Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fall "Curriculum" Unschool Style

Many people ask me how I teach my kids without using a curriculum. They also wonder what unschooling looks like. Yes sometimes it is days of legos, computer games, and outdoor play. But the simplest of activities usually leads to TONS of learning. Does it follow school's timeline? NO But it is authentic learning, which is so much more meaningful then the memorization of facts. They are out doing, experiencing, pretending, imagining...everything a child's body and mind were designed to do! So to give you an idea, this is what we have done this fall:

September - went apple picking with a homeschool group, used the apples to bake apple pies (measurement, volume), journaled about the apple picking, J asked why there are so many bees at an apple orchard - resulted in learning about pollination, C is saving seeds to plant in the spring, J reading books about apples. All of this based on their own interest, sparked by one apple picking trip.

Went to a library program called Colonial Kids - they learned about what it was like to be a child in colonial times, they made butter, played games etc. Resulted in reading books about colonial times, making our own butter, C wanting to learn how to sew to make clothes, both learning about the 13 colonies, how they were formed, the Revolutionary War, The Declaration of Independence & the meaning of July 4th. 

October - went pumpkin picking on a farm with another homeschool group. They had chickens, a cow, etc. Resulted in both kids wanting chickens in our yard, researching types of chickens, how to build a chicken coop, how to care for chickens. C saving seeds to grow pumpkins in the yard next spring (I am going to end up with a farm). Roasting pumpkin seeds to eat. Farm had a butterfly house - learned a bit about butterflies. Resulted in researching the life cycle of butterflies, wanting to 'grow' butterflies again (we had done this in the past), learning about the migration of Monarchs,

Went to a Native American program at our local park. Learned about native american tribes in our area, what they ate, how they made shelter, clothing, blankets and weapons for hunting.  Resulted in reading books about different types of native americans, ended up coinciding with a survival class in our co-op, they learned how to build a shelter, make fire, find water.

Went on a trip to a local college's farm. The program taught them about what animals do to prepare for winter. They were asked to be nature detectives. The learned about what happens to some bugs when they get cold, how to identify a male from a female. Learned about the migration of the Monarch and why Monarchs are poisonous to birds. Learned that the Viceroy mimics the Monarch so that birds don't eat them. (again reinforcing what they learned at the farm coincidentally) Went on a hike and investigated evidence of animals: tracks, scat, nests, watched squirrels collect nuts and berries. 

Kids were interested in Columbus day. What is it? Why do we celebrate it? Resulted in research on Christopher Columbus, C wrote a story about Christopher Columbus. Was he really the first person to discover America? Discussed Vikings (ties in nicely with Vikings program in November at the library).

November - Went to a library program about Vikings. They learned about Vikings, where they came from, their life. They made a Viking shield and a ship. Got books out of the library about Leif Ericson. Learned about Iceland and Norway (which reinforces what they learned in co-op last year).

Now do we sit down and do work everyday? NO. These things come and go in spurts. This looks like a lot, but each trip was an hour or two. Then when the kids were interested, maybe they spent an hour each day looking something up, reading books, etc. Sometimes they spent 15 minutes. We had days when they did 'nothing' and just played with legos or did art projects.

However look at how much authentic learning is going on. These activities will stay with them because they were meaningful. The kids didn't memorize facts out of a text to regurgitate on a test and then forget. They will remember because they experienced it, they acted it out, they used their imaginations and their bodies through play. And it only took a few trips to local farms, our local park and the library.Is it always this easy? No. I bring them to programs that result in nothing. But many times, this is what happens.

So if you think unschooling is about sitting around and doing nothing, think again!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tis' the season

So I have to admit, I am a total nut for Christmas. I love everything about Christmas - the decorations, the music, all the parties.....but I think it excites me because what I really love is the FEELING of Christmas. The LOVE of family and friends spending time together, the act of GIVING to others and trying to find something really special, the MAGIC of Santa and little children. Nothing beats my children running down the stairs Christmas morning with a gasp and a scream and their eyes bigger than their heads!

But I struggle with the materialistic nature of the holidays. I really want to teach my girls to be grateful for what they have, to give back, and to value things bigger and better than THINGS. Since they were babies, they have helped clean out their clothes and toys and donated them with me. They have been a part of deciding what stays and what goes and have witnessed people coming to pick it up. They have used birthdays to collect toys for Toys for Tots. When they get older we will volunteer at a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving (and other times).

However, as they watch TV or walk through the stores, all that I hear is, "I WANT THAT!" or "THERE IT IS MOMMY!"  Is this normal? Am I expecting too much too soon? Probably. Honestly I see adults at this time of year get wrapped up in the THINGS rather than the FEELING. Everyone is rushing around, with not enough time, and without the right gifts. This is why we see people lined up Thanksgiving night outside of Walmart right? (Actually this year they'll be able to shop Thanksgiving night - sadly).

I think the best thing to do is to live a life that demonstrates being thankful. To give back to the community as much as we can. To value time spent with family and friends rather than value the things that they give us. We actually stopped giving presents to our siblings (their aunts & uncles) years ago. It was financially straining to them at the time (they are all younger than us) and it was stressful to us trying to get shopping done. We all decided that we just wanted to see each other and that was GIFT enough. It was one of the greatest decisions!

So my wish this holiday season, is that everyone slows down, enjoys time with family and friends, and focuses on the FEELING of the holidays rather than the THINGS. Instead of shopping, make homemade gifts together. Instead of one more side dish on Thanksgiving, donate food to a local food pantry. Be grateful. Give back. Enjoy time spent with loved ones. I think if we all did this, we would all be much healthier and happier people. Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reward Systems? Yay or Nay?

A big part of my job as a Special Education teacher is to help families with their child's difficult behaviors. What many teachers resort to are positive reward systems. "Johnny if you do X, then you will get Y" It's also known as 'Grandma's Rule'. We see this in classrooms all over the country - teachers have star charts, treasure boxes, stop light behavior programs.....you name it & it's out there. Lots of parents use these methods at home too.

However, there are many who believe that reward systems do not ultimately correct a behavior or create a desired behavior. They will say that these children will only perform for rewards. And this tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth for some. For others, they will say 'If I have to give Sally X, to get her to clean her room without a fight, then it's worth it."

This debate goes around and around and never really seems to get solved. And sorry I'm not about to solve it either. I'm also torn as a parent about reward systems. In some cases, I firmly believe that it is your job or duty to do certain things just because you are a functioning member of our household and you need to contribute. On the other hand, the things my kids get rewards for go so much easier and smoother.

What I can say for sure is that using positive reward systems in our house has NOT resulted in raising kids that only perform for rewards. "How is that possible?" you ask. I'll tell you.....

 In my experience, the biggest problem with positive reward systems is that the people who use them have NO IDEA how to end them. It is not as simple as giving a treat for X behavior and then eventually stopping or expecting the child not to want the reward. There is a correct and incorrect way to start, maintain and end these behavior programs. And done incorrectly will result in a child who only performs for a reward. Just ask Pavlov and B.F. Skinner.

So without getting all geeky and technical, this is the secret.....

When you start a reward system, you need to make it very easy to attain the reward in the beginning. You need to set them up for a lot of success and give them a reward every time they are successful. So for example, when I was potty training, I gave my daughter full strength juice so she would drink the whole cup. Then about 15 minutes later I put her on the potty. I did this for 2-3 days & every time she went on the potty she got a lollipop. I know it sounds extreme but bear with me.

Then, after 2-3 days of getting a huge reward for her success, she received the same reward for every OTHER time she went on the potty. After a few days, the reward was smaller (a hershey's kiss). A few days after that, she received the reward after a full day of staying dry. A few days after that, the reward became smaller (a smartie). Then she received the reward every other day....are you starting to see a pattern?

The actual terminology for this is: continuous reinforcement that transitions to a variable interval schedule....Blah, Blah, Blah.

My point is, my daughter is now 8 and does not require a treat to go to the bathroom successfully! In fact, after 2 weeks she no longer required a reward (she was 22 months at the time). Now you may be skeptical because I chose potty training. I chose this as my example because it was the easiest to explain. But I have used this method for many years with my children and many other children & families with many different types of behavior. On my own husband even (Shhhhh don't tell him). He works for cheesecake and um.....other things!

The reason it works is when you start a behavior, you have to reward it easily and quickly in the beginning to get the pattern established. After it is established, slowly withdrawing the reward by making it smaller and smaller and delivering it on a non-predictable schedule makes the person less dependent on the reward to perform the behavior.

Sometimes after the behavior has been established and the reward system in finished, there will be some regression. You can start reinforcing with an intermittent schedule again. My younger daughter (6) was struggling with learning to read. She actually wasn't struggling, but she compares herself to her older sister so she perceived it that way. Regardless, she didn't want to practice reading. So I started a schedule that every time she read a book out loud to me or my husband she earned a quarter. After a few days, she received a quarter for every 3 books, and so on & so forth. After a few weeks she was reading on her own without the reward because she realized with practice she could read! It became an intrinsic reward.

But let's say she starts struggling again and not wanting to read. I would just start the quarter system again. Maybe the first day she gets a quarter for every book, but then the next day would be a quarter for every 3 books. You can withdraw quicker the second and third time implementing these systems because the child already knows the system.

Now the reward does not have to be food or money. It can be anything that is important to the CHILD. It could be tickles, hugs, one-on-one time, a trip somewhere...literally anything. With really young children though, it needs to be something that can be delivered immediately and has a big impact to work.

So have I solved the reward system dilemma? Doubt it. However if you withdraw your reward system in this way, I can promise you that you will not create a child that performs ONLY for rewards. So the next time you are struggling with your child and are feeling like you've fallen into a negative cycle, try this. Turn it around, offer a positive reward system for the desired behavior, MAKE SURE YOU WITHDRAW CORRECTLY, and see how it goes! I'd love to hear about it!!

Sunday, November 3, 2013


When someone decides to homeschool, it's a pretty radical choice. It definitely goes against the grain and receives a multitude of responses. It is not an EASY way to go - that is for sure!

When we made this decision, I was certain we were going to run into all kinds of resistance. I think that by  being a certified NY state teacher, it made it easier AND harder. It was easier because they nay-sayers thought and said "oh it's ok for YOU because YOU are a teacher and know what to do." So I might have run into less resistance from my casual acquaintances and community members because I appear to be QUALIFIED. Then again, it was harder because I permanently turned my back on my teaching community. I did this once before when I quit public school teaching over 12 years ago. But by pulling my kids out of the system, it was like a personal insult to them.

However I was very lucky to have the support of close friends and family through this difficult choice. But there are many people who do not have this support. As with any difficult life choice, it is usually not made on a whim. So for those of you who know someone who chooses to homeschool, please keep these things in mind:

1.  I do NOT need some certification to teach my children. All of you managed to teach your children how to walk, talk, feed themselves and become mini independent little beings capable of going to school. Learning letters, math & how to read is easier than that!

2.  Under NO circumstances should you QUIZ my children. What I choose to teach them and what YOU deem appropriate for them to know are probably 2 different things and YOU are not a part of that decision! And I don't quiz your children to see if they are learning at school.

3. School is NOT socialization. School is forced association with people all the same age. And for the most part, kids get in trouble for socializing at school. So STOP talking about socialization. Homeschoolers are some of the most social, friendly and active people I know.

4. Stop saying that you COULD NEVER DO THAT! Yes you could, you chose not too - which is fine! My life choice is not a statement about you.

5. BE SUPPORTIVE! and I mean really supportive. Not the kind of supportive that says 'Good for you' while slipping my child a ditto sheet. The world trusted you to have children and raise them the way you see fit. No one constantly questioned what you did with your 3 year old each day (or maybe they did but that's for another blog). Just because my child is 8 doesn't change things.

Why is it totally acceptable that a stranger who gets 26 new kids every year is more qualified than me to teach my kids? That a curriculum written by some random company should be thought of as the BEST way to learn?  I get to teach 2 children that I love and know inside and out. I can honestly say that all of my degrees, certifications & years of teaching experience really haven't helped me all that much. If anything, homeschooling has re-ignited my passion for teaching instead of teaching helping me to homeschool.

So remember when you are talking with someone who is homeschooling, it probably was not an easy decision for them. Choosing anything that goes against the norm is not easy. Don't be defensive, be supportive.  Or as my mother used to say 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all'

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Common Core

So with all the uproar around here (New York State) about the Common Core, I feel the need to put my two cents in. Those of you who know me, know that one of the main reasons we decided to homeschool was BECAUSE of the common core. I saw that coming, paired with the passing of full day kindergarten and said NO WAY!

The system has been taking away the flexibility and opportunity for teachers to be creative and innovative for years. But THIS is the biggest shackle of them all! My first reaction to the common core was "Why hire me, a teacher with a master's degree, 3 certifications and 17 years of teaching experience? Why not just put this crap on a smartboard and hire someone to monitor behavior?" My second reaction is that it is ridiculous to think that a child in the bayou of Louisiana should be on the same page as a child in New York City. Or that a child living on a horse ranch in Montana should be on the same page as a child in the desert of Yuma Arizona. In fact, it should be ridiculous that IN YOUR OWN HOME TOWN to think that each first grade class should be on the same page at the same time as last year's first grade class, or another teacher's first grade class!

Each group of children is special and unique. They come with their own life stories and experiences, their own unique cultures and family backgrounds, and their own unique ways of learning. This should be celebrated, not squashed!

Then comes the PAPERWORK! Really?! These are 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 year old children. They should NOT be glued to a desk and chair all day. They should not be doing worksheet after worksheet. This country continually asks children to do what their bodies are not developmentally ready for and then we drug them to make them compliant. And for the most part, we as a society have bought into this nonsense and agree with it!

Young children (and not just 3-5 year olds, I'm talking about up to 12 year olds) are meant to learn through their senses, through exploration, trial and error, and DOING! They need to move their bodies continually. They need to touch, taste, smell, hear and feel things. Sadly on top of increasing their sitting time, many schools are turning gym or PE into a writing activity as well. And they are reducing or eliminating recess! And you wonder why there are so many kids labeled with ADD/ADHD or behavior problems?

Then there's this ridiculous 'critical thinking' piece to the common core. I'm sorry but the way you create critical thinkers is to ALLOW them to think! Decades of cramming facts down kids throats to memorize for the test and then forget because it's considered useless information isn't going to create critical thinkers. So you don't fix that by continuing to maintain that same system but add wacky questions that don't make sense, or use words that haven't been used since the time of Shakespeare. Or by just making everything harder.

Add to all of this Teacher Evaluations tied to state test results and what do you get? Teaching to the test and only the test. It used to be that they evaluated us by observing, seeing how we planned lessons, what we planned and how we implemented them. Since the common core is a giant script of what to say, when to say it and what worksheet to hand out with it, I guess evaluating teacher's lesson plans and implementation is pointless. DISGUSTING!And don't blame the teachers. Believe me, every public school teacher I know HATES this!

Finally you should all be suspect of anything that comes from a national or federal level and involves money. Make no mistake that the sweeping integration of the common core in 45 states is due to a big fat paycheck from Uncle Sam!

All in all, education historically goes through shifts and puts people in an uproar. Remember the whole language versus phonics debacle? Kids will adjust, they are flexible. New York has done this a few times in my adult life. What usually happens is this type of thing fails, so they modify it so that the majority can pass, and then the uproar ends. (Remember when Regents was no longer a choice? same thing).

So how do I feel about the Common Core? I pulled my kids out of the system over this (BEFORE it was implemented). What you do is up to you. Just my two cents.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Deschooling? Fact or Fiction?

There is a lot of talk about Deschooling your child when you start homeschooling. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, Deschooling is a process of allowing your child time to get used to life without school. Not much different than detoxifying. I definitely agreed that my children, especially my oldest, would need some time to adjust to our new way of life. BUT I truly thought maybe it would take a few weeks, a month or two at most!

BOY was I wrong! Even in the midst of Deschooling, I was oblivious that it was happening. It appeared that homeschooling life was going to be some struggles and butting heads with my children to get them to participate and show interest in learning. This made me sad. Even though I knew homeschooling was the right choice, that learning by doing was better than worksheets, that freedom was better than the institution, my dream for homeschooling was that my children would CRAVE learning. I was hoping they would seek it out, be eager to learn and participate. Last year that is NOT what happened.

So we get through the year and summer comes. I let it all go. (Mind you we follow mostly an unschooling model - so 'all' is not much). We have a great summer traveling, camping, swimming and playing. September arrives and it's time to start with our schedules again: our weekly co-op, weekly art class, archery, sports etc. WELL......the first day of co-op my children FLY out of bed, are dressed in a flash, sitting at the table ready for breakfast. After they eat they are asking what they should pack up to bring. They are SUPER excited! We get there and they are participating spontaneously. At one point my youngest runs into a room I am in & squeals "First grade is THE BEST!" My oldest is giddy and chatting up a storm telling me all about her day! (usually getting her to talk is like pulling teeth). I got my children some new library books without their input, in an attempt to branch them out a little. This usually receives great resistance. My oldest read one of the books entirely the first day and then ASKS to do a book report!!!!! She HATES to write! My youngest who usually puts up a fight to practice reading is jumping in my husband's lap with her new library book!


I'll tell you. These are my children. The children I knew in my heart of hearts were there. The children I knew that loved learning once upon a time. And after a FULL YEAR of Deschooling......They Are Back!

Friday, September 20, 2013

A week in the life of a homeschooler

So when we were considering homeschooling, I remember feeling overwhelmed at the thought that we might be home together all day, every day, ALONE! I laugh at this notion now, but at the time it was a HUGE concern. And if I didn't find other homeschoolers or activities, I probably would have decided against homeschooling. Now granted, here in the Hudson Valley of New York, we are blessed with a large group of local homeschoolers. We are even more blessed that many of them are quite active and social. However, in this day and age of internet and social media, no matter where you live, I am sure you can find at least one family to get together with.

For those who are interested in how to get started, here is what I did. I started on facebook and found local homeschool groups. I then tried Yahoo groups. I had more success there actually. I joined and started going to activities BEFORE we were homeschooling (I pulled my kids out of school) because I needed to know if this was something that fit our lifestyle. From there it just snowballed. Now we have so many activities, we couldn't fit school in if we tried!

So if you are hesitant to homeschool because you feel like you will have to go it alone, let me give you some insight into a week in our lives:

Mondays: kids do morning work, we have a homeschooler archery program at our local park at 11:30 & then J has dance class from 4-6.

Tuesdays: we are a part of a co-op that meets every Tuesday from 10-3. There are about 17 FAMILIES in the co-op. Game club at local school 3:30-4:30, J has cheer practice 6-7:30

Wednesdays: morning work, possibly playdates or a homeschool girl scout trip or library program, baseball 5:30-7 for C, cheer 6-7:30 for J.

Thursdays: library in the am, art group in the pm, girl scouts 3:30-5 every other week.

Fridays: morning work, group trips or playdates, or maybe some down time at home

Saturdays: baseball games, play with neighborhood friends or school friends

Sundays: cheerleading usually in the am, church when cheer is over & down time with family

Clearly, we are RARELY sitting home doing nothing. And my kids have never been more social or had more quality social interactions and friendships. Now if this schedule stresses you out, you do not have to participate in all of these things. This works for our family. The moral of the story is: if you are hesitant to homeschool for lack of socialization, DON'T BE! There is so much out there for homeschoolers! Get on the web and find something near you!

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Aaaahhhhhh Fall is arriving. Crisp air, apple picking, cozy sweaters, beautiful colors....all the things I love about Fall. However the reality is......massive closet clean outs, clothes shopping, organizing cabinets & other homeschool areas, starting to work on schedules again, lesson planning...............

Actually I like the latter as well. I feel so much better after I de-clutter and organize. And now that we don't go to school, we do not have the mad rush to get supplies, all the trendiest clothes, the coolest backpacks and lunch boxes, or waking up early. However I do feel a bit of stress over getting everything organized, planned and ready to go. So in an attempt to keep my own sanity and de-stress, I thought I would try to put things in perspective for all of us that are getting ready to go back to school - or not!

1. Yes your child will survive without EVERY latest trend

My 8 year old is obsessed with what is cool, fashionable, and making sure she is well put together. I'm not sure where she came from as I walk around in sweats, a ponytail & no makeup most of the time! However I try to respect the fact that this is who she is while maintaining a balance. Therefore I let her pick out one or two things she thinks she really loves (which I know will end up in a ball at the bottom of the closet in 2 months) and fill in the rest with basics (jeans, leggings, long sleeve tops, sneakers). I also encourage her to save her own money for these things. It helps put into perspective (for her) what is truly important to her. She totally ,really, has to have, must get, this awesome, glittery, one of a kind sweater!!!!!! PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!! Until she has to pay for it. Then all of a sudden, Hmmmmmmm Nah it's not that great!

2.  The teacher can wait a week or 2 for the 75 sharpened pencils she asked for

I know that school supplies are important. I have been a classroom teacher. I know the teachers have minimal budgets and need to accomplish a lot with that budget. So I am not saying I won't send in pencils, but I also know at least 15 other kids are coming in with most of that stuff as well. So it will be okay if I don't have that yellow, plastic, one inch 3 ring binder, with a special pocket on the side on the first day.

3.  Your kids are going to be cranky no matter what!

When we went to school, I used to start 2 weeks before school, waking my kids up earlier and earlier to gradually get them ready for the school schedule. It never worked. Luckily as a homeschooler this is a non issue now. But for many of you, it is a BIG issue. However my kids were still cranky, tired and a mess that first week regardless. I say party on till the bitter end! Going from summer, with no schedules, staying up late, sleeping in, doing what they want when they want to waking up early, rushing out the door, following structure and rules all day, & homework is a rough transition. Don't ruin the last few weeks or days of summer by instituting curfew. It's a lost cause, so have fun while you still can!

4. Finally take a deep breath!

This too shall pass. It's very easy to get wrapped up in the hype, even if you homeschool. Everyone around you is rushing around, clearing store shelves, and getting on schedule. This year, slow down. Take a time out, Focus on making some lasting summer memories with your child. They grow up so fast and soon won't be around or interested in the backyard fire, smores & glow sticks.

The pencils can wait!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Kicking things off cross country

So we just got back from a 10 day trip to the left coast. San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, & Yosemite National Park. Such an amazing trip! But traveling that far with 2 young kids can be an adventure in itself! Yes we saw so many beautiful things. Yes we had endless learning adventures. Yes we had valuable time with family. All great stuff for sure! But what I really learned on this trip, is what NOT to do when traveling this far with young ones!

1. ALL bags that fly MUST zipper closed!

I totally underestimated the importance of the zipper until my daughter's carry on bag spilled out in the x-ray machine! Yeah, it's not fun picking up 75 zoobles & polly pockets with angry faces grumbling behind you at JFK! In fact, just ban Zoobles altogether.

2. Spend the extra $10 on a mid-size car dammit!

I am always looking for a bargain & to keep costs down. But a compact car for 4 people & all of our luggage is just ridiculous. We looked like a clown car! I drove over 500 miles with my knees in my teeth. And really? It probably saved me $10! WooHoo! Fail!

3.  Candy is your new best friend

Usually I'm not about the bribery (not above it, just not something I usually do) but on this trip, it was a total necessity! Especially on day 1! We had to leave our house at 4:30am to get to JFK for our early flight. We landed in San Fran 12:30 their time. So we hit the town. Great planning on my part considering the kids at 3 hours of sleep the night before, just spent 8-9 hours in transit & now I want to drag them around a city?! (Sounded reasonable when I planned it). Well Willy Wonka to the rescue! Nothing perks up cranky, tired kids like an over-abundance of sugar!

4. Different climates are nice, but I wouldn't want to live there

West coast people are always talking about the dry heat. 'It's dry heat so it's not that bad' they say. Yes I agree that when it's 96 degrees out, it's a nice option to step into the shade and be 15-20 degrees cooler. BUT the fact that I felt like beef jerky (to quote my favorite person) for 10 days was not so much fun. And the dust! I camp all the time but we have never been dirtier than in California. Dust and dirt are everywhere! I've never appreciated humidity more in all my life. Travel tip: Bring Moisturizer and Wipes! or go to Florida instead.

5. The name MOM should be changed to SHERPA

Being a mom, I have always been in charge of everyone's stuff and I am always holding this or packing away that. But when you travel, this is amplified tenfold! I spent 10 days carrying this, setting up that, finding this, cooking that, holding this, putting away that.......'Here mom, I know you are already carrying my backpack, sweatshirt and shoes, but can you just hold my doll and headphones too (while we squeeze into the clown car)?" 

With that all said and done, it was all worth it. Nothing will beat the first time they laid eyes on Lake Tahoe, the first time they saw snow on mountain tops in August when it's 90 degrees out, seeing the Perseid meteor shower in one of the darkest places in America, meeting and spending time with extended family, seeing trees larger than skyscrapers and wider than cars are long. So don't let my little rant scare you. Traveling with kids can be challenging, but so rewarding. And the learning that happens is priceless!

So I just suggest you rent a suburban, bring a 5 gallon bucket of moisturizer and bring an enormous bag with you. If you can figure out how to grow 2 more hands, that might help too!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Truth about Homeschoolers

So what I have realized in this past year is that many non-homeschoolers believe that homeschoolers are super-organized, genius, go-getters. There is this idea that homeschoolers are teaching their 8 year olds Theoretical Physics, Euclid's Mathematical Proofs, and reading Plato. That little girl from the movie Parenthood with Steve Martin comes to mind (when she's offering he square root of dots on a card). I think they also think we live with constant sibling war - our children beating each other with broomsticks and stabbing each other in the head with a fork (OK I've done that but I wasn't homeschooled). Why else would the universal response to "we homeschool" be "I could NEVER do THAT!"

Well I'm here to shed some light on this. While I'm sure there are homeschool parents out there teaching their 8 year olds Shakespeare and Rocket Science, I can assure you that is NOT what goes on around here. (The kid with the bucket on his head comes to mind) And I think what we do might be pretty common amongst other homeschoolers. So the next time you meet a homeschooler and feel the need to express shock and awe, remember this:

1. Yes we DO sometimes  stay in our pajamas ALL DAY!

I mean, don't you? We are normal families, with normal needs, and sometimes the need is to veg out in front of the TV in our PJ's eating junk food all day. The only difference is that we can do this on a Tuesday if we want!

2. Our science curriculum begins and ends with caring for our fish.

OK, OK I'm exaggerating here. We do a bit more than just feed our fish for science. However there is a lot to be said for raising and caring for pets as a science curriculum. Did you ever notice that many classrooms have pets? My point is, we can learn through regular, real life experiences. For example, once I read the book Poor Pluto to my children. Well they quickly learned that other children had written and published that book. This turned into a 3 day book writing frenzy and weeks of solar system research and interest! Yes it can be that easy, if you let it.

3. I can barely add, so what is this about MATH?

So it is true I can barely add. Ask my Mathelete husband! (Yes that apparently IS a real thing!). However we use math in our everyday lives. My kids love to earn their own money and go shopping. Well this leads to addition, subtraction, decimals, money knowledge.......and for some reason, my children LOVE math games in the car. They are always asking us to give them problems they can do in their head. Yeah, SO MUCH FUN! (note sarcasm here) That does NOT come from me!

4. When my kids read cereal boxes and road signs, that counts towards our 15 minutes a day       right?

ABSOLUTELY! Reading is Reading. It does not have to happen in an approved reader or in a classroom to count! Whatever motivates your child to read is great. Same with writing. I was struggling with writing lessons with my girls. A dear friend asked me WHY I was fighting them. WHY did I want them to write? Of course I gave all the usual answers & she replied, "Why do they have to do it that way?" Then she suggested Pen Pals! GENIUS! We now have several pen pals and my kids are more motivated than ever to write! Sometimes venting to a friend leads to greatness. Thanks friend!

5. Geography is easy, play the license plate game in the car!!!

You laugh but you can learn a lot from the license plate game. We took a trip to Ocean City, MD last September. On the way we saw 19 different state license plates. This resulted in finding those states on a map, learning about their state capitals, finding out how many miles each state was from our home, learning interesting facts about each state.Then they started asking about the other states. Kids are innately curious about their world. Offer a simple spark and BOOM! Magic happens!

6. In all seriousness, we are not super heroes. 

So as you can see, in our home we are not sitting at a table for 5 hours a day working out of a workbook. This method does work for some people, but not for us. We also do not have child prodigies running around getting private piano lessons from Bach himself! We have 2 pretty normal kids, learning what they need to know, in a child-centered, hands-on, experiential kind of way. We are also VERY lucky to have found some local homeschool groups that we see regularly and keep me sane! 

The point is, Yes you CAN  do this. You do NOT need to be a teacher or a genius or a saint to make it work. Yes it gets frustrating and yes it can be stressful. But it can be so rewarding and fun too! I once was the person who said, "I could NEVER do THAT!" But guess what? Here I am doing it!

Sunday, June 2, 2013


As this 'school year' comes to an end, I can't help to look back on this, our first year of homeschooling, and be amazed! What a long, strange trip it's been. My apprehension, stress and worry that occurred this time last year (when deciding to homeschool) is completely gone and filled with happiness, calmness, accomplishment and bliss. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was the right choice for us, but I had no idea HOW right this really is for us. I couldn't be happier about this decision.

But what about the kids? Aren't they missing out on socialization? What did they learn? Aren't they falling behind?

As far as socialization, they have never had so much social time as they have had this year. Not only do they get to play with and participate in sports and activities with their 'old' school friends regularly. We of course have neighborhood friends. And now we have a whole bunch of new homeschool friends!

As far as what they learned, it is far too much to list here.

But what I hope they learned is that living outside the box might be scary at first, but can be totally awesome! That their parents respect them as human beings. That they have a voice, and when they use it EVERYONE should listen. That you can go to the bathroom whenever you want without asking. That there is a whole world outside of school, with people who have nothing to do with school (contrary to popular belief).  That they have choices in life and to choose wisely. They do not have to walk in a straight line with others. And there is more than one way to find an answer.  

What did I learn this year? To TRUST! Trust my instincts as a mom to know what is right for my children. Trust that choosing a lifestyle that is a bit 'out of the box' is okay. Trust that learning occurs everywhere, not just in school buildings and worksheets. (clearly something I knew, but then putting your kids on the line for it is another story). I have learned that there are some amazing, incredible, creative people out there doing this and I have been blessed to meet many of them, work with them and call some of them my friends. 

All of this is really just scratching the surface. There was so much more. And although you may not believe it, we NEVER opened a workbook, we don't own flashcards, we RARELY sat down formally to do work, and we did most of this in a child-centered, hands on, exploratory way. We did not have to drill and practice or test. And many of these topics or concepts were addressed because THEY showed interest and wanted to learn it.

With summer fast approaching, many of you will have children staying home for the summer. And I know it seems daunting to 'entertain' them all summer. I challenge you to try some of the things we did this year. Do a mini homeschool session. Try it out. I think you'll be surprised at the results. Don't frame it as 'school work' because you will get resistance. Show them that learning can be fun. After a while, they will be asking you for more. They will come up with their own ideas for experiments and learning activities. You may learn that homeschooling isn't as overwhelming as you previously thought. But even if you don't end up homeschooling, you will give your children a richer understanding of what they learned in school. And possibly create an enthusiasm for learning that wasn't there before. Either way, it's a win! 

So for those of you who have followed me on this journey, I want to say THANK YOU. I truly appreciate your support and feedback. For those who are considering homeschooling or unschooling, I say give it a try. It has been absolutely amazing. I cannot wait to see what the next year brings!

Happy Summer!!!!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Balancing Act

Homeschooling is something that takes up a large amount of my time. I have to admit I am somewhat jealous of my stay-at-home mom friends who have finally sent their last child off to school and now have 'ME' time. That could've been me this year! But realistically, I would have filled that 'ME' time with tons of other stuff related to the kids (PTA, class mom, girl scout leader, etc.). So I ask you, homeschooling or not, HOW DO YOU strike the balance between giving to your family and giving to yourself?

This is seriously NOT a rhetorical question. I would like some feedback on this because I have ALWAYS sucked at this. I've been a SAHM for over 8 years now and I still struggle to strike that balance. What usually happens is I give and I give until I explode. And that's not fair to anyone.

The first words out of my mouth when we decided to homeschool were "BUT I have to get REGULAR 'ME' time if we do this" YEAH RIGHT! However I have no one to blame but myself. My husband is perfectly willing to take the kids so that I can have that time. We have wonderfully supportive Grandparents that live fairly close by that are always willing to babysit. I have ample opportunities to take the time but I rarely do. Why is that?

When faced with the opportunity to have 'ME' time, I usually opt out for a fun family activity like camping, going to a waterpark, or hiking. In the moment, I would rather spend the time and the money on the family, instead of me. However, then I will watch my husband take money and time for himself with ease & I get somewhat resentful. WTF is that?! I could do it too, I just always choose not to.

I have a horrible time spending money on myself, giving to myself or putting myself first. I know it is not just me or other homeschool moms who struggle with this either. I have friends who send their kids to school and fill their days with stuff related to their kids. I know moms of young children not yet school age who do not take time for themselves. Is this a female phenomena?

I know it is in my best interest to take care of me. It is in my family's best interest if I take care of me. It is MY responsibility to take care of me. Knowing that doesn't make it any easier. I know, I know, first world problems! But I'd really like to know.......How do YOU strike that balance?

Monday, April 22, 2013

So what's wrong with your school?

One of the many questions I get when people find out we are homeschooling is 'What's wrong with your school?' Most assume something is fundamentally wrong with our school, the teachers and/or the district. They assume something bad happened to my kids and that's why I pulled them. This is not the case at all.

I worked as a public school teacher for years & was doing that when we moved here. So I specifically picked our district over others. When my child entered the elementary school, I really loved it. I was heavily involved, VP of the PTA, class mom, etc. The principal is wonderful, the teachers are some of the best I've ever known or worked with, the school community is amazing!

So why then pull them out?

Bottom line, it's the entire educational system. There is a REASON I left the public schools 11 years ago. And now for that same reason, I have pulled my kids out of it. I tried to fight the good fight. I tried to change it from within. It's too damn big, too damn powerful and pretty much unstoppable!

The sad part is, our system is losing great teachers in droves and slowly destroying others. (Have you seen Here Comes the Boom yet?)  There are so many great, creative, enthusiastic teachers out there. Many of them work in our local elementary school, but the system doesn't let them use that creativity. The system doesn't let them access their years of training and experience. The system does not allow them to even go above and beyond if they want to.

Sounds crazy right? If a teacher CHOOSES to stay after school, come up with creative curriculum and uses his/her free time to do this for their class, this should be totally acceptable right? WRONG! The system doesn't want significant differences between each class, especially within a grade level and/or within a building. Then we would have parents complaining that they want THAT teacher, or why doesn't this teacher do what THAT teacher does. And so on and so forth. This actually happened to me. I was staying after school, I was going above and beyond for my class & then I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to STOP and that I could LOSE MY JOB!!! This was also reiterated to me by the teacher's union! I wasn't coming in late, harming students, late on paperwork, or breaking rules. I WAS DOING EXTRA! UNBELIEVABLE!

So the best, most creative teachers are stifled with restrictions, are piled with new curriculums and core standards, and are now judged by student testing which could risk their job. So what do you THINK they are going to do? 

THIS is why I pulled my kids out of the public system. I wish all of those teachers & administrators fighting the good fight all the luck in the world. I couldn't do it and I won't sacrifice my kids to it. I hope one day to see it change, but for now, we'll do it our way.

It makes me sad to see a system that I loved so dearly, go in such a horrible direction. All that I can do is what is best for our family. And for now, homeschooling is it. I can get as creative as I want, do as much as I want, and there are no limitations or restrictions except for the ones I create. Funny how a change I made for my children has renewed my spirit as a teacher. I haven't been this happy teaching in well over a decade! 

So for now, I will truly enjoy teaching my own children and working with other homeschoolers. As someone once said to me "True teachers will always find a way to teach!" 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Learning to Trust

So I spend a lot of time reading other people's homeschooling and unschooling blogs. I belong to a lot of groups on Yahoo and Facebook. One of the overwhelming themes I see over and over again is that we need to TRUST. Trust that we are the best teachers for our kids, Trust that our kids will learn what they need to learn when they need it, Trust that we are doing the right thing. It sounds easy but it's not. I doubt myself all the time and feeling as though you have something to prove to certain others doesn't help.

However, every once in a while that magical light shines and the Trust comes back. The other day my daughter was playing on her grandmother's iPad. She spontaneously asked Siri for 'fun math games' and chose one. She decided to pick 3rd grade (technically she's in 2nd) and apparently she got a 100%! (I was not there at the time).

Now to be perfectly honest, we tend to follow more of an Unschooling method in our home. We rarely sit down and do formal work and we definitely do not use workbooks or worksheets or curriculums. However this is where the Trust comes in. We obviously use math everyday! My kids have their own money and make decisions on what to buy and when. They get change, they figure out if they have enough, etc. They use addition and subtraction regularly in their lives and they can both do it in their heads - which is way better than me & I went through to a Master's Degree in formal education! My 6 year old is starting to do multiplication in her head. Blows my mind. This clearly didn't come from me. I can barely add!

Now another area I lose the Trust in is reading for my 6 year old. This is the year she would be learning to read at school. I am particularly anxious about this because I spent years teaching reading and it is something I enjoy. However, she resists all attempts I make to 'teach' her reading. Figures! But left to her own choices, she can pick up a book and read on her level. She figured out short vowel words, blends and digraphs on her own. I told her once about long vowels and what we call 'magic E' and that's all she needed. Letting go of my need to teach and Trusting that she will learn it, has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.

So I guess I need to let go and Trust. And I encourage all of you to Trust yourselves, Trust your children, Trust that learning is occurring daily in their lives.  Easier said than done, I know. Even though I see these magical moments, I still have doubts. I guess that's part of what makes us human. But for now, I am going to rely on the Trust.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hands On Learning: History

One of the BEST ways I can think of to learn about history is to travel to the places where historical events took place. Want to teach about the Boston Tea Party? Go to Boston! Want to teach about colonial times? Go to Colonial Williamsburg, Plymouth Rock, or Salem Mass. Want to teach about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Liberty Bell? Go to Philadelphia. Traveling to these places makes history come alive for young learners and is sure to spark their interest!

Can't get out of town right now? There are a TON of interactive games online. Check out some of these sites!



Not into online games? Try doing a re-enactment! Kids will truly get a full understanding of a historical event if they have to live it. If they have to do the research to be Abraham Lincoln, or a civil war hero, or Thomas Jefferson, they will really get to know their character and how that person played a part in history.
Create your own game show. You could create a game show based on historical events and people. Set it up like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. Kids will love competing for prizes. Step it up a notch and get real buzzers for them to hit when they know the answer!

Play History Bingo. The board can have people's faces on them (George Washington, Sally Ride, Susan B. Anthony) and the clues could be facts about those people.

Do a scavenger hunt. Hide clues around the room, house, yard, or classroom that relate to a particular topic or historical figure. The kids have to find the items and guess what they will be learning about. Great way to introduce a topic for the first time. It gets them engaged and excited about it right off the bat!

 Pretend you are a historical figure and create a diary as that person. You could start by aging paper to make it look old and authentic (directions for aging paper on the website under teaching tips). Attach a feather to a pencil to make it look more like a quill pen. They could even make a special article of clothing that they wear when they are writing in their diaries.

Just a little thinking outside the box can open up a whole new world of learning for your kids! Try it!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hands on Learning: Geography

So I have to admit, one of the best things I have found to help teach geography is the LeapFrog TAG system. This does more than maps, but I found the United States map and the World map to be 2 of the best things out there. My 6 year old identified France without blinking today! I know several adults who couldn't do that. I'm not one to endorse products such as this, but it is truly great. It also has things on the solar system, human body & more!


Another cool way to teach geography is to go on a road trip. We recently went to Ocean City, MD - only 5 hours from our home - but saw over 19 state license plates. We decided to write them down and research them when we got home. We found them on a map, identified the state capitals and some cool facts about each state.

Want to teach World Geography? Try using different cultures celebrations and festivals to spark interest. Want to explore China? Celebrate Chinese new year. Mexico? Cinco de Mayo. Spain? La Tomatina (the tomato throwing festival). My brothers once had their own La Tomatina in the yard of our apartment with the landlord's tomatoes. Mom was NOT pleased! But if you have your own tomatoes & can handle a bit of a mess, what kid wouldn't LOVE to do this?

 Start with the party and let your children's interests lead the rest!

Have family members or friends in different states or countries? Start a pen pal relationship with them. This will not only encourage writing, teaching how to write a formal letter and how to address an envelope, but it will spark interest in learning about that area too!

Fill a suitcase with items from a specific country, city or region. Have the kids unpack the suitcase and try to figure out where they are going. Use Google Earth to fly to your destination. Have the kids research why the items in your suitcase are relevant to that area.

For older kids, set up a twitter account for Dr. Geo Grapher. Have the students check his/her tweets about a certain region, area, etc. They can tweet withe the good Dr. asking questions, looking for clues...

 Map Puzzles: glue local, state, national or world maps to car stock & cut out into puzzle pieces. Kids will have fun trying to put it back together.

With just a little time and energy, anyone can turn ANY topic into hands-on, fun learning.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hands on Learning: Math

Now I have to admit that this is even a challenge for me. Math is not my forte and I tend to stick to traditional methods. But I accepted the challenge & here's what I found.

Preschoolers and Kindergarteners:

Again this is easiest. Clearly counting and number recognition can be done through play. Use blocks, manipulatives, number magnets, etc.

Play number recognition hopscotch. Instead of playing hopscotch the regular way, have your children jump to the number you call out. To up the ante, turn it into addition or subtraction hopscotch. For older children, multiplication or division hopscotch. The possibilities are endless!

SNATCH! As mention in previous blogs, SNATCH can be used for anything. Number recognition, computation facts, fractions....

Use m&m's or another special treat to do addition and subtraction. Give them 10 m&m's, tell them to 'take away' or subtract 4 (they get to eat them to subtract) and what is left? I'm sure this will motivate the biggest hater of math!

First and Second Graders:

Teach money skills by setting up your own store. Or take them out to a real store. Practicing with real money is the best way to teach them this! Maybe start giving them an allowance. They will appreciate the value of money more when it is their own and they have to choose. "Do I really want this dollar store bear right now or do I want to save for that Barbie?"

Telling Time: Make a cardboard clock with a digital clock below it (see directions in Teaching Tips on the website). Practice by the hour at first, then the half hour, 15 minutes and 10 minutes and then single minutes.

Third & Fourth Graders:

Place value: Put out labels on the floor - hundreds, tens, ones. Give 3 children a number and have them stand by each label (or just put the numbers by the label if you do not have a group). Ask what number is this? What is in the hundreds place? Tens? What is we switch it around? What is the smallest number possible using these 3 numbers? The largest? What happens if we add a decimal point?

Estimation: Play the famous 'How many in the Jar' game. Estimate how many children are needed (laying down toe to head) to measure the length of the room?  Estimate the height of the ceiling. Now give them the actual dimensions and see how close they came with their estimations.

Probability: You could sit at a table and roll dice and/or flip coins & this would be fun. But how about making giant dice out of appliance boxes & rolling those around the room?

Again this is just a drop in the bucket. There are so many ways to make Math fun! Even for me!!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hands on Learning: Science

Science is probably one of the easiest, because it is set up to be hands on and exploratory. Everything about science screams: Get Dirty! So try some of these activities on for size!

Grow Something!

Nothing teaches kids about the parts of a plant, the life cycle of a plant better than actually growing it yourself. It can be simple like a lima bean & a wet paper towel in a ziploc taped to a window. Or a carrot top cut off & replanted. Or a potato suspended by toothpics with one end in water in a cup. Also try paperwhite flowers in water with food coloring. It changes to flower's color!

Or you could get more complicated with a house plant or even growing vegetables. What a great way to make them better eaters!

Get A Pet

I know, I know - we all need something ELSE to do! But there are so many low maintenance pets out there, anyone can do this. Get a lizard, a hamster, a pet snake, even a hermit crab. Setting up a correct habitat for that pet teaches them about climate, geographical areas, and the responsibility that comes from caring for a pet is second to none! Have your child research the pet, what it eats, what kind of climate/geographical area it is from. Can salamanders live in the desert? Can a hamster live in water? It sounds silly but so much learning happens here. DO IT! Don't be scared. It will be okay!

The Water Cycle

Make a soda Bottle Terrarium!! Super easy & shows the water cycle up close & personal. Great science fair project too! (Directions on website under teaching tips) 

Squishy Egg Experiment

One raw egg 
Large bowl


Put a raw egg (in its shell) into a bowl and cover it completely with vinegar. Wait two days, then drain off the vinegar. When you touch the egg, it will feel rubbery. Be careful not to break the membrane, and wash your hands after you touch the egg. (Throw it away after a few days.)


Vinegar, an acid, dissolves the calcium in the eggshell. It's calcium that makes the shell hard. But a thin, flexible membrane just under the shell still holds the egg's shape. 

Make A Volcano 

Baking soda
a container for the mixture (water bottle)
A container to hold everything (box or rubbermaid container)
paper towels

Put the vinegar and baking soda into the small container (water bottle)
watch the reaction that takes place

The baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a base while the vinegar (acetic acid) is an acid. When they react together they form carbonic acid which is very unstable, it instantly breaks apart into water and carbon dioxide, which creates all the fizzing as it escapes the solution.
For extra effect you can make a realistic looking volcano. It takes some craft skills but it will make your vinegar and baking soda eruptions will look even more impressive!

There are a million ways to make science hands on, creative & fun. Do a google search for science experiments. You could do one every day for a year!!!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hands on Learning: Reading & Letter Knowledge

This seems to be a big one for everyone so I thought I would start here. Most traditional learning centered around letters and reading heavily involves paper and pencil tasks. Clearly, as they get older, reading involves paper. But teaching reading and teaching writing and teaching letters can be multi-sensory...I SWEAR! And if you try some of these activities, I bet your struggling reader will stop shutting down, be interested in reading again, and be willing to try (which is half the battle). The greatest thing about multi-sensory learning is that it is so different from what they are doing in school, they do not see it as work.

Preschoolers & Kindergarteners:

This is the easy part, although I do not advocate for teaching letters to preschoolers or kindergarteners. I truly believe, and have witnessed as a preschool teacher and as a mom, that children offered a literature-rich environment will learn their letters (and how to read for that matter). So first and foremost READ to your kids! Trace your finger under the words as you read them to show the left to right progression.

Secondly, do a picture walk with them. A picture walk is when you  (or actually they) 'read' the book by discussing the pictures. Studies have shown that this method actually increases vocabulary and language in preschoolers with language delays BETTER than read alouds!! (Yup did my masters thesis on this very thing).

Use environmental print! Your kids already KNOW how to read. I bet they can read the stop sign, an exit sign, a Dunkin Donuts sign, a cheerios box....the list goes on & on. So set them up for success and show them that they are already readers!! Maybe make an environmental print book. When I was a classroom teacher I had an environmental print word wall.

And if you MUST teach letters - do so without a pencil - use magnet letters, fingerpaint, shaving cream in the tub, stamps, stickers, do a letter scavenger hunt, write them with a stick in the dirt/sand, do sand paper letter rubs (in teaching tips on my website). Developmentally, children up to age 5 are not ready to use a pencil for writing. By offering them dotted letters to trace on paper, you are adding stress that is not needed to this process.

1st & 2nd Graders:

This age group should know a bunch of sight words and be able to sound out words, blends, digraphs, and write these in full sentences and paragraphs. Yes this can be done in a fun way, although admittedly it will involve more paper/pencil tasks...

Our FAVORITE game: SNATCH! You can play this with just about anything - letters, numbers, words, math facts....all that you need is a marker and some card stock. (directions on my website under teaching tips) Kids just LOVE snatching someone else's cards. Not only is it allowed, this game ENCOURAGES it!

Use the same card stock to make memory match games. You can also make word races. At one end of the room put 4-5 large pieces of paper with word families or blends on them (-ill, -ick, -ing). Then make a bunch of 'flash cards' with corresponding words (sill, mill, stick, flick, fling, bring). Get a timer & have a race to see who can run across the room with each word and match it to it's corresponding word family. Even if you are working with 1 child, they will love to try to beat their own times!

For sight words, do a sight word scavenger hunt. Put sight words on index cards & hide them. Then give the children a list. The first person to find their list wins! (They also have to read them)

Silly sentences - have a pile of nouns and a pile of verbs. Each child has to pick 1 noun and 1 verb and write a sentence. They get such a kick out of this because it's SILLY. So YES a sentence that reads "The chair ate my salami sandwich' is not only okay, it's GREAT!

3rd & 4th Graders:

This age is really focusing on writing a complete story - characters, setting, conflict, solution, main idea.......They are also focusing on reading comprehension, going back to the text to find answers. Being able to answer questions about the text, to make inferences.

Try story starters. To encourage creative writing, on sentence strips write a bunch of silly story starters. (examples on my website under teacher tips) They pick a story starter out of a pile or jar and have to write a complete story that includes a main character, supporting characters, setting, plot, conflict, solution etc.

A big problem that kids this age have is to skip over words when reading, or substitute words that are not there. This is a habit you want to BREAK as soon as you see it. When they are younger, it doesn't really affect story meaning. But as they get older it will, especially on those standardized tests! A great way to do this is to have them CATCH YOU making mistakes! Take turns reading a passage or story aloud with each other. Tell them that the idea is to try to catch the other person making mistakes. They will feel less self-conscious if you make mistakes too. Afterwards, discuss how omitting words or substituting words could change the meaning and result in wrong answers on a test or homework.

Making inferences. The What If game: Take a favorite story & change the ending, change a character, extend the ending. This could be a writing project as well. Children will have fun creating their own version of the story!

This is really just a drop in the bucket. And I did not invent these ideas. These are ideas I've seen others use over the years, ideas that I've used, ideas I've found on the internet. So even if your child goes to traditional school, you can supplement with these activities. They are fun for everyone but will especially help that struggling reader in your life!

Hands on Learning: The series

So I know you've heard it from me before, but I am all about hands on, multi-sensory learning! Learning should be fun, exploratory, child led and get you a little dirty at times! So in the interest of this, I've decided to post ideas on how to teach things in a hands on, multi-sensory way.

If you are not sure what I mean by multi-sensory, let me explain. Multi-sensory is simply learning through the senses - touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. This is how children learn best. Actually it's how we ALL learn best. It is the most meaningful to them when they explore their worlds. So instead of learning letters by tracing them on a worksheet, kids can learn letters by fingerpainting them, writing their name with magnet letters, doing a rubbing of sandpaper letters, stamping letters, seeing them in environmental print, etc.

So if you would like ideas for a particular age group or subject, please let me know. I will post these by subject area and try to address multiple age levels. If you have ideas of your own, please share!If you know a parent or a teacher who might like these ideas, please share this with them! Please feel free to comment if you try these ideas too!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cabin Fever

So you don't have to be a homeschooler to experience the joys of cabin fever. I'm kinda worried with the forecast this week of highs in the low 20's and lows in the single digits!! So I decided to make a list of fun things to do to keep you sane in the winter months. Most of this will pertain to the Hudson Valley, but you can find alternatives in your area!

1. Go to a Children's Museum! If you have not found the Mid-Hudson Children's Museum, you are missing out! Great place to go on those cold snowy days. A family membership is $70 for a year of unlimited use. Plus half of it is a tax write-off to a charitable cause. If you just want to test the waters though, you can get free passes at Adriance Library in the city of Poughkeepsie.

2. And speaking of Adriance, our local libraries offer so many free programs for kids. Go to their websites & see what they have to offer!  Best part, they are FREE!

3. An indoor playspace. In this area we have 3 - Jumpin Jakes in Fishkill, Jumpin Jakes Discovery in Poughkeepsie and Kids Kingdom. There are particularly great when they need to RUN! They can be a little pricey, but many have discount days or cards that give you a free visit after you visit so many times. Plus, many of them have free wifi so the kids can play and so can you!! If you have little ones, I suggest going during the school day. Those places can get a bit crazy when the big kids are there.

4.  The Bronx Zoo. I know, I know, it's outdoors. But there are so many indoor spaces at the Bronx Zoo that you can keep warm. The Bird House, the Mouse House and the Reptile House are just a few. And I bet if you've been there before on a nice day, you really haven't spent much time in the indoor spaces. So bundle up, bring some hot cocoa with you & check out all the cool indoor spaces the zoo has to offer!

5. Ice skating or rollerskating. In this area McCann Ice Rink at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center or Ice Time in Newburgh are great for ice skating. Hyde Park Rollermagic in Hyde Park is open for rollerskating. Check them out!

6. Go to an Aquarium. The closest around here is the Norwalk Aquarium, but it's only about an hour drive. See the seal feeding, pet a stingray or a shark, do a craft or watch an IMAX movie. Lots of fun things to do! PLUS if you get a reciprocal membership to OUR Children's museum, you could go to the Norwalk Children's Museum across the street for FREE!

7. Looking for something FREE? For Free is for ME! Both Home Depot and Lowes offer free classes on weekends for kids. They let the kids get down and dirty with tools and build something very cool. Check their websites for dates, times and if reservations are needed. Also, if you get a group together, places like AC Moore and Michael's will give the kids a tour and a craft to do for FREE! Call to find out details.

8. CHEAP movies are right around the corner at Silver Cinemas 8 in the South Hills Plaza. Movies are $3 and $2 on Tuesdays!! Can't Beat That!!!

9. Finally, get creative! Have playdates, have a crafting party, movie night with friends, create a mall scavenger hunt, build a fort or an obstacle course, a day of baking......the ideas are endless!

And, if you are brave, you could always bundle up and go OUTSIDE to play! Brrrrrrrrrrr     Good luck! Only 56 days till Spring!!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Warning: Side Effects of Homeschooling

When I started this adventure, I admit, I was scared, TERRIFIED, at the thought of my girls home all day, EVERYDAY with me! I would have bet my car that they would be at each other's throats every 5 minutes! In preparation for this, I separated them as much as possible to give them their own spaces. They were sharing a room, so I moved them into separate rooms. I signed them up for different activities (one is in gymnastics, the other dance), I had a plan for when Frank was home, to do (what I call) divide and conquer activities. This is when we each take 1 to do something alone with them.

How wrong I was! My girls have never played so nicely together! Don't get me wrong, they were pretty good to start with. But for the last 2 years, my older child was increasingly getting annoyed with her younger sister, wanting alone time, snapping at her, not wanting to include her, calling her a baby......Sounds familiar right? I assumed this was all normal, sibling rivalry and that the older child was becoming more independent and didn't want her little sister tagging along. I remember feeling that way about my younger brothers.

Well I'm here to tell you that this does NOT have to be considered normal behavior! In fact, it seems (in our case) to be a direct side effect to being a part of the competitive, sometimes harsh, stress-inducing school phenomenon. I didn't see it right away. All summer we went about our regular routine and slowly Thing 1 became less and less harsh towards her sister. This was typical of summer. I used to say "I'm going to get her back for a while!" in reference to Thing 1 and summer. Maybe you have noticed this in your kids too?

When it became blazingly clear was when school started and we didn't go, but participated in sports with school peers. Now, to my friends (and others) who I continue to see on a regular basis with my kids, I am NOT talking about your kids in particular, I'm actually not talking about ANY kids in particular. The phenomenon is not about the individual kids, or what individual kids may or may not do, it's about the kids together in an organized setting and the pretense it creates. It was almost like Thing 1 had to put on her game face for those encounters! And then it took several hours for her to let go of the game face once she was home! I was dumbfounded!

But it makes sense. Think about going to middle school. For most, this was a stressful time, filled with worries about what your peers might say or do to you. Did I wear the right outfit? Am I in the right club? Did I join the right sport? Am I sitting at the right lunch table? Did I say the right thing? And many of you might say 'But that is middle school, not first or second grade." But I beg to differ. I don't think those sort of social parameters just crop up out of nowhere in 6th grade. They develop slowly over years of being together.

I can tell you that in our homeschool co-ops, there's almost none of this. And it's not because it's 4 best friends playing together. One of our co-ops has around 30 kids, the other group has about 14 kids. They range in age from 4 through teenagers. The kids are pretty cooperative, helpful to each other, and I've never seen a fight. Now I'm not saying there isn't a snippy comment here and there, but overall, I have yet to see any real excluding, or the negativity toward one another that you see frequently in school settings. It could be a by product of like-minded parents and their children, but we are all from different backgrounds, with different beliefs about parenting, so I don't think so. I truly think it is the facade school produces, that increases kids' stress and creates a situation where they all need to put on their GAME FACE!

So if a major reason you are NOT considering homeschooling is because you think your children with have a bloody, fight to the death, cage match on week 2, I am here to tell you they won't. There will be adjustments and what people call 'deschooling' but my kids have never got along better! And although Thing 1 has her own room now, she has yet to spend a night in it!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Getting Started - A How To

So I figure that after a holiday break, there are 2 camps. The first is screaming HOORAY!!!!! and the bus can't get here early enough. And I get this, I do. I've had those days & continue to have those days! However this is a blog about homeschooling. The second is saying to themselves 'I wish we had a few more days together.'  This was always my thought following a school break (yes we did public school for a bit). But many feel that homeschooling is very radical, difficult, and they may feel like they are not qualified, etc. etc. I am here to tell you that YOU ARE MORE THAN QUALIFIED!!! You can do this. It's not as daunting as it seems. Sure it's not all fun and games, but what in life is? The payoff far outweighs any negatives. So if that little voice in your head has you considering homeschooling, but you feel overwhelmed at the thought, here are some things that might help you get started.

The thought of starting homeschooling can be downright scary. Even for me and all my 'teacher knowledge' it was a bit un-nerving - but the key is baby steps. When I start something new, I become quite OCD about it and want to know everything YESTERDAY. I had to take a deep breath and think about what was most important.

There were a lot of steps to follow just to get started. Maybe this will help those of you thinking about homeschooling but are left feeling overwhelmed.

Clearly first is what are the requirements by your state? There are so many websites out there with information to help.I will list them at the bottom. As always for me, anticipation is the worst part. When I started looking into it, I realized that this is totally doable. Yes there are forms & requirements, but take it step by step. It's not as daunting as it seems. Next, I looked into homeschooling groups and contacted friends who have homeschooled. I needed to know first hand if this was something I wanted to tackle. I also had to find local comrades, because I will go crazy home all day, everyday by myself (well, yeah the kids will be there too).

Next we went to visit a local homeschool co-op. I needed to see how this worked and if me & my kids would 'fit.'  They were all so welcoming and friendly. I wanted to pull my kids out of school that day & start immediately. It totally fit my idea of how children should be educated and spend their days. The kids ranged in ages from 3 1/2 to I'd guess 12. They were all friendly, sweet, helpful and welcoming. There were no weird stares or comments about the 'new kids' at all. Ages did not seem to matter, as they all worked and played together equally. The older kids helped the younger kids. It flowed very easily, very uncontrived. It was fantastic!

So next is to prepare for the school year. This is the fun part. Collecting ideas, looking up lessons, creating my own lessons, figuring out how the structure will go. I love doing this. This is why I became a teacher.  Sadly, public school teachers are rarely given the opportunity to do this anymore. Curriculums are plopped in their laps. These curriculums are so restrictive they even offer scripts! I don't know why they bother hiring teachers with masters degrees to teach. They aren't given the freedom or time to use their knowledge or expertise. Ok rant over. If creating curriculum seems scary, there are tons of free or very affordable curriculums available online.

So what's left? The official part: writing my letter of intent to the district. In New York, you should have it in by July 1st. Then the IHIP. Again, this seems daunting but it is pretty clear cut and basic. There are TONS of resources online to help you through it. But I highly recommend linking up with local homeschoolers. Nothing beats the advice from those who have 'been there, done that.'

Really that is about it. There will be quarterly reports, but by the time you get to that, you'll be a pro already. If your children are older, some states require testing. The links at the bottom can help you find information on that.

Take it one step at a time, it is quite simple really. I cannot emphasize enough how great it has been for us to link up with other homeschooling families. They are such a great network of support, information and friendship. I could do this without them but it is so much better with them. I found local groups through yahoo groups and facebook.

Good Luck!! It's the best journey you'll ever take!



and check out google groups for local homeschoolers near you