Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Sarah and I had tea together, this afternoon (well, technically, *I* had tea, she had mint hot chocolate!), and discussed her priorities for this upcoming year.

In 2012 she wants:
* more math
* more science experiments
* to learn the drums
* more baking
* more drawing
* more playdates

We also talked about the approach we've been using recently, and agreed that we want to keep using it. So 2012 will also include focus on:

* Spanish (coffee break espanol, a variety of Spanish picture books and songs, practicing with friends)
* Mosaic history curriculum
* Chemistry (mostly experiments)
* Nature Study/Weather (mostly observation and asking questions)
* Math -- Living Math, Good Time Math Event book, Life of Fred, String Straight Edge & Shadow
* Maps and Adventures
* NYC and family history
* Hudson River Valley
* Mythology/Religions
* Philosophy/Logic/Critical Thinking (by which Sarah mostly means "more puzzles!")
* Spelling

We're also going to take a week off every month or so to just focus on one or two projects.

Spelling's a big one. We haven't focused on it much because it's just not a priority for us, but it's been weighing on Sarah recently that she doesn't always know how to spell things, and a couple schooled kids have given her crap about it, which really hurt her feelings (one of the many reasons I'm glad we're homeschooling -- while homeschooled kids can be just as flawed as their schooled peers, they're generally pretty compassionate and nonjudgemental about what academic level other kids are up to. They get that it's arbitrary and no reflection of someone's value as a person). But now that it's bothering her, we're trying to find an approach that works for her. We've tried a few different ones, but none of them's particularly impressed us. We're going to try a new book that focuses on sounding out, writing out a couple possibilities, then looking it up in the dictionary. We're also going to try a couple more kinesthetic approaches and see if they appeal.

She's so hard on herself when she doesn't get things right on the first try. I wish I knew how to help her be gentler with herself.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

This week we're focusing on finishing up learning about Prehistory -- finishing that section in the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History (their website is awesome, full of such a wide variety of links to explore), watching documentaries, planning projects. Next week Sarah's going to put together a book of her own on prehistory, to draw together and celebrate everything we've been learning over the last few months. We'd planned to continue with the Mosaic curriculum, moving into Ancient Civ, but I've been wondering whether it might be a better plan to shift to a more project-based approach (because of conversations she and I've had, because conversations with another homeschooling mom recently reminded me how much fun the project-based approach sounds like, and because it was very hard to shift back to our usual routines after our latest break, which made me wonder whether those routines were no longer working for Sarah).

We talked about it tonight, while sitting in the rental car together. The rain was pouring down around us, pounding down onto the windshield. We were waiting for Joe (he was upstairs visiting his mom in the hospital), and we were enjoying the magical feel of being cozy and warm in the car, feeling cut off from the rest of the world. The only touch we were missing was hot cocoa or mulled cider to sip while we gazed out the window. We talked about how Playing School has been going, and about what project-based learning is, and about what we want our winter to be like. It was a really good conversation and it made me very happy to know we can have that sort of conversation, that we're building this life together.

I'm taking part in an online discussion, right now, that has triggered so many unresolved memories/issues/wounds from our years at the free school.

I'm so glad for our time at the school, and for the community we all created together there, but I am so very, deeply grateful that we're back to homeschooling, just the three of us in our cozy home, exploring the world together and being kind to each other.

(the outcome of our conversation, btw: we decided to try a week of projects, after we finish up Prehistory, and Sarah suggested it sounds like a fun approach for whenever we want to take a break for a week -- when we don't want to take a total vacation but when we don't feel like doing our usual Playing school, either. Mostly, though, she says she's happy with how playing school is going.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011


This month's Country Day was set in the USA. Sarah did a presentation on the Lenni Lenape (also known as the Delaware), and we brought baked beans to share. Her presentation was excellent, and she brought in the lenape toy and the clay pots she made at the Essex County Environmental Center's Lenape program, the other week.

We took the train down there (we're without a car for the moment) and, while the trip was a lot of fun, it was obscene how expensive it was. It would have been only marginally more expensive to rent a car for the day (seriously, we're talking maybe another $5 to rent a car, including all the fees). But Sarah had so much fun that she's asking to spend a day just riding the rails from place to place. Our friend K suggested taking a train down to Trenton and from there to Philly. The evening was gorgeous and stormy, and we had a good time watching all the layers of clouds floating by.

Today we hosted a singing gathering here at our place. We introduced our friend B to a few new songs, and she introduced us to The Island Song and Hoist The Colors (from POTC3). I think we're going to shift the music group to being a straightforward singalong one afternoon a month, instead of trying to integrate any music instruction, right now.

I really need to get a couple digital cameras -- one for family photos and one for taking photos of our homeschool activities for scrapbooking and posting. Maybe for Christmas.

This week we mostly focused on getting back in the habit of playing school every morning (November was a hard month in our household, and a lot of our routines fell by the wayside). We worked on Sarah's NaNoWriMo project, continued researching Chinese mythology, researched the Lenape, and did a lot of reading about New Jersey (history and political structure, mostly, but also familiarizing ourselves with the map of NJ and learning where on the map to locate the towns where our friends live).

Next week we're finishing up the prehistory reading we've been doing (mostly in The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History), and putting together our own book on prehistory. We'll also be continuing with Spanish and math (I can't wait to take a look at all our new math books!) and spelling (we've been slowly compiling a list of the words Sarah knows how to spell and making a point of paying attention to the spelling of words she writes frequently).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What a busy homeschool time it's been, this last month. I'm teaching a civics class to 7 or so students, working on the skills needed to be active citizens: researching topics, writing elevator speeches, writing letters to representatives, etc. This week we met with dear friends of Sarah's and mine, who are also experienced political organizers. They gave us excellent advice on how best to lobby our legislators, and got us all fired up. It was an awesome class, and all the kids are still talking about it.

Sarah also hosted a Dia De Los Muertos party, inviting all her friends to put together ofrendas (altars celebrating departed family and friends (several kids chose to celebrate their departed pets, as well)), and share stories and family recipes that had been passed down. The kids had a great time, painting each others' faces, making papel picado (cutting patterns and images into brightly colored tissue paper), and sharing their stories. Our recipes -- irish soda bread and peach dumplings -- went quite well, but I think we're going to have to practice more to get them just right.

Yesterday we went to a class on the Lenape at Essex County Environmental Center, arranged by our friends K and L. We learned about the different trees the Lenape used for food, medicine, and for building their longhouses, we got to try out a few different Lenape toys and tools (including a drill made out of wood and string (or possibly a strip of leather?), and a fire-starter also made out of wood and a strip of leather), and we made our own clay pots. The instructor was great -- high-energy, relaxed with the kids, and able to answer most of my questions about how things worked. I'll have to do a little more energy (ETA: *research* -- where on earth did "energy" come from?!) on why smoking and drying extend the "shelf life" of food.

Right now our own homeschool work is focused on the history of NJ, on learning to use and make maps, and on getting in lots of practice writing. Sarah and I are each working on a NaNoWriMo project (the official site has some amazing resources for young writers and their teachers), so we're spending lots of time on that, and on background research for our projects (Sarah got help from the librarian on researching Chinese Mythology -- and took out her very first adult book from the library!).

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Happy October?

This has not been an awesome homeschooling week. I've been in a bad mood -- angry, sad, discontented -- things are stressful as we prepare for a hectic October, we're missing some of the social activities we were doing last year, and while it's usually wonderful to come back to our routines after a week away from them, this week we never quite managed to get back into the groove of things.

I volunteered at an anti-bullying event, and Joe and Sarah spent most of the day at a Pokemon event. Tomorrow's one of our family days, a day we reserve for stuff we all enjoy doing together -- no rushing around to social obligations or vegging out mindlessly in front of separate screens. I'm hoping a deliberate, cozy day will be just what we need to help get everything moving in the right direction.

My online time has grown out of control again. I'm thinking of taking a break from several of my usual sites until I'm feeling more even-keeled.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm struggling, this week, with how to engage in conversation with people who are making sweeping generalizations with which I disagree. Specifically, sweeping generalizations that claim that everyone is going about things the wrong way (where "everyone" has at different times been used to mean all parents, all Americans, all Progressives, or all members of a club I belong to) when, in fact, there are many people (myself included) who are *not* doing things the way the speaker assumes "everyone" does. (Sometimes I also disagree with the assertion that the mainstream way is necessarily *wrong* -- I agree that it's not right for everyone, and it's important to recognize that and have other options available, but there are also plenty of people for whom the mainstream approach genuinely works just fine.)

Yeah, it's partly my ego raging against being lumped in with goobers. But it's also partly about being able to take part in the conversation authentically, allowing myself to acknowledge that my experience (with school, with academia, with the decision to stay home with my daughter, with particular group dynamics, or whathaveyou) is different from the experience of the other people in the discussion but is equally valid.

I don't know how to present my viewpoint without squelching other people's enthusiasm for whatever new idea or approach it is that's gotten them all revved up, or without coming across as a special snowflake.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Goal-free week -- sort of

This week Sarah and I are experimenting with a Goal-free week, as described at Perhaps later I'll head over there and find the specific article.

We're currently without a car, so we're walking everywhere. To the store, to the laundromat, to the park, home from the mechanic...

We also give ourselves the week off from our routines, during our occasional Goal-free weeks.

It's refreshing, invigorating, gives us the opportunity for deep rest, and sends us back to our routines with renewed enthusiasm and some exciting new ideas.

(It also teaches me a lot about the extent to which I can never be truly goal-free, as long as I'm raising Sarah -- everytime something new comes up in conversation, I find myself scurrying for my homeschool notebook and books of homeschool resources, to add it to our list, to make sure I don't forget it's something we want to pursue.)

So what do we do with our time when there's nothing we "have to" do?

Play with dolls, make mulled cider, cuddle, watch cartoons, watch Rick Steve's Europe, decorate tshirts, do yoga, do dishes, make soup... That's early on the first day (technically the second, but the first goal-free day was spent out with friends at the zoo, and then doing laundry at the laundromat, so it was no different from what that sort of a day would look like on a regular week).

Late on Tuesday I realize I'm getting stressed, feeling as if I'm puttering and wasting my time. Feel pulled to really retreat into the week, sinking deep into mindfulness and being present. Watch a romantic comedy (Imagine Me and You -- fun but forgettable, with Giles doing an awesome job as the beaten-down dad of the bride) while Joe and Sarah are out at Pokemon. Clean mindfully. Contemplate what a four-day pre-equinox retreat might look like. Consider whether that would count as a goal, even if I felt called to it spontaneously. Consider whether I can set an intention of being present and relaxed, without considering it a goal. Do a short ritual preparing to welcome the Fall.

Wednesday I had plans in Montclair in the evening, to talk with a new friend who's thinking of homeschooling her 3 year old daughter. Since we've been missing our friends from our volunteer gig, we set out to walk into Montclair (a daunting prospect for Sarah, even when we broke the journey down into several parts -- I promised her we won't do it again any time soon, but suggested that if we make it a habit to walk into Bloomfield, soon Montclair won't be a big deal at all), and spend the day. We hung out at the library, took out a few books (including a children's book on The Socialist Party and Eugene Debs, and the next books in two series Sarah's into right now: Inkheart, and Percy Jackson). Then we helped out at our volunteer gig for a few hours (everyone there is awesome, but one new staff member is particularly great with Sarah, offering her simple and doable opportunities to help).

So far today we're reading companionably on the futon. I also took a nap for a bit. I'm sitting with the experience of having multiple, conflicting desires for how to spend my time, without immediately turning it into a Daily Plan (usually I'd notice the desire to do 7 different things, and immediately make a list, planning out how to give half an hour to each of my goals). I'd also like to clean the house, play music, exercise, meditate, cook, read some articles online. With only a handful of days "off", it's hard to let myself just sink into whatever I feel like doing, and trust that I'll get around to all of it in time. I suspect it would be easier if we had a whole week (in theory we do, but because of prior commitments that we've decided we want to keep, today and tomorrow are our only two entire days to devote to this delightful experiment).

Perhaps we'll start giving ourselves a goal-free day a week. I can imagine that, for much of the fall and winter, Fridays could be goal-free. Maybe we can persuade Joe to take a few off and join us -- we've tried, from time to time, to make a few Sundays a month a true Sabbath, a day of rest focused on family and joy, but it's hard and we don't manage as often as we like.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Not Back to School

We celebrated Not Back To School week with:

* Country Day, the Indonesian edition! Sarah gave a presentation on tree kangaroos, I made bubur manado (similar to congee, a rice porridge) with a spicy broth, and topped with stirfried cabbage, stringbeans, and spinach. We both had a wonderful time reconnecting with all our Country Day friends. I love every single kid (and adult) involved in that group -- they're all compassionate, enthusiastic, interesting, and generally delightful.

* A laidback Wednesday -- garlic bread for breakfast along with a couple episodes of Rick Steve's Europe, a trip to the library, drinks with a couple of our GSE friends at a cafe in Montclair, and a viewing of Anastasia in prep for studying Russia this month.

* A busy Thursday -- playing school in the morning (reading about the Cherokee, the Dakota, Carthage, flying reptiles and the first birds, and a couple native American sacred stories), lunch at the library, a couple hours at GSE helping them unpack from their move to new offices, and a little food shopping.

* A wonderful Friday -- watching a couple episodes of Globe Trekker (learning about Mexican and Moroccan food), having lunch with Joe in Hoboken, reading about the death of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals and learning a little about Russia in preparation for next month's Country Day, and then Joe and Sarah went to a street fair while I went out with friends.

I am full of awesome, Sarah is full of awesome, and our lives are brimming over with awesomeness.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Today was the first Country Day of the school year, focused on Indonesia. After a busy Labor Day weekend (long days out with friend all three days), Sarah spent last night doing her research and putting together a presentation on tree kangaroos. She did a great job on her presentation.

I tried to make seitan satay for the potluck, to no avail. Instead I made a rice porridge with a spicy broth (vegetable broth, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, curry powder, chili, and a little soy sauce), sauteed string beans, cabbage, and spinach. Turned out really nicely.

A year ago, at the first Country Day, Sarah was taken aback by how many kids were there (she'd been assuming it would be more like Lego League, with just a handful of kids, most of whom she already knew). After the first meeting, she didn't want to go back -- the thought of standing up and talking in front of such a large group was daunting, and she didn't want to be the only kid coming to Country Day and *not* doing a presentation.

We went home and talked about it, brainstormed different ways she could work around her concerns, and she decided to give it one more try. Joe showed her how to put together a presentation using OpenOffice's version of Powerpoint, and she spent days collecting pictures, doing research, breaking her presentation down into bite-sized pieces, then recording a separate voice-over for each slide. When Country Day came around the next month, all she had to do was set up the laptop at the front of the room and hit the space bar to keep advancing to the next slide.

Each month she grew more and more comfortable standing up in front of the group. Before long she decided that, for the amount of work that went into her powerpoint presentations, it would be easier to just bite the bullet, glue a few pictures to some posterboard, and do the presentation live. I don't know which one of us was prouder, Sarah or me, the first time she stood up there and read the presentation outloud in front of the whole group.

One of the many, many blessings of homeschooling is how easy it makes a process like this. We were able to meet Sarah exactly where she was. Sarah would have been more than welcome to come every month even if she didn't want to give a presentation. When she came up with an approach that worked for her, it was a totally trivial thing to implement -- we didn't need special permission or paperwork, and there was no stigma attached. Everyone, moms as well as kids, were so totally supportive and compassionate, no one ever made a big deal out of it, and I think the other moms were nearly as excited and proud as I was when Sarah made the transition to speaking in front of the group and answering questions comfortably.

(I also love the fact that at the age of 10 she knows more about time management and her own learning style than I did when I started college. She and I check in with each other about everything, about how the day went, how a particular approach to a project went, and how we could make sure it goes better next time. It only took her a couple Country Day meetings before she started gently suggesting that we might be less likely to wind up running late, both of us grumpy and stressed, if her presentation was finished by the night before. I know I hadn't learned that lesson by high school (as evidenced by all the homework I did on the train on the way in to school in the morning. No idea how my teachers could read a single thing I handed in.). Hadn't entirely learned it by college (as Joe can attest, after spending many nights watching me finish reading a book at 3 in the morning so I could write the paper due 6 hours later).)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Note to self

Watch more videos on the neurology of learning. Remember to get her to make predictions about outcomes or what will happen next, and then give her timely feedback, to get the info to set in her brain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gearing Up

I love this time of year! I love the Fall even more, with the crisp air and the start of the new year, but the plans that start percolating in August are almost as exciting. Last week we went shopping for Sarah's first full-size backpack, a new lunchbox, and her first looseleaf notebook, and I think I was even happier about it than she was!

This year Sarah and I have put together a set of themes that we started working with in June (because our Spring was so busy that we decided to take 6 weeks off from playing school in April and May), and which we're planning to work with through the end of the Fall semester. If they work for us we'll continue using them into the Spring, or we may shift to using something else.

Social Studies:
Mosaic Intro to World History part I (starts with the Big Bang)
(this uses Story of the World and the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, and also does timeline work, map work, and brings in myths and folktales from different traditions)

Living Math
Good Time Math Event Book by Marilyn Burns
Oak Meadow Fifth Grade
Khan Academy
Logic and Critical Thinking (can't find the name of the book at the moment)
(can you tell how much she loves math?)

Intellego Weather Unit
Chemistry Experiments
Nature Study
Physic Experiments and Engineering

Coffee Break Espanol
Conversation with friends
Spanish story books

Poetry and Storytelling:
Memorizing a variety of poems together. Familiarizing ourselves with a variety of stories so that we can tell them in our own words.

We're also continuing with Life Skills (cooking, shopping, maps, gardening, drawing, sewing, crafts, building stuff, planning adventures, building confidence with animals and in social situations), and with our miscellaneous projects and topics (NYC, family history, Hudson River, Food Detectives, Family Zine, Family No Free Lunch). She'll also be taking the Active Citizenship and Music classes I'm facilitating, and doing Country Day once a month.

My Super Secret Goals for her, this year, are:
* Improved writing skills (spelling, handwriting, composition, vocabulary, research, analyzing what she reads and forming and expressing her own opinion, introducing the ideas of: metaphor, simile, analogy)
* Improved math skills (more math facts at her finger tips, also more abstract skills, more comfort with the use of math in every day life)
* Increased confidence with social situations and physical skills (soccer, baseball, etc.)
* Expand our narration styles to include scrapbooking, bookmaking, songwriting, dioramas, magazines/newspapers

I can't wait to get started! (We've been doing a lot of this already, this summer, but we're gearing up for Sarah's week of Grandma and Grandpa Summer Camp right now, and visiting with lots of friends who are getting ready to go back to school, so we're taking more days off than we're playing school. We'll jump back in when Sarah gets back from her visit to my parents'.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

End of year wrap up

I met with my good friend and fellow homeschooler, A, this week, for a Parent Teacher conference. :) As both parent and teacher to the same child, it can be good to have the opportunity to say aloud "this is what my plans were for last year, and here's how those plans went." To talk about what you're going to keep doing, what you're going to change, what new goals and approaches you're going to try to add for the next year.

At the start of this last year, Sarah and I had just shifted to choosing themes for the year (before we'd been choosing new themes each month). Our themes for this year were:
* Math (using Oak Meadow and Living Math)
* Social Studies (history and culture of NYC, early US History, Oak Meadow 3rd grade's social studies (which uses stories and maps to explore several ancient civilizations and several Native American tribes)
* Communications (writing and conversation, Spanish, family zine, letter writing, making books)
* Science (nature journals, the ecosystem of the Hudson River, potions (that is, chemistry experiments))
* Lifeskills (cooking, rollerskating, gardening, drawing, bravery badge...)

My Super Secret Goals for her included improving her writing skills (handwriting, spelling, composition, vocabulary, rhetoric), improving her practical math skills (making change, telling time, increased proficiency with basic arithmetic skills), and life skills (in addition to the ones above, increased familiarity with public transportation, phone etiquette, maps, nutrition, and a variety of spiritual practices).

How did that go?
Math: We made it through the 3rd grade Oak Meadow math, and her work with Joe has put many more math facts at her finger tips. We're jumping to 5th grade Oak Meadow math, this year, and using the Good Time Math Events book for math projects. This last year we picked and chose from the Living Math books, integrating them into our homeschooling, but didn't work our way through them in order.

Social Studies: Lots and lots of books on NYC, using a documentary on the history of NYC, and several field trips into the city. Our early US history theme focused mainly on biographies of some of the founders of the US, and field trips to various sites connected to the Revolution. We also learned a little about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Oak Meadow 3rd grade social studies was the bulk of what we did in the second half of the school year -- reading stories set in several ancient civilizations and then in several Native American tribes, and spiraling back around to each society again and again to explore themes of geography, economics, and government. We only touched on family history a little.

Communications: The family zine has languished, unfortunately, but her writing and communication skills have just taken off. Between the copywork she's been doing on a regular basis (including copying over lines of poetry and working a little bit with spelling lists) and the research, writing, and presentations she's been doing every month for the geography club she belongs to, her clarity of thought, grammar, spelling have blossomed astoundingly. Her handwriting is like night and day, when she takes the time to focus and work carefully. The sophistication of her vocabulary amazes me, and this year she shifted from reading almost exclusively comic collections (which I consider absolutely valid things to choose to read, but I was a little concerned about the fact that, while she could read chapter books, she still found them a little daunting because of all the unbroken text) to sitting for hours reading 3- and 4-hundred paged books (like Lightning Thief, DragonRider, This Book Is Not Good For You).

Life skills: Her cooking and drawing have improved immensely. She's improved at the various practical math skills (like making change) but we're going to continue to work on them.

What am I rolling over to next year? We'll be continuing to work on all the life skills mentioned, the chemistry/potions, the nature journal. Also, family history, NYC, the Hudson River. I'd wanted to work more with fractions and decimals than we did, this year, so I'll make a point of making sure a few of the math projects we do, this upcoming year, incorporate those skills.

My underlying Super Secret Goal for this year (what I also call my Shadow Curriculum) was to stretch her academic sophistication a little by slowly increasing what I was asking her to do on her own (at the start of the year, I was reading everything to her, and then just asking her to do an art-based narration afterwards), and by having more sophisticated, abstract conversations with her about how to take your dreams and break them down into bite-sized goals, and how to assess your own progress. I'd say that was wildly successful, in part because of the changes I consciously made, but largely because the soil was fertile, she was ready to make that sort of leap.

More later, on our goals for this year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is that anything like "Pop Up Video"?

I never did post the pop-up cafe wrap-up I'd intended to. It was so much fun, I think all the kids had a great time, and I was thoroughly impressed by how smoothly our brand-new staff of 5-12 year olds kept things running!

Sarah and I spent all day Wednesday cleaning and cooking, and then got up at 8 on Thursday (ungodly early for us night owls!) to start cooking again. Joe took the day off and was an invaluable gopher and assistant!

We made a lot of things ahead of time -- cake, brownies, pizza dough, focaccia bread, sloppy lentils, pasta sauce -- but made sure there was still plenty available for the kitchen staff to do if they were feeling especially enthusiastic!

Sarah handled the front of house, and I was head chef. We wrote up the kitchen rules and taped them to the wall in the kitchen: 1) Wash your hands -- when you come in to the kitchen to start working, before you touch food, and after you touch food (pretty much any time you even *thought* about food); 2) keep an eye on the supplies and let the head chef know if we're running out of anything; and 3) Have Fun!

We had two seating areas, at the dining room table and on floor pillows around the coffee table in the living room.

The first batch of guests/kitchen staff started arriving promptly at noon. We split them in half, brought half of them in to the kitchen to decide if they wanted to be chefs or servers and to familiarize them with the menu, and sent the other half to Sarah to get seated in the cafe.

After an hour or so, we switched shifts, and the first batch of staff got to eat while the first customers now got to take their turn at cooking, plating, and serving.

Sarah had spent the weeks leading up to the cafe thinking about what to put on the menu, flipping through her cookbooks and magazines, considering her own favorite foods, the tastes of her prospective guests, and what would be quickest and easiest to prepare. She wound up with quite a nice menu: three appetizers to choose from, four entrees, three desserts, and three or four drinks.

Some friends stayed all day, moving in and out of their roles as guests and staff, and others came for just an hour or two. I was so pleased to hear from many, many customers that the front of house remained serene and pleasant, no matter how hectic the situation in the kitchen got, even as calls of "Behind you!" and "Order up!" could be heard coming from behind the scenes.

There were some rough patches -- some miscommunications about who wanted to work when, some difficulties balancing out available staff with the flow of guests, some confusion about RSVPs/reservations, and I was on my feet cooking from 8 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon -- but I'd say it went really well for our first try and we're both looking forward to doing it again!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We're busily preparing for Sarah's Cafe -- the pop-up restaurant Sarah's running tomorrow from 12-6. Once the house is slightly more civilized I'll be taking some pictures of the prep but, for the moment, you'll just have to imagine the bustle!

We did our usual morning dancing to get the blood flowing, then played school for a bit because Sarah didn't want to skip too many days (tomorrow we're going to be a little busy madly chopping, cleaning, and cooking to do any reading, I suspect).

The plan is to spend the next 3 hours cleaning and finding supplies (where are the aprons, again?). Then, this afternoon and evening, we do the first 1/3 of the food prep -- early this week Sarah broke the steps of each recipe down, to figure out what we could do the day before, what we could do the morning of, and what was going to need to wait and be prepared as needed.

I'm really excited for her -- she's excited, her friends are excited, and I love the fact that she dreams such big dreams.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tips for a Nature Study

I love this so much I'm posting it everywhere

"What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out." - John Holt

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The busier we are, the harder it is to find time to sit down and journal, of course -- but the more I want to capture these rich days, to remember and reassure myself when we're having weeks full of drudgery or doubt.

I'm enjoying working my way through the posts here on various homeschool curricula and how different families approach the question of using a curriculum. I have plans to get together with a few homeschooling moms soon, to talk about resources for next year, but I wish I could extend the conversation to my whole homeschooling network. Everybody's so spread out, though, both geographically and philosophically. I'm hoping to write more about my thoughts for next year, but that's not going to happen today.

We spent last week at my parents' in the North Country. There was kayaking, boating, swimming, ice cream, cooking, breakfast in the tree house, rollerskating, mini-golf, a visit to the Herkimer Diamond Mine (breaking rocks in the hot sun, visiting the museum, admiring the rocks we collected -- which include calcite and stromatolite), organic mexican food, naps, reading, campfires, s'mores, campfire singing...

We took the week off from playing school. It made both of us so enthusiastic about getting back to "school" that I think we'll take another week off later in the summer.

We're continuing with the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History -- we're reading about dinosaurs right now, just finished learning about the first fish and first reptiles -- and the Intellego Weather Unit (still doing nature studies, weather observation, reading about weather vs. climate and getting an overview of what creates weather). We're making slow progress with Coffee Break Espanol, and will be looking for a Spanish conversation buddy in another couple weeks.

We're continuing to work our way through the Native American stories in our Sacred Myths book, and we finished the cultural geography exploration in Oak Meadow. We're just getting started with a broader map/geography study, using _The Book of Where_ and _Map Mania_.

Sarah's expressed a desire to "catch up" in math, so we're putting some of the exploratory math projects to the side and focusing more on drills and basics for a little while. Starting soon, though, we'll be doing the projects in The Good Time Math Event Book, and she and Joe will be continuing with multiplication and division games.

She and I haven't been doing much independent work, so she hasn't been doing much copy work. I'm noticing that her improvements at spelling have stalled a bit, so we may restart copy work next week. (she was continuing to improve even without the copy work, so this might just be a normal plateau -- I'm not concerned, it's just serving as a reminder that I want to include copywork at least a couple days a week.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our summer reading

This is a place holder at the moment for the books we each read this summer.

Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke
Lightning Thief

A very short introduction to Prehistory
How Democratic is the American Constitution?
I'm having a... not a hard day, but an uncertain day. Are we doing the right thing, making the right choices, is this homeschooling approach working, are our daily routines the right ones for all of us... I'm trying to just breathe through it, and remind myself that Sarah's having a great time, she's learning a lot, and anything else there's plenty of time to address.

This weekend Sarah had a fabulous time at Pokemon League on Saturday, and a fun sleepover at my MIL's house. She finished reading Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke (one of her favorite birthday gifts), and got started reading The Lightning Thief.

This morning we continued with Oak Meadow's Native American creation stories, reading a Lakota story and then finding a few sites online to read more about the Lakota and Dakota. We read more in Usborne, learning about the warm, shallow seas of 510-390 million years ago, and the appearance of the first vertebrates, coral, and fish. We did another spanish lesson, and we'll be doing some nature study this evening.

No science experiments this afternoon -- the day got started late, and then we spent a lot of time planning the pop-up restaurant Sarah wants to invite her friends to, next month.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Last week we continued studying weather, looking at weather vs. climate and continuing to keep our weather journal. We also read a few more of the Native American stories in Sacred Myths, read a Cherokee story in Oak Meadow's social studies lessons, learned a little more about the Cherokee nation, read about the beginnings of life on earth and the creatures of the Cambrian period, played around with the Head of the Class site, and did more Spanish lessons.

We also made pickles for my dad for father's day, saw him and my sister and visited West Point, went bowling, and spent time at our volunteer gig, helping to set up for their annual fundraiser.

Our days aren't going as easily as I'd like -- between my weekly dental visits, our car troubles, and various social engagements, our weeks are a little too chaotic -- but I'm hoping things will settle down starting this week.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I have no idea what we did yesterday -- it's starting to seem as if Tuesdays just aren't our day for managing to fit in any playing school. We did get to our weekly volunteer gig, and Joe picked Sarah up to take her to Pokemon League, where they had an awesome time.

Today we did Oak Meadow Social Studies lesson 15, talking about a few Native American nations (Cherokee, Hopi, Lakota), about the geography and climate in which they lived before the Europeans came, and the sorts of homes they built. We looked at a map of the US and located where each Nation lived. We also read a few pages in Usborne about the Big Bang, the formation of the earth, and the shifting continents.

We did the next lesson on Coffee Break Spanish, did some math review, and watched a few more biology programs (one on birds, one on how animals observe in the wild).

Monday, June 13, 2011

This weekend was the rocket launch for the rocket building class Sarah attended a few weeks ago. The launch was awesome, everyone had a great time, and Sarah's excited about getting even further into model rockets as a hobby.

The apple spice cake Sarah made last week came out *perfect*, and it was a big hit with my grandparents, when we visited them to celebrate their 65th anniversary and Sarah's 10th birthday.

Today we're back with our social studies, Spanish, and Nature Study. We did lesson 13 from Oak Meadow, reading a story set in Ancient Kush, finding it on a map, then finding the area on a map of the world. We discussed maps, a little, figuring out what different notations mean. I can see how much Sarah's research skills are already improving, as she uses the index and maps with ease. We also read a couple more pages of the Usborne World History Encyclopedia, about fossils and evolution.

We're at lesson 3 in Coffee Break Spanish (we skipped last Friday). I think in 2 more weeks we're going to arrange to practice with a Spanish-speaking friend of ours.

For Nature Study we're just doing some more observation, looking and wondering and asking questions.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A couple months ago Sarah and I had a talk about what she might want to do with her life, what she wants her education to be preparing her for. I worry sometimes that I'm taking advantage of her laidback, cooperative nature when I design our days and lives -- that maybe she's not getting to do things she really wants to do, because she's not as demanding as some kids. She said she'd like to be prepared to go to college, just in case, but her dreams are to be a musician or a pastry chef. (Okay, technically she said she'd like to be a rockstar or a pastry chef, but I persuaded her that the best first step to being a rockstar is being a musician, and taking it from there.)

Pretty cool dreams, and easy enough to get started with. We got her a guitar for her birthday (well, we got her an IOU -- we still have to take her to the store to try a couple out, and then borrow a friend's ukelele to see which feels the best in her hands), we're getting ready to start hosting regular singing gatherings, and we've started working our way through a few of my cookbooks. So far she's made triple-chip cookies, which were by all accounts delicious (they've got milk, so I couldn't sample them), and helped me make a few different things.

Today she's making apple spice cake, a dessert staple in our house, to take to my grandparents' to celebrate her birthday and their 65th anniversary, while I make pasta salad to bring for lunch. I can look forward and see years of working companionably with her in the kitchen -- and then singing together companionably after dinner. What a good life we've got.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tuesdays and Thursdays are Science, Religion/Mythology, and Poetry/Storytelling (which Sarah remembered as Poetry and Song, so that's what it seems to be becoming). We picked up Intellego's Unit Study on Weather because Sarah's been really interested in earth science and weather in particular, recently. We got the PDF instead of the book. I was expecting something a little different from the way the unit study is laid out -- maybe I was expecting a little more ease of use? Or maybe more information right there in the chapters -- at least at the start it seems to be more about pointing you at different activities you can do. But we did the first few activities -- listing what we know about weather and what we want to know, and then going outside to observe today's weather and noting it in a paper journal and on the Eye in the Sky website -- and read a little about how barometric pressure works.

We're using Sacred Myths: Stories of World Religions for our Religion/Mythology work. I like the stories, and the breadth of religions they cover, but I'm bummed that they don't seem to make any attempt to differentiate between different sets of Native American beliefs -- they don't even mention which Nation each story comes from -- and glancing at the Sacred Earth section, they seem to be suggesting that the only Earth-based religious traditions are the modern ones that might be called neopaganism. At some point soon I'll be digging around online and through my books, to see what other sources I can find for religious stories to broaden the perspective a little.

We read The Ghost and Jenny Jemima, and listened to the song version on youtube, sang Drunken Sailor, and each got in some independent work -- Sarah on her drawing and me with a few science articles. We also watched a couple programs -- one on Burgundy, France, and one episode of How the Universe Works, about Extreme Stars.

So far this more structured approach seems to be working pretty well -- we're pleasantly busy, but not making ourselves nuts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We skipped playing school yesterday, since we were finishing up the birthday festivities with a trip to Monster Mini Golf. Today we went bowling, and played school afterwards -- reading an Oak Meadow story from Ancient Phoenicia, finding the area on a map, then on a map of the world, and reading the first few pages of the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History (they've apparently got two books that are almost identical but one includes Prehistory from the Big Bang, and the other doesn't -- ours, of course, starts with the Big Bang). Then we did lesson 2 of Coffee Break Spanish, watched an episode of Animal Atlas on monkeys, and made some pizza. No math today -- Joe and Sarah'll do some together later tonight -- and no gardening, which will be our normal Wednesday afternoon plan. But between the heat index and the air quality warning, we were happy to hide out in our little cave.

Monday, June 6, 2011

So far our first morning back is going really well. I let us sleep a little late, because we'd both had some trouble getting to sleep, last night, after our wonderfully busy Birthday Weekend. I'm still working on getting in my morning routine when I first get up, but I worked out and started breakfast cooking, and then we played school.

Mondays are history/maps/world culture, spanish, and nature study.

We're using Mosaic as a gentle guide for our history work, and we're also finishing up the bits of the Oak Meadow 3rd grade Social Studies that we found appealing. This morning we read the intro to SOTW, and lesson 11 from Oak Meadow, which involved reading the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors, examining the map of where the story would have taken place, then finding that area on a map of Africa, and then on a map of the world.

For spanish we're using Coffee Break Spanish, and today we did lesson 1. (I've used it for myself before, getting through a few weeks of lessons, and I like the easy 15 minute segments)

For nature study, we're inspired by the Outdoor Hour Challenge at Handbook of Nature Study. Today we wandered around our yard for a bit, talking about some of the things we'd like to plant this year, and observing the birds and bugs and clouds. We decided we'd like to learn more about clouds and about moths vs. butterflies. After we got back inside, Sarah mentioned she'd like to learn more about weather in general. And, hey, look at that -- we were gonna be starting our Weather Unit study tomorrow, anyway! :)

Usually we'll do some independent work after playing school together, but between our late start today and my looming dental appointment this afternoon, today we just shifted straight into making lunch.

This afternoon we'll be getting out all her awesome science kits and books, and picking out 10 experiments we'd like to do over the next 15 Monday afternoons -- which I'm hoping leaves plenty of time for us to choose to take the afternoon off to go play with friends or do a field trip.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer session, here we come!

I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted here. I know I had trouble figuring out how to use the space. I'd started out thinking it would allow family members to keep up with what Sarah was doing, homeschooling-wise, but I'm pretty sure none of them ever actually reads it. Then I'd shifted to using it mostly for myself, just to keep track of what we were doing and to reflect on how it was going, but I was self-conscious about what dry reading it must be, for those handful of folks who were reading along at home.

On top of that, I started to find my blogger reading list overwhelming -- I'd added too many political blogs, I think, and the reading list started turning into just one more Should -- so I started to avoid coming here at all. I think I'll put that on my task list for next week -- going through the reading list and culling it a bit.

Sarah and I had decided to take time off from structured learning for most of the Spring, because we were so busy with limited-time-only homeschooling opportunities like swimming and soccer, and we agreed to start back up the Monday after her birthday. I have to say, we've generally homeschooled all year long, but I can see the appeal of taking some time totally off, because I'm so excited about finally getting to use all the resources we've come across in the last couple months! I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to Monday!

I also recently refocused on my own homeschooling, and started a separate blog (What's Next?)for keeping track of that. It's great to see how all the enthusiasm I'm feeling about that project is bleeding over into this one, and vice versa.

The basic outline of our plan for Sarah's summer session is:
* Mosaic for history/world culture
* comparative religion/mythology through reading lots of myths
* Living Math
* Intellego Weather Unit
* spanish
* nature journaling, including the one hour nature journal challenge
* using a handful of Oak Meadow 3rd grade lessons on math, science, and maps
* using the documentary on NYC, watching approximately 1 DVD each week
* watching one other program each week
* hitting lots of science and NYC museums
* continuing to memorize poems and short stories
* continuing to
(I'll come back and add a resources side bar at some point soon, with links to what we've found useful)

Our afternoons will look like this:
M science experiments (with an emphasis on Chemistry)
T cooking and playing food detectives (that is, nutritional anthropology)
W research, garden, nature journal
R crafts and building
F family zine

Each of us will pick one evening a week to make some sort of presentation to the rest of the family on what we've researched that week.

Obviously it's going to wind up being a lot looser than it looks all written down, and we'll take many days off to have spontaneous summer fun.

This is the first time we'll have been this structured since we experimented with Oak Meadow first grade. I'm both excited and intimidated at the prospect. I've also got mixed feelings about this much structure, philosophically. But we seem to thrive with a fairly structured, predictable schedule, so I'm committed to jumping in with both feet this summer, paying lots of attention to what is and isn't working, and adjusting things as necessary in the upcoming seasons.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Today was Country Day -- the kids did reports on India. Sarah originally was going to do Hindu mythology, but instead her report turned into a bit on the nature of mythology itself, and a bit on the variety of religions in India, and a bit of an overview of Hindu and Buddhist mythology and folklore. And I'm so proud of her I could bust -- until this month she'd been preparing the whole report on the computer every month (with a little technical help from me), doing a slideshow and recording her own voiceover. This month, though, she told me she didn't need my help with the computer, that she was just going to give the presentation herself, live. She got a little stage fright, at the last minute, but she totally overcame it, and she did an awesome job, even with all the unfamiliar names to read. She read clearly and steadily, and was utterly awesome.

I cooked dal and plain basmati rice, and there were some really delicious samosas and some excellent dairy-free khorma (also lots of other things, but those were the only ones I tried).

Then we swung by A's place so she and I could get in some banjo practice. We're going to be playing in a small open mic situation in, oh my *God*, less than 2 weeks. We're doing well, but the anticipatory stage fright's a real pain in the ass.

Recent highlights:
Friday was the wrap party for the science club. They rocked their presentation on thermometers, back in early December, and last week they celebrated with fun snacks, a couple hours of play, and a little bit of conversation about what they want to do together next. Friday night we had a few friends here for the first Sacred Song of the year. It was an experiment, to see how Friday nights would work, but I think we're gonna go back to Sundays -- it was just too stressful trying to get home in time to clean and cook for company, and rush hour complicates things for anyone coming from a distance.

Sarah and I are solidly back into our school schedule. Right now we're doing the third grade Social Studies from Oak Meadow (a Waldorfy homeschool curriculum) exploring myths of different ancient cultures (in preparation for getting back into Story of the World, a history of the world written in storytelling style), studying agriculture and various food systems, doing Living Math (history/anthropology of math), lots of practical math (creating and analyzing polls, making change, measuring things, etc.), studying the history and ecology of NYC/the lower Hudson Valley, and working on copywork (spelling, grammar, handwriting) and memorizing a poem. We had been focused on nature journaling, but we haven't been keeping that up since it got so cold that neither one of us wants to go outside. We'll start back up with a garden journal when our seeds arrive.

Starting in February, we're switching over to Story of the World, an Intellego unit study on the weather, and continuing with NYC, Living Math, and various kinds of practice work. Oh, and being food detectives, studying our favorite meals. Next year I think we may be buying a whole curriculum based around Geography. Sarah seems to like the idea, and I think as long as we both remember the curriculum is a collection of suggestions, not requirements, it'll make the homeschooling organization a hell of a lot easier.

We're also planning a Doll Festival party at the beginning of March.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bad Mom morning -- well, early afternoon. Sarah was struggling with some homeschooling stuff, I got impatient, she got even more frustrated and tense and afraid of doing it wrong, we butted heads, she felt awful, I felt awful, the whole thing just sucked.

But I called a break so we could both get ready to go out (we were meeting Joe for dinner in Hoboken), and after a few minutes I asked if she wanted to talk about how she was feeling. She did, and she was so brave and so clear and well-spoken about what she was feeling, and I managed to stop being an impatient taskmistress long enough, and also managed to stop kicking myself for making her feel so bad long enough, and somehow managed to say enough of the right things to make it better. And then we rushed out into the cold to meet Joe and have a really nice, cozy, family evening out.

I hate that she takes it so hard when I get impatient or grouchy, but I'm so damn impressed with both of us, that we were able to stop in the middle of the conflict and fix it, and figure out what we can do differently next time.

The rest of our New Year stuff is going well -- I'm back on track for exercising and eating reasonably well (with the exception of last night's belated holiday visit with my grandparents -- I think I ate half of grandma's special potato salad myself!), we're making slow but steady progress on our ToDo lists, and on the family/household lifestyle changes we've been wanting to make, and my music's coming along nicely. I'm still dealing with some existential angst, and some frustration over how very domestic I've been feeling, though. I wish I was feeling more adventurous and bold and interesting than I am, right now, but when it comes down to it, I'm just... not. Instead I seem to want to spend my time crocheting and baking and decluttering and playing music and curling up under blankets with my dear ones. Maybe more of a sense of adventure will come with the Spring.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year

We had a wonderfully cozy time over Joe's delightfully long Winter vacation, curled up reading our many new books and spending hours watching our new DVDs together (Leverage Seasons 1&2, Despicable Me, Karate Kid, Twister, Justice League Unlimited...).

Yesterday I was still fighting off some bug that'd been menacing me for the last few days of our vacation, and we had the pleasant surprise of having Joe home with us for an extra day, so we barely even dipped our toes into the waters of the New Year. Today, though, we're jumping in with both feet!

Sarah and I talked over the vacation and agreed that it works better for both of us to do a more extended play-school time in the morning and then just have the afternoons free for our afternoon adventures, instead of trying to stick to a daily rhythm all day long. We wind up either missing out on or rushing through the afternoon routines more often than not, or not being able to fully enjoy our afternoon adventures because there's the sense of Stuff To Do hanging over our heads. And, really, the shorter sessions were part of a daily rhythm that was aimed at the attention span of a much younger child, and we wind up missing out on one of the joys of homeschooling, the luxury of letting ourselves get lost in a book or a new pastime. I don't think we should have any problem shifting into a more intense morning followed by a totally free-flowing afternoon.

Over the break we also all sat down together and wrote up 5 year goals, 1 year goals, and immediate More/Less lists (more board games, less time on the computer, etc.) for the whole family, and I'm hoping to start implementing our plans this week.

I've been working for the last few weeks on my intentions for the New Year, and I had a pretty clear sense of what I want to welcome into my life this year, the transformations I want to cultivate. Last night or the night before, though, I realized that I've been leaving something out.

So for 2011 I intend to welcome Boldness, Health and Fitness, Increased Competence at Getting Things Done, Music... and a more intentional, consistent Spiritual Practice. I like having 5 intentions. Not a round number, but a good one.

I also have a wonderful, slightly ambitious list of projects for Winter 2010/2011. A nice mix of crafts, home improvement, self-improvement, and long-overdue chores.

This week we're reading through The Bill of Rights together, finishing up _River of Dreams_ (a book on the Hudson river), a book on Shakespeare (_Shakespeare For Kids_, I think it is), and _The MixedUp Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler_. I'm finishing up reading _Getting Things Done_). And Joe and Sarah are reading _Ivy and Bean Break The Fossil Record_.