Midwest Homeschool Convention – day 1

First of all, let me say YAY for a gal’s weekend away!  A dear friend of mine and I drove up from TN to attend the MidWest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati.  This is exciting!

We’ve already had an afternoon of workshops and both L and I have felt convicted by what the speakers have to say.  In essence, we are ruining our kids – BUT IT’S NOT TOO LATE!

The first woman we saw was a workshop called “Confessions of a Disorganized Homeschool Mom” and it was like she was speaking TO ME.  Yes, I knew I was disorganized but she made me feel normal for being so.  It was like a weight was lifted off.  Some of the ways to help stay “on track” in our disorganized world are things I’m already doing, but there were other ideas that were totally new and refreshing that I will definitely be incorporating into my home.

The next workshop was on Unit Studies.  I love this concept on paper, but putting it into action is fearful for me.  The speaker, Amanda Bennett, talked about the benefits and rewards related to unit studies and this is the part where L and I were sure we’re ruining our children. Instead of discovering the gifts God has given them to succeed in ways THEY were meant to, we’re making them fit into our expectations of how they are to learn.  Wow.

Lastly was a workshop on writing and helping a reluctant writer.  Since we don’t follow a writing program, per se, this was very interesting with even more nuggets of inspiration.   The speaker, Julie Bogart, is a ghostwriter by profession and just started teaching writing to her children the way she worked writing.  While doing so, she discovered that the “educational” way of teaching writing isn’t the same as the “professional” way of writing.  This lead to her developing her own curriculum called Brave Writer which seems to be very interesting on the surface.

I see some research in my future.

Oh, and did I mention the vendor hall??  There is a ridiculous amount of companies related to homeschooling down in the exhibit hall.  We were in there for an hour and only saw half of what was there.  I can’t wait to get to the other half!






A crafty Valentine idea

Monkey and I decided to get a little crafty this year for her valentines.  Her homeschool enrichment program meets on Mondays and Wednesday and they are exchanging valentines this week.  Her teacher encouraged the kids to get a little creative with their valentines and so Monkey and I looked around online to see what we could find.  We discovered Valentine’s Day Fortune Cookies on a blog I visit (thanks, Brandi over at Not Your Average Ordinary) and they were ridiculously easy to make.

First, you find some craft felt at your local craft store.  We tested the idea with paper but it just didn’t turn out so well.  Trace a circle on the felt and cut it out.  We used a bowl and it worked out nicely for size.

Take some pipe-cleaners and cut them to the same length as the diameter of the circle.  Glue with tacky glue or fabric glue.  I guess you can use a hot glue gun, too, but this is what we had on hand.

Then place the pipe-cleaner along the center of the circle.

Glue a small section across one half of the circle…

… then fold over like a taco.

We made lots of tacos.

Then Monkey spent some time hand writing her own messages on little strips of paper.  She even came up with “You’re a “dog”gone good friend” all on her own.  It was for a friend who really likes dogs.  Can you believe it?  I giggled about that all afternoon.

Then she used fancy cutting scissors to make them look neat.

We slid the strips of paper inside our little “tacos” after they dried, then we folded them back over the middle and made our little fortune cookies!  And a pipe-cleaner heart just because we could.

And there you have a basket full of red Valentine Fortune Cookies.

Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime


Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.  ~Russel Baker


It’s almost here!  Summertime!  That magic time when there’s no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.

It’s also that magic time when parents who stay home with their children try desperately to find something for the kids to do so they don’t end up killing each other out of boredom.  Yes, that would be me.  Luckily, I have a job where I can take the kids with me.  During the summer, I usually work with the older kids so my younger kids can be someone else’s problem because I like the laid back fun we can have during the summer.  We go outside, play kick ball, dodge ball, four-square, have jump rope contests, things like that.  On rainy days, we do crafts and such that we can’t with the little ones because of the small pieces and parts.  This summer, Monkey will be in with the older kids.  I’m looking forward to it, actually.  

But on the days I’m not working, I’ll have a whole, entire day to entertain the kids.  Yippee.  Part of me is looking forward to it.  We have lots of nice parks in the area, including a lake-beach and a sprinkler pad, so we’ll spend a large amount of time outdoors.  We won’t have to wake up early anymore (but try explaining that to a three-year-old…), we won’t have to go to bed on time every night, we’ll get to spend evenings and weekends out on the lake.  It’ll be good times.

Except when the kids are stuck inside trying to irritate each other to death.

What is it about summers that do that to children?  I was talking with a friend yesterday about year-round schools and how nice that schedule would be.  We spend all summer long trying to figure out something to do with our kids – summer camps, playdates, sleep overs, vacations – and by mid-July we’re all ready to send them back to boarding school anyway, so why not?  It just makes more sense… but I digress.  This isn’t about year-round school schedules.  This is about summer time.

We have a beach vacation planned (Little Man’s first time at the beach!) but that’s about it so far.  I’m sure we’ll travel to the mountains since they’re close, we’ll spend lots of time swimming and playing at parks, maybe a trip or two to area museums, but what else is there to do?  Do you have any suggestions?  What are you doing for the summer?  I’d love to hear your ideas…

The Homeschool Debate

I’m back on the homeschooling idea.  Monkey’s teacher, who came up with an accelerated program for Monkey and two other advanced readers in her class, had to move back to where she had moved here from.  I don’t know the whole story, but it had to do with a job for her husband.  

Anyway, so Monkey has a new teacher.  She’s also getting bored in school.  She likes learning and she’s doing very well, but that’s just it.  She’ll finish her math before the other kids and quietly draw on her paper.  She got in trouble for it.  Twice.  Unfortunately, I never got a chance to talk to the teacher to get her story before she left, so I don’t know both sides.  I only know that Monkey had finished her work, correctly, and was trying to occupy her own time while waiting on the other students to catch up.  At least that’s what she told me.
So, now I’m looking again at homeschooling for next year.  Can I just tell you there is way. too. much. information out there about homeschooling.  I have never felt so overwhelmed about one “simple” topic in my life.  Except for maybe statistics.  That was pretty overwhelming.  Thankfully, I have friends who homeschool and are enjoying it, so it’s not like I would be out there all on my own.
So, as I see it, here are a few of the perks:  The “school day” is shorter.  The state where we live only requires four hours of study for it to count as a full day.  This would allow for more free time with Monkey to do things like sports/dance/girl scouts without having to rush, rush, rush after school and before dinner and/or bed time.  I wouldn’t have to get up quite so early every morning, since we’d be on our own schedule (selfish, I know, but it’s true).  I could teach to her skills.  She’s reading on a 3rd or 4th grade level (she’s only 6, remember) and she does really well with math.  She’s even started doing simple multiplication in her head.  In her HEAD!  Another perk is that in this area, there are lots of homeschool groups and enrichment programs, so she’d still get that classroom feeling with other students two or three times a week.  She’s a very social girl, so I know that would be important.  We’d be able to take field trips to museums and such and I’d be able to teach through involvement.  She’d also get to stay in her current Girl Scout troop, so she wouldn’t lose that connection with her current friends.  And if it doesn’t work out after a year, she can go back to school for third grade.
Naturally, just as there are some upsides, there are downsides as well.  I would lose a good bit of my own free time.  I know, that sounds horribly selfish, but anyone with children will agree (even if they don’t want to) that downtime away from one’s children is very important to one’s sanity.  One way to “fix” this would be to make sure Monkey is in one of those enrichment programs (which I would do, anyway).  The trick will be getting it to coincide with preschool with Little Man so that when Monkey is at school, Little Man would be, too.  That would give me a couple days a week to have my “mommy time” without both children.  The idea of coming up with a curriculum is daunting, at best.  There is really so much out there – how would I know what to choose?  Also, I’m not a very organized person.  I know one doesn’t HAVE to be organized to teach, but it certainly helps.  And will Monkey and I be able to slide into the student/teacher roles?  Will I be able to be the teacher without being the mommy?  Will she be able to accept and respect me as the teacher when it’s time to learn?
All these questions and doubts are floating around.  There’s a reason I never wanted to homeschool – I just don’t know if I “have it.”  But, if this is something that Monkey needs to succeed, I’ll do it.  I can’t screw her up that bad in a year, can I?
What do you think?  Any words of wisdom out there? 

books, books, books

photo by emilywjones 
Yesterday was one of my days to volunteer at Monkey’s school.  Our library services about 1000 children and, of course, the teachers for those children.  It is an “open door” library, meaning that students can come to the library any time during school hours, at the discretion of the teacher.  This is in addition to the classes coming to the library for their Specials throughout the day.  Needless to say, it gets very busy.

Parent volunteers are a huge part of the library.  I think on any given day there are about 10-12 moms and dads that come to help the librarians during the school day.  I usually go for two hours in the morning, about twice a month.  Mostly, what I do is shelve books and sometimes check out books for the students.  Often, the brightest part of my morning is seeing last year’s classmates of Monkey.  I’m not ashamed to say I had favorites.  Sometimes, I’ll even see Monkey come in.  She never knows I’m there and I’ll just observe her.  Then I just can’t stand her not knowing, so I’ll go and sit next to her and wait for her to acknowledge me.  It’s pretty neat surprising her that way.
But yesterday, the librarians asked me to do a different job.  One that I hadn’t done before, but it was one they had saved just for me.
I’m not sure how often our library gets new books, but when they arrive, the new books need to be checked over for publishing errors; is it bound properly, are the pages all there, did any of the text get cut off.  Then they have to be “broken in.”  This is simply pressing a few of the pages open so that the book is easier for the children to open and read.  Who knew, right?
Yesterday was my day to sit down and break in new books.  There’s something special about opening a new book.  Those fresh, crisp pages, brightly colored illustrations, bold text bouncing along, carrying the story through.  I can’t even begin to tell you all the books I looked through, but the librarians busted me more than once giggling to myself.
There was Petunia, the goose that learned that wisdom comes from reading a book, not carrying it around (she blew up the barnyard!).
The Three Billy Goats Gruff – remember that?  It brought back a memory of mine from elementary school of making paper bag puppets and putting on a puppet show.  Our class rooms had half-doors, so we went in the hallway and used the bottom half of the door as our stage.  But I can’t remember if I had a goat or the troll.
And there’s The Three Silly Girls Grub and The Armadillos Tough (I think), which were based from the Three Billy Goats Gruff.
I creeped my way through spider books, laughed at a giraffe with a tongue up its nose, lingered over beautiful watercolor illustrations of a coral reef.
I read about Lou Gehrig, JFK and Jefferson.
I learned why the Jolly Roger is called that.  (Oh, he was a jolly old pirate!)
I giggled over a dog that got a kitten that “if he ignored it, it would go away.” 
I saw pumpkins and apples and Christmas and variations of the Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
I spent two hours immersed in books and I loved every bit of it.  The Librarian joked that I owed her one, because I was doing one of their favorite things.  I think she was right.

here I go again…

photo by Renee Oakenfull, also viewable at urbanpulse.com

Yes, I’m bragging again.  If I can’t brag on my children, why have them, right?  Monkey’s teacher, MrsM and I had our conference Tuesday, as you no doubt saw in my absolutely hectic schedule for that day.

Actually, let me go back in history a bit.  In kindergarten, Monkey tracked right along with the majority of her class.  She had a wonderful teacher and was learning at a pace that I was very comfortable with.  By the end of the year she started reading on her own and was finishing chapter books (Magic Tree House, to be specific) before school was over.  I love that she loves reading.  Fast forward through the summer to first grade.
She’s doing very well.  MrsM sends home daily reports in Monkey’s folder and everything is good.  Only once in a while is there a note on behavior, usually relating to talking.  Monkey’s nothing if not social.  Gee, I wonder where she gets that from?  The work she brings home has very few, if any, mistakes.  I’m starting to wonder is she really that bright or is the work really that easy?  Then comes home a particular handwriting/grammer/spelling test.  Under “comments,” which is reserved for the teacher, Monkey had written “this is boring.”  God love the honesty of a child.
So, I start to wonder where exactly is she in the class?  Is she being challenged?  Is she too bored?  What can we do?  Trey is a big supporter of homeschooling for lots of reasons which I won’t get into here.  I haven’t been.  Not because I don’t believe in it, but because I still have faith in public schools, I’m not organized enough and the fact that I’m not a teacher.  I don’t have that gift.  I have friends who homeschool and it works for them.  But I don’t think it’s for me.
Well, that’s what I thought before.  Then I started thinking that if Monkey isn’t being challenged, then maybe I should consider homeschooling.  So the idea starts stirring around for a week before I even mention it to Trey.  Why wait?  Because I didn’t want the big, fat “I was right!” from him (before you get all upset and think he’s “that guy,” understand that we have a running joke between us about who’s right and wrong, and, well, we all know I’m always right).  So we converse about it.  We talk about things like enrichment programs, co-ops, umbrella schools and whatever else.  Then he added that if we do this, to help relieve my household burdens, we could have someone come clean the house.  Woo-hoo!  Sign me up!  Have I mentioned that I loathe cleaning?
But I digress.
All of that had been discussed pre-conference as a “what if?”  So conference time comes and MrsM goes over Monkey’s reports.  She’s above average in several areas.  She’s one of the strongest readers in the class.  Then she asks me if I think Monkey could handle being challenged more?  YES!   MrsM has a plan for challenging the students in her class that are needing it.  Thank you!  The last thing I want is for Monkey to be bored at school.  Sure, she has fun with her friends and doing all the “specials” like music, art and PE, but I want her learning, too, not floating.  I don’t want her to get lost in the shuffle of all the other students.  
I’m not ditching the homeschooling idea just yet.  I’ll hang on to it and wait and see how her years at school progress.  I hope we continue to have teachers like MrsM who are willing to think outside the box to challenge our little Monkey.  Teaching is a gift and I admire those who do it.  There’s just something special about a good teacher and I’m thankful that Monkey has had such good teachers in her short career as a student. 
PS:  Yay!  My 100th post!  Who-da thunk it?  

The golden rule

My faith in humanity is somewhat restored.  Not because the bailout was voted out but because of something that happened in the car line yesterday.

I have a pet peeve.  Actually, I have several, but one of them is people cutting in front of me while driving.  I noticed it all the time in the mornings last year dropping Monkey off at school.  Some parent would be late for work, I’m guessing, so they’re in such a hurry they feel they have the right to cut in line.  I don’t mean just cutting in front of me when I let the person in front of them in, although that bothers me, too, but cutting through the staff parking lot to get towards the front of the line.  I mean, all the rest of us have to wait to meander through the line, what makes you so special that you can bypass all the other parents waiting in line?
Whenever that happened last year, I made a point to NOT let that person in if I happened to be near where they would be trying to get in line.  Unfortunately, at 7:20 am, there are people nicer than me that would let that better-than-thou parent through the line and their shortcut would then be justified because they made it through the line before everyone else.  We’re all adults, here, right?  If you’re running that late then maybe, just maybe, you should get up earlier.  Take some responsibility for your own actions and don’t be late.
But I digress.  Yesterday, I got to Monkey’s school a little earlier than usual for pickup.  I was the first to show up, so I park in the car line at a spot where I think the first car usually parks.  There was one car that parked right behind me right after and since that mom didn’t give me the “why don’t you pull ahead” look that people give at the station when you stop at the first pump instead of pulling right through, I figured I was ok.  I needed to pick up something from the office, so I grab Little Man and walk in.  I was inside for about five minutes and when I went back out, there were about 4 or 5 cars behind me and one in front of me.  Not farther in front, like they were parking to get something then leaving, but you could tell they passed the other cars, pulled in, then backed up to park in front of me.  The driver was still in the car, so I knew they were there for the pick up line.
I really don’t care if I’m the first one or not.  I’m usually in the first 10-20 cars because I get there early enough to sit in the car and read for about 20-30 minutes before school lets out.  Yesterday’s timing was a fluke.  But it bothered me to no end that someone had the gall to pass other parked cars to position himself as the first car.  However, I try and let it go and enjoy my quiet 30 minutes before dismissal (Little Man often naps in the car while we wait).
After a while, though, just a little before dismissal, he starts his car, drives to the end of the circle, parks and walks up to get his child.  Huh?  After all that work of parking at the head of the line, now you’re walking up to get your kid?  I don’t get it.  Oh, just so you know, dear reader, I don’t leave my car running while waiting in the car line – another pet peeve of mine.  No matter how hot, I’ll turn off the motor, roll the windows down and open a door.  So, I notice this dad walking towards my passenger side window.  He comes up to me and apologizes for parking in front of the line!  
Graciously, because I’m a good southern gal and all that, I tell him how nice that is and he really didn’t have to and all that.  He says that he didn’t know I was waiting in the car line (I wasn’t in the car when he arrived, remember?) but when he saw me come out with Little Man and wait, he realized that he had cut the line and so wanted to apologize to me because he doesn’t want to do things that would bother him if someone had done the same to him.  You know, that golden rule?
Really.  This truly happened.  A total stranger apologized for cutting me off.  Granted, we were in parked cars so it’s not like we were passing through an intersection where there’s no opportunity for apologies, but the fact that he took the time to apologize shattered some pre-conceived notions I had built about his character (he was driving a really big fancy SUV and  chatting away on his cell when I walked out of the school.  Yes, I’m guilty of stereotyping.  Who isn’t?).
My faith in humanity is somewhat restored.  And it begs the question, when was the last time you took ownership of a wrong you committed, whether perceived or actual?  Is there something for which or someone to whom you need to apologize?  Is there someone or something you need to forgive?  We all do, don’t we?  
Restore someone else’s faith in humanity today.