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.