Too Much To Tell

December 28, 2012

So many times over these past few months I’ve thought to come and write here… but the same thing stops me each time… Where to begin?!

A year ago I could not have even imagined all the changes that have taken place. My life now is totally different from when 2012 started. To a great extent I’m still trying to get a grip on it all.

Adrian moved into a residential school in April. He’s doing well there. It becomes more and more clear that it was the right choice for him … and for us. But it’s hard to even begin to describe all the ways this changes my life.

The girls started homeschooling 9th grade in August. We’ve made it to high school. I’m very pleased with the independent study work the girls are doing. They’ve learned and done so much even since August. I love that I can give them time to follow their passions. But a lot of the work 9th graders do is (and should be) independent. I give them a monthly schedule of work to complete and they do it at their own pace and in their own time… My ‘teacher’ schedule is lighter with them.

Then there’s Zee. Though we’d encouraged him to give public school a try back at the beginning of the school year, it took him till November to decide he really wanted to give it go. So he began attending public school at the start of December. But that means that, quite suddenly, I’m not teaching a 3rd grader every day.

So here I am. Gobs of time on my hands like I haven’t seen since before I started having kids 16 years ago. A completely different life from what I had just one year ago. All good and wonderful but just so….. different!

And now I’m trying to figure out where to go from here.

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Speeding Toward Summer

June 9, 2012

Since Adrian moved out, the days seems to speed by at an astonishing speed.  Even with so much less to do each day, we’re keeping busy.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve done this past month:

Homeschool Co-op

We finished up our time at our homeschool co-op.  My story adventure class went really well.  I had parents tell me that it made a huge difference for the kids who normally avoid writting. They couldn’t wait to get home and write about our story!  I had many of the kids tell me they loved the class.  Several were already making plans about the story for another class next semester or planning to write stories on their own.

I’m very satisfied that my goals were met.  I fanned the flames of creativity and inspired many kids to enjoy the fun of creative writing. 🙂  By the end of the class, almost all the kids were bringing written work to class – completely voluntarily.  Several even had their own storylines going from week to week.  Kids who were shy about reading their writing aloud at the beginning were begging to be first to read by the end.

The class also brought an unexpected outcome for the 7th-8th grade group.  Even though I myself am a homeschooler, I’m still somewhat caught off guard when I see the middle school kids fall into the stereo-typical cliques and boy/girl tensions you’d expect to see in any public school.   When we started the game portion of our adventure story, these issues came right to the surface.  The kids’ characters wasted no time throwing one another in the river, withholding food or supplies or making rude/mean remarks to the other characters.

I’d planned to discuss conflict and it’s role in a story right at that point in our class.  I used it as an opportunity to let the kids stop and think on interpersonal relationships, both in the story and in real life.  I asked each child to consider how their character dealt with conflict and write about a conflict they experienced that demonstrated that.  Most decided that their characters were generally ‘good’ people and that they would deal with conflict in kind and mature ways.

Things changed a bit after that, both in the story and in the class.  There was more cooperation and friendliness, fewer ‘mean’ actions and words.  They used their character’s actions in the story and the stories they wrote to show kindness to one another.  And while no one called it out, you could see it affected how they acted toward the person behind the character as well.  It was an unexpected but pleasant side effect of our time together.

Testing

We got our annual testing over with.  We don’t have to test every year but I’ve found there are advantages for us.  First, the whole testing phenomenon is big.  Is it silly?  Yes.  Will it change?  I hope so.  But for now, it’s a big part of what our public schools are teaching – how to take a test.  It’s a skill and it can be learned.  While I don’t necessarily think it’s an essential skill for life, I also don’t think it hurts to have it.

Secondly, it makes for an easy end of the year assessment to comply with our state regulations. I’m lazy and writing up a narrative assessment for all 3 kids is work 😛

Third, it provides what a test should provide – an idea of how everyone is doing.  This is makes my husband feel better about the whole homeschool thing since he doesn’t see the work the kids do on a daily basis and doesn’t know, as I do, that they’re on target.  It also gives the kids an idea of how they’re doing.  It’s nice to have some objective proof of where they’re doing well and what they need to work harder on.

Home Repairs

AKA ‘Practical Arts’ as required by our state homeschooling regulations.

AKA beginning the long process of fixing everything Adrian broke.

The kids helped paint the bathroom, repair door knobs, clean out closets, move furniture and even make furniture for Adrian’s new place.  There’s still cardboard on the walls in most rooms.  We’ve got a long way to go…

Disney?!

Our family loves Disney World.  What better motivation to use to teach some basic programming?  We’re building a few simple apps for fun that will come in handy the next time we go.  The kids are helping with creating graphics, brainstorming ideas, data entry, programming…

Science Projects

Oh!  And school is still in session too!  June is our science project month.  The kids each pick a topic, research, perform experiments and do an oral presentation on everything they’ve learned.  They have the entire month just to work on this.  I think it’s a great way to wind down our year.   They practice many different skills while they’re preparing their own project and  the oral presentations mean that everyone learns about the other science topics as well.   Bonus!

As usual, we’ll be taking off the month of July from all school work.  We’re all looking forward to that.  With Adrian moved out, it will be the first ‘real’ summer vacation any of us have ever had.  Besides sleeping in, playing games and relaxing we’ll probably try to squeeze some day trips in as well….

As soon as we get through June 🙂

Ready to Wind Down

May 8, 2012

Busy.  Busy.  Busy.

It’s been a month since Adrian moved into his new residence and things are going very well for him.  I thought it’d mean I’d have so much extra time… yeah, not so much.

Of course, part of that is that I was free to make eye appointments, dental appointments, orthodontic appointments, doctor appointments and haircut appointments – so I did.  By the end of the month we’ll be caught up on everything. 🙂

Part of the time we’ve also spent trying out our new-found freedom.  We went with Dad to CT for business.  We took a weekend trip to PA to see my grandfather, something I haven’t been able to do in about 10 years.  I even got to go to the Marvel Movie Marathon!  Over twelve hours of movies!  What?! I haven’t been able to get out to see a movie in the evening for about 2 years so I was catching up 😛

Then we’ve also had homeschool co-op just about every week and play practice on top of that….  Then there were trips back and forth to Adrian for meetings, visits and dropping off furniture…  We had a couple of birthdays in there too…

Now it’s time to prepare for and take the end of the year tests that will count as our annual assessments.   I’ll be glad to get that over with and get into wind-down mode in our schooling.

June is our science project month.  With most of our other school work finished for the year, the kids are free to concentrate on a science project of their choice.   They’ll find library and internet resources on their topics, design experiments, write a presentation complete with visual aids and deliver it to the family.

And I hope we’ll find the time to travel and do other fun stuff somewhere in there too!

 

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! 🙂

What Fiction *IS* Good For

February 21, 2012

As expected, the English teacher sister picked up on the back to back posts that appear to express opposing views of fiction.  I have to admit that up until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t quite understand this apparent dichotomy either.  As much as I dislike reading fiction, I very much enjoy writing it.

Past the creative writing assignments in high school, I didn’t really do any creative writing for many years.  Then I started playing an MMORPG (Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Game) and my character in the game sparked my imagination.  It helped that there were others in the game who also enjoyed thinking of their characters as part of a story, a work of collaborative fiction written through dialogue and actions in the game.

Just for fun, and only for my own benefit, I began actually writing down some of my character’s adventures.  Yes, I know that sounds completely nuts to most folks.   It’s ok, I’m a geek. I’m used to that kinda thing.  😛

As I shared my stories with a few trusted friends in game, I heard the same things over and over.

“That’s so cool.  I wish I could do that.  But I’m not a writer.  I can’t do that.”

Something I’d always felt, but never really articulated, became clear in my conversations with folks.  In school we’re taught that fiction has a set value.   Whether it’s based on study and critique, popularity, historical or political importance or how many hours you can spend analyzing the themes and symbolism… there’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fiction.  Fiction has value or a lack of value based on these external criteria that someone else (always smarter than you) has determined.

It seems to me that a lot of folks come out of school and avoid creative writing because they don’t feel they can produce something of value.   I think they’re missing the point.  The value is in creating.

I’m not a ‘writer’.  Not by a long shot.  Some of my stories are downright corny.  Most wouldn’t be of interest to anyone but a fellow gamer…. and one who liked to roleplay… and probably only one that knew me…. and was very polite.   😛

But I had so much fun writing those stories!  I still enjoy reading back over them from time to time, remembering when this or that happened to my character.  Those stories may not have any value to anyone else, but they do to me.  And that alone gives them value.

This realization made me much more bold about sharing my silly fiction with others.  I’m not at all shy about encouraging fellow gamers to take the time to write their stories out as well.

“It’s ok if it’s ‘bad’.  Mine is too!  It’s a lot of fun.  Try it!”

Some write a lot, some write just a little.  But I think everyone finds value in the process of creating.  And that’s really the thing I most want the kids in the adventure story class to take way as well.

So how can it be that I enjoy creating fiction but not enjoy reading it so much?  Well, I found an answer recently when a friend challenged me to read The Hobbit…. cause how can I call myself a geek if I haven’t read it?!

I got half way through the book.  It only took that long to realize why I don’t enjoy reading fiction.  It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the story.  It’s that I feel like I’m wasting time when I’m reading.  I’d just rather be creating than spending gobs of time reading someone else’s creation.

Yes, yes.  I realize that not reading fiction very likely dooms me to being a pretty crappy writer forever more.

But you know what?  Macaroni art is still art… and it’s fun to make! 🙂

Adventure Story Class

February 16, 2012

I’m so excited about the class I’m teaching at our homeschool co-op this semester!

I was inspired by the collaborative storytelling my kids have been doing for years.   They create characters, a world for them to live in and share in dreaming up storylines for them.  The girls are both busy writing and drawing their own versions of the stories they create.

Several of the moms at co-op had mentioned that some of the kids had difficulty writing.  It was no surprise to hear that these same kids tended to avoid it whenever possible.  That got my gears turning and I hatched a plan for an adventure story class.

It wasn’t easy to explain my idea to the moms at the planning meeting.  It’s part collaborative story, part board game, part arts & crafts and a tiny bit creative writing class.  From the confused looks on their faces, I’m guessing my unbridled enthusiasm was the only reason they agreed to let me teach it.  😛

Each class I spend a couple of minutes talking about some aspect of creative writing.  The first week we talked about creating characters.   We discussed the difference between round and flat characters and when it was best to use each type.  We looked at all kinds of character traits and talked about how character flaws can drive the story.

Other topics we’ll cover during our 8 sessions include ways to describe the setting and physical environment, elements of plot, what makes an ending satisfying, how characters grow and develop in a story and how to publish a story.

The second part of class we work on an activity or craft project.   Last session they created a character on paper.  Today they made a physical representation of their character with little wooden peg people.  This will also double as their game piece when we get to that part.  Next week we’ll be building the 3D game board complete with scenery elements.

For the last part of each class we tell the story and play the game.  The first week I wrote a short fiction piece which allowed them to participate by saying what their character would do at various points in the story.  Sometimes I go around the room to ask each child what their character would do.  Other times, I use the traits they chose for their characters to decide who drives that part of the story.  I also throw in a bit of chance to mix things up.   Each child has a foam die they can roll to settle trait ties or  just decide who’ll get to speak first.

As the weeks go on I won’t need a fully written piece of fiction.  The kids will be free to make choices about what they’ll do within the confines of the world I’ve created.  The game part helps define these limitations and gives the characters extra challenges to work through to enrich the story.  The characters will have to work together to deal with those challenges and solve a mystery/puzzle/find a resolution/win the game/end the story.   (See?  Clear as mud!)

I’ve made a point of telling the kids that the point is to use their imaginations and have fun.  I don’t require them to write *anything*.    And what they do write is not collected, graded, corrected or shared unless they want to.

But guess what?  Most of the kids brought a whole page of writing to class today.  Even some those kids that avoid writing.  And the ones who didn’t have anything written?  They had simply forgotten and were genuinely disappointed about that.  I had moms tell me how their kids could not wait to get home and write about their characters.

Today in class I gave them a chance to jot down what their character would do at a particular point in the story.  I gave them 3 minutes.  I’ve never seen pens move so fast.

I can’t wait to see how this story ends 🙂

 

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. 😛