Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A (not-at-all) brief overview of the past month...

Once again, I haven't been posting. Yes, there's that contract work but we also traveled which took up some time and energy. You don't believe me? Think I'm just making excuses? Here's proof. We don't have trees or hills like that in Texas.

While we were there, the Monkey discovered his cousins' wii. Here he is bowling. Great form, no? I'll be sure to capture the expression on his face come Christmas morning when there is NOT a wii under the tree.

The kids and I carved some pumpkins. And by that, I mean they helped for the first, oh, 2 minutes, until they saw the goo and seeds that needed to be removed, followed by the flies that were attracted to the goo and seeds baking in the hot October sun. After that, I did all the work while they played in the yard. They would occasionally come over to check my work and evaluate how closely I was adhering to the blueprints they provided. In the end, they were satisfied and I was later paid with twix bars.

The standard Halloween photo.

The Duckling wrote her name for the first time.  Meaning she wrote the letters in correct direction and order. More amazingly, she had forgotten the "n," recognized that, and squeezed it in right where it belongs. She's never been shown how to write her name and has never been instructed on how to write her letters, with the exception of asking a few times how to write particular letters. Unschooling at work.

Kids, don't play with fire!! (unless your mother hands it to you after dipping it in melted wax to create a torch.) There's actually so much to say about this - about how I think it helps them, especially the Monkey, feel in control and independent and how I want to make sure they don't grow up in the bubble of paranoia and fear that seems to have claimed our society.  But for now, I'll let the pictures describe the moment

Remember our ant farm?  Here's an update. In case the photo isn't clear, they are indeed all dead.  Apparently, digging those two small tunnels took the life out of them. And we missed seeing them dig the tunnels because of the Hurricane.  Best money I ever spent.

The Monkey learned to ride without training wheels this past weekend.  Thanks to the wonderful advice from a friend, it took about 15 minutes.  He was very proud of himself, and rightly so.

As for the homeschooling portion of our lives, here's a rundown:

We are a little more than halfway through with Singapore 1B. We are currently finishing up multiplication.  It is going well but it is the area that causes the most frustration for both of us, not because of his abilities but because of his distractability. Though, he was much more focused and excited about multiplication so I am hoping the frustration was a result of his boredom from working on material that he clearly knew.

We are on week 13 of Writing With Ease but I've skipped a couple of weeks that seemed redundant. That was hard for me to do - to skip something.  And it comes back around to my own process of deschooling.

We are enjoying history but aren't as far along as I thought we would be. I think we are on chapter 8 from Story of the World. We spent a lot of time on Egypt and I am glad I haven't felt the need to rush him through it. He loves history and wants to delve deeply into the topics. If it takes us two years to get through Ancient History than so be it.  I want to move at his pace so that he continues to love history.

I'm not moving at his pace for science. I'm moving much, much slower than he would like.  He wants to do science every day and I find it to be too labor intensive and I end up not following through.  I am working on this, though, and plan to go on an earthworm dig with him tomorrow night.  I like our science program so-so (R.E.A.L. Science: Life) though I wish it was more literature based.  My ideal science program would be to read a few books about a topic, like earthworms, and then do one lab.  I could make this program work like that.  I need to evaluate both the program and my own hang-ups with this.

We haven't been keeping up with our read-alouds, except for picture books with the Duckling during the day.  His independent reading has taken off and he is currently on Harry Potter #3.  I don't want to pull him away from a book he is engrossed with to read to him.  I think we'll get back around to our read-alouds once he is finished with the Harry Potter books (I'm not sure how many he'll read - things get a bit dark in #4)

He does very well at Mind Benders and enjoys them. I bought him the 2nd book today. We haven't been doing much from Handwriting Without Tears because Writing With Ease seems to give him enough practice. We've only done two lessons from Artistic Pursuits, which is a shame because they both enjoy it.  I just haven't been able to fit it in the way I had planned.  He is still asking a lot of questions about grammar.  Writing With Ease hasn't filled that as much as I would have liked, though it isn't the program's intent. Perhaps we'll start with Growing with Grammar after the new year.  

The Monkey is doing well with piano lessons and the Duckling enjoys her Kindermusik class very much.  They both enjoy their nature classes and it is quite interesting to watch the Duckling go through the same class that the Monkey did.  She is very different from him in a way that I didn't expect. She is reserved and quiet during the class, rarely answering or asking questions, and sticking close to me. It is very unlike her and I wonder if it is from being expected to be quiet while her brother was in the same class just last year.  Or, it may be that her interest in the subject isn't as high as his.  Whatever the reason, I find it intriguing to notice the differences. 

All in all, all is well. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Big Question

We had a very relaxed week.  Very relaxed.  A highlight of our day yesterday - no, the highlight of our day - was spending 20 minutes watching the Duckling's beloved lamb go round and round in the washing machine.  They both had fits of the giggles whenever they caught sight of her peeking out at them.

The Monkey spent a lot of time reading this week.  And when I say a lot, I mean he read two chapter books yesterday plus a variety of picture books as well as what we call "learning books" (mostly books about Egypt these days.)  In  one sitting, he read a 100+ page Geronimo Stilton book and at another point during the day, he read the book A Grain of Rice.  Ironically, I worry about his reading because he seems to be reading too fast to absorb the information. But, when I ask him to tell me about the book, he does. And, when he's reading a book like Geronimo Stilton, he is laughing out loud.  I check in with him often and ask him to read me a page from whatever book he's finished.  He seems to read fine but he does skip some occasional words that he isn't able to sound out.  I talked with him about the importance of reading all the words so that he doesn't miss important information.  I gave him the example of when I read Harry Potter and get excited and can't wait to find out what happens. But, if I read too fast and skip parts, I end up missing information and then have to go back and re-read. We'll see if that helps him slow down his reading at all.  Or, maybe it isn't a problem at all and I'm trying to get him to read the way I read, rather than what is his natural reading style.  Oh, there's that de-schooling rearing it's ugly head again.

One of the books he's had in his hands a lot this week is It's So Amazing.  I had read most of it to him before he started reading but we skipped the section on sexual intercourse, as I wanted to wait until he was a bit older.  He knows all the basics already – the egg, the sperm, the body parts, etc., as well as how both he and his sister were conceived with the help of a donor. Well, he read the whole book this week and here's the conversation that followed:

Monkey: Mama, I read that chapter that you had said I wasn't old enough for. Is it okay that I read it?

Mama: Yes, that's okay. Did you have any questions about anything you read?

Monkey: Well, I don't really understand what they meant by the word, um, six?

Mama: Do you mean "sex?" 
feeling nervous again about his reading comprehension

Monkey: Yes, sex. What does that mean?

Mama: It's a way that grown-ups love on each other.  Sometimes, when a man and a woman have sex and love on each other, they make a baby. It doesn't happen every time and there are other ways to make babies.  

Monkey: Oh, okay.

Mama: Do you have any other questions about sex or what you read about?

Monkey: Gets very pensive and lost in his head 
Yes, mama, I have a question.

Mama: My head starts spinning and I get nervous about what question is going to come next and how much detail he'll be asking for. 
Okay, go ahead.

Monkey: Mama, did the Egyptians use anything in between the big stones to help them stick together? Like glue or something?

I was reminded that kids absorb the information they are ready to hear. Exposing them to information about sex or any other topic that we, as adults, consider "difficult" is exactly what they need and we, the adults, need to trust their abilities to absorb and comprehend this information when they are developmentally ready to do so.  I was also reminded that it is better to approach these topics from a general view point and then narrow down the details as necessary and as they request it. 

Okay, I am a little relieved that I didn't have to answer any specific questions.  

He seems to have moved on from the book but it will, of course, remain available to him and to the Duckling. 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back in the Groove

After a few weeks off due to our Hurricane preparation followed by our Hurricane evacuation followed by our Hurricane recovery, we are finally back in the swing of things.  The Hurricane came almost a month ago. Thankfully, we were pretty well stocked and didn't have to do too much prep work. We bought ice, a few groceries, and some plywood for the windows. It took a days work to prepare the house and yard and get all of our supplies together and organized, in case of an emergency evacuation. We stayed in the house for the storm and, thankfully, the kids mostly slept through it.  The Duckling woke up but not because of the storm.  She was awake for a few hours because she wanted to swing outside. Yup, outside, at 2:00 a.m., in the middle of a Category 2 Hurricane. After an hour and half of hearing her whine about it, I almost said yes. 

After checking our house for damage and cleaning up our yard, we packed up the car and headed to a small town called Hutto, north of Austin.  It was the only hotel we could find.  We stayed there for almost two weeks, courtesy of FEMA (not sure how we were approved for that, given how poorly I filled out the application).  The hotel was nice. It had just opened so we were the first guests so it was very clean, which was great since hotels can make me feel a little dirty. It had a fridge, microwave, and, most importantly, electricity and air conditioning. We found some nice parks, flew kites, went into Austin to the nature center and botanical gardens, met up with fellow evacuees, and discovered a great donut shop.  We tried to make the most of it and turn it into a mini family vacation.  It was quite enjoyable until Sharyn had to leave after a week to get back to work. Then, it didn't feel like a vacation as much as being trapped in a 12'x12' room with my kids for 3 days straight.  I cried when I got the call that our power came back on.

Things are back to normal now, except for a huge tree limb that is still stuck in one of our trees that we can't get down. I'm not willing to pay to have it removed yet.  We had some water damage to a window sill that needs to be replaced and I am slowly re-stocking our fridge and freezer. Our deep freezer hasn't been plugged back in and I avoid looking it and the reminder of how much food was lost.  Of course, it is all replaceable and nothing important was lost. 

We are back into our routine for homeschooling.  We usually head to the work room at about 10:00 a.m. for an hour or so of sit down work. Of course, by "sit down", I mean I get up about 15 times – The Duckling has to pee, the Duckling needs more playdoh, The Monkey is thirsty, etc. etc.  This seems like it would break it all up nicely but each time it is a struggle to get the Monkey's attention back.  The hour usually includes Math which takes WAY too long because of how easily he gets distracted.  After that, we do a little handwriting practice and some copywork or narration.  Then, we move to the couch for reading history or science, his favorite part.  Fridays look different because we do logic, maybe some art, mad libs, etc.  

Our afternoons are full of activities. The Monkey has piano on Monday afternoons, which he seems to be enjoying and doing well with. Tuesday is homeschool PE followed by the Duckling's Kindermusic class, which she loves (and it is her first class without mama!).  Wednesday is nature class for both kids and Thursday is back to PE. We are free on Fridays but often meet at the playground with a playgroup or friends.  Somehow, I'm suppose to clean but that hasn't been working out very well so the woman who cleans our house will start up again this week.   I do manage to cook dinner and grocery shop.  In the evenings, I am often working on contract work for a few hours while Sharyn is getting the kids ready for bed.  

We may have found a babysitter, the idea of which makes me giddy!  I love my kids and I enjoy my days with them and can't imagine them being gone for 7 hours each day. But, jeez, I don't need to spend every minute with them, you know?  My kids aren't known for their hours of independent play. When I pee, they follow. When I shower, they stick their hands in to show me their Lego creations. When I get the mail, I trip on them when I turn around to come back in. When I cook, I step on their heads (seriously, it's happened more than once.)  A woman who lives down the road from us may come once a week for a few hours. She is an older, grandmother-y type but very active. She works a lot with homeschooled children but we made it clear that we only want babysitting (I suspect she is going to try to "teach" the Duckling so we'll have to have clear boundaries.) Although, she is free to read our supplemental science and history books all she wants! I have a hard time forking over the cash for what seems like an unnecessary expense but I try to remind myself that avoiding burnout is necessary.  But I seriously don't know what I will do with myself.  All of my ideas involve spending money or eating, both of which will stress me out in the long run. I'm committed to figuring it out. 

Now, some pics. 

Our new ant farm.  They did dig some tunnels but a lot of them are already dead. 

The Monkey made his name in cunniform in clay.

At our favorite playground in Hutto. The Monkey spent a lot of time climbing this tree.

The Duckling feeds the ducks. HA!  Well, really, this is the Duckling chasing the duck and throwing bread at it. The Duck wasn't hungry but that didn't stop her!

They're fishing. With sticks.  I'm not sure what they were planning on catching.

More pics from our evacuation

Our yard the morning after IKE. 

This one and the ones that follow are all from the Botanical Gardens in Austin.

A few more nature shots

A big lizard. They kept creeping up on us when we were sitting on some benches.  

Can you see the dragon fly on the flower?

Some funky dragons flies. I love how you can see their reflections so clearly and distinctly,  but they  are almost invisible.

Big spider!

My sweet family.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

We love the big outdoors

We've been doing a lot of critter exploring lately. Mostly it has been great, but sometimes nature has not been so kind to us. I learned that the slime on my leg was pecan snot, the Monkey learned that it hurts like hell when a squirrel throws a pecan grenade at your head from 15 feet above, and the children learned that I am useless when it comes to identifying any species of caterpillar. See all the learning we've got going on?

As part of our first unit from R.E.A.L. Science: Life, we did a plot study. Basically, we marked out a square meter of wild land and observed it for signs of living and non-living things. This is the point you are meant to pause with wonder at my motivation and dedication to my children's education. If we had started this curriculum three weeks ago when it still blazing hot outside, I would have skipped this activity, without even a mention of the possibility to the Monkey Ducks. As it turns out we've had some low-humidity, beautiful mornings so I enthusiastically provided my children with a meaningful learning experience.

We packed up our magnifying glasses, field guides and clipboards and headed to the Nature Center. The Monkey picked a plot that had a pecan tree smack in the middle of it. We thought this was great! Oh, the nature we would see. We didn't realize how much we'd feel the nature. Some of the squirrels in and around the tree did not appreciate the interruption to their mid-morning feast. We were soon hit from every direction with pieces of pecan shells. Then, a big glob of what can only be described as a snotty slime fell from the tree and landed on my leg, followed by another blob on my shoulder. I had no idea what this was but I kept my cool and smiled with the kids at how amazing nature is (take another pause of wonder.) I found out later that this slime comes from the inside of an under ripe pecan. I am certain the squirrels already knew this. We found some bugs, saw a caterpillar, watched a blue jay, and then the Monkey was attacked. It was a direct hit from a squirrel that had gotten into prime position while we were distracted by some lady bugs (who I now think were in on it.) The squirrel went Rumsfield on us and dropped a whole, almost ripe pecan straight down onto the bullseye marked on my son's head. Being the fine mother that I am, I laughed, especially when he started to look a little dizzy. I took it more seriously when he started to cry.

So, here's our adventure in pictures.

A very cool caterpillar that the Monkey found. I tried to identify it but failed. Anyone have any idea what kind of caterpillar this is? It was smooth, moved like an inch work, distinct body segments, and two yellow stripes down it's side.

This is a debris carrying larvae. We identified this last year, when the Monkey said "look, Mama, the dirt is moving." They are very cool little things. They are sticky when born so whatever they are around sticks to them to provide their protection. That's my arm it's climbing on (pause with wonder.)

The debris carrying larva crawling on the Ducklings finger with her proud brother looking on.

One of the damn ladybugs that distracted us.

Let's call him Donald, shall we?

Some more nature pictures follow in the next post.

We are all so proud

Look at what we did! We are the givers of life. We are the caretakers of the planet. We didn't kill the tadpoles!

Isn't he cute? It was quite an amazing process. We checked him yesterday afternoon and observed that he (or she?) had grown some front legs but still had a tail. I checked on them before bed and we had a little toad sitting on the rock with all the other tadpoles looking at him like he was king. We'll release him tomorrow to the nature center.

This caterpillar was on our screen last night. And, of course, I was not able to identify this one either (pause here for a different kind of wonder.)

Some gratuitous pictures of the kids from the nature center.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

We're in the thick of it now

We are officially homeschooling. Schooled kids went back to school last week. The Monkey would have been going off to first grade, for about 7 hours a day, 35 hours a week. I still feel very good about our decision and I feel certain that it is the best choice for the Monkey and the Duckling, at least for now. I'm not so sure it is the best choice for me, however. It is hard to hear other parents talk about their time to themselves, knowing I don't have any of that. We don't live near any family and our one babysitter just went off to college. The kids are either with me or Sharyn. I don't want 35 hours a week away from them, but a few hours sounds good. I think I may need to spend some time and energy on finding a babysitter we can call when I need a break or when Sharyn and I would like to go out together. But, I hate spending money on that - it feels so indulgent to me. I also need to let go of my general disdain for television and use that to give myself a break. 

We've developed a nice routine, for the most part. I'm not keeping up with the house chores as well as I would like but we're not living in a pigsty either. The basics are getting done and I'm satisfied with that for now. We spend about 1-1.5 hours a day on "school work." We usually start with some math, then do some writing, then read history or science, followed by some kind of project. We've added all of our subjects and the transition has been smooth. The only struggle has been with the Duckling, who doesn't like my attention being focused on the Monkey. We're figuring it out and making adjustments as we go along. I play with or read to her before doing any work with the Monkey and she is often in my lap while we're sitting together. I bought her some special coloring books that she enjoys. Before we read history or science, I read to her first, or just snuggle, in hopes that she'll let us get through what we need to. The Monkey is working on not interrupting when I'm reading to the Duckling in order to model that behavior to her. It is slowly all starting to come together and it honestly feels quite good and I am a bit proud of myself.

The biggest struggle has been my ability to balance my life. I have been working a lot on contract work, about 15-30 hours a week, and that has been a challenge. I am thankful for the work (check out the pics of our new digital piano that the contract work paid for!) but it is a strain on all of us. I'm not reading to the kids as much because I'm working in the evenings. This has left me feeling very inadequate. More than anything that we are doing, I think Read-Alouds are the most important and they aren't happening consistently. Our weekends aren't much fun because I'm working. I'm too tired to do much of anything so we've been having crappy dinners, rather than the homemade fare that I enjoy making. I can't remember the last time I made some bread or baked with the kids. And, like I said, the house isn't as clean as I'd like it to be. By 10:00 pm, I'm ready to do something for myself so I end up staying up way too late, watching x-files DVDs. This, of course, leaves me trudging through the next day. While a day-long supply of iced tea helps a lot, I'm burning out pretty quickly and I need to find ways to take care of myself and bring some balance into my life. I'm working on it.

Okay, now onto the fun stuff. The pictures.

The Monkey Ducks with their new tadpoles, that we caught on the side of the road in front of a stranger's house.  Our neighborhood doesn't have standing puddles so we had to find one.  Its times like that, when I'm on the side of the road in gutter water, that I wished we lived in the country.

Cute, aren't they?  One of them already has back legs.  We learned that they are toad tadpoles. Who knew?

Our new digital piano, purchased after WAY too much on-line research. It amazes me - it really does feel and sound like a real piano.  Wow, technology.  I've been teaching myself piano and I've learned the major and minor chords and am now working on scales, though I'm not sure if I'm using the correct finger placement.  I think I may need lessons. The Monkey takes his first lesson later this week. Maybe he can teach me. Oh, and in the background is some baskets of unfolded laundry, taunting me. I actually moved them into the middle of the kitchen, thinking it would force me to acknowledge them and fold them. Nope, didn't work.

Our first activity from Story of the World - cave paintings.  The Monkey really enjoyed this activity and the Duckling enjoyed painting herself.  You'll have to look at the following post to see the final product.

More pics to satisfy

The Monkey's final product of the cave painting project.

The Duckling's cave painting project. She choose a different canvas.

Well, I'll try to straighten that out. It's the Monkey's first project from his art curriculum. This is a drawing of some dogs barking at each other in front of our house, drawn in Ebony Pencil. 

The Ducklings project, also drawn in Ebony Pencil.  It's an ice cream cone with sprinkles.  That's my girl!

Finger painting today. Why do all of her art projects end the same?

Monday, August 25, 2008

So, how's homeschooling going?

Although I haven't had time to do much blog posting, thanks to the contract work I have stacked up, we have had some fun and interesting times. Here's a photo essay to serve as a guide.

Here's the Lego that was stuck in the Ducklings nose for 5 days. Here's the short story. Yes, she told me there was a sparkly green Lego in her nose; yes, I looked, kind of, but didn't see anything, asked her to blow her nose a few times, and then decided she was a crazy story-teller; yes, she complained for a few days about the Lego in her nose but I thought it was sinus problems. You can see how this ends, right? Five days later, maybe four (I really wasn't paying much attention), she said the Lego was starting to come out. I took another look, this time with a flashlight, and, sure enough, a sparkly green Lego was in her nose. I tried tweezers, hoping for the best, hoping I wouldn't have to bring her to the doctor and have to say that it's been in there for four, maybe five days. No luck with the tweezers. She blew her nose a few times and out it came. I hugged her, cried, an apologized profusely for not believing her. I am officially a bad mother.

Or am I? Here's the way I'm seeing it now. Yes, there was a sparkly green Lego in her nose for five days and I didn't believe her, despite her telling me repeatedly. Let's look past that part. If I had believed her, this would have gone down a lot differently. Remember, I didn't see the Lego up there on first inspection. I don't think a light would have helped because it was up very, very high. When she said it was starting to come down, it was still up high, visible this time, but beyond the reach of my tweezers. This is an important point to note. If I had been a responsible mother and brought her to the doctor when she first told me, they would have had to perform a very invasive, uncomfortable at best, procedure to dig that Lego out from the highest peaks of her nasal chamber. That would have been extremely traumatic for her, don't you think? She might never trust me again after that!

So, you see, I spared her immense pain and trauma. I patiently waited for nature to take it's course, for her body to gently release the foreign intruder. And that's exactly what happened. I'm not a bad mother. I'm a mother with insight, patience, and a deep trust in my children and their natural abilities. See?

Here's how you'll find the Monkey these days.

Some beautiful whole wheat french rolls I made from scratch, while I patiently waited for my daughter to expel the Lego.

A caterpillar we caught in our backyard. It died, of course.

The Monkey's Lego creation that he wants me to submit to the Lego magazine. It's a bad guy command center.