Thursday, September 30, 2010

Parents Don't Ignore Teen's Use of Social Networking

Parents should not discount the impact that social networking and the Internet play in teen's lives. Read this article about a college freshman who committed suicide after his college roommate allegedly used Skype to make a video, without his consent or knowledge, of him having sexual relations with another male. It was broadcast to his social network using the Internet. The story involves Twitter, Facebook, and Skype. It's a heartbreaking situation.

Of course an important part of this story is that the young man was homosexual and hid that from some people including his own parents. The sex video informed some of his friends of this fact.

I think teens think just because sharing video and photos and info is fast and easy they have warped and wrong ideas about privacy (thinking there is no such thing as privacy). I don't quite know what to do about this. As a parent all I can do is discuss these things with my children, including the importance of privacy over some matters.

Honestly I think it's sad that a suicidal young man left his suicide note as a Facebook wall status post.

I wish more parents would wake up to the issues regarding kids and teens, the Internet and social networking. I myself have had a few sticky situations with my kids online, despite careful planning and preparations some minor things have happened. I just try my best to teach my kids. My head is not stuck in the sand. I talk to parents I know about this and get mixed opinions and reactions.

I am worried for other kids whose parents are clueless and laugh about how silly Facebook is and refuse to even look to see what it is, even though their own kids are using Facebook. They look down upon social networking as stupid and unnecessary and unworthy of their time. Others claim their kids should have full privacy and freedom to do on Facebook whatever they want so they don't even look at what their children are posting online.

I have seen some teens Facebook posts which state things that are quite troublesome such as serious symptoms of clinical depression in kids who have troubling situations in their lives. I wonder if their own parents realize the distress they are in? It's also good to know who your children's friends are. If your son's girlfriend listed cutting as one of her interests on her Facebook profile isn't that something you'd like to know? Do her own parents know she is into self-mutilation?

Wake up parents and start taking the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook seriously, if for no other reason that you may wind up getting to know who your child really is and what they are really thinking and feeling. Isn't that what good parents really want anyway, to really know their children so they can best guide and teach them how to navigate through life?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thoughts About Why Some Boys Don't Read More

This blog post was inspired by an article published this week in The Wall Street Journal about boys and reading: How to Raise Boys Who Read by Thomas Spence.

However almost all of the issues discussed here can apply to girls.


There are many ideas about why boys don't read more. Others expand this discussion to why so many boys don't seem to care about excelling academically at school. I feel there are many reasons and causes and that the issue is complex. In this post I’ll focus on reading. Too many times adults try to boil the cause down too narrowly. Some even whittle it down to one or two reasons. I think they're all committing a mistake as the very nature of trying to make something complex simple and to nail it down to a one, two or three reasons will always fail to reveal the full truth.

As with parenting books there are two approaches that people generally make.

First there are the people who look at a problem and investigate the current state and pick out what is wrong, they also cite the history of how the thing was approached since birth perhaps, and say the wrong things were done along the way and it’s the parents or other adults in the child’s life that are to blame for the current state of affairs. They may give up and declare it’s too late to affect change, or maybe they insist that certain changes are in order if the situation is to be turned around.

The second approach is to envision an ideal situation, if a person was to have advice from a child's day of birth, what would "doing all the right things" look like? Those people try to influence those at the beginning stages of parenting to help them do the right thing from the start. Some who have this idea of an ideal environment would then point out that in real life that child didn't have that, it was the cause. The problem with that is sometimes people do follow all the advice and it still works out to have not the intended, ideal result.

I used to think that as a parent if I did all the right things and created an ideal environment then only good things would result and that intended results were guaranteed. I learned I was wrong as life is more complicated, other people have influences upon my children and there are also factors within the individual child that are beyond my control.

So when we talk about why boys don't read more or when we read a newspaper article about the topic, it can be helpful to try to determine from which school of thought the person holds. No matter which perspective people have, some of these facts can apply to discussing the issue with them.

I can speak of the lives of two boys, the ones I raised from birth who I know very well. They are boys who have been raised at home by a loving mother, not raised in groups or institutional settings. There has been no group daycare, and other than eight weeks of thirty hours of babysitting by a loving and patient grandmother for months four and five of one child's life, there has been no outsourced child care at all. There has been no group preschool and no formal schooling. There has been socialization from babyhood in small playgroups with same aged children and play groups over the years ranging from a couple of kids to two dozen, in short bursts with more than adequate adult supervision. In the elementary and middle school grades my sons were involved with various group learning or group sports situations overseen by adults other than me.

As a parent I have done all the right things in order to "raise readers". You name the advice given by teachers, reading specialists, psychologists, and parenting experts, I've done it. Here are some: read aloud to your children starting at birth and keep reading aloud after they themselves can read. Find exciting books and read them aloud both before the child can read and after. Select books that have content your child is interested in. Expose your child to a variety of writing: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Also let them indulge in fluff reading: comics, graphic novels. Let your child pick their own books. Have your children read to answer real life questions they have. Allow your children to read for information and their curiosity. Mail order catalogs, books and magazines about collecting, and information guides to video game mastery are some examples. I could go on and on, but won’t bore you with any more details.

Regarding reading instruction I nearly killed myself with stress in learning about the different methods and picking which to use. Whether to use an intensive phonics system or a combination of sight reading was something that some experts lead you to believe is practically a life or death decision. No matter which I used it should be underscored that my kids were taught gently and only after showing signs of reading readiness. Actually my second born was teaching himself at age three so was largely untaught until he demanded I give him formal lessons with the reading curriculum book I used with his older brother, which I delayed until he was four years old (as I thought there as no good reason that a four year old needed to decode words at a third grade level and as I wanted him to just play and enjoy life as a non-reader a bit longer).

Another group of people discussing the reading issue like to point to the child's parents and the home environment. Teachers and school administrators do this frequently. First they like to shift blame for the child's sub-par academic performance is based on the student’s family not on the teachers or the school itself. They accuse that various situations are the blame: income level (especially poverty), ethnic origin (minorities are expected to struggle), location (city dwellers are thought to fare worst), education level of the parents, reading and literacy is not important to the family, and being raised by English as a second language parents. This argument is made to justify no matter how good a teacher or a school is, some kids are just unteachable and lost causes (this all started with a study done in the 1960s I believe). (I will look the name of this study later.)

Those who want (all) children to be readers may accuse that the child is spending their time doing non-reading pursuits like watching too much TV or playing video games from a too-early time and for too long. These two activities are the most targeted (probably because they are respected little or felt to be the least enriching).

Also the reading-encouragers may say, even for middle class families or Caucasian kids or suburb dwellers, that the family does not value formal education and they are not being supportive enough of education in general. They may say the parents do not read themselves, or don’t read enough (and they may quote studies that say that most Americans don’t even read one book a year) so they say the child’s own parents are not good role models.

Few pro-education and pro-learning adults admit that there is negative peer pressure for learning and studying. The fact is that it's not cool to be smart or to do well at school, and that currently it's a social stigma to be a geek or a nerd. (Even kids who somehow escape learning this from real life peers get enough on TV or in the movies. Look at the Disney show Suite Life of Zack and Cody, identical twins, one is funny, cool, dumb and bad at school (those being two different things in my mind) and the other is smart, good at school and enjoys learning and for that gets insulted by the stupid brother.

Regarding my family, most of the factors that people worry will create non-readers or uneducated kids are not present. My husband has a mater's and I have a bachelor's degree. In addition to that both of us are bookworms, we are avid readers. We also live daily, self-education by reading and researching. My husband's job involves a lot of research and analysis; he uses the printed word as well as Internet research and face to face investigation and discussions. Our home is filled with books, right now it's at about 8000 volumes, and many are children's books for pleasure reading and for learning. Both my husband and I are autodidacts and teach ourselves things for fun, hobbies, as well as important real life information such as researching treatments for Cancer for our afflicted parents, using the printed word in books and on the Internet also.

Education is so important in our family that I've continued to not work for pay at my career and to be with my children, raising them and homeschooling them. The fact that they are homeschooled also had, for many years, let them escape the knowledge that American kids today generally hate both school and learning. They know it now as their friends and acquaintances talk about it with them. Every boy I've ever spoken to about school hates it, save for lunch and recess. Some like gym, and some don't. Most like that they see some friends, but in the same sentence they talk of negative social experiences, living daily with annoying people they are forced to be with all day, or on the bus with year after year, and sometimes they are bullied.

Only girls have said they like school but most don't like it too much, nearly all hate the academic part, the way they make them learn in class. The homework is not enjoyed, and the testing is not liked either. Most children have disdain for the process. They say they “have to” go to school not that they “want to”. They feel it is dumb work for no real purpose except maybe to help them get into college which they only want to go to in order to get access to do the job they desire or to have fun and party while “living the college life”. The only ones who say they like school get good grades for little effort, learning has always come easily to them, and they feel ahead of their peers, quickly getting through the lessons before the other kids. They seem to have not suffered in any way, other than boredom from their faster pace and their resentment that some of their peers are holding them back from going forward faster than they are capable of.

Now to those who point to the use of television or video games as being bad for a child’s development or hindering learning or reading ability, our family has also been atypical. My kids did watch Sesame Street and some children's TV shows from a young age but their life was also filled with quality enriching experiences. They are not an example of the "watching TV prevents the kids from doing more worthwhile things" theory. They had plenty of quality face time with me; a nurturing mother and they’ve gone more places and done more great educational things than I ever did when I grew up. Although it's true that I used their time in front of the TV to do other things, like volunteer work centered around my children's activities (i.e. Cub Scouting) or cooking meals from scratch or cleaning the house or researching homeschooling methods and materials, the TV was not a babysitter in the worst sense it's most often referred to.

My kid's use of live TV has been very limited. First we used a lot of VHS children's videos so they could watch better shows than what was on at live TV at that exact moment and they also avoided the commercials. We've used a DVR for over eight years now, so we can fast forward through commercials. My kids have watched plenty of nonfiction TV shows, everything from cooking instruction shows to documentaries (for adults but watched since age two). You may be surprised at all that can be learned from documentaries, even by young children. I have also found that kid’s TV channels with documentaries for children are often dumbed down in language, content, and are sometimes also patronizing in tone.

My kid's use of video games has been atypical as well. The original plan was to ban video gaming in all forms until my child could read (which I followed through on for both kids). I didn't want video games to be a replacement for time reading books. I hated the idea of using portable game systems so those were banned. I have still never purchased one. We had a seldom used GameBoy bought by their grandmother from a tag sale but I never bought more games for it. It was only used on full day driving trips (like the 500 mile drive to my grandmother's house), and then, for just one kid. Then we were given an unasked for thing, two used GameBoy Advanced SP's, with some games, and the rule was to use only on car trips longer than 200 miles.

We did not buy a video game console until my oldest was ten years old. We also rarely used the PC for video game playing (some families brag they don't have video games but they let their kids play the same games as are better played on the console on the family's PC, which is a nonsense statement if I ever heard one). The video gaming has limits and always had, except for a rare holiday or on some summer days when they took full advantage and played for eight or more hours in a row.

While my kids are on long car trips we read books, talk, listen to music, and sometimes listen to audio books. What we have done with our time has shifted over the years. The songs have shifted from Raffi and John McCutcheon to country to 80s pop and now to some pop. In recent years we also have started to listen to more talk radio in the car, thanks to the fact that we're on year two of having Sirius satellite radio, and we discuss current events issues and politics. If there were more quality nonfiction topics on Sirius we'd listen to those (imagine documentaries, lectures, or something more in depth than the current radio talk shows on nonfiction topics).

Are my boys readers? I guess so. I had hoped they'd be even more bookworms than they already are, to be honest. How much really do we want from these kids? How much is enough?

This leads me to the question of how kids spend their time. Before I get into what my kids and what other kids do, let's talk first about the pace of life. In the last year our family has shifted our pace and lifestyle to more closely resembles mainstream American families. No, they are not in school but they are doing more group classes with homeschooled kids and have some teachers who are not me. They have homework and due dates that are inflexible. Each son has also added a formal sport to their schedule. So now in addition to Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts meetings, camping trips and learning activities (merit badges and Webelos activity pins to earn), they have homeschool lessons and a sport, and one has music lessons. They are pretty busy.

The more I get to know the teens we live near and know through our various activities the more insight I'm getting into the typical American preteen and teenager. The more I spent time with mothers who work full time outside the home the more I am getting an idea of what it's like to raise multiple kids in a dual income family. I also know some divorced parents and blended families (some with some kids in college and some in early elementary school) so I’m seeing a range of how other families live.

They are all hectic lives; let me tell you (all of them, not just the dual income families). I also have friends who do very different things with their time so have different glimpses. There is the family with an only child who spends summers out of state at a resort location. There are families heavily into sports. There’s a family with four kids, one is academically gifted and one is on the Autism Spectrum. There is a family where the middle school aged girl has not a single friend and her time is spent with immediate and extended family, they are a much enmeshed Italian-American family. There are latchkey kids and kids who are raised in before and after school care, and in group daycare before that. There are families who are so busy with all the different activities each child does that the family is lucky to eat one meal together. A number of families have one parent who travels pretty extensively for business, and in a couple of cases both parents are in and out, on business trips.

Why I Think Kids Read Less Today

Some of the things I blame on kid's lack of reading is this:

Teachers force boys to read books that are girl centered.

Boys may have gotten turned off to reading fiction at an early age and just read for assigned school lessons.

There are too many problem novels and reading them can be depressing and upsetting, kids want to avoid that.

Teachers force too much reading tied to assignments and grades.

Teachers drag out readings too long. It doesn't not take a full year to read "Because of Winn Dixie". There is too much analysis of what is read and not enough enjoyment.

Teachers dumb down the reading assignments for a myriad of reasons making reading annoying and boring.

School textbooks make up the majority of schooled kid’s reading material (in middle and high school) and they are dry and boring. They are terrible models for reading and kill the desire to read for information. If students think that self-teaching by reading nonfiction is anything like reading a textbook they won’t go on to do it. (Perhaps that is why statistics show that adults rarely read nonfiction books.)

Kids are too busy doing homework and extra-curricular activities to have lots of time for pleasure reading.

Kids are too busy with school, homework and life to even think about being an autodidact to read nonfiction in order to learn something. An exception are the "deep curiosity" kids (which is one factor in labeling them as gifted so they are not in the typical category anyway).

Home life can be hectic, running from school to a sport to a music lesson. The kids are living a fast paced life. It is not easy to shift into the relaxed state that most readers settle in to, to read.

Kids get sick of being told to do with their time most of the day. They are directed to go here, do this, and do that by this date and time. They want down time. They want to be in charge of what they do, even if it’s just to choose to chat live with a friend on Facebook. They are sick of being bossed around and don’t want to hear adults telling them they should be reading for fun. They want to decide how to spend their time.

Kids are tired and need to sleep. Those who want to stay up late to read are discouraged to do so by their parents who say it’s more important to sleep. If the child wasn’t so busy during the day perhaps they wouldn’t think the only time they have to read is late at night when they can finally relax and have spare time.

A home can be noisy and busy. This is not always conducive to reading. Even if the boy wants to read they are distracted by other family members who are talking, watching TV, or whatever else is going on. Some family's homes look more like a hectic zoo than a quiet library reading room.

Some readers need quiet or prefer it, when reading. If they are in a car with music playing they will choose to not read. If the car was silent they'd either be talking or reading.

If someone has the TV on at home this may draw them in and they may spend their time watching it instead. Since most homes have more than one television sometimes it can be hard to find a quiet room in the house.

Parents who put TV sets in children’s bedrooms are tempting the kids to use it instead of using the bedroom as a quiet retreat area.

The use of DVRs allows for customization of TV viewing so viewers can easily feel there is more to watch than they have time for and it’s available any time they want. That is a different situation when you had a TV show you would have liked to have watched but you were out playing a sport at that time so now it’s too late. Now the show can be watched whenever you want.

Easy and free or cheap access to TV shows. Cable TV shows and also network TV shows can be borrowed from libraries for free in DVD format. So if you missed the first five seasons of LOST you can (as I did) catch up quickly with the DVDs before the final season began on live TV.

Easy and free or cheap access to movies. Unlike the early 1980s we can have any movie we want any hour of the day for home viewing, not just using movie theatres or waiting for the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz on network television. Not only can we borrow from public libraries for free but we can rent via Internet and mail (Netflix) or have instant downloads of media from Netflix, Amazon, or even from our satellite or cable TV provider. (Downloads can also be made from Netflix to certain video game consoles and the consoles can be used in place of a DVD player!) Many of these movies are free or are a very low cost ($2 is much less than the $55 I spent for myself and two kids to go see a movie at the theatre last month, with snacks).

Video media has changed over the years. What is produced now for young children sometimes seems to me to have been designed by someone with ADHD. The action is too fast, it cuts from one scene to another so fast, and the talking is almost nonstop. My eyes can barely take in all that happens on the small and big screen. Books are boring and more drawn out in their storytelling style. Children raised on video media with that type of fast action and lots of talking and some music too may find books too slow and dull. For movies that teens may watch compare the pace of Godfather to Inception or compare the pace of Airplane to The Other Guys.

Movies ruin the book. Sadly some boys I know saw the movie first and didn't always like it. They tell me there is no point to read the book since they "know what happens anyway". These boys and their parents like to go to big screen movies for entertainment. Few families make the rule "must read the book first" (like we do). Three boys I know started watching Harry Potter when too young to read the book and refuse to read the books saying they aren't that thrilled with the story as known through the movies anyway.

Video media is quickly consumed. It may take a tween aged boy a dozen or more hours to read the exciting book "City of Ember" but the movie adaptation can be consumed in less than two hours. It may take thirty hours to read one Harry Potter book but the movie can be watched in two hours.

YouTube: it’s free and fun. YouTube has everything from reruns of a television show you missed to allowing you to rewatch funny parts of movies. Kids watch amateur videos and the latest viral videos going around. Now that MTV has less music videos, kids just watch any music video that they want to watch any time they want to. (Although I’ve never seen the music video for Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, today my ten year old asked to view it on YouTube.) It can be easy to waste time on YouTube going from one video to the next to the next. You Tube is a time suck.

TVs in the car. I have always been against it. When it came time to buy our minivan we were unable to find one without TVs. We had an option of paying a $500 fee to get one without a TV but would have had to wait for it to be delivered from out of state. It killed us to think of spending more money on top of what we were already spending just to NOT get a TV in the minivan, so ours has it. The minivan came with a year's free TV live channels which come to find out was just three channels of kid's programming. This is proof that the TV was intended by car manufacturers to be used for kids to watch. I was disappointed as I was envisioning a full range of channels that I could just listen to as a driver or even as a front seat passenger (in my state it is illegal to have a working video screen in the front row). Ours has two DVD players so different passengers can watch different movies should they desire (they use headsets for the volume). Having not just radio but now TV in the car provides a distraction away from reliance on reading books while in the car, even on long trips. Of course families can limit the use of this, as ours does, but on long trips it's so tempting to just let them watch movies and keep quiet and happy instead of risking bickering or complaining.

Portable audio devices. The ability to listen to music anywhere and everywhere via an iPod or other MP3 player fills up kid's time and takes away potential book reading time. As an adult I like to listen to podcasts but kids usually listen to music. Examples are siblings listening while their sibling is at sport practice or a Scout meeting or while in the car going somewhere or even inside their own home. Oddly some kids show up to playdates or other intentional social experiences where they are supposed to be talking and interacting with other kids or teens but seclude themselves by plugging into their music. At this year's Cub Scout award banquet I saw a handful of siblings listening to iPods instead of listening to the awards being given out, and clapping along. Some teens and kids also are allowed by their parents to listen to iPods during wedding receptions and communion celebration dinners.

Mobile phones. I have seen parents letting one year olds play with the mobile phone as a toy. They take photos and play the video games and pretend to talk on them. Parents of toddlers and preschoolers often give kids their phones while in public places to use it as a portable video game player, in the car, in restaurants, or while their sibling is playing a sport game or at practice. I have seen families give children their own phone at age seven. Once in hand they use it in any number of ways. Most kids seem to use the phone least to actually talk on the phone.

Texting is big with preteens and teens, especially those with unlimited texting family plans. It's also hard to escape into a book for a sustained period of time if their mobile phone is always beeping to notify them a new text message has been received. Kids seem so pressured by their devices. They demand immediate attention which takes precedence over everything else happening. A formal Easter dinner was once interrupted by my nine year old nephew texting his babysitter giving Easter wishes. Once at an extended family dinner another nephew had a friend visiting. While watching the movie before the meal and during the meal the two eleven year old's exchanged text messages with each other instead of speaking out loud. Frankly I find this rude also as it is not unlike whispering secrets. For all I know they could have been badmouthing us. Actually, I'd not be surprised if they were, after all, what were they saying that they’d not want to state aloud?

The Internet. While at home kids use a PC or laptop for any number of purposes, some is playing various video games, some even on sites owned by Scholastic (a book company, need I remind you). Teachers also seem to be requiring the use of the Internet more for homework and school projects. Kids and teens visit joke sites such as People of Wal Mart or serious topics sites like PostSecret. Most adults know that it is easy to get sucked into the computer. So sit down at the computer to do homework and extra time may be spent online instead of walking away and picking up a book.

Portable Internet. I know that's not a real phrase but this encompasses several gadgets and I don’t know how else to phrase it. Some kids are allowed to surf the Internet while not in front of a PC using their own or their parent's mobile phones, their iPhone or Droid or on their Nintendo DSI, PSP or PSP Slim. Yes, parents did you know those game systems have Internet? Some kids use them to view porn with, but I digress.

Social Networking, such as Facebook takes the time of teens and some preteens. Yes I know you are supposed to be 13 to use Facebook but I see people's cats and dogs on there as well as some three year olds. I'm not joking. Well I guess the pet is not actually doing the surfing but the pets have accounts. Boys are on Facebook doing live chat with friends, posting status wall updates, reading their friend’s wall posts, playing FB based games, taking silly quizzes, and uploading photos they took with their mobile phones or with their digital cameras.

Photography and Videography. Now that digital cameras are cheaper and since there is no film processing free, nearly every kid I know has their own digital camera (if only the hand me down when their parent upgraded). They also take video using a video recorder or the camera itself or even their mobile phone. Some boys choose to spend time using computer software to manipulate this media into something funny or even into a short movie. Some boys upload these to YouTube.

Video gaming. Those with an  xBox360 with xBoxLive can play games with strangers or friends. This has brought video gaming and social networking to a new level. Some create teams and play games as a team. The allow for live voice chat during the games. There is on screen text messaging also and ways to send messages similar to an email that can be retrieved later. Video games are also fun to play with your friends in the same room, much talking and laughing can result, this was a surprise for me. I'd always envisioned kids playing in silence staring at the screen like zombies but this is not always the case. The other day I woke up to find my son playing xBoxLive with a close friend. They were talking and laughing about non-game topics as well as game play strategizing. When my younger son awoke the three of them were talking and laughing up a storm. (And the general Internet is also available through some game consoles.)

Working for pay. Teens who work for pay can add that to their already full "to do" list.

The family has disposable income. Perhaps also having extra money for all the extra-curricular activities and money to buy video games, and to go to the movies and to give their kids mobile phones and to have enough computers in the home so everyone in the family can be online all at the same time is another reason. Children are no longer relying on books as an escape or as pleasure reading because they have access to so many other fun things to do with their time.

Busy summers. Families who fill the summer calendar with enriching activities for kids instead of leaving them alone to flounder in boredom or stuck staring at the clouds may be robbing their kids of the time to read for pleasure in the summer months. This includes kids who are forced into daycare situations or "summer camps" back to back all summer long, for the primary purpose of using it as paid childcare for a working mother or if the mother claims she "doesn't know what to do with her kids all day long" or is unable to find ways to not have the children bicker all day. Oh but add to the list that schools often give homework to do over the summer including reading multiple books and doing analysis and writing assignments on those books.

Traveling on trips with family. It seems now more than ever families are traveling. Air fare is so much lower now than twenty years ago that babies are traveling. Fill the time with travel and vacations and that tires the kids out also. Again they have less totally free time at home. This is not to say that some time on the trip and in travel can be spent reading a book, it can, but often the kids are doing other things with their time while away or they are tempted by any number of other things I listed here.

They are already reading enough. They can’t take any more. Some kids have limited tolerance for reading time and it is used up on school work. Kids with learning disabilities, diagnosed or undiagnosed, can fall into this category. It is a fact that an LD can tax the neurological system (brain) and that person has less “energy” to use on reading in a day. When you’re fried, you’re fried and there’s no more mental energy that can be expended (but vegging out in front of a TV is possible).

Vision problems. Some people have undiagnosed visual problems and need glasses. One adult I know has been struggling to read for the last few years as the eyeglasses they wear are not fitted correctly. At one point there was even double vision. The doctors are struggling to resolve this and the glasses have already been sent back to the lab several times. This person is a bookworm but has not been able to read much lately at all. When my own son tested to need glasses for close work I was shocked. Why didn’t he tell me everything was blurry? He thought it was supposed to look that way. Wow.

Visual related learning disabilities. A person of any age or gender may have various learning disabilities that hinder reading. The book "Reading By the Colors" has some examples in its pages of what written text looks like to people with certain LDs. If the text moved and wiggled and jumped and danced on the page would you read it? If you kept losing your place on the line and got sick of re-reading the same lines over and over to try to get that paragraph read once in its proper order, would you bother to read? If reading literally hurt your eyes or your brain would you do it? If listening to the radio or watching TV was do-able wouldn’t you do that instead of reading?

There are many solid reasons why more boys don't read. It's not always tied to the family's view on the value of reading, or on their outlook on the importance of an education, which is tied closely to reading text, and some of their challenges may be due to learning disabilities. The bottom line is that today’s kids are busy, they have almost too many options for what to do with their time, only some of which is spent playing video games or watching television. A good number of middle and upper class kids come from families with enough disposable income to keep them occupied with so many extra-curricular activities and surrounded by so many electronic gadgets and so many different types of entertainment that there are just too many non-reading pursuits competing for the little free time that they have in their lives.

I’m not so much defending television watching or video gaming as I am asking adults to wake up and get real about the lives of today’s children (of both genders). The answers as to why middle and upper class boys are not reading enough books to suit some adults is staring us right in the face: just look at how the kids are spend their time. Parents who don’t like how their kids spend their time should assess their role in all of this: how do they prioritize their children’s time, what are the family’s goals and focus and is what they are doing supporting those? What activities do they choose to enroll their children into, and how they spend their money on entertainment all matters. As to the video gaming and television time, I’m more an advocate for living moderation, setting limits and parameters and teaching my kids about self-discipline and making best choices than banning them altogether. Removing temptation and prohibiting normal behaviors does not teach moderation, priority setting, time management or self-discipline.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm Teaching a Current Events Class

I am teaching a class on current events at a homeschool co-op. The articles and lesson plans are free from a website: I like to teach homeschool co-op classes that benefit from group class environments that are just not the same to teach at home with just mom and one child (or mom and siblings).

The lesson plans have a vocabulary word list. Most of these are jargon relating to the topic i.e. business world jargon, educational-ese, government terms, or phrases that preteens or young teens may not yet know as they are not a part of their world yet, such as "ivory tower" or "tenure".

There is a list of discussion questions.

My format for the 90 minute class is this. I email the students and post to the co-op website, two articles, the vocabulary words and discussion questions. As homework they are to read the article, define the vocabulary words, formulate their opinions and reactions, and come to class ready to discuss. I have been choosing one serious news topic such as the BP oil spill issue or immigration and I choose one about the lives of children, teens, or about school. I do this as frankly some of the topics are so heavy I don't want to give them two depressing articles to talk about in one day.

We start the class by going over the vocabulary words. Some students write the wrong definition, so this is a good exercise, they come to realize that one word can have two or more very different meanings, only one of which relates to this article.

Next we discuss the questions, going right down the list. We cover two articles in 90 minutes.

The opinions of the students, aged 12-15 surprises me. Sometimes they have so much common sense I am so happy. Other times they are thoroughly unimpressed by the issue. For example, the three girls in the class told me they do not care at all that the number of doctoral degrees has just tipped to more women earning them than men. No students thought that having a doctoral degree is a sign of status (a term used in the article and in the questions). In a discussion of the percentages of men vs. women holding engineering, math and physical science degrees (male-heavy) and health, education, and behavioral sciences (women-heavy) none of them thought gender had any role in pre-determining the people's choices. None had heard of the nature versus nurture issue, and all said that everything is mutable and by choice or else due to the environment the person grew up in (all nurture).

I'm really enjoying teaching this class. It's fantastic to see kids actually thinking. They all seem to be independent thinkers generally, although I do see signs of having been swayed by media bias in big news stories they already were aware of (i.e. recent deep water oil spill). They show their ability to think critically the most when they have read one news story on a topic they knew nothing about prior to this. In any event, it's great to see kids expressing their opinion. We talk a lot and sometimes laugh a lot too.


You can sign up for a free email from to receive the lesson plans by email. They have an archive of the lesson plans at present but their policy on archiving lesson plans has shifted back and forth in the last year, so if you see a lesson plan you think you want to use in the future perhaps you should save a hard copy. Also in 2010 they didn't publish articles in the summer months.

Disclosure: I was not paid to mention

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm Teaching an Informal Fallacies Class

One of the classes I'm teaching at a homeschool co-op this fall is an introductory course to informal fallacies for students aged 12-16. I am co-teaching the class and there are five students. The text the students are using is a consumable student workbook called "The Art of Argument: an Introduction to the Informal Fallacies" by Aaron Larsen, Joelle Hode with Chris Perrin. My co-teacher and I are using the teacher manual.

The class is going great so far.

I had not pre-read the book before starting the class. A classical homeschooling mom friend of mine had proposed the course to me and lent me her book to peruse and I decided to offer the class and that text based on that preview. The book is turning out to be very good.

A teacher or homeschool mother could get away with teaching the class with only the student workbook if they wing the answers to the questions and if they don't care about tests.

I am a bit disappointed in the teacher manual. It is an exact replica of the student workbook with answers written in. At the back are tests that can be reproduced, followed by the test answer key. What I don't like is there are no notes or additional things that a teacher could discuss in the classroom for ideas.

This text could easily be used at home with homeschool mom and child. However I chose to do this as a group class as I think this lends itself well to group discussion. The kids seem to get energy from each other during discussions and sometimes what one student says seems to help the lightbulb go off in another student. The types of classes I prefer to teach at a homeschool co-op are those that lend themselves best to group discussion, something that is harder to pull off at home with mom and one child or mom, child and younger or older siblings.

We have the students read the sections and answer the questions at home. Then in class we go over the content to make sure the students understand it, because sometimes they just don't quite get it yet. We discuss the points. The parts which are scripts between Socrates and modern day students are read aloud in class, mostly to keep the kids alert and to not have the entire content lecture by the teachers.  We go over all the sample ads in the workbook and have the students tell the group their impressions of the ad and how it fits that fallacy.

However ideas for discussion or prompts for discussion are not given in the teacher manual which would be helpful. My co-teacher is more creative than I, to come up with ways to expand on these topics. I think the book is pretty thorough and have trouble finding things to talk about beyond this without just repeating what is in the text. Sometimes my co-teacher or I discusses a hot current event topic and asks if the students have heard of it (most of the time they have not) we discuss the fallacies being used in arguments about that issue and give a general summary of the issue at hand.

Some of the ad examples in the book are a bit too vague or just not detailed enough. We have asked students to bring in ads they spot in magazines or newspapers. We know they may think there is a fallacy, perhaps it is one we have not yet learned, but we want it anyway. We are compiling a stack of ads to identify in the future. We teachers are also bringing in ads. The ads which apply to fallacies already covered in the class are most of what the students are bringing in. We have the student who brought in an ad show it and discuss what they think. We then have the other students talk about that ad.

One other thing we are doing is having the students work in pairs to make up their own scenarios to illustrate the fallacy. For example they can act out a TV commerical for a political ad for a specific fallacy, or a product advertisement for a specific fallacy.

Our class is 90 minutes long and even with a break we find we can cover three fallacies per class. This means we will have no problem getting through the whole book with its 28 informal fallacies in our thirteen week session (20 hours of direct instruction).

The class is going so well we think we may offer a course next semester in which is the next book in the series about formal logic: The Discovery of Deduction.

After that is a book  that helps students learn create good arguments: The Argument Builder.

My co-teacher would like to teach a class with this book: Socratic Circles by Copeland.

Additionally some students in this co-op are taking a course by an attorney/homeschool mother about how to debate and they are considering starting a homeschooler Mock Trial competitive team. A number of these same students took a course by that teacher last semester about History's Greatest Trials and did an introduction to the United States legal system and the court system.

Most of the kids in my class now seem to really love this material. It's great to teach kids who really want to know this stuff. I love seeing kids "get it". They like the idea of learning how to spot fallacies so they are not duped by propaganda or advertising. They seem to really be getting into the idea of becoming more savvy in that way, what I'd term as "learning to think critically" as well as improving their powers of observation.

I'm lucky to have this co-teacher homeschool mom friend of mine as to be honest I think she's pulling off teaching this class better than I am.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Son's Grade 8 Homeschool Plan - Revised

Grade 8 Homeschool Plans, Revised

(updated 10/17/10)
Outside Classes and Extra-Curriculars

Participation in three homeschool co-op's, two of which hire professional teachers or subject matter experts to teach classes.

Attend ethnobotany homeschool group class (see below).

Continue with Boy Scouting, progress from First Class Rank to (at least) Star Rank. Earn at least six merit badges.

Begin sport, four season participation: crew.

Attend Davis Dyslexia Program intensive program, continue with homework throughout the year.

Continue visits with behavioral optometrist for monitoring visual processing disorder and occupational therapy and vision therapy at home as prescribed by doctor.

Academic Courses

Language Arts

Spelling: lessons at home: Spelling Power

Literary Analysis: Online class: K-12 Literary Analysis and Composition Grade 8-9. Update: Will continue home lessons with Bravewriter Boomerang in the fall and may enroll in the K-12 class in January. We are too busy this fall to handle adding this course.

Writing Composition: in addition to online class, lessons at home: Institute for Excellence in Writing and exercises and inspiration from Bravewriter's Writer's Jungle. I attended a Bravewriter workship in 9/10 and learned more details about using the program and use for the high school years and for SAT essay prep.

Writing Composition class at co-op, 10 hours. Writing done as part of science and history studies at home and at a co-op.

Newspaper production at co-op with writing, 10 hours

Other reading: self-selected fiction books on grade level, manga, and graphic books at home, plus nonfiction books self-selected, and magazines (i.e. Popular Science, Make, Scientific American, Boys' Life). Literature selections as part of writing composition and literary analysis classes.


Pre-Algebra, lessons at home, all of Key to Fractions workbooks.
Algebra I: Art of Problem Solving Introduction to Algebra. Algebra I course from Great Courses The Teaching Company when video lecture explanation is necessary. Algebra is also a component of his physics class taught by a private tutor (teacher with 39 years experience teaching high school physics).
Algebra II: begin and partially complete this year, Art of Problem Solving, if possible

Math Olympiad (MOEMS): prep classes at co-op (hours TBD) and compete in contests with homeschool group.

Computer Science: computer programming couse C# at homeschool co-op, to be a year long course with lecture and lab using curriculum TeenCoder.


Competing in Science Olympiad Level B with team of 15 homeschooled students.

Hands on Physics class with physics teacher at co-op, Science Olympiad related, 26 hours.

Conceptual Physics workshop classes on optics taught by former high school physics teacher and department head of a top Connecticut high school to a class of ten homeschooled students at a homeschool co-op. Text: Conceptual Physics for High School, 10th edition by Paul Hewitt (common high school textbook). Course includes some algebra and trig (linear equations, slope, sign, co-sign, and tangent).

Astronomy class with physics teacher at co-op, Science Olympiad related topics, 13 hours, includes weekly writing homework assignment. At least two field trips to an observatory to view the constellations in different seasons taught by the same teacher.

Chemistry introduction with scientist SME at co-op, and prep for two Science Olympiad  events. Crime Busters and Can't Judge a Powder 3 hours; more classes to be added later in the year.

Chemistry living books read at home:  Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker, Chemistry Getting a Big Reaction by Basher, and The Periodic Table by Basher.

Communication and Observation: Write It Do It Science Olympiad event class, 26 hours class taught by me faciliatated at a homeschool co-op.

Other workshops and classes related to prep for Science Olympiad event at co-op, TBD. Already completed: Shock Value 2 hours; Bottle Rocket event 8 hours.

Biology, grade 9-10 high school course taught at co-op (10 hours lecture, 5 hours lab) and much independent study at home using Biology by Miller and Levine (common high school textbook)

History and Social Studies

Current Events group discussion class at co-op, 20 hours of class, 26 newspaper articles to be discussed with vocabulary words, lessons from

History: Lessons at home: read and discuss Story of US by Joy Hakim, 11 book series. Watch documentary series: America the Story of US, read tie-in book, Story of the World volume 3 and 4, read more living books on US History (primarily) and world history (secondarily), 1700 to present is time period focus. (Note: considering adding K-12 online class for US History.)

Ethnobotany: Homeschool group class, experiential class in ethnobotany focusing on Native American skills and wilderness survival, teen group, 60 hours of instruction outdoors, hands on, outdoors. Fall semester includes study of and creation of homemade arrows and learning bow hunting and bow use skills practice.

Foreign Language

Begin learning Italian: before January 1 choose an online class or curriculum to use and begin.

Religious Education

Attend Youth Group classes at church weekly, class of students grade 7-8.

Community Service

Various small projects throughout the year with Boy Scouts and church.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Homeschooling is Portable

Here's my ten year old son doing homeschool spelling lessons with me outdoors near a river yesterday.

Sometimes the butt in chair concept has to compromise and is taken onto the road. While his brother was sculling down that river we used the time to squeeze in an evening lesson after a long day at his experiential wilderness homeschool class.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I did some serious reading about the craft of writing a few years ago. I was torn about the desire to write a book versus my time spent mothering and homeschooling and seriously considered making time, finding more time for writing with an aim for publication. I have since decided it's not the right time in my life for such a project. I have other higher priorities at the moment and am unwilling to take extra steps to make it happen (such as live on less sleep than my body requires for good health in order to write late at night or before dawn).

Anyhow one thing I read over and over was really you need BIC or Butt in Chair time. You just can't get the writing done if your butt is not in the chair and you are not writing. When you think about it it seems like a no-brainer but honestly some people expect results without putting in the work to get the results, or they think about doing something a lot, instead of putting that time to doing the thing, (such as me with my dream of having a book published). One author said something to the effect of "some people want to have had a book published not to actually do the work to write the book that is worthy of being published". That was an epiphany for me.

I'm sharing this today as the same is true for homeschooling regarding BIC.

If you choose to teach a subject at home you must do more than research and buy the curriculum you have to use it.

Sometimes a curriculum gets blamed for not being good enough when the actual problem is that it was never used. The homeschooling mother must use self-discipline to administer the lessons. The kids must put forth the effort to do the work, including studying and using extra effort if the learning is not happening magically and instantly.

Sometimes a curriculum and the plans are sound, and really it requires plugging away and away and away then the next thing you know the content is being mastered and the learning gets easier. At some point the curriculum is finished and we can rejoice by saying "he finished grade five math"!

(I'll not go into a rant as some unschoolers do about who defines what is fifth grade math and that learning stuff in life never ends. Instead I will bask in the warm fuzzy feeling that happens when something is finished up and it can be said that "he finished"!)

Sometimes curriculum is clearly is a bad fit and other options or different teaching methods must be used.

Mostly though, good things will come to those students who plug away, plug away, and plug away. Put the butt in the chair, do the work, and the learning will happen. Trust me.

Also in some situations the student suddenly finds they cannot master or memorize content unless they study. Thus the homeschooled student who formerly just did a little work on something and mastered it must actually have to apply themselves and do studying such as the way we parents recall having to do it in school or college. That is an indication their studies have moved up to the next level.

If after considerable effort and creative learning techniques, a child cannot learn or master a concept, consider having your child tested for learning disabilities. With good teaching and good materials and sometimes also some creative effort, learning does happen, if it is not happening after much effort on both the mother and child's part, honestly the child may have some problem that needs addressing with special therapies. If your child is bright but really struggles to learn certain things that may be a red flag that something else is going on that needs special attention.

Update: In case it wasn't clear, I'll share a bit more. I'm happy lately about putting time in for learning and seeing results. I know others can achieve results by the same method if the effort was put forth. I know from experience that sometimes the curriculum really is not a good fit or just seems to stink, but other times it's the teacher to blame (I mean in my case, I was to blame).

Regarding the learning disabilies I know from experience that no matter how hard a student tries sometimes it will never be enough: a formal diagnosis is needed to help guide an uninformed parent to receive therapies or learn new teaching methods or different study methods for the student to use.

This is about putting forth effort toward a desired goal. Playing the blame game and not doing the work and complaining about not reaching the goal is a waste of time. If anyone really wants to achieve a desired result then right action with good intention must happen. A good work ethic and perseverance makes it do-able.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How I Organize the Kid's Homeschool Papers & Stuff

Today I'm putting away last year's homeschooling papers. Yes, I know, it's September. Yes, we began homeschool lessons for this academic year in mid-August. I know I'm doing things out of order.

As I go through these papers and supplies I'm happy that this system has been working for us for over a year. Hers is my system.

We have a big antique hutch in our kitchen. The bottom shelf is open in the front. This is the perfect size for three Itso storage bins (cloth with a vinyl bottom) sold by Target.

Each kid gets one bin (they call it "full size fabric bin" full retail $9.99, you can find them on sale for $7.99). I get one bin for myself.

I used a portfolio pocket folder for each subject. In this went loose papers. None of the work my kids did filled a full student spiral notebook so I took sections with writing on them and removed them and put them into the folder as the year went on. For example the poetry writing class may have yielded one or two sheets of writing per class with a total of eight classes for the year, so they went into the pocket folder. Most of their long term outside classes have their own folder. I had one folder for miscellaneous classes that may have had just one piece of paper for the entire session. I also put certificates of course completion in there if we had one. There is a label on the front with the child's name, academic year and the subject.

All their folders went in the Itso bin.

When we were busy and I'd find loose papers lying around I'd shove them into the box for filing later (by them preferably).

Their boxes also had some spiral notebooks in it for when the needed one for class, they'd grab it.

Their boxes held all student workbooks they were using that year.

Their boxes held any living books or textbooks that they were in the process of reading right at that moment. Books to use in the future and books already done reading were not stored in the bin as there was not enough room. The items are in "standing up" alignment so they can flip through to see the covers of the books or the fronts of the pocket folders.

I got the kids into the habit of always putting their stuff away into their bin. When they need their poetry book, they grab it from the bin. When they finish with their math workbook for the day, they dump it in the bin.

Their boxes also held their timeline binders and illustrated graphics to put on the timeline. (We continue to not like doing this and every year I say we'll do it but we barely make any progress.)

My own bin holds all teacher's manuals and teacher textbooks that we are using right now. Any read aloud books I'm reading to them are there also.

On a shelf above are general reference books that one or both kids are using for various subjects such as dictionaries and atlases or drawing instruction books they both work on when the spirit moves them.

Also on the hutch is the pencil cup and a little cup that holds various kinds of erasers (pink rubber, art erasers etc.). A drawer holds sketch pads and art journals and another drawer holds special art markers, fine art color pencils, colored Sharpie markers and sketching pencils.

Baskets on each side of the hutch hold overflow books like the next books I want them to read for history or science or the books they just finished reading.

I have a wooden bin (actually it's an old square drawer, don't laugh) in my family library which holds the borrowed books from the public library. It has worked great to keep all the books we borrowed in one place except for the very moment we're reading and using them at which point they are on the nightstand or whereever we're using it. As soon as we're done with it, it goes to the bin for easy returning. I also donate unwanted magazines to the library so as I finish reading magazines or get ones in the mail I don't want to read I toss them in that bin. Before going to the library I check the bin and take what needs to be brought there.

So that's our filing system which has worked for one and a half academic years.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this review or mention any products contained in this post.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 247 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 247 has been published at As For Our House.

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

I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.

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 246 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 246 has been published at Raising Real Men.

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

I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.

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 245 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 245 has been published at Lesson Pathways.

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

I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.

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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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Camo Surprise

Alternate title: Cutest Ever

I'm not into frogs but come on, is this not the cutest ever?

While checking the status of my fennel seed harvest in my garden I looked where the praying mantis had been hanging out and saw this. I'm pretty sure it's the Grey Tree Frog, a juvenile which still has some of its green baby skin color. Note the size of the fennel seed, this little guy was only about a half inch long.

Double click to enlarge if you can't see the adorable line of his mouth and the way he's resting against the stalk.

Photo taken 9/18/10 by ChristineMM in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Sense of Relief

Two days ago the decision was made and I made the phone call. Despite temptation I scaled back the selections for my kids to take classes at the new homeschool co-op.

This is the one that really had me worried and stressed, the one that went from concept to reality. The one that expanded from one day to three. Its focus went from a place for teens and high schoolers to having 3/4 of the kids below grade 8, going right on down to age five. It went from the idea of hiring private tutors and subject matter experts to teach things beyond our personal scope to having some offerings by homeschool moms, and me being asked to teach.

My goal is for my older son to take classes there, my younger son's activities there are not the priority. I am committing to one day only and then only classes that satisfy core academic requirements (that's none so far) or are team prep classes and activities for Science Olympiad.

I can't tell you how relieved I feel knowing we will have more time to concentrate on core academics. I feel light and free and unencumbered.

In November and December when other outside activities finish for the semester I will evaluate which of those must drop to make even more time our own.

After all the thinking I did in recent blog posts I figured I owed my readers an update, so there you go.

Yesterday was a Sunday and our family spent the day in Manhattan. It was good and refreshing to get out of the house and away from our usual family routines.

I have a renewed sense of courage and a sense of calm about our choice to homeschool and feel enthusiastic about the various choices we have. The worry over how to homeschool high school for a kid with some learning disabilities seeking an engineering degree is very small now. It will cause me worry and stress in the future I'm sure but at this moment I'm feeling capable and enthusiastic.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Edges Are Best

Some of the best and most useful plants grow at the edge of tamed land and the wild. I've been getting to know some of these edge-loving plants lately.

I don't yet know what this plant is, perhaps a less common species of Goldenrod. It's on the edge of my woods. I snapped the photo so I could research the plant but wound up loving the photo for its background with the setting sun and sunlight filtering through my woods.

Worst Case Scenario Helps Seal the Deal

This week we had our first session of the homeschool co-op that was created last spring which we participated with then, and loved.

The new co-op in formation has five "early days" planned which serves to expose the students to various outside teachers and their course offerings. Based on the student and parent's opinions of these offerings we can choose which to participate with for the fall session or say we are not interested in. It is a great idea. This week contained day four. I have been thinking about these classes for the last two weeks and have remained with an open mind. My concern is so many are fantastic but how much will it cost and which do we have time for? Since this co-op is three days a week, do we really want to be there three days a week? We also have prior committments, other outside classes that we paid for before this new co-op was up and running.

(We are also in a third co-op which has not started its fall session yet.)

If you have been reading my blog lately you know that I have been struggling to figure out our family's goals versus the great opportunities that exist in the community. It is hard to pick and choose which to do and which not to do. Emotions are involved since I have pursuasive friends and my kids want to be with their friends five days a week. Fun or interesting course offerings are tempting. I am flattered and happy we made the list to be invited also, not everyone I know has been so lucky.

After speaking to a friend on the phone for over an hour late yesterday afternoon I felt more calmed down. I was setting my mind to focus on our priorities and telling myself it is okay to say no to some great classes my kids could take.  I had a great night's sleep and woke up in a calm happy mood. I was feeling more self-confident about declining certain opportunities to work in a more relaxed manner on our goals.

Until an hour ago.

An email came in from a teacher of my son's about a class he's taking at one co-op. They have met only once so far this fall. The email said that he is concerned for the abilities of the students to summarize a scientific article in writing and their writing composition abilities are in need of improvement. Ouch. It stings for me as this is the #2 goal of my son who is in his class. (My son reports they have done no writing yet so this must be based on experiences with the class last spring.)

There had been no communication between me and teacher last semester or so far this semester. There are no parent-teacher conferences, no feeback given. The teacher has no idea of the learning disabilities my son has been diagnosed with or what we are doing to remedy them. He has no idea the thousands of dollars and the many hours of work we have spent in the last 2.5 years to help our son.

Yet there is a risk here that our family could be reported to the state for educational neglect. I honestly had never dreamed that this may happen regarding our participation with a homeschool co-op, as I don't like to live in that kind of fear. I have an overall general concern for false reports to the state for educational neglect but where co-op's were concerned I never thought about the ramifications if a teacher saw deficits in my children's work.

This sealed the deal for me that having goals is not enough. I must make time in our family's schedule to do the work to reach these goals. Already my son is struggling to get his work done, the homework for the Davis Dyslexia program. We paid $2800 for the Davis Dyslexia program, but for this to be effective my son must do the homework or the money was wasted and the benefits will not be seen.

If we're out of the house five days a week at three homeschool co-op's, none of which is addressing the top priorities for my children's home education, that's just plain stupid. In order to do right by my kids and to meet the goals we need to either have these things taught by outside paid professionals at co-op's or with private tutors or we all need to be home enough so I can teach my kids this academic content.

I hate it when fear is the basis for making a decision. My former fear of being left out, fear of being locked out of a new co-op if I didn't jump on the bandwagon at its inception, my fear of my kids missing some enriching wonderful thing led me to sign up for too many homeschool co-op's this fall.

However the fear of being reported for educational neglect is a fear that is much more serious that I won't dismiss. I am taking this as a wake up call from yet another source, I have yet another reason to decline some opportunities.

And anyway, focusing our academic goals on certain areas that need improvement is something I wanted to do and planned to do, in order for my son's general education. The fear of being reported to the state is not the reason to do it but serves as yet another reason why I must have right priorities in order when scheduling our time. If I drop or reduce some outside things we're doing now or say no to new things it would allow us to have more time at home to focus on what we should be doing.

I'm taking this fear of being reported for educational neglect, that worst case scenario for a homeschooler, as the straw that's breaking the camel's back.

Define goals.
Determine how academic content will be taught (at home or at a co-op or with a private tutor).
When scheduling outside committments do not allow them to prevent the goals from being met.
Make time to be at home if studies are to be taught at home by mom. Don't over-schedule.
Measure results.
Adapt plans if desired results are not resulting from the educational experiences.
As goals are met in content and skill areas, re-define goals or shift priorities to other academic areas.


In case you are wondering:

The co-op with this teacher is the best one we're involved in, so I'm not dropping it. My son loves the content of the classes with that teacher and loves the teacher too. This is a case when an outside teacher is serving as a motivator in a content area I cannot teach my son. The response to this situation  is not to drop that co-op or quit clases with that teacher, I feel the right response is to work to get my son up to speed on his goals. I'm not blaming the teacher for expecting a certain level of skill and competency for kids of that age.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What I'd Like for Older Son's High School Education

To feel a bit more grounded I complied this list of what I would like my older son's high school education to be like. (I discussed this with my husband but he was really tired after a seventeen hour day. He agreed but didn't say much. We have plans to attend three local private high school open houses in the next five weeks to have something to compare our homeschool plans against.)

My plan is to compare this list of objectives against future activities I am tempted to enroll my son to do, whether they are one-off homeschool events, homeschool co-op's, class learning in the community, considering traditional school enrollment, and extra-curricular activities. This will also serve to help with the decision about whether he will enroll into traditional high school.

Main goal: Prepare son for the career of his choosing. Since at this point it is engineering that means college attendance with certain pre-requisites. This is the top priority in my son's teenage years.

1. Tailor academic studies and content focusing on the college pre-requisites.

2. Have time for studying and doing some other things of his choosing, things that interest him above and beyond the college pre-requisites.

3. Have time to do one sport or at least some independent physical exercise for general fitness and health reasons.

4. Continue Boy Scouting to meet his goal of achieving Eagle rank.

5. Have time to see friends, not be alone or feel lonely due to being too busy all the time with #1, 2, and 3. If #4 and 5 are not enough social time, have time left for "just" social time with friends.

6. Have enough time alone to recharge. This son would probably use some of it in creative pursuits alone at home. He has always needed some time alone daily and thrives with open expanses of free time.

7. Have some good role model teachers that he looks up to and respects, a face to face relationship not just having teachers teach via the Internet.

8. Have one or two men worthy of being a mentor in his life, perhaps a teacher, coach, Scoutmaster or someone who knows him in person.

Method of Studies

1. Ideally learn in a way that is most in alignment with learning styles and other individual traits, or at least be able to adapt studying with study methods that work best for him so content is mastered.

2. Have freedom to learn in a way that is flexible due to his learning disabilities (such as with homeschooling). A goal is to learn to adapt to the learning situation with what he as the student can control. I don't mean asking for special accommodations from the teacher or school. He must learn to take information in one way and to use various study skills to master the content. He may have to do more studying than some other students, whatever it takes, he needs to learn to do and to take control of his himself and be responsible for it.

3. Not do an educational method that causes problems and creates negative situations that wouldn't exist if he were homeschooled. I mean, if the same end goal can be achieved by homeschooling which is effective, to not enroll him into a traditional school if he'd learn less or fare worse there.

4. Studies will be thorough enough to meet college requirements and be similar to American high school (not weaker or worse). In fact, if the studies could go deeper or be more meaningful it would be best.

5. Class content will prepare him for taking various standardized tests as per requirements of the college application process.

6. If necessary, dedicate extra study time and specific effort to practice test-taking skills, etc. to prepare for standardized tests.

7. Have great teachers that teach effectively and don't waste time with busywork.

8. Be able to perform work typical in a high school classroom setting and in college (textbook learning, studying for tests, homework completion, time management skills, etc.).

9. Be able to function in a classroom setting regarding etiquette and exhibiting appropriate behavior.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Saying No and Doing Less (an Update)

An update to all my ramblings in the last few days: I think I need to say no and do less with groups of homeschoolers. My oldest son in eighth grade needs to do more things that he wants and needs to do to get to his end goal. Alternatively if what we are doing outside was more rigorous it would suffice but at this moment, outside things are not an equivalent replacement for what could be done at home or with online classes.

I have a general gist of what my son needs to do to prep for applying to college to seek an engineering degree. I have a lot more to learn, details about AP exams and SAT subject tests and so forth. I know enough to know the things we're doing in groups won't get him to that goal (or at least what we're doing right at this very second). I know enough to know he needs more seat time at home doing book lessons or watching The Teaching Company college courses, or doing online classes and maybe in grade ten to begin taking a community college class.

His major focus this year is math. I want him to finish Algebra I and to be on to Algebra II before July 1. He will do math year-round in order to get all the maths in line so he can do advanced sciences that have math pre-requisites. My husband would love for him to have finished Calculus I before entering college. A friend is telling me Calculus I should be finished before the end of his Junior year, in order to do an AP Physics class in his Senior year. That sounds lofty to me. Honestly I don't think the majority of engineering students from American public schools did AP Physics in public high school. Then again, that friend (whose advice I respect) is evaluating my son against competing students for college admisions to American colleges who are from around the WORLD (with better math programs than America has, some would say).

Another focus this year is study skills, time management and self-organization.

We are also integrating the new program for him, the Davis Dyslexia program, this is a learning curve for both of us. My son's ability to get his schoolwork done and retained in his long term memory is a bit challenged due to dyslexia, and a bit of a slowed visual processing speed which affects reading comprehension and requires different study skills to master and memorize content. Also when we do too much running around and he misses sleep he gets overly fatigued and gets a  relapse of mononucleosis symptoms (which he had in 2009). These are all factors we have to work around that make things a bit tricky regarding cramming a ton of content in to get through it or that makes living a life with a pace of running around like a chicken with one's head cut off a bad idea.

I am not yet going to try to dissuade my son from his goal just because the road he has to hoe to get there is not an easy one for him. I do acknowledge that not all children are cut out to do the work of an engineer but don't want to be the one, or at least not just yet, to close that door for my son. I do believe where there is a will there is a way. Having been in the opposite situation myself, where my father was not open to my desired life course (traditional college attendance), I am perhaps over-compensating by bending over backwards in order to not just open doors but keep them propped open and help my struggling learner make it through. I also have to enrich myself with information and motivation and keep my spirits boosted high so that I can be here to do the ideal things for my son.

(At this point I worry that if he were to attend traditional school as my husband suggested a few days ago, just to make it easier on me and us to not have to worry so much about if we are doing enough or the right thing by homeschooling, I believe it would introduce new problems for learning due to his dyslexia and visual processing disorder. If homeschooling can help him avoid some of that while still having quality learning experiences and get him ready for college work, which I think it can, then I would like him to continue homeschooling, but only if the path is going to the right place.)

I need to sit down and write out my son's plans such as all the outside classes he has already started or will be starting by the end of September. I have a feeling when it's all down on paper it will look impressive rather than my short term memory reminding me of all he is not doing yet.

Thanks to everyone for your encouragement and links to sources for information. The big problem is not my ignorance about what the colleges want, it's that I'm too moved by pursuasive friends and acquaintences who want my children in the group events that their children are in, in order to make the program run and/or because they like my kids and want their kids to be around them more often. It's a compliment that I should take while at the same time saying, "No, thank you, we don't have time for that. I'm sorry."

Star Wars Costume Pattern Info

Here is the link to my archives, a post about Star Wars sewing costumes.

Star Wars Costume Patterns

Some patterns are sold with the Star Wars license (see Simplicity 4426). Others have been made to look just like Star Wars costumes but with generic names and no licensing (see Simplicity 5840). These patterns apparently go out of print. I guess some pattern companies just don't understand the wants of their customer base. Even if it's not the year that a Star Wars movie was released there are always children (and some adults) who want to make a Star Wars costume!

The patterns I own are Simplicity 4426 and Simplicity 5840. If you want to see what they look like to a image search.

If you are looking to buy an out of print sewing pattern check eBay. You may find used pattern sellers individually selling on their own websites but buyer beware.

Also go to the largest sewing store near you and browse the patterns. You may find one that is a general pattern that you couldn't find due to using a keyword search that was not an exact phrase match.

Good luck everyone and an early Happy Halloween to you!

Note: I was not paid to mention these products, I bought these for our family's personal use.

Monday, September 13, 2010

...and a Great Day Today

Coming off our all time low with homeschooling yesterday (in which my husband suddenly was worried about the quality of our older son's education for the upcoming high school years and declared we were sending him to school) we had a great day today.

If you don't know what I'm referring to see yesterday's blog post and the comments. I will clarify one thing. I do believe I can figure out by research what needs doing for homeschool high school. I'm just worried that the choices I'm making are taking us off course (doing too many homeschool co-op's). I also worry of joining in with groups for a long-term committment if they are heading in a different direction than my son wants to go, or needs to go in order to meet his goals. Lastly one reason to do these co-op's is for social reasons for my younger son. It is sometimes hard to do what is right for both kids when the two kids need to be in two different places at the same time doing two very different things. The only thing I have to rely on for the future is when my older son can stay home alone more frequently to do his school work while I am out elsewhere getting my younger son's social needs met. Back to today...

One of the homeschool co-op's resumed session today. This time I'm teaching three classes (alone) and co-teaching a fourth. I couldn't be happier with how it went. I am impressed by the students especially those in my two discussion classes, the 7th-10th graders. They are not afraid to discuss things, are clearly independent thinkers, have good common sense, can speak eloquently and express their opinions clearly. They made rational arguments for their reasonings and showed disgust at the ridiculousness that exists in some New York Times newspaper articles and in advertisements.

I'd also worried that two classes would be boring but I somehow made them fun. Only one in eighteen students appeared to not be happy with being in a course.

I'm so happy with the day that the fact that my PC with un-backed up documents (nine years worth) which was infected with Security Suite virus yesterday, and again today, didn't get me down. It's fixed now thanks to the verbal help from an IT guy that my husband works with. I also didn't lose any data.

It's been a busy good day!