Friday, August 31, 2012

Conforming to Society but Still Resisting the Cookie Cutter

Despite my sample set being just two students, my children, whom I homeschool, and what I know about myself and my husband, I think I can say this is true of humans and organization and managing their schoolwork.

One type of person is naturally organized and can self-manage easily. Sometimes the lessons are learned after making mistakes in real life and we adapt our behavior easily and quickly after one or a few mistakes.

Some people need monitoring to get into a groove.

Some people seem seriously challenged with self-managment and need to be directly told some things that may seem intuitive or common sense to the rest of us. Put your book in that spot when you are finished. Keep your papers in one place in an organized manner. Know what you did with your homework assignment. Know your schedule. Update your schedule when changes occur.

New systems such as getting used to a new internet platform for an online class can be a big challenge for some people.

I seem to have kids on the opposite side of each spectrum. I am more mature than they are and the way I am today is not the way I was when I was young. I am wiser and more organized and neater now than I was when I was a preteen and a teen. It is hard for me to shift gears from what I know is best (that sometimes borders on perfectionism) and what is reasonable to expect and then to figure out how to deal with each kid to shift gears to teach them these things without sounding like a critical complainer or a nag.

Homeschooling more rigorous academics in the junior high and high school years is a challenge. I thought that outsourcing some of the teaching to others this year would be less of a burden on me but so far it is more work for me! I am happy to report that the classes I selected are rigorous which I wanted, but they are harder than I thought, and this is a both a blessing and a curse. My kids are being pushed to do hard work, (and some busy work in some cases). They are doing some quality learning too, of course. They have to comply with external deadlines, report to an authority who is not me and take quizzes, tests, and get graded by unemotional third party teachers. While this does not seem unreasonable to those who live the school life you need to know that my kids have had an alternative education using unshooling, then Charlotte Mason, then an eclectic largely "learning by doing" experience. All those things were the polar extreme from reading boring textbooks and answering homework questions and memorizing the periodic table and being tested on terms.

I can't say my kids are at a place where they are doing learning for the sheer joy of learning in all of their classes. They are being tested and tried by the rigor. They are both doing a college prep program, one is the classical education model. These are basic courses that will more than fulfill high school graduation requirements. They are learning and they will grow their minds in this process so it is worth it. They are doing these things in order to keep the door open to seek the career of their choice. They are doing these things because they have to if they want to do those careers.

The last thing that remains a challenge for both of my kids is having a full academic load and continuing to play a four season sport plus do Boy Scouts. My older son is also juggling participation in the year-round FIRST Robotics team. I don't want them to not fulfill their passions, to not have a social life, and to not do the sport they love which also has or is getting them into top physical condition.

If my kids had it their way they would narrow their academics to their passion areas and skip doing what they hate. They would avoid history as they think it is meaningless in their lives. My sophomore says he would like to spread his academics over six years (not four) so that he could do the robotics at a high participation level, do Boy Scouts with its leadership roles and for the fun of it, and do the sport at an intense competitive level which he now craves for physical fitness and for the full social life it provides.

But we live in America where high school is supposed to be only four years and where colleges still want (practically demand) that students enroll as freshman at age 18. So we are trying to squeeze our alternative education kids into the cookie cutter as much as we can while still allowing them to have time to do the extracurricular activities that provide them the personal fulfillment they love and which helps make them the unique people they are developing to be.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Trying an Online Live Spanish Class with Native Speaker

At the homeschooling convention I learned of a service which I'd never heard of. A thing on my list to set up for the fall was Spanish instruction for my 7th grader. He is asking to learn Spanish (having abandoned Italian via Rosetta Stone). Now that we live in Houston we are surrounded by Spanish signs and labels on foods and Spanish speakers. It would be nice to know how to converse with others and having people all around you to practice on enhances learning and helps with memory retention.

I was surprised to see a booth for a 1:1 Spanish class, online (voice only) via Skype with a native Spanish speaker. My son's teacher lives in Mexico.

We purchased a trial session to see how it goes. They speak online and then printable worksheets for homework and reference lists to use as learning tools are emailed to us. They claim these courses are "enough" for a full class and go up through the high school level.

I am pleased with the service so far. Due to my lack of familiarity with teaching a foreign language course I am unable to compare how rigorous this is in comparison with a textbook based program. However solving the issue of having access to not only a fluent Spanish speaker but a native Spanish speaker may be worth it. I wonder also if families could supplement whatever learning they are doing with this in order to get in more talking time with a native speaker. Prices vary depending on the number of classes that you take. Today they advertise the fees can be as low as $6 per hour.

The company is Homeschool Spanish Academy.

To further complicate matters for our family right now, after I paid for these classes I enrolled my son in a big group learning experience which includes Latin (which is new to him). I am unsure if my son can do all the work in the other subjects plus Latin and if continuing with Spanish is possible or overkill this fall. We will see how it goes.

Disclosure: I am a paying customer of Homeschool Spanish Academy and have no incentive to mention their services. I am not getting paid from them to advertise or tout their services.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why Rigid Homeschool Schedules Make Me Twitch

I hate detailed homeschooling schedules. To me they are a recipe for showing failure. Intentions to do math that hour fail when half the time is spent on the toilet in that hour. Now we are behind a half hour. It's like a domino cascade of failure as one typical thing after another happens as the day unfolds.

We have mostly used checklists by day of the week. Each day is an hour of math. Read an hour of fiction books of your choice before bed to unwind. Do one spelling lesson a day with Spelling Power. So forth and so on. That works best when Mom plans the studies and when the kids are only accountable to the parent-teacher.

When outside classes are used that require homework the vague checklists are useless. Now the work centers on deadlines. The top priority is to do what needs to be done on time. Second is do studies that Mom oversees which have softer deadlines.

Using online classes from home requires paying attention to the time when home. Our favorite days have always been when we could wake when our bodies told us they were finished, and when we had nowhere to be and learning just flowed. And we got to stay in our pajamas if we wanted. We could kind of forget time in general and had a feeling of freedom. We'd set a timer to go off in an hour to signal when to stop the history read aloud and move on to something else. When you have an important live class you have to keep a sense of awareness of the time and also give yourself preparation time to get online and ready the websites and have your notebook and pen ready for notetaking.

This fall each son has online live classes. They also each have online classes which don't meet at a certain time but deliver lessons with due dates via the Internet. My younger son is enrolled in a classical homeschooling group who uses one day of in-person classes but doles out assignment checklists, worksheets, and learning tools via a website. This fall we have the most appointments for home education than we ever had. This means we have to get more formal with our scheduling.

My grade 10 son's work is independent work. He does not need me or should not need me for this work. This lack of being taught directly and me not saying "It is time to do history together" puts him in control. I would like to see him organizing his own time and getting the work done under his own guidance.

The biggest struggle right now is that my sons are spending time doing things that are not homeschool related. When going online to check email to see what the teacher sent my son takes a sidestep into what I call time suck activities. He will go to Facebook and poke around. He will listen to music and go off into a daze. He will do other things like research song lyrics and ponder them. Next thing you know an hour went by and no academic work was done. He also will choose to do enjoyable easy work with a far out deadline (listen to Tom Sawyer on audiobook) instead of read the world history text that he is supposed to be prepared to discuss in today's class.

I am trying to figure out a way to organize the assignments that makes the due dates obvious and at the forefront. We also need assignments that are things they should do every day such as math which I oversee at home.

The student planners are organized by current day. Students are to write the assignments in the book on the day that the teacher gives them the assignment. This may be simple for school kids who meet five days a week and often have assignments due the next day but it is not ideal for homeschoolers. Some classes have already published their assignments reaching out one month from now and the deadlines are all over the place. Some assignments my son has now are due in 4 weeks, 5, 6, and one is due in 5 months. The large projects need to be doled up in smaller pieces that are done over time in doable portions.

I am trying an Excel spreadsheet which has a column for a due date. I think typing it in is faster for me or either of my kids, than using a paperback book based planner that requires handwriting in tiny slots. Let's not even get into sloppy writing and the problems that could cause.

How do you keep track of assignments due? Do you use a schedule? What format do you use?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Memorizing the Periodic Elements

My 10th grader was told to memorize about 60 elements, their name and their abbreviation.

As I helped him I realized how frustrating it is that some things are so similar with the abbreviation.

To help I finally decided the way it gets into the brain does not matter, so I divided the cards up.

First I made a stack of abbreviations that are just one letter. C = Carbon

Next I made a stack of those which are the first two letters of the chemical's name. Ca = Calcium

Next I made a stack of those with two consonants which was not the first two of the chemical's name. Cr = Chromium

Lastly I made a stack of those with two letters that had absolutely nothing to do with the English word for the chemical or is tricky. Cu = Copper Au = Gold

By focusing on memorizing just the groups, my son was able to remember them.

After that, ghere are about 5% that are giving him trouble.

A few I made up silly sayings to give the answer. Sodium is Na which stumped my son. I reminded him of how much salt my father puts on his food and we tell him enough is enough and he always says, "Nah! This is good!" So Na = Sodium. Although I know that table salt is not plain Na this is good enough for the purpose.

Later when they were all jumbled up he remembered them correctly. So long as the item is retained in the memory how it got in does not matter. If the info is retrieved by the brain correctly then learning has taken place.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Bad Cycle with Learning

About learning and doing assignments:

Fear of Failure ->
Self-confidence Plummets ->
Procrastination ->
Try to Avoid Doing the Assignment ->
Not Completing Assignment Induces Anxiety ->
Desire to Reduce Anxiety ->
Try to Avoid Doing the Assignment ->
Procrastinate ->
Deadline Looming, Running Out of Time ->
Induces More Anxiety ->
Fear of Failure ->
Pressure Increases ->
Stress Causes Cloudy Thinking ->
Difficulty Learning Something New or Accessing What is Already Known ->
Difficulty Performing the Task ->
Failure to Perform the Task on Time ->
Gets Behind in the Learning Plan ->
Gets Lost, Left Behind Other Students ->
Assignment's Grade Failures Stack Up ->
Anxiety Increases ->
Failure to Learn ->
(sometimes) Student Gives Up and Drops Out

Someone who is graphically gifted could make a cool visual chart of this showing arrows going every which way to represent the ways these things can cross-relate.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Tail Shouldn't Wag the Dog

Although people seem to like absolutes, the fact is when discussing homeschooling, absolutes just don't exist. If we pretend they exist we are setting ourselves up for failure. If we think other families experience one thing and our family struggles, we blame ourselves for our shortcomings. The fact is, there is no perfect homeschool or perfect mother or father and there are no perfect homeschool students either.

The topic I want to discuss today applies to all homeschools, regardless of method, unless you have a student who does 100% of all their work independently without any parental guidance. Just helping ensure your child meets deadlines for a community college class, or a co-op class, or an online class you attend from home would apply to what I am discussing, so this applies to nearly all homeschoolers, even unschoolers who use formal education in some form. I doubt there are many homeschooled students operating 100% on auto pilot.

At present our homeschool is using a variety of different outsourced learning experiences so we have assignments due and we live by other teacher's timeframes. Even at grade 10 and 7 my sons are not able to navigate all these different systems alone, at least not at first.

Some systems such as the method to do on online course are so complicated even I am struggling to understand it, to get the right logins, to understand where to go to get what information and to realize the deadline idiosyncrasies. What is perhaps making this more difficult is that even when my kids enroll through the same "school" each teacher has different platforms and methods of communicating. This is much more complicated than my days of attending public school, getting assignments orally and written on the blackboard, keeping notes by hand in a notebook and using hardback textbooks as our source material. Today we have to use a number of different technologies with various gatekeepers and websites. We use hardcover and softcover books and we use ebooks on different ereaders. Even the assignment to "read to page 39" is not simple becuause our Kindle Fire HAS NO PAGE NUMBERS provided, thank you, teacher!

My role now more than ever is that of facilitator, helping get my kid's physical bodies to that physical place for that in real life class. Other times we have to be at home and logged on properly to attend that other online class. There are other deadlines of assignments delivered in multiple different ways then assignment changes delivered through another website that must be logged into and read and then amend the original printed off assignment checklist. In one case we have to use an online scheduling system to set up the appointments then use a different platform for the actual class. Am I explaining the chaos well enough?

My kids need guidance to help get this all done and to juggle life basics like eating and sleeping. We have sports and Boy Scouts to juggle. We all have various medical appointments to get to and sometimes urgent or emergent medical needs to attend to which take top priority. It is hard to coordinate all of this. It's a juggling act.

The only way that learning and homeschooling can get done is with the kid's cooperation. They have to buy into it. Even when an assignment seems stupid, they have to do it. Even if the technology is frustrating, they have to learn to navigate it. Even when the book is boring, they need to read it. Period.

When I am home and the kids are home and it's time for me to help with their lessons they'd better engage. However, sometimes they do not. I get attitude and flack from them, or they procrastinate and put me off until the window of opportunity closes. They then push the deadline and wind up later on deciding they are finally ready to do the work, things that need my help or perhaps they are stuck on what they thought was to be a solo assignment. Often they need my assistance if true learning is to occur. However at that time I may be on my way out the door to go to a meeting, or busy making dinner, or it's my bedtime. Just because they want to stay up to midnight or one or three in the morning (as my fifteen year old just did the other night) does not mean I am willing or able to also stay up that late to help them.

That situation is when the tail is wagging the dog.

And I hate it.

And I resent them doing that to me.

It is hard enough to homeschool your kids, to take on the general responsiblity for administering their education, but to have them act selfish enough that they feel they have a right to not cooperate when I have time, when they need my help, then for them to think they can boss me around about when they want me to help is just outrageous and unacceptable. I am not here at their beck and call, not now. I have been there, and done that, as a very attentive mother to my infants and toddlers and preschool aged kids. I worked hard to feed them when they were hungry, change their dirty diapers or rush them to the toilet before they had an accident. I provided them quiet sleeping chambers when they were napping or for a good night's sleep. I gave close supervision when they were young children. As they grew older and became more independent they wanted more control of their lives, as they should, but sometimes they take it too far: wanting something that is just unreasonable and to my mind is disrespectful.

Now that they are 15 and 12 the idea, the gall, that they think they can push me around to be their parent-teacher when they feel the spirit move them is just not acceptable, not in our house. My husband is in agreement with me on this. So long as they need my help or my husband's help, they need to change their attitude to us being a team.

Homeschooling (in our family) is not an oppressive act where I push down my expectations onto them. My kids are now marching to orders of teachers. My kids are doing these classes so they can be on the path to get to where they say they want to go with their careers. This is not about me pushing my dreams onto my kids. I am following their lead to help provide them the way to do what THEY SAY they want to do. And even with the things they have to do for these classes, I still think my kids have more freedom than public schooled kids, but the funny thing is they, having never been to school, cannot appreciate this.

Now that we have outsourced more than ever before, I am no longer the bad guy making all the academic requirements, now it is the teacher whose "fault" it is, but I am here taking the fallout anyway. And I'm still responsible, because legally and technically they are still being home educated so in the end I'm still to blame if this homeschool experiment fails, or I'll take the bulk of the credit if they succeed.

So back to my kids needing my help sometimes. The only way I can help with assignments if I am physically present and fully awake, and otherwise free and able. There has to be some give and take about when the "helping" or teaching takes place. I have limits, such as a biological need for sleep. Asking them to do their schoolwork during daylight hours is not unreasonable. I would stretch that to early evening but in fact they are at sports practice then (something they want to do). By 8pm when they are showered and done eating dinner, I am fried and really am not emotionally available to help them. By that point having been with them all day and/or shuttling them to one and another of their appointments, I am just plain tired and worn out. I am awake and emotionally refreshed in the daytime so if they need me, they will have to just accept that even if they don't feel like doing lessons at one in the afternoon, it's just tough, they have to do it then. For all that I give my kids of myself, my time, my energy I don't think that them working around my preferred schedule is asking too much.

I don't think that what I am asking is unreasonable. I can't and won't live with the tail wagging the dog. (And I don't think that other homeschool moms should have to live that way either.) Kids who think their homeschooling moms are their servants have the wrong idea, it is an ungrateful attitude that not only sickens me but saddens me.

I ask myself sometimes what did I do wrong to create kids who think they are entitled to be the boss of me? Has homeschooling helped create over-indulged brats? Only time will tell. And I don't think the time to make judgements is when my two sons are in the crazy hormonal teenage years.

This rant was written on a rough homeschooling day when I was in the first week of treatment for Lyme Disease. It's the end of our first real week of homeschooling for our younger son and my older son has had a softer start. It's been a bad week, and we just moved three weeks ago. We have a lot on our plates. I feel that sometimes to keep homeschooling real it is necessary to share thoughts on the dark days so here are my thoughts.

In the end truly the core of thie issue here winds up being about relationships and trust and respect. Homeschooling requires strong family bonds and mutual trust and respect, I believe.

Paraphrasing Bauer on Classical Home Education for High School

I enjoyed hearing Susan Wise Bauer speak live at the Texas Homeschool Coalition's convention in The Woodlands a few weeks ago.

I will paraphrase something Bauer said of homeschooling the high school years using classical education.

Every classical student's home education will look different in the high school years because all the years leading up to that point have been about exposing the student to a wide range of information to build a foundation of knowledge. They have already mastered basic reading, writing and math. Hopefully the exposure they have had (insert my opinion here: and the things they did in the rest of their time outside of homeschool academics), by the high school years will have led the students to find their passion (or at least an area of interest). Hopefully they have an idea who they are as a person and what they want to do, what they enjoy.

Thus the high school years should be a time where the top priority is given to spending time exploring on a more deep level the topics that the student is passionate about. The rest of the core academic subjects that are typical in America and that colleges require for admissions applications should be studied in a more bare bones way just to get them done. Spend more time on the areas of interest.


I agree with this philosophy of education.

I would prefer that my kids (and all kids) spend time in their teen years figuring out who they are and what they enjoy and what they are passionate about and finding ways to fulfill those curiosities and passions instead of just loading up on rigorous academics in all content areas in order to try to look well-rounded and try for a higher than 4.0 GPA and shoot for admissions to a small number of brand name prestigious elite liberal arts colleges.

More and more people are saying that colleges have had their fill of campuses chock full of "well rounded" students and they instead want campuses filled with people with deeper knowledge and specialization in one field.

I would prefer that my kids know or at least seriously think they know what they want to do with their lives before applying to college so they can select a school wisely.I would hope that the college years are spend diving deeply into studies instead of floundering around aimlessly not knowing who they are since they have been pushed though an education system that said "take the most high level courses you can and spend your afternoon and night until midnight or later cramming homework and studying for short-term memory recall for the tests" mindset.

While I'm at it, I'll say that I would prefer college be a time to really learn not just to enjoy freedom away from parents and free license to get drunk and do drugs and have free sex with other students while living in co-ed quarters without curfews. College is too darned expensive to treat it like a $1K plus hedonistic spring break vacation every week of the year. But I digress...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Thoughts on Get Out of My Life... Teen Parenting Book

Years ago while practicing attachment parenting on my little kids and using gentle discipline and when I was involved with La Leche League I'd heard just one book recommended for parenting teens: Get Out of My Life But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall by psychologist Anthony Wolf. At some point I got ahold of an inexpensive copy of the 1991 edition and stuck it on my shelf. While packing to move last year I chose to keep the book as I may need it in the future. I had not yet been driven nuts by parenting a teen and had not yet felt the need to read a book about teenagers.

Last month while unpacking the stuff that had been in the storage unit I came across the book and I put it on my nightstand to start reading it (since I feel I need this now). Coincidentially a homeschool mom blogger, MFS of Mental Multivitamin mentioned in her blog post that she read this and her comment was,
"Read this as "research" for a piece You know what? This book actually frightened me. Apparently, some teenagers are really quite awful. Note to self: You won the parenting lottery. Thank you, LCpl M-mv and Misses."

Initial thoughts on the 1991 edition of the book:

I am disappointed at the continued reaction to teen outbursts or bad actions with the idea that nothing can or should be done, they should be left alone to continue to verbally abuse their parents or worse. That is way too laid back and hands off for me. You probably should know I had two very laid back parents who were too hands off with me and it led to some actions I wish never happened in my life. The pendulum has swung the other direction as I am more strict with my kids than my parents were with me.

Perhaps it is because I recently was at a Christian homeschool convention surrounded by (too much) talk of character training that I noticed that this secular parenting book seems to have no foundation in a core belief that there is right and wrong or that parents are entitled to some form of authority over their kids. I have never, ever been anti-secular parenting books in the past and thought that they all were basically in step with Christian views minus the Bible quotes or more direct mentioning of character traits.

The best think about the book though is that it explains some developmental changes as reasons behind why teens do what they do and this is all new to me. I was comforted to hear the psychology behind it and I see the issues in my two sons. I am using that part of the book to help me cope as they ride the roller coaster. One minute my kids act like super independent young adults and the next they are like little kids who can't even remember to brush their teeth. They are logical and reasonable one minute and the next completely illogical and unable to be reasoned with.

I was especially disturbed to read that it is normal for boys to self-isolate in the teen years (this does seem common but not with my kids much) and the author says to keep on letting them do it. Girls are said to like to be "in your face" arguing and manipulating you (no surprise to me). Boys are said to be easier as they leave you alone and go to their room and shut the door. What was troublesome for me was right after that the author said that the rates given for suicide for males spikes high in the teen years (girls are low in that age range) and the author says the boy's choice to self-isolate may lead some to the final act of suicide. Thus I am not happy with the idea of my boys closing their doors and trying to shut down the previously open lines of communication if I will be unable to detect if there is a real mental health issue. Could the author have a bias since he has girls and didn't have to worry that his hands off choice never led to his male teen killing themself? I bet if he had a son he would have given different advice. I will continue to work very hard to keep the lines of communication open.

I am horrified of the stories in this book of the way that some kids act. I so far have had only shades of this stuff and have experienced much more scaled down encounters. What has been happening here in my home has been a disappointment to me and insulting at times, and a few times downright verbally abusive (I consider being yelled at and sworn and called names being verbally abusive). However if you compare what we have in this family with what the book lays out for stories my kids are angels and I don't know what I am so upset about...

This 1991 edition (has blue in the title art on the cover) is outdated as it is the era of no mobile phones and no internet. Being virtually tied to our kids via text messaging and email is different than the era in the book of "they leave the house and they are out of communication until they get back home". I see the book was updated in 2002 with some different info on drugs and alcohol and new information on the internet. That was still too early to address the virtual apron strings of text messaging and apps that show the physical location of your kid's smart phones.

I plan to finish reading the book cover to cover.

Do you have any better books on parenting teens that you like?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Probiotics for Dummies Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Probiotics for Dummies

Author: Shekhr K. Challa M.D.

Summary Statement: Great for Beginners and Up to Date Medical Information – Book Written by a Medical Doctor

My Star Rating: 4 stars out of 5 = I Like It

This is the first Dummies book I have ever read. I have been insulted by the Dummies title and stayed away from them until now. In the past I had difficult time finding up to date information about probiotics and figured I’d give PROBIOTICS FOR DUMMIES a try.

My first question is who is the author and are they credible? I know (so called) alternative medical providers such as homeopathic doctors have been recommending probiotics for years, is this an alternative book (or is this a quack book)? To find out, I read who the author is, and I was confused and am disappointed in the editor and publisher for using the incorrect format for writing a medical doctor’s name on the cover and in the book. Challa is a medical doctor, a gastroenterologist, so it should say Shekhar K. Challa M.D. (or MD). Using Dr. in front of the name only implies the person is a PhD. On the interior title page it says Dr. Shekhar K. Challa M.D. (perhaps someone at Wiley needs to read about editing procedures). Well my point is, the author is a gastroenterologist M.D. and perhaps for you, this lends the author credibility.

Onward to the content: I learned that the entire Dummies series is set up so that you can use the index to find a small topic and read only that section. If more info pertains they cross-reference it elsewhere. The book series is not designed to be read cover-to-cover, just read the narrow part you want to know about is their goal.

I found this written in a very easy to read format and things are explained in very plain and simple language so as to appeal to the layperson and so they can really understand this medical information, which is good for beginners. For those with an intermediate or higher level of knowledge, you may be annoyed a bit at the dumbed down nature of the writing or reading what you already know, but I balance that out with the other pro this book has: being published in 2012 it has the most up to date information that older books or other sources you already read or heard about do not have.

Since probiotics are (finally) getting more attention by the mainstream western medical community this book is full of references to studies or it explains where studies are lacking. This is a pro of the book.

For an intermediate or advanced level knowledge reader this book may have some flaws. For example the section for cooking and eating food for probiotics is culled from parts of other sources which you may already own or have already read and are already using. This chapter’s material comes from: Wild Fermentation by Katz, Probiotic and Prebiotic Recipes for Health by Gensler, and from the website of Donna Gates on her website

There is a listing of products with probiotics, such as the store bought drink kombucha but I was disappointed to see the largest kombucha company in the USA was not listed and instead just one company was listed, a product I have never heard of or seen for sale anywhere. I therefore question how deeply the products section was researched. Perhaps in this case with the author being a medical doctor, the strength is in the medical writings and this is just a weak area of little interest to the writer, and may have been quickly stuck in at the publisher’s request? It’s just a guess on my part.

Lastly, there are ads at the back for probiotics supplements which bugged me. I am not used to nonfiction medical books either promoting one brand of product and am confused by that.

Overall the book is helpful, fresh and has new information, and is an approachable book for the layperson and beginners, so I like the book and rate it 4 stars = I Like It.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Vine program. I was not paid to write this review. I was under no obligation to review it favorably or to blog the review. See the full disclosure statement near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Parent's Guide to the Best Kid's Comics Book Review

Title: A Parent's Guide to the Best Kid's Comics

Scott Robbins and Snow Wildsmith

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

My Summary Statement: Fantastic Book List Book for Graphic Novels - I Wish It Was Available When My Kids Were Younger

I've been saying we need a book or at least a website that provides this information for years, so I am thrilled that this book has been published. Comics and graphic novels are not all for very young readers - even though the youngest of kids is drawn to them - and with so many graphic novels on the market now parents, teachers, and librarians can use help figuring out which are appropriate for different aged readers.

This book provides a two page spread on each featured book with the left side being a summary description, if it is part of a series, possible controversial issues called "heads up" (i.e. name calling, violence, etc.), and educational tie-in themes. Similar books are briefly noted. The right side facing page is a full page color reproduction from the book which gives us a sense for the type of art or size of font or the tone of the book.

The book is divided into sections by grade level: pre-k-1, 2-3, 4-5, and 6-8.

This book covers mostly newer American books but there is a sprinkling of some of the most tame Japanese manga that has been translated to English and the oldie Adventures of Tintin.

This is a reasonably priced book for the high quality glossy paper and full color on every page book. Compared to other reference books used by librarians and teachers this is a bargain. It's affordability makes it easy for parents to access also.

When purchasing Japanese manga there is a rating system on the back cover to indicate what age range the book is intended for. Since American books do not have such a rating system, this guidebook is necessary.

I highly recommend that parents use this reference guide when trying to find graphic novels and comics for their children to read. This is very well done and better quality than I would have expected. I am grateful to Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith for writing this excellent guide.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from's Vine program. I was under no obligation to blog it or review it favorably. I was not paid to write this review. See my full disclosure statement near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Birders: Documentary Review

Documentary Title: Birders: The Central Park Effect

HBO Films

My Star Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

I really enjoyed watching the documentary Birders earlier this month. I enjoy feeding and watching wild birds but I don't consider myself a true birder. I garden with birds in mind and use organic products on my lawn and garden so I don't hurt wild creatures, birds included.

This documentary discusses birdwatching and birdwatchers in Central Park.

I never imagined there were birdwatchers in Central Park but there are some hardcore Manhattanite birdwatchers. Explored in this film are reasons why people birdwatch, what drew them to begin, and how and why they believe it has enhanced their life. There were short interviews with various people, the youngest was a teen girl. There was a longer profile on an older lady who is a mentor of sorts, leading bird walks, who was undergoing Cancer treatment and said she thought this may be her last birding season. I was glad to see her enjoying every ounce that life has to offer while she is still here.

Additionally I never knew that Central Park is a special place, a large forest otherwise surrounded by urban landscape which makes it a special destination for migrating birds. This phenomenon was discussed and footage was shown of birdwatchers spotting these special migrating birds.

One thing discussed was that birds are adapting to the changing landscape as development occurs, so I felt it was hopeful. However then it was stated the bird numbers are declining, which was sad.

This was a lighthearted and educational, yet entertaining documentary and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a nature lover, enjoys the wild birds and wants to see how birding is done Central Park Style.

Disclosure: Nothing other than what is in my blog's sidebar.

Monday, August 20, 2012

First Day Back Homeschooling

...I guess it technically was last week?

We are having what I'll refer to as a soft start since various classes have differing start dates. Some courses have "orientation day" which is not really day one. The different classes have different date starts but basically by the end of this week my kids will have finished at least one regular full class in each thing they are doing.

We are of course not yet adjusted to the waking time for the earliest days. Health care providers say to rise at the same time each day but the notion of that kills me so I am undecided about making the other five days a week be that early!

I am getting used to the drives to the new-to-us places. I am getting the routines down and trying to figure things out such as sign in sheets, sign out sheets, drop off time, pick up time, how I will navigate from one appointment to another, so forth and so on.

The schedule also mandates that the 15 year old stay at home alone one day a week to do homeschool lessons and to attend his online class. Unfortunately I won't even be here for the first class to make sure he can logon correctly since I have to be on-site with my younger son a half hour away.

Oh this is so complicated!

I'm trying to get my ducks in a row about logins for the various different online class programs and it's not so easy.

The school uniforms are late in arriving and some other little things are happening so we are not 100% stocked with required items for the first week. Well, I tried. We're all trying.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Well This is Different

We threw a birthday party for my 15 year old son last night. The entire co-ed rowing team was invited and nearly all attended. We invited some of the other team founders to visit with my husband and I as we threw the shindig.

The teens filled the backyard patio area, played basketball in the pool and talked while in the hot tub. There was a lot of talking and laughing and happy sounds going on. No drama or problems occured, which in and of itself was a blessing. Calmness and "just having a good time" is common with the kids on this team, so I should not have been surprised that it all went so smoothly.

The adults stayed indoors. My husband and I really enjoyed putting on the party for people who really wanted to visit us and spend time with us. Together we cooked and baked all day to provide nearly all from-scratch food for the party. It also felt great to have multiple rooms in the house unpacked and looking fantastic and usable.

As I talked and laughed with new friends, I sometimes looked out the windows, and I was in disbelief. I have never had girls in itty bitty bikinis strutting around my home mingling with young men. These girls are not girls, they are young women, let me correct my language. There were hormones flying around, you could sense it in the air. There were two couples exuding happy vibes. This is not at all the typical birthday party I've been throwing for my sons.

Last year my son's birthday was just days after we moved to Texas, but before our stuff on the moving truck arrived. We were staying in a friend's guest home an hour away from where we were to move into the temporary rental house. My son knew no one to invite to a party, so he didn't have one. It was pretty pathetic to be honest. It was such a stressful week the events are fuzzy in my memory but I am certain we went out to dinner as a family.

In Connecticut for the 13th birthday and previous years, at my son's request he had sleepover parties with his closest friends. Those parties were boy-only affairs. They involved either a trip to the movies or playing video games and prior to that, water fights with super soakers and water balloons from the big swingset's forts, or battles with light sabers. Those parties were pretty simple, and consisted of good clean boy fun.

The last co-ed party was when my son turned six and we held a big party, it turned out to be a big mistake, to combine the large family party with entire homeschool families. We had 75 present, ranging from infants to teens and their parents. Well, one set of parents snuck out and their boisterous son took an old metal lunchbox from the playroom and bashed my niece across the face with it. She was in pain but was not cut, still it was harsh and I wasn't used to kids being wild and violent like that. He was a new-to-the-area homeschooler who we were trying to make feel welcome. So much for that. The party was chaos. Have you ever tried cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for 75 on a small grill? It's a nightmare. And it was August, hot, sunny and humid.

Things are changing. My sons are growing up. This is how it should be, I know, but it still feels strange sometimes. Is that young man really my son? I look at my son, a young man, and I remember him as little boy, and how back then I could not imagine what he would look like at age 10 let alone at 15 or 20. That used to drive me crazy. I would stare at his face and try to imagine how it would change as he grew, and I couldn't see it in the mind's eye. I wondered what he would act like and what kind of a young man he would someday become. I see how it is unfolding now, and I am happy and proud.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Unpacking boxes

Organzing stuff to fit into the new house's spaces

Realizing how these walls and rooms don't allow for use of all the furniture we own

Celebrating my son's 15th birthday

Planning a huge BBQ and pool birthday party for my son (being held tomorrow)

Figuring out how the stuff in the new house works, and realizing when something is broken

Getting equipment repaired

Setting up new services for the house (phone, Internet, security system, etc.)

Wondering if a house cleaner is a justified expense (after years of me doing it all myself)

Dealing with giving away moving boxes and packing supplies so they don't wind up in the trash

Getting both kids to sport practice

Doing volunteer work for the sport team

Getting kids to Boy Scout activities

Doing volunteer work for the Boy Scout Troop

Buying school supplies and curriculum that others require my kids to use

Ordering Lands End school uniforms (for homeschool classes)

Getting our feet wet with our first live class online homeschool classes (a learning curve)

Starting with a homeschool co-op that's new to us (a learning curve)

Being asked to volunteer for the co-op, not sure when and how I have time for that

Starting younger son with a homeschool classical school that's technically not a school (a learning curve)

Being asked to volunteer for the classical school, not sure when and how I have time for that

Feeling guilty for being so busy from the move that older son has not participated in FIRST Robotics since we got back in town

Trying to cook 90% of meals at home from scratch, and have them be nutritious

Wondering how and when I am supposed to fit in intentional exercise

Trying to have some fun and take a break so I don't go nuts from all of the above

Taking care of myself while I have the flu (today)

And wondering when I have time for follow-up visits for the GI problem that landed me in the hospital two weeks ago, which I am already deliquent in doing

Um, yeah, I'm busy, so the blogging is lighter than usual...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Will My Kids Fit In If They Quit School to Homeschool

I received this blog comment while on vacation. It blew my mind and I wrote a couple of different blog drafts over a few day's time, which got long winded and then I gave up. Here is my third attempt. This post runs the risk of showing my too-blunt side but sometimes that is deserved and appropriate and sometimes people need what I think is obvious spelled out for them. I don't mean this to sound offensive, truly I don't.  

Blog comment:
I am the mother of a 4 yr old a 6 yr old and an 11 yr old. I have been homeschooling my 4 year old and since his birthday falls after September 1st. I may have him one more year. My question to you is this. Your kids, 12 and 14 are they ok? Do they fit in. socially with other kids? I have been thinking about home schooling them all for four years now. I hate sending them to their schools.
My reply:

Yes my kids are socially well adjusted. They are also mentally sane and their behavior is not controlled by prescription drugs which is starting to not be typical in today's society.

Most people who meet us and some who knew us as acquaintances or months assume that our children use school are shocked to hear my kids are homeschooled because they had some warped perception of what a homeschooler is like and my kids are not that way.

I have also been told by other homeschoolers "your kids are the most normal kids we know" and they mean that in a good way as their kids enjoy being with my kids and they wish more homeschoolers were like my kids.

I have received many compliments about my kid's behavior including from strangers in public and our orthodontist, their teachers and Boy Scout leaders and others who are around lots of different kids but 99% of whom are schooled kids and those people point out they feel that homeschooling is the differentiating factor.

My kids are sought out to be the friends of others and many kids were upset when we moved out of state. My kids are well liked by others for various reasons: making others laugh, laughing at their jokes sincerely, being a good listener, keeping secrets, and having real conversations about things of mutual interest. My sons are different in personalities but one thing they have in common is they are kind in their hearts and they are not angry or mean. My sons are not perfect, no human being is.

Your Kids and Homeschooling

How your children turn out socially will depend on their life in school (if they used to attend school), their experiences outside of school in extra-curricular activities, and it depends on your family and how you live your lives.

How your kids turn out also depends on what you teach your kids about values and social skills.

How your kids turn out depends on what you and your husband are like socially. What your family does socially will mold your kids to some extent.

How your kids are will depend on if they, or i if you or your husband have any brain-related challenges such as nonverbal learning disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, or on the Autism Spectrum among other things. To be blunt: if you as a parent are odd due to a biological reason then maybe your kids have that biological thing too and they are also odd, but maybe none of you even realizes you are acting socially wrong or weird. It may be that none of you have been diagnosed and don't even know you are "different". The apple does not fall far from the tree. However this obviously has nothing to do with homeschooling, there are Asperger's parents whose kids have Asperger's and use school and the kids are odd while in school, and they will continue to be odd if they leave school for homeschooling. 

Leaving School

If you leave school and start to homeschool how your kids turn out socially will narrow down to what you do for learning, whether that is all home based or what you do with groups. Any time you add in group learning there is the influence of the teachers, parents, and/or the peers, this can be positive or negative. Choose your activities wisely and who you do them with. Then again, parents cannot and should not control every single second of a child's life, especially when they are teenagers or preteens, so if they are in a class with some kids they don't necessarily love but can get along with, then they are learning a life skill on how to get along with people when in a group, with whom they don't immediately love or like. 

If you leave school any negative influences directly from school teachers, kids on the bus, or classmates may disappear, but you will also lose any positive benefits, social or academic, that school gave. Homeschooling has its pros and cons. Homeschooling cannot always replicate some of the best things about school, that is a fact. It's about setting priorities and making decisions about what overall is best. Nothing is perfect, homeschooling is not perfect, there is give and take in everything.

When you start to homeschool you not only take on the responsibility of the academics but Mom now has a new job: to orchestrate the child's social life. If you do not want total isolation then you have to put time and effort into making things happen. Moms who formerly used school tell me this is a big shift for them to adapt to.

You may have to rely more on things like Scouts or sports to try to provide social time that is lacking due to withdrawing from school. Meaning, perhaps in the past your child was busy enough with school and homework and had no time for Scouts but now you will join Scouts to make new friends.

Kids Meeting Other Homeschoolers

If you do not want your child to feel isolated in homeschooling you should try to become friends with other homeschoolers. I mean, if you want your child to not feel alone in homeschooling they should be around other homeschoolers at least a few hours a week (if not more). Building a general homeschooling network takes a mother's time as does friendship making in the homeschool community, if you desire that, you have work ahead of you. For example you may have to join local internet chat lists and read the posts every day or you may have to go to homeschool mom's night out to meet other mothers to see who has kids your children may want to try to befriend.

It can take a year or more to find kindred spirits of like mind that you click with and that your children click with. It is worth the effort but it takes a time investment that some parents can't be bothered with or get discouraged about. If you think you will meet a group of kids tomorrow who are perfect match friends for your kids I think you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

You also should expect to travel in order for your kids to have time with friends. You may have to travel up to 45 minutes in one direction in order to see people you want to be with. You may have to see them longer on one day instead of seeing them every day (such as kids experience in school).

Other times you may have to compromise on your ideal homeschool plans in order to have time with other kids. For example perhaps that homeschool co-op is not ideal academically but it gives your kids time with others they enjoy being with, so you sacrifice one day to the endeavor.

When the kids are the right age you may find that doing sleepovers is the best use of your time to get in as much time with friends as possible with the least amount of driving to and fro.

You also have to deal with the fact that other people have differing priorities and schedules and they may be hard to connect with as much as you may like. This is true for friends who use school and friends who homeschool.

The Bigger Picture

The bigger message I want to convey is that how your kids turn out socially depends both on the parents and on the kids themselves. Kids need to be taught how to behave properly and what being a good friend means. If they are not nice kids no one will want to be around them.

I think sometimes school is more like the savage conditions in The Lord of the Flies, that is not what homeschooling is like. Homeschoolers get to pick who their friends are and the kids will be seen and scrutinized by other parents so it is to your kid's advantage if you directly teach them etiquette basics and how to make conversation and that they should make eye contact and to speak to the adults, so forth and so on. If your kids are thought to be rude or bad influences or if they are poorly behaved or do things such as break other people's stuff when you are visitors in their home you and your kids will be intentionally avoided. In the most extreme case you may be blackballed from group events as no one wants to invite the problem kids who will wreck the event, disturb others or ruin their personal property.

Friendship is a two-way street and it takes time to invest in friendships to keep them going, that is true for adults as well as children and teens.

New Technology and Socialization

Technology has changed how children communicate today. I feel they need face to face time but this is enhanced by their communications made via text messaging and Facebook.

(It seems that) boys who are on xBoxLive playing live video games with friends and talking to each other over the microphone live fulfill a social communication need as well as providing entertainment. Some concentrate on game talk only while others have other conversations about other topics while playing the game. Similarly, computer based video games can be played while talking to friends via a free Skype account.

Kids don't use their mobile phones for actual phone conversations as much as I assumed they would; I was thinking all the time I spent talking to my friends on the landline phone while a teen in the 1980s would translate directly to mobile phones but I am incorrect. I also thought kids would talk more on video chat on Skype but my kids don't do that much when "just" talking. They tend to do other work at the computer screen and chat at the same time with the video of their friend on a minimized small screen in the corner. Kids today seem to be masters of multitasking at what they want to do.

Kids and teens seem to text nearly nonstop and they seem to like it better than talking on the phone.

If the initial friendship is non-existent and if "in real life experiences" do not exist between friends or acquaintances then chatting it up on Facebook or in text messages rings hollow and is nothing but an empty friendship.


As a person who does not know an adult or their child I cannot predict if they quit school and begin homeschooling if the kids will "turn out alright" or "be socialized" or if they will be happy with the social life of a homeschooler. There are too many variables at play including how a family actually homeschools and how the child spends their time, but it all starts with the parents and the children themselves and what they believe about socialization and how much work the parents want to put into trying to cultivate what they consider to be a healthy social life for their children.

Monday, August 13, 2012

From the Archives: Curriculum for Gifted Preschoolers

It's that time of year again and people are asking this question, looking for an all in one curriculum or as some of us call it "school in a box". Here is my reply, it's a six year old blog post but all the info is still relevant.

Preschool Homeschool Curriculum for Gifted Kids

Oral B 5000 Series Professional Toothbrush

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

My Summary Statement: Has Some Improvements Over Former Series 5000 Models

Our family has been using Oral B electric toothbrushes for years. This model, the Smartseris 5000 professional care model has some improvements over the older models which some of us were still using.

First, the sensor tells if you are exerting too much pressure on the teeth - this is to help prevent enamel abrasion. This sensor also tells you which quadrant to brush and shows when you are done with that quadrant should you be forgetful (such as when you are groggy in the morning).

There is a new design to the stand which keeps it plugged into the charger. If you want to not use electricity all the time unplug it from your electrical outlet. This stand holds other brush heads if other family members are sharing the unit with you. This new shape to the stand is stable and won't tip over, it is more stable than older model's recharging stands which were smaller and just wider than the toothbrush.

Lastly there is a new travel case which we appreciate since we do travel with our electric toothbrushes. The case not only keeps the brush heads from being crushed but it protects the actual device. It holds the unit and additional brush heads.

Disclosure: I received one of these from the Vine program to review it for I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor to blog it. I was not paid to write this review.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Music In Me: Documentary Review

Title: The Music In Me
HBO Family Documentaries

This is a new-to-me category of documentaries, one about children produced with the intention of being watched by a family.

This 30 minute short film explores children who make music out of the joy in their heart. The kids are inspirational and amazing. One thing made clear to me is that natural ability to make music is inborn. I do not feel this way about learning an instrument or making music which proves the point that some people just don't have a natural talent. I couldn't help but feel inept while watching this. I wonder what kids who watch this who are not natural musicians would think of the film. I bet they would feel inept too. If you can divorce yourself from self-criticism while watching this you will feel inspired by the film.

Confidentiality and Blogging

This blog is over seven years old. It started as a way to instill the habit of daily writing. I thought I wanted to write a book and thought blogging may help me find time in each day to write and to help perfect my writing ability. I have not written a book except the fiction manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo in the mid-2000s. I never edited that and never will. I blog now out of habit, I think.

I am having one of those moments again where I feel like I tell too much online. And then I think to myself, "Who gives a crap about what I think and about my life, does anyone really care? Why am I still blogging?" Other times I wonder if my regular blog readers wish I blogged more about homeschooling or details of this or that about parenting or education. I have no way of knowing what people want to hear me ramble about unless they leave a comment asking. I seldom am asked questions.

I have kept the names of my kids and my husband off the blog. I have never published my husband's photo. He asked this for separation for his career. You know, if someone he works with or his boss read something on my blog that they thought was controversial, such as about homeschooling (it's so controversial don't you know?) or a parenting philosphy we use or something, in case I'm too alternative or too weird.

Yet when I keep information off the blog it starts to feel impersonal to me and as if I am lying by omission. When big things are happening and I don't blog it I feel that my online persona seems to be one thing when in reality my real life is something else. I do not intend to deceive anyone but sometimes things are too personal. Other times if I tell you things you could find out who I am in two seconds and I am trying to not have it be so obvious to strangers online what my identity is, and my husband, and my kids, and our home street address, so forth and so on.

I did have a weird experience once. I never told a soul in my Cub Scout or Boy Scout worlds that I blog and then one day a father who I'm friendly with said he did a Google search on a topic and my blog popped up. It was an essay about my son and Scouting and he said it made him cry. I was happy though that he told me this in private and did not out me to the entire Boy Scout Troop. It has never been my intention for the leaders and parents and the boys themselves to read my blog.

I also found out once that one of my close homeschool friend's son (my son's friend) did a Google search about visual processing disorders (that he and my son share) and he found my blog and began reading it daily. I never knew this and months had gone by. The mom, my friend, never reads my blog, she says she is too busy to read any blog let alone mine.

So I will tell some things and if you find out who I am I am not so sure that I care anymore. Anyhow someday if I really do ever write and publish a book I would use my real name and it may be mentioned that I'm the blogger known as ChristineMM of The Thinking Mother. So then the cat would be out of the bag anyway.

Product Review: Fosmon Vexi Anti-Glare Screen Shield Protector for Kindle Fire

My Star Rating: 3 stars = It’s Okay

Summary Statement: Makes Font More Fuzzy for Reading and Darkens Screen Color

I was interested in this product so it would have less glare when reading ebooks, especially when reading outdoors or when I am a passenger in a car with sun shining around me through the windshield and side windows. I also hoped it would help prevent scratches.

This was easy to apply and took less than five minutes. I had an easier time using a credit card to smooth out the bubbles than with the enclosed piece of cardboard.

I find that this makes reading just a bit harder for me, as it seems to make the text look more pixelated and less crisp. I double checked this side by side with another Kindle Fire we own (with the same book and same font size and screen color) as well as peeling back the shield and seeing a side by side comparison on that one unit.

Worse though for me, is that this plastic film cover changes the color of the screen. I like the off-white color as the background for reading and this turns it more yellow, too dark for me. I have the brightness turned all the way up and it is just too yellow, yet the white background is too glaring for me.

Bottom line: I prefer the more crisp reading with no shield on, but then I'm back to a shiny surface that has a problem with sun glare.

I rate this product 3 stars = It's Okay because it has both pros and cons for me. I am undecided as to whether I'll keep using this screen protector or whether I'll ditch it.

Disclosure: I received this product for the purpose of reviewing it on the website. I was under no obligation to rate it favorably nor to blog it. I was not paid to write this review.

Friday, August 10, 2012

New Plans for Grade 7 Son's Home Education This Year

Earlier this week I made final plans for a major change to my grade 7 son's homeschooling plans.

Perhaps you recall a post earlier this year in which my son proclaimed his loneliness after last year's move and the only-at-home homeschooling experience last year? My son begged to go to school. The only option open to us due to the family budget is public school. I do not feel the local public school's junior high has an education plan which is anywhere close to being aligned with our educational ideals.

I was left trying to figure out how I could have more social time for my son as well as rigorous academics if we chose to not use public school primarily for social reasons. The social life at the junior high is cut-throat and nasty, according to moms I know whose kids attend that school. Not only are the kids super mean and angry and there is a negative social stigma for the smart kids who actually want to learn. Since all the kids are in the same one level classes except for some kids being put to a high level in math, it is apparent who is smart vs. average vs. below average. I did not want my son associating doing academic learning as being negative. He wants to be normal and cool and apparently being smart and getting good grades is not cool here. I don't think being mean or angry are things that constitute a healthy social life with friends either.

In the public schools in this town, there are drugs in the junior high (as well as in the grade 5 and 6 schools according to one principle I spoke with). According to the police in town, there is a lot of pill popping and dealing in the school, including stealing random prescription medications stolen from family and friends which is sold as painkillers (Oxy) and other things they are actually not. Taking a medication for heart disease or epilepsy may be more dangerous than a painkiller! I hope my son would resist drugs but who knows.

Back to academics...a second challenge to me providing rigorous academics at home is in the last year, a year in which my son turned 12, was the dynamic shift in our relationship. My son has changed which is developmentally typical. He wants to be independent and not tied to Mommy's apron strings. This combined with his personality has resulted in these challenges:

He works harder and better for people other than his mother. He likes to impress a coach or teacher but he doesn't so much care to impress me.

He wants to be with peers more often. He wants to know how he fits in with others, how he compares.

My son accuses me of expecting too much and having too high expectations regarding academics. The truth is that he has no clue what kids in school do and how easy or difficult it is. There is not stick to measure himself against.

My son is one who is motivated by deadlines, assignments, lists, and getting that stuff done. Yet if I give him these lists he either does them without enthusiasm or he challenges me.

My son wants to be graded and ranked on his assignments by a standard measure being applied to a group of kids, not just something I make up myself or based on hard programs I select. My son wants to feel normal and that he is doing what others his age are doing. My son does not want to feel like he is doing well at some hard homeschool plan that his mother made up.

A challenge for me is that it is hard to deal with all this push-back, day in and day out. It is emotionally draining and unfulfilling. I also expend a large amount of energy on homeschooling my high schooler who had brain injury from Lyme Disease which adds a layer of challenge to his learning last year. After dealing with my older son, I have little left for my younger son especially with his push-back. As a result I backed off and last year provided a weaker homeschool program than what I thought is ideal.

So for 2012 - 2013...

The first thing I did was to find two online classes which will provide what I thought would be decent academics where he would be held accountable to other adults. I also found one homeschool co-op class. The other day I found an online Spanish class with a native Spanish speaker which I thought I'd add on to be a fourth class. However this was not going to be enough social time with other kids, I thought. I figured it would have to suffice.

The second thing in general that we did was enroll our son into the competitive rowing team. The junior high program can only competete in open events at regattas. The practice is at least four times a week for three hours each time and it is a year-round sport without much of a break between the four calendar seasons. The practice is for kids in grades 7-12 and it is co-ed. It is a social opportunity as well as good exercise. The coach is changing the program to be more rigorous with mandatory weight training and nutritional counseling and for the first time they plan to row on the water all winter long (there is no risk of hypothermia in our region). This will be great for my son's physical fitness and health.

Despite what I wrote above I felt the academic and homeschool situation was not ideal and then something new came into our lives. I discussed this program with one mother who has a child in the program and whose husband teaches in the program. I discussed this with the headmaster. I attended a few hours of parent meetings with details of the program. I also spoke to a family I've known for a year who had two kids in the program. Then, I enrolled my son into the program the other day.

The program my younger son will participate with is a classical education model group learning experience. Legally it is not a private school. The student is still considered homeschooled which in the state of Texas legally means each family is its own private school.

The organization organizes the curriculum, makes a schedule, and clearly communicates the homework. The student is to do the homework before class and comes to class ready for full participation. In some classes all they do as a group is Socratic Discussion (not lectures). In other classes they are taught to write and taught Latin and other subjects. My son attends classes once a week and one other day they meet with a small study group in someone's home to do group learning or help with memorization and to have social time. More group social events are done evenings and weekends throughout the year such as informal and formal dances and field trips.

This program is more intense and rigorous than anything I have ever expected my son to do. He will learn logic and Latin, two subject he has resisted me on learning and that I had no energy to force him to do. He will have a lot of writing assignments which is fantastic, and the group uses the same curriculum I used already, Institute for Excellence in Writing.

I feel this endeavor will help my son by providing the rigorous academics that he is fully capable of doing but was resistant to doing with me as the parent-teacher. The group is strict about deadlines and assignments so there is no wiggle room for nonsense or a bad attitude. My son wanted to do lists and now he has them. I am frankly, relieved that I don't have to create and design all this. What I have created seems so far to not be as difficult as this. It is hard to give up full control but I am letting go.

So this year he will have: Logic, Latin, English with grammar, spelling and writing composition, General Science, History with art and religion and music (chronological with the four year sweep a la The Well Trained Mind) and presentations.

At home I will provide math via Khan Academy (pre-algebra) and if he makes it to Algebra I this year we'll use Thinkwell.

I am undecided if he will do Spanish via online class as planned.

We are already committed to the online classes and the one co-op class so I will keep him in those (writing composition, literature analysis and reading comprehension close reading skills teaching).

He will also continue participation in Boy Scouts and he currently holds two elected positions (this was his choice and he ran for them without even telling me he was planning to do that).

And as I said earlier he how has at least 12 hours of a sport, basically non-stop year-round.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Grammar and Spelling Matters

Spotted on Facebook, on a schoolday, from my then 11.5 year old younger son:

" School k id.: home sick ;(
4 hours ago near Trumbull, CT

My son:  Are you sick at home or are you home sick? Just asking.
43 minutes ago

School kid: i got sick and came home...
40 minutes ago

My son: Oh okay. That clears t up. :) Get well soon.
35 minutes ago "
Gotta love it. Home sick vs. homesick, it makes a difference. Also this abbreviated talking on texting and Facebook can sometimes be confusing due to the omission of other words that we use to put words into proper context.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Product Review: Linksys EA2700 Router

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

Summary Statement: Easy to Set Up and Works Well But WiFi Doesn't Go More Than 25 Feet

We set this up in our new home when establishing a new network. The set up process was fast and simple. Without reading any directions my 12 year old set up the account name and password when he attempted to login with his laptop. Later when connecting with iPhone and iPad the login was simple, all we needed was the password.

The downfall to this model -- which we have in the middle of the house on the 2nd floor next to a two story foyer area in an open floor plan house -- is when we go 20 feet away, the service drops to 2 bars -- and then 25 feet away in the doorway to the family room right off the foyer, it drops to 1 bar. Farther than that in the kitchen and bedrooms and other rooms, there are 0 bars and no service at all. We wound up using the ISP provided modem/router combo at the main site then buying a repeater to install ourselves. We will use the Linksys EA2700 with the repeater to boost service in the other rooms so we can use wifi for our iPhones and iPads and Kindle Fires.

I note that on the product description page there is a chart showing the different features of the different models the Linksys sells. They have Speed Boost, which it seems that we need in this house, in model numbers EA3500 and EA4500. Unless you live in a small apartment you may want to buy a router with Speed Boost so your wifi might reach your entire home with just one router.

Disclosure: I received one of these from's Vine program for the purpose of writing a review on's site. I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor was I obligated to blog the review. I was not paid to write this review.

My Unpacking Strategy

Here I am unpacking again. I am forcing myself to unpack as much in the day as possible before I keel over in exhaustion. I am avoiding doing anything optional until this is completed.

The first priority for unpacking was to gain access to the most basic items for daily living. We needed access to basic dishes, food, cleansing supplies, toilet paper, showering, and clothing. That is pretty obvious stuff I think.

When unpacking I keep these things by my side: a trash bin, a recycle bin, and a box to hold items to be donated.

I unpack a room at a time. I keep at unpacking that room until it is finished. This may take half a day or four days. When I am on a roll doing the unpacking I ask others in my family to come into the room and to collapse the empty boxes. I put the bubble wrap and other good clean packing material in an empty box. Family members get those out of my way. (I am giving away these items, free, so others can re-use them, so I am not just preparing those for the trash or recycle pick up.)

As I unpack I find boxes that belonged in another room which the movers erroneously placed in the wrong spot. I get those out immediately.

Any items I unpack that go somewhere else, I ask someone to come get it and put it in that other room immediately. The goal is to have no clutter in the room that is being worked on.

I keep a list of things we need to buy so that room can be better organized. For example if I need to buy drawer dividers or some kind of bin or shelving unit to better organize the stuff. I write it down so I don't forget about it.

When the room is done I move on to another room.

Furniture or large items that will be donated is put in the garage or an indoor area that is out of the way, or I line a hallway. The goal is to get it out from underfoot and to put everything in one place so when you are going to donate the stuff it is altogether.

Sometimes my choice of room to attack unpack is based on the emotional need to see no clutter in my own bedroom or to see just one room finished, so I'll unpack a bathroom which makes me feel like something was accomplished.

It took me six weeks to have no boxes in my rental house last year since we were busy living daily life while unpacking. Now that we have moved into a large house and have all our material possessions under this roof I worry it may take longer. I am sick of the moving process and sick of stuff. I want this completed in less than six weeks but am not sure if that's realistic.

I am thrilled to finally own our own house in Texas. We are happy to no longer be renters. We love the house and the pool.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Son's Grade 10 Homeschool Summary Plans

American Literature: online class *

Writing Composition - Pre-AP English: online class *

Math: home with Thinkwell (online video with automatic grading online)

World History: online class *

Chemistry: homeschool co-op class

Physical Education: 4 seasons rowing with competitive team. Longer practice times this year may qualify for over 500 hours of exercise which may count as more than one high school credit.


Boy Scouts, Life rank, working on Eagle project.

FIRST Robotics team meets year round (summer included)

COMPASS test prep: self-study at home with books and practice tests (a community college entrance exam)

Other Academic Work:

PSAT test prep: self-study at home with DVD and practice tests

Foreign Language Son is asking to start Latin for the first time and requests an online class. We are discussing the academic work load and pros and cons of starting this fall, such as the fact that enrollment may already be closed or full at this point in time. The original plan was to take live classes at the community college for Italian (his choice of language) in the spring semester.

* classes compatible for CLEP test and can be used as preparation for AP testing but they are not AP courses

A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics Books: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love

Authors: Scott Robins, Snow Wildsmith

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

My Summary Statement: Fantastic Book List Book for Graphic Novels - I Wish It Was Available When My Kids Were Younger

I've been saying we need a book or at least a website that provides this information for years, so I am thrilled that this book has been published. Comics and graphic novels are not all for very young readers - even though the youngest of kids is drawn to them - and with so many graphic novels on the market now parents, teachers, and librarians can use help figuring out which are appropriate for different aged readers.

This book provides a two page spread on each featured book with the left side being a summary description, if it is part of a series, possible controversial issues called "heads up" (i.e. name calling, violence, etc.), and educational tie-in themes. Similar books are briefly noted. The right side facing page is a full page color reproduction from the book which gives us a sense for the type of art or size of font or the tone of the book.

The book is divided into sections by grade level: pre-k-1, 2-3, 4-5, and 6-8.

This book covers mostly newer American books but there is a sprinkling of some of the tamest Japanese manga that has been translated to English and the oldie Adventures of Tintin.

This is a reasonably priced book for the high quality glossy paper and full color on every page book. Compared to other reference books used by librarians and teachers this is a bargain. Its affordability makes it easy for parents to access also.

When purchasing Japanese manga there is a rating system on the back cover to indicate what age range the book is intended for. Since American books do not have such a rating system, this guidebook is necessary.

I highly recommend that parents use this reference guide when trying to find graphic novels and comics for their children to read. This is very well done and better quality than I would have expected. I am grateful to Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith for writing this excellent guide.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on the site. I was under no obligation to blog the review or to review it favorably. I was not paid to write this review.

Monday, August 06, 2012

To the Washington Post Journalist...

who tried to contact me via blog comment to interview me about the parenting book you are did not leave contact information.

Please leave a comment with your email. I will not publish the comment but will have a way to contact you. I had to remove my email from my blog due to some suspected mentally insane blog readers who have harrassed me.


We Never Used a Leash On Our Kids

Newark International Airport
March 2003
Ages: 5 and 2

Parents need to teach their kids how to listen to instruction and stay with them while in public places. We also taught our kids to help each other and to "never leave a buddy behind". My husband referred to them as buddies (I didn't mean buddy as in "buddy system").

The College Solution Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price (revised and expanded 2012 edition)

Author: Lynn O'Shaughnessy

Genre: Nonfiction, adult

My Star Rating: 5 Stars out of 5 = I Love It

Summary Statement: Not Just About Finances - Grade 9 or 10 Is Not Too Early To Read This

This is the first book I have read about college issues.  My oldest child just finished grade nine. I thought maybe it was too early to start reading books on this topic but I was incorrect. Grade nine is when parents should start reading books about college, I have learned! For one thing, some things I have been told verbally by acquaintances were myths that the author debunked. I am glad that I know the truth now rather than going on false information.

For some reason I was under the impression that this book was all about financing and money issues. -- I was wrong.  The book starts out with that topic but the other four book sections are on other topics such as finding a good fit, general information, and how the US News ranking system works (and its many flaws).  (If the finance topic bores you skip ahead to the other sections, then you can come back to it later. I found the rest of the book a faster and less scary read.)

This book has over 50 four page chapters. Many if not all of these topics have been covered in the author's blog, so perhaps she is used to writing in short spurts. At first this bugged me but I soon got used to it and wound up liking the division as some of this, especially the financing and cost issues, are a scary and overwhelming topic, but O'Shaugessey handles them well and helps take the mystery out of the process.

A major theme is that students seeking a liberal arts degree have a lot of options if they do not just focus on the most elite colleges.  How difficult it is to gain admission to the elites and the Ivy League schools is discussed and she left me thinking that hardly anyone will ever get in so don't bother even trying. With 37,000 high schools in the USA that means there are 37,000 valedictorians and there are not enough slots in the elites to let them all in.

I especially found the topics of scholarships, the fact that sports scholarships are minute and was surprised that she recommended to focus the student's time on studying to get better grades and standardized test scores so they can apply for the many more merit aid scholarships -- not all students do sports for a possible scholarship, it is something they enjoy and it's a social outlet and a way to be in good physical shape. Also interesting was the analysis of how women and minorities have an edge over all whites and over male whites. The author's hatred of the US News ranking system is clear and it is discussed in detail.

Despite hearing pitfalls and scary statistics I somehow was left with the impression that all hope is not lost because there are a lot of colleges out there and there are multiple good fits for every student, my kids included. The financial situation is daunting due to the very imperfect federal government FAFSA system which only looks to your last year of income to determine what you can afford. I am grateful for the information that the author shared and feel that she made the discussion of this huge topic easy to understand (even if I hate the system and have serious concerns about it).

I found the book a fast and easy read but that doesn't mean it is unimportant or unhelpful. I wrote in the margins and flagged articles she mentioned to read on the Internet. This was a very useful book for me as the first book about the college process.

This review pertains to the updated revised 2nd edition published in May 2012.

Disclosure: I received an advance reader's copy of this book from's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on I was not paid to write this review nor was I under obligation to blog it or to review it favorably.