Sunday, February 28, 2010

When You're Here... live like our family does.

My son's friend slept over this weekend. I love the kid but his picky eating and drinking habits are hard to combine with the typical eating my husband and I want do, and they don't mesh with my picky eater kid's stuff too easily either. So food and drink are an issue. (He only drinks Gatorade lemon/lime flavor and that is not an item we consume.)

This morning I remembered (darn) that the boy only eats waffles, pancakes, or a hash made of canned corn beef (that last one his mother told me about, I didn't even know that existed). I don't use processed food waffles or processed food pancakes. I knew he loved bacon so once I made bacon but he refused to eat it which really confused me (I'd not have gone through the trouble if I knew he'd refuse to eat it). The first thing that confused me was he said they don't fry their bacon on the stovetop. It was nitrate-free pork bacon and come to find out he only eats turkey bacon (his mother said it's healthier). After that, I read in one of the "Eat This, Not That" books that turkey bacon is more fattening than pork bacon as they actually have to add fat to the lean turkey meat to it to make it simulate pork bacon and it winds up having more fat in it in the end, but I'm not entering that discussion with her.

Anyhow today I was not in the mood to make pancakes but resolved to do it. I then realized that with my own kids, when we're alone my kids help make the pancakes and in fact fight over who gets to do what. So I asked him if he made pancakes himself, and the answer was no, which I figured he's say he is used to being waited on. Well here in our family it is about teaching our kids and doing things together. I am raising adults here, not raising children to be dependent children when they are an adult age.

So I said, "Everyone come to the kitchen it is time to teach (your friend) how to make pancakes from scratch!"

And so my twelve year old son set to teaching him to make the mix from scratch. I decided the boy should really have an experience so I had him separate the yolks from the whites (with his bare hands, the old fashioned way) and he said it was cool, thank goodness--- I'd feared he may barf or freak out due to the texture of the raw whites and raw yolk in his hands.

They took turns cooking the pancakes on the griddle. I oversaw the process since no matter what we do it the heating is a bit tricky and sometimes the outsides are perfect but the insides are raw.

We added pure maple syrup from a family farm in my mother's hometown in Maine (this boy once said he never had syrup that tasted so good and I realized they probably use artificial syrup in his house).

The visitor said the pancakes tasted fantastic and I think he ate five in total! He had fun doing the entire process too.

Anyway it was a great experience although we were rushing a bit to get it all done and the food eaten before we went to church together.

I have a way of thinking that everyone lives like we do. I forget things like some kids only eat frozen pancakes that came in a box and they've never grilled them or others have only had ones made with Bisquick with that weird taste (that I think Bisquick has). I forget that some kids have never eaten pure maple syrup. I forget that not all kids are learning how to cook and bake. I am sometimes reminded that what I've been doing with my kids since their toddler years (cooking and baking) has not yet been done with some teenaged kids.

I'm not making a judgment what I'm trying to say is it is an odd feeling to realize that how we live here is different. I'm doing what seems to me to be normal (like pure maple syrup and drinking water) or traditional (like making pancakes from scratch) or at least right and good (like homeschooling).

So when you come to stay with us or when you visit you see what life in our family is like, and that may include being asked to pitch in to help make the meal we will share, and if that requires a little cooking lesson in the process, then I, or my children, will be happy to teach you.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Doing ABNA 2010 Reviewing invited me to be a reviewer in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for 2010. This is a contest where unknown writers submit book manuscripts for consideration. This year there is an adult fiction category and a young adult fiction category.

This is the first time I'm participating in the ABNA. I am excited about it.

I'm a second tier reviewer. I am given 40 novel excerpts, about ten pages each. I have to read them and answer specific open ended questions. I also have to write a 25-300 word review on it. I then have to give star ratings for a few questions.

These tier 2 reviews will be sifted out and some entries will be moved on to the next round based on this pass through.

Today I wrote and submitted seven reviews. Writing each takes me about one hour. The reading takes more time. Sometimes to be fair I'm reading these through twice and checking back a third time.

The authors will read these words so it is hard to write knowing that they definately will see what is said. I am unclear if the writer will know WHO wrote these things about their work.

I'm focusing on constructive criticism. Still when writing negative comments about bad writing it is hard to not feel that I'm tearing down the work or the author personally, because I know some people take objective comments about their work as personal attacks. I am trying to be objective. Delivering bad news is not easy.

(We don't know who the authors are.)

I feel like I'm reading a slush pile. I have new sympathy for book editors at publishing houses. So far I think I've seen every mistake a writer can make, even elementary school English grammar errors are here!

This project will keep me busy over the next couple of weeks so my blogging might be light.

Update 3/04/10: In six days I've spent 25-30 hours on this project and have only submitted 20 reviews so far (half). Anyone who accuses people of doing this 'just for fast money' is off base. By the time I'm done I'll have earned less than minimum wage for this work. Reading bad writing and delivering bad news is not enjoyable work. I don't know if I'd do this again if invited!

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books Published Today

Semicolon blog has published the 2/27/10 Saturday Review of Books. Take a look at what other bloggers are sharing about the books they read in the last week.

Consider submitting a book review or a post with thoughts about a book.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Dyslexia Checklist Book Review by ChristineMM

The Dyslexia Checklist Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Dyslexia Checklist: A Practical Reference for Parents and Teachers
Authors: Sandra F. Rief MA and Judith M. Stern MA
Genre: Nonfiction, education
Publication: Wiley, January 12, 2010
Full Retail Price: $15.95

My Star Rating: 3 stars out of 5 = It’s Okay

Summary Statement: Could Have Used a Bit More Editing and Better Organization of Content; Unsure That These Recommendations are Enough

This book was written by two special education school teachers who seem to care very much about children with dyslexia and who have very good intentions. You cannot get away from the fact that in the present American public education system, the students with dyslexia are square pegs trying to be shoved through the round hole. The ideas in this book try to help but I fear they truly cannot help enough, for reasons which I’ll explain.

First, readers of this book should not be upset that this is a book of lists when that fact is right in the title. Sometimes the lists are not detailed enough—the reader (whether they are a teacher or a parent) will have to do more research to fully understand the recommendation let alone put it into practice.

The list format is not ideal. Although it is a fast and easy read, sometimes the information was too sketchy.

1. I felt at times they read like notes from a brainstorming session let’s “list everything you think might help with writing composition”. You could compare this to a doctor saying a patient is iron deficient and the patient buying a shopping cart full of different foods and saying to themselves, “Something in here might resolve the anemia” rather than the doctor helping by giving a list of iron-rich foods.

2. Many of the ideas pertain only to early elementary grades or elementary grades but are not labeled as such. One example is why does the spelling list stop at grade five (pg. 168)?

3. There seems to be little information or encouragement for the student in grade six and up. Perhaps this is because the authors feel these students just have to use their time at home to do special study skills? Perhaps this is where the IEP band-aids are used the most?

4. The authors mention learning styles but the teaching strategies and study methods are not labeled or listed with the learning style for ease of use.

Besides my issues with the list format either being too brief or not organized well enough, there are some larger issues that may cause the reader to feel the information in this book is unhelpful. The authors give (enthusiastic, motivated, and open-minded) integrated classroom teachers many, many ideas for making changes in the classroom and therein lies some problems.

1. Regarding early elementary reading instruction the authors push for systematic phonics approach. The fact is that even if a classroom teacher agrees with these authors, they are not always empowered by the school to put this plan into action. Some classroom teachers are controlled by the school or district’s ‘curriculum specialists’ who have already made the decision on how that teacher will instruct the students. So the teacher’s hands are tied. Now what?

2. Many ideas are not small easy fixes, they are teaching strategies that would be hard to do with the dyslexic students while teaching the others in a different way. It was not stated to just change the whole class to learn the way that matched the dyslexic students. I can’t see how teachers can do the ‘regular plan’ plus give specialized work to the dyslexic students. This seems like a gargantuan task to me. I pity the teachers; I don’t know how they can do what these authors suggest. It’s as if the teachers on the front lines are trying to take action without the full support of the school system. Schools who push teachers to do extra prep for standardized tests for NCLB are taking important teaching time away from all students and are not helping the LD students either!

3. The IEP can only be minimally helpful if the foundational teaching principals recommended by these authors are not used! In this scenario the IEP provides band-aid fixes while keeping the student in teaching systems that are a poor fit. If the student learns content by listening to an audio book but they still can’t read that same text on a page is that a learning success, content mastery or is the fact that they still can’t read text will proof of a failed reading remediation? How do you perceive it?

4. With the system of moving kids to new teachers every year this presents a problem. Was last year’s teacher on board with ideas in THE DYSLEXIA CHECKLIST? Will next year’s teacher be? Inconsistency in the child’s education is almost inevitable even with an IEP in place. And again the overall choice of curriculum matters (sometimes chosen by a curriculum specialist, so the teacher has no flexibility).

Early in the book the authors discuss that dyslexic people are often strong in visual spatial senses (aka “right brained” learner). I was disappointed that other learning strategies for the visual spatial learner were missing from this book. See the book VISUAL SPATIAL LEARNERS by Alexandra Shires Gordon—a must read!

As to whether parents will like this book, it is hard to gauge. This book with its lists does not provide enough information to a newbie. The parent who has already taught themselves a fair amount about dyslexia and has been dealing with the school system may know a lot of this already. Or maybe for this low price, if the reader can glean something from this book that will be ‘good enough’?

Unlike Jeffrey Freed PhD writes in RIGHT BRAINED CHILDREN IN A LEFT BRAINED WORLD (another must read), these authors do not really empower the parents very much.

Sadly in THE DYSLEXIA CHECKLIST the parents are demoted to a lower class. Besides going to the PPT meeting and being their child’s advocate, they are encouraged to hire private tutors if the school is not doing enough for the student. They are told to see that homework gets done but not to help teach the child, to let them fail on the homework so the teacher can keep aware of the student’s struggle to learn. I would ask: IS THE GOAL OF A CHILD’S EDUCATION TO TRACK FAILURE OR TO HELP THE CHILD LEARN? Why can’t a parent help a child with homework but they recommend that a private tutor can?

Also ridiculous is the suggestion that a major role a parent can play is in helping children organize their school papers, teach the child to tell time, and (get this) to make sure the clocks in the home are set at the right time! They add that the parent should help the child by boosting their self-esteem (not an easy task when the LD student is reminded daily of their inadequacy at school).

This book does not do enough portray a person with dyslexia as having a different mind that can be a gift—the book focuses on the child having a malfunctioning brain and in need of special adaptations and accommodations to push them through the system. You’ll have to look to other sources if you are seeking that perspective. (Look up Temple Grandin, Linda Silverman, and All Kinds of Minds.)

Is there a cure or not?

In the beginning of the book the authors state there is no cure for dyslexia. Yet later, they state with certain phonics instruction the child can be prevented from developmental dyslexia. So which is it? And what of the other parts, the disorganization, the slow visual or auditory processing, or the dysgraphia? Can those be cured? They don’t write about that (a disappointment).

It bothered me that professional academic tutoring was recommended for study skills but no mention was made of therapies to help with dysgraphia, visual processing disorders or auditory processing disorders. There are professionals who believe that learning can be helped by solving the root cause of the problem through use of various therapies such as occupational therapy, vision therapy, or neurodevelopmental therapies. (Look up Dianne Craft, Brain Integration Therapy and Neurodevelopmental therapy.)

No specific mention was made to correct brain-based ‘vision’ problems such as convergence insufficiency and other eye tracking or field of vision problems—things that can be greatly improved with certain treatment if not cured. Yet for the teaching strategies they sometimes tell band-aid solutions that allow the student to get by without being remediated (i.e. read with a card under the line of text, read in phrase clusters—these are crutches for kids with untreated eye tracking problems).

In the end I felt this was too much about the child being defective and is about getting labeled and then pushed through a school system. The fact of the matter is that trying to have one educational system with equal outcomes for all kinds of minds is just impossible and there are no quick, easy, or inexpensive fixes that can be doled out in a generalized fashion. Helping a child with what we label as a learning disability is a customized, complicated process, often requiring the use of expert professionals that only exist outside the school system. Using only fixes inside the system with the student in a traditional school, parents helping organize the homework papers, and throwing in a private reading tutor or a math tutor and teaching them some different study skills is probably not good enough. And even armed with the myriad of ideas and resources listed in the book, even the most caring teacher may feel informed but powerless to “save them all”.

I rate this book 3 stars = “It’s Okay” because it does deliver lists of ideas and information and because the price is low. I’ve given example of why I am disappointed in the book but note that I have not assigned a 2 star = I Don’t Like It or a 1 star = I Hate It rating. It is what it is and maybe something here will be of use to some readers.

A personal note: I am a homeschooling mother to a child who was diagnosed with a visual processing disorder which has been cured through vision therapy and occupational therapy techniques. Despite that child having many dyslexia symptoms he was taught with a systematic phonics method and does not struggle to decode and to read. I know first hand about working with a child who struggles to learn and the importance of customized instruction and counsel of outside experts.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program. I was not paid to write this review. I am under no obligation to blog this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Footnotes in Gaza Book Review by ChristineMM

Footnotes in Gaza Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Footnotes in Gaza
Author: Joe Sacco
Publication: Metropolitan Books, December 22, 2009
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Middle East, Graphic Format
ISBN: 978-0805073478
Full Retail Price: $29.95

My Star Rating: 2 out of 5 = I Don’t Like It

Summary Statement: Graphic Format Very Good and Effective + Content Biased and One-Sided = Propaganda?

In a nutshell, I rate this book 2 stars out of 5 = I Don’t Like It --- because it is written by an author who admits he is biased and is pro-Palestine and because the story is one-sided. It is one thing to admit a bias but to try to present a work that is balanced—that is not what this book is.

The graphics are very good (the only reason I requested to receive an advance review copy of this book for the Amazon Vine program was I am interested in reading graphic format books of various genres and have enjoyed memoir and nonfiction graphic books). I really liked the artwork by Joe Sacco, but in part therein lies the problem. In reading the book I was being swayed not only by the author’s carefully selected words (and things omitted) but I was also being influenced by the very good artwork and graphic storytelling format. I found myself starting to side with the Palestinians but had to stop reading and keep reminding myself of other facts I know not shared in this book to balance it out in order to prevent being brainwashed or converted to this mindset.

Lastly there is the issue of trying to blame all that has gone on in the last fifty-plus years and today’s current situation with the Palestinians on this incident found in two footnotes in a United Nations document. This is a complicated issue to say the least.

I found the book oppressive and depressing to read. I dreaded reading it. As I felt it I kept feeling not that I was being provided with new information to challenge some things I already knew, but that I was being brainwashed and led to accept everything said here as the right viewpoint. I believe reading should be for education, for personal enrichment or for pleasure. I don’t like reading materials that border on propaganda. I don’t like handing my mind over to an author for re-programming. As I read this book I kept thinking, “Put this book down, this is not worth your time to read.”

I have been interested in the trend of more books being published in graphic format that are not silly comic strips. I am intrigued by the graphic presentation of non-fiction such as science and history as well as memoir. I know for a fact that graphic books are read by children and teenagers who struggle to read regular text books. There is a market for more graphic books and for more non-comic (humor based) graphic format books. As a homeschooling parent I am always looking for anything educational presented in graphic format. Even for non-struggling readers, a graphic format book is a good change of pace. Interpreting messages from visual presentation of material is a refreshing change of pace for good readers.

I requested a pre-publication copy of this book before any information was available about it. I did not at the time, know anything about Joe Sacco. I didn’t realize I was setting myself up to review what has turned out to be a controversial book. I have procrastinated about reviewing this book as I don’t enjoy reviewing controversial books or dealing with the backlash that I’ve sometimes received from my Amazon reviews of controversial topic books.

Disclosure: I received an advance uncorrected proof edition of this book with a retail value of $0 from the Amazon Vine program for the purpose of writing a review on I was not paid to write this review nor was I obligated to blog this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Clarification and Explanation

I'm not sure if my main point was clear, regarding yesterday's blog post "Parental Misjudgment of Schoolwork".

It is good for a parent to feel happy about a child's learning and progress. However I think some parents are lavishing praise when it is not always deserved.

If the parent is ignorant of the content of the work their child is doing in school they should back away from being the judge and jury and instead turn over the judgment and authority of the teacher---and back up the teacher.

If the homeschool parent makes this error of thinking their child is better than they really are it may be due to an innocent ignorance. Overly confident homeschooling parents may never think their critique of their own child needs checking against someone else's opinion; you can't do anything about those people. Anyone who is worried their child may not be 'up to snuff' should do something about it by seeking a second opinion of some kind from an outside person, if they care about it. A number of homeschooling parents I know make comments that they worry their child may not be right on target compared to same aged school kids but they quickly follow this up by saying 'a bad day of homeschooling is still better than the best day at public school'. I am not sure I agree with that statement, but what they think and what they do with their children is none of my affair so I just let the matter drop. But I'm starting to get off track...

If the parents overly-praises an incompetent child, the child can wind up with a higher-self esteem compared to reality. They think they are better or more capable or smarter than they really are. They can often use some humble pie, as others who interact and work with them sometimes have to suffer through their arrogance and overly-inflated sense of self-worth when in their presence. For example it can be very hard for peers to be in an academic class with these arrogant students and it can be difficult to work with them as a team on a project or learning activity due to their sense of superiority. I share this with seeing the experience in action within the homeschool community at classes taught by subject matter experts, on team learning tasks and I also see it with the schooled kids at Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. It can be hard for a teacher or any other adult in a position of authority to teach these arrogant kids because some think they know more than the teacher does!

This has been discussed as a major issue with kids born after 1980 who are now entering the workplace and wreaking havoc with their entitlement attitudes and poor work ethic. It was one topic in the book "The Narcissism Epidemic" (read my book review here).

My point in discussing this is not to knock down kids or to just criticize them or their parents. My point is that if a child is producing schoolwork and is indeed in need of more help or teaching in order to CORRECT their wrong understanding of facts or needs help by way of more instruction to further DEVELOP their skills to be more at grade level or even just to keep being challenged and to keep improving on their skills, it has to come from a point of reality that the child is in need of improvement.

If the parent, especially a homeschooling parent, thinks the child is perfect just the way they are then growing and teaching can stop there, which is not good if in reality the child is in need of more skill development or if their understanding of what was written (i.e. needs help in reading comprehension) or their interpretation of facts needs correcting (i.e. not understanding the accurate historical or science topic information).

In my opinion all parents should help their children grow and develop, onward and upward. This requires first a humble attitude that children (and people of every age really) are never 'done' learning information and nearly everyone can use some skill improvement. A person should be in a constant state of refining and developing.

"The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds." -John F. Kennedy, "We Choose to Go to the Moon" speech, 9/12/1962.

The trick is to figure out what is 'good enough', when 'enough is enough learning about that topic, we've gone deep enough'. Also the goal is continual improvement over time, such as is developed after years and years of learning how to write well (writing composition not penmanship).

Another stumbling block is when a person seems to think they know it all or at least knows a lot, they can become closed minded. For some, once they think they understand something thoroughly, they won't listen to more information or opposing views as they think they're 'done' with the topic and they are already right in their viewpoint. The most sickening thing is seeing a young child act in a class with a teacher in a way that implies the student knows more and is 'above' the teacher's expertise level.

Parents who are too quick to praise as they feel that lots of praise is good for a child's self-esteem are HINDERING their children's development rather than HELPING them.

Some of these parents fight school teachers about the child's grades on homework or tests. I have read of parents calling college professors to argue over the grade received on college papers. This was a topic in the great essay "The Kindergarchy" by Joseph Epstein. Again this was discussed at length in the book "The Narcissism Epidemic" where the authors documented the student's self-assessment of their work as far superior than what it really was. The kids and parents who do this are living in a false reality, living in a fake world. This is not good for the children, teens and the young adults attending college.

I see nothing good that can come of too much praise by parents about the "accomplishments" of their own children, it's far too prideful and it serves no good purpose except to fluff themselves up maybe "oh look at the great job I did raising this child", to which I say, "Get over yourself."

It is tempting for me as a homeschooling mother to say my kids learn quickly and easily and that they "know enough". I'd love to say they were "done" learning a topic and that they need no improvement. However the reality is that my kids sometimes struggle to learn, not all learning comes easily. I hold a high standard that is not always easy to achieve. Once my kids accomplish something it is time to move on to the next thing. This feels like a constant uphill journey--but isn't that what it is supposed to feel like? Change and growth should not always come easy or quickly. It takes perseverance, diligence, and a good work ethic to keep moving forward and doing harder and harder work. And it seems to me that is right and good.

Low standards, easy goals, and complacency cannot be good for our children, especially regarding their education.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Parental Misjudgement of Schoolwork

Recently, while homeschooling my seventh grader, and while overseeing his independent work on some Boy Scout merit badges I have realized how easy it is for a parent to misjudge a child's work. It is fairly easy to look at the work a student does and deem it wonderful, correct, adequate or even above-average if not brilliant, especially if the parent doesn't know much about the content the student is learning.

On the surface when looking at work produced it can seem wonderful!



The student produced the assignment as required: they wrote X number of sentences, X number of paragraphs, filled in all the worksheet blanks or produced a polished looking Power Point presentation.

Lovely work!


Oh my child is so smart!

Look at this wonderful work produced!

But sometimes when I've gone beyond the role of supervisor, when I've taught myself the content (as my son was also learning about it by facilitating his own learning) I have realized sometimes this impressive looking work is error-ridden fact-wise, although written well, looking good and sounding good on the surface. This surprises me because I'd like to think that my bright son did comprehend what he read and that he is learning correct information. However sometimes his work reveals that my desire is not his reality.

In the case of reading comprehension homeschool lessons, while grading worksheet papers I sometimes found errors. Rather than just give a grade and move on I want my son to learn from his mistakes. In order to discuss this with my son I read the passage myself and then read through the question (because to try to discuss it without having read this sometimes is impossible). I have been surprised at how my son has made true mistakes, wrong assumptions and other things based on wrong interpretation of information. Sometimes he admits he didn't know what one word meant, and rather than look it up in a dictionary, he guessed, and guessed wrong, which meant the whole thing was misunderstood. At the worst, the entire point of the piece, or something crucial was missed altogether.

While working on some Boy Scout merit badges this month, my son has to do some worksheet pages, some written reports and some oral presentations to the class. I grew curious about this information he was researching on his own and wanting to satisfy my curiosity I took a small amount of time to read through the same materials my son had read. Some of these are BSA materials and some are websites he found on his own.

Then when I read his work, although it seemed to be impressive writing, it contained factual errors. The number of sentences was there "the teacher said he wanted 8-10 sentences if I add one more then it will be wrong" to which my response is "that sentence is very important for explaining how the movie relates to the whole theme of citizenship in the community, I don't care if the thing winds up being 11 sentences total, you need to have it there!"

I'm fairly certain that these mistakes in the oral presentations and the written reports might not be caught by the merit badge counselor, especially for the niche topics of my son's choosing that are not common knowledge. (Do you know who Ida Tarbell is, why she is considered a significant person in US History, what she has done? I sure didn't, but my husband did, as she has relevance to his career field.)

My goal is for my children is to learn (not just to produce assigned work that fulfills the requirements (write one paragraph about ______), and my goal is not just that he earn a certain grade) so I addressed these things using prompts to go re-investigate. "Was that really what made the writer famous or was it some other project?" and "Those statistics from the 2000 census don't look right to me" (when his notes, right in front of me, had different numbers and I'd noticed that he'd transposed the figures incorrectly), are two things I said. I don't directly tell him what is wrong but make him figure it out. I make him change his work; I don't dictate to him what to say.

Some may use these examples to show that only the most diligent homeschool parents are adequate enough to teach their own children. Or worse, they might say that only professional teachers should be allowed to educate children. I believe that a committed parent who is willing to do the hard work, whatever form that takes, is indeed capable of homeschooling their children. (I feel in general I'm in that category but believe me I'm not always that self-confident. Sometimes I do worry that I'm not good enough for this job.

One point I want to make by sharing these thoughts is just how easy it is to overestimate the child's school work as better than it actually is. Even if the parent knows the child is smart or bright, it doesn't mean all the work they produce is of high quality or is factually correct. Mistakes can easily be made and facts can be omitted from student's work and the piece can still appear to be well written.

Once again this homeschool parent is feeling pity for the school teachers. How they can deal with twenty or so students of various abilities, different developmental stages, with diverse personalities and different learning styles is beyond me.

How each child in school can be reached, how all can take away what the lesson or the school or the state feels they should know about X, Y, and Z without directly spoon-feeding dumbed down facts (so they are not misunderstood) is beyond me.

It seems to me that schools or teachers must reduce the expectations so the work load to a certain low level just so there is time to teach it.

The last challenge is not just the teaching part that the teacher does but trying to figure out what the student knows or doesn't know and based on their produced work, how to try to correct any errors, so the student takes away the right facts or the main point of a topic, is something beyond my comprehension. How do the teachers do that? I have a feeling they can't, and don't, because the general model in American education is once something is taught, some projects are done (or answers to questions are written out) and then content is tested, and then it is time to move on to the next thing.

To get through to each child, to directly speak to what it is they misunderstood to correct that is too time consuming for school teachers with a full classroom. The best they can do is perhaps to repeat and repeat some main points to the entire class, and hope everyone gets those. (Flashback memory: in middle school and high school the teachers would spend an entire period stating what would be on the test and urging us to study that.) The sad thing is all the repetition is boring and slows down the kids who do get it ("how many times does the teacher have to repeat that fact?), and the struggling learners who think they ALREADY get it may be tuning the teacher out and not even paying attention.

These opinions are largely based on my experience working one on one with my children in our homeschool--when you work that closely with kids you can make a lot of observations about the way their minds work. It is based also from my work to teach Cub Scouts (as leader in the role of a teacher) getting them to learn the required material (to earn ranks and extra badges). It is also based on my memories of attending public school as a bored, bright, good grade earning student.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Led to the New You Tube Music Rule

I had already discussed with my children that I didn’t want them viewing inappropriate content, no nudity.

Up to this point my kids had not been watching music videos on TV. Honestly I’d not been watching them in the last ten years so I didn’t know what was going on out there.

The new rule is that all new music videos must be previewed by me before my kids can see it. The preview idea for new videos was started when my nine year old asked to see the video for “I Gotta Feeling’” by the Black Eyed Peas (a song he was introduced to while in the car being driven by his friend’s mother, a trustworthy person, a physician!). What happened was I put the video on with my kids there, was horrified, shut it off and told the kids it was inappropriate.

I was surprised to see worse content in the video compared to the song’s lyrics! (Read lyrics here.)

The video had so much flesh – it starts off with a bang!

The female singer Fergie, is getting dressed in high heels and lingerie including thong backed panties, a bra and a boa, as a stripper would dress!

The video shows sexual touching and making out with lots of groping, including male with male and female with female in the presence of others (not even being done in private like was being done in the banned Madonna video from the late 80s!).

The video is a bit kinky with some S&M shown with a black feather teaser and a whip being used on party-goers by Fergie who is dressed a bit like a dominatrix.

Overconsumption of alcohol including young women literally falling down drunk in the street, with lyrics “party every day” and “let’s do it again” (the next day). So much for learning from last night’s (dangerous) binge drinking episode, they plan to do it again the next day!

Take a few mintues to watch this video by the Black Eyes Peas and you’ll see what got my blood boiling when I first discovered it.

Although let’s be honest, these people are adults producing music that could be said to be for adult consumption. We all know teens and tweens can and do see these videos free online, even if MTV is blocked from the family’s TV with parental controls, YouTube is usually wide open. I’ll note also that the Black Eyed Peas were a main performer at the 2009 New Year’s Eve celebration with the Dick Clark (a family show).

Still we parents have a lot on our plates if we want to keep our kids from getting the wrong message about drinking alcohol, responsible behavior and sexual intimacy. Use of the web by kids to access songs they hear on the radio is one way that the Internet can change who are kids are becoming.

Update: I decided to add while fact checking I read something about the female lead singer. These singers are role models to some kids. Girls may compare their bodies to Fergie's and wish for a thin body. Boys may wish that all bodies of girls and women look like Fergie's. I read here that Fergie said she is a former crystal meth user and she kept her weight down with Bulemia. These harsh facts of real life of some music celebrities should be known to tweens and teens who look up to them as role models or at least someone who they wish to emulate in some aspect.

Case In Point

I was busy editing my rant (which is still not finished) when I remembered that my twelve year old son has an assignment to do for his Boy Scout merit badge "Citizenship in the Community". It was assigned yesterday and he really should work on it today.

The merit badge counselor suggested they make a Power Point multi-media presentation. My son has never done this before so either he has to teach himself or I'll have to learn it to help teach him to use it.

Research had to be done first. The topic is the town we live in. My son has to get some demographic information, such as the population and some other facts. I paused my editing work and handed my son a paper bound book we have that has information about our town. I told him that some information he is looking for is in the front section of the book. I went back to my computer to work on the blog post.

My son interrupted me and asked for my computer. I asked what he needed it for. He showed me his notes from his merit badge class and said the teacher gave them a website URL that has town demographic information and said to use that source. So I had to stop my work on my PC in order to let my son use the web for research.

Later today we will go out and he will take some photos of our town to spice up the Power Point presentation to be more multi-media. My husband got a little too eager and suggested he add video clips but honestly what is there to take video of in this quiet town? Wind blowing in the trees by the lake? Cars speeding down the nearly deserted state road? In any event the whole presentation is to be three minutes in duration so there is little time for video.

As my son worked away at my PC using the Internet for research and a I was still steaming over my nine year old having seen corrupting content thanks to Web 2.0 last night I realized the irony of it all. I feel like the Internet is here to stay. As an adult I like the Internet, there is a lot of good mixed with a lot of mediocre and some bad (which I try to avoid). As the parent I'm trying to keep my kids safe while the Boy Scout teacher is encouraging the use of the Internet for research and strongly suggested the use of a computer-based visual presentation to go along with my son's public speaking presentation.

We parents are in a hard place, trying to raise independent, thinking people, gently showing them the world and how to explore it while at the same time trying to shelter them from the corrupting, worst parts of the world. This is not an easy task. It's not a task for wimps; it takes courage and bravery to go out and explore the world and cyberspace while still wielding a protective arm.

Web 2.0 Can Corrupt Children

Web 2.0 Can Corrupt Children, or, Part Two of a Long Rant

Note: The topic of Web 2.0 and children is a huge topic which I’ll only touch upon briefly in this post. This was originally written as part of a long rant. This will serve as part 2 of the rant series.

Modern life in America moves quickly and there are many participants in the creation and consumption of material on the Internet. The negative cultural forces that can corrupt our children are sometimes comprised of a combination of multiple companies, different business people and in the case of what I discovered that got me so angry last night, also involves private citizens. This interaction of the amateur with the professional and self-publishing on the Internet is referred to as “Web 2.0”.

Thus the Internet has been morphing into “Web 2.0”. At first, the net was comprised mainly of professional businesses and some Internet chat boards where ‘users’ chatted, and a smattering of very computer literate people who created their own websites. Later the increased use by ‘regular people’ to have their own Internet presence, first with websites and later blogs. The continued lowering of the price of digital photography and digital video recording has allowed amateur users to get into the game of self-publishing video. All this can be done without the use of editing software, but even an inexpensive video editing software and/or Photoshop Elements can allow even the beginner to polish their productions into something that might even appear professionally created! Now video sharing on YouTube is even being done by children!

Personal computers are in so many American homes. They are free to use at public libraries and many schools today use computers. Elementary school aged kids often have their own cell phones and some even have their own iPhones or Blackberry’s with full Internet access. These kids are self-publishing to My Space, Facebook, on blogs, on Twitter and to YouTube, where kids can even have their very own video channel and be an instant ‘star’.

We cannot always hold just one party accountable for a situation such as “corrupting our children”, because on the Internet many voices intermingle and one thing leads to another. Inexpensive technology and free websites such as allow amateurs and even children to self-publish content (some of which is illegal or breaks copyright law; still these laws cannot protect our children). Today schools and teachers are asking how they can use Web 2.0 in their classrooms as something good and educational. What got me so upset is a story of Web 2.0 gone bad.

Many parents of young children, from various backgrounds and from different religious persuasions try hard to protect their children from the negative influence of American culture and the media, chiefly by limiting their exposure to certain entertainment products such as movies, TV shows, and music. Many parents also limit access to the Internet. My story is a good example of how hard it is to protect a child, to healthily shelter them, in our fast-paced society with its information-saturated Internet and Web 2.0.

The car dealers and Sirius radio are a part of this intermingling of media and this issue too! In 2008 when our family purchased a new minivan we swore we’d not buy one with televisions. My husband and I were holding out, that a car ride should just be a car ride, every minute of the day, a child need not be tethered to staring at a video screen nor should they feel they have a right to be constantly entertained.

However our resistance was futile. The televisions were in nearly every minivan made by Chrysler (the maker of the minivan we had been using for eight years and loved and we’d wanted to buy another of the same model). To order a new minivan without TVs would have required us to pay $500 more, and wait for shipment. So we got the cheaper minivan with the televisions and set limits on its use. It was not only wired to play DVDs but we were given a year of free television which wound up being only: Disney, Nick, and Cartoon Network. That year of free service my husband and I did limit the use of the video system to use mostly DVDs for very long trips (200 miles or longer was our rule for when they could watch the minivan’s TV). Even at home I banned or limited viewing of those channels as I felt some of the content was offensive and some was just plain stupid.

Our culture creates media content, some of which is obscene or inappropriate for children and then it tells parents to set limits, turn off the TV and so forth. “If you don’t like it, shut it off!” is what they say. That works up to a certain point as I’ll illustrate. I’ve been the parent-cop since the day my first was born but honestly a parent cannot appropriately shelter their child from everything, between Web 2.0, billboards on the side of the road, TV ads, print ads, and even typical displays in the mall. Visits to fast food restaurants or even just driving by them, market and promote children’s movies and TV shows directly to our children. I recall a ten foot high Shrek inflated on top of a Burger King once, and my kids immediately realized the sequel must have been released and asked to go see it.

When we purchased the new minivan, we were surprised to learn that we had a free subscription to Sirius XM satellite radio in the minivan for a year. We didn’t know how we’d all come to love Sirius; one benefit being that its music stations are commercial-free and its wide variety of music playing on niche-stations (50s music, older country, new country, even 1930s and 1940s radio shows!) . I have enjoyed listening to the ‘80s on 8’ station which replays pop music from 1980-1989. It’s like a flashback in time for me. Sometimes I listen to the 80s music while the kids are in the car. I’ve realized two things. One is that some songs I thought were innocent when I was a teenager and in my young 20s were actually more sexual than I recall, due to heavy innuendo. How did I not catch what the code word ‘rock’ meant back when I was younger? (I’m not sure if I recognized this innuendo when back then, if I did, I’d forgotten about it.) This has been safe so far for my kids, as they don’t get the innuendo.

Anyway, the 80s music is nothing like the hip hop songs of today which are filled with profanity, denigrate women and some have clear sexual lyrics. In just twenty years the music industry has really changed and the adult lyrics are being heard by children whose parents listen to pop radio. Our family has avoided hip hop by listening first to children’s music on CDs (Raffi, Tom Chapin, and John McCutcheon) and then later, country music (although this has gotten racier in the last year or two). My kids have come to love certain songs from the 80s, usually the sillier lyric, upbeat tempo pop songs.

I can’t shelter my kids entirely. Recently while in the car of friends and neighbors (while doing social things together) my children have been exposed to current pop music, especially the Black Eyed Peas, some songs are hip hop with catchy pop tunes. I’m not too happy that my kids are being exposed to hip hop music in other adult’s cars but maybe some of them would be equally offended by some news talk radio, such as Fox News, that plays in my car sometimes?

For a long time I did not let my children on the Internet and YouTube due to the difficulty in keeping them from viewing pornography and other mature content. (Parental blocking software that I purchased has failed as it slowed down my computer to a snail’s pace.) I’ve placed some filters such as turning on the parental controls on Since the fall of 2009 the slope has been getting slippery, with my oldest being 12 years old. Nearly all his friends are on the Internet and many are freely allowed to browse any site they wish.

Fellow parents of the Boy Scouts in my son’s Troop have said that by ten years old, most of their boys had seen porn and keeping porn, sexual terms and sexual information from kids today is a futile effort. “It is everywhere” and “all kids are on the Internet” they told me. Kids talk to each other and tell each other things and then they sometimes go online together and look at sites with each other. They tell each other about sites they have seen on the Internet and share funny videos they like to watch on YouTube.

Kids don’t always learn things from the Internet and movies. Kids talk to each other. Even with the healthy level of sheltering I think I’ve been doing, my homeschooled kids are not immune. Just two weeks ago my nine year old brought up the topic of blow jobs (that’s the term he used) with me in front of his twelve year old brother. I found out that a ten year old homeschooled boy had educated my son all about the term and its (correct) meaning while he was at a drop off academic class for homeschooled kids. Lovely. I can’t get too upset about this as the fact is that kids to talk and share information. If my kids were in school they’d have probably learned about this while on the school bus or while at school.

The fact is that Hollywood does introduce things to our children as does the music industry. Additionally, Web 2.0 sometimes corrupts our kids. In my next post I’ll share the story that has me so angry today.

A Good Story About Web 2.0 and Tweens

Note: This was originally intended to be part of a rant about The Bad Side of Web 2.0 for Children. Instead I am separating the original essay into related parts.

An innocent example of young children’s use of the Internet are the Fred Figglehorn videos on YouTube which my children learned of from a-then eleven year old friend.

Lucas Cruikshank is a teenager who created the Fred character. He wrote silly stories and filmed them at home using a low budget combined with creativity and humor. After posting these short movies on YouTube for free, he developed a following. As of today the number of Fred videos viewings on YouTube is over 77.5 million! According to the Wikipedia page Fred’s YouTube channel is in second place for the highest number of YouTube channel subscribers.

The Fred videos are funny, the character is male and although he’s in his teenaged body he is acting the part of a six year old boy, whose voice was edited to make it squeaky so he could sound like a young child.

The popularity of Fred must have been known to Hollywood because Disney featured him on an episode of the popular show marketed to tweens, iCarly in the episode "iMeet Fred". After that aired I have a feeling that viewing of the Fred videos on YouTube exploded.

The teen creator of Fred, Lucas Cruikshank even markets merchandise to his child-fans in an effort to turn his free videos viewed on YouTube into some cash flow. You can’t blame him for this very American type of entrepreneurship.

In and of itself, this type of Web 2.0 use by and for tweens and teens is harmless.

My point in mentioning the Fred videos, is to illustrate how an unknown kid from a suburb can create a multimedia show for entertainment, share it on the web and wind up being known to almost every tween in America AND having been acknowledged as a presence by none other than Disney with a guest spot appearance on a very popular children’s TV sitcom!

Indeed, my sons have been asked to share their own video creations on YouTube (so far I’ve nixed that request). My sons, then at age 8 and 11 were already aware of Web 2.0 and were eager to become an active creator of Web 2.0, rather than remaining just a passive consumer.

The fact that for years they'd watched me blog and knew I was on Twitter probably contributed to this--they wanted in on the self-publishing action as well. However seeing teens self-publishing on the web opened my son's eyes to the idea that it may be appropriate for them to get in on the action as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writing is Talking on Paper

Yesterday I was driving the car on the way back home from the library, and both of my sons, aged 9 and 12 were with me. I asked my older son what he had to do to complete the homework assignment for his merit badge work (due today). We had already done the first part: watch a movie about community. The teacher had suggested "Remember the Titans" so our whole family watched it and discussed it the other night.

My son replied that he had to write 8-10 sentences to summarize the movie and how it relates to the merit badge topic "Citizenship in the Community". I asked what he planned to write. He had tension in his voice when he said, "I don't know."

I set about immediately to calm him down. As a person who loves to write the last thing I want is a child afraid of writing. Honestly there is nothing to be afraid of about writing. I said, "Writing is talking, but on paper. If you were to tell me right now what the movie was about, do you know what you would say?"

He replied, "Yes. The movie is about..." and he went on to tell me a wonderful summary of the movie, rattled off quickly and easily. I prompted him to say at the end how the story impacted the community, which he then did state.

I said, "There, you are done. You know what you have to say; now you just have to sit down at the computer and write it out."

He breathed a sigh of relief.

And that was that. One writing lesson was done in the car while I was driving. I love that kind of lesson!

Later he did sit down and write it out. When he showed it to me I prodded him to recall something he left out that was pivotal to the story that related to the issue of community, without directly telling him what it was, and he added that in. The first draft was done.

Then Microsoft Word found some spelling errors and fixed some capitalization. After that second draft I reviewed it with him and tightened it up, showing him the parts that double-stated the facts. He took out some redundant words, capitalized some missed proper nouns and I showed him proper paragraph formatting (we've done this before but as with other things sometimes things need to be re-taught many times before it is learned and applied). What threw him was the teacher saying he wanted a certain number of sentences so my son had written each sentence separated by a space more like a bullet point list and I had to explain it should be in paragraphs but just add up to that length in total. After a final spell-check he printed it off and he was done.

Honestly, I feel we've slacked on writing composition. This seems crazy that something I'm strong in doing that I want my kids to do well also have not been a focus for us. This has been a combination of me feeling that to wait is sometimes better than to push early for easy goals, better to address it when the child is older and then expect bigger and better work. Secondly, my older son has struggled with writing using handwritten words so I've slacked back, not making it a priority as other things were being focused on.

The hardest part of writing is the content, the facts and/or ideas stated. Once that is known, the writing can be cleaned up to take out the things stated twice or pare down the rambling parts. A check for flow is easily done by reading the piece out loud; it's amazing how easy it is to find awkward parts with our ears that looked okay to our eyes reading the written text. Lastly a check for formatting, grammar and spelling and that's it.

The more a person writes, the better they get at it, so at some point the writer must just write and write and write.

I believe that anyone with anything they want to say, anyone with an opinion or who knows something about any topic can become a good writer. It seems we have no shortage of people who can communicate well orally, and all of those people have the potential to become good writers as well.

Saturday Review of Books

Semicolon blog has published the 2/20/10 Saturday Review of Books. Take a look at what other bloggers are sharing about the books they read in the last week.

Consider submitting a book review or a post with thoughts about a book.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A To-Die-For Homemade Creme Brulee

My husband made creme brulee for dessert for our romantic Valentine's Day dinner this year. He decided to try a new recipe this time and surfed the web to find this one. The recipe is free online and is: Classic Creme Brulee by Debbie Puente who authored an entire cookbook about Creme Brulee!
This was creamy and delicious. My husband was happy as the recipe he used to use required stove top cooking in a sauce pan followed by baking. This recipe by Debbie Puente is mixed then baked (no stove top prep work).

Our little blow torch thing is not super powerful so it is difficult to get a thick crust of burned sugar over the entire thing as the restaurant chefs can do with their more powerful torch but that is okay!

Real men cook!

I would recommend that all men learn to cook and to bake. Men who help in the kitchen and especially those who wine and dine their wives with gourmet home cooked food make wives very happy. As some say, "Happy wife, happy life." Honestly, it takes a load off the wife's shoulders to not have the sole burden of the family's cooking. Home cooked food from scratch using quality ingredients blows away processed prepared foods from the grocery store and (lately around here) is better than what is available in most restaurants as well.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Artisan Bread Again

Here are two more loaves of the artisan bread I baked using the basic recipe from Sullivan Street Bakery. I use my cookbook by the bakery's owner: My Bread by Jim Leahy. However you may access this recipe free of charge on the bakery's website.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post. Read my blog's full disclosure statement by linking from the top of my si

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pizza From Scratch

Homemade pizza from homemade dough. Tomatoes in a can, imported from Italy (San Remo variety grown in volcanic soil)(at discount from Costco or Restaurant Depot). Grated cheese from Italy (at discount from Costco or Restaurant Depot). American made mozzarella cheese (at discount from Costco). In the absence of fresh herbs from our garden, we use dried herbs such as those sold by the king of spices, Penzey's.

Why bother to make homemade dough?
1. It is less expensive to make at home.
2. It is free of chemicals and preservatives.
3. It is the flour you want and is without additional products (i.e. soy)
4. It tastes better.

There are numerous free recipes for pizza dough on the Internet. We use either the recipe in our King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook or a recipe in My Bread by Jim Leahy.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post.

Homemade Skin Cream Recipe

This week I tried making a skin creme. I had assumed it would be more of a thick creme like what is now often being marketed as 'body butter'. It wound up being a normal body lotion or hand lotion consistency.

The recipe I used was from a book I own by Rosemary Gladstar called "The Herbalist's Way: The Art and Practice of Healing with Plant Medicine".

The recipe can also be found online for free:

Rosemary's Perfect Cream

I used ingredients I already had on hand. Where the ingredients are optional this is what I used: distilled water, apricot kernel oil, vitamin E oil, and coconut oil. I scented it with bergamot essential oil (pure, organic). However the coconut scent was so overpowering that even 40 drops of the essential oil didn't succeed in giving it a bergamot scent.

The cream is a bit greasy when first applied but it is absorbed within a couple of minutes. I like it very much, it is superior to any store bought, chemical laden cream or lotion I've ever used. I also prefer all natural ingredients to chemical laden ones and so consider using this one more step in the right direction of wellness and disease prevention.

I'm happy with this cream!

(But I'm still in search of something that is more of a body butter, and am wondering if just the addition of more beeswax will solve that. If you have the answer can you let me know?)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Finally Splurged On These Books

...for our homeschool.

I heard about these two or three years ago and the titles sat on both my PaperBackSwap wish list and my Amazon wish list. The other day I was in the mindset of thinking about homeschool math lessons and wishing I could convey more to my kids about the everyday real-life application of math and decided to just splurge and buy these books (at a discount) from Amazon.

Real World Algebra by Edward Zaccaro

Becoming a Problem Solving Genius by Edward Zaccaro

The Ten Things All Future Mathematicians and Scientists Must Know by Edward Zaccaro

I bought them all sight unseen. I just sat down and read the Introduction and first chapter of the "Ten Things" book and am impressed. That book has over 50 real life stories of mistakes made that caused problems and how and why they could have been avoided if the workers had just followed one of the ten things on Zaccaro's list. The book is approachable and easy to read but is not dumbed-down. I would estimate this is find for an interested reader or student in grade 4 and up. A less internally-driven student would be more of grade 7 and up. I see no reason why this is too easy for a high schooler and as an adult I found it interesting. After the stories there are a few discussion questions which are well-written and useful should they be used.

I plan to read these before using them with my kids. Honestly I'm looking forward to the algebra book because in all my public education and college no one has ever explained to me how algebra is truly used in real life. I can't wait to be enlightened.

Pasta a la Vodka Sauce - A Delicious Recipe

My husband made this Pink Vodka Sauce from scratch as part of our Valentine's Day dinner: Pasta with Pink Vodka Sauce recipe

It is creamy and delicious. I note there was no garlic in the recipe which is different than any restaurant vodka sauce I've ever eaten but since I'm not a garlic fan (and too much doesn't mesh with my body) I was happy.

The pasta was made from scratch as well and the recipe can be found in my prior blog post: Fresh Pasta (My Favorite Recipe).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fresh Pasta (My Favorite Recipe)

My husband made fettuccini from scratch as part of the Valentine's dinner he cooked for me.

My husband used his grandmother's hand crank pasta maker.

The recipe is from Mario Batali's cookbook Simple Italian Food. However I did find the same recipe online free at the FoodTV website here.

There is nothing as delicious as the delicate texture of a fresh pasta! Trust me on this.

Photos copyright ChristineMM 2010.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post or to mention this book. See my blog's full disclosure statement, link is at the top of my sidebar.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Son's Self-Initiated Writing Project

I nearly fell over when I walked into our family library and found my nine year old sitting at my computer doing a self-initiated writing project. Read the title! He had been using the computer for his touch typing lesson and when he finished that he launched into this!

He really wanted to write his story but had writer's block. He killed 90 minutes staring at the blank screen. He was then in a bad mood. He was resistant to my request to offer him some writing prompts or give him some ideas for starting the writing to flow.

Both of my boys have been writing more this school year than ever before, most of it is self-initiated. This ONLY HAPPENS when we are alone having relaxed days with wide open expanses of free time. This NEVER happens when we are in the mode of rushing out of the house to get to this appointment and that appointment.

Here and there I catch myself sounding like a radical unschooler. However to keep it real I'll say the thing that changed this year that kick-started their writing like this on the computer was starting free writes at the suggestion of the Brave Writer homeschool writing method (not truly a curriculum but they sell a teacher's manual to train the homeschool parent). Also the touch typing instruction is helping a bit also. So if I'd not initiated some structured learning that I wanted them to do (some would say I'm coercing my children to do these things) then this may never have happened.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saturday Review of Books

Every Saturday, bloggers post links to the book reviews or book thoughts they shared in the previous week. Check out today's submissions at Semicolon Blog.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Want Some Herb Roots?

Check out this contest at Herbal Roots Zine for herb roots being given away!

Is anyone else thinking forward to gardening in spring?

The Lightning Thief Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson series book number one)
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Juvenile Fiction, ages 9-12

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

Summary Statement: Action Packed, a Page-Turner, Great Appeal for Boys, Liked Also by Reluctant Readers, Great Message for LD Kids

The Lightning Thief is the first book in the Percy Jackson series, authored by Rick Riordan. I first learned of this book while attending a book festival about middle grade fiction for children, where Riordan was speaking. My interest was piqued when he said the idea came from the idea of viewing a child with a learning disability or a neurological condition (i.e. ADD or ADHD) not just as a child with a problem but as a child with other unique abilities thanks to the presence of their condition. The idea that a child may be different and superior in a good way in some areas while not normal in other areas (by someone's definition) is a paradigm shift. Riordan said he created these stories originally as bedtime stories for his son and it was his son who suggested he write them down. And so the Percy Jackson series was born.

Percy Jackson is in middle school and struggles to learn. He doesn't have the high self-esteem and often feels that he's different and an oddball at school, he doesn't seem to fit in. He has never known his biological father, and his stepfather is verbally and physically abusive and spends a lot of time gambling and drinking beer.

The story starts off with a bang and gets right into the action, with Percy soon discovering that he is only half human, because his father is one of the Greek Gods! Yes, Percy is a Demi-God! Unbeknownst to Americans, the Greek Gods are alive and well and living in the United States of America. Percy is sent to a summer camp filled with kids who are also Demi-Gods. Percy spends his summer on a quest and in the process learns that his weaknesses in the mortal world are strengths to him when living as a Demi-God, they give him his powers, help others and even can save his own life. Percy also finds true friendship that summer.

The Lightning Thief book is a page-turner, action-packed story. I wanted to know what happened next and stayed up late at night to keep reading in order to find out. Riordan did a great job with keeping the pace of the book fast enough to move the reader along and not want to stop reading yet still manages to weave a good story in between (unlike the writers of most action movies who over-concentrate on the action and special effects). Riordan ends each chapter leaving the reader not wanting to put the book down--we want to plunge into the next chapter, and the next, and the next.

After I heard Riordan speak and before I read it myself, I found out that The Lightning Thief has a reputation among parents, teachers, and librarians as being a book that appeals to reluctant readers. It is very much a book with appeal for boys but also some girls I have spoken to said they love the book as well. One of the secondary characters is a powerful girl which probably helps. In my area some public schools require all fifth grade readers to read this book so some girls I've spoken to were only reading it as they were being forced to, but they still enjoyed the read.

The only kids I've spoken to who said "it's okay" instead of "I love it" are those who knew nothing of Greek mythology and were a bit lost, they told me, and they were being forced to read the book by their school teacher so they had to keep reading it. (I like to ask kids about what they think of the books I see them reading so I hear some very interesting insights.) Every child who already knows something about Greek mythology (especially the homeschooled kids who studied that in elementary history lessons) absolutely love the book. In Riordan's defense, as an adult reader I felt he gave enough of a brief description of each Greek mythology thing so the reader could keep up with the story. I have a feeling those who know more about it from prior learning are able to enjoy The Lightning Thief more (rather than the fault being something connected to Riordan's writing itself, the deficit is with the child due to their ignorance).

My nine year old son recently read this and begged me to read it. He wanted me to enjoy reading it as he did, so I did read it. Then he compelled his twelve year old brother to read it; he loved it also and found it a page-turner too.

If the child loves The Lightning Thief they can't wait to read the rest of the series and often dive right in and consume those also. At present there are five books in total. A movie has been made of this book which premieres this weekend (I've not seen it yet).

The only controversial thing that one parent complained to me about was in The Lightning Thief she felt there was too much discussion on infidelity of married people and affairs resulting in babies being conceived, she thought that was too mature a topic for readers aged 9-12. Also she was upset about the abusive stepfather and felt it was unnecessary. She did say when she read the second and third books they were more tame. An additional concern of hers is that some parents were reading this aloud to children under nine years old.

I love this book as an action packed read for children. It is great for kids who are not yet convinced that books are fun and that reading can be for pleasure reading not just being done for schoolwork. If this book can help a reluctant reader see the light that books and reading are great then I think Riordan has done a commendable thing for children by creating this book series.

I do not recommend this as a read-aloud for children under nine years old. I feel this book is best used as an independent read to help lure in reluctant readers and to show all children who read it that reading is indeed a worthwhile, fun way to spend their time. I say let the child dive into the book by themselves so they can feel that wonderful 'escape reading' feeling and the pull of wanting to go on and on reading it, not wanting to put it down. Parents please allow your child that experience and pick something else for a family read-aloud (such as the full Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis).

I rate this book 5 stars = I Love It.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this review. I purchased this book for our family's use, it was not given to me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 214 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 214 was published at Raising Real Men on 2/09/10.

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

I have an entry in this week’s 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.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Thinking Mother Blog Turns Five!

Today is the fifth anniversary of this blog. I can't believe it!

I've published 3505 posts in these last five years. Wow.

Picky Eater Crackdown

I’ve had it. My husband has had it. We are cracking down on the picky eating.

This is a very long story which I’ll not share today. It involves picky eating, wanting junk foods, past food allergies, food sensitivities, and oral sensory (food texture) issues with one child. This post is about the solution not the back story.

I tried this last May and gave up after about three weeks. It may sound silly but we stopped when the website went down for days and days I couldn't get more blank food diaries. This week it is being tried again.

It is just a coincidence that this week the White House is pushing parents to make changes to their children’s diets in order to try to curb childhood obesity. The statistic they are using is that 1 in 3 American children are overweight. However this new campaign is not lost on me. I’m telling my kids that President Obama wants these changes for them, that our government is very concerned about children not eating well enough and about them not getting enough exercise. Maybe if they're a bit mad at our President they'll not be only angry with me. (Somehow they blame only me when truly my husband is in agreement with this.)

This week I am reviewing the U.S. Government’s Food Pyramid with my children. The government website allows you to plug in the person’s age, weight and height and it makes a food plan for them. This can be printed as a one sheet reference. If you have not seen this yet, check it out: My Pyramid Plan.

The next step is I have my children making their own food choices. The government website also has a one page food tracking sheet, a food diary basically. I printed these for my children. Each day they will use the sheet to figure out their own meals. You can access this by plugging the data into the websie at the My Pyramid Plan link, then clicking on this which appears in the right sidebar: "Click here to view and print a PDF of a helpful Meal Tracking Worksheet."

They can plan their own meals for breakfast and lunch. I don't care what they eat from the choices we have here at home so long as they fit into the plan. If they eat all their breads at breakfast that is their choice and their problem! They can prepare their own breakfast and most lunches can also be made without adult supervision due to the fact that I’ve taught them how to use our appliances and they know all the safety rules from years of practice with close adult supervision. In this way I am not acting as a short order cook making up to four meals, a different one for each member of our family.

For dinner my husband or I will make a meal for the family of something that he and I plan to eat. This is a well-balanced meal. The kids are offered these foods. If they refuse to eat it they can make their own dinner from whatever is left on their food diary as available options.

We always have a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables in the house. Snacks or meal side dishes can be fruits and vegetables. My kids also eat garden salads, sometimes large ones as the entire meal.

The Food Pyramid food planner looks a lot like the old Weight Watchers plan to me. There are units such as one vegetable is ½ cup and it says one of my sons should eat 2.5 cups a day (5 servings). The food intake is broken down by one day; the person is supposed to eat all of the portions in one day and not go over the recommended intake (the same as the old Weight Watchers plan). The food diary sheet from the government website reminds me of the food diary that I used when I was on Weight Watchers too. It has blank lines to fill in to show what was eaten at each meal or snack. As you fill out the foods you eat you can cross off or keep a tally of what is left for available options.

It is very different for a mother to dictate to a child what they can or should eat, all through the day, versus giving them the choices and letting them make all the decisions. My kids are now 12 and 9 so they are fully capable of handling this. Having concrete information on paper they can hold in their hand is helpful because they see the differences between what they want and what they should have to eat in order to have balanced nutrition.

Last year my sons were shocked at the fact that they had been overeating bread products (one bagel counts for more than one portion of a bread and they had wanted to eat two or three bagels in one sitting). Another thing that surprised my sons was that when they did eat all that fruit and vegetable at meals they had little room left for breads. A large garden salad and a half cup of raw carrots eaten before the spaghetti was served meant they had little room left for the pasta! They said, “We can’t eat a lot of pasta when we eat all these vegetables!”

One issue I had last year when I did this was they sometimes refused to eat much for healthy snacks or lunch. Then later when we were in public they would being LOUDLY proclaiming in front of strangers that they hadn’t eaten and they were SO hungry and could they please go to McDonald’s since we’d be driving past it? Or saying, “I never ate lunch, I’m starving” (when it was 11:30 a.m. and it was not even lunch time yet). They even have gone so far as to say (while in a doctor's waiting room) "You never feed us, I am so hungry!" which was a total lie. Or when in the grocery store they’d start begging me to buy foods we rarely or never buy, soda and chips and all kinds of garbage. When I said no they would loudly say I don’t feed them and such. They were making it sound like I was a neglectful mother.

As a response and retort, I came up with things to say that were true but would explain it to the strangers that overheard like, “You refused to eat that apple with your sandwich and now you are hungry. If you’d like I’ll buy you an apple now and you can eat it in the car but we are NOT going to McDonald’s as that food is not healthy. Maybe next time we’ll try to remember to bring a fruit snack in the car when we run errands.” Honestly I don't care what other people think of me but it does bother me that my kids were trying to have strangers (or doctor's staff) think I am a neglectful mother when I am not. Perhaps the issue is that this is an outright manipulation tactic that is just wrong! The more I think about this the more something like that should receive a consequence punishment! In my state doctors and their staff are mandatory reporters to the state for child neglect and abuse. I don't need a false investigation of childhood neglect due to the Pediatrician's nurse overhearing that I don't feed my kids!

More than once the strangers who overheard these exchanges would make some audible sound to indicate they heard it all and backed me up. Four times while in grocery stores, other mothers or grandmothers spoke directly to my kids to back up what I said about eating all their lunch when it was offered or about making good food choices. Once when my kids pulled this while in the breakfast cereal and candy aisle, my nine year old begged for candy. I replied, "No I'm not buying you this junk candy when you refused to eat lunch!" I heard a big laugh from the other aisle! Let me tell you, my kids didn't appreciate that their manipulation game backfired and now they had not only me pushing healthy eating but strangers too!

Another trick the kids did last year was they would refuse to eat at home when they knew we’d be at a relative’s house or going to a party. Then while at Grandma’s they’d proclaim they were starving and the food choices there were a much larger variety of processed foods and usually multiple desserts as well as lots of candy. This is the case at my parent’s house as well as my mother-in-law’s. It is NOT good for a child to tell an Italian-American grandmother they are starving. This is a bad situation when we're having a four to six hour visit, or if we're at some big party loaded with chips, dip, pizza, soda and desserts being served in huge quantities! Yes sometimes there are healthy choices but guess which things the kids choose to eat? It can be hard to police them, I give up. Too much policing sometimes leads them to sneak foods, which is not good either.

Peer pressure is also difficult. Children’s birthday parties are usually filled with horrible foods. It is hard to deny my child a soda when all the other kids are drinking the equivalent of two or three cans of soda. (Remember one can is technically two servings.) Sometimes my kids have attended two or three of these parties a month plus family get togethers where bad food is offered, and the cousins are eating and drinking bad foods. This amounts to usually two days a week of really bad eating in one sitting which honestly blows the entire week. Those of you who have been on Weight Watchers in the past realize that just one dessert a week can mean the difference between gaining weight versus staying the same or the difference between being on the plateau or losing a pound.

The most frustrating thing for me is that my husband and I know all about good nutrition. We model a very good diet for our children. We do not use the ‘standard American diet’ in our home. We have many organic foods. We cook almost everything from scratch. Usually the only processed food in our home is dried pasta. Yet this is not enough, our kids seem to crave junk foods. They also seem to not be able to stop eating processed foods such as wanting a whole sleeve of saltine crackers at my parent’s house. I have read that corn syrup stops the body from being able to feel satiated so we end up eating a higher quantity of food. If we eat three cookies from scratch we feel full and don’t want any more but I can eat a whole sleeve of Chips Ahoy. Corn syrup is in all kinds of things from soda and fruit juice and Gatorade to jarred spaghetti sauce to cookies, crackers, and store bought bread. My friend just told me that MSG is in many foods such as bagged chips and snack foods and that it causes us to crave eating more and more, “you can’t eat just one”.

I have a feeling this won’t be easy but we’re going back to the food diaries. I can only hope that when my children look at that chart of what should be eaten in a day, that they will, over time, really get a sense of what comprises a balanced nutritional intake. By putting them in charge of their meals they hopefully won’t be as resentful toward me.

The easier part of this is the exercising. I am mandating that my kids exercise at home. My twelve year old is not playing any team sports and since he’s homeschooled he’s not getting physical activity at gym class at school. My kids have to do vigorous exercise using our treadmill, stationary bike, or on exercise shows on TV. Sometimes, but not ever day, they can use the Wii Fit or Wii Sports. Their progress is being charted on Wii Fit also.

Wish us luck!