Inspired

Sometimes you are just inspired. When life has found me sitting, day in and day out, in a mold infested room with fuzzy blobs of people like substance whose brains have long since rotted from neglect, inspiration has been hard pressed to find me. The sheer blood boiling ignorance of having to tell someone to turn the page to find the answers they seek; of having someone so unaware of the basic facts of life that are going on around them– its maddening.

One man’s misfortune is my luck. One of the few people whose light burns brighter than the rest has found himself under the misfortune of being thrust back into our administrative hovel. He is a dreamer, and with his love will soon be off on a world adventure. My bones are green with envy. To be able to throw off the world, dispossess themselves of all the ties that bind, and just go. My heart longs to go on such grand adventures.

Alas, I am bound here by chains stronger. But I am working on our release. Paying off our debts is goal number one. Anyone who has a Master’s Degree worth of student debt knows what I mean. We aren’t over our heads, but we have enough to make freedom out of reach. So, a short time of focused goal tending and then, off to see the world.

I have already freed my son of societal expectations by not forcing him into the government run institution that erodes their self and builds up an artificial, commercial consumer who has more wants than dreams. My goal: to teach him to find passion for something. Anything. As long as it is his passion.

For today, I am playing hooky from work. Taking my son to a concert he picked. And delaying the mind numbing ignorance that makes me angry and anxious.

Until then: out to collect my daily prize!!

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Question to my readers

I am working on some unique ideas to help parents in our local area find things to do with their children on weekends, holidays and other school vacations. If there was a website available to you for this kind of thing, what would be most useful to you? Do you prefer lots of pictures? A good description of what is available? Discounts to that place (if it costs money)? Perhaps worksheets or other activities that you and your child can take part in at that location?

Would you subscribe to this kind of website? Would you pay for access to this kind of service? Would you purchase materials (such as ebooks, worksheets) from this kind of a site? Would you like this site to link you up with amazon or other sellers of activities that can be used at the sites (for example, if the activity was to fly a foam airplane, would you want the site to tell you “These can be purchased online or at Target” or would you rather that it said something to the effect of “Purchase online now”)

Share your comments below.

The bane of technology

The invention of the cell phone is not necessarily a good thing.

One of my pet peeves in life is incessant calling. Not as in someone calls you once for three or four days in a row, though I have to admit this is not my favorite thing either. No, I mean calls the house phone, no one answers and they call the cell phone, no one answers. So what do they do? Wait about 3 minutes and start the whole cycle over again. This can go on for HOURS.

This is bad enough for that pesky friend who just really wants to tell you what dress her mortal enemy was wearing with which shoes (or whatever it is shallow girls with no bookshelves talk about), but it is even worse when it is your family.

Let me give a little background here for those that don’t know; My son is six and homeschooled. I also work a full time job that keeps me away from home from about 1330 to 2230 Monday through Friday (that’s 1:30pm-10:30pm for you civies out there ;o)) Therefore, my son’s school work typically takes place from about 1000-1300 every day. My family all knows this. I have emphasized this point to them (particularly to my Mother) on many occasions. The neighborhood knows this and even the neighborhood kids know not to come by until after 1500 (3pm). Despite this, I received no fewer than six calls between 10 am and 1130 from my Mother. No voicemails. No texts. Just the constant ringing of the phone.

All I want to ask is WHY??!!!! Someone had better be dead, missing appendages or worse. I want to pick up the phone and yell. I don’t, because the fallout would be far worse than the initial distraction of the phone call at hand and the point is, WE ARE BUSY!! It is hard enough to get my energy filled little peanut to sit still to get his work done for the short bursts that we do sit down work. When the phone rings off the hook, he knows what’s up. He knew it was Grandma and he wanted to stop and talk. The entire focus that we had worked hard to achieve was lost. His mind was no longer on the plight of the ancient Mesopotamians and imagining what life would be like for a child in the cities we were reading about. His mind was on talks of cookies and bear spotting.

Thanks Mom. Do you really think I was incapable of seeing the caller ID and calling you back when we had finished our school work? I know it’s you, and when we are ready, willing, and able we will return your phone call. The constant ringing of the phone does little more than cause me to turn off the ringer all together… maybe for days.

It’s this kind of blatant disrespect for another person’s time and priorities that make me loathe phones, social media and other forms of communication that allow others to have almost constant contact and information on our life’s goings on. But by the same token, what would I ever do without my BuzzFeed “Top ten” lists??

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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Disney Diva

For those of you who don’t know, I am a Disney freak. We go to Walt Disney World every year for our family vacation and we stay for a while. My son has a few shirts with Mickey on them, we have at least two Disney themed dishes, a pair of ears and at least one biggish Mickey stuffed animal. Okay, okay maybe we aren’t quite to the level of Disney freak just yet.

Disney is our favorite vacation spot though and I am a freak about planning vacation. To me, the planning stage of any vacation is the most fun. I enjoy spending hours reading reviews, scoping out the perfect place to stay, eat and play. And of course, I love finding ways to have a five star vacation at a three star price (or better).

For Walt Disney World, I have found that information is both bountiful and of good quality. There are a few websites that I must point out. First and most obvious, the Walt Disney Official Site . This site gives quite a bit of information about the various parks, hotels, and restaurants available on Disney property.

One thing I should say upfront, is that I am a purist. Meaning, when I go to Disney, I stay onsite, I eat onsite and I don’t stray from WDW until I am homeward bound. No, it isn’t because I don’t know that there are many other wonderful things outside the Magical world of Disney. It’s because I’m lazy. It’s a 15 hour drive from home, I have a preschooler in tow and I get one good vacation a year. I like to relax once I arrive and not have to drive anywhere or work too hard for anything. Thankfully, Disney makes it easy for me to do all of the above. The experiences at Disney are amazing and (if planned well) not that expensive, so there really is little incentive for me to stray.

So, after checking out the information available on the official site, I venture to Touring Plans to check out the crowd calendar. This site is amazing for quit a few things, not the least of which is the crowd calendar. The crowd calendar is important for picking a good time to visit Disney. I for one, hate the large crowds which pack in like sardines to every corner of the park at peak season. It is more important for me to avoid high crowds than high prices, so I start by looking at dates. The calendar provides a rating (1 to 10, 1 being the lowest crowds 10 the highest) for each park, each day of the year. For instance, a friend I know is going to WDW on March 23 and, based on her toddler, I’d say Magic Kingdom. A quick look at the calendar tells me that MK’s anticipated crowd level for that day is a 7.8. Ouch! I couldn’t do it.

Touring Plans has a few extra features I’d like to point out. My favorite, the lines app. Lines works on Android or Apple devices and provides up to the minute accurate wait times for every attraction, show and even restaurants in the park. This is especially helpful for those last ride of the day situations where your hopeful is on the other side of the park. There is nothing worse than running clear across the park only to find that the wait is too long for you and you wasted your time and energy. Another helpful feature for those who travel at busier times of the year (which I won’t), are the touring plans. If you use them religiously, they will take you to each ride on your list in the order necessary to spend the least time waiting in long lines. A definite plus when its 100+ degrees and 500 million people have joined you on vacation. Touring also has a blog where they review all of the new features available in Disney, as well as follow up on the old ones. Great for understanding how new things, like NextGen will change how my family does Disney. If you don’t know about NextGen, check it out Here or Here. These are two more amazing sites for all things Disney.

Next, it’s All Ears for the really fun part. All Ears has a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures. This is especially helpful if you want to try a new resort or restaurant and you just aren’t sure if it is a good fit for your family. This site is very detailed and has a review on anything you can think of. For me, the pictures are great, since Disney can make anything look amazing on their site. I like the more balanced review I get from Touring and Ears.

After all of this time spent reading, researching and reviewing, its time to make reservations. Many people like Mousesavers because of the many reviews on how to get the best value and what discounts are available. Its a great place to look, but I prefer All Ears and they push much less for a travel agent which I believe is just absurdly unnecessary for a Disney vacation unless you are coming from overseas or just simply can’t work a computer. I typically make my reservations through Disney directly as I book room, tickets and a dining package. You can see above about my preference for ease of use vacations. As such, I like the comfort of the dining plan and since I usually get it for free (thanks to my travel dates), its a win-win. After booking my package, I go straight to ADRs (advanced dining reservations). This for me is the most fun as my family always does some type of character meal, and usually more than a couple. Thanks to the dining plan, it doesn’t cost anything extra and my son loves them. I usually plan for a sit down lunch as it gives a respite from the heat and walking at the hottest part of the day. With a young child such as mine, that rest gives us just what we need to party late into the night at Stitches 626 dance party (a favorite of my 5 year old). Be prepared however, reservations book quickly (even in the off season) so I make my reservations right at the 180 day mark (the earliest possible).

While all of this may seem really intense for a vacation and way too structured for many, I find that it provides the exact opposite for me. I get excited about the trip very early thanks to all the blog following and review reading. And once my family arrives, all the hard work pays off and we can relax and really enjoy our trip. Food, paid for and arranged. Bed, check. Fun, let’s do it! My vacations are stress and worry free and my five year old sees nothing but the Magic!

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While you were out

This last week has been very eventful for our little family. Namely, we got ourselves a puppy. No, not a dog that I am calling a puppy, but an actual 12 week old puppy. He is full of energy, loud and not at all housebroken. We’ve now had said puppy for 3 days. That’s three long sleepless nights and three very busy days. My son named him Lasko. No, I have no idea where the name came from and as far as I know, the name holds no special meaning for my son. He literally just made it up. But I kinda like it.

Having such a young puppy is like starting all over again with a two year old. Potty training, chasing chickens and putting everything in his mouth. If you were standing at my front door, you’d hear a lot of “NO! DOWN! LEAVE IT! DROP IT!” and of course “LASKO!” For the moment, he is spending the night in his crate. Why? Well, because he pees on everything, he chews on everything and I haven’t quite got him trained not to get on the furniture.

But it isn’t all bad. My son has spent hours outside having adventures with his new pup. He is being trained to fight zombies. My son is learning the value of hard work and responsibility. It’s good for him. That doesn’t mean that I like getting up at 5am to let the dog out.

German Shepard Border Collie Mix

German Shepard Border Collie Mix