Sunday, November 29, 2009

What They Get Out of It

For about the last six weeks something on my mind is the question of what homeschooled kids are to get out of an experience. There are many reasons this is on my mind which I'll not list out due to lack of time and the fear that the post will wind up way too long and rambling.

A couple of the issues are how shall we spend out time? How much time to put into homeschool field trips (one time visits) and how much time to a series of classes (six week poetry writing class)? Shall I only enroll my children in classes that jive exactly with our home studies at the moment or take advantage of unique opportunities as they arise (the kids did a Renaissance related half day field trip when we're not studying that time period at the moment).

Do you know that saying that you can test whether speghetti is done by thowing it onto the wall and seeing if it sticks? Lately I feel like we've been throwing a lot of speghetti. Do this thing, see if the kids like that topic. Go see that thing, maybe it will connect to something they learned in the past. Do that thing and see if it piques their curiosity and winds up starting a study of that topic, or maybe even grows into a passion.

I'm trying to strike a balance between meeting my homeschool goals for a general good home education and doing interesting experiences such as are not available to schooled kids. Yet I don't want to do so many outside classes and events that my kid's home education is a mish-mosh of extra-curriculars without a solid foundation in the basic Three R's.

How much should a child get out of an experience? I already know, and have blogged in the past (somewhere buried in this blog's archives) that I feel a homeschooling parent can start to kill the joy of learning by trying to extract as much as possible out of each experience. Reading Every. Single. Museum Plaque. By Discussing Everything. I've backed off from making a 'teachable moment' out of everything. I can be intense. I am trying not to be too intense with my kids. It takes deliberate effort for me to reign myself in and to not be too overbearing.

Shall I prep my kids on a topic before we go? Probably yes, but I don't always do it. Should I encourage my kids to raise their hands and answer a question? If I do so is that out of me wanting my kids to look good to the teacher or the other homeschooling parents who may be witnessing the class or because it would be good for all kids to learn to assert themselves and to actively participate in classes? Is it a waste of time and money if they wind up not interested in the topic? If we don't expose our kids to different experiences how would we know if they don't wind up making use of the information, finding a new passion and so forth? How can I know what the kids will wind up liking or making use of? If I decline doing something now to try to do it later when it correlates to our homeschool studies, will we ever really do it?

For now I will continue to take advantage of various opportunities that arise that other homeschooling parents organize and invite my children to participate in, so long as our schedule and budget allows, even when I'm not completely sure it's going to be an optimal experience or that we will have extraced some certain amount of something out of it to have made it worthwhile. I don't know the impact that some of these experiences will have on my children. There is now way I could know their reactions. How things affect us, what inspires us, what helps form our thoughts and opinions varies by person. Even though I know my children well I don't know enough of their mind to know those things.

Sometimes a good and worthwhile thing that a child gets ouf of an experience is not the stated objective for that event. I have some good examples.

Attending a college football game at my husband's alma mater where the main goal was to have fun at the football game, wound up making strong impressions on my older son about college attendance and college in general. He decided he is excited to go to college someday. He saw a bit of what independent living is like for college kids. If I told you the biggest impression was made upon him by attending the student cafeteria and eating the same food they do was what did it would you believe me? I don't care what gives a positive impression so long as something positive comes of it.

The second example is attending a weekend of classes at MIT last week showed my son a bit of what it is like to navigate on his own to classes on a college campus. Having teachers who are friendly and funny college students made an impression on him. He is no longer scared of the idea of moving about a college campus on his own surrounded by a sea of strangers. He also was inspired by the obvious displays of serious academics that the students study at MIT. He understands if he wants to be an engineer he will have to work hard at his homeschool studies in order to qualify for admissions for that degree. In other words the best lessons he learned that weekend were not information taught in the classes themselves and that's fine with me.

The views my older son (aged 12) has about college are good for him to have right now. They may be helpful when in his homeschool high school years he winds up taking community college courses for some of his studies. They may help him buckle down and be serious about doing his lessons at home in order to help him work toward educational goals rather than just opposing anything I ask him to do (partially fueled by puberty's hormone surges).

One other positive thing is sometimes the social aspect of doing a class, seeing friends for positive social experiences and the benefit of being with other kids in educational academic settings. It is different and good for my kids to see their friends in settings where they learn together not just are playing together. More than once my kids have commented to me that they were surprised their friends knew this fact or that thing, or that they already studied a certain topic. They say these things with admiration and sometimes seem to question why they have not yet studied that topic in depth. "Wow, they know that already!" is a common thing they say.

Another thing they've been talking to me about lately is the behavior of other kids. They are appalled at some rude behavior and bothered at how some kids don't know how to act in group learning situations. This winds up giving them internal motivation to exercise self-discipline and good behavior about how THEY act. They keep themselves in check not wanting to come across to the teacher or the other students like what they see other kids doing that annoys or disrupts the whole group's experience.

I'm feeling pretty laid back lately about setting low expectations for what I want my kids to get out of something, then if something good comes out of it, I'm happy. If what they learn is not necessarily about the academic content but something else is gleaned, that's fine.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cape Cod Hydrangeas in November

Photos copyright ChristineMM 2009.

Photos taken 11/23/09 and 11/24/09 in Cape Cod, MA by ChristineMM.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Latest Knitting Projects & Fairy Names

On the Jane Thornley forum at I saw a new knit-a-long to custom design a free-range knitting project based on our fairy name and characteristics from a Fairy Name generator.

Here's my fairy name:

Your fairy is called Thorn Hailfly

She is a protector of the lonely.
She lives in brambles and blackberry bushes.
She is only seen at midday under a quiet, cloudless sky.
She wears purple and green like berries and leaves. She has cheery turquoise wings like a butterfly.
Get your free fairy name here!

I'm not sure if I'll participate or not. If I don't the reason is I don't like the color purple! I do love blackberries and that shade is so dark it's almost black. So I'm pondering this.

I have a 25% off coupon for all yarns at a local yarn shop. I need a couple of skeins for the knitting project I hope to start later today. Now I'm tempted to also shop for yarns to do this Fairy Name Knit-a-long.

Update: I did visit the local yarn shop and found dark purples like ripe blackberries and some greens like moss or lichen. I found a cool blended yarn with greens and some medium purples which I think I'll be able to tolerate. I forgot the printout of the description and my memory was wrong, I thought it said the sky was cloudy. I chose sky colors of light grays and some dark grey stormy looking colors. I bought enough yarn for that project, all for 25% off full retail.

The other knitting project I had planned to start today is the Jane Thornley (scroll down to see) Knit-a-Beach free-range knitting pattern (a vest). I am going to use as my inspiration, autumn's marsh (near the sea) grasses, sand dunes and dune plants of Cape Cod in November rather than a summer beach. My photos for inspiration to base the project on were taken by me earlier this week.

Here is my inspiration:

Photos copyright ChristineMM, 2009. Taken at First Encounter Beach, Eastham Cape Cod, MA on 11/24/09.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gozzi's Turkey Farm is an institution in Guilford Connecticut. It's always been there. All they sell is fresh turkeys. The place is mobbed. Since my childhood they have always dyed some pet turkeys in crazy colors. I have faint memories of visiting these turkeys as a child although I recall them being lovely pastel shades not neon brights.

This year we stopped at Gozzi's to pick up our pre-ordered turkeys while on the way home from Cape Cod.

My boys are too old now to care to see the colored turkeys, what they saw from the car was good enough. I went to snap some photos.

There were some parents of babies, toddlers and preschool aged kids there chatting away while their kids looked at the turkeys. An annoying set of girls would run up to the fence, scream with a horrid tone, loudly, at the turkeys, then run away. I found this highly annoying and remembered one thing I'm thankful to miss about not parenting a daughter is the screaming thing that little girls do.

Anyhow the turkeys hated it and one turkey in particular was not having it. It began screeching at her and then doing a big gobble-gobble. So it went like this. Girls ran up & screamed, turkey screeched back with a loud sound then did a big gobble-gobble, the girls screamed again as if in fear, then turned and ran away. Then a few seconds later the whole thing repeated.

I loved that turkey for standing his ground and for talking back to those annoying girls! So in the end I didn't mind their screaming (but still wished their gabby parents would have asked them to knock it off).

My husband then booted our sons out of the car and commanded them to go look at the turkeys. They walked over to the fence, looked in, and turned and left. When I got back to the car the kids were asking why the heck did the turkey farm dye these turkeys and proclaimed it a stupid thing.

We ate the turkey today and it was delicious, as usual. I credit four things for what makes a good turkey.

1. a quality fresh turkey

2. brining: dry brining is our new favorite thing

3. not overcooking the turkey, this is only avoided with use of a high quality internal thermometer such as our favorite digital Polder model

4. allowing the turkey to cool a bit before carving it, so all the juices don't run out if cut when hot

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Photos copyright ChristineMM 2009, taken 11/24/09 in Guilford, Connecticut.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thoughts on MIT's Splash Event

Well the day finally came. The day that one of my children attended MIT's Splash event. I've been hearing of this, and promoting it to others, for years. Now it was my twelve year old's turn.

For one weekend in November, MIT hosts Splash, holding classes for students in grades 7-12 all day Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday night classes are just for those in grades 9-12. This year the fee for both days was $30 and just $5 per meal for lunch and dinner (if you want to buy it). This is open to all students (living anywhere), this is not a homeschooling event although homeschoolers definately attend!

Our family was impressed with the MIT Splash event and we are grateful that this opportunity exists!

The rules were clear that this event is for students who are able to be independent and find their own way to the classes. Parents are to drop the kids off and let them navigate their way around for the day. Parents are not allowed to sit in on classes under normal circumstances. Special lectures for parents to attend about gifted children and college admissions were held on Saturday. There was a lounge the parent's could hang out in if they so desired. (With all there is to do in Cambridge and Boston I cannot imagine spending all my time in a lounge though.)

This year over 2400 students attended, a record high according to the email we received. Registration is done online and requires a high patience level if trying to register at opening time (in an attempt to get into the classes the student chose). It took us three and a half hours to get on the site and complete the registration! Over 700 classes were offered, just to give you an idea of how many choices there are! Classes have grade limitations (gr 10-12 for example) and some have prerequisites such as "completed Algebra I".  Classes are in many topics ranging from of course, math and science, to politics, history, foreign language and many fun classes such as the history of video gaming, card game playing, improv acting, and some hands on classes such as balloon animal sculpting and baking.

The event is run by volunteers. The teachers are college students and college professors. There are a lot of fun classes and many academically focused as well. The classes run about 50 minutes in length. My son in grade 7 was able to take eight classes on Saturday and nine on Sunday. High schoolers can take additional classes on Saturday night! Yes, this is a bit like a marathon!

I'd been told for years that the kids have to be able to find their way to the different buildings to take classes. What no one told me was that all the classes are held in buildings that are connected by indoor hallways. There are no big treks across campus, outdoors, or walking on city sidewalks to find one's way around. That makes attending the event all that much easier. The hardest thing is finding the staircase within a building and paying attention to which hall to walk down to get to the next building.

This event gives students a peek at what college life is like. This may be many of their first experiences navigating a schedule to get around a college campus on their own. This bit of independence is fantastic for middle school kids and lets them see they can make it on their own in a new environment surrounded by a sea of strangers. Having confident and charismatic college students as teachers gave my son the impression that college aged kids are likable, capable young people.

Just being in the halls of a college and being at an institution where learning is taken seriously and is respected is in and of itself a reason to attend. My son was reading the postings on the walls and noticing the display cases of student's 3D models, telling us about them and bringing us to see some of them. We heard from our son about different clubs and events happening on campus just based on signs he read while walking down the halls to get to his next class.

In walking to and from the campus we saw other buildings and display cases. We saw impressive multi-media displays through clear glass walls of information such as genome research and toured an exhibit of scale models of ships. From the sidewalk we saw students working together into the night solving math problems on huge blackboards and another gathering where students were listening to another student give a lecture.

A general impression my husband and I got was that what was being taught and learned at MIT has real world relevance and is being applied in real life as well as the fact that learning is worthwhile! This is a breath of fresh air compared to the seemingly constant notion of 'school sucks' and 'learning is boring' which my kids hear from their schooled friends and acquaintences in elementary, middle, and high school (both public and private).

MIT holds other classes at other times of the year. In March there is a one day, Saturday event just like this called Spark. In the spring there will be a series of classes held over a series of weekend classes, these I believe will be academically focused and will go deeper to teach each topic. They hold week long sessions of classes in the summer called Junction. ESP also holds longer weekend courses that run from September-May.

See the ESP site for details about all the different programs they offer to students in the community.

Splash Expands

A tidbit of good news is this Splash event is going to be run by other colleges across the country, modeled after this MIT Splash event. Events are planned for New York City, Chicago, North Carolina, and California.

A Few Tips

Register early to get the classes you want.

Order the group photo, t-shirt and meals ahead of time online if possible, if you want them.

Bring a couple of snacks and some water. This is most appreciated if the purchased lunch is not up to your standards or if the kid is a picky eater.

Consider bringing your own sandwich or lunch foods if you don't want to take a chance on the $5 meal.

Arrive early to registration. Accept that it is a bit nutsy. Just imagine 2400 students and some parents standing in queue to get their schedules...

The student should have a cell phone for communication about meeting for pick-up.

Choose your hotel wisely. We aimed for a hotel within walking distance to avoid dealing with finding parking for our car.

If your child attends MIT's Splash next year maybe I'll see you there!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Don't Know If I'll Make It Through Puberty (My Kid's That Is)

This puberty thing is killing me.

The raging hormones are unbelievable. With boys apparently its not all about rage and anger. At least with my son the emotions are also about fear and self-doubt.

Last night I noticed a pattern. Right before bed my twelve year old sometimes, all of a sudden, is upset about something and shares about it, pouring his heart out. At the time of day when I'm the most tired and thought I was just about done parenting for the day and am ready to crash I am handed a major issue to content with, out of the clear blue sky. Fast thinking and creative responses on the spot are not always easy.

For clarification, the things discussed have nothing to do with any specific incident that day let alone something that happened right before bed.

This is how the Tooth Fairy issue came out. This is how Santa Claus was dealt with (on another day many months later). This is how other things came up.

Last night was a suprising relevation with some self-esteem issues and worries that 'no one likes me', based on some unfriendly kids he tried to talk to at MIT Splash who wanted nothing to do with talking to other kids. The jerk with the biggest impact was the teen who responded to my son's 'hello' with an animalistic growl-grunt and a dirty look. That kid was silent for the rest of the time, not talking to anyone else either. I had to explain that kid was obviously either strange, rude, or the one with a social problem; that nothing was wrong with my son.

I never know when these topics will be brought up. But apparently I should start to expect that bedtime is when they most likely will be. Upon further reflection, he approaches me when I'm either getting ready for bed or sitting in bed reading. He probably realizes (this doesn't take a genius mind) that I'm not preoccupied with tasks around the house or going to and fro from appointments, not on the phone, and not on the computer. Basically, I'm probably perceived as more available at bedtime.

I know I should be happy my son is talking to me. I just don't always know what to say, and getting hit with it when I'm exhausted is not at all the best time for me. I've been using the Active Listening technique for years. I learned it while in training to be a lay breastfeeding counselor for La Leche League. The method sometimes sounds hokey or fake but in all honesty it does work because all people ever really want is to feel that they are being heard. Not everyone wants you to solve their problems for them but usually everyone wants the ability to share their feelings and to know they are being heard. Sometimes it just feels good to vent and get the emotions out. That's good because I do know how to listen.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Great Answers to Difficult Questions about Death Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Great Answers to Difficult Questions about Death: What Children Need to Know
Author: Linda Goldman
Publication: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009
Genre: nonfiction
ISBN: 9781849058506 (paperback)
Full Retail Price: $14.95

Author Linda Goldman is a counselor that has years of experience in grief counseling. The author states this one book is to be used by both counselors with their clients as well as by parents with their own children. And therein is the biggest fault I have with this book. It tries to be too much to too many people in too few words. It works best as is for counselors. For parents, this book should be expanded.

I was interested in reading this book because I’m a mother of two children (now 12 and 9). I have found very little information available to help me with advice and ideas for how to help my children cope with the grief associated with long-term illness and death of loved ones. In the last four years, I’ve had to use my common sense in helping my children grieve with the loss of four close relatives and some others.

Another important thing to know about me relevant to my opinion of the book, is I’ve received training for counselors for past volunteer work I did in a technique called Active Listening. I recognize this technique is what the author uses although she never discusses it or teaches the basics to the layperson-parent reader. Something about this technique in general should have been included in the book.

This book is basically a question and answer list organized by chapters. A child asks a question and the author provided an answer. A person untrained in Active Listening may not ‘get’ why the author chose the responses the way she did. These responses seem perfect for counselors to use but some are too distant and cold or too short if said by a parent!

Two of the most glaring topics of concern to parents in the book are the questions about God and Heaven (each topic has one chapter). Some of the answers the author gives would go against some people’s religious views. Why the author did not just tell parents to insert their view on that topic rather than to say some of what is said surprised me.

The chapter on Heaven was troublesome. One question on page 31 involves the child saying they believe the dead person is with God in Heaven. The response is a bit condescending and doesn’t affirm what the child feels and believes, which actually goes against the Active Listening technique. She says “It might help to feel better if you think God is taking care of Sam.” First of all a parent should discuss their own worldview and present it as either their belief or as a fact they believe in a more direct manner.

Regarding God and prayer, I found it offensive that the reply to a question about blaming God for the death allowed the child to indeed blame God. Never in the main section of the book was solstice suggested to be found in prayer or trusting in God’s decision that it was time for the person to pass, that God must have a reason but we humans don’t know his reasons. Instead of using prayer to find peace, this therapist has various art and craft type projects that they suggest the child do. On page 103 in Appendix 1, it is suggested that the child “perform a ritual for your person. You can light a candle, plant a flower, blow bubbles, say a prayer, or send off a balloon”. That is the only time when prayer is mentioned in the book, which seems a shame.

An example of something that I found creepy and against the beliefs of many religions was the suggestion that the dead person may actually be a butterfly or a bird or a breeze that they encounter in nature (pg. 34 and 37-38). Why is it right for a counselor to suggest that a human is reincarnated into a force of nature, an insect or a bird but not to suggest that God and Heaven is good? If my child asked me the question about a butterfly being the dead person (reincarnated) I’d have a very different answer for my child, the same answer applies to my current Christian worldview and also applied to my former Atheist worldview.

Perhaps one thing I learned from this book is if I ever send my kids to a counselor I’ll be sure to pick one who shares the same religious worldview as our family!

As a Hospice nurse told me, grieving doesn’t start when the person dies. Grieving starts when we find out the person is dying. So to never touch upon the dying process seems ridiculous, another major fault I have with this book. There were several questions about sudden death (murder, car accidents, and pedestrian accidents). However there were NO questions applicable to a person who was sick and dying for a period of time.

I’ll tell you what’s scary for a child, that they know a relative is getting good medical care for a disease but they wind up dying anyway. Why was that not discussed in the book? How can a parent tell a child to trust their medical providers if they couldn’t heal their loved ones? Or if the therapies they get make them suffer in pain or cause them to be sick (chemotherapy).

Another missing topic was an elderly person who slowly becomes frail and dies ‘of old age’ (as two of our relatives did). The simplest and most easily accepted thing for a child to understand was not in the book: that death is actually peaceful for the person who was in pain and suffering in the end of their life due to their illness or due to being extremely frail from old age. How that question was absent is beyond my comprehension, especially when so many had scenarios of sudden death.

My favorite part of the book was the use of active listening, a technique I like and the urging to be honest with children and to tell them the facts, not to lie or try to hide things. The best information is in the ‘concluding thought’ which is just one paragraph at the end of each chapter—what a shame that the best nuggets of information are so limited.

The book is too short. It is 112 pages in total with only 73 pages of questions. The page size is small, the font is large and there is plenty of white space on the page.

More information would have been of use to parents such as the effects of grieving on children after the death occurs. This is contained on two pages of bullet points in Appendix 2 but honestly deserves one or multiple chapters not just a list.

I’m rating this book 3 stars = It’s Okay although I was close to rating it 2 stars = I Don’t Like It. I wanted to love the book due to the fact that this is a niche topic with not enough books or materials available for parents at this time. I just feel it falls short for parents; it is best for counselors.

Disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof galley edition of this book from the Amazon Vine product review program for the purpose of reviewing it on the website. I am not allowed to resell or give away this away. I have not received any payment to write that review or to publish it on my blog.

Note: This is a shortened version of my original book review. I had a hard time cutting the word count down!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Homeschool Challenges Change As Our Children Grow Older

Today I got sidetracked from my plans and wound up surfing homeschool blogs that were new to me, blogs that were nominated for various categories of blog awards for the Homeschool Blog Awards.

There are so many blogs of families with little kids! Okay, okay, so when I started this blog I was one of them. Back then my kids were aged 4 and 7. These families seem so happy, almost gleeful over the smallest things.

In the local homeschool community it seems that homeschooling starts to taper off in middle school. I mean, formerly happy homeschooling families start enrolling their kids into school, for various reasons. Some enter their children in the upper elementary grades. Yes, people are always starting off schooling and then pull their children out, I know that. But things are just different homeschooling older kids. Some of these changes make families change their mind about homeschooling. It usually has to do with academics getting harder and kids not wanting to learn or strife between parent and child about doing the lessons or in some cases the kids begging for more social time with kids their age.

How is my life different than these families with much younger kids?

Here are a few ways in which we're different now than the way our family used to be:

1. There is more of an urgency to get certain academic work accomplished. I have less than six years until my older child starts college. In the beginning the road before college seemed so far away. In fifth grade the switch flipped from "we have tons of time to homeschool so enjoy the day, we'll get to it someday" to "there are X number of years left before we're done".

2. Some of the academic work that must be done if preparing for college admissions is not all fun and games to teach. Sometimes work just has to be done and even the most creative thinking does not provide me with a fun way to study the subject.

3. At some point in fifth and sixth grade the number of things that suddenly are not learned simply and easily increases. Learning starts to take more effort. Effort is not always met with joy and excitement. Thus the homeschool mom sometimes has to play the part of the strict school teacher.

4. Puberty begins and the hormones affect the homeschooling as well as the family relationships. Developmental changes occur. Kids are no longer in that stage of living to please mom. Kids become more independent minded. They start to question authority and push limits more. Homeschool lessons can be in the mix of what the child and parent battle over. Parents of schooled kids often struggle with kids over homework and other family life. Now imagine puberty combined with the entire education of the child not just homework completion deadlines.

5. The children have different social needs. They want more time with friends. In my area kids are very busy. Sports, especially travel sports for elementary and middle grade kids, can take up a lot of time. This makes friends unavailable sometimes. At times our schedule doesn't jive with their friend's schedules.

6. It gets hard to choose what to do and what not to do. My boys have so far chosen to do Scouting. This is a big commitment. The shift from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts in the middle of grade five is a big change. For example often there are two weekends a month with Scout activities including a 36 hour or so camping trip. Sometimes it is my kids who are too busy to see their friends.

7. My kids want more learning experiences with other kids. We try to do some of these with homeschooled friends of theirs. However often if behaving in the class and being quiet et cetera they don't get enough social time with those friends. Thus just doing classes together is often not enough time with them to cultivate the friendship. Homeschooling families often will not allow social time with friends on weekends, saying it is family time or time to see the father (who works days during the week). Only allowing social time for friends Monday-Friday afternoon is hard if the days are packed with homeschool academics, sports and/or Scouts.

8. My kids and other kids we know like to do sleep-over's. This seems to give enough social time with their (not homeschooled) friends (who allow social time on weekends and use summers for social time). However this interrupts the family's schedule. The weekend winds up conforming around the kids. For example if we are trying to get a house project done or do a bunch of errands but we have a guest for 36 hours or so this doesn't always work out unless the kids can play unsupervised while we do the house project. Another challenge is they usually stay up way too late, or even just talk in the dark, so then they are tired the next day. I don't have a simple solution other than try to only do sleepovers about once every eight weeks or so. If my kids had it their way they'd have a sleepover every week. (Starting in fifth grade I myself spend every single weekend with my best friend and sometimes also with our other friends as a bigger group.)

9. There are many good outside classes and events that my children can take now that they are older. Around here many classes don't start until age 6. It is hard to choose the best of the best. Often we overbook the kids as it is hard to say no to a great opportunity. Yet running around from appointment to appointment can make for a harried lifestyle. I thought homeschooling was supposed to prevent a frenzied family life just by default. Come to find out to have calm and open schedules requires a constant concerted effort.

Time is spent addressing learning disabilities. This can be visits to professionals or home therapies.

Time is spent dealing with medical things and most commonly, orthodontic braces on the kid's teeth! This can mean up to four visits a month for a family. This takes time and energy to fit in between everything else!

10. If too much is done to outsource classes or do field trips it is hard to get the other academic work done at home. Yet when outsourcing basic courses, I'm reminded of how inefficient it is. In other words we can do more work at home than if I pay for a course and drive the kids to take it with a teacher. I save money and time by teaching some course material at home. The kids have more custom tailored learning experiences with curriculums and books chosen to suit them best. Yet it sometimes is not easy to teach them at home OR sometimes I'm not as disciplined about actually doing the lessons so it can be tempting to just pay a teacher or join a homeschool co-op and say the child was taught that subject at the class by the teacher. Sometimes the amount of content covered in a class is not sufficient or doesn't result in as much learning as we hoped it would though.

For example one friend asked me to give feedback on her homeschool plans. There was nothing for the topic of science. She said, "I'm counting that nature class as our science." My reply was, "But that class you use is a total of eight hours of instruction for September to January 1. Eight hours of science instruction for half of the academic year is not really equivalent to what the public schools are teaching! And a nature class is not covering other topics like magnets and biology and chemistry and physics and many other things!". This mother had wanted her homeschool content to exceed the academics at public school, that was one of her main reasons to homeschool in the first place, yet the home education she was crafting seemed inferior for the subject of science.

11. The homeschooling community is a bit incestuous in my area. We see lots of the same people. Not everyone gets along (sometimes the kids and sometimes the mothers). We sometimes get on each other's nerves especially if we see a lot of each other and if any problems occurred. Some people are quick to forgive and some hold grudges for a long time (both kids and the mothers).

Since things we do are basically all optional I'm trying to keep my kids happy by avoiding activities with certain other kids such as keeping away from a kid with an impulse control problem who has been hitting and hurting other kids. Who would willingly put their child, the victim of a bully, with a bully?

Another example is avoiding kids who wreck a learning experience due to bad behavior. Why should I pay for a class that will be disrupted yet again by one or more certain kids who have stressed the teacher out in the past (that the teacher was not able to handle). My kids get frustrated having good behavior for themselves in a paid class when they'd like to tell off the other kid. If the kids were in school they'd have no choice but to deal with whomever was in their classes. But with options with homeschoolers it is sometimes better to just avoid certain people and have a happier life. This is a pain in the neck to deal with. It involves things like finding out that a certain class is available but keeping it a secret from certain families, or calling my friends to see if I can talk them into putting their good kids into the class with my kids. It can be time consuming and exhausting at the same time.

12. Homeschooling allows us to be close to our kids. This means for example, my kids tell me stories of what goes on. Sometimes this upsets me (but I have to just let it go or get over it) and other times the situation is unacceptable. Also due to homeschooling I'm often around the other kids and I have witnessed things firsthand. If my kids were in school or on a school bus I'd have no clue of these things if my kids didn't tell me of them. Some of my friends with kids in school hear stories long after they are over or from other people not their own kids, so it cannot be assumed that schooled kids tell their parents everything, even things like being bullied verbally or physically.

13. Lastly we can custom create group classes and field trips for homeschoolers. Yet I have learned the hard way that this can be very stressful. It is not as simple as setting a date and time. This can wind up being political and some problems with people can cause so much stress that sleep is lost or friendships are fractured and may end altogether. In other cases, homeschooling parents used to customized things for their kids can be very demanding of the organizer in an attempt to customize it best for their child or even for other family members. It is impossible to customize a class for ten different kids, for example but sometimes every family wants things changed to do this and not do that and to change the time to suit the nap of their younger child, so forth and so on. They make demands like change the time to earlier or later or better for their preference for a lunch time or shorter class or longer class or longer schedule or shorter or want it cheaper or study things more deeply and on and on.

I have seen this happen so many times I hardly ever state an opinion to the organizers, I'm just happy they are doing the work, not me! I'll take sub-optimal things just out of gratitude that I'm not the one dealing with it.

Blogging About Homeschooling

The last thing is that on this homeschooling journey I have had some crazy things happen to me. Some make good stories but I can't share them. Even though some of you may benefit from learning from my mistakes or from issues I've seen happen, I can't share them or I'd risk alienating myself from everyone. Some things are passing issues, something really upset me but we're over it, we've moved on, and to make it permanent by blogging it would possibly do more harm than good.

So homeschooling older kids is sometimes not all peaches and cream. Sometimes things are a bit rougher around the edges or the days have more problems and worries than we want. I'm sometimes just trying to get through the real life situations and have no time or energy to put to writing about them let alone publishing them on this blog. I'm too busy having moved on to the next challenge to think about or write about last week's issue, even though it would have made for interesting reading.

So even I am winding up to be one of those homeschool moms of older kids who suddenly become quieter and retreat a bit back from being a super enthusiastic cheerleader for homeschooling to being more focused on my family's daily life. Yes, even I'm starting to keep my mouth shut except when making desperate calls to my closest homeschool mom confidants to vent or ask them for sage advice.

The Thinking Mother Nominated for a Blog Award

Today I stumbled across the fact that my blog, The Thinking Mother, has been nominated for a blog award:

Homeschool Blog Awards
Category: Best Current Events, Opinions or Political Blog

There are 13 blogs nominated for this category.

Voting is open, here is the category I'm nominated for.

If you feel mine is the best on the list take a couple of second to vote. It’s anonymous, requires no registration and voting is very simple to do. Just click and vote.

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 203 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 203 was published this week at A Pondering Heart.

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

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


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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 202 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 202 was published this week at Janice Campbell’s blog.

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

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


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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 201 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 201 was published this week at The Informed Parent.

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

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


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Wednesday, November 18, 2009


It was cold and blustery!

Photo taken 11/22/2008 by ChristineMM at Rock Harbor, Orleans, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Great Movie Teachers About Racial Inequality and American Medicine

The other day while my son and I were sick I decided we'd watch "Something the Lord Made", a movie which I stumbled across on our DVR's list of free movies. I recall hearing about the movie but honestly didn't know much about it.

The long story short is my nine year old was busy doing something so he missed the first half, overhearing it only. My twelve year old and I were engrossed in the movie. I had to pause it a few times to discuss the topics as this topic of Civil Rights and racial inequality in America has not yet been in my children's homeschool lesson plans. The topic has been discussed here and there as it pertained to our real lives and current events. However it was clear to me that my twelve year old hadn't previously "gotten it".

The movie is absolutely fantastic. It starts in the 1930s. An African-American man has graduated from high school and has worked with his father for seven years as a carpenter in order to save money to attend college and hopefully, medical school. The bank crashes and he lost all his money. He had been hired as a janitor for a doctor doing research and winds up being his lab assistant. They work together to develop the first open heart surgery. He never does make it to medical school. His learning is all self-taught and under an apprenticeship. Despite the laws he is basically practicing medicine (in a lab on animals) without a license. He struggled financially to make ends meet on his meager salary limited partially due to the fact that he is black and is classified as janitor level staff despite doing the same and more work than the white doctor. Later the Civil Rights Act is passed. Not to be missed is the fact that this man did what he loved despite not becoming rich and even making less  money than if he had some higher paying day job to pay the bills.

We discussed a lot about this movie. Animal rights, experimenting on animals, and medical ethics and experimental surgeries. We discussed working at one's passion even when it is not making a person rich. We of course talked about racial inequality in America and the Civil Rights Act. We also discussed the priest's objection to the idea of heart surgery and the medical profession's first fear of attempting it. We talked about college education in America, barriers to accessing it, and how learning can take place outside of formal schooling but real work experience doesn't always allow a person to do a job legitimately (for full pay). We discussed people taking credit for the work of others and also about working as partners and as a team.

My twelve year old begged to watch the movie again but with the whole family. He wants my husband to see it and to talk about it as a family. As a family we gathered tonight to watch it with my husband. This time I'm making my nine year old see the whole thing.

In future homeschool history lessons we will study this time period and we'll explore these topics more deeply.

I think this movie is a great introduction for kids to the topic, so long as they can handle the topics. There are some very mild surgical scenes which are nothing compared to medical reality shows seen on cable TV today. There are a few profanities here and there, one or two times the F word is used. There is a dramtic scene when we are not sure if the baby girl will survive the first open heart surgery performed on a human.

I think this is a great example of a fine movie that can be used for educational purposes as a homeschooling lesson as well as an excellent conversation starter.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lovely but Problematic

Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii. Invasive plant in Connecticut, many planted as ornamental shrubs in yards and they've spread to the woods. More information here. The foliage turns orange and red in autumn and even in November some still retain their foliage.

Today our family took a nature walk for some fresh air. I had fun also taking photos.

Photo taken 11/15/09 by ChristineMM in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Free-Range Kids Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Free-Range Kids: Giving our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry

Author: Lenore Skenazy

Genre: Nonfiction, parenting

Publication: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2009

ISBN: 9780470471944 (hardcover)

Full retail price: $24.95

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5: “I Love It”

Summary Statement: Humor, Facts and Common Sense Combined

When I began my parenting journey I wanted to do all the right things, to keep my child safe and healthy. It wasn’t until a few years down the road that I started realizing that by following all that advice my children’s lives were very different than my own childhood. I started recalling how I spent my youth, with much unstructured and unsupervised play outdoors with neighbor kids and realized my kids were missing out. I also realized that I’d not be the person I am today if my mother supervised all my play time, followed me around and monitored all my conversations with my friends. When asking around to friends and even neighbors, everyone echoed back the same advice and recommendations. They weren’t ready to go “free-range” yet. The neighbors wouldn’t allow their kids to play outdoors unsupervised, even with a group of kids. I was back at square one.

Yet kids growing up indoors with constant parental or adult supervision and more screen time than “outside in the real world” time seemed just wrong. I didn’t want my boys to be helpless wimps into their preteen and teen years. I wasn’t interested in raising children, I wanted to raise adults. I started looking for someone who said these things, and had a hard time finding any. Well, Lenore Skenazy is that voice.

Skenazy is a journalist and a syndicated columnist but she became famous around the globe when her story hit the mainstream news. She was the mother who let her nine year old son ride a New York City subway alone and was labeled the “world’s worst mother”. Internet discussion boards were afire with the debate about “would you let your child do this” and asking if this was neglectful or dangerous.

This book is a wonderful summary of some parenting commandments that Skenazy hopes will help today’s parents give their children a childhood like the one we had. Fourteen chapters outline fourteen commandments. A humorous discussion of the topics and some common sense advice is given. The fact is the danger of what may go wrong is not usually what does happen. The media, parenting experts and other well meaning people hype up the fear and scare parents stiff.

What saves this book from being condescending, patronizing or boring is the humor throughout the book. Parents are not made to be stupid for having followed the expert’s advice, for example. Skenazy compares what is typical in America to how parenting is in other countries and it seems we Americans must be crazy with fear and worry. In fact, we may be out of our minds. Skenazy urges us to stop trying to control everything, because the fact is, we just can’t. In fact, failure and making mistakes is good for children.

There are 33 pages in the “Safe or Not” chapter that examine a topic with studies to prove that the thing is not as dangerous as we think it is. Statistics are given. is research and information to back up Skenazy’s encouragement to lighten up, loosen up and to relax.

The conclusion chapter is excellent. This chapter I’ve written notes in the margins and circled quotes. This is the section that made me feel like I was sitting down with a wise mom-friend.

“Childhood is supposed to be about discovering the world, not being held captive. It’s not about having the world pointed out to you by a DVD or a video game or by your mom as you drive by. “See, honey? That’s called a ‘forest’. Can you spell forest?”

We want our children to have a childhood that’s magical and enriched, but I’ll be that your best childhood memories involve something you were thrilled to do by yourself. These are childhood’s magic words: “I did it myself!” (page 193)

To my knowledge this is the only book on the market discussing this topic. There are books that talk about the problems that over-indulgence creates and some about raising boys that asks parents to give their boys more responsibility and more freedom. But Lenore Skenazy is the only one talking about how both genders, starting at birth. She says what we’re told to do just goes too far and how the media over-exaggerates the dangers. If you don’t believe the validity of what she says, there are thirteen pages of source material used to back up the information. There are three pages of books, movies and websites in support of the free-range parenting lifestyle.

This book should be read by all parents of young children. The focus starts in the baby years so the sooner a new parent can read it, the better. The book seems to cover kids through about twelve years old. The book does not focus on raising teenagers and issues regarding independence and freedom in the tumultuous teen years when the stakes and the situations are a bit different (i.e. looser apron strings when kids may start experimenting with tobacco, drugs, and alcohol).

I found this book enjoyable to read. It is an easy, fast read filled with humor.

I highly recommend reading it for a breath of fresh air.

This would make a great gift for the overly-worried mother you know. If not as a baby shower gift, how about presenting it as a gift at a child’s first birthday?

I rate this book 5 stars = “I Love It”.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher and agreed to write a review of it for publication on my blog. I received no money to write this review.

The Grapevine Won

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 11/14/09 in my yard, in Faifield County, Connecticut. Not digitally altered. copyright ChristineMM, 2009

Some Thoughts About Homeschooling, Unschooling and Gaps

I have some thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for years that I want to write into a cohesive essay that wraps it all up nicely and makes sense. Since I keep procrastinating writing it, it hasn't happened yet. So today I decided to post something short and just state my ponderings. I fear if I don't just write this in a rough form and publish it, it will be one of those ever-being-edited pieces.

I used to fear that saying some of this might offend some people, may anger them or may bring criticism and stress to me. However, I'm not certain that is the case.

I invite your thoughts about this topic. I await your feedback in the comments.


A fallacy of American public education is that the students get a thorough (and deep) education of what they need to know before adulthood. It seems that just about everyone realizes that there are gaps or that some material jumps from here to there, covers things too shallowly or fails to connect the dots. However the same people who know this tell themselves and others that the education system is a very good one. Not many parents think their school system is sub-par. Everyone thinks their schools are "one of the best". Yet when I ask some parents what their schools have taught their kids that year, they usually don't know, or can list just a couple of topics.

The same people who think the public school has gaps fear that homeschoolers will have gaps. The most troubling are the teachers, school administrators and the legislators and others with government jobs. I think they want to hold homeschoolers to a higher standard then the public schools. Most would be happier if homeschooled kids were enrolled into public school so they could "ensure" that a high quality education was being given, while out of the other side of their mouth they state the inadequacies of that same system. They are happy to accept gaps, shallow teaching "a mile wide and an inch deep" and "teaching to the test" yet don't want this to happen to homeschoolers. I find this double-standard odd.

The only sense I can make of it is that more trust is put in the "expert" professional teachers who have training to teach, so if gaps or an imperfect education occurs at their hands, it is acceptable to them. This makes no sense to me. Some of them consider it dangerous to risk that a homeschool parent-teacher has full control of the child's home education and that the child may have gaps. Often their concerns are based on imagined outcomes of imagined homeschooled students that exist "out there" rather than looking at real information about individual children.

I saw examples of proof of this mindset at a public hearing in Connecticut. Legislators heard stories from homeschooled students and their parents about what their home education consisted of and they grilled them about their experiences. Some replied that while that person's individual story is wonderful, surely they are the exception not the norm. Even when hearing story after story, some people still clung to a fear about vague homeschoolers that must exist "out there". I've come to believe this is in their imagination only. I bet that the few cases of real educational neglect are rare. And the 'just average' or failing students in public school are real statistics known to the schools and the government.

Few homeschoolers want to have gaps in their children's education. Gaps may occur due to pure oversight, ignorance on the parent's part. Sometimes a gap may occur because the parent didn't place much stock in teaching that topic. Or maybe they just run out of time. Or they think they have covered a topic deeply enough but someone else begs to differ.

Most homeschoolers and unschoolers say they want their children to learn how to learn. Some say they want their children to enjoy learning. Some say they want their children to have a curious mind. Most probably want their children to know how to research things they want and need to know about (extending this practice into adulthood ideally).

Some homeschoolers and unschoolers know the joy that can happen with deep learning on a topic. If this is in line with the child's own curiosity and if this is learner-driven then it seems like seventh heaven. This is the stuff that unschoolers dream about. Some homeschoolers pull their children back a bit. A parent recently shared a story about wanting to do Ancient History in one year but the entire year could have been only about Ancient Egypt due to her child's passion. After spending many months on it she pulled the child back and moved on with the homeschool lessons to other topics in history, leaving additional Egypt studies to the spare time. I had a very similar experience with my older son in his Kindergarten and First Grade year.

I have heard stories from unschoolers about some odd or obscure topics their children wanted to learn about and were allowed to spend tons of time doing. These have been things like teaching themselves Japanese and fully researching anime and manga at first but sometimes winding up more interested in Japanese culture and history in the end (way more than any public high school teaches). A teen I know has studied Japanese and is now learning Chinese and Hindi. Some of these homeschooled or unschooled kids may not be learning other topics that are typical for kids of that grade level compared to public school's scope and sequence. I have repeatedly heard a story of a local unschooled boy who spent years making origami and turned out just fine. Yet some who did this have gone on to attend good colleges and have good productive adult lives. How?

My latest theory is that a child with intense interests and deep curiosities does "learn how to learn". By being allowed to study what they want, to almost obsess on a topic, when this is internally driven, they teach themselves how to learn or have a little guidance from the parent on how to research or access information or opportunities. Sometimes in pursuit of this information or by seeking to do real work in the community these children and teenagers interact with subject matter experts in niche fields. In this way they interact with adults on a level that most middle school or high school students do not do at that age. If able to mentor or apprentice under adults, they learn specialized information as well as important social skills and indeed learn "how the real world works" as it relates to that field. A child who loves history and works at a living history museum with the public will learn a lot about mainstream Americans in their interactions with the visitors, for example!

Taking it to the next level, my theory about unschoolers in particular is that while they may have begun learning about topic X at a later age (reading, math, writing composition or something else typically taught in public school), but they do learn some of it, however much must be learned to get them to the place they want to be. That could be college or it could be some other life path. Some of what they may have struggled to learn in their homeschool or unschooling experience if the parent forced it on them was avoided. All negativity surrounding coercion to learn that topic was avoided. This allowed a more positive 'mental state' (for lack of a better descriptor) which may help the child's continued pursuit of learning in a positive way.

Unschoolers and homeschoolers who have a gap in a certain topic may never need that information. Depending on what the gap is, some things are good to know, some might be helpful to know, but some things may never be used in a practical way in one's adult life. Some topics may help a person better understand something else but are not always recognized as being problematic. For example if a student is weak on history or parts of history they may not realize that something happening in the US Government today is a violation of the US Constitution so they may not question the government's authority to do this new thing that some people oppose. Lacking information about the Crusades, a person may not realize that some people in today's world are still fighting that war, and that they themselves are seen as the enemy just for residing in a Christian nation.

Again I don't think any parents set out to have gaps intentionally.

In order to have time and energy to learn deeply and intensely about subjects, whether they are a more mainstream topic or something obscure, strange, or just go so deep as to be accused of being a 'nerd' or 'geek' by some people, it is a fair bet that the person will have gaps in some other area. There is only so much time in the day. When trying to live a normal life with family, extended family, having friends, doing Scouts and/or sports, and just living life, there is just so much time. So the thing is, I think gaps are inevitable.

The only way to try to avoid gaps is to force everything to be learned in a shallow manner. This brings us to the discussion about who decided what should be taught, how deeply and at what age or grade? There are many opinions of this. The more rigorous academic plans almost seem impossible to do comprehensively. Classical home education comes to mind.

Homeschooling parents sometimes find their children don't fit the mold of the ideal homeschooling method they chose for their children. Is it fair for me to push a classical home education focusing on a liberal arts education, heavy literature and an in-depth study of history on a son with a knack for science who desires to be an engineer? I have found that making time for special things like the FIRST LEGO League and the Science Olympiad with its bridge engineering competition got in the way of 'the basics". So what gives? Which thing should be focused on? Should we not build on our children's strengths, nurture their talents and use our homeschooling freedom to do such great educational experiences?

This brings me to unschoolers. The question of who is unschooling is problematic for me. An unschooler I know who wears the label proudly is doing heavy academics with curriculums, online classes and community college courses because the teen wants to work in computer science. Why does she get to use that label? Why is she welcomed with open arms into the unschooling community?

With my engineer wanna-be son, when I put a course in place for him to get him on track for college admissions for that major I have been told by others that I'm a "school at-homer" and a "traditional homeschooler" and that I'm doing "classical homeschooling". If we are going to be so strict with labels I don't think I'm living up to the classical homeschooling model enough and would have to hide for cover as an eclectic homeschooler.

When my three year old was teaching himself to read and wanted help at age four and begged for me to use "Alpha Phonics". An unschooler told me that because I was helping my child to read we were not unschooling. She also said that the age was too young for a child to read and that I may damage my son by letting him read, harming his eyes, specifically. What she must not understand is it is nearly impossible to stop a child from learning when they are learning things they want to learn.

I think what I'm doing is straddling the fence between unschooling and traditional schooling. I'm trying to give my kids a decent home education so they can function in society, such as being able to read, analyze what they read, have logical and critical thinking. I want a firm foundation in the three R's. Yet I want my kids to love learning, learn how to learn, and to have time to pursue their own interests (no matter how obscure or weird).

I want my kids to be able to pursue the path of their desire and if that includes college I need to explain to them the pathways, some take years. Rather than wait for my child at age 16 to teach himself what the path to an engineering degree is, I found out and told him. I'm structuring his home education in a way to pace out this learning to a reasonable and do-able, easier pace rather than a frantic scramble at the end. I'm trying to craft a unique education for my kids yet still meet the expectations of outside parties (colleges). I live in a state lenient about homeschool government monitoring--if it was tighter I'd have to deal with all that too.

If I am helping my son pursue his dream, am I not aiding him in unschooling? Only one of my friends said to me that she thinks I'm really an unschooler. Indeed that is the path I started out on when my kids were younger. I had read about unschooling and was greatly inspired to begin homeschooling by the most radical of unschoolers.

Some of the unschoolers I know are the most judgmental people I know in the homeschooling community. They like to pigeon-hole and label others, especially those they have decided are not in their circle. Some have told me they feel that certain other people in my local community are judgmental about them being unschoolers and they say they hate feeling judged. They say they want tolerance. Yet they judge the others and they are intolerant of the others. I honestly don't think they realize their hypocrisy.

This labeling and pigeon holing and casting out, excluding and including is all negative in my eyes. I wish it could all end. This is why I usually speak about homeschooling in a general way. When I say the word homeschool I mean everyone who is home educating, no matter what the method. I don’t' care how others homeschool, but would like their children to be functioning members of society as adults, not a burden on society. So whatever path they take, whatever they teach and why is up to them so long as they can function and so long as the children are not being neglected or harmed in any way in the process.

I like educational freedom. I want people to have choices. Yet those working toward a goal like college admissions for a certain degree have to straddle the fence between custom designing a life that includes taking full responsibility for the child's education with its myriad of options for different learning experiences and also fulfilling the expectations of others in the real world.

I find trying to straddle the fence very difficult. I have just two children with very different goals and learning abilities, different strengths and weaknesses. To have a customized experience for both is time consuming and takes a lot of energy. Past attempts to do the same work for both kids has not been good for either child so I don't know how larger families manage this to be honest. I believe in identifying weak areas and trying to boost them up. I believe in finding the strengths and talents and nurturing those too. I want my children to have their own interests and have time to pursue those. I want to cover the basics. I want my kids to do some unique things that schooled kids cannot do due to the limitations of the institutional schooling they attend.

It is hard to do all the basics in a thorough way plus have time for a child's own interests and then to do great extra stuff like have my children attend filmmaking classes, script and film a short movie with a team of kids. I want a harmonious home life with a laid back atmosphere, where home is a sanctuary from the nutty world outside our door. Yet trying to do all that I want lends itself to a more hectic, crazed life that I'm trying to avoid.

There is a lot of give and take with homeschooling. If we do this, we can't do that. This takes time, we don't have time for that. This thing costs a lot of money, we don't have money then to do that. Must this thing be done now, or can it wait until next year? But if the program doesn't have good attendance this year, maybe it won't be available next year. If we don't get in with the new FIRST LEGO League team now we will be shut out of that team next year. Is it necessary to do four things now or is choosing just two more reasonable? The poetry writing class is unique, but now we lost time on practicing writing a basic book report which seems to be the public school's obsession for years. My child practices drawing and is a master with collage but his spelling stinks, and the poetry writer teacher may be horrified to see my homeschooled child's spelling and wonder if that is a reflection on an overall sub-par homeschooling experience.

And that last thing is the kicker: the judgment. The judgment of outsiders that we have to contend with all the time. We are being judged by other homeschoolers in our local area, judged by our relative and neighbors, or the teachers we pay to teach some of our kid’s unique topics. We need encouragement while on this path so we'd all help the homeschooling cause if we stopped judging each other. And the biggest and most important judges are the ones who hold the gates to more important things in our children's future: the colleges and the employers. What they will think of our kids when judgment day comes is something that is on our mind for years beforehand, for some, even in the preschool-at-home years.

I'm not sure if I'll ever find the balance while straddling the fence. What's even harder is trying to find the balance when I know I'm being watched. Some days it feels like I'm under a magnifying glass. Every move my children and I make is being evaluated and judged by many people. Others often hold my kids to a higher standard for academics and also for their behavior. The judgment can be on a minute to minute basis, not based on a once a week test score, or a quarterly report card. Judgment can be on something years into the future, such as wondering which colleges wind up admitting our children.

To handle all the judgment, we homeschoolers need support and encourage each other. One way homeschooling parents can help other homeschooling parents is to reduce judgment and increase tolerance for the ways we choose to use our educational freedoms within our unique home-schools. If I promise to not assume that your child didn't know the answer to the question of which years the Renaissance was because they didn't raise their hand in the homeschool field trip to a museum will you promise not to think my twelve year old child is stupid due to his sloppy penmanship? Can we make that deal?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Now I've Got H1N1

Am resting up. So cold I took a hot bath to get the chill out of my bones.

Went to the doctor. Am on an anti-viral Relenza.

Had a ridiculous encounter at the drug store when they told me they were out of stock and could I wait 26  hours before picking it up? I said no, sorry I need it right away so I'd take my prescription to another store to get it filled now. The clerk (through drive-through window as I didn't want to expose anyone else to it), then said, "Did you know you have a $50 co-payment if you buy this?". I replied, "The amount of the co-payment is irrelevent if I need the medication I have no choice but to pay whatever the amount is. Please give me my prescription back. Thank you."

We are doomed to get this virus. It is so contagious. The doctor told me children can be contagious up to seven days before the first treatment and 7-10 days after the last day of fever. Adults are contagious usually one day before first symptom and about 5 days after last fever day. All people taking anti-viral prescription medications remain contagious during the course of therapy. Few families will keep children home in quarantine for 14 days or so. Parents usually cannot live in quarantine that longer either, especially if multiple children get sick and the period of illness spans over time.

We must empower ourselves with information in order to get the best care and the right treatment.

If I'd done what that clerk said and waited another 26 hours to pick up my medication I would have missed the important window of treatment as outlined by the CDC and as explained to my by the doctor: that the best outcome is when anti-viral treatment is started as soon as possible and especially in the first 48 hours after the first symptom appeared.

I don't know whether the clerk was ignorant or pushing some corporate sales policy to request that the customers not take their prescription elsewhere. My point is if I'd not held my own and done what she said my health could have been further compromised. It is not her place to get in the way of what the doctor has prescribed. This same thing happened to me with an antibiotic I tried to obtain there a few months ago. Another medication for a wart, I was told, would require a special order and many day's wait.

I went to the nearest pharmacy which was the same chain. Even as I did so I was kicking myself as I should have given the sale to a competitor pharmacy.

I'm working on getting well.

My older son is improving greatly now that he is on Tamiflu.

I'm crossing my fingers that my nine year old son doesn't get it next although I'm starting to think it'll be a miracle if he doesn't.

For links to treatment plans recommended by the CDC refer to my post a few days ago about Homeschoolers and H1N1.

Stay well readers!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One Son Has H1N1

In case you didn't see my tweet in my blog's sidebar yesterday my 12 year old son was diagnosed with H1N1, verified by culture. He's on Tamiflu plus the over-the-counter meds for cough and fever reducers.

I'm busy tending to him so my blogging may be light.

His first symptom was at bedtime on Sunday, sick all day Monday getting worse with each hour. Diagnosed Tuesday morning and Tamiflu began at noon. By evening it was apparent his symptoms were already subsiding. He woke up today fever-free. A wonderful sign.

I also taught myself canning this week and made one batch of jam. I have ripe fresh fruit that I'd like to preserve this week. Another reason that blogging may be light...

I'm hoping I also don't contract H1N1, and that my 9 year old doesn't get it either.

We're on quarantine here.

So that's what's happening in my family this week.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Learning About Eating Foraged Wild Edible Foods

I've been teaching myself about foraging edible food from wild plants growing naturally in my area. I'm getting flack from almost everyone that I share this with. The concept is so bizarre to some people, even my husband. Too many people think the same exact food grown commercially and sold in a store is superior to one growing wild. What is bizarre is not the fact that I'm doing this but that they think that way.

Here is a great quote from Wildman Steve Brill that sums up my thoughts completely:

"You go to the supermarket and buy raspberries and you know the ones in the bottom of the carton are going to be moldy and rotten and the others will be big and beautiful looking but have almost no flavor,” Brill said. “They're grown on depleted soil and sprayed with insecticides, and the only reason they grow at all is because of all the artificial fertilizers that are used. Pick raspberries in the park and you're getting exercise, sunshine, contact with nature and much better-tasting fruit, and by picking the berries, you're stimulating the bush to grow. It's very bad for the bush to have the fruit just sitting there rotting on the branch. Mushrooms you buy in the store are grown on manure and sprayed with more chemicals to kill flies than all the other vegetables in the supermarket, and they taste like it.”

This tells a little about his own diet:

“Half my food comes from the wild,” Brill said. “It takes years to learn this on your own and there are only a handful of people in the whole country who have this kind of knowledge. It's just about only me for this area. It's not easy making a living at this, but it's getting better and better every year. People are becoming more ecologically aware. I get by between writing articles, selling sculptures and giving lectures and nutritional and herbal consultations.”

(The above quotes are from an article on Wildman Steve Brill's website that does not have a direct URL. The article is "Wild Man" from Chicago Tribune September 23, 1985 By Kenneth Clark linked from the 'my arrest' sidebar link of Steve Brill's website.)

The root of my interest in this was my maternal grandmother. Into her 90s she was still foraging wild edibles from the woods around her home in northern Maine. She kept the location of her fiddlehead source and her high bush cranberries a secret. In the last year of her life, at age 98, she passed this secret on to my mother who was going to miss her annual gift of canned fiddleheads. My grandmother's canned preserves and foods, some from her garden and others purchased from local farmers, were a staple in every family member's kitchen. She loved to supply us with her canned foods and preserves so when she became too frail to do all the work herself she paid her caregiver to do the canning while she watched and directed her every move.

My grandmother's High Bush Cranberry jelly (above)

I knew I had wild raspberries (wineberries) and wild blackberries right in my own yard and have been eating them for years, just fresh off the plant. I knew those were superior in taste to any that I'd ever purchased in a store.

The second impetus was that the homeschool group class that my sons take about nature and wilderness survival was teaching them to eat or use foraged (wildcrafted) materials. My boys began teaching me things they learned in class and I grew interested. Last fall my boys begged to make a dye out of pokeberries, a weed growing on the edge of our woods. We did make it and we dyed wool roving to use in felting craft projects. I felt a gateway was being opened.

You can't learn this quickly. It takes time because the plants have seasons and sometimes what I'm learning is out of sync with the Earth's cycle. Reading about a plant with a certain leaf does no good in November when the plant has lost its leaves and I have only bark or bare vines to observe. I'm learning about plants and trees then I look around for them, making mental notes about where they are so when they are in season next year I can forage them. Other times I'll see something that seems to be in season now and I go and research it immediately.

I'm finding this really fun to learn about. I really should be keeping a journal and possibly also making maps or detailed notes about where these plants and trees are located. My main focus is to forage from my own yard and woods and then my neighborhood.

One thing about this though is this is seasonal. Just like cultivated gardens, sometimes the harvest must be done in a short window, such as after one or two hard frosts but not too much later lest the berries spoil. Other things are in high demand by birds and squirrels. One source stated if one does not get to the hickory nuts quickly an entire tree's crop can be taken by the squirrels in one day! Timing is very important in some cases.

A fair amount of my information is from books. I am finding the Internet very helpful also. Sometimes a book will have good information about finding and using the food but the Internet can give more and better photos of what to look for. Other times a book will mention a plant's use but generous people on the Internet share numerous recipes. By reading blogs, I'm hearing detailed stories about foraging, tips, tricks and what to avoid that goes beyond the information in published books, such as the week that a certain berry is at its peak in coastal Massachusetts.

At this time my main focus is edible wild plants, eating for either pleasure (a jam that tastes good) or eating the food because it is superior in nutrition to similar store bought foods (i.e. a wild plant that is eaten in place of lettuce in a salad). I also love the frugal nature of getting food for free. Store bought nuts are very expensive, so why not eat the nuts from my own yard that are either rotting or are being consumed by the squirrels or deer? Hickory nuts are delicious, as are black walnuts, and the only reason they are not sold in stores more is that their harvest is more labor intensive than other nut varieties. So we have people who have never in their life tasted a black walnut or a hickory nut even though they are native to the very area we live in. Now that seems odd to me!

Above: Hickory nut found laying on the side of the road.

Maybe if more people foraged (responsibly, not over-consuming), there would be positive repercussion on the environment. Perhaps limiting the deer's food source will help reduce their numbers. Humans choice to avoid foraging from wild plants and trees may have upset the food chain, allowing in part for the overpopulation of deer in my area! The deer here are harming the forests that then affect the reservoir’s water quality. It's true that development took some of the deer's woodlands away but by us not competing for the food they eat we are unwittingly helping them prosper. Another benefit is to forage from wild plants, shrubs and trees that have been labeled invasive in my state helps prevent their further spread. That is taking something negative and making something positive from it. It's a win/win situation!

above and below: Native to Asia, the Autumn Olive was brought to America as an ornamental shrub. It is now considered an invasive species in my state of Connecticut. It's berry has 15% higher lycopene than a tomato. Lycopene has been shown in studies to help prevent Prostate Cancer. It is rich in vitamin C.

If you think the best foods come from grocery stores or factories, think about this topic for a minute, maybe you'll have a paradigm shift. I hope you do!

In future posts I plan to share photos of wild edible plants, tell stories of my foraging and review some of the books I’ve been reading. If you are curious to learn more, start by reading the website of Steve Brill, or google the key words “forage wild plants” and “wildcrafting”.