Monday, October 31, 2005

I Don't Know How You Do It

well, I don't know how you do it, either.

I recently got an e-mail from a friend, which said, in part:

How is home schooling going? I don’t know how you do it. Brunnhilde is loving school. I go in a few times a month to read to the class or cook or help the kids with library. Today we did our Halloween party. That is definitely all I can handle of the rugrats. You should have seen me trying to get them to make spiders out of tootsie pops and pipe cleaners. Step one was hold up the pipe cleaners and the sucker. Step two, wrap the pipe cleaners around the stick. Step three, say Mrs. Rodham I can’t do it, can you help me. I turned my back for a minute on one kid and the next thing I knew he had his whole tootsie pop covered in glue. I hadn’t even mentioned glue yet. The kid and craft thing is definitely not my strong suit.

My response:
That is exactly why I'm homeschooling -- I don’t want to trudge into a school and deal with 20+ kids acting crazy because they are showing off for each other. My own two kids at home with me don't act like rugrats -- there is no divide between teacher/student, adult/kid like there is in school; theres no authority dynamic going on, we're just us. I don't direct crafts, anyway -- I ask Suzanne what she wants and give it to her and leave her alone and she makes her own thing.
We're really relaxed, I don't teach, I'm more like a resource person (I answer her questions and teach her if she asks for something). Right now, we're mainly going to playdates and park days because the weather is so wonderful and Gabrielle can be difficult about being read to -- she's acting very 3. It works for us, we're complying with the law, and I've got my eye on the standards of learning and what she should be doing. Actually, it makes me really happy.

Just to clarify, I'm not one of those "I'm-friends-with-my-kids kind of parents." My kids are 3 and 5, I'm not an age-appropriate friend and they need a mom. So, our dynamic is parent/child. Though I would hasten to add, I do really enjoy the company of my kids, I think they are cute and smart and funny and really interesting. When I mentioned "adult/child" above, I was referring to how I think kids in large groups with few adults tend to act like a pack of animals, very different from how they act on their own. I see a little of this with homeschool groups, but the groups are smaller and the kids don't tend to ask for things by chanting in unison as I've seen some groups do. I can't stand that -- it treats the adult like some sort of zookeeper who is supposed to throw them whatever they request -- not like one person asking another person for something. Its very odd. Kids may be kids, but I think large groups just tend to encourage immaturity.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


I'd like my children to learn Spanish. I don't know the language myself and I'd like to learn. I keep monitoring the class offerings in the area, but with a 3 year-old, I don't think now is the right time for it. I'd like for us all to take classes together in the future.

So for now, I'm strewing Spanish. Some things we have around the house:

A CD of Spanish songs by Twin Sisters productions that cover the basics like colors and the days of the week. There is also an alphabet song, which blew my mind, because I'd never known there was a different alphabet in Spanish. Its not much different, but it was news to me (I took 3 years of Latin in high school). I picked this up for a few bucks at TJ Maxx. It includes a little book with song lyrics and activities. We have some other Twin Sisters tapes that I got from Christian Book Discounters on sale. One of them is about Chemistry -- its pretty funny, I think. Another is about safety and another is about zoo animals.

Muzzy video tapes -- these are always being marketed to homeschoolers and we receive mailings about the program now and then. I got these for free at a homeschool curriculum swap. Each level contains about 4 or 6 videotapes and some workbooks. The videos are various cartoons in Spanish and there is a corresponding English version. I think the idea is to plop the kid down and have them watch and just absorb. I have Level II and my friend grabbed Level I. I may try to swap to see what Level I is like. Level II is okay, but there are a couple of creepy characters that didn't really jazz my kids, so I don't know if I want to fork out the bucks to buy this.

Leap Frog Leap Pad and Spanish workbook -- we have one of these toys and I bought the Spanish workbook. I must say, Suzanne, 5, does not play with this toy much at all. Every now and then, she'll pull out the Leap Pad and play with it over the course of a few days, but then its gets put away for awhile. She has several books that go with this, so I'm not sure that she even used the Spanish one much. I would note that we have a few of the Leap's Pond books (from Marshall's) and they include a bit of Spanish in each.

A few years ago, we got a bilingual doll who teaches some Spanish words. The kids don't play with her much, but when they did, I can't say they either learned much or that they retained it. Maybe they did. At this point, I must note, that I like it when products have both audio and visual components -- I'd fault this doll on not having an accompanying book to see the words she was saying.

I recently got an Usborne video, First Fun with Spanish. It follows the Usborne book, First Hundred Words in Spanish (which we don't have). For $15, I figured I'd give the video a try. Its animated and follows a little girl through her day with her family. The family is Spanish speaking and she is bilingual, so she translates. Its pretty interesting, but I grew tired of it after awhile. However, I'm glad to have it and think I may pop it it now and then and see what we learn. Getting the book is probably a good idea, but I don't have an Usborne rep and don't feel like looking for one. I suppose if I come across a vendor at a fair or something, I might pick it up. However, the Scholastic book clubs are offering First Thousand Words in Spanish for less than $5, I think, so I think we'll get that. I kind of like Usborne books, but they don't seem to do anything for my kids, so I try to limit my purchases.

I'm always reading homeschooling books for their suggestions on teaching foreign languages. I really enjoyed the tips in Homeschooling on a Shoestring. It advised to first just listen to the language to get a feel for it. It suggested getting a Spanish instruction tape from the library and just listening to it for about 15 minutes on a daily basis for awhile before even attempting to learn the language.

We're planning to participate in a Spanglish play with a friend on mine. She taught a Spanish class last year that we missed, I hope she teaches one in the future.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Oh the Shame!

I just caught my husband looking at this website. Some people do really weird things with their time. Maybe he should start a support group for people with hyphen-issues (opps, no hyphen there? Deal with it.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


I'm not a project person, but I always admire those who are. I love to read books about projects, or activities, for kids, but I can never seem to actually set them up and get the kids involved. Its too much of a hassle and I suspect that the kids might not be all that interested if its not something they've chosen to do.

So far, my experience seems to support my stance of not doing projects. The few times I've been around people who set up projects, it always seems to me that I'm either pushing the kids to finish them because we're running out of time, or I'm the one finishing them. For instance, my mom thought it would be great fun to do a model solar system (from a purchased kit). I think the kids each painted a couple of planets and were on to something else while my mom and I finished painting the plants. Actually, it was pretty fun bonding with my mom over our pathetic color concoctions -- but the activity was of limited use with the kids.

This is one reason why I love Sunday school and library programs -- they have simple little crafts all set to go. For some reason, I cannot bring myself to do it myself -- I have in the past, especially when we did a playgroup where the host provided an activity. However, this quickly fell by the wayside as we moms decided that we really needed time to chat with each other and the kids play just fine on their own (and didn't necessarily get anything from the activity anyway).

The one area where I can, sometimes, do a 'project' with my kids is baking. Though I don't like to have fattening sweets in the house for me, or a meal alternative for my kids (especially my oldest who seems to subsist on air, but will gladly scarf down cookies if we have them). We recently made Rebecca's muffins. Yum.

What I really need to get in gear with is sewing -- Suzanne needs help with that and could probably use some direction from me. I'll put it on my 'to do' list.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

What Love Isn't, What Love Is

My eldest was feeling a bit insecure this morning, so I explained to her that love doesn't stop, "its not like a faucet that you can just turn off."

Mr. Unclimber added, "right, but the water eventually goes cold."

I pondered this awhile, amused by my husband's wit. Breakfast was eaten, the children left to play in another room. I complemented DH on his humor.

He continued the thread, saying: Its like taking a shower, and suddenly the water gets cold and you wonder if someone is running the washing machine and whether the water will get warm again.

I said: But it doesn't and you've got shampoo in your hair

He said: You rub your eyes trying to get it out

I said: but you can't and the shampoo stings. The burning of your eyes contrasts with the icy water pounding on your back. Then you wander around, cursed and blind, like Oedipus, only you never [bleep]ed your mother.

Ah, yes, the endless romance of raising small children...
I love building our home library. I enjoy going to used book sales and buying anything I think might be useful or interesting. Some time ago, I picked up a science textbook by a Christian publisher and often used by homeschoolers who take a more traditional approach to homeschooling. While I'm not homeschooling primarily for religious reasons and am not a "Christian," I am a Christian and have no problem appreciating the wonder of Creation and giving thanks to God.

Thus, I don't mind when I glance through the text and it claims all sorts of scientific processes, such as the water cycle, are based on God's plan for the world. While the book mentions God frequently, it does not mention Him on every page or with regard to every topic discussed. Though I did wonder to my husband that I could not find the chapter on Evolution.

Then we started to try to think up tag lines for the book -- to go along with what they had already written, that is, acknowledging God's role in everything. I tried "gravity -- because God wants it that way." My husband topped me with:

Gravity -- because God doesn't want your junk floating up to heaven.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Funny Vermonters and the Anti-Atkins

Ever see a Stop sign with a sticker underneath it? I've seen a red sticker with white letters that blends perfectly with the sign to say "Stop eating animals." I've seen that many times.

During our recent trip to Vermont, I saw one that was new to me -- I don't recall whether it also adopted the same colors as the sign, but nonetheless, it said:

Stop blaming carbs

And Now for Some Book Recommendations...

I should stick with what I know, but sometimes I can't help dabbling in a bit of social commentary.

I was just writing with my friend and recommending some books his daughter might like and thought that I should go ahead and post what I recommended. Its amazing how quickly I forget what we've read and loved in the last few years. I used to read to my kids a lot, then I stopped because of the protests of the now 3 year-old. I'm just now getting back into the swing of reading. I love it -- its my favorite part of homeschooling (okay, its really my only part of 'homeschooling' other than finding resources).

So, here are my most recent recommendations:

Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie dePaola -- about Charlie, a shepherd, and it takes you through the process of making a cloak -- shearing the sheep, spinning, dyeing the wool, weaving, sewing. Whats also nice, is that it takes you through the seasons of the year, so it reinforces that learning. (Sorry, Mike, I got the title wrong and misspelled the author's name)

Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle -- Jack wants pancakes and he has to cut the wheat, get it milled, get eggs, milk, etc, all the ingredients of pancakes.

I love those books because its neat to learn how things are made.

How to Bake and Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman -- a trip around the world to get ingredients for an apple pie.

My DH loves The Magic Wings and another book, The Seven Chinese Brothers (I find it a bit violent, but my daughter has always enjoyed it). Oh, if you're into Zen, try anything by Jon J. Muth.

If you're interested in Latin, you might want to see if you can find any Roman myths -- though I think it might be easier to find Greek myths, but you could probably work in that the Romans copied the gods and gave them different names. We have a few books about this but haven't started reading them yet. Fairy tales can be fun, too -- we get non-Disneyfied ones, often in storybook treasuries with gorgeous illustrations.

A great resource for excellent books is Sonlight. They sell homeschool curricula with 'living books' but you can order individual titles. I find the on-line catalog hard to use, but recommend their printed catalog. I have great affection for Sonlight -- though I don't use their curriculum, when I felt panicky about homeschooling a few years ago, I find great comfort in their offerings. I did order parts of their Pre-K curriculum and I love the books, but I found the schedule a bit stifling. Still, I should throw some business their way by buying some of their books.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When You're a Jet...

you're a Jet all the way...

There are many different ways to homeschool. I'm taking the unschool approach. So far, I've found that we're learning what we're supposed to learn without lessons or direction from me. I'm a resource, I answer questions, I watch her interests and encourage her. I get books and toys and have them lying around for her to find. If I really want her to learn something, I might mention it and see if she's interested, if she is, I'll probably try to read her a book about something or show her something (like addition).

Sometimes, homeschoolers take a dim view of those who homeschool differently. Other times, they simply don't care and realize that all families are different and we're all trying to do what is best for our kids and our families. Some kids want structured lessons, some parents love to teach -- and for others, any attempt to teach is a power play.

Since I'm so new to homeschooling, my cohort and I tend to be more dogmatic. I'm sure we'll soften a bit with time.

I've mentioned I'm an unschooler. Another approach in homeschooling is the Classical Approach (aka the Trivium). While the earlier years students in this method are given a lot of leeway to play, it is a structured approach. One of the ideas behind the approach is that it is rigorous academically. I have a copy of The Well-Trained Mind, but I stopped reading it after a footnote said that young children should be given short reading lessons each teaching day. Even if they are crying. Sorry -- that doesn't work for me. Well, I'm just the kind of undisciplined person that the book later warns of. [With good reason, did you see that preposition at the end of the sentence?] I haven't read this far in the book, but have been told that in talking of support groups, the book advises that a support group filled with unschoolers is not the right support group for a Classical Approach proponent.

I'm in a field trip group that has mostly Classical homeschoolers -- the kids are all very young, so none have been homeschooling very long and they all take a more laid back approach because there are younger siblings in the house. I always feel a bit out of it with the group as I listen to them talk about what they use to teach what. I keep my mouth shut. I enjoy the moms and my kids like the kids.

We went on a field trip the other day. I felt like a rebel -- I almost immediately abandoned the group to go do the activities that interested us, instead of staying with the group and waiting through activities that didn't interest us. I thought it was an analogy to my educational approach, I'm not going to drag us through subjects that don't interest us before we get to what does.

We later caught up with the group and enjoyed our time with them and I don't think they held it against me that I jumped ship (why would they care?). It was funny though, Suzanne asked me about something she saw. I asked her what the sign said (this is how I assess what she can read). She read the sign aloud and I explained what it meant. One of the moms turned around and said "she's reading that much?" I got embarrassed because I felt guilty for showing off -- but I didn't alter my normal behavior and I didn't expect that anyone was paying attention to us. Anyway, I said, "yeah." She asked -- "what program did you use?" I love that. I said something dopey like "she's a sight reader. We didn't use anything."

When I told my DH about this and repeated the question "what program did you use?" He said "umm, ABBA Gold." It reminded me that when she was first learning to read, she'd always as for the CD case of the music that was playing in the car. I'd hand it back to her and she's pour over it. I never really knew what she was doing. Once she told me that Voulez Vous was number 13. I wondered if she read it or just recognized the "V" and figured it out. As DH puts it, not only was she reading, she was reading French! Who'd have guessed?

Next time I'm telling people our reading program is ABBA Gold. Given that I lucked out with an early sight reader for my oldest, I figure my youngest will probably start reading around age 9 or later and want phonics instruction (its so boring, I tried briefly with Suzanne and we quit after a few lessons. I hope it will be fun if thats what my younger child wants). I'll have to remind myself to be patient.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Au Pair Article

I found this article really interesting this morning. There are lots of au pairs in this area and I'm always a bit intrigued by them.

The only au pair I've ever known was my friend's au pair. She was nice and friendly and involved with the kids the few times I saw her in action. I haven't known any other au pairs, but I've seen them around. I've seen some good ones, but mostly, I haven't been too impressed. Granted, they are often no worse than uninvolved moms (of which I am one), but if you're paying for childcare, I'm guessing your expectations are a bit higher than someone sitting by the pool or hanging out at a playground, chatting on a cell phone, and ignoring your kids. I can do that for free. Alright, I suppose there is lost income. But I want to be the one to ignore my kids.

I recently saw a small group of au pairs at a local playground. They were talking with each other while their charges played together. I was particularly interested, because I'd seen a couple of the kids before at library programs with a different nanny. The prior nanny was an older woman, the new caregiver was a young au pair.

While the young au pair talked with her friends, the older of her charges pushed over the younger of her charges -- i.e. the older brother pushed the younger brother over. The younger brother just sat there crying for a few minutes. It was pretty pathetic. Meanwhile, I'm looking around, trying to figure out who is in charge. To add to the interest, a full-time dad of foreign origin (his accent and looks suggested to me that he could be Scandinavian) was also watching the action. He actually said something to the older boy, that he shouldn't push his brother.

Later, the Scandinavian dad was commenting to me about the boys. We were both trying to figure out who was 'watching' them. I might have mentioned that I'd seen them before with a nanny. Later, when the au pairs were closer by and interacted briefly with the kids, the ScanDad went up to the one in charge of the boys and told her what had happened. She didn't have much of a response.

I would love to know what was going on in ScanDad's head. I imagine he was wondering about me as I watched the brutish behavior and did nothing. He was probably also wondering why I was not moved to say anything to the au pair. I admired him for saying something, but also sort of felt it was none of my business and it wouldn't make any difference anyway. Or at least, not unless I pretended to know the mom and could be seen as a threat.

As much as I thought it was terrible that these poor kids were left to a Lord of the Flies existence on the playground while the au pair chatted with her friends, I could not escape the fact that this could have happened if their parent was there, similarly distracted. I've heard many stories of my husband's childhood that involved brotherly hazing and his mom was an at-home mom throughout his childhood. I also know that I've missed happenings on the playground because I've been talking to someone or looking the other way (two kids -- one goes one way, the other another way).

So, I'm off my high horse. But it was really interesting to read about that article about the au pairs' perceptions, their ambitions, as well as their views of the lodging they receive.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Horror, The Horror

Grab your fiddles, dearies, Rome is burning.

I've actually read a bit of the newspaper this week and I've been following two stories that have graced the front page of the Metro section of the Washington Post. One story has been going on for a month, the disappearance of a 17 year-old local girl from her college campus. Through these articles, we have learned how a beautiful college freshman disappeared after she was sexiled from her dorm.

It gets worse. Turns out this girl was carrying on with a 38 year-old "amateur photographer." First we are told they had a "personal relationship." He was a "person of interest" in the disappearance of the girl which led to a search of his apartment which uncovered kiddie porn. Nice. A few days later, the paper reports he had a sexual relationship with the girl (big surprise there, right?). A 38 year-old father of two who keeps kiddie porn having sex with a 17 year-old. Real nice. Oh, by the way, in case anyone was wondering, the girl's remains have been found (its not even a body anymore, the grave was too shallow to keep the animals away). Did anyone really think she'd be found alive except for her loved ones who were probably hoping and praying beyond all reason. I cannot tell you how much I hurt for her mother. Your baby is killed. You learn that she was sleeping with a man 21 years older than her who doesn't seem like the nicest of folks. The horror.

I followed this story over the past month, partly because I could relate to the story of a naive freshman making foolish choices -- leaving her dorm at night with only car keys, a cell phone and some cash. I made lots of foolish choices in college and I know many others who did as well. I could also sympathize with the mom, I'm the mother of two young daughters.

In the last few days, there has been another story that has attracted my attention. The local mall opened up a large wing. A Victoria's Secret had a provocative display that provoked many into protesting and demanding it be changed. I guess the mannequins were getting too racy. I am outraged to think of a business trying to use sex to sell its wares! Shocking and horrifying. Imagine.

Well, from what I've read and the newspaper pics, it does look like it was the B&D version of Victoria's Secret and I can definitely understand the outrage of parents who don't want their kids seeing that smut in the local mall where they are allowed to roam unsupervised. I also remember what it was like to be a young woman without kids and I probably would have applauded the sexual freedom it represented.

In the end, its exploitation. Sex sells. It makes lots and lots of money. So, we put a little light B&D mannequin action in the store windows and displays, we get LOTS of free press and attention over the controversy, we change the display and, well, its no biggie, right?

As a teen, I roamed the mall unsupervised. I would have seen the display and thought -- 'you go, girl! You celebrate your sexuality and do what you want! More power to you.' Of course, I'd be talking to a bunch of mannequins. Then, maybe, I'd go off to college and see nothing wrong with dating a 38 year-old who likes to take pictures of me. I'm young! I'm beautiful! Here is a man 21 years older than me who thinks I'm interesting and wants to be with me! I'm awesome! I'm free to do as I please. [update: actually, I wouldn't think that. I remember being an 18 year-old college freshman and going on a date with a 31 year-old. He was a grad student, so I knew he was older but when I found out how old he was all I could think of was "how can he legitmately find me interesting?" He seemed like a nice guy, I met him at church. After that, I decided to skip church and find my dates at fraternity parties. That wasn't the best plan, either.]

I think I've seen it suggested in feminist literature that mannequins can been seen as representations of dead women.

Oh well, these issues are for another day. My girls are so young, so far away from such concerns. I'll go to the mall but avert my eyes from Vickie's House of B&D. I'll just take my little girls over to Club Libby Lu. There, they can be little girls and dress up in black sequins, bare their midriffs, and shake their small bodies to the music while dancing in the store front for passersby to watch. Thats an innocent celebration of girlhood, no? Maybe I'll even take their pictures.

Fiddle lessons, anyone?

UPDATE: for a post about the look and feel of the aforementioned mall, go read Rob's post.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

To Require Word Verification or Not? That is the Question

I've noticed that blogger has given us the option of requiring commentors to pass a word verification quiz in order to prove our humanity. I have resisted this. I'm not too thrilled when I run across it on other blogs, but its never stopped me from commenting. And its always nice to find something in my comment notification in-box.

Well, I'm getting a little sick of the ad comments -- its a pain to delete them, more so on unclimber because the template is not as easy to work with. Its not too bad yet, I only get a few ads a day. I note that the ads have gotten a lot better, they seem to tie-in to the subject of the post much better now.

However, sometimes they miss big time. For instance, I still post now and then on chocolate and peanut butter when I've got a more purely parenting post as opposed to a homeschooling/education/parenting post. I recently did a post on Booh Bah over there and what was the ad that was posted in the comments? It was for a product that has not yet been advertised on unclimber or elsewhere on choc&pb. It was for a penis enlargement product. I found this very funny, since the post was about a children's show and I noted how my 5 year-old is terrified of Booh Bah. What was the ad trigger? Does some crawler or whatever look for the words "terrified" and "child" and say 'whoa, boy, here's just the spot to put the penis enlargement ad!'

Now I kind of wish I'd left it there.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Where Do You Go To School?

Suzanne started Sunday school last week -- we missed the first two classes because of our "homeschool field trip." There was a list on the wipe-board in the classroom with the children's names and listed next to each was the school they are attending. I assume this list was started in the first or second classes as an ice-breaker.

The list would certainly demonstrate to the kids that they shouldn't feel left out if there weren't any kids from their school in class. Of the approximately 14 children on the board, there were at least 6 different schools represented. I reflected on this list for awhile. Suzanne was not listed, I assume because she was not in attendance at the first two classes and that no one took much notice of the list anymore. However, while I was there, in the last minutes of the third class, one of the teacher's wrote up another child's name and his school (its possible that it was her son since it was her first Sunday teaching). It was a school I hadn't heard of -- I was informed it is an exclusive private school. Its funny, because my town in not short on exclusive private schools, and yet there exists a higher plane elsewhere. I can only wonder...

Anyway, based on the list, I'd say less than half of the kids go to public schools -- within that, there were three or four different public schools listed (as far as I know; a couple of them may have been private). What I found most interesting about this list was following the money trail -- it was interesting to see who was forking out how much for their kids' education. I'm being crass, this was probably just a simple ice-breaker for the kids.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Have You Started Yet?

I've been asked this question a lot recently. As is my wont, I have no idea how to answer question. I'm hoping that with experience, I'll work out my insecurities and irritations and be able to give a meaningful and considerate response. Until then, here are some possible replies:

"No, we really don't do anything."
Meaning I don't use any formal curriculum and we don't have a schedule. I wouldn't mind having a loose structure or schedule, but this simply isn't our season for it. I've got a preschooler and a kindergartner. The preschooler is alternatively the sweetest thing in the world or an annoying, whining, negative mess. And its unpredictable. So, thus far, we go with the flow.

"Yes. Truth is, we never stopped."
Actually, she has been learning continually from birth and there is no way I could stop her even if I tried. Nearly everything the kids do is a learning experience. They learn constantly. I don't teach, I facilitate and stay out of the way. Here, have some fairy dust...lalalalala...

I don't sit them down for lessons and we don't have a class schedule. I suppose we might someday, but we haven't started yet. Right now, we just follow our interests and the learning flows.

"Your question simply demonstrates that you ascribe to a system which deems itself to be an expert and you to be incidental, at best, and a nuisance, at worst."
But thanks for asking. This question highlights the divergence in our thinking. Or in other words, no matter what I say, you'll probably think I'm crazy.

"Kind of."
Look, I know you're really not interested in my diatribes and liberal, feel-good approach to education, but thanks for your interest.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

oh how annoying

I just wrote a post and instead of publishing it, I decided to 'save as draft' before I reviewed it again and then published it. Well, 'save as draft' seemed to work as a delete key. Its gone, its not there. I did a few more tests that I saved as drafts, they are gone too.