Monday, December 8, 2008

The New Reading Method

I've been reading John Holt's book "Teach Your Own". He quotes from the Chicago Tribune (1977) a story about the new reading program that has been 10 years in the making. "A program that may be the pacesetter for the nation...". It involved 500 elements or skills that children needed to learn in order to learn to read. They whittled that down to 273. John Holt was incredulous about this new method, and describes his own learning to read process:
 "When I taught myself to read, I didn't learn 500 skills, or even 273; I looked at printed words, on signs, in books, wherever I might see them, and puzzled them out, because I wanted to know what they said.  Each one I learned made it easier for me to figure out the next." (page 17, Teach Your Own)

This was essentially how my first son taught himself to read before the age of 3. He asked questions about letters, asked me what sounds they made, read signs at the grocery store, made me read the same books over and over as he puzzled out the words. 

Further in John's book he talks about other reading programs and classroom situations where children were not allowed to read certain books because they weren't at that level yet. He further describes a substitute teacher's success at implementing a silent reading program to a class and having children suddenly interested in reading....because they were allowed to read a book! What a concept!! 

Can you imagine a class situation where a child enters a class and is told "No Johnny, I'm sorry you can't read that book. It's on the 3rd grade reading list and you are only in 1st grade." In a sense this is what happened to my son. He entered Kindergarten already reading and writing these wonderful stories. His spelling and penmanship were atrocious, but I figured that was what school could teach him. His teachers had other ideas. The poor boy was bored to death being forced to stay with the class, do phonics worksheets, and read simple sentences like "the cat sat on the mat". When I asked for him to be moved up a grade I was told he was "socially immature" and therefore not ready for the 1st grade. Because he was a loner and chose not to interact with a classroom of "babies" as he put it. Thank goodness I learned about homeschooling. Today that socially immature child has just been promoted to Senior Airman in the US Air Force, a full 6 months ahead of the normal schedule for such promotions. 

here is a description of what that entails:
Senior Airmen (SrA) wear a chevron of three stripes with a silver star in the center. Pay grade is E-4. Personnel serving as SrA are in a transition period from journeyman/worker to NCO. They must develop supervisory and leadership skills through PME (Professional Military Education) and individual study. All SrA should conduct themselves in a manner commensurate with established standards, thereby asserting a positive influence on other airmen. The SrA must, at all times, present the image of competence, integrity, and pride. The official term of address is “senior airman” or “airman.”

I'm thinking he rose above that kindergarten label. 

Over the years I have encountered many new reading programs. Currently on Guam there is much debate over D.I. - Direct Instruction - which is a reading method that was originally developed for underprivileged communities. It was brought to Guam several years ago and has been forced upon the public schools as THE learning to read method that will improve test scores for the children of Guam. All that I have seen it do is take away a child's love of reading by making reading a rote exercise. Other subjects like art, music, science, and social studies have been set aside as the DI takes up too many hours of the instructional time in school. So at the cost of the arts and sciences, Guam's children are forced to endure the most boring teaching method around.

In John Holt's book he predicted that in 10 years there would be a new reading program. That was back in 1981 in Chicago. Twenty-seven years later I'm sure there has been more than one new program. What will the next new one be?

 As a homeschooler, I never need to know. I will continue to teach my children to read successfully using the method that works. Reading books, books, and more books. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Happy Swapping

'Tis the season to start getting rid of STUFF. I have too much of it as it is. As the children get older I need to start letting go and cleaning out. Each year they accumulate more and more items via gifts or just acquiring. And with Christmas coming more stuff is going to appear.

Some is much needed like new clothes, or to replace broken items. And some is just for fun because we can. It is nice to be able to give your children something they really want. Why not? As parents shouldn't we desire to give good gifts to our children?

With those two thoughts in mind, here is my brilliant solution to the too much stuff syndrome. I have good quality used baby toys, mostly from Discovery Toys that I acquired as demo toys for my business, and of course they were well used by my own kids. The great thing about Discovery Toys is they are good quality and therefore, even after being well used, they clean up great and look almost brand new. Lots of play life still left in them. Now I could probably sell them at a garage sale for $1.00 a toy. Or I could do a trade with a family that has a new baby in the house, but whose 10 year old son has outgrown his bike. A perfectly good bike that my son could use. What is one man's junk is another man's treasure, right? (or woman's).

So here is my challenge to all you who read this post. This Christmas start up a toy swap with your friends, or a dish swap, or linen swap or whatever kind of swap you can think of. The bartering system is a viable option. You can clean out your cupboards at the same time as helping someone else clean out theirs. Happy Swapping!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Twilight, the book

Okay my 14yo just gave me her feedback on Twilight, the book. We have yet to see the movie as she wants to finish the book first. At first I wasn't into letting her jump on the Twilight bandwagon. After all, she is sweet and innocent and do I really want her to start reading love stories? Especially ones involving vampires? Unfortunately I'm fighting a losing battle as she will grow older. She will want to read some romance stories. And inevitably a vampire will be involved. 'Cause that's what's out there.

Confession time. I bought the book and read it first. Okay, I'm just a teen at heart. I love reading the teen books. I bought and read and encouraged my children to read Harry Potter. I like an easy read. I can get lost in a good book.

Which is why when I first picked up Twilight and started to read it I was wondering what the big thrill was. It didn't really "grab" me at first and I didn't finish the book with an insane desire to jump to the next one. Not like other books I've read. But it was okay.

So I asked Steph what she thought.
"At first I couldn't figure out what I didn't like about her (the author) style. But I got it now. It's like fan fiction."

"Fan Fiction?"
"Yeah, you know, I read a lot of it online. Some is good and some is not so good. But it reads like a better fan fiction......"

She confesses to me that maybe she feels this way because she just finished reading four Terry Pratchett books. Whose writing style is far from Fan Fiction style. I'm reminded that this is the child who read Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame for fun when she was 11. Who started reading Redwall books at 7 and missed out on a whole genre of books written for 7-9 year olds because she skipped right on over them. Who listens to French operas (in
French of course) because "the language is soo beautiful...."

Such discernment for a 14 year old.

Our mutual consensus is that Twilight has an interesting story line, is easy to read, but doesn't make you go "oh wow" and want to read and feel the taste of the words on your mouth.

I'm sure the movie will disappoint me, as it has others by not following the storyline properly, but it does sound like it will be a fun vampire movie.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Getting rid of Sin

Eric had a bit of a bad day today. Not super bad. He just had some issues. As a result he got into some trouble for his behavior. What was interesting was how he dealt with this. After a brief crying moment, I heard him conspiring with his little sister.  Then he came to me and said.
"Me and Cassie are going to go look for a super smart man who can invent a time machine so that we can go back in time and kill Satan before he makes Eve eat the apple. That way there won't be any sin in the world and I won't be bad anymore and get into trouble." 

I love how his mind works. I was in the process of making cookies, so told him, "Fine, just make sure to be back in 10 minutes or so, cause cookies will be ready by then."

"Oo...cookies? Well, it might take a long time but we'll try." And off he went armed with a water gun (the kind that you pump and it shoots out a spray 10 feet away), while Cassie had a cape and a stuffed tiger in her arms. 

The brave team was back in plenty of time to eat lots of warm out of the oven oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I'm not sure how successful they were in their mission. I suspect there is still sin in this world, unfortunately, but it's not for want of a 9 year old boy's imagination and desire to do better. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Explaining Unschooling

The following essay was originally published on Gather, a writing place for uh...writers. I was browsing through my old posts and came across this one and felt it needed to be moved over here. So with no further ado I present.....Explaining Unschooling.

Recently I found myself wanting to explain exactly what unschooling is all about to various friends and fellow homeschoolers. However, I find it to be such a difficult task. How do you explain that learning is living? Everyone is so indoctrinated into believing that children must attend some form of "school" and that they must by "taught" by a "teacher". I even read an article that stated that unschooling would violate most state homeschooling laws because the laws state that the parent must be the primary teacher of the core curriculum. I suppose the assumption is that if you are unschooling you are not using a "core curriculum" and that you (the parent) are not "teaching".

So let's define "core curriculum". My definition is the subjects you teach your children and the content of those subjects. For unschoolers, who believe learning is a natural state of being, then the subject is whatever your child is interested in at the time and the content is what he learns about the subject.

Take my son, 8yo, for instance. He became fascinated with Calvin and Hobbes comics when he was about 5 1/2. At the time, he wasn't a reader, so he just looked at the cartoons, asked us to read the ones that interested him, and proceeded to copy the cartoons in his own drawings. He also wanted to know all about tigers and the concept of an imaginary playmate. "Why does everyone think Hobbes is a stuffed tiger mom? He looks real to me!"

By 6 1/2 he had learned to read and proceeded to devour his Calvin and Hobbes books. In the process he learned vocabulary words and concepts way beyond his age level. He skipped over reading the "cat sat on a hat" type books and went straight into reading "Calvin wakes up one morning to find he no longer exists in the third dimension. He is 2-D". This prompted Eric to ask about dimensions and to learn about spatial relationships. Look also at the words he read -- "dimension", "exists", "morning"-- much more than the usual 3-letter word you read in regular phonics books.

What about the parent being the "primary teacher" part? Let's see. I provided the Calvin and Hobbes comics. I read them to him when he didn't know how to read. I explained the concepts to him that he didn't understand. I provided the paper and crayons he needed to draw his own comics.What more should a teacher do? Seems to me I fulfilled the roll of "primary teacher".

Do we start each day with Math from 9:00 to 9:30? Reading from 9:30 to 10:30? No....math occurs when the kids want to know how many eggs to put in the pot for boiled eggs if each child wants 2 (multiplication). Math occurs when they do a treasure hunt for loose change around the house and then add up who found the most money. Math occurs when they collect shells on the beach and compare who's shells are larger or smaller. It can happen at 8am in the morning or at 10pm at night.

Reading is an ongoing, every minute of the day task. There are books in the bathroom, books at the kitchen table, books in the car, books on their bed, books in the living room. Video games require reading skills. Cooking directions are a reading skill. Choosing a soup to eat for lunch requires reading of the label so they don't get that nasty "asparagus" stuff.

As for science and social studies? Lately my kids have been watching Simpson episodes. Would you believe they are learning all kinds of science and social studies information from these? There was the science fair episode, the president episode, one on the Salem witch trials, just to name a few that I can remember. Even the heart attack episode prompted a serious discussion with my son on what the heart does and how it works.

And books. What would we do without books? My children learn the most by reading or being read to. They enjoy fiction, non ficiton, historical fiction, science books, travel books. One of the best investments I ever made was in a series "Let's read and find out about science". I bought these books for my first born son through one of those book clubs. They have lasted through all five of my children and have taught them interesting facts about bats, tornadoes, snow, rain, hiccups, and numerous other things.

My children may not know what a subordinate clause is, but they know how to use one correctly in a sentence. They may not know all the presidents of the United States, but they can name all the animals in RedWall. They may not know where Arizona is in relation to Texas, but they know how to look it up on a map.

Unschooling works as long as you provide an educationally rich environment. That is my philosophy anyway.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Unschooling Success Story

My oldest son, Kevin, is the reason I unschool. He is now 23 and in the Air Force. But the story started way back when he was around 12. Or perhaps it goes back even farther than that! He was always a precocious child teaching himself to read at age 3. By the time he was 12 we had tried all of the various curricula out there - ACE PACEs, Alpha Omega, ABeka, unit studies, a computer based name it, we tried it. He hated it all! He wanted to learn what he wanted, when he wanted. I had a new baby at the time so was busy and stressed and told him to go ahead and teach himself then!

Well, Kevin went on to teach himself computer programming, HTML, web design, C++, Perl, Java, and a slew of other programming languages. All we did was supply him with the tools to learn - books and computers. When he was in 11th grade we put him in a private Christian school (I was working there) and within 2 months he was promoted to 12th grade and graduated a year early. He became an apprentice for a company that did videos for Japanese tourists and he learned video editing, did all their computer programming for them, and also learned business management and bookkeeping. He decided to join the Air Force and so just after his 22nd birthday, moved to the states to start his basic training. By this time he had "burned" himself out on computer stuff (or so he says) and because he wanted to get off of Guam, took the first job opening that came up - Power Production. Which means he works on generators.

It's been over a year now, and Kevin is excelling in the military. He has risen to the top of his crew and manages them all, even those who are higher ranking than him. He has also begun to take advantage of the free college education afforded by the military.

In order to get his degree faster, Kevin has been doing CLEP tests. A CLEP test is where you test out of a course based on your life experience and knowledge. So far he has CLEPed English, Technical Writing, Managing and Supervising (not sure exactly what this course was called), just to name a few. His next one he plans on taking is Astronomy.

What makes this so amazing is that Kevin does not study for these exams. He looks to see what is available, thinks about what he knows and signs up and takes the test. And aces them. Why Astronomy next? He figures he knows a lot about the stars based on all the science fiction books he has read. He doesn't read science fantasy - but hard-core, fact-based, science fiction books. I figure he will ace that test too.

Why is he able to do so well on these tests? One of the main reasons is because he is well read. He has been reading since he was 3 remember? That is a lot of books over his 23 years of life. Not only does he read, but he knows how to research. When he was in 11th grade he discovered he had some gaps in his math. So after school he would come home, look online for math tutorials and taught himself about 4 years worth of math in a little over 2 months. He is fascinated with words and language so has taught himself Spanish and Japanese, and knows the etymology of most words.

Now Kevin may be an exception. I'm sure his IQ is "up there". But I feel that unschooling him was the best thing I ever did. It gave him the opportunity to learn what he wanted to learn, and as a result retain that knowledge more than if he had been forced to learn things that didn't interest him.

My other children have their own success stories. Eventually I will share them here as well.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Where do curls come from

My daughter Cassandra (Cassie) has beautiful blonde ringlets. They hang half way down her back in golden curls. When brushed out they are wavy lines of soft down. Her hair is still baby fine and tangles easily. And of course she has her older sister's sensitivities when it comes to hair brushing. Needless to say we sometimes neglect brushing as often as we should because I hate to cause my baby pain. A few weeks ago, Cassie's hair had really gotten out of hand. It was clean, don't get me wrong. She swam daily and her hair was always being washed to get the sand and sea salt out. But not brushed after wards. Eventually the "rat's nest" in her hair really could house a small mouse.

One night I went to a lady's night out. My husband was out too for some reason and we both ended up home around the same time. When I walked in the house I saw Cassie siting on the living room floor watching or playing a video game. Her hair was neatly brushed and hung in smooth golden waves.

"Wow, who brushed your hair?" I asked her.

Stephanie, my 14 yo came out of the kitchen and admitted to the task.

"I saw a brush and said, 'Cassie, let's take care of this mess' and I brushed it."
"Were there tears?"
"Oh yeah, but I tried to be gentle."

From the queen of tangles, this was quite the remark. Takes a sensitive scalped person to deal with a sensitive scalped person I guess.

And after all, I deserve it. I gave my mom such a fuss over my hair. My girls were doomed to inherit the same issues.

Tonight I aso discovered proof that I also passed on the ringlet gene.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Eric learned to google. Which is my excuse for not blogging more. You see, now that Eric can google, I have one more person competing to use the computer now. So of course, that computes to less time for Mom to blog. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

So was does it mean, for my 8, soon to be 9 year old, son to be googling? Sometime about two weeks ago, Stephanie taught her brother how to type a word or a question into the google search engine to find the answer to anything you want to know about.

Suddenly a whole new world opened up for this little boy.

You want to know how to make Root Beer? Look it up. <>

Curious about the weather? Ask Google.

The plus side of learning to google is spelling begins to count. Sure mom and dad can decipher his spelling, but if google doesn't recognize the word the hit results aren't as relevant. So now Eric is understanding that spelling is important and it is faster to spell it right than to sift through the guesses. Typing skills are being learned. And knowledge is gained as a little boy's questions can go beyond the meager knowledge of mom and dad.

And the secret is out that mom and dad just google it anyway.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Notebook and a New Blog

First I want to explain about the Notebook. I don't want any of my unschooling friends to gasp and faint dead over my reference to the "notebook" in my last entry. My kids are always coming up with interesting facts, ideas, things they've heard on TV, things they've read in books (at least for Eric) . You know STUFF. I want to encourage them to record some of these ideas - either in the form of pictures, writings, 3-d projects, or whatever! So that is what the notebook is primarily for. A place for them to organize the huge mound of paper they manage to accumulate. We have this pile on our is scary. Someday I'm going to have to face that pile and decide what comic, drawing, silly saying or scribble I should keep or what to throw away. If I don't want to be buried in a pile of paper, I need to start teaching my children how to organize their own papers. That's the plan anyway. And I will use the Notebook for those projects we do from the FIAR books.

This week we will be "rowing" Peter Rabbit. I'm hoping Eric will be happier with this one as it is one of his favorites from when he was 5.

I also want to put in a plug for my new blog I started over on the Homeschool Blogger. A Canadian Gal lost on Guam. Catchy title?

I'm hoping to get it listed on one of those homeschool blog carnivals, where if you are witty enough you get noticed. I'm still working on the wittiness.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rowing our first book

Well, this week I decided to try to row a book with my two youngest, Cassie, 5 and Eric 8. What does it meant to "row a book"? Five in a Row, or FIAR, is a very relaxed curriculum that has you read a particular book, 5 days in a row, with an emphasis on something different each day. I had gotten a great deal on FIAR volume II from a homeschool friend, and about 8 of the related books. So I picked "Mirette on the High Wire" to "row" this week (read each day).

I have to say it was a lot of fun, for me and Cassie anyway. Eric, is a different story.

Monday we began at about 10:30am only about 1/2 hour behind the "schedule" I had set for myself. I've put quotes around that word to help emphasis how much I hate having to follow a schedule. Appointments, that is different. But having to do something like learn at a set time just seems off to me. Must be the unschooler in me. Cassie wanted me to set up the Story Time Felt Calendar for her to do each day, like we did at GICA last year. For her, our coming to the office to do school is like a great game to play and she is eager every morning to get up and go to school.

Eric, doesn't like all this reference to "school" and starts to whine right away. I made the mistake of really catering to Cassie's excitement about starting school, that I forgot to figure out how to make it exciting for Eric. The only real change in our whole schedule/routine is that I want to get to my office 2 hours earlier, with just me and the kids, to spend some quality time together, reading books, exploring together, doing art projects. Fun stuff.

It wears one down to hear a child constantly whine about school when he isn't doing anything different than what he had been doing for the past year or more. The chief difference is little sister is giving a name to what is normal for Eric. Freedom to learn, study, draw at his own pace, is suddenly being called school. The horror.

All kidding side, we did have a productive week. Eric didn't enjoy the story as much as Cassie - and so wasn't keen on us reading it everyday. But after encouraging him to sit beside us while I read, I have compromised to letting him stay where he is in the room as long as he doesn't interrupt. Twice today he had to be reminded to save his non story related questions to the end of the story.

On Tuesday I bought the kids 3 ring binders, a pack of paper and a set of dividers and we put together notebooks for the school year. The dividers were to divide the notebook into sections for the typical school subjects. In our case it is Math, Reading & Writing, Science, Social Studies, and Art. Eric asked if he could decorate the dividers in his notebook, so I told him yes, and he carefully made his subject sections. Later, Cassie asked for help to spell all the subjects and then Eric helped her draw pictures to help her remember what section was what. Numbers on the math section, a globe on the socials studies page..... Cassie is very proud of her notebook.

For Art day we made color wheels and the kids learned about primary, secondary and complimentary colors. Cassie cheerfully colored her color wheel and attached it to a page in her art section of her notebook. Eric made a color wheel of sorts too. In his own order. He's a non-conformist and I'm never going to change that. But he did understand and ask intelligent questions about the color wheel.

Today we did Science and after reading the story we discussed copper and why they used copper pots to cook with. We then looked up and read some about copper, found some copper pennies and put them in a cup of vinegar to see if they will shine up, and Cassie colored a picture of a copper pot and read and spelled "pot" and then put that in her notebook under science, and wrote copper above it.

We also found Paris, France on the world map and we explored all the different places that the book mentioned.

Aside from the reading, and calendar time, we also did a bit of Math-U-See, starting with the Alpha books. I had used this in my class last year and Cassie had good success with learning her numbers and math facts. So I want to continue this with her. She asks to do Math if I forget.

Eric is being allowed to work on his numbers as he wants, but he's watching Cassie and I know that soon he'll want to join her. If I force him, he'll balk, so I have to entice him into wanting to show what he knows. Which is way more than I thought. I haven't done any formal math program with him, and yet he has figured out facts on his own and shares them with us as he learns. He actually has a firm grasp of place value and adding and subtracting. He can't stand it when Cassie calls it "take aways".
"It's minuses!" He'll exclaim to her as she sings, "8 take away 2 is 6," while she fills out her paper.

Let's see, we also started reading together "A Child's Story of America" by Christian Liberty Press. Just reading a few pages with them has already resulted in lots of discussions about why people used to think the world was flat. Science and Social Studies is being covered there.

I'm also trying to review Cassie's phonics. I picked up a copy of "A Writing Road to Reading" and like the way they present the phonemes necessary for reading. I started with the first few letters for Cassie and she practiced her writing. Eric needs to work on his letters and numbers as most of them are backwards due to bad writing habits, starting from the bottom, not paying attention to which direction it should face. Nothing dyslexic, I don't think, as he's perfectly capable of writing them all correctly if he tries. We made a deal with him. If he can write correctly "his way" then it's a good way. If he continues to make mistakes, then he has to agree that maybe "his way" isn't the best way and to try to do some of my suggestions. We find that gentle coercion like this works better with him than any other forms of correction we have tried.

Tomorrow is the last day of our first week using this new plan and I think this will work for us. Gentle, relaxed, with something tangible (the notebook) to show for all our discussions and learning.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What's on your skin challenge

Okay, my friend Dawn posted a challenge on her myspace blog. I'm still waiting for her permission to share the actual link, but in the meantime, here's what she asked us to do:

Go ahead.. I dare you to pick a 'main stream' beauty product, soap, or shampoo that you have and look up 5 ingredients.

She went on to write what she found in her beauty products, and it wasn't pretty.

So I thought, hey, what do I use on my skin? I'm mostly a water gal. I don't often wash my face with soaps and tend to just use water. But I'm getting older and getting worried about the sags and bags under my eyes. I was just telling my other friend that when I hit 45 next month that is halfway to dead. Sorry, too morbid. But hey, at least I'm predicting I'll live until I'm 90, God willing.

I recently joined a health and beauty product company. Why I do this I still haven't figured out, as I'm not into trying to sell products but saw a good deal to get a bunch of stuff at a discount, and then, of course, buy it from myself for cheaper than retail. The company is Jordan Essentials, formerly Country Bunny Bath & Body (I prefer their old name, more down to earth).

As my birthday looms closer, I figured it was time to invest in my fading beauty. I bought Age-Defying Serum to help counter the aging process on my face. Let's analyze this product first.

Ah...minor glitch. There are no ingredients on that bottle....might have to go dig up the literature that came with it somewhere (less than 25% chance I still have it). I'll be back with that.

Let's try this one: Kiwi Cooler, Shower Gel (love the smell!)
Water (#1 ingredient....starting off okay)
Sodium Laureth Sulfate - depending on who you believe this is nasty stuff. From Wikipedia: Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA) and the American Cancer Society have stated that the common belief that SLES is a carcinogen is an urban legend, a view confirmed by toxicology research by the OSHA, NTP, and IARC.[6] SLES and SLS, and subsequently the products containing them, have been found to contain parts-per-thousand to parts-per-million levels of 1,4-dioxane, with the recommendation that these levels be monitored.[7] The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers 1,4-dioxane to be a probable human carcinogen (having observed an increased incidence of cancer in controlled animal studies, but not in epidemiological studies of workers using the compound), and a known irritant (with a no-observed-adverse-effects level of 400 milligrams per cubic meter).[8] While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration encourages manufacturers to remove this contaminant, it is not currently required by federal law.[9]
A lot of words to say this may or may not be nasty stuff.
Cocoamidopropyl Betaine: Hmm...all I can really find on this stuff is that it is spelled wrong in Wikipedia, and that it can cause skin & eye irritant. Yup, most soaps hurt my eyes, but not my skin so much.
Sodium Chloride: I'm pretty sure this is just salt.
DMDM Hydantoin: ugh, contains formaldehyde. I know that stuff is used as a preservative, but I've heard some pretty bad stuff about formaldehyde. Wonder just how much it contains and what else do those letters stand for?
Yeah that helped me too. I'm not even going to try to figure out what that all means. But it does say that it is a preservative that works by releasing formaldehyde into the product.
And helps prevent mold from growing on the product. Maybe your skin too?
Methyl Paraben: I found this quote on one website " The EPA states that all parabens -- methyl, propyl, butyl -- have been proven to have endocrine-disrupting effects." The website?

Can the Methyl Paraben in Your Shampoo Make You Fat?

Just what I need. Soap that makes me fat.

I'm almost scared to continue this research. Let's see, have I covered 5 so far? Gulp, that was 6! I think I'll quit while I'm still willing to use the product.

Maybe I won't look so hard for the ingredient list for the Age defying serum. Sometimes ignorance is bliss?

But in all honesty, and all kidding aside, this is scary stuff! Here I *thought* I was buying something organic and "safe". Lesson learned, always read the labels!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reading And Writing

I have always loved to read. Consequently I have always loved to write. I suppose not everyone reaches the same conclusion. But it is true in my life. It is also true in my husband's life. And as a result, it has become true in our children's lives as well.

I firmly believe that if you emulate a love of literacy in your home, that your children will pick up on that love. Books are an integral part of our home. We have book shelves that line our hallway, books on the knick knack shelf that separates the kitchen nook from the living room, a book shelf in the corner of the living room and book shelves in each of our bedrooms. All of them are overflowing with books of all genres. We also have three bookshelves in our driving school office that are full of books. Books abound in our lives. If I'm not reading a book I feel lost.

Along with reading comes a love of writing. When I read a particularly good book I'll often think, "Hey I can write just as well! " So I write. On blogs, in journals, in emails, wherever!

And what have I discovered in my reading and writing? That as I do these things, so do my children!

Currently my 13yo DD, writes an average of 2,000 words a day. She started writing a few years ago because a story was in her head and she wanted to put it on paper (or computer screen). She toted around Strunk and Wagner's Elements of Style in her backpack so that she could consult it for proper grammatical writings. When she attended a private school from 2nd to 4th grade, she learned some basic grammar and spelling rules. Since then she has had no formal writing curriculum. Reading good literature (she read Les Miserables when she was 11 because she loved the musical), and practicing writing everyday, has made her understand correct style, sentence structure and grammatically correct writing. It's very natural to her. When she communicates with her friends online, she refuses to write in "chat speak" but writes complete, well though out sentences.

My older sons, too, are great writers. Occasionally I have come across something my eldest wrote from his days in 12th grade and I'm amazed at his writing ability. Yet, I shouldn't be amazed as he comes by it naturally.

Now, as my husband, Les, and I reach our mid forties, we look to our future and wonder what we will do. Both of us have concluded that writing is the "new career" that tantalizes us. Les has taken this dream one step further and actually started a publishing company so that when our books are written we can publish them ourselves. The result is his first published book: Monster Doctor. We actually have it for sale on his publishing website: Read For Fun Press.

To help promote Monster Doctor, I have been working on a blog Monster Doctor, MD.
I'm planning on having contests for illustrators interested in trying to create the various monsters described in the book. If you are an artist or know someone who loves to draw, make sure to check out the blog!

Friday, August 15, 2008

A peek into an unschooling day

I'm always reading about a typical day in the life of a homeschooler, so thought I'd share a "typical" day in our lives. Though no day is ever the same. Being unschoolers and owning our own business (Driving School), our days are far from typical, nor do they emulate what many homeschoolers' days look like.

On this particular day (Thursday) I woke up to the sound of cats yowling outside our bedroom window. We have over a dozen cats, so cat fights are common. I struggled out of bed to open the sliding glass door and yell at the offending cats, glance at the clock and realize there is no point in returning to bed. It's 8am. Time to put the coffee on, hit the bathroom, and then sit down and log into gmail and check my email. Okay, I'm addicted. I've already confessed that. My first morning emails usually involve notes from CCU - Christ Centered Unschoolers - a group I have been on for at least 10 years now, where OT doesn't stand for "off topic" but rather than for "on-topic". Since we are a group of unschooling moms we chat about everything and anything, and only occasionally hit on actual "school" topics.

One cup of coffee and several emails later, Cassie my 5 yo, the only other early riser in our household, is demanding breakfast. This could be toast, with her newest discovery, cinnamon sugar; oatmeal (which she can make herself now - I love Quaker instant oatmeal. It is so forgiving. Too much water, nuke it longer. Too little, add some more.); or cereal. This morning it is toast. Once she is happily munching I realize that it is getting close to 9am and today we have cake decorating class for the teens in our local homeschooling group. Today I am the chauffeur, so a few quick phone calls to the families who need a ride, a knock on Stephanie's door to let her know she has to wake up and be ready to go in 30 minutes, and I'm out the door and on my way to pick up the other girls.

First stop is at my blind friends' house to pick up their 12yo DD and her cake paraphernalia. Then off to the next home, where we are picking up my friend and her 16 yo DD. Who still has her cake in the oven, and the icing in the process of being made. I roll eyes at S. the first teen, who like us, had baked and iced her cake the night before as per the instructions. Sigh. By now I'm thinking I could have told Stephanie she could sleep an extra 15 minutes. And my Steph usually needs that extra time. Especially since she has been deeply involved in an online RP game lately that keeps her up until 3am most nights!

But soon we are off, back at my house to pick up Steph, who it turns out is STILL in bed because her dad, who had been up before I left, didn't realize he was in charge of making sure she was ready! Finally all in the car we drive south to Santa Rita where the cake class is. Only 30 minutes late. But since the entire class was in my car it worked out okay.

After I dropped the girls off, my friend and I decided to go visit another homeschooling mom who lives in the area. It's not often that I have the luxury of visiting down south, so we take advantage of the two hours we have to wait for the class to be done. We have a good visit and fellowship, then it's back to pick up the girls and admire their creations. Today they learned how to do a basket weave and to make roses, so each cake was topped with a gorgeous basket overflowing with flowers . And here is the picture!

I drop Stephanie off at home where she has the house to herself, as the rest of the gang has accompanied their dad to our driving school office. After dropping off the rest of the girls, I head to our office where my work day will officially begin. Except I'm starving by now, it's 1:30pm and I never did get more than that one cup of coffee! It doesn't take much to convince my hubby that we need a lunch date, so we leave the little kids in their big brother's care, to watch the office, and we stroll down the block to Linda's Coffee Shop where you can get good old fashioned lunch counter type food. For me it is a grilled bacon and cheese sandwich with fries, and Les has the club house sandwich. We always turn our lunch meetings into a business lunch so we can justify claiming the expenses. We discuss our newest venture, launching our online driving school class, which we have spent hours on this summer preparing and implementing. This week was our launch week and already we had two gals taking the online class and testing.

Back at the office I finally get to sit down with the two younger kids and find out what they have been up to. I can see evidence that they have been taking advantage of our educationally rich classroom - papers are strewn over the tables with drawings and various writings on them. Cassie has the felt dolls from Story Time felts posed and dressed in interesting costumes. There are books on the couch and Cassie is clamoring for me to read one to her. She hands me "Letters Home from Turkey", a book that is part of a series that I got for a great price from Library Educational Services. This is a book I started with them a while back and we never finished, so we glance through the first half until we find our starting place and begin reading about mosques, minarets and the food of Turkey. Eric snuggles up with us as well and asks questions about the book. I really need to get a world map up on our wall soon.

After reading I need to take care of a few business related phone calls and paperwork. Les has been doing driving lessons so has been in out and of the office all day. Adam has been working on our driving school videos , editing them so that we can upload them to our website. When my pile in my inbox has been significantly diminshed I once again check on the kids. They have been in and out of the office playing at the beach which is less than 100 feet from our back door. Cassie shows me some toy she found in the sand and Eric tells me a long story about a fish he claims he caught but then let go. It's a tall fish tale for sure!

In cleaning up the mess created by my children I find the Discovery Toys Learning Tiles and sit down with Cassie to work on some math problems with the tiles. Eric is interested too, so I find the other set and a science book to go with it and he works on that for a while with the help of his dad. He gets frustrated easily when the instructions aren't as easy to follow. So while Cassie goes off to find something to eat (again! I swear she never stops!) I help Eric figure out the page he is on.

Soon it is 5pm and time to close our office for the day. A quick clean up and load the kids into the car and within 5 minutes we are home. It is so nice to live so close to our office. At home the children immediately glue themselves to the TV to watch some insipid cartoon. When we decided to get cable a few months ago we were determined that our children would only watch Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and the National Geographic shows. Yeah right. Nicktoons and Cartoon Channel have overruled all our educational ideals.

While I work on dinner and Les works on this laptop at the kitchen table, the kids watch TV and harass me about dinner. Sometime around 7pm dinner is finally ready and my starving children eat. Why did it take almost 2 hours to prepare dinner? Well, because, as usual, in order to even start dinner I had to first wash the dishes from the previous day! Which included a lot of extras from the cake baking and icing making.

By 8pm, exhausted, I sit on the couch and we watch the Olympics together. The little kids are in and out of the living room, sometimes staying long enough to watch an event and ask questions. The big kids are ensconced on various computers in the bedrooms. It is near midnight before our household winds down and children are all in bed (actually one on the living room couch and the other in my bed, even though they have perfectly good bunk beds in their bedroom they could be sleeping on). Stephanie is just starting her evening marathon writing on her RP. She writes over 2,000 words a day. I warn her that I want her in bed by 1:30am and then I'm off to bed, to read for a while and then sleep.

And thus ends a day in the Smith Family household on Guam.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gmail not working?

I'm suffering here! My gmail account is "temporary unavailable" but I'm being assured that all my data is safe. This worries me. I have come to rely on gmail for all of my mail correspondence. It is my lifeline to the outside world. I have canceled all my other email accounts. I no longer save anything to my unreliable hard drives. Am I a fool? Have I settled for a system that will let me down? At least blogger is still working. I was rather concerned that if gmail is down then all my blogs, my husband's blogs, and our business blog would be affected too. I do breath a small sigh of relief to know that I can come here and find this still working.

We have come to rely on technology too much. What if the great Internet itself were to crash? Like Wall Street. Would there be suicides? Would we all be lost? I feel I would, and that is a scary thought.

Guess I'll go see if facebook will work. At least I can communicate with some people over there for the day. Is this a sign I have become an information junkie? Addicted to email. Perhaps I should start looking for a self help group or a 12 step program. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Evaluating a Curriculum

So, while my children have been off enjoying VBS this week, I've been spending time over at my friend's house helping her go through a new curriculum she wants to try for her children this coming school year. My friend is unique. Both her and her husband are blind. Try homeschooling your children without eyesight! What a challenge.

Anyway, O. was very excited to test out what she hoped was going to be a great curriculum to use with her 3 children. Without sight her and her husband rely on their ears to take on the role of two senses. So, to aid them, their computers (and many other appliances/electronics in their home) speak to them. An online screen reader can read any text found on a computer screen. The key is "text". Screen readers cannot read an "image".

So what is the curriculum? The Robinson Curriculum.

The Robinson curriculum consists of 22 CD-Roms full of volumes of books that are used to form the basis for their curriculum. The only thing that is not included is Math - and Saxon Math is recommended. In fact, one of the tenets of this curriculum is that children should progress from Saxon 54 all the way through Calculus before even attempting any science program. When I told my husband this he said, "Actually that makes so much sense. Math is one of the 'languages' of science and if you know math, then all the scientific equations & formulas will all make so much more sense." He should know. He taught high school sciences for two years at GICA (biology, chemistry, physical science...even some physics).

The first hurdle occurred when we realized that all the "text" on the CDs were image files. So much for a screen reader! Then, nowhere on the CDs can you find any kind of Scope and Sequence to follow. Books weren't even categorized into grade levels. From what I could tell, the recommendation was to find your child's reading level and start them at a book that would match and then have them read the books in order to the end.

At first glance that is what I saw. But as I looked more, I realized I was looking at a fantastic library of old classics, original books, biologies, autobiologies, old readers, the bible. All on computer disk. Now personally, I like to hold an actual book in my hand and am not too thrilled with reading a book on a screen. But for my friend O. this is the only way she can read a book, other than listening to a book on tape. Such a wealth of information. The trick was to figure out how to use it!

O.'s husband was able to get one of their reading programs to convert the image to a PDF file, which then could be read from another program they had. It was a complicated process to figure this out and then teach me how to teach O. how to use it. Do you know how much we rely on a mouse to navigate on a computer? Imagine having to navigate over a screen, blindfolded, using only your keyboard and a robotic voice telling you where your cursor is on the screen? That is how O. and L. navigate without sight. It's a learning curve for me, trying to explain that they are on the wrong spot "move left, no down, up. over 3". LOL. You can imagine!

It will take several meetings before O. will feel comfortable finding the books on the CDs. Luckily her kids should be able to figure it out and help mom and dad.

I'm not sure if the Robinson Curriculum will be the right one for this family. I'm not sure it's the right one for any family. It is a strange philosophy, yet has its appeal. The 3 R's are the focus - reading, writing, 'ritmetic. The children are to read the books, write essays and do their math - for up to 8 hours a day. Theoretically, at this pace they could finish school by age 15, easily. And probably have a very interesting and well read vocabulary and outtake on life. Or be burned out. Depends on the child.

For me, I see it as a great library resource. But I'm an unschooler and reading is what my kids do.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Getting ready for school?

In about 15 minutes I will be waking up the two little ones to get them ready for school. Okay, not school school, but Vacation Bible School - VBS. At least once during the summer months I like to pick a good VBS to have the kids go to. In the past we have always done the evening one at NCLC, our former church. Lots of benefits to an evening VBS - you don't have to wake up kids to attend. They come home tired and usually go to bed (unless they are wired, in which case you are in for a treat). And it used to be that taking them to NCLC I could visit with my old friends. However, the last time I went to one there I was pregnant with Maggie. My sweet baby, who only lived for a few short hours. I tried to attend NCLC for another event after Maggie's death and not one of my old friends even commented to me about her! No condolences, or even if they didn't know about her, no comment on my lack of baby in arms. I'm tired of excuses from people who try to defend others by saying "oh people are uncomfortable with death" etc. etc. The truth is, all those whom I thought were my friends had no idea what had happened in my life, they didn't care to ask or find out, so that is why they didn't comment. I haven't been back to that church since, and it will probably take a miracle to get me to try again! Casting Crowns has some excellent songs about churches like these - "Stained Glass Masquerade" is one that comes to mind. Over the years Les and I have realized that larger churches tend to put so much focus inward - to their programs, ministries, youth groups, music teams, etc. that the people become so inward focused that one never sees who they really are. Masks put on, smiles plastered to their faces, "blessings" come from their mouths but not their hearts. It's all so fake to me.

Whoa, how did this blog turn into this? I was trying to blog about VBSes! LOL.

So needless to say my kids are not going to a VBS at NCLC, instead they are attending CBF's VBS (try saying that 3 times fast!). Christ Bible Fellowship puts on an excellent VBS every year. A lot of hard working Christians in a church that sees the importance of reaching the children. Whereas other churches seems to have a budget for their music ministry alone, CBF appears to put a great deal of their budget into their children's programs. I hear they have an excellent sunday school program. Too bad they are so Baptist based (no offense to Baptists reading this I hope!). It just means, with my Pentecostal DNA, that I'm not 100% comfortable in a Baptist based church.

So now in less than 5 minutes I need to get the kiddos up and ready for a week of fun and Science - as the theme this year is Science Lab. I sure hope my Science oriented son will enjoy this!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bananas - Guam's Zucchinis

What the zucchini is to the PNW, the banana is to Guam. In the Pacific Northwest of the United states, and on the coast of British Columbia Canada, zucchinis grow to incredible sizes. This hardy squash grows quickly and abundantly in the temperate "rain forest" of this area. A single zucchini can grow to be 3 times bigger than a football. Jokes abound in the PNW that you don't dare leave you car unlocked while at church or other social functions, for fear that you will return and find several giant zucchini squashes sitting in your back seat. People will go to any extreme to rid themselves of their abundant crop. The zucchini features in many culinary dishes in the PNW - main dishes like spaghetti, get a boost of vitamins from cubed zucchini. Freezers are overflowing with shredded bags of zucchini waiting to be made into breads, muffins, and even zucchini pie (similar to pumpkin, but with a greenish tinge). Fried zucchini, boiled zucchini, baked name it the inventive housewife has tried it.

In a way I miss zucchinis. The wee little ones I find in the grocery stores of Guam just don't quite do the vegetable justice. So what to do? Find a substitute that grows in as great abundance. And that is the banana. While surveying my yard this afternoon, I counted no less than 10 bunches of bananas in various stages of readiness. Small, sweet eating bananas - never hard to get rid of as the little ones will eat them almost as fast as they ripen. The bigger "ice cream" bananas, too get eaten swiftly - as along as the family has not been "banana-ed" out. In which case, peeled and bagged in zip lock baggies, these end up in the freezer to be used in smoothies and baked dishes. The larger "cooking" bananas....they tend to be given away to the first person who knocks on my door asking for bananas. Typically a Micronesian family from Chuuk will be the lucky recipients of our over abundance.

Still, I hate to see all this great food go to waste when we can't quite eat all the bananas that have a tendency to ripen all at once. What I need are some good banana recipes. Unlike the zucchini which seems to have no trouble being served as vegetable or a fruit, the banana is all fruit in my opinion. Bananas in your spaghetti? I think not. Bananas in your soup? I think I'll pass. So what to do with all those bananas?

Banana lumpias are a tasty treat, but obviously not too healthy. Whole bananas are wrapped in thin egg roll wraps, and then deep fried in hot fat until golden and crispy. Many locals like to then sprinkle on sugar or roll them in cinnamon/sugar mixture while hot so that the sugar forms a sticky glaze on the treats. Delicious, but not so good eaten as leftovers.

Baked bananas are delicious too. And then there are all the banana breads, muffins and cakes one can think of - similar to zucchini a banana is a great filler for these.

Some day I may figure out just how to use a banana as a vegetable and serve it with my steak and salad, but for now I think I'll just keep advertising.....want bananas? Here they are!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Zippy & Zappy or Mi & Mo

Unschoolers like to seize the moment when it comes to learning. That is just what I did this morning. As I was sitting in my living room I noticed two flies buzzing around in an empty rootbeer bottle. Spying the lid nearby I grabbed it and screwed it on, tightly sealing the flies in their plastic tomb. I hate flies in my house.

As I watched the two flies buzzing around in the bottle, I felt inspired to call the younger kids over to check out my capture.
"Come on over and see Mi and Mo!"
Eric was immediately enthralled and wanted to know why I called the flies "Mi and "Mo". No reason, it just seemed like a good idea.
After a few minutes of watching the flies he said, "You can call them that, but can I change my fly's name?"
"Sure" I replied.
"My fly's name is Zappy. Cassie, you can name your fly."
"Which one is mine?" she asked peering at the two identical flies.
After deciding that the one wallowing in the rootbeer dredges was hers, and still not able to come up with a name, I suggested "Zippy" and Cassie immediately agreed.
"They are kind of like twins, you know," she said.

For the next ten minutes a discussion ensued about how to take care of flies, what they eat, etc. Eric ran to get a kitchen knife so that I could poke holes in the bottle, but I convinced him a needle would work better. After a sufficient number of air holes were made, the two children sat down to watch their flies and to discuss their food issues.

"What do flies eat?"
"Sugar water. That is why they are in the bottle. They were attracted to the leftover rootbeer."
"What happens when they run out of rootbeer?"
"I bet that rootbeer will last them a long time, but if they run out we can add some sugar water."
"How do you make sugar water?"
"Take some sugar and mix in a bit of water until it dissolves."

It was then time to get ready to go out for the day. Eric was very concerned for his flies so before leaving asked me if he could write a note for his older sister.
Here is what the note said:

Take care of my flys
1. Dont throw my flys out
2. Don't drain their root beer
3. If thay run out of rootbeer add sugar water four half a teaspoon of it.

Two flies were drawn at the bottom of the note. I'll have to scan them and attach later.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How I have been spending my Summer Vacation

Many are probably wondering just what I have been doing since I no longer have to teach the little kids every day. Well, it seems I just traded 9 human children for 5 other creatures. Namely kittens.

About 2 months ago we rescued a very sweet black and white female cat from an apartment complex where she was being mistreated by the guards and some of the tenants. She is a very loving cat, so we suspect she started out as someone's pet. But then she became pregnant and was abandoned to fend for herself. We took her in and she delighted us with 5 little babies about 3 weeks later.

My children love kittens and we have been good stewards and had all of our current gang of cats fixed at the annual GAIN (Guam Animals in Need)Clinic. So it's been at least two years since we had kittens around. So needless to say they are thrilled with the newest additions to our family.

With new kittens comes new names. Our family has a tradition of having rather unusual names for our pets. The new momma cat was named Consuela by my husband, Les, who said that she reminded him of a maid who was expelled from her home due to her delicate condition. So "Connie" was named.

My children, the oldest two still at home, 13 and 19, conspired together to name the kittens using a pirate theme. So the largest male cat earned the title "Pirate". A grey and white spotted tabby, he lives up to this name by being the first to do battle, the first to enter the food zone, and the first to explore the dark depths under the fridge. Next the two calico cats were named "Pillage" and "Plunder". Aptly named they are known to pillage and plunder their way around the kitchen. The tiny tortoise-shell with the orange stripe on her nose is "Pilfer", the only "P" word the kids could think of that meant something similar to pillage and plunder. And finally we have "Plague", a black and white spotted male whose name came about primarily due to the alliteration qualities to match the rest of the litter.

Six weeks have flown by and the kittens have grown from a tiny mewing pile in the back corner of the closet, to a wild, prowling band that has taken over my kitchen and living room. You must watch where you step when in those rooms for their dark colors, when curled in a ball, can easily blend with the dark wood floors. One of their favorite hang outs is just under the fridge so that whenever the door is opened they are threatened with decapitation! And they are fast to crawl into the fridge if you are not careful.

It will soon be time to send them outside to live. I worry about the wild dogs that live out there -- we lost our cat Coach Z just a few months ago -- so I'm not quite willing to let them out all night yet. We have taken them out to our garden a few times this weekend to introduce them to the wild and so far they have loved it.
Connie seems tired of kittens and not as lively as when we first got her, so I think these kids are wearing her out. Imagine a teen mom with quintuplets. That is how I picture the poor girl.

I will post pictures soon!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cassie at the beach

Well, this is my first attempt to put a video on my blog. Let's see if this works!

Monday, May 26, 2008

All's well that ends well

It's all over. I survived my year of teaching, or unteaching as I like to say. The last week of school went by in a blur, finalizing the lap book projects, dealing with puking kids (yes you read that correctly), planning the kindergarten graduation and making sure all the little kiddos got all their art and other projects home safely.

I wasn't really planning on doing a kindergarten graduation, but one of my K5 girl's grandmothers called me up and prodded me into doing something. With very little time to plan, I was able to acquire some cute little graduation hats, plan a short ceremony and issue the "diplomas".

Because this is the official last year for GICA (Guam International Christian Academy) it was more emotional for me than I had anticipated. I have been teaching or working or volunteering at GICA for over 6 years now, since I first met my pastor in 2002. Over the years I have been the secretary; bookkeeper; librarian; high school English, bible and math teacher; substitute taught in all grade levels; and finally this year, was the elementary class teacher. Some were paid positions, some were volunteer. It didn't matter to me, I worked hard and loved the school and the children. So when I began the graduation ceremony I found myself suddenly emotional and teary eyed. I managed to choke down my emotions, give my little speech and hand out diplomas and certificates to my children.

The graduating K5 class

My daughter, Cassie receives her "diploma"

M. with the traditional Guam Graduation Leis

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Creativity amidst Tiredness

I've had a tiring couple of days. Just felt yucky and tired on Monday and very drained of energy. Yesterday was better and today was so-so. I haven't had a full class of kids all week. At least one or two kids have been absent, each taking turns, so it's kind of been nice and not too stressful.

We've been working on a lap book in phonics, courtesy of the lapbook page I mentioned in my last post. There is a lot of cutting and pasting involved so to offset the tedium that could result from lack of variety, I have been teaching them to recognize the color words by going through a workbook I put together of the various color names.

For art I've been getting a bit more creative. Monday we made fish out of paper (I drew, they cut and decorated their fish) and I made them each a fishing pole out of string, a magnet, and either a chopstick or a straw for a handle. (I only had 3 chop sticks). Then I attached a paper clip to each fish and they got to take home their fish and fishing poles.

Yesterday we made tic-tac-toe games out of foam board with foam shape pieces to play the game. I stapled a little pouch out of cardstock for them to store their game in. They decorated and personalized their pouches and then each got to take home their own game of tic-tac-toe.

Today I made stencils from the scraps of foam board from the previous day and we "stamped" the images onto card shaped card stock, using tempra paint and painting sponges. It was a challenge to keep them from putting the templates down into the paint dish and to stop some of them from mixing the colors. Not that it would be so terrible, except for the conservation factor. I can't really reuse mixed bleh paint. You know what I mean. The color you get when ALL the colors get mixed together. The final product of our painting endeavor was each child had a 6 card set to play games with. There was a heart, a star, a sunburst, a hand, a diamond and a twirly thing for the shapes. I'm going to combine all the sets and play some games with them tomorrow.

Maybe this is what is tiring me out.

Just so you don't think I'm a genius of creativity, all of these ideas came from a book that I found around the house. It pays to be a book junky sometimes. This one is called something like Paper Fun for Kids. I'll get the correct title and info tomorrow and update this.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lap Books

Wow, after a busy weekend fighting a beast (see my other blog at
I decided to spend the rest of the weekend relaxing and browsing the net looking for ideas for school. Only one month to go now, and the days are counting down.

I've been at a standstill, trying to figure out how to get through to the kids. They can't seem to remember from one day to the next what they learned the week before. Not all of them, mind you, but they all seem to take turns at selective memory. Makes for a frustrating last few days of teaching.

Hopefully, my research has payed off, as I stumbled across Here I found a wealth of resources to teach lapbooking. And they have FREE ones!

I've always been fascinated by lapbooks and the professional look they give to a project. So I have decided to help my class finish the school with a bang, and two or three lapbooks. We are going to make one concentrating on phonics and phonemes sounds (pl, bl, sh, ck, etc.), a Fact Family one for their math, and then a butterfly book for science and literature.

Over the summer, I want Eric and Cassie to collaborate on a Tiger lapbook, and maybe even a penguin one, to finish off and tie together all they learned over their years of fascination with these two creatures.

So here is the confession. As an unschooler, I really don't like the rigid form of school, and would rather follow a more delight driven education path. At the same time, I know that radical unschoolers wouldn't even consider introducing a "project" to their kids. Yet, I have learned that what children love are "projects" and sometimes they need a little help to get interested in one.

So please don't mind me if I do carry on with my own kids doing some cool projects. I'm actually looking forward to what we can do, when working together. Hopefully I'll be sharing some great lapbooks here soon!

Friday, April 11, 2008

An Eric Day

Eric doesn't come to school with me anymore. It just wasn't for him. And since we have brought him back home, he has really mellowed out. To the point that, for a treat, I decided to bring him to school for a day. Originally, this came about because the senior class was doing a breakfast fund raiser and had promised to bring pancakes, or "flapjacks" as Eric prefers to call them. And Flapjacks are his favorite breakfast food!

Eagerly, he came to school hoping for his beloved breakfast. I had warned him that this senior class tended to be "flaky" and did not always come through on their promises. Good thing I warned him as this was the case. Thankfully, Auntie Jo, the school secretary and everyone's "auntie" had made fried rice, ham and eggs, so Eric at least had a good breakfast that he enjoyed. Donuts were sold at snack time, another of his favorites. And then I splurged on KFC for lunch, so my food addicted 8 year old was quite pleased with the day.

I noticed that having Eric in the classroom greatly increased the imagination level. Even N. whom I had noticed lately seemed to have a serious lack of imagination, was caught using hers! For Art Eric instigated a castle drawing contest (he loves a good competition, especially if he thinks he'll win). I provided paper, paper scraps, glue, scissors, crayons, and foam shapes and told the kids to come up with their own castle creation.

Eric preferred to use crayons and pens as his medium. As he put it "I'm more comfortable drawing than cutting and gluing".

Cassie diligently put together paper scraps to create a very artistic castle.

And N. surprised me the most. At first she was in shock that I didn't provide her with a model to copy. But then, after quietly contemplating the materials she managed to produce a very nice castle replica.

J. carefully drew a castle in pencil, but ran out of time to add any embellishments. He had limited time due to a math test that he was struggling through.

M. was in a whiny mood and told me castles were "boring" and did a sloppy job at her project. Usually she is my queen of gluing and cutting so I was rather surprised at her lack of enthusiasm.

And the rest of the class glued and cut and colored and created, well, something I guess. If you really stretch your imagination I guess you could call them castles. After all, art is in the eye of the beholder. Or is that beauty? Whatever the case may be, it was a fun day. Pictures will be posted soon.

And Eric's conclusion is that maybe one day a week at a school would be a welcome change from his usual routine of sleeping in until noon.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Christian Service

This may be a little off topic, but relevant nevertheless. This year of teaching has been entirely a volunteer endeavor. I've been told that I am crazy. People don't understand what I do and why I do it. They say "I could never do that". They quote bible verses at me like "a workman is worthy of his hire".

Here's the bottom line. Last July, my DH and I were sitting in our garden discussing the plans for the coming school year. We were asking ourselves, "How can we help out GICA this year?". Last year, both Les and I volunteered our time to teach a few high school classes. We knew the school was in financial difficulty. We knew that every year, Mr. C. would hire teachers who demanded too high of a pay for the finances of the school. By volunteering, we were assuring that no teacher would go unpaid and that the school would perhaps be financially viable to survive the year. So Les taught two classes - 12th grade bible and 12th grade history. I was willing to teach whatever and since 9/10th bible and 11/12th English were the classes needing a teacher, that is what I taught. So from 8 to 10am everyday we worked at GICA, no strings attached, on a strictly volunteer basis. We survived that year and were blessed at graduation by a speech from the school valedictorian (a student we had watched grow over the past 5 years from a difficult pre-teen to a considerate young adult). He thanked us personally for our commitment to the school and gave us credit for teaching him the way Christians should act.

So here we were sitting in our garden and contemplating what we should do. I thought about my own kids and how best I could help the school without neglecting my own children's education. Teaching the elementary class, which I knew would be small, seemed the most logical answer.

We didn't think, "let's negotiate for pay". We didn't think, "this is too much". All we thought about is "how can we help?" And I suppose it crossed our minds, "will this be mutually beneficial for all?" Which meant, will this help our family and the school? And the answer was a resounding "yes!"

It has been a hard year. It is almost over. Yet I wouldn't trade it for any other year. Cassie has excelled in school, learning the value of friendships. Eric discovered that school really wasn't for him. Stephanie discovered that sleeping in was more important than having friends. Okay, that one is a given for most 13 year olds I think....or maybe not.

And we've discovered that to truly serve the Lord you have to step beyond what the world thinks. Not everyone can volunteer full time. We've been blessed with a business that allows us to have the time to do this. I think there are more people out there who could do the same if only they would quite looking at the verse "a workman is worthy of his hire" and start looking at verses like 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 where Paul talks about running a race and receiving a prize...he speaks of the crown we will receive in heaven as being much more valuable than the temporal one we receive on earth. In other words, getting paid now for working isn't as valuable as the payment we will receive in heaven for the good works we do on earth.

I'm not trying to brag or boast but to just somehow get the point across that I do this more because SOMEONE has to than anything else. I wish more people would view life in this manner.
We know people who have money and means and could easily afford to take a year off and volunteer their time in a Christian school, or in the mission field, or wherever, but would never dream of doing such a thing for fear they would be taken advantage of. These same people look at me and say "fool", that I am "enabling" only because they can only see in the physical world and do not attempt to look beyond.

I am saddened by humanity at times. If I am saddened, how much deeper saddened is our Lord?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Finding the perfect Reading Curriculum

Christmas break was over much too soon. January 2nd we were back at school. I've been negligent in updating this. Must be a sign I've been a diligent teacher or something. Truth is, I just run out of steam by the end of the day, and blogging gets put on the list somewhere after sleeping.

This year's #1 goal is to get my girls to read.

I needed something to use with my K5 girls to start putting together the sounds of the alphabet they learned last year, into actual reading. While browsing my school shelf I once again pulled out the American Language Phonics K book 1 that I had looked at and rejected several times over the past few months. Finally I figured the girls were ready for this.

Lesson one covered the short sounds of "o" and "a" and combined them with L for "la" and "lo" words. Soon "i" and "e" short vowel sounds were added and the consonant blends of "m", "d", and "t" came soon afterwards. Five days into this book, M. looked up from her paper and said "P...a....m....PAM!" and a reader was born!

I really wanted to find an actual book for M. to take home and share with her parents. I spent the better part of art time looking through my books, browsing online in between glue emergencies, and wondering where those easy phonics books were that I knew I had seen somewhere. Just before the end of the day I found them. Frontline Phonics books! I knew that program would come in handy someday.

My problem is that I look at all these "programs" out there and like bits and pieces of them, but have never found one I can embrace completely. I really need to sit down at the end of this year and put together what I used and try to create my own "perfect" curriculum for reading. Or Math. But that is another blog topic!

In the meantime, M. and even A. and my own daughter, Cassie, are slowly but surely putting the pieces of the puzzle together to read. A major milestone in any child's learning life.