Thursday, November 8, 2012

Curriculum Review: Times Tales

Rote memorization is not fun for anyone.  Many children despise it.  Some hate it and others are just no good at it.  So what have generations of despairing teachers and parents done?  Turn to mnemonic devices.  Little trick images or phrases to help students remember the unmemorable.

I cannot read music and have no musical talent whatsoever.  I can actually have several preschool parents attest to having witnessed my inexplicable inability to clap to the beat of the easiest of preschooler tunes.  (Pathetic and sad yes, but hopefully I have gifts in other areas.  I would not however, suggest, you ask me to sing either.)  I can however tell you the notes on a scale (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and FACE) thanks to Mrs. Miller, my second grade teacher.  She employed the ever popular mnemonic device.

The beauty, simplicity and ease of a mnemonic device is clear.  So why on Earth has it taken so long for someone to come up with the ingenious idea of appling mnemonics to the multiplication tables?  Thank goodness Jennie Von Eggers did!  We are ever so grateful that we have discovered Times Tales.

I remember (and not too fondly) having spent countless hours each evening drilling my daughter on her multiplication tables when she was in 3rd grade.  She would master one table, take the quiz at school and then move on to the next one.  Each grueling step moved us closer to our goal, mastery through the nines.  When we finally got there, we discovered that she was losing the early tables which she had learned due to lack of practice.  Grr!  More drilling!

So alas, I was not looking forward to beginning the same drudgery with my son now that it is time for him to learn his multiplication tables.  I knew that this was going to be excruciating for him, since rote memorization is just about the worst task I could ask of him given the way he learns and processes information.  Oh joy, were we in for a treat then! 

We were working on the 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s.  We had been drilling these almost daily for months, to no avail.  He could get the correct answers by calculating them.  He did not have them memorized.  So we kept on drilling.  I saw another mom post on Facebook about Times Tales and how amazing they were for her son.  Huh?  Times Tales???  What in the heck is that?

Oh, only an answer to prayers.

Times Tales has created characters that represent each number and then incorporated them into an extremely brief (2 sentence on average) “story” that illustrates the answer to the multiplication problem.  Since it was less than $20 on Amazon, I figured I might as well give it a shot.  

In less than 15 minutes and reviewing the characters and stories three to four times, my son knew the 3s and 4s times tables, COLD.  And the angels began to sing ... Quite literally, I had tears in my eyes.  We had found what worked for him.

Pros:  Times Tales has simple stories that are “catchy” for kids.  They are easy to recall.  Once the child can recall the story, the instruction manual has flash cards that contain the number characters in a multiplication equation.  After the child has mastered this, there are traditional numerical flash cards.  The program includes character number practice tests as well as numerical ones.  There are also crosswords and cube templates that you can cut out for a dice game.  
Once the child has mastered multiplication, there are two types of division flashcards.  The character-based division flashcards ask, “What is missing?”  Once the child has this part learned, then there are traditional numerical division flashcards too.

Cons:  Why, oh why, did they not create stories for all of the times tables???  Apparently the Times Tales creators felt that most kids can easily learn the 2s and 5s on their own.  While they may certainly be easier tables than others, we sure could have benefited from having stories covering the 2s and 5s.  

Since Times Tales did not have any stories for the 5s and we had a need for them, I used a computer image of a unicycle and turned it into a “5” to create a few stories for my son.

Bottom line:  This is one purchase that was worth every single penny I paid.  It worked beautifully.  My son felt such pride in being able to quickly and painlessly learn his multiplication tables.  I could not possibly give a higher endorsement of this product.  We love it!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Frightening (Non-Political) Reality about This Year’s Election

Time is ticking.  As the days until the election trickle down, I had a very disturbing realization.  This may well be my last chance to influence my eleven year old child regarding how to evaluate and consider a candidate before an election.  How can that be?  Is she moving to the other-side of the world away from us?  No, but she will have moved to the other-side of the universe by the next election.  She will be... a TEENAGER! (Insert "GASP" here.)  The window of being the most influential person in her life will be closed and barricaded.

This is a frightening reality!  

As parents, we have relished being our child's main source of information.  All learning began with us. Once we began homeschooling, it returned to us and for the time-being, will remain with us.  As parents, it is our job to instill values, morals and responsibility in our children.  We also instill knowledge and hopefully someday, some wisdom too.  When there is a question to which we don't know the answer, we as a family, find it.  [I can't imagine life before the internet!  How did one ever answer all the questions without it?  "Why can't great white sharks live in captivity?"  etc.  But I digress...]

Right now, having a tween daughter, our family is on the verge of enduring all things teenager.  But by the time of the next election, we will have moved into full scale TEENAGE GIRL REALITY.  Having been one myself, this makes me shudder!  All you women and brothers who have sisters know why too!  My poor husband who only has a brother does not know just what this will mean.  He doesn't know just how crazy and dramatic things will become...  Sometimes ignorance is sweet bliss! 

The giggly gaggle of girls isn’t so bad.  It is the inability to actually listen to what anyone other than a girlfriend says... well that’s another story entirely.

So, I had better not waste any more precious moments.  They are going to be few and far between over the next few years.  Very shortly, Mother/Daughter bonding will virtually always involve eye-rolling, exasperation on her part and some charitable condescension for her to actually spend time with her mother.  

I had better get cracking on teaching her a few more life lessons while she can still listen, and not just merely here the audible sounds of my talking like Charlie Brown’s mother.  I think I will start with another lesson on how to evaluate the different available media sources for their accuracy, agendas and/or bias. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Curriculum Review: Math-U-See

We used the math curricula Math-U-See Beta for our second grade son this past year.  The program consists of a instructor's package which contains a teacher's manual with answer key and a DVD of video taped lessons.  The student's kit contains lesson worksheets and a separate test booklet.  You can also purchase colorful manipulative interlocking blocks to accompany the program. There is also an optional Skip Count CD and lyrics booklet.

For our family, it was a very successful program, yet one we will not continue to use. So hopefully the pros and cons of the program  for us might prove helpful to some of you.  Before beginning the Math-U-See program, our son was very discouraged regarding his mathematical ability.  He consistently reversed numbers when writing his answers.  In his private school, a number "3" written backwards was "wrong." Part of the luxury of homeschooling was the freedom to say to him that if the calculation was correct, then the answer was correct, regardless if the number was written incorrectly.  The ability to separate math calculations from "handwriting reversals" freed him from the negativity of having everything "wrong."  Once that happened, his confidence blossomed and he began liking math again.

To use Math-U-See, the parent is supposed to watch the DVD video to see how to teach the concept to their child.  The teacher's manual will also contain written instructions on how to teach a concept to the student.  Children can watch the video instructions as well, if the parent so chooses.  Upon using Beta, we quickly discovered that all our son had to do was watch the video once or twice and then he was ready to do the worksheet for the new topic.  Within a week, I discovered that I had no need to ever open the teacher's manual.  The answer key was also not necessary for correcting second grade math worksheets.  The answer key would be useful later in the program as a time-saver for correcting column addition.

Each lesson contains six days of worksheets for the topic covered.  The first 3 days focus on gradually strengthening the lesson and the final 3 days contains the new topic as well as a review of previously covered lessons.  They are not overly long, normally containing between ten to fifteen problems. If this is not enough practice for the child, then there is a free worksheet generator available on the website.  If the child is quickly grasping the concept, then obviously as a homeschooler, you can stop at any point and administer the test or simply move on to the next lesson.

The manipulative blocks for Math-U-See are a strong plus for the program.   Their interlocking nature allows the child to stack them and play with them in a Lego-like fashion.  Each color represents a different number which allows for children to learn in a multi-sensory approach.  For young children, I would highly recommend purchasing the manipulative blocks if considering Math-U-See.
They also offer an expensive ($40) wooden block box to store the manipulative.  While certainly not necessary, I sprang for the box in an attempt to stay more organized.  If money is not an issue, it is a nice feature for each block to have its own "home."

Telling Time: Telling time is one concept in particular, that might prove difficult for many children.  Unfortunately, telling time is not part of the worksheet generator.   So if your child needs more reinforcement on this topic, then you will need to find your own supplemental resources.

The manipulative set includes a template for making a Math-U-See clock.  If you purchase two sets of block manipulatives, then you will have enough of the light blue "5" blocks to make a clock.   This can be useful for getting the child to understand the nature of telling time.  The good news is that if you purchase two sets of the blocks (for the telling time ability) and spring for the expensive wooden block box, you can cram both sets into the block box.  It is a tight fit, but you can make them fit.  We were convinced by a salesperson at a convention to purchase two sets of the blocks for the clock "bonus." However, I would have saved myself the cash if I got "a mulligan" and would have only purchased one set.  By the time you reach telling time (pun intended... I know, I know... INSERT "groan" here!), your child will certainly be able to grasp that adding a "1" block to a "4" block equals five or a "2" block and a "3" block also equals five.

Moving on to the test booklet.  It also contains a supplemental activity for each lesson, such as a dot-to-dot or matching activity.  We did not use these much at all, so I cannot fairly comment on their effectiveness.  But our lack of using them, may indicate a little something to you.  The tests appeared to fairly evaluate whether or not the child had grasped the lesson topic.  They also covered review materials, so you can evaluate whether or not your child is retaining previously covered topics.

We also purchased the Skip Count CD.  In the Mulligan World of "Do Overs," this is another item I would have passed on.  While some children might find this helpful, mine was irritated by the songs.  Despite being a verbal processor, he found listening to the songs to equate with punishment.  If you plan on listening to them in your vehicle, I hope your child is an only child.  The songs go from irritating to excruciating the older you are.  My daughter couldn't get far enough away from the CD player when her brother was listening (okay, okay--forced to listen to) the CD.

All and all, I would consider Math-U-See Beta to be a good, albeit, basic math program.  It converted our child from a "Math-Hater" to a child confident that he could "do" math.  We learned that he could grasp concepts and retain them quite quickly.

Our main con was that it was too basic.  There aren't challenges or bonus areas of extra rigor for kids who are getting the concept easily.  Thus,  our son became very bored by the program.  After Day 1 of a new topic, he was ready to move on to something else.  He finished the program quite quickly.

We have elected not to continue with Math-U-See because we want something more challenging.  The harder the math is, the easier it is for our son to maintain his focus. We will be using Singapore Math for him for next year.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dear God, Please Don't Let My Children be "Normal"

The impetus for this blog entry might seem bizarre to many of you.  But anyone who is familiar with my convoluted, bizarre train of thought will see that it makes perfect "sense" in my weird, conscious mind.  I was emailed prom pictures of my niece.  They took my breath away.  She was so beautiful and so grown-up.  (Sniff!)  I remember the moment sixteen years ago when I first laid my eyes on her as such a tiny newborn.  (Sniff! Where does the time go?  BIG SIGH!)  What a remarkable job she is doing of finding her way through the quagmire of becoming an adult.  Some of the other girls in the pictures, while looking pretty, were dressed inappropriately-- like little girls playing dress-up.  Sixteen year old girls look ridiculous when they are dressed as if they are costumed for Dancing with the Stars.  The pressures to fit-in and "be cool" can be oppressive.  I was so glad that my niece looked stunning while still being appropriate for her age.

Shortly thereafter, I was reading a blog entry Why are Homeschooled Kids so Annoying?  The final line of this blog really struck me.  The final remark as to why homeschooled kids are so annoying was, "Because no one tells them that the way God made them isn't cool enough."  I found that quite profound, especially when considering the peer pressures that are exerted on our children as they attempt to grow into maturity.

Do we want our children to be just like everyone else?  Or do we want them to be unique individuals?

I want my children to be as individual as their own fingerprints.  When the kids were toddlers, they wanted ice cream for every meal and Christmas everyday.  (To be honest, my son would still love to have chocolate ice cream every day, all day long.)  We used the video Elmo Saves Christmas to try and explain to the kids why something that is "special" is no longer "special" once it is daily or commonplace.

I have been telling my children for years that being "weird" is a good thing. How boring to be just like everyone else!  What a waste of God's beautiful creation to hide your unique self and become just like everyone else.  Really, do we want to be insulting the Big Guy and snubbing His hard work?

I have a little assignment for you.  Look up the word "Normal" in the thesaurus and think of the connotations of the words that you will find.  Is this your aspiration for your child?

average, commonplace, normal, typical, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, standard, unexceptional, unremarkable, usual, conventional, expected, predictable, common, customary, cut-and-dry, garden variety, everyday, familiar, plain, popular, habitual, trivial, 

Part Two of your little assignment is to look up "Quirky" in the thesaurus. Would you prefer that people use these words to describe your child?  Maybe not, but I sure would.  But most of all, I know that I would greatly prefer for my children to describe themselves with the words listed below as opposed to words of "normalcy."  I guess I have always had a bit of a rebellious streak...

eccentric, weird, individual, march to the beat of your own drum, nonconformist, unconventional, perplexing, outlandish, outstanding, outrageous, unorthodox, prominent, unique, singular, unprecedented, unparalleled

I hope that I will raise children with enough chutzpah to avoid the "group think" mentality.  In a world that increasingly demands creativity and the ability to think in order to innovate and be successful, why do we persist, as a society, to make conformists?

Why do we blindly follow others and doubt ourselves and our own convictions?  This kind of "socialization"  I can do without.  I do not want to raise lemmings.

I believe that tonight, and every night thereafter, I will be praying the following:
Dear God, Please don't let my children settle for being "Normal." Grant them the courage to be the unique individuals You created them to be.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Unexpected Revelation of Philosophy

Since I am not prone to introspection, whenever philosophical ideas or revelations come to me, they are always somewhat of a surprise.  Ideas tend to sneak up on me before they beat me over the head with whatever should have been plainly obvious.  I have the mental revelation equivalency of, "Duh!"  Then I feel like Homer Simpson, "D'OH!"

I had one of those "D'OH" revelations during Easter Brunch with the extended family this weekend.  Not when one would normally expect to learn anything new about their personal philosophy... However, when you tend to avoid soul-searching like the plague, what choice is left to fate but to surprise you?

So, while I was sitting around chatting with my nieces about Spring Break, the subject of returning to school naturally arose.  Were they dreading it?  Were they excited?  My sister-in-law mentioned that there would be only six weeks of school left, so the girls were ready to persevere since THE END was in sight. Her next comment was that there were really only three weeks of "real school" left, because then they would have "testing."  (The fact that there was no need to mention that no real schooling/learning occurs after testing is a sad topic for another blog.)

This was when my daughter chimed in, "So when are we done with school?" My spontaneous answer was, "Never!"  I said it without thought and meant it to be humorous. 

Or did I?

Freud could have fun with this... There are no accidents...  Here comes the "D'OH."

I have no intention of stopping.  We don't just "do school" for a grade level until we get to the end of 180 days (the legally required number of days of homeschooling in Georgia), do we?  How many times in school did I, or my children, for that matter ever reach the end of a textbook?  Think about it... How often did you ever complete every chapter in a history or math textbook? So should second grade officially "end" when we reach the end of the math textbook?

What about all the curricula I just bought for "next year" at the homeschool convention?  When do I start using it?  I am already in trouble if I was supposed to wait until August.  I have already implemented a number of new things that I bought.  If it is appropriate for my children and it would be useful to them, then why in the world would I wait to start it?

Man-oh-man were we meant for homeschooling!  When my daughter completed the full year of math for her grade level in February, I didn't say, "Oh good, we're done with math for the year.  Great job.  We'll start up math again in the fall."  That would have been nuts!  I noticed that she was flying through math and bought another "semester" before she needed it.  She is two units (not chapters, UNITS) into the third "semester" of math for the year.  She will likely complete this third "semester" before the month of May is out.

(Please note that I am not saying that my child is a math savant.  It just comes easily to her and for the first time, she does not have to wait for the rest of the class before she moves on to the next chapter.  She typically studies a lesson one day and then takes the test the next day.  The unit tests are cumulative so we can verify that she is retaining the math concepts.  This is one of the main reasons we thought she would thrive by leaving a traditional school. And thus far, we were right.)

Just yesterday, her little brother completed his second grade math curriculum.  I thought he would finish it this week, but he went even faster than I imagined.  He completed two chapters on Monday and took two chapter tests on Tuesday.  He wanted to do this.  He said it was easy.  Why would I hold him back?

So are we supposed to practice math facts from now on until 3rd grade starts in the fall?  Obviously not!  My response to my son was, "Yeah!  Great job! Now we can start the new books."  He was excited about starting the new books too.

(You have got to love that learning is fun.  It is not a "geek" thing anymore.  There is no peer pressure to be like everyone else when you are homeschooling.  There is no worry that it isn't cool to be smart.  You learn because you learn "New Stuff" and learning new stuff is fun. Granted, I wouldn't lump grammar or spelling into the "fun category" necessarily. But math, reading, writing, science and history are fun!)

Now I see why kids who have been homeschooled for several years look at you strangely when you ask, "What grade are you in?" If you go at your own pace, sometimes you will be way ahead "for your grade,"  right on "grade level" or even behind.  I get it now.  The homeschool answer of, "What grade am I in??? Which subject are you asking about?" makes a lot more sense.  In just a few short months, the importance of a "grade" is already blurring for us.

I know that we will keep "schooling" during the summer to some extent. I want the kids to have a "summer," but at the same time we will not stop learning.  Right now the plan (which is still in flux) is to "do school" two days a week and the rest are free "summer" days to play with friends and have sleepovers.  We will keep charging ahead in math and do fun things like history and science. Grammar can wait!

We will attempt to keep feeding their (hopefully) insatiable thirst for knowledge.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Curriculum Review of Learning Language Arts Through Literature

Tis the season for buying new curricula, so I hope that this review of Learning Language Arts Through Literature by Debbie Strayer and Susan Simpson might prove helpful to some.  As new homeschoolers, our family was in uncharted water when we attempted to select curricula for the 2011/2012 school year.  I looked at Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum (both the book and the website) and decided to give LLATL (the title of this program is way too long to keep typing) a try for both of my children.  So in particular, this review pertains to the use of the Red Book (2nd grade) and the Purple Book (5th grade).  Gotta say up front, we are not fans.

The program is designed to be an "integrated language approach" so that:

"By reading fine literature and working with good models of writing, children will receive a quality education in language arts.  If you desire to teach using this integrated approach to language, this curriculum is for you... The integrated language approach has the benefits of all teaching methods.  By working with pieces of literature, you focus on grammar, vocabulary, writing, reading , spelling, penmanship, and thinking skills.  Your student has the best advantage for learning skills in this effective and lasting manner."  Learning Language Arts Through Literature The Purple Book, p. iii.

The Table of Contents shows four book studies for the Purple Book:  Farmer Boy, Trumpet of the Swan, Meet Addy and Caddie Woodlawn.  It seemed great.  However, when we went to use LLATL, we found that appearances were deceiving.  The novels for the Book Studies were fine, it was just that they weren't really "studied."  I assumed (yes, I know what happens when you this case you get stuck with curricula that is not a good fit for your family) that the novels would form the basis of the "integrated language approach."  WRONG!  The use of the novels are not implemented to study the grammar, vocabulary,  writing, reading, spelling, penmanship and thinking skills as laid out in the introduction to the program.  The Book Studies are very brief asides separate from the meat of the curricula.  For example, there are five vocabulary words for Farmer Boy, two sequencing exercises (containing five sentences each) and eleven short answer questions for the book.  That is it.  That is LLATL's version of a complete "Book Study."

Uh, that is not quite what I hoped for... Literary analysis?  Not there either.

So how do the books provide the "integrated language approach" if it is not coming from the required novels for the Book Studies?  The book is a series of excerpts from songs, poems, novels etc. from which the language arts exercises are drawn.  Sure wasn't what I expected.  The real problem was that my 5th grade daughter hated the program.  She found the exercises to be completely unchallenging.  To quote her, "It was boring, busywork on stuff that I already knew.  It was a complete waste of my time."    We completed 23 of the 36 lessons by Christmas.  I exercised the freedom of homeschooling and quit the program after the holidays as it was just not working for us.

The pluses of the program are that the teacher's guide provides the answers to the exercises.  It requires very little parent preparation for daily lessons.  Parents need not read the novels of the Book Studies because there are basic answers provided to the short answer questions regarding the novels and the studies are not in-depth.  (I consider the lack of depth a negative, but if you didn't want to read the books, then you are all set.)  The sources for the language arts exercises changes often, so if you don't like one of the selections, you are not stuck with it for long.  The lessons are very quick.

LLATL The Red Book is a different story.  The readers (All Around the Farm, Forest Fables, In, Out and About Catfish Pond, Up, Down and Around the Rain Tree, Underwater Friends and Famous People) do actually serve as the basis for the language arts activities.  The are numerous activities which are removed from the student book, cut out and then sorted or arranged for the student's completion.  The student book does NOT have serrated pages, so removing these pages is a pain! My son especially liked these-- word lists, phonetic sound sorting, word wheels, alphabetizing etc.  He did not hate the program.  He liked it because it was easy and required very little work of him.  Problem-- it was too easy!  The readers were not challenging.  For us, the readers could only hope to enhance read-aloud fluency.  The vocabulary and writing style would not serve to increase reading level or comprehension.

Second graders do not know a lot of grammar, so the "easy" aspect of LLATL would be helpful.  However, we found that there were too few exercises (average about five) for each grammar or spelling concept or rule being taught.  The exposure was very brief (too brief) and then the topic would not be revisited or reviewed for several lessons.  Thus, the covered topics were not retained effectively.  If however, you have a child who is a naturally gifted speller, then the brevity and the lengthy time span until further review might be an asset.  The length of the required writing assignments was very brief.  It would be an easy matter for a parent to extend the writing assignments to challenge children who loved to write.  

Neither child will be continuing with LLATL.  Caveat emptor for all the Latin fans.  Know what you are getting if you purchase LLATL so that you will not be disappointed.  The program might be an excellent fit for many families, just not ours.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Intoxicated by the Freedom to Choose

We attended a homeschool conference this past week in Greenville, SC.  I still had a feeling of "shock and awe" to see the vast numbers of people who homeschool.  I guess we are still new enough to homeschooling that I feel a bit dumbfounded by seeing so many different people "bucking the system."  But unlike last year, we didn't attend seminar after seminar.  This year, we went to browse, peruse and explore all the different curricula choices from the plethora of vendors.

Like any good homeschool mom, I did a lot of research prior to going to the conference.  I had a four page Google document of different programs that I wanted to examine.  I don't use a set curriculum.  I hand tailor the best I can, to each child, their learning styles and strengths.  I would put them back into school if I wanted the "one size fits all approach."  There is such a thrill from choosing what your child will learn.

Who ever heard a teacher say, "I looked through the book.  It seems boring.  We're not going to use that."?  It is not something that occurs often in a traditional school.  It isn't that teachers don't care or like the dull and unimaginative text books.  (Yes, I know that there are some bad, nightmare teachers that don't care and do like dull.  But I believe that they are in the minority.) Traditional teachers are constrained by a system within which they must work.  I'm not.

It is intoxicating to look at a perfectly functional grammar program that is about as thrilling as watching paint dry and having the power to say, "No way!  Not for my kid!"  I want something that will keep my children (and me) awake and not bore us all to tears.  So like Dory the fish in Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming."  Keep looking until you do find something that fits your family.  What a novel thought!  Demand more and keep looking until you find it.

So that is exactly what we did.  We brought home a trunk load of books that we felt fit our kids and covered what we decided they should learn this upcoming year.  It makes me giddy with anticipation.  I am eagerly awaiting the rest of our books to come from Amazon.  (Yes, they will take over the world because they have everything!)

It is intoxicating the control and the freedom.  Just as alcohol could be dangerous and lead to abuse if not handled responsibly, the control and freedom to choose what your child learns needs to be handled responsibly.  It is not a perfect world, I am sure that there are a few crazies out there who want their children to study "The Fascinating World of Navel Lint" or "Competitive Underwater Basket-Weaving for Elementary Students." However, my children won't be joining them.

I have tried to design a rigorous, challenging curriculum that will still be (INSERT "gasp" here) fun.  Hopefully I will have succeeded.  If not, I also have the intoxicating freedom to toss something that is not working for us into the trash and try something brand new.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Becoming Socialized to Socialism

What in the world is happening to our country?  The trend of governmental control creeping into all areas of our lives is more than a bit terrifying.  "Big Brother is watching you." This is more than a line in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, but rather it is becoming our reality.  I am going to stay out of the political hornet's nest of Car Czars, Obamacare etc.  I will leave those areas to the pundits to fight about with each other.  There is more than enough encroachment of Big Brother in just the simplest of things of our everyday lives.  Hasn't anyone else exclaimed, "Are you kidding me?" when surfing the net?  Some of these things are down right pitiful!  I find myself making this exclamation with far too much frequency.

So the trigger to start this diatribe of mine came late last night.  My husband pointed out a CBS article to me about Mayor Bloomberg in New York City,  Food Donations Banned to the Homeless.  "What?" I exclaim.  Surely I couldn't have heard him correctly.  Nope!  I did.  No more donating food to homeless shelters because "they" (Big Brother) can't assess the salt, fat and fiber content of the food.  In the interests of becoming more socialized to socialism, clearly we can see the benefits of this plan.  How much better to starve to death in a healthy manner with a healthy heart and arteries than to stay alive on food which might have a questionable salt or fat content!  I am sure most people would prefer to go hungry rather than consume food which does not contain enough fiber.  If you are a person who would prefer otherwise, that is okay too.  Big Brother will do the thinking for you.  You are not responsible enough to make your own choices.  Let the government do it for you.

Now, now, clearly I am upset over an isolated incident.  Couldn't be a trend! Maybe it is just New York. Things are always different in New York.  What about less cosmopolitan areas of America?
Take Raeford, NC for example.  (Yes, I had to look it up on a map.  Raeford, NC has not been a vacation destination of ours before, nor is it likely to become one.)  Big Brother need not lurk in only the largest cities of America.  Let's search school lunches packed by families for their children.  Why give a parent the right to decide what their own children should eat?  Clearly Uncle Sam is better suited for the job.  Turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, chips and apple juice did not pass inspection as being "healthy enough" for a 4 year old preschooler to eat.  Instead, she ate chicken nuggets from the school cafeteria.  This is not an isolated incident.  A turkey and salami sandwich did not "cut the mustard" either.  At least at the NC schools, Big Brother only inspects the home made lunches.  In some places, they are banned altogether.  No lunches from home are allowed in a Chicago school.

I could have a huge diatribe alone on the questionable health of school lunches.  Especially when you consider the seven million pounds of Pink Slime that winds up in school lunches.  Ewww!  Big Brother says Pink Slime is okay for your child's school lunch.  I am so glad that "THEY" know so much more than the parent of an individual child.  Here I just thought that Beef Trimmings were only fit for a dog, instead of a growing child.  But, I digress.

These things just keep happening and happening all over.  We are supposed to go about our daily lives losing more and more control over how we live our lives and raise our children.  I find this thoroughly frightening.  Our nation as a whole is sliding down the slippery slope of socialism.  I think that maybe our slide down the slippery slope is so vast that we don't even notice it anymore.  At the equator, the Earth spins about 1,669 mph every day, yet we don't feel a thing.  Our slide into socialism is gaining momentum, but we are so "socialized" to the encroachment of governmental control that we no longer notice the effects.

Socialism does not focus on our human nature and the role that incentives play in guiding our behavior.    We want to be rewarded for our efforts.   If our reward is the same irregardless of the amount of energy and work we put into any given task, then the urge to give something our "all" dissipates.  Most parents can intuitively understand why ultimately socialism will not sustain itself. 

Imagine a fall setting and a neighbor's large yard is covered in leaves.  Neighborhood children are playing outside.  Said neighbor offers to pay a group of children for raking and bagging leaves.  Eagerly they accept this offer.  As the work begins, one diligent darling works hard and makes a lot of progress while the other two are horsing around.  The neighbor brings out some lemonade to check on the progress.  "Gee, if you guys finish this by sunset, I'll give you each $10."  Well the lazy loafers think this is great.  They have done nothing and are going to get paid well for it.  Our tired, diligent darling wonders why he should keep working so hard when the others are going to get paid the same as he is for doing nothing.  As he runs over to complain to you, you know what he is going to say.  "Mom, no fair!  They aren't doing their fair share and they are gonna get $10! I'm the one doing all the work!"  Before you give any sage advice, you too know what will happen.  Diligent darling decides this is crazy and goes inside to play Wii.  No way he is going to work his butt off for the other two to get paid the same as him.  It is too big of a job.  Forget it!  Lazy loafers go home too,  the job will now require actual work from them.  Where's the fun in that?  They quit all pretense of working and go play elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the job never gets done.

Socialism is doomed to fail.  Any child can see the inherent problem when there is no reward commensurate with effort.  The cry of "No Fair!" resonates within the system.  However, that is where we are headed.  Big Brother is regulating our lives and socializing us so much that we don't even notice how far down the slope we have fallen. We had better wake-up because a new day is dawning, and it won't be a pretty spring one either.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Foreshadowing of Homeschooling

As I start to put together curricula choices for next year, I am a bit dumbfounded that we are homeschooling.  Me?  I am homeschooling.  I am homeschooling?  (Said in the same incredulous manner of "Bill" in "My Cousin Vinny" when he realizes they are accusing him of shooting the clerk.)  I thought for sure I would have had visits from child services or be in a psych ward if I ever attempted to homeschool.  Yet here I am, planning another academic year.

I am beginning to wonder though that maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.  Maybe we were destined to be a homeschool family but we just didn't realize it.  Perhaps we were so busy just doing what everyone else does in the chaos of daily life, that we forgot to read the signs.  They were there.  They foreshadowed our future.  We just had to stop spinning so fast and take a look around.  The funny thing about signs is that they are easy to miss.  There is a good reason for the old saying that, "Hindsight is 20/20."  Only distance and time allows for us to look back and see.

So, what exactly were some of the signs that foreshadowed our radical departure from the traditional educational system?  Our radical beliefs?  Our radical lifestyle?  Our radical career choices?  No, no and no.  Geez, there is nothing radical about a two lawyer family with two children living in the suburbs driving a minivan and owning a dog and some goldfish.  No visits from Super Nanny or Real Housewives of Atlanta.  We would make for snooze TV, definitely not a ratings grabber.  Perhaps then, what I view as "signs" are subtle.  Merely things that my husband and I should have picked up on over time.

One of our first signs was our extreme dissatisfaction with the local public schools.  We knew many families who were very happy with them, but our discontent was such that we knew it would not be the right choice for our family.  Private schools were our only choice because only nut jobs, weirdos and Little House on the Prairie types homeschooled.

(Now I freely admit to having all sorts of ill-informed, preconceived notions about homeschooling.  That is not, however, the reason for this parenthetical comment.  It is because I feel confident that my mom is just dying to scream into cyberspace that I certainly qualify under the "nut job" and "weirdo"  categories.  Point well taken, mom.  To be fair, she is probably right too.)

 Our eldest started her traditional educational career of kindergarten at a Catholic International Baccalaureate school.  It is a school that we still highly regard, but it is no longer a good fit for our family.  A clear sign, which was missed by us, came on a "sick day" when she was in first grade.  Did we spend our time watching Dora the Explorer reruns?  No.  We researched totem poles and then she created her own totem pole out of an old wrapping paper roll.  Quick email to the teacher and she took it to school and gave the class a presentation on totem poles and the native people who created them.  Neither my daughter nor I can remember now what sparked the interest, but whatever it was, we followed it.   Now that is a definite homeschooling type activity.

The above-described incident wasn't an aberration.  Our research and explore modus operandi spilled over into all areas of our lives; family trips especially.  When our youngest was a first grader at the same private school we took a family trip to the Western North Carolina Nature Center.  Great place to wander and see animals native to the region.  It has always been a family favorite.  However, we gave our son pencil and paper and asked him to sketch the animals he saw.  Mom took pictures and put together a power point presentation on all the animals for his class.

Family trips are spurred on by our interests or topics about which people are learning.  "Night at the Museum 2" was a video my daughter really wanted for Christmas one year.  So our Spring Break trip was naturally a family trip to the Smithsonian.
Another sign was our family's grand finale whenever we head to Orlando for a theme park adventure.  We have taken the kids on two Disney Trips and one Universal/Sea World adventure.  All three trips culminate in a trip to Book Warehouse.  Please don't get me wrong, we do go to Downtown Disney for souvenirs and the Lego store.  But our very last stop, which is eagerly awaited, is always the Book Warehouse.  We spend hours piling up books for each member of the family.  Having just left there two days ago with a mountain of new books (55 in all, photo is just some of the kids' books) is what triggered all these thoughts of "signs" that we were destined for homeschooling.

Significance of the signs?  Not too much other than I should stop being so surprised that we are now homeschooling.  Guess it is time to relax and enjoy the adventures in learning together.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What I am Learning about God from my Dog

I know this must sound like a crazy blog title, but I do think that there is a little messenger from God living in my house, sitting on my lap and waiting to lick my face.  I have never been very devout, and I know you will not be shocked to also learn that I am not much of a theologian.  Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine are names with which I am familiar, but certainly not because I have ever read their writings.   That being said, I do, however, believe that people are put in our paths for a reason.  I personally believe that there is a higher authority with a plan, rather than a mere coincidence or "luck" when person is in front of us at the right time with something to support us or guide us.  Now I am starting to suspect that God uses all of His creation for His messages.

One of His messengers lives in my house.  She is a whopping 15 pound cockapoo that found her way into our home at a time when we emphatically said that we were not getting a dog.  But Maggy needed a home, so now she is a member of our family.

Maggy is an endless ball of energy and love.  She makes us laugh and keeps the whole family aware of her omnipresent need for love and attention.  If you are seated, she is in your lap.  If you are lying down, she is on top of you or cuddled up next to you.  She tucks each child into bed at night.  Curling up on their beds for prayers and goodnight hugs and kisses.  At the first twitch which suggests that you are waking up in the morning, she climbs on your chest waiting to eagerly help you greet the new day.

Yeah, yeah.  Sweet, cute, you get it.  What does that have to do with God?  Well, frankly I had never even considered a connection until one morning we were having a family prayer with tired, grumpy children.  It dawned on me that we should try to be more "puppy-like" in our actions and attitudes.  Let's try and treat each day as a gift.  Be excited that each morning we get to spend another day with each other.  The dog sure thought that it was reason enough for zealous celebration and tail wagging.  Hmm, maybe there is something to this thought.

Try and have a religious philosophical discussion with young children.  Sometimes they don't have enough of a frame of reference to "get" the concept you are trying to convey.  So what does one do, look for an analogy to something that they can "get."  So here comes our dog again.  She was certainly more than eager to volunteer her enthusiastic self for any discussion, so long as there was a lap that needed warming and some serious belly rubbing to be had.

So what could God want us to learn from the devotion of a (to be perfectly honest here) not-so-very-bright dog?

Here it is in a nutshell:
1.  Each day is a gift to be celebrated with joy and enthusiasm.  If you see the ones you love show them just how much you love them.  If your dog loves you this much, just think how much God loves you.
2.  God wants you to remember His love for you all the time and He wants to share that love with you.  Think about how your dog will start vigorously wagging its tail in joy when you even start to look in its direction.  Dogs will nudge you to remind you to continue petting them or to not forget that they are there ever-faithfully by your side.
3.  Quote from above, "ever-faithfully by your side."  Don't think that needs much of an explanation.
4.  Your dog is always happy to see you, whether you have been out of sight for less than a minute to get the mail, away all day or been gone for a week on vacation.  The bliss at your return is pure ecstasy, regardless of how long you were away.  God is filled with joy whenever we turn to Him, wether we be the prodigal son, the Pope or somewhere in between.
5.  Your dog wants to be the first thing you think of and show love to you the moment you wake up.  Your dog wants to be the last thing you think of as you drift off to sleep petting them.  They want you to shower them with love for every waking moment in between.  I think that if God decided to ignore our free will for a moment and kicked us in the butt to get our attention, that is exactly what He would want.  Nudge, nudge, LOVE ME COMPLETELY.  God is much more subtle, however, wanting us to voluntarily come to Him (so that's why He uses the furry reminders).
6.  Your dog doesn't want fancy toys or beds, just the simple pleasure of your company.  God isn't impressed by our putting on airs.  He just wants our devotion and love.
7.  Your dog is willing to forgive your bad moods, temper tantrums and bad days.  Your dog is waiting with love for you to get over yourself.  Your dog is willing to help you do so.  Thank goodness The Big Guy is willing to do the same for us or we would be in deep, deep doggy doo doo.
8.  Your dog knows when you are hurt and grieving and wants to help you.  Dogs will lick your boo boos.  They will lick the tears from your face.  They will lay their heads beside you with deep mournful eyes when you are distraught.  They will comfort you in the best way they know how.  God wants to do the same if we will let Him.  Luckily he is not actually trying to lick our faces though, that would be quite an experience!
9.  This may be particular to my dog rather than all dogs.  Maggy greets everyone who comes to our home with ardent joy and love.  She has never yet met a person that didn't cause her to literally jump for joy.  God welcomes all, sinner and saint alike.  I find that to be a particularly lucky break for me personally, because there is no way I would fall into the "saint" group.
10.  A dog is ever on the alert, ready to jump up at a moment's notice to come be with us.  We need only to call.  God is just waiting for us to ask...  I don't think God would be too partial to a whistle though, I guess that's why we have prayer.

Thank goodness God's love is not like a cat.  We would never have a chance.  If so, God would barely tolerate our existence, ignore us unless it was convenient for Him.  God wouldn't even need us to feed Him.  So if God was like a cat, we would definitely be in deep, deep doo doo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

HHS Creating a Right To Contraception, Sterilization and Abortifacients

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is implementing regulations which are attempting to provide health care for everyone.  To quote my daughter, "That's nice, isn't it?"  As with everything in life, the Devil is in the Details.

On January 20th, HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius announced that as part of the "Preventive Services" rule, all health insurance plans would be required to cover sterilizations and FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pay.  FDA-approved contraceptives includes abortifacients.  The rule goes into effect on August 1st for individuals, employers and insurers.  Catholic institutions were given an extra year to adapt to this regulation.  It will take effect for Catholic institutions on August 1, 2013.

"That's nice, isn't it?"  Catholic institutions get extra time to adapt. Uhh, not so much.

For those not familiar with Catholic teaching on the subject matter, here is a brief synopsis.  In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued an encyclical letter called Humanae Vitae (which translated from Latin means "Human Life").  This was not a new "take" on the Church's position, but rather a reemphasis of the Church's teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent the creation of new life.  This is a position that was historically shared by all Christian religions until the 1930s (investigate the Anglican Church's Lambeth Conference to learn about the shift to permit contraception).  The Catholic Church has never swayed in its opposition to contraception, sterilization and abortion based on Scripture, Apostolic Teachings and the Magisterium.

So to say that the Catholic Church is a bit irked would be a serious understatement.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory called HHS's decision a "direct attack on our religious freedom and our 1st Amendment rights."

In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.  Andas a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so).  The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

Since this is a controversy, you know there are catchy YouTube videos.  So I have included an interesting one for you to watch.

Oh, so then this is just a "Catholic thing."  Uhh, not so much.

What about the United States Constitution? Specifically, that pesky 1st Amendment?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

Free exercise of religion is kind of a central tenet upon which our country was found. Seems to me that everyone should be getting pretty upset about this, not just Catholics.

The National Association of Evangelicals stated:

“Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations. “No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience.  The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.” 

Orthodox Christians are also opposed:
"We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, call upon HHS Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration to rescind this unjust ruling and to respect the religious freedom guaranteed all Americans by the First Amendment."

Jewish Orthodox groups are also opposed:
"Most troubling, is the Administration’s underlying rationale for its decision, which appears to be a view that if a religious entity is not insular, but engaged with broader society, it loses its “religious” character and liberties.  Many faiths firmly believe in being open to and engaged with broader society and fellow citizens of other faiths.  The Administration’s ruling makes the price of such an outward approach the violation of an organization’s religious principles.  This is deeply disappointing.  The Orthodox Union will support legislation in Congress to reverse this policy."

I do believe that the Obama administration has really stirred up a hornets nest.  Since this is an election year, I predict a whole lot of back-peddling and doublespeak.  Things should get really interesting.

When I first heard of this decision, a quote kept coming to my mind (which is often attributed to Edmund Burke, even though he may not have actually said it)...

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing."

Hence I am writing this blog.  I have included link after link so that you might read up yourself and reach your own conclusions about what you feel is right.  I have avoided drafting a constitutional free exercise argument because the case law gets quite complicated.  As a lawyer, even I find it a bit tedious and dull.  If your eyes glaze over, you won't be able to even read any longer.  However, I do want to give you a list of key Supreme Court free exercise cases, in case you want to plow through them yourself.

They are:

Reynolds v. Unitted States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879)
United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944)
Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963)
Yoder v. Wisconsin, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)
Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986)
Lyng v. Northwest Cemetery Prot. Ass’n, 485 U.S. 439 (1988)
Employment Div. of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990)
Church of the Lukumbi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)
City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997)

Of particular note, the City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997) declared the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) was unconstitutional as it applied to state and local governments.  The RFRA was passed by Congress in direct response to the court's ruling in the Employment Div. of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) case.

Please take the time to get informed on these issues, especially in light of a looming election.  In 1784 Edmund Burke said, "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion."

Let us all have no delusions!  Investigate for yourselves.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sad, Sad State for Charter Schools

Back in June, I blogged about a Georgia Supreme Court ruling which declared that the statute authorizing Georgia Charter schools was unconstitutional.  I found the logic of the court's ruling very questionable and disturbing.

Interestingly enough, when I spoke to parents who had children in these charter schools which were affected by the ruling, they seemed quite unperturbed. Surely it would not affect them.  All would be well.

Well, here we are six months later.  How are things for these charter schools? Uh, not too good.  Not too good at all!  It truly saddens me.

Ivy Prepatory Academy is an all girls middle school in Gwinnett County that opened as a Charter School.  The plan was for the school to grow one grade a year to encompass high school as well.  As parents of a current 5th grade girl, living in Gwinnett County, our family has been keeping an eye on this school. We have seen some very good things coming out of this school.  After all, if homeschooling didn't work out well this year, she would need to go to school somewhere, right?

Not simply trusting parental word-of-mouth, we were interested in as much factual data that we could acquire.  It certainly helps when trying to see how a school is performing.  So, how does Ivy Prep measure up compared to the typical Gwinnett County Public School (GCPS)?  Take a look at some of the statistics.  I stole the nice table from Peach Pundit.

6th GradeReadingSocial StudiesScienceEnglish Language/ArtsMath
Ivy Prep100%78.0%87.0%100%86.0%
7th GradeReadingSocial StudiesScienceEnglish Language/ArtsMath
Ivy Prep100%93.0%89.0%100%97.0%

So what action has the Gwinnett County Board of Education decided to take regarding Ivy Prep? Why deny an extension of the school's charter, of course.

What in the world is my County doing?  You have a school that is working.  Working better, in fact, than most of your other schools.  Don't support it.  Don't try to learn what they are doing better than the rest of the schools.  Don't try to emulate it.  Actively work to shut it down!  
Friends have wondered why I didn't want to use the public schools.  Why don't I have faith in the public school system?  I don't trust them.  Our values regarding education are clearly not the same.  I don't believe that the Gwinnett County Board of Education places providing the best possible education for the children of Gwinnett County on its priority list in any sort of a leading position.  Perhaps providing an "adequate" education is on their list, but certainly not providing "the best possible" education.
Outside of health and safety, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring that my children receive the best possible education that we can provide.  What a sad state of affairs that exists in Gwinnett County (and throughout the rest of Georgia too)!  I predict that the homeschool movement will continue to grow, particularly in Gwinnett County, while the local governmental approach is so hostile to innovation and effectiveness. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


For those of you with children in private schools, you know that this is the "crunch time" for your decision making process with regards to re-enrollment. Deadlines are looming, deposits need to be made ... do you keep your child in their present school or move them somewhere else?  As a veteran of five whole months of homeschooling (bah, ha ha), I am having the same thought process too.  After all, if homeschooling is not working and we are going to return to the world of brick and mortar schooling, we need to be making our decisions and FAST.

As much as I agonized over the decision to homeschool last year, this is almost a no-brainer!  The kids are learning-- A LOT!  They are getting along really well (phew!).  We are getting into a real groove.  We are starting to branch out a bit and meet other homeschoolers. We still see some of our old friends (albeit not enough and I need to make a concerted effort to get back in touch with several of them).  I am actually really liking the learning process as it pertains to all of us.  DFACS has not been called.  I am not drinking.  No one has been maimed in the educational process.  This is actually working!

Alas, (INSERT big sigh here) I do miss several things about traditional schooling.  I miss being able to make a hair cut appointment or doctors appointment with ease.  I miss being able to have lunch with a friend.  I miss the ease of Christmas shopping while the kids are in school.  I miss hanging out with friends while waiting to pick up the kids from school.  I miss volunteering with amazing women for one various school function or another.

But on the other hand, there are a number of things that I don't miss.  I don't miss the pressures of a 6:30 a.m. alarm clock.  I don't miss frantically enforcing bedtimes to the point of turning into a screaming banshee because I know that the alarm clock is going to be going off at 6:30 and I will have snarling, grumpy kids if they don't get to sleep immediately! (Just writing that run-on sentence is enough to make me lose my breath and feel stressed.) I don't miss making school lunches in the morning and screaming, "Hurry, Hurry!" every five minutes.  I don't miss rushing out the door so that we won't be late.  I don't miss the kids being sick all the time because someone else thought their child would be "fine" even though their child threw-up that morning or was running a fever.  I don't miss the tears and anguish caused by "So and So" who was being a bully or hurt a friend's feelings.  I do not miss fighting with my kids about doing their homework.  I do not miss deadlines imposed by teachers which could not be more inconvenient for our family's schedule.  I must also confess that every month I think about how delighted I am to not be sending tuition checks.

Our family lifestyle has changed dramatically in the past few months.  Overwhelmingly, the changes have been extremely positive.  Our decision to homeschool again was the briefest of conversations between my husband and I.  It didn't really merit a big discussion.  It just seemed to be the obvious conclusion to continue with homeschooling.  The factors which led us to our decision to homeschool had not changed and we are happy with the results.  Taking simple wisdom and applying it, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"