A Day of Extremes

When I read the logs of other homeschoolers’ days, I’m usually struck by how awesome they sound, and wonder how the heck they manage it, or by horrible they sound, and how the heck did they manage to *survive* it. So, when I experienced today, I thought it might be interesting to write about, since it had elements of both! See what you think…

8:30 AM Leisurely wake-up. I tell the kids that they have until 9:30 to do whatever (mostly YouTube) before we start in on our workbooks. They go off to grab breakfast and look up the latest Stampy Minecraft videos. I make tea, read my email, and chat with a friend online.

9:30 I gather the kids in the homeschool room, and am quickly talked into all of us doing workbooks upstairs on my bed. This quickly devolved into D7 complaining that she was being distracted and retreating to her room to work alone, E5 complaining that he was distracted so he came over to sit next to me, and R7 complaining that she was being distracted by everyone else complaining, so she stopped working altogether. Coming upstairs was a mistake; it is too casual a setting for them to concentrate in, and they lack good surfaces for writing on. They finally sort of hunker down around 10 AM, and I tell them they have an hour to Get Stuff Done (TM), which devolves even further into an utter battle of wills between both R7 and I and E5 and I. R7 eventually settled into a fun part of her workbook (writing a story), and E5 only started getting things done when I stepped aside from where we had our horns locked over his spelling book to the sequencing section of his core first grade book, which is easy for him, so safer territory in which to work. It was my mistake that we came upstairs, and my mistake to get into a battle of wills to begin with, so even though none of the kids got their ten pages done, we salvaged some work, and more good will, so I’ll take it.

11 AM Kids declared a snack/lunch break from their workbooks. I knew they wouldn’t go back to them, and they didn’t, but I was ok with that, since we had left on a good note. R7 went back to her computer with her snack, but D7 and E5 decided to be an ankylosaurus and compsognathus respectively, talking about how their different legs would allow them to reach, how they might eat, etc. I pulled out a dinosaur book we have that *used* to be above D7’s reading level, but which I thought would at least have good pictures for her now that she knew how to use an index to find them. I modeled using the index again, and found a nice image of compsognathus’ foot, which reminded me of a prosthetic running foot, so we watched a video of Oscar Pistorius running to see how the anatomy of the dinosaur’s foot might have allowed it to run so quickly. They wandered off again, on all fours, talking about what a family of velociraptors would teach to a baby compsognathus, so it could best survive with them.

1 PM, and someone was stupid on the internet, and with my info, no less, so I told the kids I needed to explode pixels to calm down, and we’d start in at 1:30 instead. They didn’t seem to mind.

1:30 PM We gathered in the kitchen to build a shaduf like the sort illustrated (badly) in Chapter 1 of  Story of the World Vol 1, about how early nomads became the first farmers. I’d gathered together a crate to be our stand, a measuring tape, a three foot long piece of rattan, our pan balance and weights, and an old hot chocolate container to be our bucket. I modeled how to find the 1/5 of the way mark the wiki page on shaduf says the fulcrum should be placed at, and massed half a cup full of water, again, following the directions, seemingly handed down through the ages, off wikipedia. I reminded them how to tare and use the balance, and they were off. R7 soon realized that the rattan beam was far too heavy for the amount of weight we were trying to move (ie a small cup of water), so I went in search of other, narrow and lighter, shafts, and brownies, because engineering is hungry work. They played around with the new sticks, and cheered when they got it balanced, and saw how easy it was to move the water at that point. I was *hoping* that they’d extend their learning by looking at ratios of weight of water to weight needed to balance it at 1/5 of the length, and maybe even try out different fulcrum positions, but first R7 poured some of the water into her potato plant, Jesse, demonstrating how to use a shaduf to water a crop, thereby changing the volume of water left in the cup, and when we tried to mass a new cup full of water, people were getting careless about placing the weights, and water got spilled everywhere, so we grabbed our sponges (this is not a tidy project), cleaned up, and decided to take a break before we became frustrated. We decide to leave the apparatus out, though, since they wanted to show it off to Daddyman when he got home.

2:30 PM We took a brief break after the shaduf experiment, during which D7 started walking around the house with a different gait than I’m used to seeing. She said she had seen how compsognathus feet worked for running, but was trying to see what they’d be like for walking. She said her steps were shorter, but springier.

3:00 PM In the homeshool room, Writer’s Workshop folders out, R7 asked what I was going to challenge them with today. Yesterday I asked them to use an interesting adjective, and today I asked them to give a direction, either from one character to another, or from one character to the reader. They all set to, and each decided to do the challenge, which is not required. R7 asked the reader to pretend to tuck in Little Timmy (a recurring character in R7’s work for several years now, which is saying something), D7 and I had a conversation about what a reader could easily do to help her character, Lilack, feed her cat, Jack. She decided to ask the reader to make the sound of a can opener, and we all obliged by making ‘rrrr rrrr rrrr’ sounds for a few minutes, all smiles. E5 dictated part of his boy-and-his-dog story to me, asking the reader if he would help feed him, but he hasn’t gotten to HOW that help might be given as of yet. I write his words in yellow highlighter, then he copies over them in pencil, making them his own. He wrote very neatly, then drew a picture of the dog in the top half of his paper, where space has been left for just that purpose. While he and I worked, the girls conferenced with each other about their work. I turned to my blog, and started working up a post on the shaduf experiment, both because I wanted to, and also because modeling writing is part of the Writer’s Workshop method. I’m not sure that the kids grok that I’m writing when they see me on my computer thusly, though, so I might need to go back to paper writing, since energy started dissipating rather rapidly at that point, but that might be because I forgot both the timer (we usually write for 20-40 minutes, but often keep going after the timer) and, *much* more critically, the tea and hot chocolate – with marshmallows! – that has become a cherished part of the routine. The kids were appalled when I pointed out that we’d forgotten! I doubt that oversight will happen again.

4 PM We end the formal homeschooling part of our day, and veg for a while. The kids go off to play dinosaur hide and seek, and I take a business call before getting back to my email and a little online social time.

5 PM I start in on a massive pile of dishes; I carefully took pictures of the shaduf experiment only from the counters *down*. Designing good homeschooling projects is not necessarily compatible with good home keeping! Glad we’ve left our experiment out, since the kids are seemingly taking turns coming in and weighing random things; a stuffed dog, a pencil, etc, and then moving them around on the shaduf.

6 PM Daddyman arrives home bearing Valentine’s candy for us all, and excited to see the evidence of our work strewn all over the kitchen floor. We sit down to dinner, and more talk about dinosaurs, before I move into the homeschool room next door and fire up our Minecraft server to work on the next phase of my house construction. We play, or try to play (stupid firewalls and port forwarding and socket errors) until about 8 PM, when we shut up the downstairs of the house for the night. I’ve been writing this and chatting with a friend for the last hour, and the kids are watching videos and relaxing. I’ll rest on a hot pad soon (too many hours on the computer kill my back), and then read some pedagogy and plan our water science activity for tomorrow before we all go to bed around 10 PM.

100% real, 0% tidy, and better than average over all, since even the downright unpleasant parts of the day were ones I learned things from, so hopefully tomorrow will go even better. 🙂

Posted in daily round, hacks, language arts, STEM | 1 Comment

Preventing the Habit of Procrastination

I am a terrible procrastinator. Actually, I’m a very GOOD procrastinator, in that I’m a total pro at it. I’ll do darned near anything to put off doing cleaning, and I’ll do cleaning to put off doing paperwork! Sort of like you never want your kids to get good at dealing with trauma, I never want my kids to hone their procrastination skills to be as sharp as my own.

How did I get this way? Well, when I was in elementary school, I didn’t want to stop playing or reading or watching, just like every other kid in America in the 1970’s and 80’s. I got into battles with my parents about when I’d do things, and always managed to squeak things in under the wire. I didn’t know about self-handicapping back then, but I sure knew how it worked: I’d put lots of effort in at the very last minute, get a B, and Dad would castigate me that I could have gotten an A if I had started earlier. It was way easier to handle that than to do the work in a more timely fashion fearing that I would *still* only get a B, and then feeling stupid. This way the emphasis was on my time-management skills, not on my actual academic abilities.

Roll forward to my freshman year of high school, when my honors biology class had to do leaf collections. The rubric had a minimum of 80 identified leaves to be able to qualify for an A grade if everything else was good, and there it was, approaching the wee hours of the day it was due, and I couldn’t ID the stupid 80th leaf I had in my possession. I was exhausted, and wanted to go to bed, but Mom laughed and whisked me off in the family station wagon to a front yard across town where she knew there was a mulberry tree. So there we were, at literally 1 AM, in our jammies, sneaking across a suburban front lawn stealing leaves, with my mother laughing and joking about how she’d explain this to the police if they showed up. It is still one of her favorite stories, but to me it is a story of my mother enabling my procrastination in a very sweet and funny way. I got an A, and eventually a BS in Forest Biology, but I still kept procrastinating.

Procrastination has cost me opportunities. It has cost me money. It has cost me friendships. It has cost me positive self-concept. I sometimes feel so deep in undone to-do lists that I feel like I’m drowning in them; so overwhelmed that I can’t do *anything*. 

Suffice it to say that this is not something I want for my children.

So, first and foremost, I’m trying to model NOT procrastinating for them, as well as talking with them about how I try to stop doing it, and the repercussions when I fail to do so. And, sometimes, my kids are starting to get object lessons of a more personal variety…

Yesterday, in my post about being a work at home parent and homeschooling, I talked about how our new rule is that my kids need to do their homeschooling (usually workbooks, but substitutes are fine) the *day before* the computer privileges it earned them. They all agreed to that rule, and went off to play, and Big D and Buddy came back to their homeschool early enough in the evening to get it done before bedtime.

Not so much for Beara. She was working on counting money, which is challenging, but she wasn’t giving it her attention, and kept wandering off, so that when I called then minutes until bedtime, she lost it, demanding that I or Daddyman help her finish in time. Daddyman went to sit with her in the hallway, but I told him the time, and how she had procrastinated all day, he sighed heavily, and Beara went to bed grumpy, but cheered somewhat by the idea that she and I would sit down and have some special one-on-0ne time while her sibs played Minecraft today.

Beara did the last two pages of that assignment today, so she’ll get to use her computer tomorrow. She has begged for her computer about 30 times, and has been caught looking over her siblings shoulders at YouTube videos WAY more than once.

Do I feel like a jerk? Yup. Did I get into a power struggle with my seven year old over some completely arbitrary thing, and a new one at that? Yup. Am I completely good with these things if it stops her procrastination from becoming the habit of a lifetime? I’m going to say yes to that, also.


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Working From Home AND Homeschooling: Figuring Out How to Make It Work

First of all, let me dispel the myth that one cannot work full time outside the home and homeschool one’s children. It can totally be done, as I have friends who have done it, even single parents. That is their story, though, so I’ll let them tell it. (Please comment with links if you know of online success stories!)

My story is hopefully a much easier one: I have volunteer and paid work that requires me to spend a lot of time at my keyboard, but these same issues apply to needing to carve out time for work, study, homekeeping, homeschool planning, or simple sanity. I’ll post about my ideas, and their success or failure, under the tag Work At Home Parent. (I get that folks might be more used to the more common ‘Stay At Home Mother’ label, SAHM, but dang it, folks – ‘staying home’ is WORK, darn it, and plenty of men and non-binary parents do it also, so WAHP fits best, at least as far as I’m concerned.)

Today’s Quandry: We are whole-life and lifelong learners here, but workbooks give us a foothold with the 3Rs, so we use them. New rule for my Minecraft and YouTube loving kids is that they need to do 10 pages of any of their workbooks to earn their computers for the following day. That worked great, until kids started getting behind, and wanting to do their pages on the day they wanted to use their computers. I went with that for a bit, but now that we’re settling into new schedules, and I have paperwork piling up, not so much. You can imagine the interruptions and divided attention, I’m sure.

I like to do my work in the morning, when the house is usually at its quietest, and I am at my most productive. It also lets me have a care-free rest of my day, since I know I’ve already gotten accomplished at least a solid chunk of what I need to do. That works great, as long as my kids aren’t grumpily and sleepily wanting help with their homeschool so they can go wake up properly to the latest CupQuake video. Then they ‘pester’ me with things that are NOT issues when they are fully awake and *not wanting to be off doing something else*.

By ‘being nice’ and letting them do their work to earn their computer on the day of that computer time, I was actually making workbooks feel more like a hurdle to jump through! Duh! So, after about the fifteenth time I got interrupted during my editing this morning, I made a decision: they would have to earn their computer time for any given day BEFORE that day started. That way they’ll either wake up and get to go watch their computer, or know that they are NOT getting their computer that day, and they can go do something else, saving their workbooks, if they want to earn time for the following day, for later in the day when they are awake, can choose their own time and place to do it, and when I’m not trying to get stuff done myself. Big D managed to do her homeschool for the following day for a week before she fell off track, and every day she did it independently, but as soon as she fell behind, she suddenly needed help every morning. *The pressure of the instant ‘reward’ made her a less confident and more distracted learner.*

So, after 45 minutes of such stress this morning, I told them that today they could go use their computers as they wish, but that they needed to do their ten pages at some point today if they wanted their computers for tomorrow, no exceptions. They liked that idea. They ran off to play, but I bet they’ll be back at their workbooks this afternoon, played out from soccer and a playdate, and ready to work.


(Note that they only HAVE to do their pages if they want free computer time. Sometimes they do the pages only for this reason, but sometimes they do them just because they want to, and don’t think about computer time. Sometimes it is both. Big D especially seems to have a real increase in her feelings of self-efficacy when she gets her pages done for the following day before her siblings even wake up in the morning! I worry that this is setting paperwork up as ‘work’, but, well, it is, and setting it up as something rewarding, both inherently and for compensation, is something I’m ok with.)

Posted in daily round, Homeschooling Life, psychology, Work At Home Parent | 1 Comment

Update to the Curriculum page!

IMG_5940I’m sitting down next to a large pile of nearly pristine workbooks we’ve acquired for this year, so I figured I would update our curriculum page to show what we’ve got here and why.

I’ll let you know when I’ve posted this year’s computer/iPad/video program items, as well as other community resources we enjoy, both online and in person.

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From here to the moon…

Cultivating wonder is one of my major jobs as a science educator, so you’d think that I’d have pushed for my kids to see LADEE launch last night. Nope.

*I* saw LADEE blaze across the southern skies last night, an orange oblong fireball that snuffed out the second our streaming NASA channel reported the dropping of the third stage. It was so very, very cool, seeing my first launch ever. Seeing something going to the MOON. Seeing it from a second story window in my *own house*.

But the kids missed it. We’d put them to bed, figuring that it would be too late, and that we probably couldn’t even see it from the top of the hill near our house, and even then the park up there is shut after sunset. We were bummed, but out of ideas.

Daddyman is like a kid on Christmas for space travel though, and he went, hopeful like a kid, to the window to see if he could see anything.

And he could, intermittently through the trees.  He knew it was LADEE when it got dimmer when our NASA feed reported the drop of the second stage, and I got to the window right when it emerged from the trees into the clear night sky. I still wasn’t convinced until the oblong fireball snuffed out when the stream reported that the third stage had been dropped. So very, very cool, seeing something that was going to the MOON.

And yet I don’t feel badly that the kids missed it. Sure, it was AWESOME, but I got it by luck and surprise, and didn’t actually expect to see it. If we’d kept the kids up on the thin, rather outlandish hope that they’d be able to see it without even going outside, the memory that they would most likely have of the evening would have been pure disappointment, and I’d rather have them regret missing it than watch them get discouraged and let the very idea of space lose some of its shine in their eyes.

Instead, I told them about it this morning, and their eyes? They SHONE.



Posted in Homeschooling Life, space science, STEM | Leave a comment

STEM Lego Minifigs! For girls!

Have a kid, especially a girl, that is into science? Have kids that like Lego?

Read here to learn about the history of STEM minifigs (Lego people), as well the secret code that will let you find which Series 11 minifig packet contains the new female scientist minifig, complete with Erlenmeyer flasks!

I’ll be trying to get a bunch of these for the women and girls in my family, then swap out heads and hair so they look more like us. 🙂



Posted in abundance, games, gendering, Product Reviews, STEM | Tagged | 1 Comment

Hey, Stranger! Long time, no see!

I haven’t posted here in well over a year, but I’m back, and looking to get back to documenting our lives a bit, and talking about what education is, and can be.


Saying goodbye to our house in Vermont in July 2013. Sad to go, but excited about our future in Boston.

The major reason for the hiatus was that at the end of 2012’s summer full of loveliness, we came down to Boston from our home in Vermont to spend time with my Dad while my Mom got a break from caring for him, and discovered just how much help they needed. We started looking for housing and work immediately, and began our move to Boston in October, moved all winter long, and finally sold our Vermont house in July.

Notice how that encompassed the entire school year? Yup. Thank goodness that I have three little autodidacts here, and that they had already learned how to use Google, and that 2/3 of them already knew how to read well enough to use it. We dove into workbooks for sprints between Uhauls, took great field trips when we had the opportunity to do so (Bunker Hill, Dead Sea Scrolls, Aquarium, North Carolina to see family, etc), and, generally, they grazed as they liked, and learned TONS. (Remind me to tell you about Big D’s and my conversations about flight mechanics!)

Biggest influence on their education this year, aside from the chaos of the move, has undeniably been Minecraft. Santa and Uncle George thought they’d like it, so we each have an account, and we all love to play together, doing collaborative work, building near one another, rescuing each other from skellie snipers… like you do. The kids started watching YouTube videos about the game, then Big D started using them like video encyclopedia of the game, searching for how to do cool things she’d heard about, then watching over and over until she nailed it (things like redstone wiring), and back into the game she went, and still goes, nine months later. Beara took Minecraft to a more social place, wanting to chat, decorate, and watch videos of her favorite Minecraft hero, Cupquake. Beara is begging me to help her make her own gaming videos now, and we’ll see. Buddy loves running around, helping out, but isn’t very good at acquiring his own resources, preferring to get them from the rest of us. Great environment for us all to interact in, though, and I think I talk to Big D more in chat now than I do in actual speech!  Anyway, more on Minecraft later; this has been an incredible educational sandbox for them to play in, and I have a lot to say about it!

First day of Kindergarten clip artSo, here we are. Had we been public schoolers, today would have been Buddy’s first day of Kindergarten. A rite of passage for him, at least by mainstream standards, as well as one for me; bundling my last baby off to school. Both Beara and Buddy will be taking one class a week at our local public elementary school; music for her, art for him. (D has opted out.) Being part of a school at all will be new for us, but this way we can wade in, and test the waters, rather than jumping – or being thrown! – into the deep end of public education. We’re having public school a la carte, so to speak, and I’m optimistic that we’ll like it.

We don’t start wading until next week, but we began some back-to-school dining last night; we had some public schooling neighbors over for a relaxing ice cream party last night. Both parents had hit different, overcrowded malls for last minute stuff all day, so they needed it more than the kids did! The kids, K-6, had fun being kids together, and we parents chatted about anything and everything BUT school. Their kids are now off in first day outfits, doing all that First Day stuff, while Daddyman is off at his first non-orientation day of his new job, Buddy and Beara are both still fast asleep at nearly 10 AM, Big D is watching a video about a game that she says is like Minecraft, but with asteroids, and I’m here, writing about this last year, and dreaming about the coming one, excited that, yet again, I get to spend it with my kids, watching all of us grow.

Welcome back. 🙂

Posted in Homeschooling Life, unschooly goodness | 1 Comment

Fireworks of a different sort: Higgs Boson!

Have been off being, instead of here writing, but just came across a great little video that helps explain the Higgs theory pretty well, as well as what the heck all these little particles are, what the LHC is, etc.

Go check it out! http://vimeo.com/41038445

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Do Creationist curricula meet the National Standards?

This question was just brought up on a list I belong to by a person wishing to homeschool with a Christian worldview, and I thought I’d try to address it.  Here’s what I wrote in response: Continue reading
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The last eight weeks…

… have been our usual Spring Rush.  Here are some highlights:

We’ve celebrated five birthdays, including my mom’s 75th, and my 40th.  The girls are now  six, which completely blows my mind.  (Turning 40 was cake compared to dealing with the idea that my girls are SIX.  Where does the time go??)  We all had wonderful times with family and friends, and our presents and celebrations were thoughtful and lovely.  I’m especially pleased that the girls love our having made them official Daisy Girl Scouts for their birthday; we’re going to do it as a family, perhaps with some other homeschooled girls, and see how it goes.  🙂

I got sick four times, and at least one child joined me in welcoming each new virus.  My computer also BSOD’d twice, which fouled me up almost as badly, as you can well imagine.

All three kids had dental checkups.  The girls were still cavity free, but Buddy has EIGHT cavities, and we start in on fillings next week.  He nurses, they didn’t (bottles of breastmilk until 22 months), and different genetics.  Still, OUCH.  (Wish us all luck!)

Beara in her favourite outfit, running around the playground walls in the sunshine, enjoying her birthday. 🙂

All three kids tried Reading Eggs for their free 35 day trial via the homeschool coop.  We enjoyed it (Big D did 12 lessons one day), but the price tag (since it is per child, not per family) is just too much for us to justify.  Nice to get a better handle on their actual reading levels though; the computer interface made them willing to really push themselves in a way that allowed me to see exactly where they were struggling.

We’ve taken advantage of Daddyman’s flexible work schedule, our new-to-us road worthy minivan, and the hospitality of friends and family to go on four trips to Massachusetts for birthdays, beach combing, SCA events, and the Cambridge Science Festival, which included National Astronomy Day at the Clay Center Observatory (so much fun that it will get it’s own post).

Big D checks out Venus at the Clay Center Observatory (Brookline, MA) during National Astronomy Day.

The girls had their WJIII testing, did great (at or above age level in all areas except writing, which we’re working on), and I put together our paperwork for the Vermont Home Study office.  They are now officially registered homeschoolers!  (I’ll post more about their testing, and our experience with the Home Study office, including the minimum course of study I put together for them, soon.)

We wrapped up our spring classes and year long programs; dance class, book club, and the creative problem solving group I ran at our local library.  I’m planning to run two days of playground physics sometime later this spring, when the temps decide to stay above freezing for a week or more.  Only speech therapy continues until the end of the public school year, and Big D continues to have fun making great strides, so we’re glad!

A robin’s nest in my mom’s rhododendron. Bon chance, little birds! April 30, 2012.

Also?  Spring is coming, after a long winter-that-wasn’t.  Nothing much flowering here in Vermont yet that hasn’t been destroyed by our much needed but ruinous rain, so here’s a parting shot of robin eggs in my mother’s garden in Boston.  Pardon the lack of focus, but I wasn’t sure there was anything IN the nest until I took this picture, holding the camera up over my head.  Enjoy!

Posted in Homeschooling Life, milestones, space science | Leave a comment