Tuesday, December 18, 2012

And the children were nessled all snug in their beds....

I have to say I'm a total sucker for this time of year....the lights, the hype, the gifts, the carols....YUP I love it all! And I get the commercialism of it & am not thrilled with that part - but the beauty of the season is how it tends to bring us all together.....

Yes I'm a total sucker for the Christmas season. I'll admit it. But I think this time of year, regardless of what you celebrate (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, whathaveyou...) brings out the best in all of us. Yes you can choose to see how it brings out the worst in us....the crazy shoppers on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, the extra holiday traffic and angry drivers, the stressed out families trying to 'get everything done.'

But what I see is my family and my friends trying to get together with the ones that they love and celebrate each other. The impromptu parties, the caroling at a nursing home, collecting for the families who have so little, the cookie swaps, the piggy bank bazaars.....

So I hope for everyone all around the world, that we take the time to love our families and friends, to call that special person, to send 1 more Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa) card, to take a few minutes of your time to help someone else out...amidst the craziness of the season, is an overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude.

Be grateful for what you have and for the people in your life. Take time to reflect on all the good in your life. Hug your loved ones extra tight, tell that person how much they mean to you. Life is too short and things happen so fast. We blink and it's over. Slow down and enjoy every minute.....

To those of you in my life, I hope you know how much I love and appreciate each and every one of you. I wish that we all find peace and love this holiday season & in the coming new year. I am thankful for all of the good in my life (and there's a lot of it) and I pray for those suffering this holiday season. I am thankful for all of my readers and all of the insight and support you have given me this past year, It is invaluable.

Take a deep breath, slow down and enjoy your loved ones, cherish every moment....for it is only a moment. There are plenty of 'things' to be had.....but only a few special people and moments in this life. Cherish them and enjoy them. Forget the things. The best things in life are not things, but memories and cherished people who nourish your soul.

Happy Holidays & wishes for a peaceful new year!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What do you DO all day?!

So, inevitably, we have come across soooooo many questions about our homeschooling experience. The number one question has to be "What do you do with your day?" I have to say, most people have asked this with true curiosity, not the negativity that many who homeschool encounter. They genuinely want to know. They also want to know if I set up my home like a school - with math at 10, art at 11 etc. And another biggie is "How do you know what to teach?"

To answer the latter first, the simplest way is to go to the NY state website for core curriculum standards. It's spelled out, in excruciating detail, what each grade level should know, examples of how to teach it, and when to teach it (I have to say as a teacher I find this highly insulting but that's another matter). Many homeschool families turn to curriculums that they buy. There are many great resources out there. We aren't following a curriculum per se. However, I know what to teach because I know my kids. I know what they can and can't do, what they are interested in and I have a basic idea of what a kindergartener and second grader should know (granted, I do have 15 years teaching experience). But I don't really think that's why. Think about when you had a toddler or preschooler. Did you question your ability to teach your children? I would say in most cases, the answer is no. So why is it that parents feel so apprehensive when it comes to teaching their school age kids? (This is what I hear anyway). Is it because school has told you that you don't have the tools or resources to do this? Nonsense!

You absolutely are equipped to teach your school-age children and probably in a better way than anyone else. YOU know them BEST. Some kids thrive on structure, others fail to thrive in structure, some kids are super creative, others are very logical.....This leads into the next question "do I structure my day like school?" The answer for our family is NO. For us, the whole reason to homeschool is to NOT follow a typical school routine. We are letting it happen organically. For instance, we read the book Poor Pluto recently. After reading it, we discussed how 3rd graders in California are the authors and illustrators of that book. This instantly sparked a book writing extravaganza for 3 days! My 7 year old wrote and illustrated a book on her own. My 5 year old drew the pictures and needed help spelling the words. I did not dictate book structure, story structure, we did not discuss characters, plot, setting, problems, solutions.....all the usual lessons that go along with writing. And guess what? The story had a cover with a title & author. It was well sequenced, had a problem and a solution. It had a main character, setting and supporting characters. So you will say that we HAD to have had lessons about this beforehand. NOPE. So then how do they know to do this? Because they've been read to their entire lives. They've been shown titles, authors, illustrators. They know all books tend to have a problem and end with a solution. Encourage your kid to write a book and give no other direction than that. I bet they will do it too.

Finally, What do we DO all day?  Hmmmmmmmmmm let me see........Yes we have a lot more downtime and playtime than school kids. We are outdoors a lot, and with that comes learning (we have a new pet salamander from our last camping trip). We occasionally sit down and work on math or writing, but most of our learning is experiential. We go to the children's museum, go camping, hiking, go to the park, go to the Mohonk Mountain house, go apple picking, bake, cook, write our own books, we have cheerleading practice, girl scouts, art class, we meet twice a week with homeschool groups where a TON of things go on, we have playdates with friends, visit grandparents, we participate in school activities like the science fair, go to the Bronx zoo, we take care of our pets, and explore whatever strikes out fancy. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Homeschooling looks different for every family. This is the beauty of it! The individualization, the relaxed nature of learning, the ability to blow it off at will and then realize that in blowing it off, we learned a ton about something not planned!

So, what did YOU do all day?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving upon us, we are reminded of the importance of 'giving thanks' for all of the blessings in our lives. So many of us have experienced tragedy, hard times, economic struggles, etc so it can feel difficult to give thanks at times. And then we try to teach our children to 'be thankful' but what does that mean? I think it is more a way of life rather than something we do in November, but giving thanks at any time is a good thing!

Some activities that I like to do with my kids, and what I have done in my classroom, is to teach them what is 'giving thanks.' A cute idea is to do a Thankful wreath. Cut a hole in the center of a paper plate & make leaves out of construction paper. The children can write or draw what they are thankful for and glue it to the Thankful Wreath. Some families engage in prayer. This is a great way to regularly engage in being thankful. Even if you do not subscribe to traditional prayer or religion, you can have discussions with your children about what they can be thankful for (a warm home, a loving family, food, pets, friends).

Focusing on the positive and giving thanks on a regular basis helps us to focus on what is really important and distract us from the everyday, 'small stuff' that they speak of. Sometimes that 'small stuff' doesn't seem so small, until we are faced with a real tragedy. Hopefully you will not be faced with such a tragedy. But I find that even trying to be thankful during my most stressful times helps me to focus on what is really important in life.

So with Thanksgiving upon us, I hope we will all stop to reflect upon what is good in our lives and what we have to be thankful for. If possible, spread this throughout the year. I promise this will enrich your lives. Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for my family, my warm home, food on my table, the ability to work, the ability to connect with others, and for all my supportive readers and friends!

For more ideas, please check out my friend's page. This has been such an inspiration to me and many others.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Homeschooling FAIL!!!

So as you may or may not know, we joined 2 groups, or co-ops, when we decided to homeschool. The first is run almost like a school & the moms share teaching different academic areas. It's very cool. So as part of that, I was given Native Americans to teach the littles (ages 4-7).

Now 2 other moms have gone before me with topics such as Iceland & Mexico. They had powerpoint presentations, had the kids make books comparing Norway to Iceland, awesome authentic foods to try....As an early childhood teacher, I figure I had this in the bag right?!  NOT!

I don't know what happened, if I choked or what, but I felt like my lesson was an EPIC FAIL. I knew less than the other moms (and some of the kids) & I was the teacher that day! The 'lessons' I had planned either tanked or the kids flew through them. This was a lesson in humility for sure!

In my defense, Native Americans is an extremely broad topic with insane amounts of information. It is also a topic most Americans are pretty knowledgeable about, unlike Iceland or Mexico. However, I think the main problem is that I approached this EXACTLY like an early childhood teacher. I framed my lessons in the way a classroom teacher would have. However, these are homeschooled kids and this is not a classroom!

There were glimmers of hope. The kids enjoyed carving pumpkins & drawing pictures using petroglyphs - but did I use the word 'Petroglyphs'??? NO! Would you use that word in a typical kindergarten classroom? Probably not. But herein lies the problem...this is NOT a typical kindergarten classroom!

So I hang my head in shame & beat myself up over a crappy lesson. All in all, it was fine, the kids seemed interested & had some fun. I walk away a bit embarrassed & with a bruised ego. But with that comes a lesson for me. 15 years of teaching experience in early childhood doesn't make me an expert. Actually I don't even feel qualified at the moment. Clearly I have a lot to learn & room to grow. Years ago a failure such as this would've crushed me. Now I kinda laugh (KINDA) at myself & say 'Better Luck Next Time.'

And there will be a next time. Next week to be exact, when I conclude the lesson on Native Americans. I have a lot of creative ideas & cool activities floating around in my head. Hopefully they will be as cool & informative as I imagine them to be. If not, so be it. I'll live to tell another tale.....

I guess the moral of the story is, no matter how much experience you have, or how well educated you are, there will come a time that you fail. How will that moment define you? Will it be destructive or constructive? Will it cause utter devastation or will it cause the creative juices to flow? Will it be the end for you or just the beginning? For me, it's just the beginning.............................of a whole new chapter! GAME ON!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Being Thankful...

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and living in an area affected by the storm, I am reminded of how fragile life is. Looking at pictures of my hometown, the towns of my friends and family, and seeing the devastation is unreal. I am blessed to say that everyone I know and love is safe. Property is replaceable, people are not.

However, out of the rubble rises the human spirit. I am in awe of the strength of people and how we all come together in times of need. I have watched many friends go straight to the devastation to help others, neighbors taking in neighbors, local businesses organizing donations to take to those who lost everything...

I am particularly in awe of how social media played (and continues to play) a huge part in the organization of people, donations and information. In a few short hours, groups were formed, trucks were being loaded, people were headed to where they were needed. Everyone is looking for a way to help the unfortunate, the displaced. Social media helped stop the NYC Marathon! We live in a time, that with all the flaws of social media, it can be such a powerful tool for greatness. 

I love this sense of community, working together, taking care of each other and wish it would last. I know it won't and eventually we will all get back to our normal lives and start focusing on other things. I guess a time of crisis makes us focus on the basics, on what is really important. My wish is that we all keep that in mind when the smaller, less significant things in life become overbearing. So go hug your kids, call that old friend, make a donation. The mess can wait. The laundry can wait. The bills can wait. In a blink, it could be gone. Cherish the time you have and the people you love.

For those who have lost their homes, belongings, pets and loved ones. You are in our thoughts and prayers. Rest assured your neighbors to the north are working hard to get the things you need down to you. Stay strong. I hope this finds you warm, fed and safe. Much love.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


As I creep further and further into the world of homeschooling, I am discovering that there are many layers to this paradigm, one of which is Unschooling. I am sure to the average person, Unschooling seems ridiculous and lazy. As if parents who follow this philosophy and just letting their kids sit around and watch TV or play Wii all day. How could a child possibly learn without some structure or lesson given to them?

I am starting to discover that we are mostly Unschoolers. As I meet and get to know other homeschool families, there are many discussions about what curriculum they are using or textbooks or methods. I am asked frequently what I am using. Ummm.....NOTHING. Shocking I know. And many who know me will say 'but you are an early childhood teacher so you don't need a curriculum that you buy off the internet.' Sure that is true. But I think my background offers me the confidence that I can do this without a curriculum more than it is helping me to not use one. (If that makes any sense) We actually rarely sit around the table and do 'work.' Once a week maybe. But are my kids NOT learning what they need to know?

Well I pose the question, "How do you STOP a child from learning?" Children are natural sponges. They are so curious about the world around them. They are always investigating, observing, watching, calculating....they are mini-scientists! If given the opportunity, children will learn astonishing things....all WITHOUT an adult 'teaching' them!

Without going into a long history lesson, the phenomena of public school is a relatively new idea. Public schools didn't exist before the mid 1800's. Before that, there were a variety of ways children learned; private schools, homeschools, church schools etc.  Many of the leaders who helped form this nation were probably NOT a participant in a formal school. Would you call them illiterate, uneducated or unrefined? These people became adults who challenged governments, stopped atrocities such as slavery, and created some of the greatest thinkers of all time. A short list of famous homeschoolers include Ben Franklin, FDR, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, George Patton, Stonewall Jackson, Sandra Day O'Connor, Albert Einstein, Booker T. Washington, Claude Monet, The Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Samuel Clemens, Beatrix Potter......I could go on and on.

So back to unschooling then. HOW do kids learn without lessons, structure, textbooks? They learn because that is what we are designed to do. Think about what a baby learns in the first year of life......they learn to roll, crawl and then walk. They learn to say words and the names of people and things. They understand a whole lot more and can follow simple directives (go get the ball). They learn boundaries, things that are safe and unsafe, who is familiar and who is not. They learn about gravity and the permanence of things. They start to make choices and have preferences for things (toys, food). They know how objects work in the world and start to play with toys. It's amazing and it's all done without school.

I know I revert to the learning of babies and toddlers A LOT, but it really emphasizes the natural way we are meant to learn. I love this quote from Sandra Dodd, on her website, about Unschooling:

"There is a Sesame Street book called Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum. There is a "things under the sea" room and "things in the sky" room, but still each room is just a room in a museum, no windows, everything out of context. Then he opens a big door marked "everything else in the whole wide world" and goes out into the sunshine. There is unschooling."


 Formal school teaches a lot that is out of context. Maybe this is why so many children are having a hard time? It doesn't make sense to them. It doesn't interest them. It has no relevance to their lives. So many times they are taught to memorize things but not given WHY they should. Why is it important to know algebra, the state capitals or the periodic table? 

Unschooling allows for EVERYTHING to be in context. It is completely child driven. Yes I supply the materials, the trips, the experiences that allow for such exploration. But NO we are NOT sitting down to a lesson (in the traditional sense anyway).  Already in the 6 weeks we've 'officially' been homeschooling (or unschooling) my kids have written & illustrated their own books, learned about the Solar System & created dioramas, my 7 year old read & is doing a book report on the first Harry Potter book, My 5 year old was just talking today about ordinal numbers (first, second, third)...I have NOT initiated, organized, or even suggested ANY of this. It has all come about by their own creativity, interest, and/or experiences.

Not everyone can homeschool or unschool. I get that. But everyone can offer context to their child. Show them WHY things are relevant. Explain how these things work in the real world. Offer them the bigger picture. I am willing to bet this will help a struggling student.

But for those of us who have ventured into the homeschooling realm, give unschooling a try. I promise, your child will learn much more with just your guidance and assistance, rather than formal lessons. And they will learn it with excitement, enthusiasm and joy. Isn't this why we left the public system in the first place?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

For the love of our children

It is amazing how much I love my children. People describe it, your parents tell you about it (hopefully), but you have NO IDEA until you actually have children of your own. They are literally a piece of your heart walking around in the outside world. They are that vulnerable, that fragile, that able to be damaged, lost or broken. But they are also a beacon of light, a reminder of all that is good in the world, all that is good within yourself. How can this tiny package be so much, yet so small?

When you have a newborn, the love and protectiveness is fierce. Literally fierce. You are their everything. It is so awesome but so difficult. The lack of sleep, loss of time for yourself, the simple task of taking a shower becomes a 3 day project. But when that baby looks up into your eyes, there is just nothing like it in the entire world.

Then Terrible 2's hit, and what I like to call the Defiant 3's and you are going crazy. I remember wishing I was deaf. Please poke my eardrums out!!! (Ok a bit dramatic) But it is stressful as these walking, talking toddlers/preschoolers are flexing their independence muscles but can't really do much at the same time. They tantrum over EVERYTHING! Literally I can't count how many times my kids tantrumed over going somewhere great like the park or the zoo. Not like I was taking them to toddler boot camp for pete's sake! And the embarrassment in public is astonishing. As if a tantruming 2 1/2 year old is something new or something everyone with kids hasn't experienced! (If you are one who hasn't, please call me, I have a job for you).

Now I am in the sweet spot - the 4-9 year old range. They are old enough to be quite independent, but young enough to still be a cuddle bug. We can do a ton of cool things: play mini golf, go out to a restaurant, go to the movies, ice skating......I can breathe at the playground. I don't have to be on top of them every minute. I can literally say "Go play" and they're gone for hours and are fine. However, with that comes a glimpse into the future. This is when they start to break away. They need us less and less, they want our help less and less. They start to care more about their friends and what THEY think. It hasn't started completely yet but make no mistake, it is starting.

I feel like I've blinked and the last 8 years have gone by. Which begs the question - how fast will the next 8 go? I have tantrums of a different kind to look forward to, first crushes, broken hearts, first dates, best friend rivalries, first dances, first kisses, doors being slammed in my face, sister fights over clothes, loud, obnoxious music, concerts, hormones (as a friend puts it - pre-teen wolf), DRIVING!!!!! Honestly, it scares the crap out of me. I'm going to wake up one day very soon and they'll be going off to college.

So I sit here as they sleep upstairs and realize I have a precious few minutes to treasure with them. Amidst some tears, waining tantrums, and some eye rolling, I consistently get ginormous hugs, tickles, laughter, fun. They still prefer me as their playmate and although some days it seems like a hassle, one day they'll stop asking. So yes I will play baby pet salon for the 10,000th time.

Being a parent is probably the hardest thing I have ever done and will ever do. It is literally ripping your heart out and letting it walk outside amongst the wolves. But no matter how difficult, scary, and frustrating it can be, it is the greatest reward and love I will ever know.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Multi-age, Multi-sensory, What The?!?!

So one of the biggest challenges to home schooling is teaching to multiple age/grade levels. Kids are supposed to learn with their age group right? That's how school does it. 25 six and seven year olds in a classroom for a year......

Actually, it is so much more natural to teach multiple age groups together than it is to pigeon-hole them into a 'grade'. Kids develop and learn in all different ways and at different speeds. By teaching them in a multi-age setting using multi-sensory techniques, you are sure to address all the learning styles of each child, as well as capitalizing on their strengths and strengthening their weaknesses.

If you put multiple ages together, it allows for the more advanced kids to work with peers on their level. It allows for the older and/or more advanced kids to be mentors to the younger kids. There is no better way to learn something than if you have to teach it to someone else! Use multi-sensory techniques to address the needs of all learners. School focuses on visual and auditory learning and expects all kids to conform. By offering learning through multiple modalities, you can use each child's strength to help them overcome their weaknesses.

The basis of learning comes through the senses. Babies and toddlers learn EVERYTHING through their senses (sight, taste, touch, smell, sound). Babies put everything in their mouth right? They explore their environments through dumping, shaking, banging, throwing, eating, smelling.....This doesn't actually change as we get older. If we tap into using the senses to teach, it will be more meaningful to the child. For a child who has a hard time listening to a lecture on the Boston Tea Party, you could bring them to Boston and walk the Freedom Trail. They will get to see where it all happened, touch the buildings, smell the sea air, hear the sounds of the ships in the harbor....I don't know about you but if I were taught this way, I might actually be able to tell you something about the Boston Tea Party.

Here in the Northeast, we have a tremendous amount of resources, cities, museums at our disposal. Many of them are minutes or just a few hours away. This year, whether you home school or not, supplement your child's education with a trip or experience. It will make the learning so much richer!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Problem with Public Education

As the new school year approaches, I cannot help but reflect on WHY I am not sending my kids this year.

So clearly I have a problem with public school if I am going to these great lengths to avoid it right? Well, sort of. I don't have the 'usual' problems that you hear, such as: bullying, inappropriate peer models, religious objections to curriculum, socialization problems....My problem is pretty simple really - I hate how much they sit and push papers! I know, I know, you've heard this before. But think about it. They are in school for 6 1/2 hours a day. 30-40 min for lunch, 20 min for recess (and not always), 40 minutes for special. Once in a while they have 2 specials in one day, so make it an even 60 minutes for specials. That leaves 4 1/2 hours of sitting at a desk!

I am sorry but I cannot sit at a desk for 4 1/2 hours, let alone my 5 & 7 year old children. And we wonder why things like ADHD are on the rise?! Not only are we asking these kids to sit for tremendous amounts of time, we are also asking them to do things that developmentally, their bodies are not necessarily ready for. Did you know that developmentally, a child can wait until age 5 to choose hand dominance and that's considered within the normal range? How do you expect a 5 year old (or in some cases 4 year olds) to be able to write their name, letters, numbers and soon enough words, if developmentally they should just be choosing hand dominance?!?!

Think about when you went to kindergarten. I don't know about you but I went to half day kindergarten, we had NAP TIME, snack time, play time & maybe watched a filmstrip (yes I am THAT old) on a letter a week. THAT WAS IT! I was able to read and write at that point, but not all children are ready for that at 5. We spent the entire time socializing, learning through play and experiences, singing songs.....sound familiar? So what the hell are we doing now? These poor kids come home with packets of worksheets each day, they play outside once or twice a week, and they have a kitchen set in their classroom that doesn't get touched. Unbelievable!

Now it's easy for me to say because I am not responsible for teaching 20+ 4-6 year olds right? WRONG. I have taught in the classroom before. Except I did it with 18, 4-5 year olds, half of which had special needs. It is possible to teach a large group of children in a hands-on, multisensory way. I came from a school that refused to do worksheets. Our preschool was modeled after our kindergarten, so they did not do worksheets either. Well then, how do they learn to write? oh, I  dunno - sand, fingerpaint, magnetic letters, shaving cream, pudding, chalk.........How do they learn their letters and to read?  By being offered a literature rich environment. How do they learn math? Through counting & sorting manipulatives. Learning through hands on experiences. What a novel idea. For example, when we read the '3 Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens' the students listened to the story at circle, they acted it out, they had a felt board to act it out, they had REBUS charts (matching a word to a picture), they had mittens at the water table & had to hang them on a clothesline (also a fine motor activity), they counted cats and mittens, sorted cats or mittens by color or put them into patterns (math activities), they had cat books in the library, housekeeping, and listening centers............shall I go on?

If I can teach 4 and 5 year olds, half of which have special needs, in a center based, hands-on, multisensory way, why can't our teachers do it with older kids that have no disabilities? I realize there are unidentified students with special needs in these classrooms. I realize that teachers have little creative license in their classrooms. Districts purchase curriculums that the teachers are forced to teach.

However, I do not give the teachers a full pass, there are ways around this, I did it. But your district, the one YOU PAY TAXES TO, needs to hear this in masses from it's taxpayers. Most teachers went into teaching because they love it. They are creative, innovative and have the ability to teach children in a variety of exciting, interesting, and more appropriate ways than these curriculums allow them to. Get involved in your child's education.Write an email, attend a board meeting, talk to your principal.....

Demand more of your schools.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Herkimer Diamond Mining

So, although homeschooling 'officially' starts in September, we decided to use this trip as a kickoff to our homeschooling experiment. We put a little more thought into it, used the experiences to ask questions, get them to ask questions, investigate, etc. And for the most part it was successful...........

The Expectation:

I had never been to Herkimer before, nor had I gone diamond mining before. Frank had talked about it. His brother goes a lot and has shown us his many treasures. I was excited and very interested to check this out. Let me set the scene: Diamond Mining!! Pictures like the one above, are posted EVERYWHERE. The campground has a jewlery case full of these diamonds, jewlery made out of the diamonds, paperweights, you name it! I had visions of digging up little nuggetts of shiny treasure. I wasn't envisioning anything HUGE but several inches maybe. So we get our gear, go in and pay and get ready to dig up awesome diamonds. Remember, the girls were hoping to get a bucket full to sell at $50 a pop in order to buy a cruise ship...

The Reality:

We show up to a shack that immediately put Deliverance banjo music into my head. There were giant rock piles, dirt piles and MUD. I took my children to the bathroom before starting and it felt like something out of Silence of the Lambs. But 'I am going to keep an open mind', I think to myself.  Up we go hauling all our tools and shovels. As we are walking up, a woman and her daughter are walking down. They inform us that the diamonds are EVERYWHERE! So I think 'OK This could still be great!' Finally, Let's Start Looking!!

And looking, and looking.......and digging, and smashing rocks with mallets, and digging some more.........OOOOOOHHHHHHHH! WE FOUND ONE!!! Ok sorry but it looked like broken glass and was the size of a polly pocket shoe (and you all know how much I love those!). After about an hour, we found 5 more polly pocket size 'diamonds.' Another hour goes by, it is hot and humid, Frank has smashed about 2700 rocks and NOTHING! The kids have resorted to playing house on some rocks that resembled a table and chairs and I just sit quietly and wait.......As we decide to leave, I am feeling somewhat guilty, like we didn't give it a fair shot............... until I hear another person say (who had a sledgehammer going against a 50 lb boulder) "I'd keep going if I thought there was a HUGE ONE INCHER in there." REALLY?! A one incher is considered HUGE? I'm done!

 I took the kids back with me to the campsite and OCD Joe decides to go back for MORE! So I send him on his merry (and deluded) way and go poolside with the kids. I guess this could be considered our first FAIL of the homeschooling experience. But oddly enough, it wasn't. I was shocked but my eldest asked to go back after an hour of swimming! OCD Joe & daughter came back with some really cool 'diamonds.' They both enjoyed the experience and me and my youngest enjoyed the pool.

Maybe this control freak is starting to learn that it doesn't all have to come from her or be planned by her to be a success?

NAH probably not!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Because I am an 'A' Type planner personality, it is getting a little late for me NOT to have all my ducks in a row. I know, I know, I'm crazy. Put it this way, I have the first 5 months of my Girl Scout Troop meetings planned already (which doesn't start until October)!!! I am currently planning a Disney trip that is over a year away. I am getting better about this however, after being married to one of the most laid back people I know for almost 13 years. He's the type that throws a tee shirt and underwear in a bag and says 'let's go!' This gives me mini heart attacks!

But when it comes to homeschooling, I've got a framework in mind, but nothing PLANNED. Everyone keeps asking me what curriculum I will follow. I'm not sure I need a curriculum. I know this sounds crazy, and maybe because I am a teacher I'm a little less worried about that, but I truly believe in natural environment learning. I know what a kindergartener and second grader should be learning for the most part. I can look up the state standards online to check myself. But I haven't planned out, in excruciating detail, what we will do everyday. It's amazing. And liberating. Not being chained down to a schedule!

For those of you who know me (and those of you who are like me), you understand how monumental this non-planning is. I don't think it's procrastination either. I am just at peace with the fact that everything will fall into place. Crazy right? I do have a million and 1 ideas. Maybe it's because I can't (or don't want to) limit us to one path. I could go thematic (apples in September, pumpkins in October). I could go by interest (teach everything in relation to Butterflies). I could go by our travel plans (teach based on what trips we are taking that month). I could let the kids decide...NO NOT THAT!

If you were in my position and could framework your child's education any way you wanted, what would you do? Seriously, I want to know!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


So "Socializing the kids will be your biggest problem" is something I hear a lot in response to our decision to homeschool. And, I'm sorry but I just have to roll my eyes and laugh. Why is it that people assume the best and/or only socialization for our kids happens at school? Have you spent any time in your child's public school lately? Socialization time is pretty pathetic if you ask me. AND it is very contrived. In my experience, the kids spend multiple hours a day at a desk getting in trouble for socializing. Then they go to lunch for a 1/2 hour and have to sit with their class. They are not allowed to wander around & socialize with their peers. Finally, they MAYBE get 15-20 minutes of recess a day (definitely not everyday) and again, it's usually with their class. Once in a while other grade level classes or other grades are together, but not often. THAT'S IT!

So if my calculations are correct, I will be stopping my kids from about 45-50 minutes a day (on a good day) of socializing with their classmates - not their friends, not people of their choosing - their classmates. OK you've convinced me. We're going back! (note sarcasm here).

I bring this up because we have just returned from another camping trip. We camp all the time during the Spring, Summer & Fall months. We went to a campground by ourselves, no friends from home, no family members. And in about 35 seconds, my kids were off riding bikes, having glow stick wars, and playing kickball with a bunch of other kids they had never met before. OK, OK! It took more than 35 seconds, but you get the point. We go places like this all the time. It's always new (or at least the people are new) and every time my children make new friends. They played with boys and girls of all ages. No one cared how old you were, no one cared where you were from, no one cared what grade you were in. Basically the only requirement was keeping up with the pack and even then, they'd slow down for the little ones from time to time. No parents were organizing games or activities. Parents weren't involved at all. There were no fights or problems. And this went on for days. And this happens every time we go away - which is a lot!

I had commented to Frank about how impressed I was that all the kids were getting along, being friendly, sharing, using kind words.....and he pointed out that I always say that but it's always about the other kids. So I need to give props to my kids for being friendly, and sharing, and using kind words and always including others! (OK brag session over).

So after watching my kids, yet again, participate in this kind of play, when encountered with "How will you socialize your kids?" I just bite my tongue, smile and say "They'll be fine."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

No more teachers, no more books............

So summer vacation usually signals the end of 'work' - no more homework, no more mandatory reading, no more math tests, etc. We all usually look forward to summer vacation - sleeping in, lazy days playing outside, swimming, trips,exploring our world......Sounds great and I am sooooooo looking forward to this. However, this year I am more excited because it is really the start of our homeschooling experience. Everything we LOVE about summer vacation is going to be how we spend everyday from now on. School in the summer? Hell YES!

There is so much learning that goes on when children are exploring. Learning doesn't have to be limited to a textbook or worksheet. For example, we are growing blueberries this year - yes we fell short of a full garden, but it's a start. My kids picked out the blueberry bushes, dug the holes, put in the peat moss & planted them, they water them regularly and will be picking and eating the blueberries soon!  We also planted butterfly bushes. Every summer we hunt for caterpillars and grow them into butterflies. We wanted to create a garden space for our butterflies this year. Hopefully it will attract more butterflies than we grow. My kids can study the different kinds of caterpillars, butterflies, what they eat, the patterns on their wings. We will surely go to the butterfly house at the Bronx Zoo and compare/contrast our butterflies to theirs. Maybe find out about plants they have and get them for our butterfly garden.

We also plan to travel this summer. We go camping a lot. One of our trips will be to Herkimer where the kids can go 'Diamond Mining.' I have never been there either so I am excited to learn about this. They will actually be digging up their own crystals. How fun! Be careful though and watch your wallets - they are planning on selling the crystals at $50 a pop in order to save up enough money to buy their own cruise ship!

I love the thought of children learning this way. It is so authentic, interesting and active. It will be so meaningful to them. I guess that's why my kids are excited to homeschool. This is how we have always done things. Now they get to do it full time.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Microscopic Toys

Ok so this really has nothing to do with homeschooling, but everything to do with kids. What the hell is up with all of these toys the size of a pin head?!?!Really?!?! Whose brilliant idea was it to come up with toys we can barely see? You know what I'm talking about - Polly Pocket, Baby Zoobles, tiny Lego pieces.....

Someone who hates Mothers must be inventing these toys - Baby Zoobles?!?! Zoobles are only the size of a quarter - WHY would you need a BABY one? And what about Squinkies? I mean really! It seems that every toy out there has a miniature version of itself. I know I'm talking about girl toys but I know it also exists with boy toys. But I guess as long as we continue to purchase these things, they will continue to make them.

I have to say I have fed into this a bit. I have purchased Polly Pockets - but in my defense, I had never really seen these things before I bought them. Ever since I tried to put a shoe on one of those friggin dolls, I am completely ANTI microscopic toys! We have them but I didn't buy them. And for those of your reading, for the love of God PLEASE stop buying them for my kids! lol

And while we're on the topic of ridiculousness and toys - WTF is up with toy packaging?!?! Why does a toy need to be wrapped in plastic, taped down with twist ties and screws? I think if the apocalypse happens, I am not going to care if Barbie has a hair out of place! It takes an hour to get each thing out of the box.

OK! I feel better now. Thanks :)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dealing with Negativity

So although I've really had a lot of support and positive responses to my homeschooling news, there has been some negativity. To be expected I guess. Dealing with this negativity is difficult because it usually comes from those closest to us. Why is that? Why are we hardest on the ones we love the most? Why do we tear our loved ones down instead of building them up sometimes?

I'm sure I am not completely without blame in this category, but I like to think that I am almost always very positive when loved ones share an idea, express creativity, or come to me with something important. Unless I was truly afraid for their welfare, I don't think I would be negative (not intentionally anyway). And maybe that's it. Maybe it is not intentional and they don't realize they are doing it?

For example, playing the 'Devil's advocate' role. I soooooooooooo don't get this at all. Unless you are asked to help brainstorm a problem or you are asked to weigh the pros and cons, WHY would anyone play Devil's advocate unsolicited? I find this highly insulting. AHEM, I am 38 years old, have a Master's degree, own a home, have a successful career, and have managed to raise my girls (with the hubbs of course) to be pretty awesome kids (if I do say so myself), I am generally a good person. Do I appear incompetent? OK rant over.

I know everyone deals with this negativity in their daily lives. The snide comments, the eye rolls, the doubt, the 'I'm saying something that sounds helpful but is really underhanded and negative.' I just don't understand it I guess. I get when it comes from people who are envious, or do not feel good enough about themselves to celebrate others' successes, but I don't understand when it comes from those closest to you. The ones that are supposed to love you unconditionally. The ones who are supposed to support you and help you along the way. If I have ever been negative to anyone in this way, I truly apologize and did not realize I was being negative.

So maybe we should all think before we speak next time. Is what we are saying REALLY helpful? Are we being positive, supportive, nurturing? Are we lifting our loved ones up or tearing them down? Just about every adult I love is a competent, smart, level-headed human being. Let's treat each other this way. Give each other the respect that we deserve. Realize that unless we ask for help, we are really just looking for support and praise. Ranting off a grocery list of 'what ifs' doesn't help anyone. Assume we have gone over that grocery list 100 times already. And even if there are negatives (which there are in every situation) support your loved ones ANYWAY. Because you love them and they deserve your support.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Home Sporting

So one of the responses I have received from a friend is quite interesting and got me thinking. He said that his family has boycotted all organized sports and are 'home sporting' their two boys. I love this idea! How many of us have been held hostage by the after school schedule?

Home from school by 4pm. Rush to get homework done, change into practice clothes, leotard, sport uniform, and race off to practice X or game Y. Event does not end until 6 or later and now it is too late to cook so race off to McGreasy King for the next best option. Shove that down your face while in the car because as soon as we get home, it's bath and bedtime. Just to wake up and repeat each day....

Sound familiar? It does to me anyway. We do this in the name of 'fun' for our kids. But let's think about this....how much fun is it really? How do you feel when your day is rushed from one thing to the next and to the next? I know I get flustered, stressed and aggrevated on days like this. And yet, many of us fall victim to this schedule everyday. Many have more than one kid in more than one sport or activity, and this is daily life! Between sports, CCD or other religious events, clubs, Girl/Boy scouts, art/music classes etc. When is there ANY downtime?  It's no wonder our kids today have NO IDEA how to go outside and organize a game of kickball without adult intervention. That's pretty sad.

I have to admit, I have fallen victim to this exact schedule - no matter how hard I try not to. It's hard to say no to those pretty blue eyes, staring up at me with awe saying 'PLEASE MOMMY!" But that is our job isn't it? We are not supposed to be their friend, we are supposed to be their parent. And sometimes that means saying no, no matter how much that hurts, because it is what is GOOD for them.

People have responded numerous times about how well my children play - play together, play by themselves, with others.....I attribute this directly to down time. We spend a lot of time at home, in our backyard, unstructured. We are lucky enough to have a lot of kids on our street to play with, but usually they are alone or with only each other. We frequently say 'go outside and play' with no other direction than that. I don't know about you, but I grew up this way and I think I had the best childhood EVER! Yes I played sports or had music lessons or took dance, but it was once in a while. This very idea of home sporting came from my best friend, my neighborhood friend, who I've known basically since birth. We had a trio that was inseparable (still are best friends to this day). We spent everyday outside playing kickball, matchbox cars, riding bikes, playing manhunt, coming up with schemes to make money, digging the largest hole to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.....it goes on and on. We made up games all the time - our favorite was vacuum (it's violent and painful, but so fun!). Our parents didn't participate in this, (they would've never allowed vacuum). The three of us, and our siblings were simply sent outside to play.

So as the summer months approach and the dread sets in, use the time for downtime. I hearby give you permission to ignore your kids, send them outside to play, when they whine, close the door. Eventually they'll give up and get creative. In that creativity blooms a real childhood. But seriously, go outside with them, play kickball, turn on the sprinkler, hang a hammock, have a water balloon fight, play wiffle ball, frisbee, ANYTHING.

Home Sporting - give it a try!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The outdoor classroom

So we went camping this past weekend, which we do all the time, so what? But with homeschooling on the brain, I am starting to look at everything a little differently. I realized how much learning occurs on a camping trip! We stayed for 2 nights and 3 days at a campground in the catskills that we have gone to for years. It is right on a stream and walking distance to town. In that short time, my girls learned:

How to build a campfire - what fire needs to start/grow
Money skills - counting money, identifying different coins,bills, paying for something
Identifying different trees & plants
Identifying different fish-they caught brown trout & rainbow trout
All about beavers - where they live, what they eat, what they build, how they build it
How streams can change/erode a landscape
Engineering - they built a bridge over a creek
Astronomy - it was the full moon, starts etc.

I am sure there is more. But this was what they learned in ONE WEEKEND. They learned it through experience, by doing, through participation, through natural events, and through their own interests. This kind of learning, which is self-motivated, is so much more meaningful than paper and pencil tasks.

This is something I tell the families I work with all the time (I am a special education teacher for early intervention). A young child learns through their senses and they learn best from the people they are most connected to. I frequently use the example of an apple. Sure, a child could learn about an apple from a book or the TV. However, think about how much MORE they learn by experiencing a REAL apple! They can see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, and feel it. Think about all of the language learned, the concepts learned, and the knowledge that comes from picking an apple off a tree versus reading Ten Apples Up On Top. How would you describe an apple learned from a book? They can be red, green or yellow, they are round, they grow on trees. How can you describe an apple that you actually went and picked? Apples are round and hard, They grow on tree branches and hang from their stems. You have to twist and pull the apple to get it off the tree. Apples can be red, yellow or green or red and yellow, or yellow and green, or red, yellow and green. They smell sweet and can taste sweet or tart. They are hard to bite and are crisp. The skin is a different texture than the flesh. Apple orchards are huge with lots of different apple trees. The trees have flowers before the apples grow. There are lots of bees around....... Quite different eh?! This is true of everything. To experience things first hand offers so much more meaning and more knowledge than any learning a book could give you.

So I encourage you to get your children out into the world. Take them places, let them experience things first hand - whether it be apple picking, a farm, an aquarium, camping, or on a trip to the city. Let them learn through experience - grow a plant, hatch butterflies, get a pet, build a fort. Realize that kids of all ages (and adults for that matter) learn the most when they are fully engaged with who they are learning from/with and with what they are learning.

Unplug your family and go do something! It's the best education yet.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

So Why Homeschool?

This is a question I am getting a lot. There are many options for educating our kids. Homeschooling seems extreme to some. Especially since my district FINALLY passed full day kindergarten. My youngest would be eligible for that if I send her. I could get my FREEDOM back. Actually full day kindergarten was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I think we live in a society where children are losing more and more of their childhood everyday. No I am not worried about the social pressures of school or the negative things they will learn. Actually I disagree with homeschooling for this reason (obviously not in extreme circumstances). I think learning social pressures a little bit each year from a young age, is a good thing. I feel that by sheltering our kids from the social negatives only hurts them in the long run. It would be like keeping a newborn in a bubble (excuse the bubble boy reference), letting that child grow unexposed to germs for her entire life, and then letting her out in high school. She will be decimated by the illnesses she has never been exposed to. She will have no immune system, that should have been built up over time, to help protect her from these germs. The germs will knock her on her (you know what) and she won't know what hit her. Therefore I plan to keep my kids as involved in school activities as possible. Keep them with their school friends, have them participate in clubs at the school, and have them attend school activities.

When I say children are losing more and more of their childhood, I am referring to the basic, daily experiences we all had as children: playing outside, learning through exploration, learning by doing, real socialization (not 15 minutes at a lunch table with kids you do not get to choose). Even when we went to public school, we had longer recess, we learned through hands-on experiences, we went on field tripS (I bold the S because they are lucky to get 1 trip these days). This is not what is happening in our public schools anymore. Even the best teachers are saddled with curriculum that is too rigorous and developmentally inappropriate for our children. In the name of state test scores, students are chained to their desks, pumping out worksheets and rote memorization of facts. That's not real learning.

If I have an opportunity to give my girls a childhood, I have to take it. We are in a place that financially we can handle it. We both have flexible jobs that will allow for this and lots of travel. I am mentally in a place that I can do this (this was a biggie). They get ONE childhood. They have the rest of their lives to sit at a desk and push papers. I want them to love learning, to be excited by learning, to WANT to learn. I see this dying in my 7 year old and it is very sad. A child who is curious, loves researching new things, is a sponge for knowledge is slowly losing the light in her eyes. She has lived in a home that has allowed her to be curious about her environment, to learn with no boundaries, to explore her world on her terms, to ask questions based on interest, not grade level. School is the antithesis of this. What I have realized is this:  we have been homeschooling all along! It's just time to stop letting school get in the way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Coming Out

After weeks (actually years) of thinking about homeschooling, we finally made the decision. I say we, meaning my husband and myself, but quite honestly this is my circus. I can't blame him. I am the teacher, the expert when it comes to this stuff. He is an RN. I definitely defer to him with all things medical. But I have to say, he has been supportive and even a little excited about this homeschooling thing! So after lots of research, figuring out what needs to be submitted to the district, what I will be held accountable for, finding local homeschool groups, finding local activities to keep Mommy sane, it is time to come out. Although I feel very strongly about doing this and I have all the right data and big vocab words to back it up, I am nervous. So I run it past some of my closest friends first, because I know they'll be supportive. I could tell them I want to shave my head & have a tye dye mohawk and they'd be supportive! But that's why we have close girlfriends right?! And of course they are. Next are the Grandparents. This is sticky to say the least! The reaction was interesting. Finally, I had to come out to the public schools. My 7 year old already attends the local public school (where I am PTA Vice President by the way). I have spent the better part of 2 years volunteering in that school, creating programs, assisting with programs, yadda yadda. I was very nervous anticipating the Principal's reaction. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. So I guess the moral of the story is, put a little faith in people. They may (and usually do) surprise you. I am sure to run across some more opposition along the way, but who doesn't? Going against the status quo is never easy. But if you believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing, that is all that really matters. I feel enthusiastic about education again. I am renewed in my commitment to teach. I am giddy with excitement over the endless possibilities for learning. So I guess this is the last step of my coming out process......................My name is Kelly, and I am going to homeschool my children next year.

In the beginning....

So we have decided to homeschool our 7 & 5 year old girls. Yes many people think I'm nuts. But more often than not, I am met with praise, enthusiam and even envy. This has been an unexpected surprise. When we finally made the decision a few weeks ago, I was all ready with my defense - ready to defend how homeschooling offers my children a hands-on, fun approach to learning, how I will provide adequate socialization (this is a biggie), how I will keep my own sanity.....this list goes on. But I have to say, it's rarely been needed. I knew I would not have to defend HOW I would educate them; I am a certified teacher in NY state in both Special Education and Early Childhood Education with 15 years experience. I guess the 'shock' that I have received has been more about ME not subscribing to the status quo of public schools, being that I've dedicated my life and career to that very thing. Well, I have to say that 15 years in and around the public school system is a HUGE reason why I want to homeschool. I hope to highlight the process from the very beginning, give some insights into what I think the problems are with public schools and possibly help others who are going through the trials, and joys of homeschooling their own children. Who knows...maybe this blog will help me keep my sanity? We'll see..............