Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Suzuki Violin at the Beach

Some people take summer lessons. Some people take the summer off. This year we didn't take any summer lessons, and I also didn't practice Benny too rigorously. I had several reasons.

One reason is that the sooner we get to Book 3, the sooner we get out of Book 3 and have to find a new teacher. I never want to find a new teacher, therefore I am not eager to get into or out of Book 3. I want to stay with Mrs. Ford forever, even if it means that Benny is playing Go Tell Aunt Rhody when he goes off to college. I don't care. No one else understands the subtle nuances of teaching Benny. Ahem. I know that sounds preposterous. I don't care. I'm not in a hurry for Book 3 to come and go, and I'm not ashamed. I have my heels planted.

Another reason was that in all the preparation for the final recital, and with the fifty day challenge and everything, Benny had lost a little of his enthusiasm for playing, and practicing was becoming too challenging. I was having to bribe him a little too much, and I like him to be more self-motivated. So, I backed off, to give him a chance to step up.

The last reason was that we were travelling, thinking about other things, concentrating on plyaing on the beach and feeding chickens at the farm and riding bikes and stuff like that.

In my opinion, the break in intensity paid off, big time.

For one thing, Benny's tone has improved enormously. I don't know whether it's because he's playing with more genuine enthusiasm, or whether he has grown physically to the point where he can handle his violin better. He just seems to have a bigger and more confident sound in general. Check out this bow hold:

I spent most of the month of May telling him to keep his pinky on top. In fact, the words, "Pinky on top" were so familiar in my mouth that sometimes I was awakened at three o'clock in the morning by my own repetitive muttering. Now the pinky is on top, magically, of its own free will.

On the topic of enthusiasm... let me show you this:


Benny gives a daily concert off the back porch of this beach condo, to the people in the pool. He has written programs for this, and announces it in a very grand and officious way. He runs through most of his Suzuki Book 2 repetoire on a daily basis. And he LOVES it. How can I, watching this, really get tough with him on whether something was sufficiently staccato or whether an up bow was really a down bow? I have just decided to enjoy the show instead. When we get back, Mrs. Ford can sort him out. And if it takes her all year... so much the better!


What can you learn from a day at the beach and the pool? You can learn to wear your sunscreen, and remember to bring your *real* shovel!

We've been at the beach in South Carolina for almost a month now. It's been completely fabulous for me and for the kids. Mostly we just fooled around in the water, lounged, cavorted, caroused, and leapt about. However, since my children are like all children, whose brains engage even while officially taking time off, I saw them learning all the time, even on a beach vacation. Here's what I mean:

When we left home we were working on a unit on the human body. Here you can see Benny's giant diagram that he made on the beach. He made several of these -- this one I photographed with Sadie standing next to it, for scale. It was pretty huge! He included the respiratory system, circulatory system, digestive system, and a lot of bones:

Every time the tide came up, his slate was washed clean, and he created lots of drawings, both educational and whimsical, on this excellent and huge slate. Drawing on the sand is great for doing math problems too. Try scratching some problems in the sand with a stick -- especially fun if the waves threaten to wipe out the problem before the kids can get to the answer.

Counting the pelicans as they cruised by in long lines became a good way for my two-year-old daughter to practice her numbers. We also counted shells, gulls, sand dollars, and waves. After a month of counting everything on the beach, I can report that she now knows to start with ONE instead of TWO. :D And she can count to twenty, pretty much.

Ahno made sand sculptures on the beach when the tide was low -- a dog, a cat, an alligator. The kids helped with these and made sculptures of their own. Sadie particularly was interested in digging and filling little buckets -- learning her little physics lessons with plastic pails and cups.

Speaking of Sadie, she had loads of fun running from the waves, meeting people, and making up crazy little dance routines. Here she is being a cheerleader. How did she come up with these moves? It wasn't from me -- must have been some kind of collective female consciousness she tapped into. She and Benny talked to everyone on the beach, meeting new people every day. Sadie's vocabulary and confidence in her speech has skyrocketed, and Benny, well, he didn't need help in the confidence department but he did very much enjoy all that quality socialization.

Both the kids took enormous strides in the pool. Benny learned to dive in headfirst and Sadie learned to jump in with the noodle and paddle herself around.

Indoors, Benny discovered the beauty of the captive audience, as he played daily afternoon concerts for the people playing in the pool. He would stand on the back porch, make his announcements, and then run through his whole Suzuki repertoire. This lead to all kinds of good academic stuff, including copying out programs for everyone, writing a letter about it to his violin teacher, and scripting his shows (including his dancing two-year-old sister/monkey).

Possibly the most exciting academic progress that we made this month was Benny's discovery of the Captain Underpants series, and his subsequent excitement about reading aloud to himself (or to his many stuffed dogs) late into the night. I'm sure the homeschooling community will now perforate my head with their hobnailed boots because not only did I let my child read Captain Underpants, but I also let him stay up until *after 10 pm* doing it. Forgive me -- it is too precious to hear him in there reading with such elaborate expression, all about the talking toilets and Professor Poopypants and the rest of it. He loves Captain Underpants. And this is the first chapter book series that has caught his attention. I don't care if it's crude. This is a six-year-old boy who thinks armpit farts are the height of comedy. Captain Underpants for everyone!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Human Anatomy Lesson: Bodies on the Beach

You will need one beach, one stick, and one little sister.

Draw a HUUUUGE human body outline, the biggest you can possibly imagine. Now fill in all the organs and parts you know, and label it until it becomes tiresome. Then run away into the ocean and have your sister show off your work to the camera.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Notice of Intent to Homeschool

I wrote my official "notice of intent to homeschool," stapled it to a copy of my college diploma, and I'm ready to become official.

My real Notice of Intent (or NOI) starts like this:

I am providing notice of my intention to provide home instruction for the child listed below as provided for by 22.1-254.1 of the Code of Virginia (1950) as amended, in lieu of having him attend school.

Then I have to attach my diploma and say what my curriculum is going to be, and I have to give the name and age of Benny and other useful information.

What I'd really like to say is something like this:

Dear Superintendent,

I really have no problem with your schools and I'm sure the first grade teachers in your district are fantastic. I'm happy to keep paying you with our taxes, and I appreciate you educating all those kids to the best of your ability. However, I won't be sending Benny to you this year. We just don't have the time.

We want to play the violin, go swimming, ride bikes, do karate, play in the backyard, pretend to be fish, go to the beach, the zoo, the museums, and the circus, visit Ecuador, Disney World, our grandparents, and France. When it's nice outside, we want to go outside. When it's raining or cold, we want to dive into projects that take three days, we want to spend a whole afternoon making playdoh fossils and we can't be bothered to wake up at 7, because I'm afraid we stayed up until 11 reading. We don't want Benny answering to bells, closing books before he's finished or staring at them long after he's lost interest, waiting to eat and use the bathroom, waiting for Tuesdays to do art, waiting for Thursdays to do music, we want to do music all day every day and art whenever we feel like it, and we want to wake up and decide each morning exactly what we want to do that day, and play with our friends a lot, and not have to pack everything cool into the hours between school and dinner. We don't want Benny to do any homework. And I have to be honest with you -- sometimes we just want to play Playstation for 4 hours or watch TV or just lie around. We also want him to help teach his sister the alphabet, and take long baths at strange times, and stay in the pool as long as he wants and sing at the top of his lungs while he's doing his math, and we want him to pick books at the library that are way too hard for him, or way too easy, and spend a long time drawing things we can't figure out, and play with the dog, and go out on the boat, and jump on trampolines, and...

Well, you can see that with all this stuff that we want to do, there's no way we can give you our child from 8:25 in the morning until 2:45 in the afternoon, so while I appreciate everything that our Norfolk Public School has to offer, I will be keeping my child with his family this year, and we'll let you know next year how it all turned out.


Speaking of flexible schedules, we're going to South Carolina for a month. We *will* be back for the first day of school, but I think we'll sleep in that day, then maybe go to the playground.

Human Anatomy Lesson: Blank Kids

This is a very simple project that my children really liked. The idea is to make a blank life-sized "kid" that you can label with all the parts of the human body that you know. We called them flat kids (not to be confused with Flat Stanley, who is actually flat, and a whole different thing) and before we labelled them all up, we dressed them for this photo shoot:

You'll need a large piece (as large as your child) of fabric that's white or beige, or tan, or pink, or any color you can label with markers. We used some old bed sheets. Double up the fabric and try to smooth all the wrinkles out of it, so you have a front and back for your flat kid. Have your child lie down on the fabric and position his arms and legs kind of like a paper doll. Then draw around him, leaving lots of extra room. Make the head bigger and rounder, and don't make the crotch come to a point -- make it more of a gentle arc. :)

Cut out on the line, or have your child cut it out if he's adept with the fabric scissors. Then sew it up, leaving a space at the waist for turning and stuffing. Clip the seam allowance at the curves and trim around the points so it looks smooth when you turn and stuff. Then... you guessed it... turn and stuff! :)

When you've stuffed it (you'll need about one bag of stuffing for each foot your child is tall), stitch up the hole at the waist. At this point I put faces on ours, so they didn't look so creepy (to me). You could also add hair -- I am meaning to do this but haven't yet. Get out the Sharpies! It's time for permanent marker fun! Wheeee!!!

My two-year-old daughter did not want to label hers, so we left her dressed and she sleeps in Sadie's bed with her. My son, however, was eager to label "Flat Benny" with all his parts, so we did one side the skeletal system and one side everything else we've learned so far (digestive, respiratory, circulatory, etc).

Now Benny sleeps with his flat Benny too! Kind of like a body pillow but educational, and with a urinary tract drawn in excruitiating detail. :)

Check it out, Boy+ Academy did this project too!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Colonial Place Community Bike Ride

Benny was so excited to do this, and he loved it more than I can describe. If Sheila Janes would organize a community bike ride once a month for crime prevention or any other reason, I'll bring the water! A whole gang of people on bikes set off from beside the dog park on Deleware and Llewellyn, and meandered all through Colonial Place and Riverview. Benny (and his Dad) rode along for over four miles of it, then when the ride passed the dog park again, Benny and Dad peeled off, Benny to come and drink water and go home to bed, and Dad to go off on his regular 30 mile ride.

Can I just say that I cannot believe I allowed my child, even under the watchful eye of his very efficient father, to go out on the STREET and ride his bike WITHOUT TRAINING WHEELS for four miles?!!? I'm not only learning to let go, I'm starting to go insane. Okay, he wasn't the only kid on the ride, but... I wouldn't have thought myself capable. I didn't even run after the pack screaming, "DON'T KILL MY BABY!" I barely even thought about doing it.

Nothing bad happened. Benny came back triumphant, having crowed the whole way about riding his two-wheeler and how great it was to be riding "in traffic" (help me) and doing the Tour de Colonial Place with Dad. Benny sure loves his bike. I hope a lot of people registered their bikes with the police last night and that raising awareness of bike theft will keep other kids from losing their favorite toys.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Drawstring Pouch Instruction

I've been making little pouches for the items we find in geocaches, like travel bugs and geocoins and whatnot. Of course you could use these little bags for any old thing you wanted, including hiding prizes, hoarding treasure, or delivering cake. Of course, the cake thing might not work out so well, what with fabric being permeable by frosting. But you could try.

I made a few with buttons:

I really wanted to do a drawstring one though. Today I did manage a drawstring one with help from Nico at It's Your Life. I didn't exactly follow her directions but the pictures helped me finally figure out what the heck I was supposed to do with that lousy drawstring channel.

Here's my drawstring pouch:

It's just what I wanted. The Frog Log travel bug is going in it and going to Nevada, although I'm not sure the other travel bug I sent out there ever made it. Mental note: Call Kristen.

Here are *my* directions, unhelpfully unillustrated in ten steps each:

1. Cut two rectangles about as wide and more than twice as high as you want your bag to finish.
2. Sew up the side seams on each rectangle, so you end up with two little pockets.
3. Turn one right side out and tuck it down inside the other one, so the right sides are together.
4. Sew around the top where the raw edges are, leaving an inch to turn.
5. Turn it all right side out and stuff the lining down inside the bag.
6. Fold it down once, and topstitch around the top edge, enclosing the part where you left it open to turn.
7. Put a button on the inside of the back and a buttonhole on the front -- BANG you're done.
8. Smile warmly.
9. Pat yourself on the back.
10. Call your mother and congratulate her for raising such a fine child.

1. Cut two rectangles just as wide and twice as high as you want your bag to finish.
2. Sew up the side seams on each rectangle, so you end up with two little pockets.
3. Turn one right side out and tuck it down inside the other one, so the right sides are together.
4. Cut another rectangle, about 3 inches wide and long enough to go ALMOST all the way around the top of your bag.
5. Hem the short ends of it a little big.
6. Fold it over, wrong sides together, and tuck it down between the two layers of bag that you already have.
7. Sew through all four layers, leaving one inch to turn.
8. Turn it all right side out and stuff the lining down inside the bag.
9. Topstitch around under the drawstring channel, capturing the little edges where you left it open to turn.
10. Stick a safety pin on one end of a ribbon and pull it through -- BANG. Done.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Life in the Country

We recently returned from a vacation in the country. I just posted an article on my official homeschooling blog at the local paper's web site, about how being there allowed me to release a little of my strangle hold on Benny's safety and well being, and trust him the tiniest bit to not immediately die if I'm not watching him.

Summer in the Country

We recently spent some time at my family's farm in Pennsylvania. We haven't been there since Benny was three. This tim around, I found myself letting go of a lot of things that would have had me screaming my head off, three years ago.

When I was a child we went to "The Farm" every summer. My parents were school teachers, and they'd hung on to this property in Pennsylvania, where they used to live full time, as a summer home. I climbed trees, rode horses, hiked in the woods, and in general stepped outside my narrow urban experience for a few months of the year.

Now, I am a parent. Tree climbing no longer means escaping to a staggering height to stay there with a book all through the afternoon while your mother wonders where you are. Tree climbing now means hysterically imagining trips to the emergency room, with broken arms, legs, and heads, and that type of thing. Riding a pony no longer means feeling the animal move under you, and the wind in your hair, and civilization at your back. Now it means believing with certainty that the pony is most likely crazy, and only wants to scrape your precious baby off on the nearest tree, and then trample him/her into the moss as it neighs in evil triumph. What a difference twenty years and two pregnancies makes.

The last time we were at "The Farm," Benny was three years old. I hovered over him like a swarm of bees, guiding him away from anything sharp, high, cold, or made out of poison. This time around, he was six, and I had little Sadie to hover over. The question on everyone's mind, as we made plans for our trip, was this: Will Lydia be able to release her deathgrip on Benny's safety at all? Or will she hover over BOTH of them, relentlessly, forcing them into a small, resentful unit that marches before her in only the safest of safety?

Let me tell you.

There are trees in the front yard, at the farm. They are tall. They are taller than the house. Benny, naturally, being a six-year-old boy, was attracted to these trees as a duck is attracted to water. Or, as a duck is attracted to a whistling precipice where he probably plummets to his certain death.


Me (pulse racing): Aren't you ready to come down, now, Benny?


Me (eyes popping): Okay, but be careful, okay? Okay? Because if youf all, it will not be good. You will get hurt! Hurt I tell you!!!


Me (blood draining from extremities to hide cowering in heart): Okay, but are you at your highest point yet? Mommy's not feeling okay about you going so high!


Me: *thud*

Did I let him climb the tree, all the way up to the top, all the way past the roof? Did I let her ride the pony? I did, repeatedly. By the end of our time there, I even said things like, "Go play outside for a while Benny. It's going to be bathtime soon." Then I would open the door, bustle him out, and continue feeding the dog or pulling the baby in the wagon, or whatever. I did relax. It was, at times, not at all relaxing, but I did manage to do it.

He also learned to ride his bicycle without training wheels, and I learned not to hold onto the back of his seat. He read himself to sleep at night, after our reading time together was over. And he got to be in charge of the dog.

The country was good for us. You never realize you can let go and allow your child to expand in these ways until you're in the situation, and you see yourself doing it. I'm assuming, though I can't imagine it right now, that this will be the case when he wants to drive, go to college, get married -- those other dangerous projects. One breathless conversation with him climbing, climbing inexorably up, and then he will be there, alive, and I will have survived it too.

Skeleton Lesson: Meringue Bones

The first thing you should do is sit down and write down all the bones you know, and draw a picture of the skeleton. You'll need to think about scale when you're making your meringue bones.

Now it's time to make your skeleton! You will need:

1. A good meringue recipe and this probably involves a mixer, unless you have a robotic superarm capable of creating "stiff peaks" in egg whites. You be the judge. Little confectioner's sugar, little egg white, around and around, and bam you have meringue.

2. Large ziploc baggy. You'll need to cut a small hole in the very tip so you can squeeeeeeze out your meringue onto the cookie sheets.

3. A lot of cookie baking sheets and parchment paper. You can get parchment paper to line your cookie sheets in the baking section at the grocery store.

4. A large space to set out your skeleton when the pieces have finished baking!


A couple of hints:

If you do this on a humid day (like we did) your bones will soon be sticky (like ours were). This can work to your benefit if you want to connect them, but it can also get all over your fingers. You have been warned. They'll come out of the oven nice and crispy, and then gradually they'll start to kinda sweat. This of course will not bother the children at all.

Baked meringue is brittle, so make your bones thicker than you may think you need to make them. If you have leftover meringue, go back over the piece you've already made and thicken them up. For tiny bones like the phalanges and metacarpals and whatnot, it's easier to not make each individual bone, but rather make a little web with all the bones touching.

When you are removing the meringue from the parchment, pick it up and peel the paper off the bones, rather than trying to lift the bones off the flat paper. Some will break, and that's okay! When you lay them out, just lay the pieces together.

This skeleton is FAT FREE, in more ways than one. Enjoy!

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