Friday, December 17, 2010

Sayers' TLTOL (part 3)

Sayers calls into question the discernment and debating abilities of those educated in modern times:

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?
Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?
Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them? Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And, if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?
I shy away from conflict. Just a small Facebook quarrel via comments can ruin my day because it's all words with no conciliatory faces to show that no hard feelings are accompanying the disagreement. I don't waste time watching Presidential debates because they're mostly performing for cameras and trying to make the other person look stupid to the projected demographic makeup of the audience. Don't misunderstand me: debate is incredibly important to our republic. But I don't see it well done, so I try not to waste my time or emotions watching useless debate. Ad hominem attacks, incomplete facts, and utter failure to understand the other side's point of view characterize much of "public debate" these days (go ahead and throw in some corruption, too, of course, for Americans aren't magically immune to it). I wish we had an Abraham Lincoln who could write his own eloquent and thought-out speeches, but we don't. Inspiring demeanor or folksy down-to-earthness don't make an argument valid or convincing. Is the solution teaching Latin to kids? Of course not, but there's a lot more to the education that Sayers is proposing in this essay.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sayers' TLTOL (part 2)

Today I wearily consider these paragraphs:

Before you dismiss me with the appropriate phrase--reactionary, romantic, mediaevalist, laudator temporis acti (praiser of times past), or whatever tag comes first to hand--I will ask you to consider one or two miscellaneous questions that hang about at the back, perhaps, of all our minds, and occasionally pop out to worry us.
When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us say, Tudor times, and thereafter were held fit to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our own day? To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society. The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is there there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects--but does that always mean that they actually know more?
Last night at 2:45 a.m. (a school night, mind you), I had to go ask the college student neighbors to turn down their music so that I and my baby could sleep. The house party included girls dancing in bras and a suspicious-smelling smoke. Is this "the modern boy and girl"? Their parents are paying for them to engage in substance-abusing revelry in the middle of a school night as part of a college education? Truly this is a marked prolongation of adolescence.
My own story is quite different. I moved into on-campus housing and started as a full-time university student just before turning 17. I attended BYU where there is little in the way of drinking or drugs, and I studied a lot. Sunday nights, I went to bed early so I could be ready for the week's coming classes and assignments, and I don't think I was too different from most other BYU students in that respect. We were occasionally reminded that much of BYU's operation budget came from donations by LDS church members and that we were accountable for how we used our opportunities at BYU. While the student body fell short of perfection, it was still very hardworking. Also, I never lacked for opportunities for legal recreation (especially dances, which I loved).
Based on my own experience, I believe that it is perfectly realistic to expect a majority of college students to engage in responsible behavior and that we do them a disservice by acting as though they're incapable of doing so. We also don't help them any by setting low educational standards for them. I enjoy Sayers' essay because she imparts a vision of a higher, attainable standard of education than that which now prevails in mainstream US culture.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dorothy Sayers and TLTOL (part one)

In preparing to homeschool my children, I have read several books that reference an essay by Dorothy Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning", and it can be found online here. To help myself better understand the essay, I think I'll review it bit by bit here on my blog. The first two paragraphs are as follows:

That I, whose experience of teaching is extremely limited, should presume to discuss education is a matter, surely, that calls for no apology. It is a kind of behavior to which the present climate of opinion is wholly favorable. Bishops air their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw. Up to a certain point, and provided the the criticisms are made with a reasonable modesty, these activities are commendable. Too much specialization is not a good thing. There is also one excellent reason why the veriest amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or another, been taught. Even if we learnt nothing--perhaps in particular if we learnt nothing--our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value.
However, it is in the highest degree improbable that the reforms I propose will ever be carried into effect. Neither the parents, nor the training colleges, nor the examination boards, nor the boards of governors, nor the ministries of education, would countenance them for a moment. For they amount to this: that if we are to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society, we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true object, towards the end of the Middle Ages.
She starts off by saying that she, as a nonprofessional teacher, can critique teaching methodologies just as well as a bishop can discuss economics or plain men criticize Picasso's drawing ability. Frankly, I don't think that bishops are in a position to spout opinions on economics or that one could rationally claim that Picasso couldn't draw, so her first point falls flat. However, her second point is valid: we have all been taught in our lives, be it poorly or well, thus we can hold opinions on teaching obtained from our own experience. I read tonight that Sayers' father began teaching her Latin when she was six years old, so she certainly has a basis in her own early life for understanding classical education. There is a third point that she could have made in her introduction: that everyone can be a teacher, professional or not (Socrates preferred "not", and he is recognized as a great teacher).
Her second paragraph has been shown false. Many people have been influenced by her essay to "turn back the wheel of progress" to promote classical educations (e.g., The Well-Trained Mind and Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum). Progress originally meant "moving forward", not "moving in a better direction". The latter definition of "progress" as gradual betterment seems reflective of the optimism and/or arrogance of modern humans who think they are wiser than their ancestors. Taller, yes, but wiser? I'm not convinced of that. I'm OK with discarding some newer pedagogical ideas if it means my children are better taught due to use of older methods. Where's my hornbook? :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving

As this wonderful holiday of family and tasty autumn food approaches, I'm going to take a little cyberspace to say 100 things I'm grateful for: my family, the Bill of Rights, the internet, my husband's job, our house, libraries, friends, a working car, heat for our house, our refrigerator, freedom to homeschool, health, my life experiences thus far, plastic dishes, the rule of law, books, computers, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, beautiful scenery, four seasons, pumpkins, telephones, safe public parks, jet planes, imported bananas, disposable diapers, wipes, thrift stores, ultrasound machines, kissable babies, AP tests, BYU, generous people, smiles, falling leaves, DVDs, Stare Dobre Malzenstwo, raising our children to be bilingual, free educational websites, skin moisturizer, vaccines, clean tap water, the Rosetta Stone, popcorn, going for walks, toothbrushes, wall-to-wall carpeting, good teachers, charter schools, temples, LDS General Conference, telescopes, stars, the sun, bees, classical radio stations, playdates, legal research assignments, politeness, apologies, listening ears, skin, eyes, ears, sugar, cocoa, Facebook, pianos, violins, orchestras, dictionaries, forgiveness, others' patience with me, my crockpot, pay-at-the-pump gas stations, Louisa May Alcott's books, ice skating, dancing, laughter, hair, my bed, holidays, peace, good health insurance, warm showers, good architecture, insulation, lawns, completed craft projects, emails from loved ones, flowers, trees, red rock canyons, the local zoo, ballpoint pens, key fob car locks, coral reefs, and the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homeschooling Carnival

The homeschooling carnival is up here at The HomeSpun Life. It's so nice of blog writers to host the carnivals. I've learned a lot from them over the past couple of years.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Stuck

Over a month ago, I optimistically posted that our math project for the next week or two was learning the addition facts. Here are the things I have done since then to facilitate dd6 in learning her addition facts:

1) Online games - turns out she's not much of a gamer (online puzzles, mazes, coloring games, etc. are liked, but not shoot-em-up, kill-the-alien-sum type games), so the free games on http://www.arcademicskillbuilders.com/ and other education game websites didn't do the job.

2) Addition fact songs scattered strategically throughout a newly-burned CD for car listening - dd3 now knows most of the addition facts, but dd6 must have already passed the stage where she memorizes every little thing she hears in passing. Most unfortunate.

3) Flashcards - moderately effective at reinforcing the sums she already knows and at giving me a chance to explain how to figure out other sums from the known ones, but kind of boring for both of us and so used only a few times.

4) We made 100 paper cutouts for the 0-9 sums in 10 different colors. I taped these on the kitchen wall and periodically ask her some of them. If she can answer one quickly, then I take it down. Over half are still hanging on the wall. Dd3 keeps answering my little pop quiz questions before dd6, which annoys me and probably frustrates dd6.

5) Cuisenaire rods - I pulled these out today and let her use them to show all the different ways to make sums up through 10. She enjoyed it, so maybe we'll use them again.

6) Addition Bingo game - dd6 enjoyed our Addition Bingo board game, but dd3 became temperamental and didn't want to play the game correctly, so I hesitate to get it out again. Same goes for Chutes and Ladders. (Ah, board game strife. When do they learn to cope with losing? Come to think of it, I still won't play Risk because I don't like that I never win....)

7) Various worksheets printed off from the internet and pages from sundry math workbooks - rather randomly chosen to keep her writing down math and reinforcing all the math that she has learned thus far.

We are stuck in our math worktext at the first page of double digit addition. I told dd6 a month ago that she needed to know her addition facts in order for her to learn double digit addition. She believed me, and now she absolutely refuses to work on double digit addition until she has memorized her sums. To tell the truth, I'm bored of working on 0-9 sums. But we'll keep at the task until it's mastered because it's truly fundamental. And because she won't let me move on.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What else to give them?

Dh and I were discussing this morning how middle class college students generally have received so many material benefits growing up in the USA. He asked as he left for work what they will want to give their children "to give them what they didn't have growing up"? My immediate response was "homeschooling"! Once we've made sure children have food, shelter, health care, clothes and toys (I think American children are usually inundated with toys these days), what's left? A good education and time with parents. Put those together, and what do you have? Education by mom or dad. Happily, with the internet and the public library, even lower economic class families can give their children good educations once their basic material needs are met. How equalizing!

Because we can't afford private school, homeschooling is the only way for me to give my children a really good education, not just one that makes them "proficient" in "standards". If my children reach 18 without reading some Plato, learning calculus, or being able to write essays in a couple of languages, then I haven't given them an education even as good as mine was. Based on the results I see from non-charter public schools, there is no way for the current public school system to give my children this education, so I am grateful every day for the freedom to homeschool.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Homeschool update

Dd6 just finished Chapter 11 (out of 21) of her first grade math book. She and I have less than 20 pages of Reading with Phonics left to go through with each other. Her writing is slowly getting better, she is pronouncing her r's better, and we have started reading a little in the scriptures each day. With the help of a $1 workbook from Target, we have learned about several countries (e.g., Kenya, Ireland, Australia, Egypt, Israel, France, China, etc.)

We started reading Volume 1 of Story of the World, putting a lot of focus on Egypt since we were planning a trip to the King Tut exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. Now that we've seen the exhibit, we should be moving on to Mesopotamian cultures, but I've hesitated to do so because dd6's class at her charter school (she attends about 7 hours a week) is currently studying ancient Egypt. It seems best to let her knowledge of ancient Egypt get reinforced at school for now. We can always cover Babylon later.

Speaking of school, she now attends Saturday School in German. It's only three hours and costs us, but it's worth it: she is finally starting to speak in German.

Our big task for the next week or two is to memorize addition facts up to 12+12 in order to prepare for math Chapter 12: Double Digit Addition. I looked at several different toys, games, and programs to help her learn her addition facts. In the end, I bought a set of addition flashcards ("Princess" cards because she likes them) from the dollar store and told her I'll give her five dollars to spend at the dollar store however she wants once she has all the addition facts memorized. She has a very good memory, so I don't think I'm expecting too much of her. She's already put in around an hour going over the flashcards by herself. I look forward to her reaching her goal of memorizing them all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fun with Liquid Measures

Today we are learning about pints and cups. I let dd6 play around with cups and a pint (2-cup) measure. Then I asked her whether she could drink a whole pint of water. She managed about a cup, but she had fun watching the water line go down slowly. I kept hearing in my head the line from The Fellowship of the Rings: "You mean it comes in pints!" I live in Hobbiton. :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

New School Year

We officially started the new school year two weeks ago. Dd5 is being homeschooled most of the time, but I have her in a local charter school for about 8 hours each week. I'm thrilled to have a school nearby that is flexible enough to be able to accommodate her need for social growth and group extracurriculars. I continue to take responsibility for her learning math, reading, writing, spelling, history (following the Story of the World books), and German; at school she makes friends, learns to get along with others, and does some history, science, art, music, and Spanish.

This year I am starting to keep records. It's a little nervewracking sometimes making sure that I've entered at least 4 hours of educational time per school day, as is required by Colorado law for children aged 7 and up. It's not that she's not learning enough. Rather, I'm too strict with myself when it comes to timekeeping. One reason I choose not to be a practicing lawyer is that I would have a hard time recording enough billable hours ("Oh, no, I can't count that as a solid hour because I got up to fill my water bottle...", etc.). It's a good thing I'm getting into the habit of timekeeping now while I'm still not legally subject to the 4-hour-per-day requirement.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Explora

We just got back from a mini-vacation to New Mexico. While there, we had the chance to go to the Explora! center in Albuquerque. It was one of the most interesting science museums I have ever been to. It is full of hands-on inquiry exhibits. My children and I did some basic animation (computer and drawing frames), played with water and air and light and weight and color and bubbles, and saw a chemistry demonstration on density. Did you know that a Coca-Cola can will float in water, but a Diet Coke can will not? I didn't. (It's the missing sugar that causes it to have an average density less than that of water.) We had a great time!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Darwininan Garden

I like this lady's approach to building up her garden. Still, it doesn't sound like landscaping my children would enjoy playing amongst. Yucca? Not with my little ones' eyeballs at risk, thank you. I guess I'll have to keep trying to get some sort of grass growing.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Update on Home Learning

Now that dd5 has been out for summer from official school, part-time though it was, for a whole month, here's a list of what we do to keep educating her:

1) Nearly every weekday morning, we do 30-45 minutes of formal schooling. It includes 5 minutes of writing practice (copy one short sentence), 20-30 minutes of math (usually 2 pages from her math workbook), and 5-15 minutes of reading instruction from Reading with Phonics.
2) Much watching of Sid the Science Kid has been happening. I like the song that goes "I love my mom, my mom is cool."
3) We have occasional music lessons and went to a children's concert.
4) She is done with the library's summer reading program, and it did indeed jumpstart her reading on her own.
5) She doesn't let a day go by without doing something crafty: coloring, painting, paper plate masks, etc. Often her crafts are inspired by a book we've just read, such as the swans she painted today after we read The Ugly Duckling.

We also just play games, garden, visit friends and family, and go to parks. Summer is hot, and life is good.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Post Kindergarten

Last month dd5 officially finished kindergarten. Her school district enrichment program ended, and she finished her kindergarten level math book. She is 2/3 of the way through her Hay-Wingo Reading with Phonics, and her handwriting is (very) gradually improving. She and dd3 are already working on winning prizes in the local library's summer reading program. We'll be doing school through the summer, taking breaks when traveling or doing special family activities. I think we would all be very bored if we just put away the books for 2 months.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Please just immunize!

According to this article, "Doctors report alarming increase in mumps-related testicle problems among young males", parents who feared the MMR vaccine might cause autism and so had their sons go without the vaccine appear to have increased their sons' chances of fertility problems in the future. Not a good thing, especially since the alleged MMR-autism link just hasn't been proven. I immunize my children (late, sometimes, but what's the point in rushing all those shots when babies are still breastfeeding?) because vaccines prevent certain harm.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Weather

I didn't post for a while because I just didn't have anything to say. However, today I have something to say about the weather.

It TOTALLED my brother's house yesterday in Oklahoma. Stinkin' tornadoes. At least my brother and his family are safe.

Things we have learned: have storm shelters or friends close by with storm shelters, and do an inventory (with a copy stored at someone else's house or on the internet) of the belongings in your house BEFORE disasters hit.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Where's the movie about her?

While reading Strange But True America today, I came across the story of Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a Northern Cheyenne woman who not only risked her life to rescue her wounded brother on a battlefield, but also fought alongside her husband at the Battle of Little Bighorn and apparently gave Custer the last blow before his death! Now there's a heroine worthy of her own movie (and please not a travesty like Disney's Pocahontas).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sleep

While the world comes alive in springtime, the longer days also mess with my children's sleeping patterns. Me no likey.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Urlaub

I just returned from a family wedding. We had a seven-day trip, four of which we spent driving. I guess I'm not a real German when it comes to taking vacation. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Genuine German Restaurant

Real Germans love their Urlaub (vacation). That's how I know Uwe's German Restaurant in Colorado Springs is a real German restaurant. I called their phone number this week and was told by the answering machine that they will not be open until April 15th. How many restaurants do you know of that close for a week or more at a time? I guess my Spätzle appetite will remain unsatiated a while longer.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Folic acid

If you've looked over my older posts, you might have seen that I have reservations about widespread overdosing on folic acid because I think it may be contributing to the rise in autism. Here is an article from msnbc.com expressing similar reservations, although for a different reason: cancer.
Indeed, many scientists have grown increasingly concerned about mounting research — including a study published last winter in the Journal of the American Medical Association — suggesting that all the extra folic acid might increase your odds of developing cancer. "The more we learn about folic acid, the more it's clear that giving it to everyone has very real risks," says folic acid researcher David Smith, PhD, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Oxford in England....

The risk experts worry about most: colon cancer. Last year, health officials in Chile reported that hospitalization rates for colon cancer among men and women age 45 and older more than doubled in their country since fortification was introduced in 2000. In 2007, Joel Mason, MD, director of the Vitamins and Carcinogenesis Laboratory at the Tufts University School of Medicine, described a study of the United States and Canada suggesting that rates of colon cancer rose — following years of steady decline — in the late 1990s (around the time our food was being fortified)....

Other research links high doses to lung and prostate cancers. In one study conducted in Norway, which doesn't fortify foods, supplementation with 800 mcg of folic acid (plus B12 and B6) daily for more than 3 years raised the risk of developing lung cancer by 21 percent. Another, in which men took either folic acid or a placebo, showed those consuming 1,000 mcg of folic acid daily had more than twice the risk of prostate cancer. And a new worry recently came to light when scientists discovered the liver has limited ability to metabolize folic acid into folate — which means any excess continues circulating in the bloodstream. "Unlike folate, folic acid isn't found in nature, so we don't know the effect of the excess," says Smith.

Read more: http://www.today.msnbc.msn.com/id/35874922/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition//#ixzz0kFx8BW7n

There really can be too much of a good thing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Error

I did my federal taxes on paper (printed out from the computer), and we just saw that our tax refund was deposited in our bank account. Unfortunately, it's $800 more than it should be! Apparently, the IRS computers read a "1" as a "9". Now I have to call the IRS and get them to fix their records and mail in a check to them. Such a waste of time! Not to mention taxpayer money.

Update: I just got off the phone with the IRS. They say that we didn't overpay. They adjusted our refund upwards because we didn't give ourselves the "Making Work Pay" tax credit. Crazy. I never heard of it, nor did I notice it when I went through the tax forms and instruction booklet. Maybe if they had named it the "Free Money (For Now)" tax credit, I would have paid more attention to it on the tax form.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Enough and Narcissim

I just finished reading through two recently-published nonfiction books: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement and Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. The first book includes a lengthy discussion of the boundless materialism that is one expression of a narcissism epidemic in US society, while the other contains stories and information illustrating how nearly a billion of the world's people still suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

I found the contrast between the anecdotes and data in the two books both painful and powerful. Our nation as a whole comes out looking like a bunch of selfish, oblivious, uncaring...narcissists. It also strengthened my resolve to be grateful for what I already have and live thriftily so I can help fund causes like microfinance and humanitarian aid. We are not close to being rich by US standards, but our family has a full refrigerator and enough uncommitted cash to be able to share.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fashions

When someone told me ten years ago that she didn't like my voice, I figured it was just because I couldn't mimic Alison Krauss the way she could. I love Alison Krauss's work, so it was understandable that someone would prefer her performances to my old-fashioned semi-operatic sound (I can do a rather good Marlene Dietrich imitation, to my husband's annoyance--Der Blaue Engel is one of his least favorite movies ever). Then recently I realized that choral music has changed dramatically in the last decades, too; for an example, just listen to the difference between this older Mormon Tabernacle Choir rendition of Handel's Messiah and their newest album, Heavensong.

As a child taking lessons and a teenager singing in school choirs, I did not realize that vocal technique specifics (e.g., placement, breathiness, volume, and vibrato) change over time even within styles. Now I believe that there is a faddish nature to what voices are considered "good" at a given time.

My mother is a trained singer who often sang solos for church events throughout her life. Her voice is quite powerful (i.e., loud), and I have inherited it (sadly to the annoyance of some people when singing next to me). She took some lessons later in life from an opera singer, whom she also paid to teach me a few lessons when I was a child. I took further lessons in the 80's and 90's from various classical teachers. As a result, I have a voice that now is hopelessly out of fashion. I feel rather like a castrato after the turn of the last century. At least my children still like to have me sing to them at bedtime. They will always be my favorite audience.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Curry

I'm sad to say my dh is not a curry fan. Even in chicken divan. Sigh.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Applying Montessori principles in our home, part 3

Chapter 7 of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline S. Lillard is about learning within meaningful contexts, which assists "learning by providing frameworks and motivation for the acquisition of new knowledge." (p. 256) Setting up learning experiences to be within meaningful contexts is part of Montessori's methods, but it can also be done in traditional schools. Obviously, it can be done very easily in a home setting: e.g., studying fractions while baking, researching botany for landscaping and gardening, learning civics and finance principles while doing the taxes, and composing letters to relatives that will actually be sent.

The next Montessori principle presented is the promotion of productive adult-child interaction styles. Studies suggest that child outcomes tend to be better where adults are sensitive to children's signals, interpret the signals correctly, and promptly respond to the signals in appropriate ways. The recommended parenting style is being "authoritative", a style characterized by high control (as opposed to permissiveness and neglect) in conjunction with high warmth (as opposed to being authoritarian or neglectful). The control should be tempered with an appropriate level of flexibility for older children and adolescents who can provide reasons for exceptions or changes to adults' rules. Montessori philosophy calls for giving children a great deal of freedom within certain limits, and Lillard presents this as consistent with an authoritative style. One of the most valuable insights I took away from this chapter is that adults need to be assiduous observers of children so they catch children's signals and respond promptly to them. It's a good thing our computer is in the room where our children usually play!

The last Montessori principle discussed in this book is order. In Montessori schools, the daily schedule is not ordered--the child has two three-hour blocks during which they are free to wander the classroom (or even over to another classroom) and choose what tasks they will engage in. However, each of the tasks is very ordered with specific steps to be accomplished in the dictated sequence. Montessori classrooms are intentionally clean, organized, and free of extraneous items, and the atmosphere is kept peaceful with just some quiet chatter or occasional classical music in the background. The Montessori curriculum is presented in a logical, coherent progression, an apparently unattainable goal in public schools in the USA which are always changing textbooks and dealing with students transferring in from all over the country. A lesson I learned in this chapter is that a flexible daily schedule is fine as long as I teach my daughter in an orderly fashion--no music with words or movies playing in the background while I am teaching her, a clean space at the table where we are working, an orderly and peaceful home, and adherence to a given curriculum for a decent length of time instead of being a curricula flibbertigibbet (of course, this means I have to do a lot of research before adopting a curriculum in order to be sure it's one we will want to stay with for a long time).

I recommend this book to parents and teachers looking for new insights in education and character development of children. Lillard doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but she is clearly very impressed with Montessori philosophy and practice and produces a great number of studies that support them. I am glad I read this book now as my children are still young enough for me to benefit from applying the insights I gained from it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Applying Montessori principles in our home, part 2

I finally finished reading Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, by Angeline S. Lillard. It is a meaty book filled with discussion of many interesting ideas and studies.

Chapter 6 deals with learning from peers. In Montessori schools, children are grouped together in 3-year age groupings (e.g., ages 3-6, 6-9, etc.), and they are free to interact with each other in constructive ways as they work on various learning tasks. The research cited by the author indicates that children are more likely to imitate peers than adults, so younger children gain by being able to observe and copy slightly older pupils. I've been amused to note how my dd3 wants to do everything she sees dd5 doing, so I don't doubt the research findings on this point. Unfortunately for children in traditional schools, they are nearly always with peers of exactly the same age until they hit high school, which means they have only each other to imitate instead of being regularly exposed to slightly older, more advanced children.

This chapter discusses peer tutoring, which is naturally part of a Montessori education as the pupils can interact and the teacher can't work with every student individually all the time. From the research presented, it appears that more effective tutoring happens when the tutoring is specific and structured (Montessori tasks are very structured) and done by peers who are just a bit more advanced than the tutees. Peer tutoring is something that is already being incorporated in traditional schools, but my impression from anecdotes and parental complaints over the years is that its usefulness in that setting is hindered by children's ego issues (at least where tutor and tutee are of the same age) and lack of mastery by the child tutor.

The last part of the chapter focuses on collaborative learning. I admit, I'm not a fan of collaborative learning for younger children. I recognize its usefulness when dealing with adults or advanced students who have learned some material on their own already, but I don't think younger pupils in traditional US schools have enough in their heads to make group work worth the time it takes. Perhaps my negative attitude towards group work comes from the first major group project I ever did, a "Pharaoh project" in my sixth grade class for which much of the grade came from making a life-size stuffed-pantyhose dummy of our assigned Pharaoh; I had a traumatic experience trying to make the stupid thing myself late at night only to realize when they were all displayed that most other groups had clearly had their Pharaohs made by mothers, not sixth graders. (Also, I got a "C" on the project, and that was after the mother of one of my team members remade the dummy. Grrr.) Or maybe my negative attitude towards collaborative learning comes from remembering how in school I often felt like I was doing most of the work for the group and wondering what the point was of other children receiving credit for work they didn't do and didn't understand.

Interestingly, according to Lillard, collaborative learning becomes more beneficial with age; she says it appears not to provide much benefit before age 5. Other factors that affect whether collaborative learning helps include children's level of usage of interpretive statements, readiness to learn the task being taught, and the degree of friendship among collaborators. The freedom of the Montessori class setup allows children to choose to work in self-chosen groups on tasks for which they are ready. However, traditional schools do not have this freedom, and Lillard reports that some studies have found that "performance under no-reward conditions is no better than in whole-class teaching arrangements." (p. 219) Since my oldest child is now five, I expect I will have the chance occasionally to observe her learning in self-chosen groups, and maybe I will grow to appreciate collaborative learning in such optimal conditions. For now, though, I am not bothered by the fact that as a mostly-homeschooled child, she will be spared regular, mandatory group projects for the next few years.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Love Languages

A very long time ago, I read a book about "love languages". It think it was The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The focus was on learning how your spouse expects love to be shown to them and then applying the insight to improve your marriage.

The five ways discussed are 1) praise, 2) quality time (paying attention to a spouse...novel concept!), 3) gifts, 4) service, and 5) physical touch. If there is a mismatch between how one person expects to be loved and how the person trying to show love does so, then hurt feelings will likely result. In my opinion, this principle is applicable in all relationships, not just in marriages.

I saw long ago how one sibling's failure to understand this contributed to worsen her relationship with our mother. This sibling tried to make amends for the lacks she perceived in my mother's life, first with a diamond ring (my father had never bought my mother one), and then with a huge gift basket full of color-themed toiletries (I doubt my mother has had a bubble bath in over 30 years). My mother likes gifts, but not expensive, relatively useless ones, so she didn't appreciate the gifts the way my sibling thought she should. My sibling was very hurt and thought my mother horribly unappreciative. What was intended to create happiness backfired because the giver didn't know or just didn't pay attention to how the actual recipient would feel about the items.

As Easter approaches, I've been thinking that I need to find an Easter card to send to dh's mother. After a few years of marriage, I realized she was sending us cards at Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter, as well as a few other random occasions. Since I don't care that much for cards (but my daughters like them, especially if they come with stickers attached), I didn't understand why she sent us so many of them. But on consideration, I believe that cards are something she considers a true expression of love and would therefore like to receive more of herself. Thus, even though I'm not "into" holiday greetings, I make the effort to send them to her because I genuinely do love her and want her to feel loved in a way she appreciates.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Homeschool Carnival is up

I'm grateful for the homeschool carnivals because they expose me to a variety of philosophies and approaches to teaching at home. This week's carnival is up at Homeschool Bytes.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Applying Montessori principles in our home, part 1

I've been reading Montessori: The Science behind the Genius by Angeline S. Lillard. It pulls together various studies to determine how some of Maria Montessori's educational philosophies have been validated by recent science. The eight principles covered in the book are the following (from p. 29):

1) that movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning;
2) that learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives;
3) that people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning;
4) that tying extrinsic rewards to an activity, like money for reading or high grades for tests, negatively impacts motivation to engage in the activity when the reward is withdrawn;
5) that collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning;
6) that learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts;
7) that particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes; and
8) that order in the environment is beneficial to children.

It's fairly easy to apply the first principle in our own home--dd5 moves around a lot, so I let her. No school desks here. Any written lessons requiring a table are done while we sit (sometimes standing or wiggling for her) in various positions at the coffee table. I only admonish her to stay still when she has a word to read and, due to wiggling, is not even looking in the direction of the book. She must have a lot of excess energy, so why not let her move her body? It's not like she is disrupting a classroom full of other students.

The discussion of studies showing increased interest in and performance of freely-chosen activities was eye-opening. I am going to increase the amount's of choice in dd5's day. Until now, I've been requiring a small amount of formal academic time in the morning before she is free to choose her own activities. She used to be happily energetic in learning during that time, but she has definitely been losing motivation to work for even twenty minutes. So today I put the schoolbooks out on the table and didn't force her to do the work. As a result, she has only done her work in one of the four subject areas so far. It's only 11:30 a.m., though. I'll gently suggest we do the rest of the work throughout the day and see how that goes. In the meantime, she has dusted the living room (of her own initiative), read a story to dd3, made a tent, and started cutting up a box to make a boat.

The third principle helps me understand why "unschooling" can be so effective. While I accept as a premise that people learn better when they're interested in a subject, I think the studies cited here didn't adequately take into account the contribution of prior knowledge to learning performance. Knowing something about a subject both lessens the amount of working memory required to process new information about that subject and seems to increase the likelihood of finding that subject interesting. After all, don't your eyes skim right over headlines that deal with places you've never been and topics you've never learned about? Mine do. In helping my daughters obtain good educations, I need to make sure that--regardless of interest level--they have wide exposure to all kinds of topics, and then I should let them seek deep subject matter knowledge about subjects they find interesting.

I am still in the middle of the chapter on the fourth principle, but I am finding lots of food for thought. Apparently, rewards and evaluation tend to negatively impact motivation and performance. While I'm happy to see that I don't need to feel guilty for not giving my children gold star stickers for accomplishing tasks, I realize now that I could do even less to artificially motivate (i.e., bribe) them. Another interesting concept is that I actually hinder my children's learning to mastery by interrupting their work to praise, evaluate or even observe them.
Montessori said

Praise, help, or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him, or destroy the activity. It seems a strange thing to say, but this can happen even if the child merely becomes aware of being watched....The great principle which brings success to the teacher is this: as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist.

I know I always hated to have my mother listen to me practice singing when I was internally motivated to sing a piece well. Her compliments were just as unwelcome as her constructive criticism--after all, I wasn't doing it for her. I think I need to apply that lesson to my own mothering style by being more "hands-off".

Recipe to try

I love curry made with coconut milk. I pulled out the crockpot recently to make a dish my husband loves - rice, kielbasa, and cream of mushroom soup. Since there are leftovers of that dish, I'm going to indulge my own curry appetite (one not shared by dh) with this Crockpot Thai Curry recipe Monday night. Mmmm.

Update: I made it, and it didn't turn out very well. Too much eggplant, I think. Or else the coconut milk was too thin? Sigh.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Again, juice isn't the problem

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages daily linked to diabetes. My mom always gave us milk, water or 100% juice to drink. So far none of us are diabetic. :) Good job, mom.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A challenge


Try not to laugh at this.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Very cool

According to this, 'World's Most Useful Tree' Provides Low-Cost Water Purification Method For Developing World, there is a simple help to the problem of dirty surface water right under people's noses in many areas of the world where too many people still die because of lack of clean water:
A low-cost water purification technique published in Current Protocols in Microbiology could help drastically reduce the incidence of waterborne disease in the developing world. The procedure, which uses seeds from the Moringa oleifera tree, can produce a 90.00% to 99.99% bacterial reduction in previously untreated water, and has been made free to download as part of access programs under John Wiley & Sons' Corporate Citizenship Initiative.

"Moringa oleifera is a vegetable tree which is grown in Africa, Central and South America, the Indian subcontinent, and South East Asia. It could be considered to be one of the world's most useful trees," said Lea. "Not only is it drought resistant, it also yields cooking and lighting oil, soil fertilizer, as well as highly nutritious food in the form of its pods, leaves, seeds and flowers. Perhaps most importantly, its seeds can be used to purify drinking water at virtually no cost."

This is yet another reason why we need to be careful to prevent species extinction. Who knows what uses may yet be found for the many, many kinds of plants out there?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reading instruction instruction

According to the National Reading Panel, there are five primary components of reading instruction:
1) Phonemic awareness,
2) Phonics,
3) Fluency,
4) Vocabulary, and
5) Comprehension.

A good discussion of these components is found here on the National Institute of Child Health and Development website. Another website that I've learned from is BalancedReading.com; unfortunately, the website's author inexplicably disses synthetic phonics, but he has useful information on other elements of reading instruction.

I've already given dd5 a good start on reading, and she now reads books to herself on a daily basis. Looking back on what we have done, I see how I have been addressing all five components above with her even while I thought I was just "doing phonics"--
1) For phonemic awareness, I sing her an "ABC Song" nightly, a unique version each time, e.g., "A is for anteater, B is for bear, C is for calculator, D is for diaper, E is for eclectic, F is for Frank, etc."; her phonemic awareness has also been promoted by the games and activities on the Starfall website and a "lift-the-flap" Phonics book.
2) For explicit phonics instruction, we have been slowly working our way through Reading with Phonics (my mother, a former schoolteacher, gave it to me). The Starfall website has also been helpful in teaching dd5 phonics.
3) Fluency is gained through "practice, practice, practice", and that's what we do by reading and rereading favorite books--something we have done since she was a baby--and repeated reading of sentences and paragraphs in our phonics book that she didn't read fluently the first time around. I don't teach "sight words"; in fact, I consider the memorization thereof to be a waste of time (nearly all "sight words" can be sounded out mostly or completely) and potentially confusing. As she practices reading, she naturally memorizes words she sees repeatedly, and she learns the words in varied contexts, which contributes to development of her vocabulary.
4) I build her vocabulary by exposing her to a wide range of subjects via books, videos, and conversation. When we come across a word she doesn't know in any book she's reading (including the phonics textbook), I tell her what the word means. Sometimes I get carried away and start talking about vowel shifts in words borrowed long ago from old French or German, but she's tolerant of my linguistic meanderings.
5) I work on comprehension by talking with her about what she has read or watched. This is an area where a homeschooling parent has a huge advantage over a schoolteacher. One-on-one instruction means we can tell when our child doesn't really comprehend something and can immediately respond with activities targeted to help her understand a written or spoken text. In a group setting, it's easy to get away with not understanding something. I sat through many lectures in college that I didn't understand, and usually the professors had no clue that I was wallowing.

According to this report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, only 15% of the college/university education schools surveyed actually teach future elementary teachers about all five components of reading instruction. That is discouraging since these five components do not seem like they should be overly controversial or difficult to discuss, and it only fuels distrust of education schools generally. On the bright side for homeschooling parents who are sometimes questioned about their "credentials" to teach their children, by perusing my blog post and the linked material, you have likely learned more about teaching reading than over 80% of recent education school graduates. Isn't that reassuring?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

La ironía

Hugo Chavez, the hombre who gives expansive meaning to the word "windbag", was holding a press conference when the power went out at the Palacio de Miraflores (official workplace of the president of Venezuela). Apparently he was talking about George W. Bush when the power went out. Um, Hugo, GWB has been out of office and living quietly in Texas for the last year or so. Perhaps you should address more pressing matters...like domestic infrastructure maintenance and upgrades?

Music notation aid

Yesterday I combined two songs from my church's hymnbook in a voice/violin arrangement. It took me about two hours using a great website I just discovered--Noteflight. It is a user-friendly online music notation tool that will store versions of your piece, play the different staves in a selection of music instruments, and insert text wherever you need it. Oh, and it's free! I highly recommend this if you have any composing needs.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Theft

Someone recently stole our bike trailer from our mostly enclosed porch, and we just noticed it today. It's depressing to think that people would steal a used bike trailer from a family that clearly is raising little children in modest circumstances. Of all ten commandments, I think "Do not steal" is one of the clearest and one of the most violated. And I really wish we'd thought more defensively (i.e., chains and padlocks for things we didn't want to lose) a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oldest temple yet found

Here's a fascinating look at the excavation of the oldest temple yet--"Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?". It predates Stonehenge by millenia, and there's more time between it's construction and the Sumerians than there is between the Sumerians and us! Because archeological evidence found thus far indicates it was built by a hunter-gatherer society instead of an agricultural one, it's changing views on how civilizations come into being:
To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.

The immensity of the undertaking at Gobekli Tepe reinforces that view. Schmidt says the monuments could not have been built by ragged bands of hunter-gatherers. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago. "This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later," says Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who excavated Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement 300 miles from Gobekli Tepe. "You can make a good case this area is the real origin of complex Neolithic societies."

I would love to tour these ruins someday!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Surprise - Adults are role models.

According to this article, Children Don't Trust Each Other When It Comes To Learning The Rules, children believe and follow adults more readily than other children. Given our concepts of authority figures and role models, the outcome of their study is what I would expect.
Dr Rakoczy said: "The results from our study suggest that children prefer to learn from adults rather than other children when it comes to rule-governed activities like learning a new game. They also expect other people to learn and perform actions in the way that the adults do, demonstrated by the expectation that the puppet would also follow the adult actor's actions and not the boy's."
"These findings tell us that young children will accept adult's behaviour as being right, and that adults behaviour should be followed. This could have implications for wider social learning of both good and bad behaviour."

As the primary adults in our children's lives, my husband and I have the greatest responsibility of all in teaching and modeling good behavior for our children. Not to sound like a broken record, but I am very glad that I can stay home and be the primary caretaker of my own children.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The power of exponential growth

A Jewish woman recently passed away who had 2000 living descendants! The story is here. I like how the story points out that her numerous progeny is a thumb in the eye of the Nazi regime, which tried to kill her off at Bergen-Belsen. Next time either of my parents speaks with pride of their 30+ grandchildren, I'll tell them about Yitta to keep them humble. :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I LOVE this ad.

This commercial has had me and dh in stitches!

Enjoy. :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Addressing the real issue

Here is a Forbes article addressing the low percentage of women in corporate leadership positions. Instead of mistakenly blaming the small number of women CEO's on current sexism, it focuses on the real cause of women not making it to the top: motherhood.
Our survey results reveal that women tend to make many more compromises to their career paths than do their male partners. They are nearly twice as likely to take a flexible career path or a leave of absence and three times as likely to work part-time. The majority of promotion processes and career paths thus have a built-in biological bias, linked to the time women take off for having and rearing children. Some estimates show that more than 90% of women want to return but only 40% can find full-time jobs.

As a State Department employee for nearly five years, I ran into problems with its internal employee ranking system because of my first pregnancy. After my nine-week maternity leave, I was forced to go back to work full-time. The fact that the government was footing the bill to have me posted overseas meant that I couldn't work part-time. I understood that and was OK with it. But then, because employee evaluations are not allowed to include information about health issues, I was hurt professionally later by having one lackluster employee evaluation from the time when I was pregnant and on leave. It's difficult to do impressive things in your job when you're about to give birth or at home with a newborn, but no explanation of my health "problems" was allowed in my evaluation. Despite being "neutral", the system actually worked against me as I think it works against all mothers by not taking into account a temporary change in workplace productivity typical of females only.
I am curious to see the efficacy of some of the authors' ideas--not penalizing employees for taking more time to reach professional milestones after having children, encouraging stop-and-start career paths to the top--to facilitate women in progressing in their careers following the disruption of having children. Will those ideas help me at all a decade or two down the road or will I never have a full-time professional job again because of my decision to stay home now with little ones? I don't want credit for time I didn't work, but I don't want it to count against me that I'm much older than similarly-experienced and similarly-capable people who didn't take more time off to be with their own offspring. (I don't want to get into the "mommy wars"; it's simply that daycare during most of my children's waking hours is an unacceptable option for me.) I'm just one person, but given how many highly educated women we have now in our country, it seems a colossal waste of resources to perpetuate career structures that prevent women from returning to leadership-track employment once they are ready to return full-time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

No wonder Finnish kids do so well in school...

According to this Medical News Today article, A Crucial Tool In English Language Development: Reading To Our Children, there are other languages that don't require parental support at home in order for the kids to learn to read:
Georgiou notes that students are able to learn to read faster in languages such as Greek and Finnish, because there is one-to-one correspondence between a letter and its sounds. This difference with English, he says, implies that Greek or Finnish parents do not need to read as frequently to their children to give them an edge on learning the language. Simply put, Greek or Finnish children will eventually learn to read regardless of how rich the home literacy environment may be.

That's so unfair. How can we get English to have one-to-one correspondence? Dropping the letter "c" would probably be a good start. Still, having mastered English myself, I don't want to give it up. It's pretty.

Homeschool Carnival

The Carnival of Homeschooling was just posted today at Small World @ Home. There are many worthwhile submissions to peruse.

Monday, February 15, 2010

NurtureShock chapter "The Inverse Power of Praise"

Nurtureshock, the book I mentioned in a previous post, has so much interesting information for those who interact with children and youth. The first chapter discusses how constantly praising a child in an effort to build his self-esteem can backfire. For instance, praising children for being "smart" causes them to be afraid to take risks when confronted with challenging problems; it's far better to praise them for their effort so that they realize they can tackle difficult exercises without having their self-esteem in doubt.
"Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control," [Dr. Carol Dweck] explains. "They naturally come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure."

Junior high students who were taught how intelligence is not innate (i.e., they spent 50 minutes learning about how the brain grows new neurons when challenged) improved their study habits and grades.
It appears the self-esteem movement has been less effective than anticipated. A former proponent of self-esteem has concluded in light of the studies done on the subject that having high self-esteem did not improve grades or career achievement or reduce violence and alcohol usage. There is evidence for the helpfulness of specific, sincere praise, but general praise by adults is often viewed by youth as a sign that they are lacking in ability and need encouragement. Unfortunately, they have found that overpraised kids become "more competitive and interested in tearing other down" because "[i]mage maintenance becomes their primary concern."
One of the authors notes that he realized he was giving his child nonspecific praise as a way of expressing unconditional love. He changed to giving specific praise after finding out about the negative effects of praise. I learned a while back that telling a child that she is "smart" often leads to perfectionism and failure to achieve in the child, so I've been careful to not say that. Now I will be even more confident in the specific praise I give my daughters and when I want to express my love for them, I will just hug them and say "I love you very much." Might as well say what I mean. :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

NurtureShock chapter "Plays Well With Others"

Last night I finished reading a fascinating book, NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It discusses several assumptions and ideas currently in vogue in child rearing and how research disproves them. One chapter, "Plays Well With Others", discusses how we try to instill good social skills in our children. Especially interesting to homeschoolers, who have to field questions about whether their children are missing out on socialization, is the following paragraph (p. 194):
We thought that aggressiveness was the reaction to peer rejection, so we have painstakingly attempted to eliminate peer rejection from the childhood experience. In its place is elaborately orchestrated peer interaction. We've created the play date phenomenon, while ladening older kids' schedules with after-school activities. We've segregated children by age--building separate playgrounds for the youngest children, and stratifying classes and teams. Unwittingly, we've put children into an echo chamber. Today's average middle schooler has a phenomenal 299 peer interactions a day. The average teen spends sixty hours a week surrounded by a peer groups (and only sixteen hours a week surrounded by adults). This has created the perfect atmosphere for a different strain of aggression-virus to breed--one fed not by peer rejection, but fed by the need for peer status and social ranking. The more time peers spend together, the stronger this compulsion is to rank high, resulting in the hostility of one-upmanship. All those lessons about sharing and consideration can hardly compete. We wonder why it takes twenty years to teach a child how to conduct himself in polite society--overlooking the fact that we've essentially left our children to socialize themselves.

I describe myself sometimes as a part-time homeschooler because I take my child to a public school enrichment program (art, music, and PE with other homeschooled children) for seven hours each week. From what I read and see around me, most homeschooled children do get out and spend time in group learning environments on a regular basis. It seems then that these homeschooled children are getting socialization. They're just not getting too much socialization. This seems to be another one of those issues where going to extremes is a bad thing--zero hours a week with peers prevents development of peer social skills needed for current happiness and later interaction in the adult world, but 60 hours a week with peers sabotages parental efforts to teach, among other things, consideration and kindness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Malaysian homeschooler

Taking the Homeschool Leap - IslamOnline.net - Family. This is a fascinating article because of the similarities between her motivations and those of many in the USA. My favorite quote:
I would not hand my car over to another person five days a week. Thus, leaving my absorbent sponges with teachers who I do not know personally, and who were not going to get to know my children personally — no further than the grade they were going to achieve at the end of the year — is no longer an option. I realize that educating my children is the most precious gift I have received besides my children themselves.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Carcinogens form from third-hand smoke

From Science Daily, Carcinogens form from third-hand smoke. This is seriously disgusting. I remember getting some free clothes and toys from a family through craigslist a couple of years ago. When I arrived at their house to pick up the items, I realized that they were heavy smokers. I washed the clothes repeatedly, and I washed and air-dryed the toys. Even after weeks outside, the doll hair still stunk of old tobacco smell. I finally had to give away all the stinky toys. Good thing I did, as according to this article the smoke residue was dangerous to my children's health.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Good Examples

If you want to do good in this world, then watch uplifting things more often. According to this study, watching others perform a virtuous deed makes someone more likely to exhibit altruistic, pro-social behavior. Not a huge surprise, but good to see confirmed in our modern era of sadly unheroic celebrities.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Australia as Oz

Last night we finished watching Australia with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Because we watched it over three nights (it takes a while to get our little ones in bed), I had lots of time to mull over the parallels between Australia and The Wizard of Oz. The films are intentionally connected; Australia characters sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", talk about the story of The Wizard of Oz and watch it at a movie theater, and even quote The Wizard of Oz. "Oz" is an established nickname for Australia, and in Strictly Ballroom--another Baz Luhrmann film--one of the actors wears a shirt that says "Oz" in the only scene where he wears something other than a dance costume shirt. Here are some parallels I noted:

1) The first "Dorothy" is Lady Sarah Ashley, arriving by air from a distant land (England) in Oz (Australia) to find the Witch of the East (her philandering husband, hoodwinked by the evil Neil Fletcher) dead and then filling his shoes as the force behind the cattle drove that will save their cattle ranch.
2) The yellow brick road is the path they take on the cattle drove. Part of their journey even takes them across a desert area where the ground is parched and so looks brick-like.
3) Kipling Flynn is the Cowardly Lion, large, good-hearted, and initially scared to tell Lady Ashley some unpleasant information but finally exhibiting great courage just before his death.
4) The Tin Man is the Drover, who lost his heart when his first wife died and realizes eventually that he is in love again.
5) The evening they drink alcohol on the drove is a reference to the deadly poppy field.
6) Darwin is the Emerald City--home of most of the people in Oz and where they need to get to in order to sell the cattle, after which sale Lady Ashley intends to go home.
7) The soapy water used to kill the Wicked Witch of the West is represented by the rain in which a drunken Fletcher stumbles and falls when he gets his first comeuppance, which is brought about by Lady Ashley. The rain also brings life and love to the land, though, as rain is often a symbol for life and passion in movies (hello, Cinema Paradiso?).
8) The Scarecrow is Drover's aborigine brother-in-law, who after being silent or silly for most of the movie, finally finds his voice and tells Drover some insightful home truths.
9) The second "Dorothy" is the half-aborigine boy Nullah, who is forced to go to a Christian mission to have the aborigine taken out of him. He finally returns to his own country (the outback) as he leaves civilization--including his shoes, which he throws off last of all as a reference to the ruby slippers--to join the Wizard (his witch doctor aborigine grandfather) to do his walkabout.

I'm sure there are even more parallels than the ones above, but I'll leave you to find them should you feel like watching Australia now. I close with these words from Kidman's and Jackman's characters:
"Let's go home."
"There's no plice like it."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Judge Orders Seattle Math Curriculum Review

Ever since I was introduced to discovery math as a tutor at my college's math lab, I've been against it because it is inefficient at teaching basic algorithms and wide application thereof and relies too heavily on unguided group work. Maybe some junior Newtons out there want to "discover" calculus on their own, but most people just want to get what they need for life out of their math classes and can't afford tutors to make up for curriculum shortcomings. Good for the judge in this case!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Science Curriculum Considerations

When looking into science resources, I try to be careful to avoid dogma, be it evolutionary or creationist. Why does every Nature show have to mention the word evolution 500 times? It gets a little ridiculous. On the creationist side, I believe God created the world, but I don't believe he has told us exactly how he did it. I'm not going to buy my children textbooks that beat a steady drumbeat of "This is an apple seed/porpoise/moon/widget, and God created it out of absolutely nothing less than seven thousand years ago." Yes, I'm exaggerating both sides a little. Still, I don't want to instill dogmatic attitudes in my children when it comes to the hard sciences, and I exclude some science texts and shows from our curriculum for that reason.

In my opinion, science is about not having all the answers and being humble enough to realize that while searching for verifiable, physical truths. If along the way, we have theories that seem adequate, then we learn them and apply them, but we must be ready to discard those theories at a moment's notice once. History has shown us how many times scientific theories have been disproven--for example, geocentrism, phlogiston, Newton's laws of motion (they don't hold up when dealing with quantum physics or relativity), ether, and primordial soup. What? You didn't know about that last one. Yes, folks, after 80 years, now they tell us that life didn't begin with fermentation in a primordial soup but rather chemiosmosis. That's a lot of textbooks to update.

My favorite science resources for my young girls at this time are The Magic School Bus, the All About series for K-4th grade by Schlessinger Media, and miscellaneous children's science books from the public library. These resources present interesting, generally-accepted scientific facts but leave out "soapbox"-type commentary. We'll take the facts and shape our own worldviews, thank you!

New Milestone

Dd-3Months just hit a new milestone: she can roll over. Unfortunately for her, we discovered she possessed this skill as she rolled off the bed. So glad we have carpet!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"I can read!"

Words a homeschooling mom loves to hear from her emergent reader. :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Math Slowdown

Dd5 went from doing 3 or 4 math workbook pages (we're using BJU's Math K5) to needing hand-holding to get through just one page. The stumbling block for her is understanding and using numbers over 20. She had gotten used to counting being very easy because she did several small workbooks that never required her to count past 20. Now when faced with counting 30+ little objects, she gets squirrelly and turns to me saying, "Mommy, let's not do this one." Of course, skipping everything that challenges her is not an option, but it is a sign that we need to slow down a little until she's comfortable with larger numbers.

One thing I did to address the issue is write the numbers 1-100 on a piece of paper on our kitchen wall. In the past, while I brushed her hair, we traded off counting numbers until I got through her snarls. But I recently cut her hair, so it doesn't take much time to brush it now. I will have to find other opportunities to count with her. Also, I need to pull down Chutes and Ladders and play it with her a few times this week. Yes, it's a boring game for me...that's just one of the sacrifices a parent makes. :) In the meantime, the next chapter in her math book is beginning addition, so I expect her confidence and enjoyment of math to spring right back.

I love how flexible I can be in response to my daughter's needs. It must be so hard as a schoolteacher to deal with 20-30 children's different knowledge gaps.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Interesting research on children

Here's some interesting research done recently on 5 to 7 year old children to see whether they were aware of how their emotional and physical states and surroundings would affect their schoolwork. This paragraph summarizes their findings:
They found that children of all ages understood that negative emotional and physical states would lead to poorer school performance. The fact that young children knew that negative emotions could cause poor school performance was especially surprising, since parents and teachers often focus on the physical side of getting ready for school (hence the advice to get lots of rest or eat a good breakfast), and rarely talk about the emotional side (for example, advising children to try not to feel sad). The researchers also found that children understood that levels of interest, effort, and classroom noise would affect performance.

I'll have to put more effort into lessening the negative emotional states that occasionally attend my morning "school" sessions with dd5.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's not like a woman is going to eat steak at such a time...

Here's a recent metastudy stating that there's no benefit now to preventing women in labor from eating and drinking.
Study authors analyzed 11 studies, which included five randomized controlled trials that incorporated 3,130 women who were in active labor and at low risk of needing anesthesia. Tranmer said the review found "no benefit" to restricting oral food and fluid during labor. However, the authors acknowledged that they found relatively few studies to analyze.

Honestly, what are they afraid we're going to eat? A full-course meal? Most laboring women are kind of busy breathing and coping with labor pains, aren't they? In my three labors, I've eaten some food just before going to the hospital so that I didn't have to labor while starving (with number #3, I finished my large chocolate Frosty just before checking into the birthing unit--I was a fairly happy camper until transition began), and once I've been at the hospital, I haven't wanted to eat. Some water and maybe light juice, yes, and maybe even chewing gum. But heavy food was not appealing to me once labor really got going; I was focused instead on bringing a baby into the world in just a few hours (and updating my Facebook status via the hospital's wireless internet connection, this last time ;) ). I would like to see all hospitals lift blanket restrictions on food and drink during labor and exercise some common sense about a laboring woman's need to intake calories to keep up her strength.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Good news!

The German homeschooling family that sought asylum in the USA has received it! Here's the link to the Guardian's piece on it. A German diplomat responded to the immigration ruling:
The German consul general for the southeastern US said in a statement that mandatory school attendance ensures a high education standard for all children, adding that parents have many educational options.

Sure, rich parents have many educational options. For the not-so-well-heeled Volk like us, home schooling is often our best alternative to a public school environment and/or curriculum that doesn't meet the needs of our children. There are other ways to ensure a high education standard for all children without forcing them all to sit in a classroom. How odd that a fairly tech-savvy nation like Germany should be so clueless about the availability and efficacy of online classes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Curriculum addition

Dd5 now does geography four days a week. We are using the first Maps, Charts, Graphs workbook and doing just one lesson (two pages) each day. We don't actually own the book; it's on loan from a homeschool resource library. Because we are only borrowing it, we don't consume the workbook pages. I just ask her the questions on the pages, and she answers them orally. It's a quick, painless, and fun way of introducing maps as a study subject. It must be working. She just drew a "map" yesterday of her own initiative. I can't wait for our next road trip to see if she'll actually understand those pretty road maps I throw her way!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Head Banging

I'm getting old. I was at a dance tonight and just before we left, they played "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi. I did a little head banging and hurt my neck. I came home, took Tylenol, and looked up the medical consequences of head banging. I found this study online. I'm suspicious as to how serious the authors are, though, because of the following excerpts:
Though exposure to head banging is enormous, opportunities are present to control this risk—for example, encouraging bands such as AC/DC to play songs like "Moon River" as a substitute for "Highway to H---"; public awareness campaigns with influential and youth focused musicians, such as Sir Cliff Richard; labelling of music packaging with anti-head banging warnings, like the strategies used with cigarettes; training; and personal protective equipment.
...
Possible interventions to reduce the risk of injury caused by head banging include limiting the range of neck motion through a formal training programme delivered before a concert; substitution of adult oriented rock and easy listening music such as the controls, or others including Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Enya, and Richard Clayderman, for heavy metal; and personal protective equipment such as neck braces to limit range of motion.
"Moon River"? Suuuuuurrrre.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Miscellaneous

Cool tech news: solar shingles might be affordable soon.

Movie Reviews:
The Prestige - too many murders, but interesting for the period piece aspect of it and the actors in it.
Star Trek - fun reboot, but I have a hard time accepting Sylar as the new Spock.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cookbooks

I just watched Julie & Julia last night. The movie didn't particularly please me (c'mon, what Foreign Service spouse complains about being posted in Marseilles or Bonn when they could have been sent to Africa?!), but the concept of cooking one's way through a cookbook is pretty cool. I'll bet Julie could easily whip up French dishes after the year in which she completed over 500 French cooking recipes.

I think I'll do it. I'll cook everything in a cookbook, reserving the right to tinker with the recipes when necessary or convenient. I'm not a recipe Nazi. I won't set a one-year limit, nor will I choose such a large cookbook. I'm torn between this Ecuadorian cookbook and a free food storage cookbook that someone put on their blog.

Epigenetics article

Here is an interesting article about epigenetics. It makes me wish I'd eaten better my whole life, especially during the last six or seven years.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Boston Tea Party

OK, this Washington Post columnist is either dishonest or clueless to immediately deny that the Massachusetts election result tonight is not a referendum on the health care bill. If you're interested in my opinion on the subject, anything that doesn't act to discourage tort lawsuits with their resultant malpractice insurance costs and defensive medicine practices is an incomplete bill and should not be passed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ni Hao, Kai-Lan review

I'm not a fan and I don't recommend it. Ni Hao, Kai-Lan supposedly supports preschoolers in social and emotional development. However, I noticed it made my children hyperactive and easier to upset, and they behaved quite a bit worse than usual after watching it. And, Ni Hao, Kai-Lan is even more annoying than Dora (yes, it's possible). Stick to Blue's Clues if you want happy, well-behaved children. That is a GREAT show.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another reason to lose the TV

Prolonged TV Viewing Linked To Higher Risk Of Death Even In Regular Exercisers. Is being up on the latest "reality" show worth cutting short your own reality?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Geek Shortage

Oh, no, DARPA says we have a geek shortage in this country! I'm more sympathetic to what people say in the comments: it doesn't seem like there's much of a shortage when American programmers are unable to find work and companies prefer to bring in foreign (i.e. "desperate to escape their home country's lack of economic opportunity and social nets and so willing to accept much lower salaries") employees. Work visas distort our domestic labor market. If the U.S. government wants more U.S. citizen programmers, they shouldn't assist in giving away the non-government programming jobs to non U.S. citizens. (I won't get into the outsourcing issue, though, because I don't think the federal government should get involved in trying to "fix" it; there's a limit to how much a U.S. company can outsource and still turn out a good, timely product.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Silver Lining

We watched the pilot for the Knight Rider reboot series on Hulu last night. We weren't terribly impressed. It seemed more like a soap opera than we expected or wanted. All the younger adults in it looked like models, not like the FBI agents/linguists/scientist geeks they're supposed to be. My husband was able to point out one positive thing about the series: finally, Val Kilmer is not going to be French kissing onscreen...he does K.I.T.T.'s voice!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling

The homeschool carnival is up here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Foreign Language Instruction in our Home

Second language acquisition is a weighty topic in our home. As newlyweds, our first major spat was a difference in opinion on how best to teach a foreign language. My husband, who was studying to be a German teacher at the time, believed that the best way was immersion and practice. I, based on my own experience learning four other languages, felt that he was missing the boat and that students needed to start with much explicit instruction in grammar and vocabulary in order to actually "learn" a foreign language and be able to use it properly. Believe it or not, we really fought over this. Most couples prefer to fight about money and housework!

Fast forward eight years...dh speaks German to our children all the time. I occasionally read to them in German, put on German cartoons, and use German when speaking to them or their dad. They understand German fairly well, but have yet to speak it regularly. There is some progress in that dd5 has learned that the best way to get her father to do what she wants is to ask for it in her cute low-level German; he can't resist her "Vati, bitte...."

Clearly, continued effort is necessary to help them gain fluency in German. We just got a free upgrade in our internet speed, so we have started watching German-language TV programs at home. I bought a 1965 German reading book called with Fun with German that my husband can use to teach her how to read German once she's well on her way to English reading proficiency. And I plan to teach her German and English grammar and vocabulary explicitly once she manages reading in both languages.

I don't fight with dh now now about language learning. We each teach our children according to our own opinions, and we have time to do it because we homeschool. Chalk up a point for family harmony and hopefully another one for eventual German fluency for our children, too!

STOP

A Crestone opinion forum.

Crestone, Colorado

Our family just spent two nights in Crestone, Colorado, a little town in southern Colorado just north of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Crestone area attracts "spiritual tourism" because of the several meditation and retreat centers there--Buddhist, Zen, Hindu, and even a Carmelite monastery. Crestone town is very tiny, taking up only about 8 blocks. It does have a few stop signs, though, and the locals appear to consider them a forum for expressing themselves, be they full of new age hopefulness ("Stop being afraid") or feeling political ("Impeach Bush!"). I took a picture of one of the stop signs and will post it later.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince review

...in haiku:

Slow darkness misting
Persistent worries, shadows
of fate and courage.

A very impressionistic movie. Read the book first, and don't try to watch it if you're tired.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Will she be a programmer?

With my third child, now a big 11 weeks old, I've kept myself occupied during nighttime feedings by reading things on the internet. My precious little daughter now expects her to be fed and held while bathed in blue rays from the computer (I do turn the screen brightness WAY down). She even likes to be held so she can watch the screen sometimes. Does that mean that her "comfort occupation" as an adult will be one involving spending hours looking at text-intensive content? In short, will she be a programmer? Or turn to blogging like her mom? The world could use more cute bloggers. :D

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Driver's Plea

Please, oh, please turn into the proper lane! You can always switch lanes later, and you're less likely to hit someone who thought the coast was clear.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Similar theme in 2 very different books

While at my brother's house in Oklahoma, I picked up one of his paperbacks, Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, in which a Vietnam veteran loses his girlfriend to a vicious drug dealer and proceeds to "clean up" Baltimore's streets as he seeks revenge. Then yesterday, I read the very popular teen fiction book, The Hunger Games, in which a girl is forced to fight to the death against other teenagers in a "game" set up by political overlords to keep the people of outlying districts painfully aware of their status as subjects.

Both books deal with the issue of when it is justified to kill another person. Not a pleasant subject, and one I hope never to have to grapple with personally. I preferred the way this question was answered in The Hunger Games, where the author demonstrates how killing done to protect a vulnerable, innocent other from imminent death can take place without any subsequent guilt. In Without Remorse, the protagonist's decisions to end others' lives are not so clearly justified, and I do not feel that he was a hero or a model of good, or even acceptable, morality; he seemed far more motivated by a desire for vengeance than a desire to protect present and future drug addicts. I cannot accept vigilante justice in a place that has functional police and courts.

We must never be casual about inflicting violence on anyone, but there do exist circumstances which justify the use of deadly force. I support the U.S. Constitution's right to "bear arms" because people need to be able to protect themselves and others from deadly force wielded by criminals. The police can't be everywhere, and there are evil people who seek out "soft" (undefended) targets all over the world. When we stop them from intentionally killing innocent people (yes, I saw the memorial of the Oklahoma City bombing while I was there over Christmas break), we do a good thing.