Fake Travel Agents

March 28, 2012

So remember that I said we were going to go easy on the academics while we finish the task of getting Adrian settled in his new home?  Yeah, it never fails that when you back off all that educational stuff, something fun (and educational) crops up to fill it’s place.  😛

A couple of weeks ago we bought a few bottles of honey which happened to have some of those little instant win code thingies on them.  Zee took note that the prize was a trip to London and bugged me to log into the website to see if we’d won.  In his mind, he was already on his way to the airport.  (FYI: we didn’t win lol)

I asked what he’d do and see if we did go to London.  He said he didn’t know.  It reminded me that when the girls were in second grade, one of their favorite things to do was study other countries.  Sometimes they’d plan fictitious trips as part of the process.  Bingo!

So as explained he could plan a trip, the girls started to chime in.  They still love the trip planning – but I was afraid their enthusiasm would take the whole project right out of Zee’s hands!  To prevent this I let them pick their own locations to plan trips to.

Our fake travel agency was born.  Our agents are specializing in trips to London, Jamaica and the Florida Keys.  They’ll research what there is to do and see, plan a trip within the allotted time and budget, poll vacationers (our family) on their priorities and post summaries of tours, attractions and hotels on our fake travel agency website (while learning about blogs, picture copyrights, etc).

And since they all love a little friendly competition and the chance to do oral presentations, they’re going to make a video ‘ad’ for the trip they plan in an effort to gain the most vacationer votes and win the title of ‘Best Fake Travel Agent’.

Let the battle (and learning) begin! 🙂

School of Life

March 25, 2012

A lot of the usual focus on scholarly pursuits have been on hold these past couple of months.  We were fastened tightly in our car, riding the rollercoaster of red tape that accompanies most services for the disabled.  Our destination?  A residential school placement for Adrian.

We’re very close to the end of this ride and so our thoughts turn to where we’ll go next, when we get off this wild ride.

I know for myself, I’m going to need some time.  I’ll need time to decompress, relax and come to grips with what’s happened – the good, the bad, the guilt…

Then, it’s time to reimagine our life here.  So much of what we do day to day, minute to minute, is done because Adrian is here.  All that changes.

While we obviously wouldn’t be sending Adrian to a residential school if we didn’t think it was in his best interest, we also recognize that his moving will mean a lot of positive changes for the other kids as well.  I plan to seek their input in deciding on what life should look like when he’s gone.

This is huge.  Once again, the benefit of homeschooling is that we can balance our academic pursuits with the schooling real life is giving us.


Literature has never been my thing.  Ever.

I clearly remember the fight I had with my 5th grade teacher over my lack of desire to take a book out on library day.  I explained I had no interest in fiction.  She was bent on proving me wrong.  If only I found the ‘right’ book(s), I would adore fiction.  Doesn’t everyone?

Well, no.

I’m sure I would have been more inclined to check out a book or two if we had been encouraged, or even allowed, to consider the non-fiction section.  But it seems that part was reserved for serious research… you know, that thing you’d do only when your teacher assigned you one of those serious reports.   No, both the librarian and teachers knew that kids like fiction and so they herded us into those rows with enthusiasm.

That particular misconception carried on straight through high school.   My English teacher had a cabinet full of books.  You picked one of his books and read a certain number pages each week.  You had to pick from his cabinet because those were the books he’d read… and how else could he quiz you on the book so he’d know if you’d actually read it?!

“Don’t you have any non-fiction books?”

He’d look at me with that little smirk.  I’ve no doubt he thought I was simply trying to get out of reading all together.  He suggested book after book from his collection.   If only I could find the ‘right’ book….

So I’ve been quite happy that my children will not suffer my fate.  The are ‘normal’.   They enjoy fiction, they read because they want to.   They choose their own books, they’ve read and enjoyed several classics among their many choices.  Yay!  I don’t have to torture my kids with literature!

But wait.  Here comes the principal (aka my dear husband) and his school-indoctrined ideas.

I’ve been assigning famous works of literature from the time periods we’re looking at in US History.  I usually ask the girls to read several chapters.  If they hate the book, they don’t have to finish.  Again, I don’t see the point of torturing them with literature.  Some they like, some they do not.  Let’s face it, there’s enough literature out there that you can find options in any time period that you find enjoyable (ok, except for someone like me, but then we’ve already been over that).

For our current time period, I put Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle on the listMy husband handles our virtual library, loaning ebooks from the library and putting them on the girls’ electronic readers.  Upon seeing this book listed, he commented that he hadn’t read that till he was older (by only a year or two at most) and, the kicker for me, that they could not read that book without an adult reviewing it with them, pointing out all the  appropriate themes and symbolism and political ramifications.  It’s a book that must be properly analyzed in order to be read at all.

Now understand, my distaste for this whole analysis of literature goes back a long, long way. And I feel that it’s not solely based on my underlying dislike of fiction pieces in general.  I just think that it’s the right of the reader to decide what, if any, messages, themes, symbolism or politics they wish to draw out of the text the author has presented.   What use is a piece of literature that *requires* a third-party to analyze and explain what they think is the author’s point or purpose?

I get that there are people who love literature.  There’s even a subset who love to study, analyze and discuss these works in-depth.  Heck, my own kids may very well turn out to be among them.   More power to them.

But the idea that a piece of literature is only as good as the guide that explains it to you?  I don’t think so.  Literature is just another art form which can and should be experienced for its own sake, with no obligation on the part of the one who experiences it to make more of it than they wish to.

Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.  I’m sure my literature loving family and friends will. 😛

Writing with Grandma

January 12, 2012

I know it’s quite normal for teens to think that Mom and Dad have no clue what they’re talking about.  Now that the girls are officially teens, they’re strictly following the teen code of conduct.  😛

This can cause a bit of a problem when you’re homeschooling though. As I adjusted the workload and expectations to match their grade level this year, they reacted as though I was being totally unreasonable.  They would complain, turn in work that was given only a partial effort and they outright ignored my deadlines despite whatever consequences we put into place.

Enter Grandma with a healthy dose of perspective.

At first the girls were quite happy to have Grandma help them write the biography reports I’d assigned.  Then reality hit.  Grandma isn’t joking around.  She has high expectations and no problem putting a big fat ‘F’ on an assignment if it’s not right.

Grandma broke down the paper into smaller assignments for specific outlines, notes and written rough drafts.  The assignments are emailed  to her to be graded.  Late assignments are an automatic failure.  And yes, one girl actually tested this out!  They’ve spent whole days at Grandma’s kitchen table working under her watchful eye.  It’s a drastic change from the freedom I usually give them when they work here at home.

They’re nearly finished writing the reports now.  Not only has their writing improved but their attitudes as well.  I think they finally realize that my expectations are not out of line for their age and grade level.  I think they see that they really do need to step it up, stop being lazy and do the work!  Perhaps they even appreciate the freedom I give them to work where and how they choose.

I’ve seen the difference in attitude reflected in their other subjects.  They’re putting in a full effort, the complaining has stopped and they’re treating both me and my assignments with much more respect.  They’re also displaying more confidence in their ability to handle the hard stuff.  They’re smart, they can do it.  They just need to put the work in.

I’m  so grateful that Grandma is available to share her time, knowledge, talents and passions.  It’s definitely a perk of homeschooling that the girls can learn so much from someone they love and respect.

I’m pleased to say we’ve hit a nice groove in our schooling here.  What needs to get checked off the list, gets checked off most of the time.  The girls aren’t complaining about most of what they’re assigned.  Zee?   Well, Zee is Zee… and almost 8 years old.  I think that makes him legally bound to put up at least a little fight. 😛  Despite all that he’s still progressing in leaps and bounds.

Since we’re easily finishing all that work that makes that inner school teacher so happy, we’ve got time for all that other stuff. You know, the important stuff.

Gee’s been blowing through tutorials on programming apps using Corona.  Dad’s been heavily engaged in this also so the two are working together to share what they learn and show off their projects.  This girl has definite potential to be a computer programmer and I couldn’t be more thrilled. 😀

I sent Bee a link to http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/ on November 2nd.  She jumped at the chance to participate.  I helped her set up her account, showed her how to use the forums and let her loose.  We went with the default 50,000 word count, what the adults use.  Several times she’s come asking if maybe we should reduce it.  I encouraged her to keep it, that she could do it.  A week or so later, she’s glad we left her goal 50,000 because she really thinks she can do it! 

And Zee?  Well, yeah, he’s still reading like a madman.  I wasn’t able to get the 3rd Harry Potter book from the library ( can you believe they don’t have copies which aren’t out or lost?!) so that’s on hold. Meanwhile he’s whipping through every other book we own. 

Many of the earlier chapter books he sorta skipped over.  He wanted to get to the ‘good’ stuff already!  So now that’s he’s a proficient reader, he’s going back  to check them all out.  He’s read every Junie B. Jones book we own and several more from the library.  He’s read each and every picture book we own.  He’s working his way through the chapter book shelf right now. 

His birthday is in a couple of weeks.  What does he want?  His very own Kindle so he can read even more! 

I know for a fact that if my kids were in school, they wouldn’t have this much time to devote to all these important things.   I’m soooo glad I can give them this opportunity to explore, perfect and enjoy their favorite things.  🙂

He Won’t Stop Reading

November 11, 2011

Zee is nearly 8.  He and I are constantly in a tug of war over his school work and chores.  The kid can debate you to death. 

So it’s really nothing new that it’s Friday night and his work for this week isn’t finished.  But this week, it’s not because he’s spent all his time arguing about whether measurement belongs in a math book or when in his life he’ll find a use for poetry. 

This week he’s addicted to reading.

Reading has always been one of the first things he finishes on his to-do list each week.  These past 2 months, he’d been hooked by the Harry Potter books. He took them in the car, read them on the couch and begged to stay up to get a few more pages in.  I can’t seem to get the next book in the series ordered from the library before he finishes the one he’s on.

But this past week, it’s gone over the top.  He’s devouring whole bookshelves.  Every hour I seem to find him somewhere else, reading book after book.  Everywhere I go I see him walking around with arms full of books.  Every time I pass the main hall, there he is, on the floor in front of the bookshelf  reading one after another. 

Each time I see him I can’t help but inquire if he means to finish his school work this week. 

“But I like reading, Mom.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Integrated Algebra is slow going.  The girls aren’t where they should be according to my perfectly scheduled calendar.

Of course, it just dawned on me a couple days ago that the girls don’t have to do each and every practice problem in each and every section.  Uh, DUH!

Yes, I’ve fallen victim to the demands of my inner school teacher… again!  “We’ll do this, all of this, exactly like this.  Because that’s just the way you do it!”


I was assigning 3-4 sections each week, making for approximately 120 practice problems a week.  Now that still doesn’t seem like a lot to me, but I’m starting to think maybe it’s just not necessary.  The girls spent the better part of the past 2 weeks doing nothing but math from about 10am till 9 or 10 at night.  They even had nightmares about algebra!  Yes, they woke themselves from slumber trying to solve complicated problems!  Yikes!

So this week, while I reevaluate the math assignments, we’re having a C.O.W.

I came up with the idea of Creativity Output Week (COW) last year.  The girls always have individual projects they want to work on.  But that pesky inner school teacher keeps them from having as much time as they wish to work on them.   During a COW, the kids are free to do whatever they want with their time so long as it:

1. is creative, meaning it involves original works using their imagination and

2. has some kind of output, or something to show for their time.

Needless to say, the kids ask for a COW a lot. 

SO this week we’ll have a COW and the kids will busy themselves with creative writing, computer programming, arts, crafts, sewing, science experiments, game making, photography, ….

And I’ll be busy trying to get that silly school teacher under control 😛