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.