Math Club

In an effort to follow through with a New Year’s Resolution to get out in the homeschool community more, I signed Golfer up for a Math Club. Today was the first day, and I packed the kids up so we could meet the other club members at a coffee shop for a little math fun. Naturalist brought a book to read (“math and fun just don’t mix” is what I read her eyeroll to mean when I asked if she’d like to try it too), and Sassy toted a her favorite bug sort game.

I drove down the road a little apprehensive. So far on my journey from public school to homeschool to unschool, I’ve stayed mostly with people I already know and love. Many people assume that if you meet one homeschooler, you’ve met them all; but anyone who IS a homeschooler realizes that they are part of a very diverse group of people. Some people do it for religion, some people do it for more control over their schedule, some people do it for more control over their kid, some people do it for more control over the curriculum, some people do it for more opportunities for their kid…etc., etc.

I consider myself a rather secular unschooler, meaning that my curriculum is determined by the interests of my kids and I’m not doing it for any religious reasons. There are plenty of Christian Homeschoolers around here, and while I have no problem with that per se, I did get a little freaked out when I attended a homeschooling skate day last Valentines Day and found myself surrounded by scores of people with shirts that read “I (heart) Jesus”. There are also lots of serious homeschoolers around here who follow a rigorous schedule of latin, math, two languages, science, English, music, and a few more things. I have lots of admiration for them, but am also freaked out by people who get freaked out about taking part of their day to go do something fun like go to the zoo, museum, bowling, hiking, or any of the 034895034895 other things there are to do out and about in this area. One time I met up with a homeschooling group at the Science Museum and felt a little out of place when I was the only one without a dozen worksheets for my kids to fill out while walking through the exhibits. And then one of the other moms got mad at me and my hooligan kids for talking to much and disturbing her kid ‘at work’.

But past experiences shouldn’t make me any less willing to try out new things, so that’s why I found myself pulling up to the coffee shop ready to meet a bunch of homeschooling people I didn’t know.

At first, I was worried. These people meant business, and my hopes of Golfer playing fun dice, probability, and other games evaporated. But Golfer looked like he was interested, so I kept quiet. They played a game of bingo, where the woman called out math questions and then the kids covered up the answer to try and get bingo. There was quite an age distribution in players and the rule was “NO TELLING OTHER PEOPLE THE ANSWERS because IT MIGHT HELP THEM WIN INSTEAD OF YOU!” the woman instructed. First question: “Half of 50”. OK, Golfer knows that one. Next question: “9 times 8” Uh oh…Golfer won’t know that! Too bad…no one will help him and it’s off to the next question: “Square root of 49” Dear lord, let’s get out of here! But no, he sticks with it, doesn’t ask for the answer but asks, “What is a square root?” which she answers “any number times itself”. It still won’t help…he doesn’t know what 7 times 7 is…she realizes that half the kids there don’t have a strong grip on multiplication and relents. “Forget that…give me the square root of 9.” Golfer thinks, and manages to get that one.

This goes on for 15 minutes…lots of square roots and multiplication without manipulatives or helping. I caught Golfer’s eye one time and gave the universal thumb sign for “is this Good? or Bad?” and he gave me thumbs up back, so I kept my quiet.

Then they broke up into groups and played fun dice games. The one that I really liked was where you give a kid a whole heap of die and then have them roll two of them. If a two and a five come up, then you model ‘two times five’ with five dice by turning them over to each have two dots on top. Two, five times. Then the kid counts it up to get the answer. Golfer really liked that!

At the end we walked out and I wondered if Golfer would decide he didn’t want to go back next week. Instead he gave it two thumbs up and exclaimed, “I need to go home and learn my square roots!”

Maybe Wordless Wednesday: Release.

From Mama Podkayne’s photo challenge about release:
1. To set free from confinement, restraint, or bondage: released the prisoners.
2. To free from something that binds, fastens, or holds back; let go: released the balloons; released a flood of questions.
3. To dismiss, as from a job.
4. To relieve of debt or obligation.
5. To relieve of care and suffering.
6. A deliverance or liberation, as from confinement, restraint, or suffering.
7. An authoritative discharge, as from an obligation or from prison.
8. An unfastening or letting go of something caught or held fast.

hot air balloon
hot air balloon
hot air balloon
hot air balloon


Hubby experienced some crazy vertigo last week, after getting a cold. He just couldn’t stand up or walk around for very long without falling over or feeling sick. I pulled the standard mom-ism and suggested bedrest and lots of water…a good start to combat any sickness, yes? It passed after a day or two, we figure it had something to do with a virus or something disturbing his inner ear.

This morning, after experiencing a minor cold this weekend, I awoke to disorienting vertigo whenever I moved my head. I tried to cook it off by making breakfast for everyone, but toasting Eggo waffles got the better of me and I retreated back to bed.

“It’s OK mom, we’ll take care of things down here!” Golfer shouted up encouragingly.

The last time I had vertigo, I was 50 feet underwater in a mudpit (excuse me, I mean natural spring) in Wendover, Nevada. Hubby and I were doing our final SCUBA certification dive in preparation for our honeymoon in the Bahamas, and after weeks of diving in the deep end of the local YMCA we were looking forward to getting it over with and going to a more exotic locale. The water in the natural spring was pretty clear until you put a bunch of newby SCUBA divers down at the bottom, flailing around and kicking up massive amounts of silt. All of a sudden the water turned dark, I couldn’t see anything in front of me, and I had the strangest feeling come over me. I couldn’t tell what was up or down, and I felt like I was doing cartwheels and pirouettes in the murky depths. Panic set in, I started flailing my arms around to feel for Soon-To-Be-Hubby. He gripped me in his arms but before he could pull me to the surface I succeeded in yanking his mask off his head so his eyes and nose were exposed to the water rushing in. For good measure, I also hooked into the regulator in his mouth…giving him oxygen he needed to, you know, live…and pulled it out of his mouth. In one fell swoop, I had totally disabled his ability to see and breathe.

If there’s a bigger buzz kill than almost killing your hubby before you’ve gotten to enjoy a fab. honeymoon, I don’t know what it is.

Luckily, hubby is a pretty unflappable dude. He calmly replaced his mask and blew out his regulator before putting it back in to breathe…just like they taught him in SCUBA school. I was too busy freaking out (like they taught me NOT to do) to notice the havoc. Hubby grabbed my hands and pulled me up to within 10 feet of the diving platform, where we floated in neutral boyancy until we’d given our bodies enough time to adjust. This gave me time to settle down, get my bearings, and look at him through the silt and our goggles. He was so strong, and brave, and he could really take charge of a situation…3 things I admired so much about him because I wasn’t any of those things!

We surfaced…he slowly removed his mask and said the words any bride-to-be lives for…

“What. The. HELL!!!”

A very restrained response, all things considered.

All’s well that ends well, though. We both certified and had a great time being dive partners on our honeymoon in Florida and the Bahamas.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m thinking that the cosmos was trying to give hubby and I an analogy about marriage–if it doesn’t kill you, it’s quite an exciting adventure!

The Battle of New Orleans.

Lego style…

When I charge/load songs onto my kids ipods, I always slip a song or two on there that is of my choosing. At one point I was slipping in songs from Johnny Horton..someone that I wasn’t familiar with until I started dating Hubby. With him being in the Business school, and not being a very English/History focused person, and me being an American History major, we had very little in common scholastically. Except for the times hubby would start crooning a ballad by Johnny, that genius of American History folk songs.

At first, when my kids discover random itunes songs, they react with confusion… ‘What the???? What am I listening to? This isn’t on my playlist?!’ but the power of the ipod soothes them and pretty soon they can’t help but belt out random verses like, “WELL, in 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip…” (keep an eye out for the alligator in the last third of the song/’s Golfer’s favorite part of the song and he loved seeing it reenacted with Legos.)

Other gems I’ve put on there are some Monty Python ‘Holy Grail’ snippets, some 80’s top 10 that I just don’t think kids are being exposed to enough today, assorted ‘Teacher and the Rockbots‘ songs, Princeton Review Vocab minute songs (nerd alert!), Billy Joel songs (What??? He’s not cool anymore??? Not over here!), and always something by U2. Recently, for MLK, Jr. Day, I added “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

They indulge me in this, bless their hearts, and some of my songs have ended up on their top ten! I keep telling them what great taste in music I have…maybe one day they’ll believe me!

Internet Killed the Video Star

(In which I ramble on about the demise of public school as we know it, sound generally crazy while talking about my theory of evolutionary shifts, and quote a high school teacher who is my new BFF but doesn’t know it yet.)

Hubby and I watched a really fascinating program on PBS called “Growing Up Online“, a Frontline show about what it’s like to be a part of the first generation who has grown up totally involved and using technology such as MySpace, Facebook, the Internet, video games, instant messaging, etc.

There are four different ‘sections’ in the show…each highlighting something different–cyber bullying (that’s a sad one), online exploitation, online communities, and how the technology is changing the classroom.

Much like video killed the radio star, watching this made it apparent that the Internet has killed traditional, sit-at-your-desk-and-watch-a-teacher-lecture, school. For those people out there who see this as a step backwards, I present Rose Porpora who bemoans the fact that kids can’t focus or think as in depth as she’d like while reading Shakespeare in freshman English Class.

For those of you out there who see this as a step in the right direction– a validation that finally, someone is listening to all these right brain thinkers–I present Steve Maher, whom I am about to quote rather liberally.

Frontline took a camera crew into his class, where each student had a computer on their desk. He taught from an interactive whiteboard thingy that I am totally crushing on. The classroom was wired for internet and the kids were engaged and interested.

They contrasted his classroom with Rose Porpora’s, which was set up much more traditionally…semi circle chair arrangement, kids with books and notebooks open, with her leading the discussion. I liked her. She has dedicated 30 + years of her life to sharing her passion for literature with high school kids–that qualifies her for being knighted, as far as I’m concerned. But even she agreed that her time has come and gone, and the new progressive style of teaching/learning just isn’t what she signed on for.

But, back to Steve. Frontline asked him some questions, like this:

How do you regard the mass of teachers who still teach in traditional ways?

Well, if you think about education in general, that is something that I am really concerned about, because if teachers are preparing students for an industrial age, they’re doing a great disservice to the students. And I don’t know how they manage their classrooms, because if you think about the media environment that an average American teenager lives in, to walk into a classroom that doesn’t have any of that media must be like walking into a desert. To have the least media-rich time of their day to be the time when they’re supposed to be engaged and involved with learning seems to be almost a crime, because you have these tools out there and they could be used easily. …This world is changing. If the business world is operating with technology, … education has to change, too. You wouldn’t expect it not to change.

This is pretty much the conclusion I’ve come to, as well, but there is so much resistance to this kind of change…both from teachers and parents alike. Many people consider change of this sort as ‘giving in’ to an inferior cultural norm…as if multimedia is to blame for ADD/dyslexia/right brain thinkers.

I’ve never really said what I’m about to say to any but a few people, because it makes me sound a little radical, but I’ll put it all out there. I believe all these so called ‘learning differences’, and creative kids who enjoy video games, TV, graphic novels but who struggle in school, are really just kids at the front of an evolutionary shift from an auditory society to a visual society…a shift that is producing these kinds of thinkers from birth, at an astonishing rate. That’s my two cents, anyway.

Frontline asked Steve about the ease at which current students can google a subject and plagarize a paper from so many different subjects.

The way I deal with cheating (from online sources) in a history class is to get rid of things like a term paper, like a research paper, where they go out, gather a bunch of encyclopedic information and then reproduce that in a report. That almost begs to be cheated. There’s no life in that; there’s no purpose in that. The better way to do it is to take something and say ‘you have to do something more with it’. For instance, don’t report to me the basic events of the Cold War; prove to me that the USA was responsible for the beginning of the Cold War. And then I’d have another group of students prove to me that the USSR is responsible for the beginning of the Cold War, and then I would have them attack each other’s sources. … Then you have a dialogue back and forth, and … there’s no cheating involved with that.

I probably would have liked high school a lot more had I been given this kind of assignment, rather than the basic ‘memorize and report’ standard. This is a strength of unschooling, to me. Rather than focus on memorizing, so much of our day is spent talking, debating, internalizing and dialoguing.

I almost stopped my post right here, but there are a few things written in the interview that never made it on air and I can’t possibly leave them out. The interviewer brings up that Steve has young kids in Elementary school, and asks him how he (Steve) feels their education is going…

My children spent a lot of time with handwriting. … My opinion, which I have to keep sort of quiet, is that you might as well teach them horseback riding. It’s a skill they’re not going to need. No one is writing now; we do jot things down, but it’s not something that we have to know. …

My sons have an assignment where they have to copy 20 words two times each, and they despise it because it’s pure drudgery. To me it seems almost like torture. I don’t know what they’re getting out of that. I know it works on spelling, but I wonder if that sort of spelling skill is something that they will really need. …

You don’t think spelling is important?

I think spelling is important, but I don’t think it is something that should be the main focus, to say, OK, we’re going to take a good part of our elementary school education and spend a lot of time having kids recite over and over again a batch of letters in a certain order.


Because there is more stuff that they have to do. There’s a tool that they can use to check their spelling, and they should be able to use that tool. So their spelling skills should be developed enough that the tool will solve the problem for them. …

This makes me want to sit down, write him a ‘Thank You for saying that out loud’ letter, spray it with perfume, and kiss it with my pinkest lipstick. Seriously. Because after saying this precise thing for the 4 years Naturalist was in school and being raked over the coals for even suggesting such a thing, it’s nice to hear it from a respected, successful teacher.

I know that lots of people just don’t get that, and find it a ridiculous affront to education, but I completely agree that elementary education needs to be about more than recitation and copying.

And finally…

If you listen to the Department of Education, they’ll say that seven of the top 10 jobs in the year 2010 didn’t exist in 2004. So we’re preparing our kids for industries that don’t exist yet, and we’re preparing for kids to use technologies that haven’t been invented yet. That’s one of the reasons I talk about the difference between learning content and learning skills, and why there is much more of a need to teach skills, because if we can teach a student how to learn, then they can adapt to these things as they’re changing. If we’re going to teach them just content that is static, they’re not going to have the flexibility that we’re going to need. And if you talk about the global marketplace, we’re in deep trouble if we don’t know how to do that.

And this, my friends, is why he’s my new BFF. And this is also why I have let go of quite a bit of my anxiety about unschooling. It is FOR SURE that the learning content in unschooling is radically different from what other kids are getting at school. But the skills! The skills! The skills! My kids are learning how to learn. And even better, they are learning that they love to learn! This is the basic, but all important principle of unschooling. Helping kids learn to learn with passion, exuberance, dedication, and enthusiasm. Things that my kids weren’t getting in the current public school system.

The entire show is available to view here, and I’d highly recommend it.!

American Idol

Listening to an hour of people trying to sing: painful.
Listening to Simon reply: funny.
Spending an hour snuggled under a blanket laughing and talking with a usually too busy preteen: priceless.

We seriously LOVE this show. Hubby, Golfer, Naturalist and I squeeze together and watch religiously every week. And yes, we vote. It’s important to exercise our rights, you know? Good lesson in democracy for the kids.

The brutal honesty of Randy and Simon has, in turn, given us all thicker skins. “Do you want to know what I’d say if I were Simon?” we ask. Like when I took Golfer shopping with me to The Gap outlet and found a long, blue cardigan that I loved. “What do you think about this one?” I inquired in the changing room. “Well, if I were Simon, I’d say, ‘That looks great…if you don’t care what you look like.'” Point taken, little man, point taken.

Like most people who go through the show with Simon (who is always spot on, we think), I discounted the sage advice and continued on my merry way…telling him he was crazy if he didn’t think I looked good. I bought the cardigan. I wore the cardigan. I love the cardigan. I walked by a mirror wearing the cardigan. I realized the cardigan makes me look like an old, lumpy pillow. Golfer was right. But so was I…sometimes you just have to do some things because they make you happy, not to please other people.

On that note, I present Keith, our favorite Idol wannabee. I hope he’s still singing and dancing, because he certainly kept us entertained. We saved him on our TiVo for at least a year, and watched this anytime we needed a little pick me up.

Wordless Wednesdays–Lines

Q: How do you know Sassy Princess has been in a room?
A: She leaves behind her calling card…things lined up in rows.

Stickers on her headboard:

Game pieces:

My cosmetics, both horizontally and vertically:

The tiny Colonial people:

Muffins, each with exactly one bite taken out of them:

And anything else she can get her hands on.

(P.S. I have yet to make one of these wordless wednesday posts actually wordless. Maybe next week!)

Baby, it’s cold outside!!!

weather map of coldness

Yeah, that’s me hanging out at -6. The day started off cold and snowy and has only gotten colder and snowier.

Today is my scheduled grocery shopping day, and I briefly considered not going out into the negative degree weather…but then I thought of all the carbs, dairy, and pastries that were waiting for me. I bundled the kids up and we made an hour stop at our local rec. center so I could preemptively cycle away at least 180 calories of the 34058304958304958 I was about to buy and consume, and then we hightailed it to the store.

Even walking from the parking lot into the store was harsh, and all the kids complained loudly. Knowing their love for all things battle related, I told them it was just like what the Continental Army faced during the winter at Valley Forge…only they did it without shoes & coats.

Now we’re back and I’m planning what kind of warm comfort food meals I can make. It’s the one bright spot on this cold dreary day!

Looking at the weather map, I’m not alone with this weather…so tell me, what are you doing to ward off the chill?!

Grief and the Holidays.

Connections. To me, this is the central theme during the Christmas holiday season. Taking time to connect with people and do things that I am usually too busy for. A rearrangement of priorities and small moments of, “A HA! I should take more time from the small stuff (that takes up most of my time) to do this kind of connecting in the next year!” And also, a time to think about how I wish certain other connections would be…family, life, friends…none of these are perfect and often I am left wishing some things were different.

My mom sent me a picture right before Christmas, taken in 1975 with her (on the left), her sister (on the right) and their mom–my grandma (center). Isn’t looking at old pictures like jumping in a time machine? Seeing my mom, younger in the picture than I am right now, makes me feel like Marty McFly seeing his parents for the first time when he goes back to the future.

Isn’t she foxy?!

4 months after this was taken, my grandma passed away from cancer. The note from my mom read: “My mom didn’t always look like this, however 3 years of experimental medicine changed her looks, but not her sweet personality.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve heard lots of stories told about her, but I see her as radiant in that picture.

I was 3 when she died, and I often think how nice it would have been really get to know her. I do have faint memories of apples & cinnamon oatmeal, a whistling teapot, a big jar of buttons, orange plastic 70’s chairs and feeling happy sitting on them, waiting for the oatmeal.

I don’t remember her laugh, her sense of humor, her zany personality, her tenderness and patience, or her amazing sewing skills. I have my mom’s stories but none of my own, and that makes me sad.

5 years ago I remember going through the first Christmas after losing my baby girl after developing HELLP Syndrome in my pregnancy. I didn’t put up a tree. Didn’t buy presents. Didn’t hang stockings. I cried, a lot. The only way we got through it was because Hubby took over. I just hurt.

It is supremely unfair to not get the chance to get to know a little person that you already love so much.

I found a tiny white stocking with lace and pearls, and bought it as a present for Baby Rose–the extent of my celebrations. I’ve hung it up every year since then, with our other stockings.

My mom came out to help me plan for the funeral, and you can imagine the scene. Tears mixed with dark humor and a healthy dose of full strength Coke with salty french fries (don’t ask me why, but the combination is essential when dealing with a crisis). One late night when I was overwhelmed with the sadness of it all, she held my hand and said that while she was having her own difficult moment, she heard?…felt?….thought? her mom’s voice chiding her for worrying so much. “You know how much I love babies! I will sit here and hold this baby while you go hold your baby.”

Throughout the dark days of early grief, when even the strongest convictions of God and Heaven are tested, shattered, cast aside, and rebuilt (sometimes…sometimes not), it’s that connection that kept a small piece of hope going in my broken heart. That small pinprick of light–of a grandma holding her grandaughter–grew and grew until one day the grief was less and my faith became more.

It didn’t heal me, nothing can heal the pain of loss. It didn’t make everything better. It didn’t make me understand all the ‘why’s’. It didn’t lessen the time I spent grieving.


I realized that there is one thing stronger than death. It’s the connection between people, whether it be family or close friends. I never got to know my daughter, but that doesn’t make me love her any less. She’s connected because she’s part of my family. I choose not to believe the end of this life is the end of everything, just like winter isn’t the end of the seasons. Its darkness gives way to the light of spring and the joy of summer just as assuredly as the darkness of grief and loss gives way to something else. I can’t say for sure what that ‘something else’ will look like, smell like, taste like (but if there’s no chocolate in heaven then I’m getting my money back!), but I can still picture it.

It’s snuggling under a warm blanket with hubby. It’s laughing at the playground, it’s giving swimmin lessons in the ocean, it’s baking cookies with my kids. It’s connections with people I love.

It’s thinking of a warm kitchen, with a grandma holding a baby, making warm apple and cinnamon oatmeal for me.

Unschooling thoughts.

I was looking back through my recent posts, and reading through some other unschooling blogs when I realized that lately, none of my posts have been about unschooling. Used to be, it was all I could post about.

I’d sit and wonder (and blog)…was I doing it right? Was there even a right way to do it? If not, how would I know if I was? Was I dooming my kids to certain failure? Was it the right choice? Were they learning enough? Was I doing enough with them? Were they being exposed to enough? Were we going enough places? Did they learn today? I categorized our experiences to make sure we were at least “covering the bases”, if not overtly than at least covertly.

It was all I read about. The Unschooling Handbook. Sandra Dodd. Joyce Fetterol. John Holt. And a thousand other blogs & articles.

Interesting, that at a time I was trying to let go and trust the process and the child(ren), I was obsessing the most.

And here I am, an official year of unschooling under my belt (and 2 years trying to do it without knowing what ‘it’ was) and I’ve gotten so wrapped up in life that I’ve forgotten to obsess 24/7. I certainly have my moments of doubt and questions, and hubby and I talk late into the night about lots of things related to the kids. I still keep my eyes and ears open to learn about other people’s experiences, and I still take stock of where we are and how we are doing at any given time, but it’s filled with less doubt and more trust. Less fear and more enthusiasm. Less rigidity and more allowance.

Yesterday, while going to the community center, the Golfer grabbed my hand and said so earnestly (which rarely happens in an 8 year old!) “Thank you so much for letting us do this. This….kind of school. Well, not school, but…..our own thing. Our own awesome school!”

And it hit me just how much joy I find in this whole experience. There’s a part in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Ferris, Cam, and his girlfriend are sitting and watching a baseball game at Wrigley Field, and Ferris leans over to say to Cam: “Hey, Cameron. You realize if we played by the rules right now we’d be in gym?”

That’s how I feel everytime we pass by the local school on our way to the zoo, or the pool, or the park, or the library, or the Science Museum, or a co-op with other families, or the other 3495830458 places we spend our time. We aren’t playing by the rules, and isn’t it grand?