Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Basketball for Short People

I haven't thrown a basketball around since I was in high school gym class, which I violently hated. So what is Benny in love with? Basketball.

Here's one to file under "What POSSIBLE qualification do you have to teach your child THAT?"

Several times in the last few months, when we go to the playground, Benny has gotten very interested in the basketball games going on, and has even gotten himself invited to join in a few. Of course, he is hopeless at it. He's tall enough to ride on Space Mountain, but not tall enough to get a basketball up and through a hoop.

So, he needs to practice dribbling and shooting, I assume. I'm about as skilled in basketball moves as I am in ballet. That is to say, not at all skilled. And our resident tall man in the family isn't exactly the team sport type either. I cannot pretend and I cannot lie. We are hopeless at basketball.

Here's what I know, from high school gym class:

1. You have to dribble.
2. You can't grab the other guy.
3. When shooting, bend your knees.

And that's about it. I know there are positions on the team like right wing and forward ho and quarterback, except probably not those. I know that points can be made by persuading the ball to go through the net. Free throws? Three pointers? Everything else is filtering in from vague memories of watching the Detroit Pistons win the World Series when I was a kid. What? Not the World Series? The Stanley Cup then? No?

So, you get that our family is a little sports-retarded. But we are, in our defense, willing to flump around on the basketball court and try.

In other news, the 57th Carnival of Homeschooling is live, and my post about the opera was included. It is always an interesting collection of homeschooling blogs, and this week is no exception.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Handel's Agrippina at the Virginia Opera

How do you take a seven-year-old to see baroque opera? Don't listen to the lady in the seat behind you.

This afternoon we took Benny to see the Virginia Opera production of Agrippina at the Harrison Opera House. Benny is seven years old. The opera is over three hours long. And we all had a great time. So, how did we accomplish this?

1. Good seats. You won't save money sitting in the nosebleed seats, because kids need to be near the action, or they drift. On the other hand, you don't want to be *right* in the front, because you might need to vacate. We had seats in the middle.

2. Listen in advance. We bought the CD weeks ago and have been listening in the car. Agrippina is a fairly obscure opera (I think) and we didn't actually get a complete recording, but by the time we went to the show, Benny (and his two-year-old sister Sadie) could sing a few of the arias, and the music had a familiar sound. I bet that before we go to the Pirates of Penzance in April, we know all the songs! :D

3. Know your characters. The plot of Agrippina is extremely complicated, and also based on sexual intrigue and political power plays. I knew I was not going to be able to tell this to him as a bedtime story. However, knowing the characters goes a long way.

4. Plot with stickers. Before we left, I broke down the plot into many bullet points, and printed out each act on a separate piece of paper. Then, I put this in a binder and we took it to the opera house. As each plot point rolled by, we put a sticker beside it, including a giant sticker for the end of each act. If you're taking your kid to see Agrippina and you want my kid-friendly plot breakdown, leave a comment with your email address and I'll send it to you.

5. Pay no attention to that lady behind you. If your kid is actually misbehaving, take him out. Better yet, if he's likely to misbehave, don't take him to the opera. But, be aware that some people will always be crabby. The lady behind us today was objecting to Benny periodically stretching and putting his arms up in the air. She actually would reach forward and push his arms down. She also kept saying this loudly to her husband (who was sitting behind Dan): "Well, I don't know how you can see ANYTHING past that MAN and his HEAD." As if... Dan had installed an extra large and tall head just to prevent anyone from seeing the show. The husband patiently repeated: "You are talking so loud that they are going to hear you." Now, I'm the first person to acknowledge when my child is being disruptive, but I had to place this lady's views into context. She was also uset that my husband brought his head to the opera. Okay, he's six feet tall, but that's not freakishly huge or anything. She should have been happy she was sitting behind a seven year old. Even one with spiky hair.

6. Aerobic intermission. We went up and down stairs, back and forth, and all around. And to the bathroom, natch, after 80 minutes in the first act! Note: The cappuchino at the Harrison Opera House is actually really good.

7. Life Savers. If you're going to sneak snacks into the opera, don't sneak anything that rattles in the bag or crunches in the teeth. We took Life Savers, which neither rattle nor crunch, especially when you tell the child they are magic medicine that will help him not wiggle for as long as he holds then on his tongue.

8. Sense of humor. Inevitably, there will be some kind of loud outburst, like the child saying cheerfully, "I'M DONE!" right in the most emotional song, when the orchestra pauses, and the character on stage is rending his garments. It is okay, nay, it is required, that you just laugh and move on, during moments like this. Chances are the people around you are mildly amused like you are, not righteously annoyed like you're imagining they are. And remember, that lady in the row behind you disqualified herself as a judge of polite behavior when she loudly observed that your husband had an opaque skull.

9. Beautiful sets. The visuals in this production of Agrippina were really gorgeous. Not only were they interesting for me and my husband to look at, they were very engaging for Benny. It's amazing how much thought and work goes into the lighting, the set design, and just planning the way the characters will move on the stage. I'm not a theater person, and I don't know the right terminology to describe what I'm talking about, but there was a lot to look at, and that really helped Benny (and the rest of us) enjoy the show.

10. Opera stars. Sujung Kim is absolutely riveting as Agrippina. It was hard to look away, when she was on stage. And Jane Redding, as Poppea, was hilarious, even to Benny who didn't understand (I hope) the flirtations and machinations going on. I'm sorry, male opera people, but the ladies just blew it out today, and the guys didn't particularly impress me. EXCEPT FOR: The silent chorus. Again, I'm not an expert and I don't really know how to describe this, but there were six guys in tuxedos who never said or sang a word, but just about stole the show with their subtlety, their symbolism, and their antics. I *really* enjoyed those guys.

So, that's how we did it -- by the skin of our teeth and with some tolerance and planning. You might ask... *but why???* Isn't the opera something grownup that you do without kids, because it's nice to be out without them, and they don't appreciate it anyway? Hmm. You would understand our motivation if you heard Benny answer the question: "What was your favorite part of Agrippina?" His answer: "It was all my favorite. I loved it. I just loved it."

We're also going to the Family Day showing of Pirates of Penzance. Do you have any tips for surviving the opera with kids? I would love to add them to my arsenal!

The Walrus Test

Here's a run-down of our homeschool day, including a test for you, written by Benny, on a very important topic: Walruses.

The first thing we did was the walrus test.

The children have been avidly reading all about walruses. This was an area of inquiry that was prompted by Benny's memorization of "The Walrus and the Carpenter," by Lewis Carroll. We still haven't found a decent book about oysters.

Anyway, here is the walrus test, for your enjoyment, with Benny's spellings intact. I still can't grasp why he misspells things that are spelled correctly in a book right in front of him. I gather it'll be one of those things over which I have no control, which end up working out fine, like when he used to refuse to write lower case, and now he does it just fine. See how you do -- this test was delivered to us as Benny wrote it, and I have to tell you that he set his parents against each other in walrus-trivia cometition. I won. But I think Dan threw it.

1. Do Walruses Kill Humens?
2. Dose a Walrus (symbol for male) have pups?
3. Dose a Walres Have Wiskers?
4. Can Walruses Dive?
5. Can A Walus Hunt?
*at this point we had a conversation about yes-or-no questions and how it would be more challenging to have other kinds of questions too*
6. How Meny pups are there?
7. What are Walruses Like?
8. Waht are these:(picture of two bananas hanging from a hairy shelf)?
9. Do Walruses live in the North or Soth?
10. Is a (symbol for female) Walrus a cow or Bull?

After walrus class, we made muffins. Benny did almost all of it himself, but he did let Sadie help. Then Benny practiced his violin, and Sadie surprised us all by picking up his instrument (which is WAY too big for her) and managing to play Tuka-Tuka-Stop-Stop on the A string. Astonishing. And we all thought she was still under the weather today!

After lunch, we went to Ahno's house for a while. Benny did a poem show for Ahno and made it *almost* all the way through "The Walrus and the Carpenter" without any prompts. I'd say I gave him about 3 words, but really, that is the best yet.

When we got back home Benny practiced his multiplication using his "Garfield's Third Grade Math" software, and then finished his curriculum for the day by doing a few Rosetta Stone lessons.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Ballet Dilemma

I will admit to certain prejudices concerning ballet. When I was a teenager, I had barn boots on my feet and horses on my mind. I neither understood nor appreciated the ballerina mindset. So now that I have this very pink, very glitter, very ballerina-obsessed girl child, can I swallow my preconceptions and put her in a leotard?

Sadie is three. She spent her Christmas vacation in Wisconsin doing this:

What's happening in this picture? That's Sadie, in the pink, and Sydney, her cousin, in the lavender. They're wearing their ballerina dress-up clothes, provided by Grammy, and they're dancing along with the videos of Sydney's mom (Sadie's Aunt Terri) doing her dance recitals when she was a teen. They did this for hours. Wearing gloriously impractical sparkly shoes and copying all the moves they saw the kids do on TV.

Since then, Sadie has spent so much time in her ballerina costume that the tulle actually wore off. For her birthday, she got several more princess/ballerina/dancing/fairy costumes, which are all her "ballerina clothes" and she wears them daily. Her favorite movies are "Barbie in The Twelve Dancing Prinesses" and "Barbie in The Nutcracker." Getting her out of her leotard produces a noise that makes you think she's being eviscerated.

Can I still argue that she doesn't really want to learn ballet?

In my mind, and I fully accept that I am ignorant and prejudiced, signing her up for ballet is as good as asking for her to be melancholy and body-obsessed. In my mind, and yes I remember that she is three and I am being neurotic, she takes ballet and she's off the road that leads her to be a senator, and astrophysicist, an admiral, a heart surgeon -- WHATEVER.

So, I went looking for a ballet school. Looking for a ballet school was like looking for a karate school. I wanted somewhere between serious and ridiculous. The ridiculous school is the one that turns out ballet students like McDonald's hamburgers. Where they only want to enroll students, collect fees, roll them through the recitals, and pass them on to more classes, even if their moves look like old ladies fighting off bees. Serious is where the children walk around looking like they're sucking in their stomachs, the teachers shriek, "What's wrong with you today!" and anyone whose hair comes out of her bun gets to scrub the bathroom.Okay, I'm exaggerating on both ends, maybe, but you get my point. I visited schools. I was uninfatuated.

Then I found Art of Dance Academy on the internet and learned that Miss Monique is the art director there. Miss Monique taught Benny's dance class when he was at Preschool for the Arts, over in Virginia Beach. I had a feeling that if I went and put Sadie in Miss Monique's hands, that nothing bad would happen to her. And after our school visit, I was convinced. The "Dance Discovery" class that Sadie has joined is so delightful! They do half ballet and half tap, and it is all very sweet, light, fun, positive, and dear.

I wanted a place where Sadie could put on "ballerina clothes" and prance around with other girls. Where she wouldn't be criticized but also wouldn't be ignored. I don't know whether she'll stick with ballet or whether this ballerina phase will be outgrown, but I do feel good taking her to the Art of Dance AcademyArt of Dance Academy -- after getting her first ballet shoes from Miss Monique, Sadie gave her a big hug and said, "We best friends." Nice! Sadie never hugs anyone but Dan. Here they are after Sadie's first class on Thursday -- I think it's a great connection!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"History Alive" at the Virginia Opera

Benny (age 7) had his first date. He took his best friend Zoe (age 6) to the "History Alive" show, by the Virginia Opera, at the Norfolk Fitness and Wellness Center. He sat on the other side of the aisle from her, and chatted up a bunch of senior citizens during the show. Do you think she'll still marry him?

The Virginia Opera sends out teams of opera-tors to schools and community centers, to spread the opera love. Today we went to see "History Alive!" which is about the history of Virginia. I took Benny and his little friend Zoe.

The show was great -- little snappy songs about all the things that have happened to Virginia like presidents, sufrage, wars, witch hunts, and the like. Three boisterous and cheerful young operaniacs belted it out, accompanied by a brisk upright piano. Here are two of the three singers:

My favorite songs were the ones about all the presidents who have come from Virginia, and the one about women voting. My least favorite songs were the opener and closer, which were about how Virginia is great and the operaniacs love it. Those were a little reminiscent of the Dave Barry send-up of travelogues which represent each state as "dynamic."

Benny loved it. LOVED it. He went immediately backstage after the performance and proclaimed, "YOU guys have the best show EVER." He remarked later, in the car, "Now I know for sure that Virginia is the best state!" So, it was effective as a branding tool, if not as delivery system for historical facts. It was almost too long for this age of kid, but Benny, who is notoriously wiggly, actually sat through it all without making noise or oozing onto the floor. Zoe, who is always virtuous, was especially so.

Here are cast, and the kids, along with two other cute little homeschoolers that we met there, of the Bryan family, in the middle. They are also violinists! And we had a charming conversation about horses, too.

I'm so pleased we braved the snowstorm in Talbot Park to see this performance. It was a real pleasure -- for the kids and for me too. Seeing opera singers like this was kind of like seeing a band you like in a small club, where you can get right down front and hear every word, see every blink. Sunday we're going to see Agrippina at the opera house -- we'll see how Handel compares!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rainbow Over Chicago

In which I use a rainbow as a metaphor. Revolutionary! I'm sure this has never been done before!

At Christmas time, we drove for two days to get to Marshfield, Wisconsin. My husband's family lives there. It is a long, long trip, let me tell you. The length of this trip that we make to Wisconsin was the reason I changed my mind about the whole TV-in-the-vehicle idea. When Benny was a toddler, I went from haughtily saying "Is there no place that children are safe from the degrading influence of television??" to peevishly saying "Isn't there some way we can hang the screen closer to his face?" It's a long drive.

On our way to Wisconsin, we go through Chicago. Depending on what time of day it is, we often take a side trip down Lake Shore Drive, and wind our way up Sheridan, through the old neighborhood. Sometimes we even drive past our old apartment and reminisce about when we had to identify our vehicle by the antenna because the rest was buried under six feet of snow. When we get done with Chicago, and the northern suburbs are floating past us, we know we are almost there. At that point in the trip, this time, we saw this:

A double rainbow, right across the freeway, starting over there and ending right over here:

Completely amazing. Maybe the pictures don't do it justice, or maybe they do, I can't really tell because I remember it so clearly. It was without a doubt the best rainbow I have ever seen. Both of the children were delighted. I was delighted. It was delightful.

It led to a brief discussion of what makes rainbows, and how light is refracted, and what colors are in sunlight. The conversation was brief because A) my child is seven and B) I don't really know PRECISELY what makes rainbows take that shape, but it will for sure lead to a book from the library, and a deeper investigation. Now that they've seen a really spectacular, clear, strong rainbow with their own eyes, the book will make sense.

That may be the best rainbow I ever see in my life. It occurred to me, as I was driving, that the only way Dan and I would have seen this rainbow, and the only way the kids would have seen it, is if we made this trip. This is a trip that I obviously dread, not because of the visit, but because of the trip itself. But, the only way to see that particular rainbow was to get out the door and take the trip.


The rainbow was a catalyst for a teaching moment, about light and refraction and whatnot. Moreover, seeing the rainbow was also like running into other teaching moments, randomly throughout our lives. We encounter them without planning to, without organizing it. One of the major things I've learned about homeschooling in the last couple of years is that I can really trust the learning to happen, at random times, when there is a perfect illustration in front of them, if I get out into the world with the kids.

Here's an example: During Sadie's swimming lesson at the YMCA, Benny and I were sitting in the hot tub, watching. We had been swimming in the pool, and then we sat in the hot tub for about 20 minutes, and then we got back in the pool. When we got back into the pool, it was REALLY cold, and Benny noticed this. We discussed the reasons why the water felt colder, the idiom "Everything is relative" and we looked at the temperature of the pool and hot tub (on the wall) and using what we knew about the temperature of the human body, we speculated what temperature would feel too cold or too hot, etc.

This could have been learned from a book. But it was better to teach it right there, at that very moment, when we were freezing after sitting in the hot tub. Like it was easier to talk about the refraction of white light when we were standing, open-mouthed, gaping at a beautiful rainbow. And what I am learning, as I keep doing this, is that I have to first make sure that we're out in the world, where rainbows occur, and that I'm paying attention, so I can annoy my children with educational information just as soon as the rainbow fades.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sadie is Three

She's been three for five whole days. In that time, she started ballet lessons, acquired a penchant for wearing her Cinderella dress around the house, and learned how to correct me for not saying "bless you" promptly when she sneezes. Charming.

Here she is:

How am I supposed to cope with this person GETTING OLDER? Possibly even someday hollering at me, "MOM I HATE YOU - YOU NEVER UNDERSTAND ME" before she slams the bedroom door and throws herself on her bed? Maybe even leaving the house without me? Going to college? Getting married? Changing diapers on her own kid?


That was me dying inside.

In better news, the birthday was fantastic. We drove to the balloon store and got a dozen balloons, drove to the cake store and got her Ballerina Pink Princess Magic Sparkle Glamor Barbie cake, and then had a small party with our closest friends and family, right at our house. It was so nice. Everyone ate cake and sang and Sadie blew out candles, and then she played outside with her brother and her two best friends, and it was very very sweet and calm and charming. Maybe next year we'll do the serious birthday party situation, but I'm glad we got one more year in where the action happens in the living room and the kid can just relax at her party. Benny wants to have his at the YMCA this year. I guarantee that will not be relaxing for anyone.

Here she is, the birthday girl. I think she looks just awesome in a tiara. ;D

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Library Roundup

_Mr Gumpy's Outing_ by John Burningham.

When I was a little girl my parents read me this book and I, reportedly, loved it, so when I found it on the shelf I was thrilled to read it again, particularly about the pig "mucking about." The story goes like this: Mr. Gumpy goes for a ride in his punt on the river, and a lot of animals and children ask for rides, and he gives them strict instructions for boat behavior, which they eventually grossly violate, and then they all go in the drink. And go home and have tea. Yes, the story is a wee bit British. What strikes me as an adult, reading the book, is the casual loving way with which the children are included along with the other animals -- pigs, dog, children, goat, etc. It is a very sweet book and Benny and Sadie love it and find it hilarious. Publisher's Weekly's review of it presents it as a moral tale on boat safety. What a bunch of loons. ;D

_Hedgie Blasts Off_ by Jan Brett

Is anyone better than Jan Brett? No. Jan Brett is awesome. Her illustrations are over-the-top great. Unmatched. Superb. In this book, Hedgie (of _Hedgie's Surprise_) returns to go on an outer space adventure. The story isn't exactly Moby Dick, friends, but who cares? The hedgehog gets to go to space and everyone learns a fine lesson about not throwing things in fountains. My favorite thing about the illustrations in this one is how all the scientists are dogs, all the reporters are birds... and how these species take on their roles without anyone mentioning it or noticing it. I just love that -- it reminds me of her _Comet's Nine Lives_ which I really liked. This book is very cute. The kids love it.

_The Diggers_ by Margaret Wise Brown

This is a new edition with new man-and-machine oil painting illustrations. The story here is weird -- it's much more surreal and asymmetrical than Margaret Wise Brown's usual fare. There's no regular rhyme scheme, there's no cyclical story, and nothing really works out in the end. *I* like this, and found the kind of tangential expansiveness interesting and cool. But fans of _The Runaway Bunny_ and _Goodnight Moon_ and that kind of thing might find themselves out of their comfort zone. The illustrations are VERY cool though, and a big steam shovel digs all the way under a mountain. Good for kids who like construction machines!

_Woody, Hazel, and Little Pip_ by Elsa Maartman Beskow

This book is so darling and charming. For some reason, when I cracked it open, I thought it would be too quiet for Benny and too slow for Sadie. No. They were both riveted. It is a very precious little story about tiny little people who live in trees -- we never ascertained whether they were fairies or pixies or what. They have a little adventure and then everyone has a party. It's the detail of the illustrations, the thoughtful way in which this little world is completely imagined, and the boldness of the "naughty" children who go off on an oak leaf and end up delivering beards to trolls. Very good story! The children give it four thumbs up!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

McDonald's Bear

Benny did his first sewing project this week, with a real needle that is sharp and everything, holding it in his hand where it could have at any moment flown wildly into the air and punctured his skull. And I didn't have a panic attack!

I decided I needed to make a Teddy bear. This is something I haven't tried before, and I thought it would be fun for the kids and I to do this together.
First, I let the kids pick out the fabric. The fabric they chose is something *only* children would pick -- it has McDonald's logos and Ronald McDonald's face all over it in a bright red and yellow repeating pattern. It hardens your arteries just looking at it. Wow. If I were to make a bear using only my own asthetic choices... I would certainly have chosen something different. But hey.
Next, I found a pattern on the internet, and printed it out, enlarged it via eyeballing it, and drew it onto cardboard. Then I cut it out with my own gnarled arthritic fingers. I modified it a tiny bit -- added a gusset to the middle of the head, and changed the arm shape a little. The pattern I chose was the simplest one I could find.
The kids helped me lay out the pattern on the fabric, figure out how many pieces to cut, and trace it onto the fabric with a Sharpie. Then I cut it out. I wish I could have relinquished the scissors on this step but... sometimes you have to take a *little* control or they'll be sad with the final product with has radically different arms, no legs, and a hole in its stomach.
Benny helped run the sewing machine -- he does the foot pedal and I yell STOP! GO! SLOW! NO STOP! NO GO! and somehow we got the pieces together. Then I clipped the curves and they helped me turn and stuff it.
This was an exciting moment for them, because they could really visualize the end product. Benny really really wanted to sew with the real needle and thread and be in charge of closing up the openings. So I let him do one leg and one arm while I did the rest. It was so completely darling watching him bite his lip, wrinkle his forehead, and earnestly sew:

He also tried to do the head attachment, since I think he interpreted this as the most significant part (and it is!) but after wrestling with it for a while, he asked me to do it. After we were done, and before I sewed on the button eyes and embroidered the nose, I went upstairs to get Sadie dressed. As I was coming down the stairs, Benny reported cheerfully, "WELL! He's all decorated!" He had used the green Sharpie to draw on eyes, nose, claws, mouth, and a big giant S on his belly, with a green border.
I gulped down my "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE" and said, "What's the S for? Is it Superbear?"
"No," he said, "It's for Sadie. I made this bear for Sadie to have. That S tells her it's hers."
Well. Okay. So you can draw on your bear with a green Sharpie any time. And if you want to make it out of ridiculous McDonald's fabric, that's okay too. Just keep being such a sweetheart, and everything will be fine by me.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Multiplication Table Look Out!

Do you want to know a secret?

I never learned my multiplication table. This is actually true.

Somehow I made it through three semesters of calculus and analytic geometry at this questionably situated school without being able to tell you what 7x7 is. I mean, yes, given a few seconds, I have the ability to figure it out, but if you jump out at me from behind the doorway and say "QUICK -- WHAT IS SEVEN TIMES SEVEN?" you will be met with a blank stare.

Benny get borrowing and carrying now, and can tell time and make change, and all that other stuff, so the next thing is... multiplication table. I was actually approaching this with a little trepidation, given my own incapacity on this subject, but yesterday morning I decided to get on with it. Now I see I didn't need to worry. He is doing just fine.

I started off by drawing a grid with four squares. I put an X in the top left square, and a 1 in the other squares. Then I drew a grid with nine squares. An X in the top left square, one and two across the top, one and two down the side, and I filled in everything but the four, and gave it to him. He didn't totally know what it was, but eventually he guessed that a four belonged in that hole, and I told him that was right.

Then I drew a grid with sixteen squares, and had him fill them all in. Which he did. And we ended up with this:

This morning, I gave him the grid with 64 squares and he filled it all in again. I've also written out some problems for him to do, like 3x5=___ and also like 3x___=15 and he's doing just fine with those too. It's... pretty miraculous. At no time did I ever explain how filling in the table is like counting by 3s or 5s or whatever, and I didn't tell him how to follow the columns and rows to find answers, and I didn't really explain anything at any time. He figured it all out, because as it builds on itself, it really makes sense. And if you are allowed to see it as a whole thing, I guess, that becomes clear to you pretty fast.

He hasn't memorized his multiplication table yet, and we're only up to the 7s, really. But it's day 2 of our effort to tackle this new skill, and I'd say it's going swimmingly. Once again, I stand amazed at how very little time it actually takes to teach a child, when you are giving them one-on-one attention, and presenting the material in a way specifically tailored to the child's own learning style. I expect to be up to the 12s by the end of the week, and let me tell you: We are doing all of this BEFORE NINE AM. Before the little sister even wakes up.

Which means that when the sister wakes up, there is lots of time for more important stuff like this:

Another happy homeschool day!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year

In which I resolve to blog every single day. WOOPS -- I guess I forgot to blog yesterday. Well, there's always 2008. No, but seriously, in which I make 10 homeschooling resolutions for the coming year.

Not all unschoolers are freewheeling rock stars with no thought for tomorrow. Some of us wild woollly renegades who eschew formal curriculums still make plans and goals for our homeschooling year. Last year my objectives were pretty vague and insubstantial, but this year, since Benny is old enough to kind of understand and participate in his own goal-making, I decided to formalize it somewhat.

1. Benny gets his blue belt. Benny does Tang Soo Do, which is Korean karate, at the Norfolk Karate Academy. He got his green belt shortly before Christmas, so I'm hoping the blue belt will come before the end of next year. He has to learn the next form, which is pretty hard, and he also has to take his behavior in class to the next level. No nose-picking, for sure, for the blue belt. Possibly even no spinning and humming.

2. Benny finishes the Rosetta Stone Spanish curriculum, level 1. We've been toying around with this for a couple of years, and it's time to get serious. We're probably going to be going to Guatemala later in the year, so all of us have this one on our lists.

3. Finish Suzuki book 3. This will be good and bad, since for book 4 we have to find a new teacher, but since he's already on the third song of a seven song book, I'm anticipating this one will be done by the end of 2007.

4. Read 12 books. In December we read Charlotte's Web, which was our first real chapter book (besides books like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle where the chapters are episodic). So I'm thinking we read another chapter book each month, titles to be determined, as we see what works. Considering Alice in Wonderland first, since they're kinda familiar with that, and maybe Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after that.

5. Memorize 12 poems. Last year we memorized "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear and "Have You Seen The Wind?" by Christina Rossetti. I want to do another poem each month, learning vocab and also general stuff about each one we do. This month we're doing "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by Lewis Carroll. Benny picked it. I was going to push for "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" but whatever!

6. Do 50 science experiments. The kids love to do these and they don't have to be fancy or complicated. We have neat books to choose experiments from, and I'm just going to let them pick what they want to do each time.

7. Teach Sadie her letters and numbers. She kinda knows some of them. I don't know if we'll do a really straightforward "Letter of the Week" approach, but we have to knock that out before she considers going to preschool.

8. Learn multiplication table. We actually started this this morning and got through the 7s. I mean, he doesn't have them memorized, but he gets the concept. I just let him draw numbers into grids that I made, and let him figure it out on his own. It was actually very magical to watch this, and it all happened before 9 am! Tomorrow we'll do 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, and isn't that as far as the official multiplication table goes?

9. Do H-Z in South America. We did interesting lessons and songs that we made up ourselves for A-G, on South America topics, then we abandoned the project when Sadie became, let's just say, an obstacle to progress in various ways. Mostly that she was 2. Now she's going to be 3 and we're going to finish this project.

10. Get Sadie into ballet, and graduate from Prezuki to regular Suzuki lessons on the violin. And potty trained, but hey, that'll happen soon, RIGHT?

There you have it. Our fun year. Let the learning begin.