Sunday, January 30, 2011

a timely science topic

Our "Science Fridays" group explored snow crystals this past week. First the kids got to see some magnified snow crystals and some video of snow crystals growing (in a laboratory setting), which was really cool.

Then they had fun using this chart of snow crystal types to identify photos of magnified snow crystals.

We also had a discussion about the uniqueness of snowflakes and why they are all different, the likelihood of finding two that are exactly the same, and why snow crystals don't hold their structure for very long once they have fallen to the earth -- you pretty much need to capture them and look at them right away in order to see their structure.

Then they headed outside with magnifying glasses. There had been snow flurries a little earlier, and the host mom had put out black felt to catch some of the snowflakes on so that the kids could look at them through the magnifying glasses and the microscope. Unfortunately, it was actually above freezing outside that day (who woulda thunk it!) so the structure wasn't as intact as it could have been. That's OK, I think we can manage to catch some fresh snowflakes here at home at some point soon (unfortunately....).

Then the kids sat down with their snow crystal charts and craft supplies and worked on putting together some of their own snow crystals.

A smattering of the kids' work.

In my kids' case, we tied this in with the Enki Nature Story, "Crystal" at home, which is about snow formation and the water cycle.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

pedro and the mule drivers

That poor Pedro was really down on his luck -- he ran into those same angry mule drivers that he tricked. They grabbed him and stuffed him in a barrel, with the intention of pushing him into the river and letting him float down over the waterfall in the morning. But during the night, Pedro escaped and put all the mule drivers' gear into the barrel instead (except for their coins, which Pedro kept for himself of course), so in the morning, the only thing the mule drivers sent over the waterfall was everything they needed. Tricky, tricky Pedro!

Above is J's depiction of Pedro loading the barrel while the mule drivers all slept. Below is yet another half-hearted drawing from Zoo Boy, of a barrel with Pedro's arm coming out of it.

Ok, so obviously I'm having issues with Zoo Boy's lack of effort. He's doing the work willingly, but it's because he knows he can get something just adequate done, then go play for an hour while J is working away on his drawing. Yet, I'm not sure what to do about it. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't have said anything, but I just couldn't help myself. I told him that I wished he'd put a little more effort into his drawings, and he said "I don't want to." So then I said that I'd give him another week to put in a bit more effort into it, and then maybe we'd do a couple of led drawings to help him get back on track. He, of course, didn't like the sound of that, and I reminded him that he had another week to get back in the swing of things first before I stepped in.

I don't like that I threatened him. I suppose I really could have just stepped in and done a couple of led-drawings with him, but I dread the resistance I'm going to meet by doing that. I really like that he's willingly sitting down to school work now. But I don't like that he's finding a way "around" actually spending some time on it. Yet, that in itself is a pretty good coping mechanism. Maybe I just need to come up with something else for him to work on during the time that J is busy doing his work so that he's not such a distraction to his brother.

Clearly, I need to sit with this whole thing a bit more to work through my own feelings about it! I've been giving the Boy a lot of thought lately, and I have some ideas of how to approach his resistance. But it's forcing me to step outside my comfort zone and compromise my educational/child rearing ideals (which is the real challenge and "art" of parenting, isn't it?!), and I need to come to a place of peace with that before I can proceed. I'll post more on that as my ideas begin to gel.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

pedro and the magic pot

I was smart this week (it happens occasionally!) -- I knew the storm was coming, and I rescheduled J's guitar/piano lessons for yesterday, so I had already planned for a full "schoolwork" day today.

Today we worked with a story called "Pedro and his Magic Pot," which is a traditional Mexican trickster tale that I heavily modified from the format I found it in. In this story, Pedro swindles a bunch of mule traders by cooking frijoles in a pot that seemed to be cooking with out a fire. (Really, Pedro had prepared a fire initially, then buried it so that it looked like it was bare ground, when really there were hot embers underneath.) Above is J's depiction of the trick, below is Zoo Boys' "magic pot."

Zoo Boy was much happier with the writing today, even taking lots of extra time to get fancy with the title and use a different colored pencil for each letter.

Below, J gets creative with his word problem work. He's been doing this lately -- illustrating his math tablet. I find it incredibly clever, in this one he wrote out equations used to figure out word problems that I associated with yesterday's "Pedro and the Magic Tree" story. Pretty cool.
I had started making up word problems in relation to our story work with our Robin Hood unit, and really liked the way it tied in with our other work, making it even more "real" to my kids than the problems I was making up about life in general. So I've kept up with this, using word problems from the previous day's story (the same story we recalled, drew, and summarized during our story work that day).

In addition, I have also started telling the problems from a different perspective than that in the story, to get them to start thinking about different perspectives in a very gentle, natural way. So for instance, the Pedro stories are told from Pedro's perspective. Today, I gave them word problems from the Mule Driver's perspective. For instance, I said that there were 5 mule drivers who were driving 18 mules to market. On the way, they met a man who bought 6 mules. How many mules did they have left to drive to market? As they passed through the desert, they met a man named Pedro, who they camped overnight with. How many people were camping in the desert that night? The next morning, they awoke to find that Pedro had made frijoles in a magic pot. There were 18 frijoles in the pot. How may frijoles could each man eat? The magic pot was just amazing, and the Mule Drivers knew they could use such a handy item, so they talked Pedro into selling it to them for 50 pesos. If they all chipped in equally, how much did they each contribute?

It's just another way of bringing in our comprehension and language arts and flexible thinking skills into our math work. I love when everything weaves together in a tapestry of learning!!

a beautiful thing

No, not the snow, silly. I'm WAY past thinking snow is beautiful!! It's that not-oft-seen device The Map Man is pushing. Could it be??? Yes! It's our snowblower!! Our lovely (heavy on the sarcasm) snowblower that we paid a bloody fortune for about 10 years ago and has only worked maybe 8 times since. Well, it's working this morning, thanks to the magical fingers of the wizard (um, er, mechanic) who lives across the street. Which means I don't have to spend the entire afternoon in the 3rd circle of hell with nothing but a shovel and a case of frostbite to keep me company!

Hey, we take our excitement where we can get it around here. So raise your glass, this is cause for a celebration! (And for the time being we'll just ignore that dripping sound coming from inside our walls....)

enough with the snow already!

Here's what we woke up to this morning:

Yup, another 18 inches of the fluffy white stuff. Remember, that fence is 4 feet high (I'm talking about the wire, if you can even see it -- the top of the fence posts are 6 feet high). And there's a water trough somewhere under there. (Can you see the rake handle to the right of the gate in the center of the picture? About there. Oh, and that rake is sitting on top of about 2 feet of snow. Yes, our life is a wonderland of joy. Ahem.)

There's fence under here somewhere....some steps too.... If you're wondering what is actually keeping our animals in at this point, I think it's just pure lack of interest in going anywhere else.
Containment is pretty much a thing of the past.

They had predicted we'd get about 6 inches with this storm. When I went to bed at midnight, they had upped it to 8 inches. Judging by the 2 inches of snow on top of my dogs when I brought them in from their last time out, I was guessing they perhaps had misjudged this storm. You know you're in trouble when you turn the TV weather on in the morning, and the weathermen sound giddy.

J displays the snow load on our deck this morning. If it hadn't been for a lot of compacting since the last 2 1/2 foot storm and the following foot or so we've gotten since then, the snow would completely obliterate that door.

Here's a look at that deck from outside:

We apparently vastly underestimated the construction of that deck. We hadn't been allowing the kids out on it for the past several years, because it just does not look adequately sound. But the sucker is still standing, bless it's little splintered wooden heart. (That's our holiday tree back in the corner with about 3 inches sticking up. A lot of good it's doing the birds now.)

Anyone want to take a wild guess at what we'll be doing today?

Someone recently asked me how my fitness program was going. Trust me, I'm getting plenty of aerobic exercise.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

pedro and the money tree

Today we worked with the story "Pedro and the Money Tree," a traditional Mexican Trickster Tale as told by yours truly. In this story, that rascal Pedro hangs his last few golden coins from a Mesquite tree, then tricks a couple of passersby into paying him all their money for it. Above is J's depiction of the buyers and seller haggling over the money tree. Below is Zoo Boy's vision of the money tree.

Much less resistance from Zoo Boy today. I really think he just has a lot of trouble transitioning back to school rhythms after having been away from them for awhile. Also, I do think I'm going to try to rearrange our weekly rhythms to honor that the fact that our "heavier" work needs to be kept for the mornings (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), and I think if I plan to do our reading on Sundays (just the story), Tuesdays and Wednesdays (with some handwriting and math practice work as well), it might keep things running smoother for us. I hate having to drop our Journal work on Mondays, but maybe I can move that to Tuesday or Thursday afternoons and then find a comparable activity for the other afternoon to keep the balance.

Will continue to give this some thought....

best. song. ever.

Don't you love it when a song comes out that just hits the nail on the head for you at that point in your life???

Pink's "Raise Your Glass" is that song for me. Or should I say "us", meaning either my family, or our homeschooling community, however you want to look at it. Because, you know, we'll never be anything but loud and nitty gritty dirty little freaks.

I'm going to post a link to the official video, but WARNING, it's explicit (words and visuals), so, y'know, you were warned, it's not just a video of fluffy little ducklings, LOL. You might not want your kids looking at it. Ok, here it is. Don't be fancy, just get dancey!

(EDITED TO ADD: I found a more PC version of a live performance of "Raise Your Glass" here, from the AMA awards. Now everyone can watch, listen and enjoy, even my Mom!)

Enjoy! And raise your glass (or leave a comment!) if you are wrong in all the right ways!

pedro and the pig tails

Things are going to start picking up a bit around here now that we're back into the full homeschooling swing again, so if you're not checking in regularly, you'll have a pile to catch up on!

We started our Latin America block on Monday, and already I'm super excited about it. To the left is the kids learning to do the Samba in the Latin America cultural class they are taking as part of our Monday afternoon homeschool classes. They also are in an absolutely fabulous Spanish Conversations class, where I'm coming to realize that they actually do know quite a bit of Spanish, despite our rather haphazard approach to it up to this point. Makes me feel a little less guilty about not getting in more Spanish sooner. They actually came home and both immediately sat down to their "homework" (a card asking questions about themselves), and they both enthusiastically filled it out in Spanish.

At home, we're doing "la raspa" (the Mexican Hat dance) as our cultural dance. Our spin and fold is to the Spanish children's song "Vamos a cantar" -- we spin while we "cantar" (sing), repeating the opening verse ("Ahora vamos a canta, a cantar, a cantar" -- which is "Everybody sing now, sing now, sing now") and spinning between each of the following (and somebody correct me if I'm using the wrong words!!! It's hard to make up verses when you don't speak the language yet!!): we "saltar" (jump), we "reptar" (crawl), and we "rodar" (roll). We recite our poem for the week in Spanish, and then in English.

We're in a Trickster cycle with our story work, and I found some Mexican Trickster Tales in the book The Eagle on the Cactus: Traditional Stories from Mexico, retold by Angel Vigil, which I then adapted for our uses. Our first story was "Pedro and the Pig Tails" in which Pedro (a character who starts every story out of money and down on his luck, but winds up tricking someone eventually to put himself into a better situation) was working on a pig farm, and sold the farmer's pigs to a passerby in order to make some easy money. The trick came in when he kept the pigs' tails and stuck them in the mud by the river, then convincing the farmer that the pigs had escaped and got themselves stuck in the mud. Above is J's drawing and summary of the story, below is Zoo Boy's rather limited attempt.

Granted, pigs tails sticking out of mud DOES capture the essence of the story, but it would have been nice to see a little effort put into the drawing -- Zoo Boy's general attitude was to get it over a fast as possible. And then, when it was time to write in the summary, he insisted that he never did that before. I flipped back in the book to show him the trickster drawings (with summaries) that he did for our African American block, and he burst into tears and had to leave the room for a short time before he could pull himself back together and sit down to his work. Poor kid -- it's a combination of things -- first, just getting back into the full homeschooling routine feels cumbersome to him. Next, he just finds handwriting so challenging.

Most of all, we already felt "off rhythm" yesterday because we have new Therapy sessions on Tuesday mornings now, so our "schoolwork" is pushed off until afternoon. I may have to reconsider that (not the therapy, but the schoolwork). I really wanted to make sure we got some schoolwork in on Tuesdays since we're taking Thursday off because J's Guitar/Piano lessons, our swim session, and a standing playdate up in that same area eat up pretty much the entire day. (I've already had to add Monday mornings into our schoolwork schedule, otherwise we'd never get anything done!). But after yesterday's experience, I'm thinking that it might not be realistic to get that type of work done in the afternoon at all, maybe if we just do a bit of practice work and read a story it would be enough, especially since I think therapy drains a bit of the boy's energy and puts him on edge to start with. I'm meditating on it, we'll see what comes about.

In other start-of-the-semester news, J began his higher level Ballet class last night and loved it, along with his new instructor (who is a man, wahoo!). The instructor had positive things to say about J too, so it's an all-around love-fest.

And Zoo Boy had a speech evaluation yesterday morning, and it turns out he just needs a little work on precision of a few sounds and he should be good to go. So good news there, as he hates speech therapy (and thinks he speaks just fine, although he gets really upset when people don't understand him). But he's agreed to follow the program for a little while, and he liked the therapist he saw yesterday. And she told me that she's willing to fit him into her schedule if the therapist he's scheduled to work with doesn't wind up being a good fit for him.

So all in all, we're off to a good start!

Monday, January 24, 2011


It's -12 here this morning. -12. Fahrenheit.

It's never been that cold here -- ever. We had a -4 once. And we tend to hit -2 a couple times a winter. But I honestly never thought I'd see -12. Or have to go do chores in it.

I know those of you who live in places where that sort of thing is normal are laughing at me for being a wimp. But I tell you, it's not supposed to get that cold in Connecticut!! And we're really not geared to operate in that sort of cold. So I figured I deserved to whine a little bit.

And now that I've whined, I'm off to try to break up some water for the critters.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

gym class -- it's not just for schooled kids

We're not talking about the ice storm yesterday, or the fact that it's been snowing out there all morning. Or the foot of snow they are predicting for Friday.

No! Instead, we are talking about gym class! (Not sure if anyone will be able to pick J out in this photo, he's lying on his stomach in the AstroTurf with his chin in his hand next to his buddy R, across the circle, looking at me.) Specifically, we're talking about the brand new Homeschool Sports and Fitness class that a local family athletic center is offering us.

In addition to offering a Homeschool swimming program once a week (which we do not participate in, we go to a different pool for our weekly swim), this class is held in their great big indoor building, which includes an elevated springy floor (the blue thing in the foreground), basketball/volleyball courts, a batting cage, and a huge athletic field that can be divided off into 6 smaller playing fields with nets.

All surrounded by a 1/4 mile track, which we Moms and non-participating kids (like Zoo Boy, enjoying a bit of a jog in this photo) can walk/run on while the rest of the kids are in class. There is also a fitness/weight room over in their brick building that the kids will get to spend some time in as well.

Of course, there's plenty of socialization opportunity (here is Zoo Boy and his pal little J), strolling behind us exercising Moms. For me too -- I'm having a fabulous time walking with various groups of Moms and chatting as we burn calories.
I'm telling you, I just LOVE this set-up! It's absolutely ideal, because not only is J getting the gym class experience that he craves, but Zoo Boy is getting his own exercise (he walks 1/4 mile for every mile I walk, and I've been doing 3 miles at this point), and so am I. SO MUCH BETTER than him and me sitting in a stuffy hallway at the YMCA while J takes sports class for an hour in a smelly gym. And this program is 1 1/2 hours. Wahoo!!

There's about 50 participating kids, they all start out doing some warm-up exercises and games together, then they split off into 4 groups (based on age and size) and work on sports skills with trained coaches, and then play a game of whatever they are learning about that day. Last week there was an emphasis on general fitness, but they also played Capture the Flag with J's group (seen in this photo). The week before it was handball.

A definite 2-thumbs-up program!! Especially during these winter months (THIS winter in particular!) where finding outdoor activities for sustained exercise can be a bit challenging.

If you're local to us and don't know the facility I'm talking about and want to learn more about them, leave me a comment with your email address and I'll send you a link to their website.

Monday, January 17, 2011

making the grade

Sorry, this took me a lot longer to get to than I anticipated. Of course, I hadn't anticipated The Map Man getting sick half way through digging us out from the big storm, and my having to dig us out the rest of the way. So that occupied me for a couple days there. Then it was a matter of catching up on everything else that got pushed aside while I was digging out. But we're good now (see these photos). Until tomorrow, when we should get another several inches of snow with a half inch of ice on top of it. Fun. I'm imagining sheep rocketing down bobsled runs. I'm guessing that's going to be all too accurate a picture by tomorrow night.

In any case! What I wanted to do, while you enjoy my ridiculous snowy pictures of our farm, is to discuss a major change in our homeschooling plans for the rest of this year, and my reasons for making this decision. And a sort of general rant about categorizing homeschooled kids by grade level.

Basically, I've decided that it's going to serve our particular family best, and each of my children for different reasons, to continue on with our current (Grade 2) materials for the rest of this year, rather than switching to the next packet of Enki Education materials (Grade 3) in March as I'd been planning. But before I get to the details, I may as well jump right to the rant and get it over with.

Why is it that I feel pressured to categorize my children by grade level? Even amongst homeschoolers, one of the most common questions the kids get when they meet someone new is "What grade are you in?" Zoo Boy doesn't feel like he needs to answer that one. (Actually, he doesn't feel like he needs to answer anything demanded of him!) Sometimes he'll say "We homeschool," or sometimes, "We don't use grades," and occasionally he just shrugs and ignores the question.

J, however, wants to have an answer to that question. Everyone else seems to have an answer to it. This year he's telling everyone who asks that he's in Grade 4. And truly, if he were in a public school, that is most likely where he would be. But really, he's working anywhere from 2nd grade to somewhere around Grade 12, depending on what topic you're mentioning. (And I'd dare say, there's a couple of topics he could give a PhD a run for her money with.) I guess 4th Grade is as good an answer as any. But it bugs me -- it really, really bugs me! -- that he feels like he has to answer that at all.

And what bugs me even worse, is that *I* feel pressure to answer the question. Not necessarily pressure from other people. It's that "oh my gosh, am I doing enough? Is he behind? Am I holding him back and ruining his life?" panic attack that I think every homeschooling parent goes through every so often. Even me, who is about as confident a homeschooling mom as you're ever going to meet.

Does it really matter which Grade packet I'm using, if I'm using it in a developmentally appropriate manner for him? Why do I feel the need to refer to the materials I'm using in terms of Grade level at all??

So this is the last time you're going to hear me mention Grades on this blog in terms of the work my kids are doing. Rant over.

Ok, anyway, so on to my decision to keep working with the trickster/sage cycles for rest of this year. (See, no grade level necessary!!) I have a bunch of reasons, and here they are, in no particular order of importance (because they all weigh about equally in my mind, but together add up to a no-brainer in terms of decision-making):

1. The current materials are still meeting my kids in a totally developmentally appropriate way. And there are more of them that I'd really like to use with my kids, but haven't had the chance yet. In particular there are two sages (Stalking Wolf and Ghandi) that I really want to introduce my kids to this spring, and I feel like the way that will work best with them is via the Trickster/Sage format.

2. The Latin American cultural block that I am pulling together for my kids to more fully support their entrance into speaking in Spanish feels like it should take longer than the time I had allotted myself to finish "in time" to leave enough room for the Haudenosaunee culture we were going to work with for the entire Spring. Since we're going to be continuing on with our study of Spanish (hopefully for the rest of our lives!), it makes more sense to me to spend an adequate amount of time grounding the kids in the culture before switching gears, and my kids in general have shown that they need a good 9-12 weeks per culture in order to feel ready to move on. A 6 week cultural block here just isn't going to cut it for us.

3. My friend T has also recently decided to postpone beginning work with the next set of materials until the fall, and I have strong reasons to want to keep pace with what she's doing with her daughter. The biggest reason is that once we move along to the next set of materials, we will be working even deeper within the cultures and it becomes quite large-project based. We have been planning right along to work on the projects together, adding a very important community component to them. A smaller reason is that having another family we know and see regularly working with the same materials is nourishing to me, the teacher in our little homeschool. And anything that nourishes the teacher is a good thing!!

4. For a variety of reasons, I don't want to start this next package of materials with the Haudenosaunee culture -- I would prefer to start with the Torah, which I really want to do in the fall rather than the spring (again, for a variety of reasons). By pushing it off, we can do Haudenosaunee next spring, after the Torah.

5. Zoo Boy is just not ready to move on with math yet. It's a pretty minor point, actually, and I could work around it, but I don't want to push this with him, and it's just easier to take a slower approach to the Place Value stuff and really concentrate on getting both the boys firmer with their math facts before moving into more complex concepts embedded in the next packet of materials.

6. Not only is it going to be easy to meet J developmentally without having to switch materials packets, but he's also going to have enough new challenges this spring outside of our curriculum, with a more involved dance schedule, a new Social Thinking group session, and piano lessons added onto his guitar lessons. Seriously, I think it's enough "new" to challenge him, shifting formats in our homeschool would be piling too much change on the pile right now.

So basically it just comes down to it feeling right to stick with what we're already doing for awhile more. I know that I've felt a weight lifted in having made this decision. And I'm very excited for a fun, educational winter and spring!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

epic storm

I know I promised a post about my recent homeschooling decisions, but first I thought my readers in other parts of the country and world would like to see what 30 inches (and counting, the storm is still raging out there!) looks like in Connecticut. Sorry about the dark photos, it's been on the dark side here all day.

I've never seen a 30 inch storm before, in fact, have never been in anything over 2 feet, so this is a new experience for me too. Above is our barnyard, the fence is 4 feet high. That water trough (the black blob at snow level in front of the first fence) is at about waist height.

Above is the dog yard, that fence is 5 feet high. The "path" along the fence was made by the dogs this morning, back when there was only about 15 inches of snow out there.

Our driveway is above, the car is in front of the van, completely buried. Needless to say, we're not going anywhere anytime soon.
Above is along the back of the house -- those kennel panels are 6 feet high. To the right used to be a 10' x 8' duck shelter. Now it's a pancake covered by snow. (No ducks were harmed during the collapse, thankfully, they knew enough to get out of there before it came down.)

Above is our front yard, with the neighbor's house across the street. You can only see their windows, otherwise their house is buried, they don't sit as high up as we do. I'd love to get a picture of our house, but don't think it's worth trudging through 3 feet of snow to the road just to snap a photo. So you'll have to wait until we're dug out at some point tomorrow!
I hope all of our friends and family are warm and snug and dry. And take it easy with the digging out, I don't want to hear about any illnesses or injuries because of this storm!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

back in the swing

We're starting back with some "lite" school rhythms this week. I'd already started working with a British Isles cultural theme back in December, but realized recently that I really would like to do a Latin America block with the boys to coincide with a cultural class and Spanish conversations class that they will be taking starting the last week of January with our Monday Homeschool Classes. After seeing how nicely keeping the cultural jive at the MHC classes worked for us during our African American block, I wanted to follow that trend into Latin America as well. I also think this is just the think to really get our Spanish program moving.

Since I don't have enough time to do a full tricksters/sage cycle with British Isles, we're reading chapters from The Adventures of Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle, instead. The boys are really enjoying the book (and enjoying me tripping over the flowery language and making up tunes to go with the ballads), and there is loads of trickster energy in that book, right up my guys' ally. As a bonus, it ties in really well with the King Arthur stories we were reading last winter, as many of the ballads in the book are about the characters from Camelot. And since our full winter schedule won't swing into action for another couple of weeks, the "lite" approach (just reading chapters, one or two a day, along with some Scottish folk dancing we started during December, plus our handwriting and math practice work) is perfect for the next two weeks.

I'm bringing Robin Hood into our practice work, too, using the ballads as our poems for copy work/handwriting practice, and basing our word problem work around the characters and circumstances in the stories. For instance, today our word problems were as follows:

Robin Hood, Will Scarlet, Little John and the Tanner were walking down the path towards Sherwood Forest, when they came upon Allan a Dale. How many yeomen were in the woods? Robin blew three blasts upon his horn, and soon four more Merry Men joined them. How many yeomen were there now? Two of the yeomen went off to the Blue Boar Inn, while the rest returned to the greenwood tree to prepare their feast. While they were waiting, they each drank 3 cups of ale. How much ale was consumed? Thinking it wasn't wise to drink all that ale on an empty stomach, they decided to eat some bread. There were 28 servings of bread available. How many servings could each man eat? When the two Merry Men returned from the Blue Boar Inn, they found everyone full and merry and napping under the greenwood tree. How many snoring yeomen were there in Sherwood Forest that afternoon? (J tends to get lost in the details, so I am trying to add more words so that he has to work harder to find the equation in the question.)

Meanwhile, J starts piano lessons this week. His new digital piano came today. Amazingly, it was less expensive to buy this piano than it was to clean and tune my grandmother's upright acoustic piano, which has been sitting in our downstairs room for the past 8 years. Go figure. And since there's no sense in cleaning up that piano until we can get it into a less dusty room (which will require building a wall between the dog area of that room and the piano area), this just made a lot more sense. It was either that, or push off J starting lessons for another 6 months (or longer). And his guitar teacher wants him to start NOW, because he's playing on our keyboard anyway, and she says he's going to pick up bad habits. I agree that it's time to start, it probably has been time for the past 4 years! The first thing he does when he gets up in the morning is to "practice" piano for half an hour, then practice guitar for 45 minutes. I never have to remind him to practice, and everything he plays sounds great. The least I can do is get him lessons.

So we're off and rolling again! Back to swimming this week, and hopefully some Science Friday stuff, plus J's regular dance schedule resumes to finish out the semester at his ballet school. Look to my next post, where I'll talk about the changes in my plans for the rest of this school year, and how I came to the decision not to switch away from the sorts of things we've been working on (school-wise) until the fall.

Monday, January 10, 2011

new kids on the block

Well, one of them is still a kid at least! Yesterday I drove up to the MA/NH border to pick up our new trio of Angora Goat wethers. The black dude in the front is "Music" and he's not yet a year old. In the middle is "Ishmael" (known as "Ishy" for short), who is going to be 2 years old. And the fine looking fellow in the back is "Coconot" (they came with their names, misspelling included, Mom!), and he's 4. (And of course, that's April in the background, checking out her new charges.)

I've always wanted Angora goats, and my need for a quantity of Mohair (which is what the fiber they produce is called) for a big weaving project planned for this fall prompted me to finally acquire our own little herd of Angoras. We're very excited to welcome these boys to their new home with us! And they seem pretty happy to be here -- they've settled in quickly and are such sweethearts.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

blog break coming to an end

We start up with our homeschooling rhythms again tomorrow, so I may as well post a "close out" to my little break. We've had a lovely, somewhat short-ish winter break. We started back lightly this past week, reading chapters from "The Adventures of Robin Hood" by Howard Pyle, and starting up with one studio's dance schedule, and the Modern company's rehearsal schedule.

J started the week by taking a Hip Hop Master Class. (A Master Class is a one-time dance clinic with a 'master' of a particular style.) It's the first hip-hop he's danced since summer Dance Camp, and he found it very challenging and fun. He's looking forward to joining the all-boys hip-hop class at the studio, if his ballet schedule will allow for it this spring.

The boys also had their yearly check-ups with our Pediatrician. They are both at 50th percentile for weight, and Zoo Boy is at 50th percentile for height, while J is at 25th percentile. Which means that J did a bit of catching up over the past couple of years -- after having starting his life at the 98th percentile for his first couple years of life, he'd fallen all the way off to 3rd percentile at one point when he was about 5. (I think he had two years where he didn't even gain an inch of height!) I'm glad to see he's back on track with his growth, guess he just did a lot of his growing early on!

We were also told, not surprisingly, that it's time for Zoo Boy to be checked by an Opthamologist. Of course, HE insists that he sees perfectly and does not need glasses. Bad news, kid, you've got Mommy's genetics (and this is the exact age where I got my first pair of glasses). The Map Man feels that he's in need of reading glasses, so perhaps they will go see the eye doctor together.

I had a bunch of check-ups myself, put in my order for my very first pair of bifocals (which will be a HUGE relief to have!), found out that I'm way, way, way too heavy (groan), and got my mammogram. HAVE YOU HAD YOUR YEARLY MAMMOGRAM YET?!?!?! IF NOT, PICK UP THE PHONE RIGHT NOW AND MAKE YOUR APPOINTMENT-- IT ONLY TAKES A FEW MINUTES AND CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE!!!

J also started a new session of Homeschool Sports, this time at an amazing private family athletic center, which I will blog about next week (assuming I remember to bring my camera and take pictures!). Zoo Boy and I are walking on the track while J plays sports, so we're getting exercise too.

And the big news is that J will be starting piano lessons, in addition to his guitar lessons, this coming week. He is VERY excited and already shows signs at being a natural on the piano, after about 3 minutes of attention from his teacher last week. Will need to get some photos of that too.

We will be starting the week with a bit of math reawakening of place value, and more Robin Hood, and starting up again with practice work in math and handwriting. We'll be working with all of that for the next couple of weeks, then will start on a new Latin American block the last week of January, which I'm very much looking forward to -- I'll post more about that later, as that was one of my better "pay attention" moments lately!

In the meantime, plenty of football to keep us all happy....

Sunday, January 2, 2011

five goals for a new year

2011 is underway, and it's time yet again for me to spill my guts about what I would like to accomplish this year. While I do that, enjoy some photos of my kids well into their yearly semester at PJU (Pajama University). This year's course of studies includes Robotics, Electronics, Physical Education, African Wildlife Study, and The Art of Doodling.

Goal #1 -- Pick up the missing therapy pieces.

Zoo Boy is still in need of Speech Therapy -- we spent all of 2010 trying to get services with the facility we've used in the past, but with absolutely no luck -- Zoo Boy didn't have a single speech therapy session all year. Needless to say, that didn't help his speech issues one bit. In fact, I can honestly say he's much harder to understand now than he was at the beginning of last year. And it's just got to stop! This week, in fact. I'm going for a meeting with the therapist we're hoping to use this year.

Of course, Zoo Boy says he speaks perfectly and doesn't need speech. Ahem. I finally got him to agree to meet with the new therapist, and do some of her games (tests), and then if she agrees with him that he speaks perfectly, then he doesn't have to have therapy. He was satisfied with that answer, so that will at least get him through the door to start with. It won't be ideal, because they don't have occupational therapy in the same building, and he's MUCH more receptive to speech sessions when they are done along with OT. But I've already wasted a year chasing after ideal, it's time to move on to "next best".

J seems to be working through the issues I was concerned with for most of 2010, which is his difficulty expressing himself verbally and what that means for him socially (he has trouble holding an actual conversation with someone). However, as of late, I've noticed a lot of improvement, and I'm not sure he actually NEEDS help with it anymore. But I've already got something lined up for him (see yesterday's post about the Social Thinking curriculum we're going to try out), and I think that the "group" (one other boy he already knows) therapy sessions are going to be benefit him in the area of facilitated friendship as well, so I'm all for forging ahead with this and seeing where it gets us.

As for OT, we dropped that altogether, and I'm going to have to stay on top of things to make sure that the boys get what they need in terms of sensory integration work. Especially Zoo Boy, given that J is pretty well served with all the dance he does (especially ballet, which he'll be dancing even more of this coming year). The Map Man and I have big plans, so stay tune to see what we come up with to ensure Zoo Boy's cooperation with sensory integration work. And I need to get back to working on the food issues -- another thing we were promised all year at therapy that we never even got a single session of work on. We'll be back to our weekly Kids in the Kitchen project once we have our Winter Semester schedule figured out, and we'll be back to making them try new foods every day, which we've slacked off on lately (just because it takes so much danged effort).

So, that's that! Of course, if anything else crops up, I'll address that too (for instance, I'm starting to wonder about Zoo Boy's propensity to reverse letters and number if they aren't worked on every single day, and I have a lot of questions about his eyesight, which will be addressed in part at his physical on Monday!).

Which sort of segues into my next goal:

Goal #2 -- PAY ATTENTION!!

Several years ago, I put Mindfulness on my goal list for the year. Mindfulness is about living in the moment and making conscious choices by paying attention to what is going on within and around me. At the time, I had meant Mindfulness in regards to my children and family. But recently the universe gave me a proverbial slap in the face (a rather large one, in fact), and made me realize that there's more than just my kids and hubby that need my awareness. It was a great, big, karmic scream of "PAY ATTENTION!" and I have no intention of ignoring it! So I'm doing my best to avoid "zoning out" and "going with the flow", trying instead to notice and make a mental note of all those things going on around me. I think I've just grown complacent with how generally awesome my life is, and it's allowed me to take some things for granted. Or maybe I've just gotten lazy. Either way, that won't be happening anymore, or at least when it does, I'll recognize it and get myself back on a more mindful course.

Which has a direct tie-in with my next goal:

Goal #3 -- Make more human/humane connections.

This fall I read the book "In a Heartbeat," by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. This is the auto-biography of the family featured in the movie "The Blind Side," and was a fairly inspirational read (although, like everything, there were things I loved and things I completely disagreed with in the book). Mostly I read it because I love football and the Tuohy's adopted son Michael plays in the NFL (for the Baltimore Ravens), and played college ball with one of my current favorite Patriots players (running back Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis, who is actually mentioned in the book!). One of the Tuohy's main messages in the book was to notice, to truly notice, the people around us. To make eye contact with the people you'd rather not make eye contact with. Because noticing them, each and every one of them, matters, and even if that is the only thing you are able to do for someone else, it makes a difference. Every person deserves to be seen.

The message resounded in me. I realized that there are many situations where it is uncomfortable for me to make eye contact with someone. Of particular note, because I catch myself doing it even now, is that rarely can I recognize our waitress when we go out to eat. Even after waiting on us and bringing us our food, if I need to ask her for something, I have to ask my companions which one was our waitress. How incredibly rude! And sad. What makes me not care about the person that is spending their time taking care of me and my friends/family?? I care enough to make sure she gets a good tip. I need to care enough to make sure that I actually NOTICE her for who she is. To make that human connection with another human being.

I've been putting this into practice, as often as I can remember to do it. (I'm hoping over this coming year it will become habit and I won't have to actively think about it in order to do it.) Among other situations where I would normally avoid eye contact: I am now making eye contact with strange men crossing a parking lot late at night. People pumping gasoline at the neighboring pump. Grumpy women in line behind me at the supermarket. Fellow travelers in the car next to mine at the stoplight. And as I do, I take a moment to think about their lives -- do they have families? Jobs? Troubles? Are they having a good day or a bad day? Are they up or down on their luck?

It's actually amazed me how many times I've gotten a smile, just for making eye contact. Not a weird, scary smile -- just a small, polite smile to recognize the fact that I noticed them. Inevitably, I smile back. I've yet to feel freaked out or worried about the wrong message being sent (which was the reason why I never made eye contact before). Instead, I feel intensly human, like a connected, integral part of the larger tribe of the human race.

Do an experiment -- next time you feel like looking away or avoiding eye contact, instead fight the instinct and look the person in the eye. See how it makes you feel. And notice how it makes them feel. You might be surprised. And maybe you'll join me on this goal for 2011. I honestly think if we all took the minuscule effort to actually notice, really see the people living in the world around us, the world would be a better place.

Goal #4 -- Work toward transforming our house into the home I'd like to live in.

Ok, so this is just a souped-up way of putting decluttering and organizing back on my goal list. (And how amusing is it that the photo to the left shows my house in it's current state of insanity??) But I think it's a bit of a more positive way to say that, so maybe I won't feel so much like a total organizational failure if I get to the end of 2011 and am not living in a perfectly organized, clean house. Because, let's face it, I've yet to feel good about that goal. Yet, every year I get a little bit closer to living the way I want to live. (Ok, this past year, not so much....) So if I can focus on little successes rather than a great big failure, my end of year review might be a little more fun to read.

Goal #5 -- Run a 5K.

Every year I come up with one goal that is a little bit surprising, at least to me if to nobody else, and little bit selfish. This is this year's. I'm not even sure that running a 5K is a reasonable goal for myself. I've never run before. But I do know that making goals to lose weight or get more exercise are going to leave me laughing (or crying!) by year's end when I am yet again at the same weight. Instead, I'm going to focus on this concrete goal -- running a 5K.

I've found an 8 week long walk-to-run program that looks just right for me, and have a next-door neighbor who is willing to get up at 5 am and do it with me. And if I manage to actually get to the point where I can comfortable run over 2 miles, I'm bound to be in better shape than I am now.

I guess that's enough to work on for one year! Tune in on Dec 31 to see how I've done with accomplishing these goals!