Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Tales Book Club Videos

My friend Veronica and I have been having "Happy Tales Book Club" on the first Wednesday of every month at the Kempsville Library since last spring. Other people and other children have come and gone and come again and gone again, but our four kids are getting a lot out of the regular "stand up and speak" practice of giving book reports. Also we're learning different literary terms and doing little projects and whatnot. It's fun. Well, at our December meeting, Benny gave this report on the book "Fairy Houses":

Yes, I did get his hair cut a few days later. Hehehe.

Sadie gave this report on the book "The Christmas Cat":

Here's a transcript, for those who don't speak Sadie:

Sadie: Something something something, The Christmas Cat! Came to the forest! And then came through the forest!
Phillip: She's a baby.
Sadie: I'm not a baby, but I -
Benny: She's not really a baby.
Sadie; I'm not a baby; I'm a HUMAN.
Phillip: No.
Sadie: I am!
Phillip: You're not.
Sadie: I am! I am a human!
Phillip: No. You're a GIRL.
Sadie: I'm NOT.
Benny: She's a human girl.
Sadie: Something something something...

For us, it's a hilarious record of the way our kids interact at the moment, at this stage in their development. Both Phillip (3) and Sadie (2) are very interested in not being a baby. And Phillip is also interested in defining himself in the older group (with Benny and Zoe) and so wants to distance himself from the younger group (formerly himself and Sadie).

Anyway, this video got passed around to my friends and internet neighbors, and yesterday it got Boing-Boinged. Which led, no doubt, to the 30,000 hits. There are other reasons, like the word "heckler" in the title of the video -- that word is getting a lot of attention right now, from the Kramer episode. So that could account for a lot of it.

Wow, it's interesting having your child's book report seen by 30,000 people on the internet. I must tell you, and I'm sorry to tattle on humanity in this way, but I have to report that some people responded with nasty comments and one actually called my tiny 2 year old daugher "f**king retarded." I am as cynical and jaded as the next guy (well, okay, maybe I'm *not* as cynical and jaded as the next guy!) but that appalled even me. So I took that comment down. I'm as hot for free speech as the next guy (okay, again, maybe not) but after all, Benny could read that comment, and that's just not right.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Happy Tales Book Club Activity: Learning About Setting

Here's a game we played in our homeschool book club to learn about setting!

You'll need:

Some cards printed with different things that might happen in a story. Here are mine:

A mouse squeaks : A policeman goes to work : An astronaut finds an enormous rock : A deer and a fox are friends : A tiger drinks from a muddy river : A bat sets a trap for a spider : A skydiver gets ready to jump : A taxi cab hurries at a green light : An alligator invites his friends to play : A family of birds get ready for Christmas : A monkey eats a banana : A shark talks to a clam : A father ties his son's shoes : A snake waits until later : A cat yawns : A cow eats dinner : A kid puts his shoes on : A little girl has a tea party : A king and a queen talk about their garden : a dog finds a hidden ball in a bush : A princess loses her crown : A mother pig teachers her baby to sing.

Now you need "flags" printed with different settings. I made mine by writing the settings on half-sheets of paper and then taping each one to a straw. Here are my settings:

In a cave : In the ocean : In the city : In a tree : In a barn : On an airplane : In a castle : In the jungle : In a back yard : In a house : In the woods : On the moon

Obviously you can think of a lot more, and if you have lots more kids, you need at least one flag for every kid, or a correct number of flags if they're going to have more than one each.

The reader sits on a chair with the plot cards and everyone else forms a semi-circle around the chair, holding their flags. The reader reads the cards one at a time, and if you think you have a flag that could be a setting for that action, you hold it up. Let the kids take turns being the reader, and take turns with the different flags.

This isn't a win/lose game, but it's a good way to talk about setting, and also led us to an interesting discussion about fantasy and reality, as we could think of ways that a cow could eat dinner in a house, or in a castle, or on the moon. No right or wrong answers. The kids also wanted to make up their own settings and their own plot cards, so it was good to have a couple extra flags and cards to use.

Have fun!

Minotaur Rocket Launch on Wallops Island

We were there! On Wallops Island! Watching the rocket go up! It was cool. The kids loved it.

Yes, you can see pictures up close on the front page of the paper, but we (and our dog) actually got up at 3:30, drove up to the NASA Flight Facility on Wallops Island, and stood at the edge of the marsh when the rocket climbed into space. We and all the other nerdypants people freezing our bottoms off got to hear the roar, see the fireball, and watch it disappear. It was so cool. The exciting part took about a minute and a half, but it was worth it.

Here's our home video:

A few observations:

1. The sunrise was almost as beautiful as the launch itself. I've never seen the sun rising off the marsh like that -- it was photoriffic. Getting up super-early wasn't that big of a deal. The kids kind of loved it. We were tired later in the day, but we survived. With two small children, I don't count sleep as a necessity anymore.

2. Rocket launches are cooler than NASCAR races. You can bring your dog. And you hear the word "telemetry," which is something outside our every day experience. We stood by the NASA facility's visitor center to watch, and they were broadcasting the chatter between the technicians, and also the countdown, from loudspeakers.

3. Because the rocket spins as it rises, the exhaust trail looks curly. As it rose up through the different striations of cloud and light, it turned different colors of gold and pink. Doing a bit of research on the spinning, after we got home, we learned that the word "gimball" is actually a word that means "The rocket normally wiggles around and goes off course." Apparently, this is why they spin it. I thought Lewis Carroll made that word up.

4. The kids now need a countdown every time they click the switch to light up the Christmas tree lights.

5. Homeschooling is awesome for the adults involved too. In the interest of providing an enriched environment for our homeschooled kids, we've given ourselves a lot of cool experiences we probably wouldn't have bothered with if the kids were in school. This is one of them.

There are more launches planned for next year. I highly recommend going up to get a closer look!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Choir Concert at YMV

We went to see our friends performing in the "Young Musicians of Virginia" choir concert on Tuesday night. So what can a child learn from watching other kids perform?

YMV is a homeschooling co-op that meets at the Kempsville Baptist Church. They meet two days a week for a full day of classes, and while they began as a way for homeschooled kids to participate in music ensembles like band and choir, they also have academic classes like algebra and Spanish and whatnot. You can visit their web site here.

Benny's friend Zoe sings in the K-2 choir, and her concert was on Tuesday night. We went to see her sing, to show our support, and to enjoy the music.

I think experiences like this are great practice for kids who are learning to sit still and pay attention to performances. It's long enough to challenge the wiggles, but short enough to avoid total wiggle outbreaks. It's also well populated with children, so if any wiggleage does erupt, there aren't horrific consequences, unlike the shouting of "I HAVE A BOOGER" during the adagio movement of some significant symphony at Chrysler Hall. We do take Benny to Chrysler Hall, but I also welcome the opportunity for him to sit still in less strenuous situations.

Also he loves Zoe and so do I, and his friendship with her is very important and wonderful for him, and he genuinely loved seeing her perform and cheering for her. It was very sweet to see them together after the performance, walking around hand in hand, with Zoe introducing him to her friends, and Benny congratulating the performers on their good job.

YMV is an amazing organization. I thought for a while that Benny could maybe be in one of their orchestras, which would give him more opportunities to play the violin in a group setting, but they don't start strings until the kids are 9 years old, and Benny's already started... it just wouldn't be a good fit. I suspected that it would be not a good fit in other ways, and that suspicion was confirmed on Tuesday.

All of those children in the K-2 choir, that is, children between five and seven years old, were silent and still for the entire 60 minute performance, as they sat on the risers at the front of the stage. Not one talked. Not one poked another one. Not one fell off the back. During their songs, they stood and sang obediently, everyone singing together, and then sat back down. Nobody started humming a different song, or twirling, or glaring open-mouthed at the spotlight. They were *SCARILY* perfect. I know I will thoroughly drive home my point to the moms in the audience when I say there was *no nose-picking*. I was so completely impressed with the teachers of this group of children. I can't imagine what kind of work and wonder goes into creating that kind of uniformly excellent behavior. I do know that Benny, in that environment, would be the giant glaring red alarm light in the middle of a thousand perfectly twinkling white bulbs.

I respect and admire the people at YMV, but I think I made the right decision not to try and make it work for us. We loved the concert though! Benny especially got into the carol sing at the end. It was wonderful watching Zoe perform, too. I'm so thankful that he is able to have such a good, close friend and that they can share so much together as they grow up.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Living Saint

My son got his green belt in karate last week. It took him more than two years to do it. I firmly believe that no other teacher would have gotten him to this point. Fortunately, his teacher is a saint.

When Benny started karate, in the fall of 2004, he was four and a half. I wanted to start him in martial arts because I thought it would help him to focus on the real world around him, to come out of his brain a little bit, and to engage with other people. This is a child who was constantly humming entire movements to concertos (in the right key too), had four or five imaginary friends, and wouldn't answer a direct question without having it repeated ten times. It wasn't that he was being naughty. He just really wasn't paying attention. To anything. Except what was between his ears.

Violin study was helping him, and we had/have a wonderful teacher, willing to patiently work on drawing him out of his insular world, while not making excuses for him based on his eccentricities. But I knew in my mind that Karate would be great for him.

I tried him at another martial arts studio in Virginia Beach, which had been recommended to me by a friend. They rejected him outright, because he was too spacey. Then the Norfolk Karate Academy opened up, just down the street, and I had new hope. I was looking for a happy medium between the lame-o McKarate franchises and the too-too-serious dojos with black walls and swords hanging from the ceiling. NKA seemed like just the thing. And Mr. Odom agreed to take him on.

Benny was any karate teacher's worst nightmare. Distracted, singing, picking his nose, rolling around on the floor, bugging the other kids -- it was pretty horrifying. Every week I expected to be told that we had to leave. But Mr. Odom did not give up. He repeated himself so many times that a weaker teacher would have been driven insane. He was kindly and brutally consistent in the face of Benny's completely erratic behavior. We saw the children who started at the same time get their yellow belts, their green belts, and on and on. More kids started, and passed Benny.
Benny never got discouraged, and neither did Mr. Odom.

Two years and several months later, the child has a green belt. And he's acting like a green belt (for the most part) in class. Who can say what exactly brought about this change? Was it Benny's intense and almost irrational love for karate? Was it Mr. Odom's persistence and the quality of instruction? Was it just that he got older and more mature? I can't say precisely what the formula was, but I know that it worked. This little space cadet, who used to be about as serious as a school mascot, has now started to show us some real progress, some real performance.

It means a lot that Mr. Odom didn't just promote him automatically, when the other kids got new belts. It means a lot that he never let Benny feel humiliated that he wasn't advancing. He always made it clear what was expected, and he accepted nothing less. This means that the green belt means something real for Benny. He knows he earned it. And now he can't wait to get to karate and learn what's next.

Here's Benny's last class as a yellow belt. They're doing the second form in the kibon (basic) series:

Here's Benny getting his green belt and also a little motivational speech from Mr. Odom:

And here's Benny with his new belt, and Mr. Odom with his little orange project. The face you see here is an example of Benny's newfound ferocity in the karate uniform:

You can visit the Norfolk Karate Academy right here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Two Performances

Benny had two violin performances this weekend.

The first was the Academy of Music's Bach Festival on Sunday night, which was hosted by the Kempsville Presbyterian Church. This was a character-building experience, since was two hours long, right around the children's bed time, and we brought Sadie Grace with us. Both of them were very well-behaved, on the whole. Sadie did rearrange all the little tiny pencils in the pews, and Benny did at one point say the words, "YOU be quiet." Which is pretty unsustainable. But, he played well, and both the kids got to see a lot of much older children playing difficult and serious piececs with earnest concentration, which is a good thing for them to see. Now that Benny is into book 3, and there aren't that many kids in his usual recital group that are ahead of him, it's good for him to see that he still has a long way to go, and to witness some kids getting to play those *really* exciting pieces.

Here's Benny playing "Musette" by J.S. Bach:

Here's a picture of Benny and Sadie with some of their musical friends:

The second performance was a luncheon at the Jewish Community Center in Virginia Beach. The Academy of Music was asked to provide some entertainment, and since only homeschoolers were available to show up at 1:00pm on a Monday, it was an all-homeschoolers performance! Sean, Benny, and Adam entertained the seniors at the luncheon, and Mrs. Ford gave a little talk about the Suzuki method. The highlight of the event was the premier of an original composition by one of the students. Adam, who is 15, has written several pieces, and this one is called "Duet #1 in G Minor." He performed it with Mrs. Ford and it was a big hit:

Adam is great, isn't he?!?! A local gem. If you want, you can go to this YouTube page where this is hosted, and comment on his movie. That would be awesome.

Here's a picture of Benny and Sean warming up before the performance.

So, a very violincentric weekend. There were ups and downs, of course. On Sunday night, when Benny finished with Musette, he hollered out this from the stage: "Hey, did you see when I put my hand way up here on the fingerboard? That is a HARMONIC." Yes, he was the only child to address the audience, and in such a kindly patronizing tone too. *roll eyes* And then there was the moment when he decided to try and play "Happy Farmer" with only one finger down on his bow hand... a real patience tester for his longsuffering teacher.

On the whole, though, I have to say that life with Benny and Sadie is never dull. Exasperating, exciting, interesting, annoying, thrilling, and never ever dull.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is K12 Really Homeschooling?

The local homeschooling discussion has erupted around the topic of K12, a public school-at-home program. Is it homeschooling or not?

I'm not an expert, but here's how I understand it: If you sign up for K12, you can take your child out of school, and teach your child at home. You receive a curriculum and a computer, you are connected to a teacher to help you. All of this is free to you. Instead of footing the bill for an expensive curriculum, you get all the materials you'll need to keep him or her right up to speed with the school kids. Sounds like a deal.

There are, of course, negatives. You have to keep a rigid attendance record, you have to follow the program exactly, and your child's work gets graded by the teacher at the public school. The school receives money from the government, based on your child's attendance, so your school is still the one responsible for your child's education, not you.

It's controversial. The public school people are saying, hey, if you like to homeschool, that's fine! We'll help you do that, and it's FREE! The homeschooling community responds that K12 isn't homeschooling in any other way than the location of the child's desk. It is a government sponsored public school education, which happens to take place in your home. The parents have no say in what is studied, how fast the lessons progress, or what grades are received. One of the main reasons a lot of us homeschool is to take charge of our own kids' education, and K12 definitely keeps the reins in the hands of the public school system.

Now, it's also possible to pay for the K12 curriculum and do it on your own, outside the school's guidance. And in some states it's not even possible to do it for free, because that kind of virtual charter school isn't available everywhere yet. The reason for all the local controversy is that it's just become available in one county in Western Virginia. And peopole have begun singing its praises on local homeschooling e-lists.

The problem is that K12 kind of presents itself as homeschooling when it's really not. For people who only want to homeschool because they don't want their children physically in the school building, it might be fine. But K12 will not help anyone who is looking to improve on a public school education. You can, of course, supplement and enrich what they're getting from K12, just like you can if youd kid is in any school, but you will be keeping an hourly log of studies, and the school will still be dictating what you study, and when, and for how long.

Nothing is really free, right? K12 isn't free either.

One can understand why local homeschoolers are quick to demand that K12 advocates use the appropriate terminology when describing it. Our right to homeschool our children is precious, and if a public-school-at-home program is seen as equivalent to a parent-led or child-led education outside the school system altogether, that's a problem. You can imagine lawmakers pondering the question: If those nuts are so intent on homeschooling, why can't they all just use K12? Tthen the public schools can still be funded for all their children that have been removed from the system! Lovely for the public schools. Not so lovely for those of us who want more for our kids than a forced march through the Standards of Learning.

One person on one of the lists actually told us she was going to keep all emails promoting K12 as homeschooling and send them to an attorney. Right about now, if you logged on to any of our lists and said you were homeschooling with K12, you'd probably get pelted with used Latin textbooks. They are right to be protective of their terms.

However, as K12 comes into our state, and more people inevitably start using it, and start attending park days and commenting on our e-lists, attending our classes, we have to be aware of the way we talk about these "terms" around the children. A child doing K12 at home for free is feeling a lot of the same things about homeschooling as a child whose parents spent $1000 on a different curriculum, or the child who is unschooled, or the child doing a correspondence course. The kids don't know the difference.

While we can dispute nomenclature among outselves on discussion lists populated by opinionated adults, it's important we don't make these kids (or parents) feel any less welcome or part of things because they're doing K12. Maybe what I'm saying is obvious, and my concern is unfounded, but it worries me that an unnecessary rift may be created here, in a community that needs to stick together. Our legal needs may be different, but our social needs, and surely the social needs of our kids, are the same. I think the answer is to do the best we can to educate people about what K12 really is, and then to say, if they choose to do it anyway, and if it's really what they want, "Welcome to the party. Come take a seat by me."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Goodbye, Suzuki Book 2

Benny had his Book 2 Graduation Recital last week. That's right. No more Chorus. No more Musette. No more Lully Gavotte! I'm just so... HAPPY.

It was a festive night. Because it was on election day, we decided to do a patriotic theme. Sadie wore the Uncle Sam outfit that Benny used to campaign for John Kerry in 2004. I added a flower to the lapel and did a ceremonial smudging with sage-and-citrus fabric spray from Yankee Candle, to remove all those John Kerry-ish residual energies. The man of the hour, Benny wore a flag jacket that I made immediately before the recital.

It's important to have a theme and dress up and create a lavish buffet for these events. We just don't have enough to do without extending ourselves in this way. Fortunately the buffet was handled by Ahno, so all I had to do was make sure the kid practiced his songs, and of course create the patriotic fashions.

Here's a picture of the kids in their outfits:

Here's a picture of Benny with his awesome violin teacher, Mrs. Ford, at the Academy of Music:

Here's a video of Benny playing Bourree by Handel. He kept doing the repeat again and again until Mrs. Ford kindly prompted him to move on to the run that starts with F sharp. :D His *fantastic* accompanist, Mrs. Pougher, never missed a beat.

Here's a side note, as I write this blog: Benny heard the video playing, and was walking around the downstairs looking for the source. I saw him putting his ear up to the baby monitor, and then he asked me, "Mommy, where is the Book 2 CD coming from? Is it upstairs?" I said, "That's not the CD, baby, it's you." He said, very quietly, "Is that music coming from inside my head?" Hehehe. NO, it's not your imagination, it's YOUTUBE, Benny! *cackle*

The recital was fantastic. Benny and another student at the Academy both graduated from Book 2 at the age of six and a half, which is pretty impressive. It *was* impressive that he played well, and that he remembered his songs, and that he had such poise and aplomb in front of his audience. He

What pleased me the most, however, was the fact that I saw him specifically thinking about things we had worked on that week, and I saw him specifically trying to implement little things that Mrs. Ford had taught him. To witness him really trying to do his best, and really engaging his brain in the music, and not just whanging through it any old how, to get to the end, while he's thinking about the chandelier (as often happens in his performance situations) was really fantastic. The child is growing up.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Library Roundup

In Window Eight, the Moon is Late
by Diane Worfolk Allison

We liked this book because of its illustrations. It's one of those books that tell a side story in the illustrations beyond the one in the actual words. So, in this story, a little girl brings a laundry basket up from the basement on a summer day, and delivers its contents around the house. The story uses the structure of passing different windows in the house, to tell the story, but the cool thing about the book is spying a piece of clothing in the basket and then seeing whose room it gets delivered to and what it is.

Salt Hands
by Jane Chelsea Aragon and Ted Rand

A little weak. A little thin. It's about a kid who sees a deer outside and goes out and feeds it salt from her hand. This is a nice book for infants but a little slow for livelier souls.

Did You Say Pears?
by Arlene Alda

I got this because Benny was interested in homonyms and homophones. This book gives a good definition of each and big colorful picture examples. Very fun. Led to lots of pointing out of homophones (and nyms) in our daily lives. And the two year old liked it too.

Where's My Teddy?
By Jez Alborough

No one liked this one. It was creepy. A giant ferocious bear and a little boy accidentally switch teddy bears while in the woods, and then switch back. Sadie was disturbed. Benny was underamused.

Princess Bee and the Royal Goodnight Story
by Sandy Asher

Very cute, very sweet. A good alternative to the plethora of Barbie-based princess narratives out there. All the princess and none of the fluff. This is about a child princess who's missing her travelling Mum, and then finds a way to get to sleep without her, by remembering her.

Mars: The Red Planet
by Patricia Demuth

Great book about Mars! Just the right reading level for my six-year-old, with enough words on the page to challenge him without overwhelming him. He really loved it. This book was chosen because Benny was so interested in the Mission: Mars ride at Epcot Center, so he wanted to learn more. And he did.

Platypus, Probably
by Sneed B. Collard

Okay, how could a book by a guy named Sneed do anyone any harm? This was Benny's favorite book in recent memory and we've renewed it twice. He *loves* it. He did his book report on it at our last Homeschool Book Club, and after hearing that report, I know he understands much more about platypus behavior than any child every should. His interest in platypuses was launched during the "It's a Small World" ride -- there are three dancing platypuses in the Australia part. And now we know all about them. ALL about them. Would you believe I even found a picture of them on this guy's Flickr?

Look, they're even carrying their eggs. So authentic.

A Sea Full of Sharks
by Betsy Maestro

My two year old absolutely LOVED this book. She asks to read it every night. She gave her book report on it, and went through the whole book outlining exactly which sharks were okay to swim with, and which weren't. Benny liked this too, but not as much as Sadie did. I guess when you're big into platypuses, sharks are just not that fascinating. The illustrations are drawings, not photographs, which is kind of nice for the littler tinier people.

The children are wanting me to come and play Buzz Lightyear and Princess Ariel. So that's it for now!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fall is Here! Yay Fall!

Ah, the glories of homeschooling in the fall. It's like regular homeschooling, but with leaves! Fall leaves! Come in for movies, and watch the homeschoolers dance! Watch 'em dance!

What's so cool about homeschooling? I'll tell you. When you're a homeschooler you can slam through your math in your pajamas, and then yank on some sweatpants and bundle yourself outside to jump in the leaves like a maniac with your little sister. Did I mention that your little sister is still wearing her Halloween costume, days later?

I guess it also means you can wear "surprised troll doll" as a hairstyle without comment from anyone but your mother, whose comment is, "Awww, you're cute."

Here's another thing that's cool about homeschooling in the fall: You can go to Homeschool Park Day and play outside as hard as you can all afternoon and not get hot!

Look, Sadie can hang now. She also did her first ride on a "big girl" swing, and had her first trip down the too-high slide, which was followed by many more trips down the too-high slide. Yes, the kids are still fascinated with roller coasters:

Homeschool Park Day was *fantastic* on Thursday. All the moms, apparently, knit. So we all sat there yakking and knitting and occasionally peeling our toddlers off the too-high slide or pushing them on swings. The kids built fairy houses and bird houses out of sticks and pine needles and whatnot, and had a fantastic time. It sounds lame to sit on a park bench knitting, but we make it work. Really.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Violence and Homeschooling

Several people have told me that I must be happy to be homeschooling when I see report after report of violence in schools. But of course, homeschooling doesn't really make you safer.

My heart breaks like everyone else's, and I get furious too when I hear about violence in schools. It's not like my homeschooliang friends and I are sitting around giving each other smug high fives because our kids aren't sitting in a school box like fish in a barrel, waiting for anyone with a grudge against life to walk in and slaughter them.

Those are my neighbor's kids, my family's kids -- even if they're in Pennsylvania or in Chechnya or in Colorado. It's my problem, too. It bothers me that some people, even some homeschoolers themselves, see homeschooling as a way to opt out of engagement with the atrocities of life, to become separate and safe. I've heard more than one person say, in the last few weeks, that she's considering homeschoolng because of the danger of life in school.

The truth is that violence happens everywhere, and my children are out and about more than the rest -- don't we have a higher likelihood of being hit by a car, or accosted in a parking lot, or stalked by a weirdo, or something like that. School violence is particularly nauseating and horrifying, but just like highway accidents don't keep me at home, school violence doesn't keep me from putting my kids in school.

Pulling children out of school because of nuts with guns, hoping to protect them from the wildness of this human life, is a kind of sad and desperate act. Obviously I more than others think you should do what you like with your own children, and that homeschooling is fantastically fun and beneficial for children. But I don't think fear is a good reason. The homeschooling community isn't safe from maniacs with firepower. Homeschooling is just a different way to educate your children.

Do blankets from Grandma keep them safe? Or just happy and warm? :D

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Trunk or Treat Rained Out

The downtown Norfolk YMCA does a great job of planning cool stuff for families. Unfortunately, they cannot control the weather. Now I've got a fog machine and a black light crying in the corner because last night's "Trunk or Treat" was rained out!

It's not that we're hypercompetitive (okay, it is that, but it's not *just* that). We just really love Halloween. We love the spooky stuff, the dark, the drear, the ravens, the severed hands, all of it. If we had a little less common sense, we might be in danger of being one of those families you see on Wife Swap, where they sleep in coffins and wear shrouds to school. Okay, probably not, because most of the year, we're as cheerful as anyone else, but in October, when the wind gets a little chilly, we always find ourselves browsing the spider web aisle.

We live on a bad street for trick-or-treating. Nobody comes down this street. So our burning desire to decorate way more than is reasonable has never been realized -- we anticipate the grief and frustration of having dressed the house for a party, and having no one come to dance.

When we found out about the Trunk-or-Treat at the YMCA, where you dress up the back of your vehicle, park it in the parking lot, and let the kids trick-or-treat around to everyone's car, it seemed the perfect opportunity for us to shine. And there was a contest for best trunk. We needed no further enticement.

We got a fog machine. And a black light. Decorations. A thingy to make it so we can plug in a bunch of stuff in the back of our van. We have, I must admit, an eight foot inflatable bat that lights up and runs with a little fan inside to inflate it -- you know what I'm talking about.


Then it rained. And they moved it indoors. Which was just not going to be any good, what with the fog machine messing up people's workouts and the black light trying to work against the fluorescent gym lights... to which we say... never mind... I guess there's next year... sniffle snuffle.

Today we are going to get conciliatory pumpkins.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Disney World: What Did We Learn?

We studiously avoided all educational aspects of Disney World. I'm sure they were there, but we tried to ignore them. Did we learn anything, in spite of our efforts?

If you think about what you're doing, and plan ahead, and research, and prepare, and organize, you can learn a lot from Disney World. On the other hand, if you do none of those things, you can probably learn a lot too.

We did not think or prepare. We tried at every turn to avoid analyzing anything, applying ourselves, deconstructing the images with which we were presented, or allowing ourselves to expand and grow. We did not learn "Hello" in all the languages at Epcot's World Lagoon and practice speaking with the native employees. I did not prepare a scavenger hunt and teach children in advance what they would see, and therefore we did not identify the landmarks from the different countries. We bypassed all the interesting tropical ducks at Animal Kingdom and rushed straight to the biggest roller coaster, which we rode as many times as possible. We danced around like fools in the sun, rather than comparing Disney's Snow White with Grimm's version. When the ferry came close enough for us to see Cinderella's castle for the first time, we did not mention Neuschwannstein.

So, what did the kids learn from our trip, given our staunch refusal to teach them anything?

The biggest thing they both learned was that it's okay to really fully commit to earnest thrill. Because Disney World is devoid of sarcasm and smirkiness, it feels right for kids and adults to behave like giddy lunatics, to sing out loud, to gambol and cavort, and to shout "WHEE!!!" My children are naturally very unselfconscious. This place was their natural element.

They learned to volunteer. Benny volunteered to be in several different shows -- Turtle Talk with Crush, the Festival of the Lion King, Belle's Storytime, Woody's Cowboy Camp, and others. His experience with Disney World was, as a result, very interactive. He learned that jumping up and saying, "I WILL!" makes everything fun. In connection with this, he also learned some social lessons like waiting your turn, accepting the role you're handed, sitting down when your part is over, and being thankful for the fact that you're included. He did all this very gracefully. Sadie did not have the same experience -- she tended to shrink into Mom or Dad's chest cavity whenever anyone with a big giant head approached. :D

Here's a little video of Benny as Gaston in Belle's story show:

They learned to be brave on rollercoasters. This was one that Benny had already mastered (lunatic that he is) but that Sadie was able to experience this year, on her first roller coaster ever, which she rode four times in immediate succession, and never wanted to leave. The bravery of these children astonished us over and over during this trip -- they are truly going to be wonderfully bold adults if this kind of behavior continues! With the obvious exception of meeting people with giant fake heads, which Sadie needs more time to master.

Here's a picture of me and Benny riding Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom:

They learned time management, as we discussed and decided what to do so that everyone got to do what they liked (Sadie liked Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Benny liked anything that went fast around corners and down terrible drops) and we minimized our line time and had food when we needed it. This was also a good lesson in sharing resources (time mainly) and enjoying other people's happiness. Yes, we rode the carousel about 16 more times than Benny probably would have chosen to ride it, and Sadie spent a lot of time waiting for Benny to ride roller coasters. But they didn't complain.

Benny learned a lot through pin trading. If you don't know, here's how it works -- Disney makes little metal and enamel pins showing a million different things. Some commemorate events, some represent characters or rides, some are special pins for holidays, etc. Kids (and adults) collect these and wear them on lanyards around their necks, then trade with other people wearing pins. If a park employee (sorry, "cast member") has pins on, they will always trade with you whatever pin you want for whatever one you want to give them. Benny loved interacting with people like this, and by the end of the trip had become an enthustiastic trader. He had never been exposed to the idea of "collecting" before, so the whole concept of one pin being more valuable or rare than another was new, the whole concept of trading was new, and this gave him the opportunity to talk to a lot of people, which he of course loves.

They learned patience in lines, although in the middle of October, especially in the mornings, the lines were nonexistent! They learned to try new foods. They bonded together as siblings in new ways. Benny met a host of new friends from all over the world. He came up with a new opening line for meeting people (his favorite pastime). On the monorail after the Halloween party he sidled up to a girl dressed as Ariel and said, "You're BEAUTIFUL." That, as it turned out, was a good opening line! He had a conversation with her and her mom all the way back to the parking lot.

We're back from Disney World, and we had a fantastic time, even me:

For more of my Disney videos, you can visit my YouTube channel here.

For more of our pictures, you can visit my Flickr gallery here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

On the Road to Florida

We're on our way to Disney World, after scrambling around town finishing up errands all morning. So what did we learn today, besides how to drive Mommy insane by singing everything instead of saying it? Or how to insist on pushing the "Fast Speed" button on the back of Mommy's headrest, and forcing Mommy to pretend to be blown back my G forces, until you push it again? Besides that?

We're half way to Disney World after a morning of running errands around town and an afternoon of driving in a straight line south. As I sit here, waiting for him to fall asleep, I am tempted to think of this day as wasted, learning-wise. We didn't sit down together and study any Spanish grammar. We didn't do any math problems. But thinking back on the day, I know his brain was engaged all the way.

1. Geography. Benny held his laminated map and followed out progress from Virginia to South Carolina, where we stopped. He learned that country has two meanings (well, he learned two of the several meanings of country). He's still working on grasping that there is interstitial space between cities that's neither city nor just "country" but is actually a county or a township or whatever. Might help if I had a better grasp on that myself.

2. Art and Zoology. Dad and Benny and Sadie took turns drawing animals and guessing what they were while we were waiting for our dinner at the restaurant. My favorite was the duck-billed platypus which Benny guessed was a beaver. Pretty good guess. We concluded that a platypus is a beaver with a beak, and will look it up next time we go to the library. Benny drew a very cool weathervane and had the N reversed to show which way it was pointing.

3. Physics. Tonight in the hotel bathtub, the children had only the big plastic drinking cups the hotel had provided us, to use as toys. They ended up doing several different experiments and Benny taught Sadie how to submerge the cup just to the lip, then let it spring back up. We explained to her that the air down in the empty cup wants to get on top of the water, because the water is heavier than the air. Don't know if Sadie really grasped it, but in explaining it to her, Benny connected this with the behavior of a helium balloon.

4. Music. Okay, well, here I am exposing my Disney weakness, but they happily sang along to the "Disney Princess Sing-a-Long" DVD that I Netflixxed for the trip. It was very sweet hearing Benny piping out those words along with Snow White and the rest. And got in a little reading practice. I'm sure he never saw "Bibbity Bobbity Boo" spelled out before.

5. Reading. Speaking of reading, Benny's been engrossed in his book, Walt Disney World: For Kids By Kids, which is a kid's guidebook, mixed in with puzzles and things to fill in, scrapbook pages, autograph pages, etc. He's most interested in researching the rides he wants to see at the Magic Kingdom, and is becoming a fount of information (and marketing propaganda phrases) on Tomorrowland.

6. Gym. Apart from wrestling with the dog before we put him in the kennel, Benny also did some exercises when we stopped for dinner, including standing on one leg, which he can do for a remarkable stretch of time, thanks to karate, and other shenanigans. Last year on the way down, we made them do figure eights around trees to burn off their energy at the South Carolina Welcome Center -- we remembered, driving by, what a kick Benny got out of signing the guest book and yakking with the people at the tourism desk.

Finally, Benny lost a tooth this morning. And he's about to learn that the tooth fairy can find him even in a hotel halfway to Disney World, because the tooth fairy is just savvy that way.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Homeschool Open House @ Virginia Air and Space Center

HELP! It's a giant herd of homeschoolers! Actually, the Virginia Air and Space Center looked a lot like it probably looks on any busy day -- a few more moms in denim jumpers and a few more kids who already knew how lasers work, but -- pretty much the same.

We had never been to the Virginia Air and Space Center, in Hampton, because I thought it was a little over the head of my six-year-old, and definitely beyond the reach of my two-year-old. However, when some fabulous person organized a Homeschool Open House for Thursday, we decided to go, i only to let the kids run around with other homeschoolers. It was such a good time! We went with our friends Veronica, Zoe, and Phillip.

Veronica is another mom who shares my philosophy that children should be let experience museums and such on their own terms -- we are equally unconcerned that they use the exhibits in the manner they were intended, or that we see *everything*, or that they fully understand each one. This makes it fun to go to places with her, since as long as the kids are happy, interested, and not bring rude to anyone, we are both content to let them explore. I will say, though, that navigating a museum with four children under the age of six, who all have definite ideas of what they want to see, was a challenge. :D

We started out in the medical/anatomy/biology part of the center, which included a giant "Operation" game, a cryogenic surgery chamber, a mock operating room, and all kinds of cool interactive stuff. Here are Benny and Zoe practicing endoscopic surgery with a plastic cube and a block, which they have to navigate through a maze by poking the little sticks through holes in the cube. This was a big hit for all the older kids, including the three-year-old, Phillip:

Here's Benny at the helm of a commercial airliner -- a good moment for him. Benny and Sadie both play Microsoft Flight Simulator with their father quite a lot, so this was meaningful for them:

Inside another plane, we had a bit of a shock. I guess I just climbed into it, thinking it was just a plane you could look inside of, but there was a movie playing in the front of the plane, and seats to fold down on the sides. Before I knew it, we were doing a bombing run, the plane was shaking, and we were being shot at. My two-year-old was shrieking, "MOMMY! DEY SHOOTING! DEY SHOOTING!" Yes, that was a little tense. But we survived:

The Center also has a play area with soft things to climb and swing on, airplane-themed, for the kids to use to blow off steam and run around. Here are Benny and Zoe operating the hot air balloon:

Yes, my child wore his Buzz Lightyear costume. No, he wouldn't take it off, even to go to the bathroom. Yes, that is strange.

Finally, we went to see the IMAX movie, The Human Body, which was a nice coincidence given our recent study of this subject. The footage in the movie was incredible. Incredible. Seeing that fifty-foot heart valve pumping, endlessly, 80 beats per minute, hour after hour, year after year, made me feel EXHAUSTED on behalf of my heart. Also seeing inside the lungs, with the little red blood cells rushing by, was very cool on that huge screen. And we had a happy homeschool moment when Benny shouted out, "OH, so THAT'S how the red blood cells exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. WOW!" *beam*

There was a little more sperm and egg and puberty than my child was prepared for, but I'll answer his questions truthfully, if he has any. It's not like we didn't study the reproductive system, but seeing the sperm swimming up the tube, with the soundtrack playing "One of These Nights" by the Eagles... was different. But okay! :D The movie was fantastic, if only for the giant pictures of our interiors. Here we are watching the movie:

A great day at the Virginia Air and Space Center. I think the one who appreciated it the most was my two-year-old daughter, who loves airplanes to distraction, and was in a constant state of ecstasy, just to be in that huge room with so many "aircranes" at once.

For another homeschooler's interesting adventure with small children at his local air and space center, try this.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Neighborhood Art Walk

A local neighborhood puts on an annual "Art Walk" where local artists put their work out on their front porch. Some of the work is for sale, some is for display, but the most fun is just walking around, talking to people, and seeing what creative people are behind the doors you drive past every day. Last year after we went, Benny came home and asked to be an artist, so I bought him a few canvasses and some "real" paint, and let him have at it.

This year he showed his work, and sold signed prints that I had made from photographs mounted on cardstock. His prints sold out in two hours, and one was even bought by the guy that owns a nearby restaurant and he hung it on his wall!

Here's our little set-up in the back of our van:

Here's a picture of the painting that people liked the best:

Benny loves to talk to people, so he had a really great day. Here he is talking to a customer:

And here's one final picture, of one of our friends who stopped by and bought *two* prints of Benny's work. Why, that cost a *WHOLE DOLLAR*!!! :D

Benny also gave away free visors he had made, and sold little drawstring bags and baby hats that I had made, and all of our proceeds went to support the next Community Bike Ride.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

World of Wonder at the Botanical Gardens

We had never been to the Botanical Gardens, even though we've lived in Norfolk for 7 years, except for driving through in the dark at Christmas time to see the lights. There, I said it. I have exposed us as the uncultured boors that we are. The opera, yes. The Botanical Gardens, no. So, when the World of Wonder was being advertised (and who doesn't want to see a "World of Wonder"??) I thought it would be a great time to cross that particular cultural experience off our list.

I learned a few things:

1. We will definitely be back to the gardens, and it won't take another seven years.

2. The World of Wonder is great, and worth return trips.

3. My child is pretty gullible. ;D

When we got there, I put Benny in charge of the map, and he lead us, after several wrong turns, with me keeping my mouth shut and just letting him be in charge, to the World of Wonder.

Here's Sadie surveying part of the massive rose garden on the way in:

This exhibit's central feature is a giant globe peppered with lots of different fountains that you can run around in. Fantastic.

Radiating out from the central fountain were several areas to explore representing different parts of the world. In the Africa part, the kids enjoyed playing in this hut that was equipped with drums and other instruments to play.

There was a game to play too. When we came in, a guy handed us a passport with pictures of different animals to find in the exhibit. When we found one, we were to use its little stamper to mark our passport, and when we collected all seven we got a little prize. That was cool, and fine, and great, but the best thing was...


The DIrt Factory is a genius installation. It has no instructions, no objectives, no rules. There are three hand-operated pumps for water. And there is a giant box of dirt. There is also a beautiful playhouse/potting shed, lots and lots of different sized buckets, watering cans, trowels, shovels, plant pots, and there are little seedlings that you can play with and uproot and plant and play with again. Amazing. The kids had so much fun here:

Here's Benny operating a pump:

Here's Sadie pondering the enormous box of dirt:

I'm sure it is a gigantic pain in the behind to clean all this up at the end of the day, and get it ready for the next day's play. However, an open-ended activity like this, with no structure and no "right answer" is just so completely wonderful for kids, and this part of the garden is nothing short of genius.

After the World of Wonder, we went through the rest of the garden, including the Enchanted Forest, where I spun a long yarn (which Benny totally bought) about all the inhabitants, and the witch that lives there, and how a red bird in the path means we are being watched, but a black bird means there are trolls nearby, etc. When we got around so we could see Whitehurst Lake, I told him it was the Magic Sea, and on the other side was the Palace of the Princess of Potterdotter. Every place where a little path turned off the main drag, I'd say, "Oh, down there is where the unicorn lives," or whatever. It helped that Sadie fell asleep the MINUTE we got inside the Enchanted Forest, so I was able to be completely horrified that the witch had put an enchantment on the baby. Benny oscillated between saying "Is she *really* enchanted???" and saying, "OH NO! Sadie is ENCHANTED!" Hehehe. That was a lot of fun.

About the time we were all tired and hot, we jumped on the tram that runs around the garden, and took the train tour 2 times. :D Benny was loving it. He sat with another family -- an older couple and their grown children -- on the tram and regaled them with tales of his enchanted sister, and the dirt factory, and the rest of it. Sadie sat in my lap and pointed at everything, and kept repeating, "Mommy, we widing the TWAIN!!!" She loves trains.

It was a great time. I highly recommend it. There can't be too many sunny days left, so catch this one while you can.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Another Anti-Homeschooling Article

Another article painting homeschoolers as religious nuts who won't let their children wear shorts, or read Time Magazine, or dance. Another writer having a grand old time ridiculing people who are just honestly trying to pass on their values to their children (and what is wrong with that?) and in doing so, clumping a whole community into one ill-fitting category. The truth is that *most* of the homeschoolers I know are *not* homeschooling for religious reasons (not that there's anything wrong with that) and I'm tired of people assuming that because I'm homeschooling I also don't watch television or wear lipstick. BLAH! This article made me mad. Partly because I don't like being lumped in a category, and partly because the people he's making fun of and criticizing aren't doing anything wrong or unreasonable. Well, the article speaks for itself... and here is a link: Right here.

Here's my letter to the editor:

I'm writing regarding Grady Jim Robinson's article, "Table for One: Fundamentalism and the Facts."

This writer seems to be overly concerned that our elementary school children be exposed to information about sex. I am a little bit worried about him, to be honest. I think all those homeschooled children who don't learn about what sexually stimulates men and women until they get a little older are probably going to be just fine.

I'm not homeschooling for religious reasons. My reasons are multiple, but I think Robinson inadvertantly makes a good argument for homeschooling when he says that the average kid in a public high school "is, well, average." I want more than that for my child. And when he says that overall, public schools are "a safe and sound environment for your child," I have to laugh. Have we really adopted this metric to evaluate our schools? Overall, our kids probably aren't going to die there? I aspire for a deeper and fuller educational experience for my children, and measure their learning by a more complicated standard than just escaping death.

I appreciate Robinson's concern for children (although I still wonder why he wants children to read books about sex), but I must remind him that there are extremists in any group. The parent and child that he has described in his article, if they exist, are definitely on the fringe of the homeschooling community. Most of us are quite normal, quite level-headed, and just want a better deal than the schools are offering.


So, I had a lot more to say to them, obviously, but wanted to keep it brief and limit it to the salient points:

1. I don't want my kid to be average, so don't promise me mediocrity as if it's some shining prize. Don't sell me "pack your kid off and hope for the best, hey, it's what the rest of us do" and expect me to feel inspired.

2. My six-year-old son definitely does not need to read books about sex. It is *creepy* that the author of that article kept using the word "child" and then talking about all this sex stuff. Creepy!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Butterfly Gardens at Christ and St. Lukes

Last week during the congregational meeting, the kids in the church planted a butterfly bed in the Lychgate Garden at Christ and St. Luke's. It's completely darling! On Sunday morning, Benny got to lead the parade of children on the butterfly processional on Sunday morning, carrying the big butterfly balloon and acting extremely solemn and unnaturally sanctimonious. For some reason, Benny really gets these occasions, and dons the appropriate attitude. Had I known, I would have ironed his pants. Oh well.

Here are the kids lined up for the procession:

Here they're listening to Ms. Charlie pray over the garden and give thanks for all things that grow:

Here they are placing their butterfly wands over the sticks that were waiting in the garden:

And here is the finished product:

The folks running the kids program at Christ and St. Lukes are wonderful, and I just love my church. I don't care if this church plants a giant hunk of magma in the middle of historic Ghent with a spaceship carousel on top that plays "Funky Town" when the moon is bright -- they are a credit to the community and Ms. Charlie and Ms. Barbara are absolute gems. Benny is very lucky to be part of the program.

Here's a little video of part of the dedication:

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Homeschool Teachers are Learning Too

I recently got asked this question: How are you teaching your son art when you don't know anything about it?

Good question.

Most homeschooling moms are not experts in art or math or French or the history of Australia or how pandas digest bamboo. A lot of us have degrees in one thing or another, I happen to have a couple of degrees in literature. Helps when we get to 19th century American fiction, but a fat lot of good that does me when we're learning about art!

So what do we do, when we're out of our element, and our kids need us to know what we're doing? Several choices:

1. We study hard and stay one step ahead of our kids. This happens mostly when a family is following a set curriculum. Mom may be teaching Junior calculus and she may be learning calculus the night before, real quick, before Junior gets to that lesson.

2. We learn right along with them. This happens more in a child-led learning environment, where we're following the kid's interests. What kinds of things do you want to learn about, Junior? Okay, let's get some books from the library, look it up on the internet, and delve in. A child who sees his mother actively seeking informationn, getting excited about learning right beside him, being open to new things, is getting a fine example of how learning should happen. Mom's not learning because she has to, she's not learning because someone is making her, she's learning because she wants to. That's a valuable lesson. When I was a kid, my parents read constantly, and I learned by example that reading was great entertainment. By watching them, I learned what to do. So when I'm struggling through my Spanish lessons with Rosetta Stone, or looking up Galapagos iguanas on the internet, my child is seeing how learning can be fun and exciting, when no one is making you do it.

3. Another choice is to hire someone to teach your child who *is* an expert. Benny has a swimming teacher, a violin teacher, and a karate teacher -- these are things that we have decided he really needs an expert to teach him. So we go find an expert. If he gets very interested in painting, we're fortunate to have an art teacher in the family, as his Ahno has an art degree and has taught it at various levels in and out of traditiobnal school. So, on that, we're covered. We have friends who take art lessons at the Children's Museum in Portsmouth. Or at the SOFA art camps. There are lots of ways to outsource this one! :D

So let's return to the topic of art and the way we're dealing with it this week. What happened at the museum on Wednesday?

We both wandered around the galleries. I let him lead. He knows pretty much where everything is. Our challenge, our mission, as we discussed it on the way there, was to look at the brush strokes and see how the artists used the shapes of their brush strokes to form the pictures.

Benny pointed out, about half way through the impressionist gallery, that when the brush strokes are bigger and more obvious, the paintings are less realistic. When the brush strokes are smaller, the paintings look more real. I used my fresh info about the Mona Lisa to inform him that the thickness of the paint matters too, so we compared that painting of the table laid out with silverware (very realistic) to the one of the Harlem River in winter, which is more abstract and where the artist used really thick paint.

After we had this revelation, we went on to the modern and contemporary galleries, where Benny visited his favorite painting, shown below. He rushed past it quickly, looking at it out of the corner of his eye, back and forth, back and forth, and told me that it looked good to him when the pattern mixed together because it was going by fast.

He also studied the installation with all the TVs shaped into a king, and we talked about how art doesn't have to be paint on a canvas or a bronze sculpture, etc. We left when the kids were ready to leave, and went out to look at the fountain, which is always Sadie's favorite part.

Benny went home and started painting another canvas. He showed me how he was using brush strokes to make shadows on the water. I'm not entirely sure how that works, but I'm glad he's experimenting with it and I'm glad he learned from his trip to the museum.

I'm so glad this question was asked, because think a lot of people are wary of homeschooling for this reason. They think, "I'm not an expert, I can't possibly teach my child everything he needs to know." The truth is, you can. First grade art isn't really a good example, because of course anybody can handle the curriculum here -- identifying primary colors, zig-zag and spotted lines, geometric and organic shapes, size relationships, creating a piece of art inspired by a poem, etc. You can see all the standards of learning for visual arts for Virginia here. If you can't stay on top of that list, maybe you really shouldn't be homeschooling your kid! ;D Just kidding. But seriously. I think Benny's okay, at least for now. If we get into serious stuff, and I'm over my head, I have access to experts to help me out.

You raise a good question. And part of what makes homeschooling so interesting, for many of us who do it, is that homeschooling is learning too.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Art Research

Yesterday Benny painted with acrylics on canvas, so today we're going to the art museum.

I bought Benny a couple of canvasses to paint, since he's going to be "showing" in the Colonial Place Art Walk that's coming up in a couple weeks. Last year's art walk was really great -- we bought some jewelry and pottery and it was fun walking around checking out everyone's porch. Here are some pictures from the Colonial Place River View web site. Benny really wanted to be a "real artist" and show some of his painting, so this year we're going to go for it.

Here's a picture of him painting yesterday:

I am completely in the dark when it comes to teaching him techniques of painting. I'm about as artistic as a sick goat. So, today we're going to go to the Chrysler Museum and see if we can notice some ways that artists use different brush strokes to create effects.

Dad pointed us to a story on CNN this morning about the Mona Lisa, which has recently been examined with special infrared and 3D technology. Apparently, Da Vinci painted with such thin paint that the brush strokes are invisible.

Anyway, off to absorb some culture, as soon as he does a tiny bit of math and practices his violin. :D Always good motivation -- as soon as you _____ we can go look at some art!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rowena's Tea Room

I've never been inside Rowena's before because I thought it'd be insane to go in with two small children. So this time I went in with about 14 small children.

A bunch of homeschoolers from around the area were given a tour of Rowena's bakery and tea shop on Friday. Actually, a charming girl named Kelly organized for us homeschoolers to have two tours per Friday for a few weeks, to accommodate everyone who was interested. We (I) failed to properly sign up because we were travelling while the arrangements were being made, but some people cancelled and we snuck in.

A few homeschoolers in the wild:

So we all filed into the store part of it and the kids (and moms) engaged in a little sampling. Then we put on our hairnet hats and had the tour. Here's a picture of me and Sadie in our hats:

We saw the giant jelly pots, the huge ovens, the enormous mixers (which came from some sort of battleship) and the places where they package everything up. Kids on the tour:

We bought some lemon cakes, which were mildly enjoyable, and some key lime curd which was completely marvelous but tasted like lemons. We also bought the children's book written and signed by Rowena which tells the story of the store's rejuvenation, and has illustrations the children would recognize from the things they had seen on the tour.

It was a nice, interesting morning. I appreciate the lady at Rowena's that gave us the tour, but I'm sure by the line of parents lined up to buy treats that it was well worth her time. :D Now I no longer have to be curious as to what's behind that red door, and the next time I need a quick, cute little present, I'll know where to go!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Homeschool PE at the YMCA

Homeschool PE started yesterday and four little boys had a lovely afternoon at the downtown YMCA.

Benny had a great time playing with other little homeschoolers yesterday at the Norfolk YMCA, thanks to the organizers of the Homeschool PE class. They did some fitness stuff, some games, and then they all had swimming lessons with Ms. Raelynn -- what a deal. I put Sadie in the child watch, and I went and actually worked out, by myself, without little children -- I even sat in the sauna. Imagine that.

There were two lively young YMCA folks running the show, in addition to the swimming teacher. I felt completely fine leaving him in their care, although I did spy on them from the hot tub when they got to the swimming part. Benny was thrilled with the whole deal.

I was kind of amused with the Y guy talking to me about how the idea of the class is to get kids up and moving -- there may be a little bit of stereotyping going on there -- not all homeschoolers are huddled around their hearth, afraid to move or speak because they might be sullied by the world outside. But who knows -- maybe there *are* some kids for whom this could be the sole source of exercise. Benny does a whole lot of other active sports, but I'm cool with being told he needs to do sit-ups too. He probably does. Who cares? He had a blast, and made friends. So, yay! Call the YMCA and sign up your child, then join me in the hot tub for a prime viewing spot. It costs $20 for a four week session.

Here's a picture of Sadie after being picked up from Child Watch... waiting by the pool for Benny to take a shower and get dressed. Yes, she did manage to get herself wet. What real live two-year-old could possibly avoid it?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Prezuki with Mrs. Ford

Today my two-year-old daughter took her first step in her journey to her first violin recital, where I will dress her in a spun sugar gown and cry while she plays Twinkle Little Star.

My son has been taking violin lessons since he was three and a half. He's been studying at the knee of Mrs. Ford, who is amazing and wonderful, as I've had occasion to report many times before. Watching Mrs. Ford teach tiny children to play the violin has been a real education for me as well, not just in music but in how to treat children, and how to get the best out of them. She is, in my opinion, a magician.

Those of us who are true believers in the Suzuki method have a hard time waiting for our kids to be old enough to start. We sit around checking their motor skills -- could she hold the violin yet? Can she clap a rhythm? Can she stand still long enough to get through a measure of music? We sit on the waiting list at the Academy of Music, staking out our time slot in Mrs. Ford's schedule... and we wait.

Mrs. Ford, bless her, has now invented "Prezuki" for the two and three year old kids waiting to start Suzuki. It's a pre-violin play class about listening to music, rhythms, using different instruments... it's kind of like Mommy and Me music but with an emphasis on pre-violin skills. They're learning rest position and play position with their feet. They're learning to hold little things on their shoulders. They're learning to wave a sparkly wand like a violin bow -- so cool!!!

Here's Sadie on her first day of class:

And here she is holding the foam violin they'll be learning with. Unbreakable, light, and shaped like a real fiddle! Awesome!

If you can't wait for your child to start sawing away on the violin, and those Twinkle classes seem too far away, you should definitely, definitely, absolutely check out the Prezuki class at the Academy of Music.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Look Ma! No Jellyfish!

The jellyfish are gone from Broad Bay!!! WHY!?!? Not that I miss them, no, no, not a bit. But... where did they go? I know where we went -- SWIMMING.

Saturday was not so great. Saturday ended with us in the ER at CHKD getting a stitch in Benny's lip, because our 10 month old Boston Terrier puppy, Leroy, didn't appreciate being simultaneously sat on and peeled off of the pig ear he was gnawing. Well, I guess I wouldn't either -- eat a pig ear that is. But, Saturday is neither here nor there.

What's important is *SUNDAY*.

We woke up late and missed church, what with the late night in the ER and everything, and this is the *second* time Leroy has left a mark on Benny, and I really didn't relish telling the ladies at church that, yes, again, our completely innocuous puppy had marred our completely innocuous child, yes, and this time with stitches, how inexplicable, how droll.

We had a leisurely morning, stuffed Benny full of antibiotics, ate a substantive lunch, and then did what all parents do whose children are wounded -- we went tubing on Broad Bay! The water on the Chesapeake and in the ocean was rough, I guess from the influence of Florence, who is brewing out there in the Atlantic. So, we pointed the boat toward Broad Bay, kind of disappointed. Broad Bay is always our second choice. We prefer scouting for dolphins around the light house.

But this time it was really different! For two reasons:

First, the air show. Now, I'm not a big fan of air shows. I don't like crowds, don't like airplanes, don't like loud noises, don't like... really... any element of an air show at all. My two year old daughter, however, is in love with airplanes, my husband is so geeked about airplanes he's about to get his pilot's license, and my six year old son is reasonably infatuated with them too, so we went last year. I did not like it. This year, I pretended it did not exist. However, it DID exist, and as we pulled into the end of Linkhorn Bay, we realized a bunch of boats had put out anchors to watch -- THE BLUE ANGELS!!!

Watching the show from the boat was great, because it wasn't in the middle of a crowd of people and I wasn't standing on concrete. We got to see most, if not all, of the maneuvers, and the kids loved it. My husband's eyebrow twitched in an appreciative way, so you know he was really enjoying himself. And I didn't have too terrible of a time. What bothers me is the fact that the noise is so close to the threshold of "too loud" that it seems like it could just pop over the border at any moment, become *too loud*, and shatter my skull. But, that didn't happen.

The second wonderful thing that happened is this: as we were scooting around on the boat I was noticing that there weren't any jellyfish. Even when we threw Benny in the tube and hauled him around for a while -- no jellyfish. It seemed almost like there were *no jellyfish* in the Bay! This would mean that a person could actually swim or waterski or whatever without constantly getting electrocuted by the little floating deathglops. So we DID. We swam over to the beach in the narrows, which is part of First Landing Park, and the kids had a great time. It was soooo nice to actually SWIM in Broad Bay!

Obviously, the air show was a scheduled event, and not a mysterious happening, engineered by the universe to provide us with entertainment. But the total lack of jellyfish really did seem like a magical occurence -- I feel like we were in the water this time last year and there were just *buckets* of them. They are *always* there, ruining our swimming, getting in our pants, causing us distress. But yesterday they weren't. And it was great. Because Benny had such a miserable time on Saturday evening, getting that one awful stitch in the ER -- yesterday's perfect afternoon was just what the doctor ordered.

Then to make it supereducationalized, when they got home, Dan and Benny and Sadie sat down with Microsoft Flight Simulator and the joystick and actually got to simulate flying the same jet the Blue Angels fly! Sadie crashed repeatedly but Benny was pretty good. No, son. No jet pilot future for you! Mommy needs peace! Be an architect!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Don't Kids Need Structure?

The questions people ask and the way I answer them. Usually, I answer a question with another question. Sometimes, I admit I'm completely totally wrong. WHAT? Me wrong?

Homeschoolers field a lot of questions about what we do. People ask all kinds of things, like what we do for math, or if it's hard to homeschool with a baby around, or whatever. "Why did you decide to homeschool?" is the most common one, and I've whittled my answer to that one down to this: "We just don't have time for school."

There's one certain type of question about homeschooling that's really an implied criticism. "What about socialization?" or "Don't kids need structure?" are really ways of saying, "I think kids need socialization and structure in traditional school." I suggest two ways to deal with these questions -- either ask the person for clarification, endlessly, or to admit that the person is right and you're wrong.

Answer a question with a question. What do you mean by socialization, exactly? What kinds of kids should he be socializing with? What age of person is right for his socialization? What do you mean by structure? Do you think bells and lines are an important part of structure? What kind of structure would be too much structure, in your opinion? The key here is that you have to be SUPER innocent and direct and really truly ask these questions as if you want to know. Which, maybe, you even do -- always interesting to know how these things are perceived by people. Being snarky will exacerbate the problem, but being really genuinely interested in what that nosy neighbor has to say will deflate it. And you don't have to defend yourself or even give your opinion. If she brought it up, let her elaborate on it.

The other comeback is to say, "You know, you're right. He does need structure." Or, "You're totally right, socialization is really important." On some level, you do agree with the person -- even if the "structure" you're referring to is the frame of the car that keeps him from falling out of it onto the street, and the socialization is with his own mother and father. The point is, then the conversation is over, the nosy neighbor feels like she won, and you can move on with whatever you were going to do anyway. Who cares if she truly deeply understands and agrees with everything you're doing? She probably never would, even if you turned yourself inside out and let her examine your sweet, earnest homeschooling heart.

I think that arguing with people only pumps up the notion that homeschoolers are all frothing idealogues who want to bring down the system. The truth is we're not proselytizing, we're not out to expand our numbers, and we're not even sure *ourselves* what the exact right answers are. My main message about homeschooling, to people that ask me questions, is that it's fun and easy. I will let them decide if it's rotting my children for themselves.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue

My child is obsessed with Buzz Lightyear. Am I wrong to exploit that?

Today Benny made himself a Buzz Lightyear costume out of tape and paper. And also a colander. And a large strip of elastic. I'm sure the school kids are doing something meaningful and serious, but we are not. We are playing Buzz Lightyear.

He did his school for the day on the computer, using Disney's helpful and charming Buzz Lightyear curriculum.

For gym class, he flew around with his wings, which extend from his attack pack, activated by a (paper) button taped to his chest.

He also made me a wrist communicator, and his sister a wrist communicator. The dog is one of Zurg's evil robots. He was defeated early in the day.

Music class went thusly: Dad is the Evil Emperor Zurg (obviously). Buzz and I intercepted a communication from Zurg to one of his minions revealing that he was using a secret force field that could only be disabled by a space incapacitator. We happened to have one -- it looks a lot like a violin. Today's practice was a prep for tonight's audition for the YMV orchestra, so we were playing Gavotte from Mignon five times. We discovered from decoding the message that Zurg could be weakened by staccato sounds, so when Benny played staccato, Zurg (Dad) really went down the tubes.

Now, can I get him to take off his costume before his audition? Should I? I'm tempted to leave the costumes in place -- after all, he made me a fake bouncy ponytail, just like Mira Nova's! Can *I* at least keep wearing my costume?