a story about a beach doesn’t make memorizing the spelling of those beach words interesting or fun or easy for the child. The fact of the matter is if the child already knows how to spell that word they will get it right, and if they don’t know they will have to learn it. I would argue that learning those words is taking them away from learning in a more logical manner using phonetic rules, spelling rules or focusing on roots.

Let’s take apart the word monochromatic.

Mono = single or one
Chrom = color
at
Ic = of, or relating to

Monochromatic = has one color

I feel that a seven year old or, if you are doubtful, an eight or nine year old can therefore decode the meaning of the word that might intimidate some adults, like the word monochromatic. If they know the roots and if they can break the words down by syllable, they can figure out how to sound out the word, spell it and know its meaning. This is not rocket science, people. Why then, are the schooled children learning unrelated simple words like mystery and hat is really beyond my comprehension.

Besides being a good thing to know for lifelong spelling knowledge, knowing the roots and phonics and spelling rules is good preparation to get a higher grade on the SAT. I just don’t understand why public schools then, who want their students to do well on the SAT that helps them get into better colleges (which makes the school and the town’s educational system look good in the eyes of not just the NCLB evaluators but in the eyes of the town’s taxpayers and real-estate agents, would abandon the old fashioned way of teaching spelling. That is one of the mysteries of public education in my eyes: why they take the old fashioned way that works and abandon it for some new theory that is not moving the students in the direction to achieve the goal: mastery of spelling, the ability to break down a word and to put it back together again, to be able to decipher the meaning of a word by its spelling clues and meaning of the syllables, and a higher score on the SAT. At times like this I am happy to be homeschooling. I’ll teach my own children the way I want and I’ll work with them until a topic is mastered (learning has been achieved), as to me the purpose of education is to learn, to really learn something and to remember it.

Spelling Power
If you would like to supplement your schooled child’s spelling education at home you can use the Spelling Power program and short lessons (less than 15 minutes per lesson). Of course homeschooling parents also can use this as their spelling curriculum.
The program is easy to use and the one teacher’s manual is for grades 1-12, it is a one-time investment. Many homeschoolers use this program with success and satisfaction. Spelling Power was revised in 2006 and the new cover is a pretty orange cover with a close up photograph of a child’s hand writing with a pencil. The new editions ISBNs are: ISBN-10: 1888827394, ISBN-13: 978-1888827392. The old edition has just an orange cover with huge font letter. If you are going to buy this product new I’d advise that you get the most recent edition.
The interesting thing about Spelling Power is that you test your child and then you teach and they learn at their ability level. They are not just matched up with a word list labeled for a certain grade. The child may end up working below their grade, on their grade level, or above their grade level. The levels are given alphabetic labels instead of numbers so maybe your child won’t figure out what they mean, to see if they are working below, at or above their grade level. Some parents complain that to have a child working always with words they find difficult or that they need reinforcement on is harder than just working with a group of words which the child may already have memorized. This is something you have to figure out your philosophy on and also the temperament of your child about. I personally love the idea of only studying what needs to be learned. However some parents feel it can negatively affect their child’s self-esteem to be so aware of their areas that need improvement.



English From the Roots Up
Some other products to consider are the two volumes of “English From The Roots Up” by Joegil K. Lundquist or just buying the already-prepared flash cards for one or both volumes. (You can buy the books and make your own flash cards or you can buy the already-made flash cards and the book. You actually don’t need the book and the cards, you can just buy the cards if you want. It is up to you and also based on if you are trying to save money or if you feel you want to buy everything!)

English From the Roots Up, Volume 1, spiral comb bound paperback edition

• ISBN-10: 0964321033
• ISBN-13: 978-0964321038




English From the Roots Up Volume 1, flashcards only
• ISBN-10: 1885942133
• ISBN-13: 978-1885942135





English From the Roots Up, Volume 2, spiral comb bound paperback

• ISBN-10: 1885942311
• ISBN-13: 978-1885942319




English From the Roots Up Volume 2, flashcards only

• ISBN-10: 188594229X
• ISBN-13: 978-1885942296



Rummy Roots
You could also buy and play the card game “Rummy Roots” to help learn the word roots.


Rummy Roots Card Game
• ISBN-10: 0012046779
• ISBN-13: 978-0012046777


To see what else I've blogged about with my thoughts on spelling and teaching spelling, click on the label below “teaching spelling”.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

I'm Turning 40 This Month

Well this month I turn the big 4-0.

It is turning out to be "no big whoop".

I feel the same today as I did last month and the month before that.

My mind feels the same now as it did when I was younger. I have had more good and more bad experiences over the years, and both have made me wiser.

I do forget a few things now and then and I am beginning to have trouble reading teeny tiny font (and I'm not using cheaters yet) but other than that it seems that my birthday will pass as practially just another day.

And my female relatives have such long lives that 40 is not middle age in my family. So I am not stressing over this 'milestone' age. If my genes continue as my grandmothers do, then 45 or 50 will be my mid-life point.

Thoughts on Math and Gender, My School Memories and Homeschooling

Recently I took a survey about my thoughts on math. The survey was given by a homeschooling mother who is presently getting her PhD at a University. The survey was for homeschooling parents to take and it was about attitudes about math and how we think about math and how we choose a math curriculum. I think it also was wondering how our own attitudes toward math affect how we teach our children math or what we may project onto them about their ability to learn math.

One part of the survey stumped me. The questions were asking if I had an opinion on math and gender. Specifically the question was whether I think boys are better at math than girls. I didn't quite know how to answer. I feel that any child taught well can learn math well. I therefore think that a girl has a great chance of being excellent at math if she is taught properly. I feel the homeschooling environment is perfectly suited toward teaching a child at their own level and teaching until mastery is achieved. Being able to move along quicker if the math concept is mastered quickly is possible with homeschooling, as it is also possible to take more time to slow down and really learn a concept before moving on "to the next chapter" as schools are forced to do. I can actually hear the voices of some of my math teachers saying “we need to finish up and move on to the next chapter”. So I answered that I felt that girls and boys could be equal in their math ability. That speaks nothing of perhaps if studies show that boys are more naturally good at learning math, of course.

Then on the survey was a question about what I thought the reality was about whether boys brains are better at math than girls. Now I remember reading somewhere that "the experts" say that studies show that boys are better at math. Now technically I don't know if whatever the research was shows that boys just think it is easier to learn or if girls who are taught well can learn it equally well. I did just read in a parenting book that boys brains are wired to learn math and logical thinking at an earlier age than girls, so in the elementary years boys may learn more math and find it easier than girls, while learning to read was the opposite: girls would read easier and earlier than boys.

Anyway, I also am assuming that 99% if not 100% of the subjects of some study on math ability was done on children or teenagers and was based on children who go to school. So really what is being measured is a child's ability to learn and master math concepts after going to SCHOOL and learning in the "school-y" way and on the school's timetables and with the school's issue of having to keep the class moving along at a certain pace (leaving some confused children behind). Now, to think about schooled children and math taught in school might NOT actually be the way the "raw" natural, human brain actually works, it is just a measurement of how math was learned when learning by modern schooling within the American educational system method. Right?

So I really didn't know what to answer for the survey.

In the end I chose to answer with my opinion, and who knows, maybe I am wrong, that both genders are capable of learning typical math as taught up through high school equally well so long as they are taught well or taught in ways that they can understand or are suited to their learning style, as well as being taught until mastery is achieved (not the way the American public schools do it).

I wonder if the research evaluator will mark me wrong on my answer.

Oh well, it is my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

(I wonder if the opinions of homeschooling parents on the abilities of both genders of children being able to learn is the same as the opinion of math school teachers on the same subject? I am starting to wonder if perhaps homeschooling mothers have a higher confidence in their daughter’s ability to learn and master math concepts? I wonder how homeschooled children fare compared to schooled children with their math ability. And how do homeschooled girls compare to schooled girls? Do overly confident homeschooling parents then set higher math expectations for their homeschooled children regardless of gender? Or do math-phobic homeschooling mothers hinder their children’s ability to learn? I wonder?)

One other thing addressed on the survey was asking about my own math learning experiences. There were many questions asking if my mother was interested in my math learning or if I was praised by her. Other questions were about my father. Then there were questions asking if any math teacher of mine seemed to care how I did in school, did I get praise from them, and so on.

I'll share my replies and you figure out if this has any relation to my reality. (I also spoke to a friend who had taken the same survey and she and I matched up exactly the same on these topics which I found interesting.)

My mother didn't give a darn how I did in math or in any other subject, ditto for my father. We never had a single discussion about math as a topic and they did not express a desire for me to do well in math specifically. They wanted me to get good grades but didn't push me. They never helped me with homework, or checked my homework or anything like that. Not much interest was shown in my school studies by my mother or my father. I somehow knew that neither of them liked their own public school experience much.

My Memories of Math In School
I never had a math teacher that seemed to give a hoot about how well I did in math. I don't think that I ever received a compliment from a math teacher, from Kindergarten through grade 12.

I was never exposed to any information while in school that "boys were better at math". The current propaganda trying to convince girls that they can do math well was not in existence when I was in school in the 1970s and 1980s. We had to do our math and we had no choice. Love it or hate it we all had to do it, period, end of story.

I did well in math. I found everything except high school geometry easy, for some reason I hated geometry. I loved algebra and the trig part that had algebra.

Math was easy for me as it was about memorizing a formula and applying it. Math was black and white and the answer was either right or wrong. My memories are of math being easy and being done with my class work way ahead of most of the rest of the class. I was bored by the constant repetition of the same old stuff over and over and I wanted to move along to other concepts. For example I found it torture to do a test then to re-do the test as a group after the scored test was handed back to us. I hated doing the homework then having to sit through re-doing the homework on the board with the class. Ho hum. I did it and did it well or saw where my error was so I wanted to move on. But no, others in the class didn’t get it so we all had to sit through the review and repeating of the same old problems. I spent my extra class time doing the homework for that night ahead of time or writing notes to pass to my friends, or daydreaming. If allowed, in middle or high school I'd be able to read the novel that I was currently reading which I carried with me to every class. It seemed in nearly every class that had deskwork to do that I had extra spare time to burn until the bell rang. The biggest memory of my school days was counting down the time until the next bell rang and so on until the last bell of the day rang and we were set FREE! Hooray!

So there you have it, my family and teachers seemed to not care how well I did in math but I did pretty well and never felt inadequate.

By seventh and eight grades I was burned out of public school and I saw it as a game that we were forced to play. The love of learning was killed in me by school. I intentionally slacked at some points and that was why I didn't get an A in every subject. I was burned out by then and didn't see the point in working so hard for a grade, sometimes especially when the grades were based on trickery or favoritism.

My Hopes For My Children
I hope that my children’s homeschooling experience will spare them some of the boring aspects that public schools have with teaching math. I hope that our homeschooling does not kill my children’s love of learning, for math and every other subject. Regarding math concepts, I want my children to master the concepts and to “get it” and to be able to do the old-fashioned math on paper and in their heads (not just by using a calculator). A main reason to teach math beyond simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (which is all I really use in my real adult life) would be to learn whatever they have to learn to get good SAT scores and to gain admission to a decent college as well as if they choose a career path or college degree that actually uses some higher math principals—to have learned what they need for that specialty.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 73 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 73 was published today by The Lilting House.

I have an entry in this blog carnival.

There are over 35 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, too).

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.

Enjoy!

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 72 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 72 was published on May 15 by Palm Tree Pundit.

I have an entry in this blog carnival.

There are over 35 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, too).

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.

My apologies for announcing this late as I was not online much last week.

Enjoy!

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A New Life Chapter for My Grandmother

I’ve shared that my paternal grandmother who lives about 30 miles away from me was in the hospital twice recently and was admitted to a nursing home. She was receiving rehab at the nursing home but upon admission no one knew if she’d truly be discharged to go and live home alone again or if she’d end up being in the nursing home for life.

I got the news this weekend that the nursing home is preparing her for discharge within the next 5-10 days. I can’t believe it as I was under the impression based on how they were limiting her movement and not letting her take care of herself, that they felt she should not be moving towards independence.

My grandmother is very happy at the idea of returning to her own home to live. She has not been happy in the nursing home. I could share a lot of stories of what has gone on in there but I am not doing it because I want it to remain private and to also respect the privacy of the other patients in there, and the employees. But boy, do I have stories. It is hard to not blog about them.

The next step now is getting her house ready for her to move back in. We have general cleaning to do. The wall-to-wall carpet that her cats ruined will be replaced. (The cats are gone now.) I feel that more things have to be done to adapt the home to be more user-friendly to an elderly person with limited mobility.

We are also going to find and hire someone to help her out, bathing her, preparing meals and such. If I lived closer there would be more that I could do myself to check in on her. While she lives 30 miles away in most time of the rush hour (which really is about 5-6 hours of the daytime) the drive can take up to 90 minutes to go in one direction. It is just not feasible for me to be there daily or even five times a week.

There will be more work to do to iron out who in the family will do what helping and who will oversee what part of her life.

My grandmother’s desire is to live at home alone and to enjoy the end of her life in her own home. Her desire regarding the actual end of life is for her to die peacefully in her own home, not in a hospital and not in a nursing home. I am very happy that she is returning home and getting what she wants. She is not terminally ill and she could live for many, many years, we have no idea what her future holds.

So this is some of what is on my mind recently and this project of moving her back home is something else that I’ll be working on and spending my time doing in the next couple of weeks. So if I don’t blog on a particular day just imagine me helping my grandmother out, cleaning her house, decluttering it or driving her to medical appointments, as that is probably what I’ll be doing instead of blogging.

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Too Busy To Write and Blog

As I warned last week I am so busy doing more activities than usual that I have no time to write. I have some drafts written which need editing and polishing before publishing. I'm not sure when I'll get to them.

I am barely checking email and not reading other blogs, no time.

I am going to try to get something published today of substance so I can submit to the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Heard Chris Hansen Speak Tonight

Tonight I was the guest of a friend and attended a fundraiser event for The Center For Women and Families and we heard Chris Hansen speak about the issue of online sexual predators seeking encounters with children and teenagers.

Hansen has taped eleven episoes of "To Catch A Predator", a television show on NBC, the latest having been taped in a wealthy New Jersey suburb not too far from here (it will air in July 2007).

I believe the photographer taking a zillion photos was from the Connecticut Post. He took some shots of me listening to Chris Hansen speak as well as when I was asking a question/making a point.

I hope to blog more about this on another day when I have more time and can do the subject justice. All I'll say now is please don't stick your head in the sand and pretend that our children are safe on the Internet.

Hansen published a book on this subject with the same title as the show. I bought a copy and had it autographed.



Wikipedia entry on To Catch A Predator

MSNBC story about the show

Perverted Justice, the company that works with the show



A software company donated copies of SafeKeeper Plus to the nonprofit organization and they were selling it at the fundraiser. I bought a copy and plan to install this on our computers soon. My children rarely use the Internet. Up to now I have not installed any kind of parental control on our computers since our kids are barely online. The time has come to install this at least to prevent accidental finding of inappropriate content, at least.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Trying To Exercise Regularly

Last month I began exercising. I am trying to get into shape and to lose weight.

I began by setting the alarm for 6:45 a.m. and to get up early and go walking outside while the kids were still asleep and while my husband was in the house with them.

I also started walking with a neighbor.

Getting up early was tiring and difficult.

We were then thwarted by several days of heavy rain. The first day I actually did walk in the rain by myself (my neighbor stood me up). I was afraid not to go out as planned as I thought maybe she'd be out there waiting for me. Not so. Oh well.

Then my friend went out of town for a week. Then I went out of town for three days. The next week I was gone for two full days at a homeschooling conference.

All this on and off again made setting the routine difficult.

We then tried walking in the late morning after her kids got on the bus and taking my kids with us. This made it hard to get restarted with the homeschooling lessons when we got back home. We'd eat breakfast, go walking, come home and the kids would say they were hungry for lunch (early). So they'd eat lunch and the next thing I know after cleaning up it would be one in the afternoon and no homeschooling was done.

Other days either my friend or I were busy with appointments (dentist etc.) and so the plans went down the drain.

The worst of all is that although it feels good to work out I am angry that I have actually gained weight. I did not just gain muscle weight, I mean my clothes are tighter in places which I thought would slim down. I feel actually quite fat. This is horrible.

The best part about walking with my friend/neighbor is the good talks we have while walking.

I think in the end if I am to get in shape I'll need a plan that depends on me alone so that the work of setting up the exercise times is not one more step in the process.

Maybe I'll start riding my bike alone at night and leaving my husband at home with the kids.

Now I have to fit this in between various birthday related tasks and parties and Mother's Day and my birthday and choir rehearsals for the pageant and the show itself. Groan.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Too Busy This Week

My week is way too overbooked. If I don't blog much this week it is because I'm out and about zipping from here to there.

One appointment will bring me 200 miles out of state then back another 200 miles on the same exact day.

The week looks like dominoes--dominoes all stacked up. This means that if one thing goes wrong then the whole string of dominoes will fall down and it will be disasterous.

Wish me luck and that I stay calm, cool, and collected through this crazy week.

None of these things are directly homeschooling related, in case you are wondering. They are other parenting duties and activities and duties that have nothing to do with homeschooling.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books Has Been Published, May 12, 2007 edition

Semicolon blog has published the May 12, 2007 edition of the Saturday Review of Books.

Check it out!

Re-Read Iggie’s House

When I was perhaps in fourth grade I read Judy Blume’s book “Iggie’s House”. Back when I was a preteen and a teenager I read all of Judy Blume’s book which were in print at that time and she was my favorite author.

The book was originally published in 1970 and it is a short book of “juvenile fiction”.



I re-read it to myself recently and it was very interesting. I was wondering if it would be a good read-aloud or if my children should read it to themselves as part of their homeschooling reading practice time. I had completely forgotten what the book was about and knew from a brief mention on a website that the theme was racism.

The book is dated and now I know what librarians mean when they say a children’s book is dated. In my case, it means that in order for a child to understand this book they would have to be prepped about what things were like back in that time, as it is not the same now. A child could not instantly take what they know about life right now and understand the book as things are just different now. The book is so short that I don’t feel that it did enough to explain to the reader what things were like in order to understand it, it was assume back at the time of publication that all the readers would understand the general mindset of white suburban America and would know that racism issues were focused on issues regarding black people.

Without ruining the plot I will share that the book takes place in a 99% white, middle-class suburb. The town is painted as being full of racists, that is, white people against black people. Winnie is a white girl who is upset that her best friend Iggie has just moved away (half way across the world). Iggie’s family was more liberal and had a more accepting worldview such as not being racist. Winnie’s only exposure to that mindset was her experiences with Iggie and her family. The influence of Iggie’s family allowed Winnie to be more open-minded than the rest of her neighborhood.

What happens is that a black family moves into Iggie’s house. Winnie makes friends with the three children (two boys her age and a young girl). Winnie is open to friendship with black children. However the neighbors (adults and children alike) and Winnie’s own parents suddenly show their prejudice.

I won’t reveal what happens.

The book went by very quickly for me, hey, I’m an adult. But I was again riveted to the book and didn’t want to put it down. I stayed up late to finish it, chucking at myself at the idea that I was losing sleep over reading a juvenile fiction book meant for preteens, but hey, it really was good.

The book of course has lessons and morals and values. It gives things to think about. I also shed a few tears while reading it.

I do plan to have my children read this book but beforehand we’ll have discussed how things were different back then than they are now. Or perhaps I’ll have them read this at the time we are learning about 20th Century American history as an interesting historical fiction companion to learning about the civil rights movement.



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The Thinking Mother Book Review: Artist Trading Card Workshop: Create, Collect, Swap by Bernie Berlin



In December 2006, North Light Books has published a book authored by Bernie Berlin called “Artist Trading Card Workshop: Create, Collect, Swap”.

This book serves to teach techniques for making artist trading cards. Actually the techniques taught in this book can cross over to other mediums such as larger works of art such as larger collages, can be used in altered books, in “decos”, to make postcards to use in mail art and in many other applications.

I have a feeling that due to the legal issues with copyright violations, many techniques and materials currently used by many ATC swappers are NOT covered in this book. I’ve been swapping ATCs for nearly two years and so many of the ATCs I’ve seen do not use these great techniques. While thinking about the ATCs I have seen I realized that many would not be accepted for publication in a book due to copyright violations. Therefore what we have here in this book is largely based on either antique images (photographs) whose copyright has expired or whose source cannot be located to ask for reproduction permission OR the art is completely original to the artist’s hand. There is some rubber stamping in here as well.

Since entering the world of mail art and artist trading card swapping, and being a member of online discussion groups I’ve learned a lot of different techniques yet this book has taught me even more new things. It is not a re-hash of the common techniques that are already available on the Internet for free.

There are many examples of artist trading cards made by a lot of different artists which I really liked. The author does have some of her own wonderful ATCs in this book and the inclusion of so many other artists’ work in addition, is also appreciated and inspiring to me.

Each technique has many examples of the finished ATCs made by different artists. There are directions for each technique as well as photos of the steps in the process. My only complaint is that I was a little confused sometimes as the directions sometimes have two or three steps combined into one paragraph with one photo which shows only one of those steps. I would prefer that every step be separate and that a photo depicted each step. Also sometimes the final card is not shown, we have just that last step with it “in process” to use. It would have been nice to see that finished piece for every technique.

Overall the book has given me a lot of inspiration and ideas just by viewing the finished ATCs of all the contributing artists as well as teaching me so many new techniques. My couple of complaints are minor.

The book is laid out very well and the photography is stunning.

Regarding the style of the artists, it runs the gamut. This book is full of all different colors and many different techniques. It is not the same-old, same-old nor is it full of just the latest trends (thank goodness). At the back of the book is a listing of the contributing artists and their contact information and websites (if applicable). One could spend hours just viewing the websites of these artists and that provides yet more inspiration and eye candy.

The book also has a short history of ATCs and brief information on how to do mail swaps. There is a listing of Internet swapping sites as well. (I would add the new and growing Swap-bot.com site as my personal recommendation.) There is also a list of resources for supplies and tools for making ATCs.

Since purchasing the book I’ve tried a bunch of these techniques and had a lot of fun trying them out. As with all new experiments, there is some trial and error, some mistakes are made and some lessons are learned, that is all part of the learning curve. I can’t wait to try even more of the techniques and I plan to host some ATC swaps based on the techniques taught in this book.

If you are already trading ATCs and want even more techniques to try or just want to own more eye candy inspiration, this book is a must-buy.

So go play, make some art and have fun! Then go do some mail art swapping and have more fun with that!



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Competing in Connecticut’s Great Park Pursuit Again, Hope We Don’t Get Tick-Borne Illnesses Again

Our family has registered to compete in the second annual Great Park Pursuit competition as part of the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s program “No Child Left Inside”. The event begins today.

In 2006 there were 450 families registered to compete. Our family made it to the finals, to the last stage of the competition, and we came in 8th place in the end.

According to the website, the purpose of this competition is:
“to encourage Connecticut families and visitors alike to enjoy all the recreational resources and outdoor activities available in Connecticut's state parks, forests and waterways. From Kent Falls in Kent to Stratton Brook in Simsbury to Fort Trumbull in New London, it's time to discover the great outdoors!”.


The best part about competing in this last year is that my husband finally “got” what is great about hiking. He got beyond the usual issues (biting bugs, heat, physically difficult exercise) and began to enjoy being in the woods, seeing the beauty of nature, and enjoying the surprise of sometimes emerging from dense woods to see scenic, sweeping panoramic views of the Connecticut landscape. He also was surprised at the diversity of the state parks and he enjoyed exploring places we’d never have gone to if left to our own devices.

For the record it was my husband who really wanted to do this competition this year. I was a bit hesitant out of my new fear of deer ticks.

Hope We Don’t Get Tick-Borne Diseases Again
On the last day of the 2006 contest my younger son was very ill with a high fever and other symptoms which was later confirmed and diagnosed by blood test as being both Lyme Disease and Erlychiosis. My older son and I also had symptoms right after the last competiion. Whether we got the sickness from that contest, from doing Cub Scout activites, or playing in playgrounds and backyards, we will never know.

What I do know was that our entire summer in 2006 was consumed by treatment and nrusing ourselves back to health (and mostly was spent indoors).

I am trying not to worry about Lyme Disease this year. I am fearful enough to not have joined the 2007 competition but my husband encouraged me to do it again.

This year I have discussed the prophylactic protocol which is a one day of antibotic prescription medication to be administered if a deer tick is found on one of our bodies. The doctor told us that when that is done, 85% of the patients who were bitten by deer ticks do not end up with Lyme Disease.

I need to call the Pediatrician and see how we can get this prescription ahead of time so that if a tick is found on a Friday night or over the weekend we’ll be able to administer the medication easily and quickly as per the protocol.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Good Article About Homeschooler Who Won the National Merit Scholarship, John Molitar

This is an interesting article about John Molitar, one of the 53 National Merit Scholarship winners in Minnesota. This boy was homeschooled. The article is positive in nature.

I liked this comment about teaching language arts and curriculum choices.

"The family doesn't rely on breakthrough curricula designed by teams of educational consultants. Instead, John credits curricula such as Rod and Staff, a Mennonite textbook series, with giving him a vital edge. A lot of modern grammar and composition books skimp on fundamentals, he says."


This part about colleges desiring applicants who were homeschooled was especially interesting as it is detailed, with regard to Stanford University’s opinion on the matter.

"It's not surprising that colleges are seeing a growing number of top-notch home-schooled applicants like John. Stanford University is one elite institution that is eager to attract them. Stanford assigns home school applications to an admissions officer who specializes in evaluating prospective students who don't have standard transcripts. "

"Why is Stanford interested in home-schoolers? "Admissions officers sum it up in two words: intellectual vitality," according to an article in the university's alumni magazine several years ago. "It's the spark, the passion, that sets the truly exceptional student -- the one driven to pursue independent research and explore difficult concepts from a very early age -- apart from your typical bright kid."

"Stanford, says the article, wants "more of those special minds. "


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My Flashback: National Geographic Documentaries in Middle School and Controlling Teachers

Today I was looking through a National Geographic magazine and had a flashback to middle school.

When I was in elementary school my town was building a new intermediate school (middle school). It was intended for grades 5-8. I actually attended for grades 5-9 (due to a high school renovation project) but I digress. We students were proud of this brand new school. It was built with open classrooms—not the educational theory of open classrooms but literally, there were no walls. It was a very interesting place. I was forced to learn to concentrate and to listen carefully in order to hear what my teacher was saying as we could hear the chatter from all the other classrooms surrounding us.

There were two lecture halls. It was a cool design actually. There was a big stage, then steps that went all across the front of the stage going down into a sunken cafeteria. Everything was carpeted, the front of the stage, the stairs, and the cafeteria floor. Behind the sunken cafeteria, facing the stage was a giant retractable wall. When opened, it revealed two side by side lecture halls with stadium style seating. The chairs were plastic and they had those retractable desk tops. So if you can imagine sitting in the stadium seats, when the wall was open you would have in front of you, the entire cafeteria floor sunken down and then in front of you, the stairs (great for choir performances) and then the stage behind (for plays and other stage performances).

The lecture halls were side by side, and there was a retractable wall in between the two. When the front wall was up, a giant screen could come down and we’d watch movies in there. I don’t know how many could fit in one side of the lecture hall but I recall something like 20 seats in one row and there had to be 25 rows.

Periodically we would be lead into the lecture hall to watch a documentary that was the fun stuff. We also used that room for administration of standardized tests. I remember a lot of stress and tension on the part of the teachers when we’d walk to the lecture hall. Stand in line, be quiet, and all that jazz.

As we went into the lecture hall they tried to keep order and forced us to start seating at the top row and to go into the row and fill every seat. The teachers were very stressed out about this. As you can imagine the students wanted to sit next to certain friends and so the whole process was a bit chaotic. We kids did not mind this but boy the teachers were tense. It also would take quite some time for all the classes to get in there and to get everyone seated. By then the tensions were at an all time high and the kids were all talking and it was noisy.

I remember feeling so free and happy to be doing something other than the same-old, same-old classroom work. We didn’t care what we watched we were just happy to get out of the class and to sit in the lecture hall to watch a movie.

All this time the teachers were fumbling with the movie projector. A tension was building as often there was some problem with the machine. And as we students got noisier and noisier the teachers were on edge.

This was our favorite part. The lights went out and it was very dark. Then the show began, with that fantastic National Geographic theme song. We students had a routine and the teachers knew it. They hated it. They began their announcements to be quiet and to not make noise. They said if we made noise we’d never get to watch another National Geographic show (that was a lie and we all knew it). So we did it anyway. The music would go da-nah-nah-nah-nah, da-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah and then we’d all stomp our feet and slam the desktops BAM! BAM!

It was fantastic!

It really sounded great to do that.

And the teachers went wild! They’d be walking up and down the carpeted stairs and yelling, “Stop it! Stop it! I see you Steven, you did it!” (We all were doing it; you could not pick on one student or punish just one person.)

If my memory serves me correctly it was at that point that all the students erupted in laughter and cheers. We then quickly quieted down, (shut up) and watched the movie without causing any more problems or stress.

Being a part of the rebellion was great fun. I think that what bugged we students was not understanding the big deal was. So what if we made the loud bam-bam sound? It was not a problem. We all saw this as yet another stupid control tactic that the teachers were imposing on us. That was yet another part of the politics of school. And the fact that they got so upset about it made us want to do it more. I wonder if we would have done that if the teachers didn’t care?

It was great fun. That was the one and only time that we all, as students were united and acting together as one big group. (The rest of the time we were all cliqued off and in subgroups with differing agendas and opinions.)

To this day when I hear the National Geographic music I want to make the loud noise for the bam-bam part.

(You can listen to that theme song here.)

Thinking about this as a parent I don’t like the fact that the kids were not respecting the authority of the teachers. However I still think it is not that big of a deal to make that noise and also I do remember that in so many ways we were overly-controlled by the teachers and a person (even a child or a teenager) can only take that kind of suppression for only so long.

I wonder if still today in that school they show the National Geographic documentaries to the middle school students and if so, if they do the bam-bam thing.’

In summary for me the memory is about the feeling I had of being suppressed and trapped in school. I remember such boring days of copying long outlines off of an overhead projector, filling Mead spiral notebooks with pages and pages of notes while not understanding or caring about what we were even writing. I remember boredom and wishing we could go outside. We could not even see outside, the contemporary building was made to barely have any windows, so similar to a jail. I felt like I was in jail, and those times of watching a simple National Geographic documentary were the short times when I could feel a happiness at the break in routine, a break from the doldrums. It reminds me of the bad controlling part of teachers and public schools, just that oppressive nature of public schooling in America.

The middle school years were the grades in which I stopped being curious about learning and where I realized that school was a game. I learned to play that game and sometimes I chose to play it while other times I rebelled and refused to play it. I lost my love of school in middle school.

And socially it was when both the girls and the boys went through puberty and hormones were raging. It was about having crushes on members of the opposite sex who we were afraid to talk to. Cliques were formed and I found my place with a group of girls. There was a huge focus on looks, trying to avoid or treat acne, obsessing on hair styles (we all hated our own hair) and obsessing on clothing. There were issues of wanting to wear make-up but some parents (like mine) wouldn’t let me (until some time in 8th grade). Some wanted earrings but the parents refused (I got mine at age 13, finally but my best friend had to wait until age 18). We all wanted to wear the same brands of clothing and shoes. My father did not allow me to wear a bikini or a mini skirt but the skin tight jeans and the short-shorts were alright (thank goodness or I’d really have had a problem with teasing). These years were the meanest of all, socially, a blend of nastiness, back-stabbing, gossiping, judging others on their looks and clothes, and immaturity.

I am so glad my kids won’t be a part of all of that nonsense that is the culture of American public middle schools.

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