Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Need to Phase Needs to End!

This sunset was so spectacular Grace and I pulled over to take pictures.

One of the things I do not want to forget as we go through the next few years is how many awesome adventures we had in our first few years of homeschooling.  Math, history and science are super important, but as I look back through this blog’s five year history, and read about our travels to New York City, our kitchen table science experiments, our nature walks, our time with friends, I realize we cannot for one minute forget that these moments are what makes homeschooling magical.  

Recently I heard an analogy about life using tiny grains of rice.  A bowl full of rice is your life.  Those little grains are each day that you walk this earth.  If you can only pick out 5 or 10 that are associated with great moments, such as vacation, births, marriages, etc and the rest of the grains are filled with drudgery then you are living an unhappy life.  What percent of our grains represent great days?  Not enough.  I want to live a happy fulfilled life.  A life bursting with love for my family and joy in my surroundings.  

Lately I have become bogged down in the “need to” phase of homeschooling.  We “need to” finish math before we can go to the library or “we need to” get two chapters of history done today so we can catch up or “we need to” run a zillion errands because life is so busy.

I tend to do this to myself.  Lose myself in the details of life and forget to make that one grain of rice count.  I know from 5 years of homeschooling that we will finish what we have begun.  The math will be done.  History will be done.  However, my girls will not remember each individual lesson.  They may feel satisfaction about learning a concept they struggled with but they will not remember the daily struggle.  They will not remember all 100 items in history, or who every historical figure is in Story of the World, but they will remember their favorites and they will remember the activities and experiences they have around these objects and people.  I have to recommit to bring our lessons to life.  It is how we have always approached learning and I do not want to get bogged down in the “need to’s” and forget to fill our jar of rice with days that fill up our hearts with joy.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Opportunity for growth ahead

Sometimes there are moments when you are faced with an opportunity but also an opportunity cost.  For teens, this is scary and unsettling.  Do I stay where I am comfortable, where I know what to expect and I can be good, but not great?  How important is greatness?  Do I go and unlock my potential even if it is scary, even if it is hard to say goodbye, even if I miss what I had and am unsure of what I am being offered?

These are questions my girls are being faced with right now, again.  My girls do not have the option of picking classes, with no control as to who the teacher is. They are the creators of their educational destiny.  They get to evaluate their outside teachers and determine if what they are learning is adequate, if it is appropriate, and if it will get them where they want to be.  Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you are asked and you can’t answer.  Then you know if where you are is adequate, or if you want to make a change and rise to the potential that you know is within you.  

They are still children, and I don’t feel that 100% of the decision making should be placed on their shoulders.  I do not view myself as a “helicopter parent” and actually work very hard not to get too involved emotionally in their efforts.  Being with them 24/7 it is easy to get too involved.   Their work is not my work.  Their goals may not be my goals.  Their accomplishments are not my accomplishments.  I provide opportunity.  They deliver results.

They are on a precipice.  It is a joy to watch them grow and mature but it also causes a bit of mama heartache because the road to maturity is never a straight path.  We are winding our way around a corner right now, with our eyes on the road ahead.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Considering Homeschooling? Don't believe everything you read....

I was sent a copy of a viral blog post from   I am not familiar with that site and after poking around a bit I found I am not of the same mindset as their readers.  It should have come as no surprise that I would not be a fan of the article that was posted and has since been removed: Let’s Talk About Homeschooling.  Let’s just say it was very inflammatory and insulting to a large number of families who have chosen this educational path and family structure.

I could tackle the post point by point offering counter points, demonstrating the inconsistencies and fallacies in her arguments, but there are plenty of rebuttals floating around already.  What bothers me is that there is a growing push back against homeschooling using arguments that seem to come from the 1800s.  

Do you really think I teach my kids all subjects?  Heck no!  I would not want to do this.  I want my children to be exposed to other adults, teachers, and professionals.  My girls have taken classes at Soundwaters in Stamford, Yale University, The Peabody Museum of Natural History, Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, Western Connecticut State University, and with NOAA.  They have taken classes at local coops, with fellow homeschooling families and even studied math with their Aunt for a semester when they were younger.  They study sign language from Deaf teachers and they study music from musicians. They studied history from a retired history teacher, and pottery from a potter.  I do not know one family who assumes the responsibility for all subject areas.  Let’s not forget that even the subjects that are "taught" at home (like math and history for us....) are not solely taught by me!  There is Khan Acadamy, Teaching Textbooks, CurrClick and many many more online lesson sites and software programs, some free and some quite expensive.     Just this week Lilah begins a class on making natural health products and both girls begin a class on glass making next week.  

Is a degree in teaching necessary to homeschool?  Hardly.  I have one, an advanced degree.  It has not helped me with the education of my children at all.  The proposals that homeschooled parents should have degrees in teaching, or have proof that they have taught reading, or proof that they have graduated a child are ridiculous. Laughable really.  If you have people invested in the well being of a child, whether they are a public school teacher, private school teacher or parent, children will learn.  They may not all learn the same thing at the same time, but I don’t subscribe to Common Core, and I realize that all children and all adults have gaps in their learning.  Learning should not stop at graduation.  I have filled in so many of my learning gaps in the 5 years I have been educating my children.  I never knew there was so much I did not know!

What about socialization?  Well, when they were taking classes at Yale, at WCSU, at UCONN and at coop, they were interacting with other children.  The continuing thought that homeschoolers are under a curfew during school hours and sitting home replicating school at home may be true for some, but again, I have never met a family that educates this way.  I am constantly seeking opportunities for my girls to learn collaboratively and engage in time to just be teens.  They participate in youth group at church, teen book club, teen writing group, and hang out at least once a week with a close friend who attends the local high school.  They visit friends and play with puppies, the volunteer, they go to movies, they attend plays.  Just last weekend we saw Macbeth, by Penny Lane Players, a homeschooled Shakespeare company.  It was better than the Elm Shakespeare production we saw in New Haven two years ago.  They have friends who are different religions, ethnicities, and cultures.  I would say they are pretty well rounded teens.  

What about college?  It is true that some homeschoolers, especially unschoolers, do not view college in quite the same way.  Many of us do not believe in standardized testing, teaching to the test, and jumping through hoops for the College Board.  However, our children do go on to college.  How? By meeting the requirements, just like every other applicant.  My girls will not have a transcript similar to a high school transcript, but they will have an academic resume that is quite impressive.  Homeschoolers achievements are matching and sometimes exceeding the achievements of traditionally schooled children.  My girls resume will not be filled with grades, but with experiences, achievements, recommendations, and accolades from the adults she interacts with in her life. And for the record, homeschoolers DO have diplomas.  They are issued by the "homeschool" a.k.a. me, and are equally as valid as a school issued diploma.  If they need the SAT, they will take the SAT,  write an essay, and log book lists into the common app as a separate transcript because it will be that impressive.  While Grace's peers in school read two books a semester, she read 14 novels for European Literature and Book Club, 4 fairy tales, 5 books for research in her independent study, and 3 novels for sign language.  

What about “real life”? What about it?  I’d much rather skip the bullying, worrying about the latest fashion trend, the social pressure to smoke, drink, and have sex,  in favor of real life issues like holding your first paying job at 14.  Or learning to budget your money.  Or planning a road trip.  Or volunteering at a homeless shelter, or with church or with kids who need extra help.  Or playing the piano at an assisted living center and beginning to teach piano lessons.  Or baking for charity. We have lots of real life here.  So much real life that the girls do not view school as real life.

To close, Grace asked me this week why she would be expected to go to college and put her “real life” on hold for 4 years.  She admitted that the next three years will go by quickly and she does not want to leave her family and her pets behind to go live somewhere else to study.  Why would she leave her beautiful piano, her own bed, her home cooked meals, and her ability to make money?  This is how she approaches life.  Learning and life are not separate.  They are completely intertwined.  Life is learning and learning is life.  I replied that there is no one way to “do college”.  Work and take a couple classes.  Take a gap year (she will only be 17) and meet the requirements necessary if a traditional path is what she chooses.  Live at home.  Commute to one of the great schools in our area.  We have countless schools to choose from.  It is much easier to attend college as a day student than as a residential student beginning in January, not September.  Approach college the way we approach high school....make it your own.  Make it memorable.  Make it valuable.  Make it meaningful.  Make it matter.

So in response to the authors of the articles that float around this time of year possibly influencing families on the verge of homeschooling, my biggest advise is do not write about what you do not know.  For those families considering homeschooling my advice is talk to homeschoolers, as many as possible.  Get on your local Facebook group, Yahoo group.  Ask questions.  Research. Open yourself up to the possibility of an entirely different way of life.   Do not believe stereotypes.  Believe in your own abilities.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Crosby Ate A Needle

This wonderfully awful dog gave us quite a scare last week.  On Wednesday afternoon he vomited out of the blue.  It was hours after he ate and he had no strenuous exercise that morning because we were at a funeral and he was crated.  Greg was home and he and I shared a look across the room.  No words were necessary to convey what we were both we go again.

When we adopted our last Goldendoodle Jake, unknowingly we adopted a dog with a belly full of rug.  The rug had unraveled and coiled around his intestines.  Exactly a week after we brought him home, we rushed him to the emergency vet and paid a small fortune to have the contents removed, as well as part of his intestines.  

So when a dog vomits in our house, it is never “just throwing up”.  Unlike Jake, this seemed to be a one time event.  His behavior was “normal”, as normal as can be for a high energy, badly behaved 8 month old puppy, until the next day.  Thursday morning Greg and I were woken up at 2am and 4 am from his vomiting.  Every two hours means our worries were well founded and he needed to be rushed to the vet.  

Our vet is simply amazing.  I cannot say enough about the staff and owner of Ridge Hill Animal Hospital in North Haven.  They saved Daphne’s life two years ago when the odds were not in her favor, and here I stood before them again with a serious condition that would not cure itself.  After an x-ray and ultrasound it was confirmed that there was indeed something in his stomach (not his intestines) and that something looked an awful lot like a sewing needle.  

Seriously?  A needle?  This is my dog.  An eater of needles.

This was clearly not how I wanted to spend my Friday or my money.  However, something happened that day that changed my relationship with my dog.  Until this day, I honestly did not like Crosby.  I felt I had made a ginormous mistake in bringing him into our lives.  He did not have the personality or the temperament I was looking for in a companion dog.  We had no bond.  

As I sat in the office waiting for the tech to come and lead him away to prepare him for surgery, he looked at me with his puppy-dog eyes and for the first time in 6 months, I felt a connection to this dog’s soul.  He just looked at me as if he were saying “I know you will make me feel better” and I teared up a bit because I realized that deep down I do in fact, love this dog.

He is recovering and there has been a change in him.  He now seeks affection and seems to have stopped nipping to get attention.  He follows up from room to room and he genuinly wants to be with us.  This is a dog that would sometimes pick the further room away from us to be in which always baffled me.  Now he is underfoot and participating in family life rather than excluding himself from it.  We have a trainer lined up to work with him on the issues he needs to overcome in order to truly be the family dog we desire.  Once his incision has healed he will begin a two week intensive training process.  

Since this mishap, there have been no tears of frustration with this dog.  Perhaps this was a very costly lesson in love and acceptance and perseverance.  Crosby will be with us a very long time.  I hope this is the beginning of a recovery process not only for his health, but for our relationship as well.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Shelling in Coastal Connecticut, Rhode Island

It is a wise father that knows his own child.
William Shakespeare

Our family has always embraced each other’s interests.  We almost take them on as our own.  I have attended two weather conferences with Grace.  I have run a baking camp for Lilah.  It is truly wonderful when we discover an interest that we all share. For us, this interest is shelling.  

You can’t shell as home.  After a long and at times difficult week, Greg and I decided to skip our normal Saturday routine of food shopping, running errands and having a nice family dinner at home, in favor of exploring beaches in Connecticut and Rhode Island.  We threw food into a cooler, grabbed water bottles, our microscope, shelling bags (mesh laundry bags), and headed north.

Our first stop was Rocky Neck State Park.  We have mixed feelings about this beach.  We love the soft white sand and the glacier formations to climb on and the contrast of colors created by the water, the sand and the rock, but we disliked the Amtrack trains that speed by every few minutes on their way to New York or Boston.

We were not sure we were going to find any shells until we explored the rocky shoreline.  The rocky, slippery shoreline.  Greg took a nasty fall and we were all very grateful he got up with no injuries other than a cut finger.  Grace made a huge discovery here, a Knobbed Whelk, our first discovery of this shell.  It was just sticking out of the sand.  I am sure we have walked by countless shells because we did not notice them, or take the time to dig a little.  Greg and Grace will turn over countless rocks to find what shells have washed up and been trapped under or around the rock. 

Driving towards I95 we passed by The Book Barn, a huge used bookstore in Niantic. Lilah asked if we could go and since it was a “yes” kind of day, we went!

We could have spent much longer browsing, petting cats, feeding goats, and wandering through shelves but we had another goal for our day, to visit Watch Hill Beach in Rhode Island.  We vowed to come back again -- soon!

Watch Hill is one of the prettiest places I know and I can’t believe I have never taken my family here before.  We found whelk cases, sea urchin, drills and sea glass.  The sea urchin is a bit of a mystery to us.  It is definitely dead, but it is not dried out.  Unlike the “shell” that washed ashore in Sanibel, this urchin has not been dead that long or it was somehow preserved.  We are letting it sit, waiting and hoping that it will dry up and pull away from the shell casing so that we can extract the body without damaging the shell.  

We are always learning.  This discovery of shelling has truly captivated our interest, our imaginations and touched our souls.  The very best part of shelling is that we are outdoors, together, in awe and wonder of our surroundings and the gifts we are able to take home and treasure long after our day has ended.

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