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?