You should WANT your kids

I don’t understand why people bother to have children if they don’t want to spend time with them. Listening to one of the mothers at my son’s gymnastics class, you’d think her daughter was some huge inconvenience. You’d think she just appeared, unasked for, like a puppy on the doorstep. No lady. In fact, you and your husband created your child. You chose to carry her and give her life. Now, treating her like you can’t stand to be around her; talking to the other mothers in gymnastics, telling them how much you can’t stand to have her at the house for the summer—that is something I can’t understand.

This all came about because another mother and I were discussing our homeschooling plans for the upcoming school year. The other mother is homeschooling her daughter for the first time- kindergarten. My son is now in first grade, and we’ve now spent over a year homeschooling. She is from another country. So, she was getting advice and tips. Hearing this, the mother of the other poor little girl began her put downs. “I just don’t understand how you can deal with your kids all day every day without a break.” “I couldn’t be home that much.” “I have to get out of the house, I have to get her out of the house.” “I love my daughter but I just couldn’t deal with her full time. I can’t wait for her to go back to school.”

I looked at her sweet little toe-headed five year old and thought of how it must make her feel to have her mother tell strangers that she doesn’t want to deal with or be around her all the time. That can’t do much for a child’s confidence. Children experience enough judgment and criticism from the world around them. At least their parents should want to spend time with them, feel compelled to do better for their kids. If you don’t want more for your kids—and not just want more but be willing to provide it—who will?

This is not an incitement on parents who public school. People send their kids to public, private and charter schools for many reasons. They also homeschool for many reasons. Sometimes those choices boil down to a “this is the best we can do for now” situation and many times it boils down to “this is what I think is best.” All of those are perfectly acceptable. What I am baffled at, are the parents who say things like “I couldn’t deal with her full time.” If you can’t stand to be around your kid, its because YOU did something wrong. Children are a reflection of their parent’s parenting skills. All children deserve to feel loved and wanted, no matter their parent’s choice of schools.

Because you should read more… I should write more

It’s time.

I have done quite a bit of soul searching over the last few months, and I have come to the conclusion that it is time that I get back to writing– Something more and more meaningful than 121 characters of a tweet or facebook post. You can’t get better at writing unless you practice.
So, I intend to do just that. Not only will I make a whole hearted effort to keep my blog actually up to date, but I also intend to start a book. Yes, a book. I know, some of you are asking, “if she can’t keep up with a simple blog, how will she ever get to writing an entire book?” Well, the answer is simple. I have no idea.

I just intend to do it. Those of you who have known me for years know that when I get set in my mind to do something, do it I shall. But, there is no hard and fast rule for how long I expect it to take. Nor is there anything that says somewhere down the road I might not change my mind. But for now, I will write.
I have done a bit of soul searching in many arenas the last few months. My job, namely, has given me much to be introspective about. I love what I do and the interesting people I get to meet and work with. The politics, backstabbing and maliciousness, these are not things I enjoy. I have lived much of my life in a sort of optimism; Optimism that life had certain rules and that they would be followed. That injustices would be righted, eventually. Life taught me a very hard lesson about optimism before but clearly I did not learn it well enough. So man’s world has reached out again to remind me that power rules the world, not law or justice. A lesson that has sunk in deeper this time around, despite the stakes being decidedly lower and the injustice more to my pride than my person. I am at a crossroads, where optimism and pessimism meet naiveté and disillusionment. I am standing at the center, and have not yet decided which road is my path.

Second, my son. My child is six and a shining star in an otherwise darkened sky. His homeschooling is going swimmingly. We have been at odds, the volcanoes versus the raging sea; One spewing hot ash and smoke, the other beating the rocks in an attempt to smash them to sand. In the end, the magma is cooled by the sea and the sea is tamed by the rising earth. Together, we have created a landscape neither of us recognize as being completely our own. I have found patience, and a surrendering of will. He has found focus, and a love for bookwork. We spend fewer hours in our household classroom but we accomplish much more than we did before. He gets to pick the topics and the order of the day, and I arrange the lessons and the key points. And we discover together. Bach, Van Gogh, dinosaurs, an (odd) love of flashcards (his—not mine). He is reading now, full books with complicated words. Signs in stores, on streets and on videogames.

My child is unique. Sensitive and bold. And he is learning, not in my way- but in HIS way. Today, he delighted the folks on our Meals on Wheels route telling them that he loved the “haunting” music of Johann Sebastian Bach but his favorite was still “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg (a song he learned last year while studying Norway prior to our Disney trip). And, he tickled and somewhat confounded his mama by turning down cupcakes, ice cream and candy from those folks but happily accepting freshly picked snap peas from the garden.

Oh the tricks life will throw your way. Some days, I feel like someone is studying me. Throwing odd tasks my way just to study how I will react. Perhaps as a story for a novel. The real question- am I the villain, or the heroine?

Teaching Mexico, Epcot Style

Mexico was the first nation we studied on the World Showcase. Since this was our first country, it was a little more disorganized than the countries going forward. Mexico was our learning curve.

Teaching Mexico was a lot of fun with my kindergartner. We started with the basics. My son has a large Discovery Kids world map on the wall in our classroom. The first thing we did was find our country and our home. This was the easy part, since we had done it before. Then, I showed him where Mexico was. We labeled it with the Velcro country labels that came with the map and discussed the continent. The DK map shows each continent in a different color but it does not have state lines drawn on it. So, we went to our globe and discussed the exact country location.

We had gone to the library and checked out various books relevant to Mexico and a DVD from Marathon Films Productions from a series called “Countries Around the World.” We watched the video and discussed what we saw. These videos serve as a wonderful introduction to the countries we are studying. Usually, they feature a child telling a little about the country, their lives, culture, foods, etc.

Next, I went to Google and found pictures of Mexico. I specifically got pictures for each environment type (beaches, deserts, mountains) different cultural depictions (dress, musical instruments, religious figures, and fiestas). I then used those pictures and traditional Mexican music I purchased from iTunes to make a slide show. My son and I sat down and looked at each of those pictures and discussed what they meant in terms of the country. We used National Geographic Kids to help supplement some of the information.

Then, using construction paper, my son made a flag of Mexico. This was accomplished by using a white sheet of construction paper and 1/3 of both green and red. He then drew the eagle/serpent/cactus part in the middle. This was one of many art projects that carry over into the Social Studies realm as well. Prior to making the flag, we had heard the Aztec story that founded Mexico City from the “Countries of the World” video. The Aztecs believed that when they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a serpent that is where their city should be founded. They saw this in the area that is now Mexico City and the flag’s center shows the picture of an eagle, sitting on a cactus, eating a serpent on an island.

Flag of Mexico

Flag of Mexico

Using Google again and Time for Kids I was able to learn a few simple phrases in Spanish to teach my son. We practiced those phrases as well as pointing the country out on the map, the continent and the flag recognition every day of our 10 day lesson. We also looked at famous places, including Chechen Itza and Tulum.

We downloaded the GeoWalk app on my iPad which gave some nice pictures and facts about some animals unique to Mexico. We ordered Mexican jumping beans online. This was the basis of our science/biology area of our Mexico studies. Using fact sheets from online resources and from the retailer, my son learned about the moths inside the jumping beans, their lifecycle and habitat. We are still eagerly awaiting their hatching.

We also used a scientific article on Jaguars and their habitats for both scientific exploration and reading comprehension. The worksheet was located on superteacherworksheets.com which provided both the article describing the cat’s habitat, eating and living habits but also followed the article with reading comprehension questions.

Another scientific area we studied was the climate differences between Mexico’s capital city and our home. We took the weather readings daily from weather.com, gathering temperature and precipitation. At the end of our Mexico studies, we graphed the results and discussed how Mexico compared to home. This crossed into the math studies as well.

For additional math studies, I created a homemade “Souvenir buying” worksheets. I used pictures of the types of souvenirs which may be purchased at the Mexico pavilion and gave them whole-dollar price tags. From this, I created math problems involving adding and subtracting money (prices and change) that help him not only understand math concepts, but concepts of money.

For the English/Language Arts we focused on two areas. The first, writing. I created a worksheet for writing “M-E-X-I-C-O” with the use of Microsoft Word. This worksheet listed each letter and an elementary style lining for him to copy the letters. He also practiced writing on the reading comprehension worksheets and weather worksheets.

For reading, we checked out a number of books from the library that covered various areas of Mexico and its culture. Those books varied in reading levels, some being very simple and read by him and others more complex and read to him.

Art is always a pretty easy subject to teach. Other than completing the Mexico flag, we also made an “eye of God” craft, homemade maracas, and a homemade piñata. To top it all off, we created a suitcase from cardstock which houses postcards he creates depicting scenes from each country. It is decorated with flags from the various countries. We have also created a passport which has space for each nation’s flag, various information about each of the nations and a place for each of the pages to be stamped at Epcot.

To end our study of Mexico, we had a Mexican fiesta, which included various Mexican foods, drinks and snacks , Mexican music and the breaking of the piñata.

Making the pinata.

Making the pinata.

The finished product.

The finished product.

We also watch The Three Cabilleros to end our study of Mexico and tie Disney back into our trip. For those who have not yet been to the Mexican pavilion at Epcot, the ride has scenes from the movie. It also features a large Aztec/Mayan style pyramid which is a architectural feature that my son is now very familiar with. I can’t wait to take him to Epcot. I plan to quiz him as we enter each pavilion to see if he can determine which country we are in.

Breaking the pinata.

Breaking the pinata.

So, that’s it…. Until Norway.

Disney Schooling

How to turn a Disney Vacation into the ultimate homeschool field trip:

1. Epcot is your friend. So many people think Epcot isn’t for kids. I beg to differ. We took my son to Epcot for the first time at 3 years old and he loved it. There are so many areas that are made to stimulate their imagination.
A. Study the Oceans in your homeschool lessons and then use the Living Seas pavilion to reinforce what you’ve learned.
B. Start a garden and then head to the Land pavilion. There you can discuss plant life cycles, hybrid plants or hydroponics techniques, depending on the age of your child.
C. Study the 11 countries on the World Showcase. The age of your child will dictate how in-depth your study will be. With my kindergartener, locating them on the wall map, learning their continent, studying their language, environment, unique animals, and a small overview of their culture, history and religion is good enough. We plan about 10 days for each country.
2. Even Magic Kingdom presents opportunities for education. Most people don’t realize that most Disney movies are based on books, poems or stories from all around the world. For instance, Mulan is based on the Ballad of Mulan from early China. Reading the primary materials and comparing them to the Disney version can be great for not only providing your child with a great base of classic literature, poetry and mythos.
3. Animal Kingdom provides a unique opportunity to view animals in their habitats. It is also a chance to study African and Asian countries typically not covered in traditional schools.
4. Disney has a multitude of cultural experiences available to enrich your child’s understanding and exposure to the world. In each of the World Showcase countries, the cast members who work at the different pavilions are originally from the nations represented. This gives your child the chance to interact with the people you have been studying, practice their new language skills, and ask questions about things they have learned about in class.

In the coming weeks, I will post how we have incorporated the world showcase nations into our learning. I hope you enjoy!

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Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom

Our Classroom

Our Classroom

Whoever said this was going to be easy was lying through their teeth. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable or worth it. I have never once questioned by decision to homeschool (since I got started, of course). But just because I know it is the right thing, does not by any means mean it is easy.
One of the hardest parts of homeschooling has honestly been keeping up with my son’s pace. He is smart. Smart as a whip. Every time I introduce a new learning concept, he picks it up in a matter of a lesson or two. Of course, he requires practice to hone the skill and develop it further, but I usually plan two to three days worth of simple instruction and then three to five days of practice. I find myself having to readjust the lesson plans just so he doesn’t get bored. He is easily annoyed with my questions such as “What continent is Norway on?” and “Can you show me China on the map?” After an eyeroll and a “Mom, you know where it is,” he effortlessly points it out or names the continent.

The real struggle here is not him, it is me. Between working full time and being a full time graduate student, finding time for lesson planning can be challenging. Library days are a must. He gets time to play with the materials at the library and I get time to research our next country. I also have pulled from the internet quite a bit. Superteacherworksheets.com has been indispensable for providing simple math and English worksheets to help cover a concept he has just learned. Especially when I haven’t had time to create one myself.
Mostly, I find that simple books from the library give us our best social studies, science and English lessons. Currently, we are working our way through 11 countries. Those countries are: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the USA, Japan, Morocco, France, the UK and Canada. The clever eye can spot the reason for the nation picks; they are the 11 countries on Epcot’s World Showcase. These studies will be punctuated with a “field trip” to those “countries.”
While this might seem like a cheap way of justifying a Disney trip, it is actually a great way to teach my son a little about the world. We have looked at each nation on the map (he can point out the ones we have studied), learned their continent, environment, architecture, culture, language (short phrases, obviously), religion, mythos, history and stories. For each nation, we are choosing a Disney movie that depicts or originated in the nation we are studying. Then we are reading the original text. My son was surprised to discover that Mulan was only a one page long poem. Or that the book that How to Train Your Dragon was based on was NOTHING at all like the movie.
Overall, I’d say it’s a win… most of the time.

Innovention on the Horizon

After my revolutionary decision to home school my son through kindergarten, my life has gotten somewhat more hectic. I have spent hours reading books, searching through curriculum and looking at worksheets and workbooks. I have completely moved two rooms around in my home and changed the fundamental use of those rooms. My onetime idea that my son’s room would be a place of quiet reflection, having only small, quiet-play toys and books has been replaced with all of the toys that lack educational use. The once overcrowded and loud playroom has been replaced with a quiet area of books, educational movies, blocks, musical instruments and globes. I have one entire unit planned and ready to go, lots of notebooks, pens, paper and art supplies on standby and new lamps, bins and baskets.

Also in the same timeframe, we have finally made our third annual Walt Disney World Resort reservations for the fall. Our party of 8 will be traveling in style at the Caribbean Beach Resort and having wonderful dinners at Cinderella’s Castle, the Tusker House, the Garden Grille, Narcoossee’s, the Coral Reef, the Liberty Inn and the brand new Be Our Guest Restaurant. My family will be spending 9 lovely days at the resort and 7 days park hopping through the worlds. Extended family will be spending 7 days at the resort and 4 days park hopping as well as one day at universal Studios. It is sure to be a wonderful trip! I can’t wait for new experiences such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot. I honestly wish that we were leaving right away!

Since the trip will take place after homeschooling has begun, the trip will be prefaced by animal and cultural studies that will coincide with animals and countries we will come into contact with at Disney’s Epcot and Animal Kingdom. We will also be reading some of the classic literature (not just the Disney version) that is associated with some of the rides at Magic Kingdom. This way, the learning will help build excitement for the trip and the trip will help reinforce the learning. Win-Win! With stories like Tom Sawyer, Swiss Family Robinson, Through the Looking glass (the real version of Alice), Beauty and the Beast, Song of the South (the tale of Briar Rabbit [splash mountain]) and many other fairy tales, we should have plenty of literature to keep us busy. Not to mention Epcot’s many country representations, complete with cultural foods, videos, architecture, language and entertainment. Epcot also has the living seas and the land pavilions which teach about the environment and the animals and plants that live there. Innoventions East and West teach about weather, technology, engineering and other scientific topics in a fun way. Let’s not forget Spaceship earth which gives a great overview of the evolution of man. Animal Kingdom goes without saying. Life science is an easy find here. I can’t wait!

I have also managed to score tickets to an upcoming Heart concert complete with VIP package which includes a meet and greet with Ann and Nancy prior to the show. I will be giving one ticket to my partner in crime who really wanted to go but thought it was too expensive for her birthday. *shhhh*

With all this excitement, it is hard not to get started right away! But first, I have to finish building the bookshelves….