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.