Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reading Progress

Dd5 and I took a break for a couple of weeks or so from reading lessons. They weren't much fun, for she wasn't remembering some simple things such as the word "the." This afternoon, we finally had a formal lesson (#43 from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and she did much, much better than either she or I anticipated. Where did this pleasant progress come from?

I think we owe it mostly to the Leapfrog Letter/Talking Word/Storybook Factory videos. Those are a terrific resource for children just figuring out the letter-sound code and how to apply their new knowledge. We own some Leapfrog letter fridge magnets, so dd5 and dd2 have been playing with them after watching the videos.

The concept of digraphs has started to really sink in for dd5. Previously she would see "sh" and say "ssss""hhh" nearly every time no matter how often I reminded her that "sh" says "sh." I suspect a few minutes of looking at this old toy, which we just had sitting around in a toybox, helped her realize that it's OK not to break the letters apart when looking at certain letter combinations:

Kiddicraft alphabet toy with 4 of most common English digraphs
The technical name for two letters representing one sound is "digraph." The most common consonant digraphs in English are "ch," "sh," "th," "ph," and "wh," per this phonics website. Note that four of those five digraphs are presented to the children on the Kiddicraft toy pictured above. How great is that! And it's not a fancy-schmancy electronic toy, so I don't have to worry about it running out of battery power. Even the hornbooks used for centuries didn't explicitly teach digraphs.

Traditional hornbook example, sold by Plimouth Plantation
Sadly, the Kiddicraft Flip-up Learning Center is only available used, but if you want one, it appears on eBay sometimes for a reasonable price. I think I found ours at a local thrift store a few years ago.

(I make no money from product placement in my blog posts. I'm just sharing things that I've found helpful.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Great Sand Dunes National Park

We had a terrific field trip yesterday. It was a bit of a drive but so worth it. We went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado. The weather was very nice. It was a warm day for autumn in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, so we were able to play in the sand--some wet and some dry--while taking in the golden aspens, snow-capped peaks, and the beautiful sky of the San Luis valley.

Autumn in the San Luis valley

My children insisted on completing the Jr. Ranger program and getting their Jr. Ranger badges at the visitors center. We all got a chance to slide down sand dunes on a wooden, waxed sand sled. Trudging through the fine sand made for a good teaching moment about what it is like trying to get around in the Sahara desert.

Not fun to walk in after the first two minutes

If you're ever in southern Colorado, try to make time for a visit to this national park!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Graded on Our Moms

When I was in sixth grade, I did well academically. Socially, horribly. I was such a pariah that the school teacher in charge of the school adaptation of Macbeth backed off from his initial plan of having me play Lady Macbeth because the boy given the part of Macbeth refused to act the role of my pretend spouse. (Weird, right? It's not like the Macbeths are renowned for their public displays of affection.) The teacher was limited in his choice of boys that could act well, so I lost out.

The school had me meet with a counselor to help me make friends, but I just didn't "get" social interactions. Twenty years later, I might have been given an Asperger's diagnosis. Back then, at least I could feel good about myself at school when it came to academic achievements. That is, until the (say the next two words in your best nonverbal voice of doom) "Pharoah Projects."

These ambitious projects lasted for several weeks. We were divided into small groups and told to prepare an exhibit about a specific pharaoh. I think my group's pharaoh was Ptolemy I. A woman--probably a volunteering mother--came to class one day and showed us how to stuff pantyhose with cotton to form the head and limbs of a dummy. Each group was to make a life-size pantyhose dummy of a pharoah, sew features onto its head and digits into its extremities, and dress it in appropriate clothing.

Such a sewing project was way beyond my abilities, but somehow I, of the three kids in the group, ended up with it as my lot. I still remember cringingly the night before the dummy was due, how I hunched next to my bedroom closet near midnight, trying not to wake my sister, as I tearfully did my best to work with needle, thread, and running nylons. It was so frustrating, and I felt pathetically alone (so much for "group work") and overwhelmed. Somehow, I managed to finish a pygmy, Greek-ish dummy, but we got an "F." My dummy was a sorry sight next to all the beautiful, life-size pharaoh dummies that could only have been made by parents.

The mother of another kid in my group took my pharaoh home and redid it, so we eventually got a C or D on the whole project. That low grade rankled for years. Why didn't someone tell us we were going to be graded on our mothers' crafting abilities and free time?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Carnival of Homeschooling #456 - "Ozymandias" Edition

Welcom to the 456th Carnival of Homeschooling! This carnival's theme is "Ozymandias."

Doesn't it just make you happy to say the name "Ozymandias"? My voice becomes sonorous and commanding, and I envision stark desert scenes, which I love, having mostly grown up in the American Southwest.

Written in the early 1800s, the sonnet "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley deals with many themes in its short 14 lines. Among them are travel and history, the effects of time and the natural world, artistic creation, hubris, recording one's deeds, and the collapse of human power.

I met a traveller from an antique land

Christy submitted a post about the Borgia Family and Machiavelli, saying "I love the freedom homeschooling gives, the chance to follow interests and to use silly things like a comedy show as a jumping off point for a unit study. The Borgia Family lived in Renaissance Italy. They knew Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci."

The Cates' daughter wrote an essay for college on her homeschooling experience and used it to help argue that homeschooling is a viable educational option.

April E. contributed ten lessons she has learned during the journey of homeschooling her high school students.

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

No matter how powerful or enormous a monument, the forces of nature slowly erode it away. The blog What DID We Do All Day? includes a fun look at how one homeschooling family learned about erosion.

And speaking of science in general, occupational therapist Sharon Stansfield submitted some tips on how to help children with slow processing blossom when doing their schoolwork: "Children who process information slower than their peers are often very clever but need understanding and correct teaching methods to help them blossom. I give simple and important tips to use for teaching these children. The tips are just as useful for home-schooled children. Knowing the best way to bring out your child's true potential makes teaching and home-schooling so very rewarding."

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

While watching Dr. Who last night (Season 1, episode 3 for the Whovians out there), I was struck by how Charles Dickens, upon meeting a Time Lord, wanted to know just one thing about the future: "Would his books last?" Artistic creations, as ephemeral as they may seem, can long survive worldly powers, just as the sculptor's work in "Ozymandias" outlived the power of the real Ozymandias.

Real Life at Home has a post on "10 Reasons to Homeschool Your Creative Child." I can especially relate to the fourth point about conformity; my children's art appears very individualistic compared to that of their peers at the school they attend part-time.

A blogger I follow, author and linguist Katherine Beals at Out in Left Field, just posted about how her daughter wouldn't have time for all her musical pursuits if they weren't homeschooling.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Not all public school administrators are guilty of domineering behavior, but Dewey's Treehouse links to an account of a family in New Jersey that was (wrongly) told by an assistant superintendent that "policy" required them to conform their homeschool curriculum to the Common Core standards. Mama Squirrel points out that some parents don't want their children's education to be that narrow.

Homeschoolers in the thick of things seem to be a fairly humble lot (at least when not having to defend their homeschool choices to detractors); they want to give their children the best education they can and constantly wonder if they're doing enough. Those worries can be magnified when faced with the task of creating an impressive transcript recording our children's studies. To help keep perspective, 7Sisters gives us "Balancing Life and the Homeschool Transcript."

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Here at my blog, I wrote about how seemingly all-powerful and permanent institutions, including public school systems, can and do go into decline.

Susan Raber submitted a post on why "free stuff" isn't always the best choice. One reason for that is that we may come to depend on a free resource only to have it become costly or even disappear later.

That's the end of today's carnival. Thank you to all who submitted, and for those who want to submit to future carnivals, you can find out how here.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ancient Egypt

We made it all the way through the four volumes of the Story of the World during the last four years, and we have now started over with Volume 1. That means Ancient Egypt! We're doing the usual supplements - pyramids out of wooden blocks and Duplos (the toy, not the chocolate candy, alas), British Horrible History comedy sketches like "The Mummy Song", library books like You Wouldn't Want to Be Cleopatra, and library videos like Prince of Egypt and Reading Rainbow's "Mummies Made in Egypt." On Friday we are going to begin mummifying a chicken.

And my favorite part of learning about ancient Egypt: introducing my children to The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.

Carnival of Homeschooling
This post is part of the Homeschool Carnival.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Snowed by Kim Jong-il

A few years ago, a visiting scholar to our city gave a lecture on North Korea. He had been to visit North Korea, and he declared that the USA wasn't doing enough to engage with North Korea.

Now, I spent two weeks working at the US Embassy in Seoul during a time when the USA was trying to have six-party talks with North Korea. But North Korea wanted only bilateral talks, in keeping with an apparent pattern of trying to extort money from the USA. It appeared to me that this visiting scholar was not presenting an accurate picture of the USA's attempts to negotiate with North Korea and that he might have been unwisely swayed by the apparent sincerity and possibility of good will from the North Koreans as well as flattered by having been granted access to North Korea.

Fast forward to the just-released memoir of a North Korean defector who had inside knowledge of what Kim Jong-il was up to. Kim Jong-il, who built up the personality cult around his father while stripping away his father's power and taking it for himself, feasted royally--the invidual courses were even specially lit with customized, colored lighting--while government propagandists told the country how he was sharing their hunger and living off mere rice balls. Foreign aid was being given to party officials to keep them loyal while the regular North Koreans starved to death, even being driven to sell their children on occasion. Fake Christian churches were set up in Pyongyang to make it look like religion was freely practiced and to receive donations from South Korean churches, but when a regular North Korean showed up to enjoy the hymns, he was turned in by a "cleric" to the police and arrested.

Diplomacy was never sincere; it was all about counterintelligence work:
The United States negotiates as a matter of diplomacy, to seek common ground on an issue; but when North Korea comes to the table, it's a counterintelligence operation. In other words, North Korea uses dialogue as a tools of deception rather than of negotiation, with the objective being the maintenance of misplaced trust in the other party. And why not? North Korea's opacity is its greatest strength. It allows things to be done on its own terms while other countries continue to take what North Korea says at face value. In fact, Kim Jong-il formally set these three principles as a basis for diplomatic engagment: 'The United States will buy any lie, as long as it is logically presented'; 'Japan is susceptible to emotional manipulation'; and 'South Korea can be ignored or blackmailed.' (p. 252)

My suspicion that the visiting scholar was unwisely influenced has now been cemented. To be blunt, I think the North Koreans snowed him.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Zimbabwe Feast

The father of a family we know was born in Zimbabwe; he is of European ancestry, so he, like many "white Zimbabweans," emigrated in the mid-80s, and he finished growing up in South Africa. Tonight the whole family came over, and he told us a little about Zimbabwe. He also brought cricket equipment and let us play some cricket at a nearby park. Now I know what a "sticky wicket" is!

I spent much of today cooking, trying to provide both enough traditional African food and food that was what a white Zimbabwean would have eaten. Here was the menu, along with websites that taught me how to make the items:

  • Sadza -
  • Greens -
  • Oven-baked chicken (our guests brought piri piri sauce to put on it) -
  • Okra -
  • Mealies (corn on the cob)
  • Sweet potato cookies -
  • Candy cake -
  • Sweet buns -
  • Shandy - homemade non-alcoholic version consisting of pink lemonade (from a powdered mix) mixed with lemon-lime seltzer water
  • Baobab powder in water - (I ended up adding grenadine to this because it just didn't taste that great alone)
  • Water

The sweet buns were probably the biggest hit with everyone. I'll be cooking those for my family in the future for sure. The okra...not so much of a hit....It's just so slimy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brazil Weeks

For the first two weeks of our summer, our family studied the country of Brazil. We watched Rio and educational films about Brazil and its varied geography (the Amazon is an amazing place!), ate feijoada (tasty black bean stew) and drank guarana soda, visited a Catholic cathedral (65% of Brazil is Roman Catholic), and observed a capoeira class.

Thanks to a friend who teaches ESL, we were able to meet with two Brazilian students learning English at a local university, and they did a slideshow presentation about Brazil for me and my children. They were also kind enough to compliment my brigadeiro candies (chocolaty truffles), even though I don't think I made them correctly.

Due to pregnancy limiting my stomach's capacity, I missed one of the highlights of our Brazil weeks: my husband took our older children out to lunch at a Brazilian grill restaurant. If you've ever been to one, these restaurants involve a constant parade of barbecued meats and pineapple, as well as yummy cheese rolls made of manioc flour and lots of cheese.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Just hanging around waiting

I'm 39 weeks pregnant. My next doctor's appointment is the day after tomorrow, and I'm hoping to be induced the day after that. I would really, really like NOT to have to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night this time around.

Friday, May 30, 2014

School's Out!

Both school-age children were in part-time programs, which came to an end as of yesterday. Thus our school year is over, too. We celebrated with corn dogs and soda (mixed with juice) last night. Today the only thing I've required of them is basic grooming and a trip to the grocery store. I refuse to post their summer schoolwork schedule, light as it is, for them until Monday.

We're going to be learning about Brazil for the first two weeks of June, during which time I will hopefully be having a baby. Much as I'd like to go pig out at a Brazilian grill restaurant, I've learned from sad experience that overfilling my belly during the third trimester leads to great pain and regret. I'll just have to make myself some pao de queijo to make up for missing out on roasted pineapple and churrasco. My family generally isn't one for watching sports, but we'll try to catch some of the World Cup soccer championship in a couple of weeks, for it's being held in Brazil! And we hope to catch Rio 2 at the movie theater, if we can squeeze it in. Tico, taco, ya, ya, ya!!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fast food

I took the kids out for fast food today, which I almost never do. I was lured by the cheap ice cream cones. They were SO whiny afterward. It will be a long time before I make that mistake again.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Summer 2014 Planning

In just twelve days, we finish our official school year. Three days after that, the library summer reading program begins. And within two weeks of that, I will be having a baby. Instead of studying one country each week as we did last summer, we are only going to study five countries, spending two weeks on each one. That should be doable with a new baby and also allow us to go more in-depth for each country.

Here are our "summer school" plans, ready for posting on the evening of May 29th:

Summer 2014 (Daily Learning – except for Sundays)

Reading – Whatever you WANT!! (Especially for prizes from the library J )
Math – two pages from Math 4 (need to finish before school starts)
Music – 5-10 minutes each on two musical subjects (can be singing, piano, music maker, trumpet, violin, or recorder but NOT theory worksheets)
Art, PE, history, etc. – any awesome or fun stuff, especially having to do with the countries we'll be studying 
Reading – Whatever you WANT!! (Especially for prizes from the library J )
Math – 1-2 pages from Math 2 (Try to finish before school starts)
Music – 5-10 minutes each on two musical subjects (can be singing, piano, music maker, bandurria, violin, or recorder but NOT theory worksheets)
Art, PE, history, etc. – any awesome or fun stuff, especially having to do with the countries we'll be studying
Reading – Reading  Lesson & being read to for library prizes J
Music – 5 minutes on a musical subject (can be singing, piano, music maker, violin, recorder, etc.)
Art, PE, history, etc. – any awesome or fun stuff, especially having to do with the countries we'll be studying
Reading –Being Read to for library prizes J

Just looking that over makes me really happy at the prospect of summer. The kids will have enough to keep them from too much boredom and mischief, but I won't be constantly supervising assignments!

This post has been included in the Carnival of Homeschooling, found online at

Carnival of Homeschooling

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

I find it ironic that a holiday celebrating the defeat of French invaders in Mexico now has pro-amnesty rhetoric attached to it in the USA.

Having been a consular officer in a place that used to be a US colony but where now intending illegal immigrants to the USA would have to cross the Pacific ocean--which is far larger than the Rio Grande--to get to US soil, I view the push for "open borders" (amnesty is just delayed realization of an open border) as biased and more than a little racist. It is pro-Mexican, in that it is primarily to the benefit of Mexicans. Yes, other Latin Americans cross the Rio Grande...if they're desperate and willing to pay exorbitant fees to traffickers (mostly Mexicans). There are even some Asians who indebt themselves to organized crime syndicates to make the trip over the southern US border. But what about the non-trafficked Asians and Europeans and all the Africans who just want to make a new life for themselves? No, sorry, finagle to get a visa somehow or you can't come. It's totally "unfair" and based on mere geography.

I'll resist the temptation to dwell on the deterioration of the rule of law that amnesty efforts promote. Suffice it to say that the main thing that keeps the USA from being as unpleasant a place to live as Mexico is the rule of law. After all, Mexico has natural resources galore, tourist sites aplenty, and a language common to many other countries; people tend to prefer Tuscon to Nogales because of criminal and civil issues, not because Americans are somehow inherently superior to Mexicans.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Common Items and Communism

Yesterday we covered the rise to power of Mao Zedong in China. Initially, his version of Communism made the poor people of China much better off. After all, he took away the land from rich people (and then killed a lot of them) and gave it to the poor people! But that's not really communism*, is it? That's actually theft and land redistribution. These actions could have been justified in the minds of some as a "good of the many outweighing the good of a few" scenario except that then he took the PRC in a really communist direction. In the Great Leap Forward, he had peasants' private lands consolidated into huge communal farms that removed individual ownership of even furniture. Among other causes, the lack of material rewards for individual efforts on these communes led to decreased agricultural production and famine that killed approximately 30 million people.

*   Communism, per Merriam-Webster: : a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) and there is no privately owned property

I wanted my children to understand the problems with communism, but because most of their time is spent with family--at its heart a very communal unit, especially our home, where I use King Solomon's method of dealing with fights over objects ("work it out or Mommy confiscates the toy")--I wasn't sure how to illustrate why communism keeps failing in a broader setting. I ended up using Play-Doh as an object lesson.

We have a family collection of Play-Doh canisters and Play-Doh shaping toys. Because it is arid here, Play-Doh dries out if not stored promptly and properly. Also, our Play-Doh tends not to stay nice because the children mix colors together and end up with muddy-colored stuff. Yesterday at the grocery store, I saw a sale on individual containers of Play-Doh: just $0.49 each! Each little girl got to pick out her very own color of her very own container of Play-Doh. When we got home, all four played and played at the small kitchen table with their Play-Doh yet never mixed colors. And, except for dd2, they cleaned up the Play-Doh off the toys without adult help and stored it neatly away in the containers.

Give people--even children--private property, and they'll tend to take better care of it and be less wasteful than they would be with common property. I pointed out to my children that their behavior with the Play-Doh illustrates one very basic reason why communism works so poorly.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Obstetrics Wish List

I'm at 32.5 weeks of pregnancy! Hurrah! The home stretch is in sight. My OB even gave me the "go straight to the hospital if you think you're going into labor" spiel this morning. :)

I've been reading a lot about childbirth recently, as I often do when pregnant. Modern medicine is amazing at helping women and babies get through the risky event of birth relatively unscathed, as is evident by what happens in countries that aren't as blessed. Here is a 2004 WHO compilation of perinatal mortality rates by country. The US was at 7/1000--average for developed countries--while less and least developed parts of the world had perinatal mortality rates of 47/1000 and 60/1000, respectively. I feel very grateful to live in the USA and have access to good health care.

However, there's always room for improvement. I have a short wish list of birth-related technology advancements I'd love to see implemented in this country in the next few years:
1) Universally available wireless fetal monitoring during labor; in a time when people are tweeting and Facebooking on smart phones about the progress of their labor, it seems really antiquated that fetal monitors are still mostly wired rather than wireless. It would be great if they could be waterproof, too, for those women who want to use birth tubs.
2) Use of the Odon device to speed up labor and help with obstructed labors. It may have been developed for poorer countries, but it can help decrease the hazardous use of forceps and vaccums in the US, too.
3) More accurate technology to measure whether the baby is suffering from oxygen deprivation during labor. It would be good if we could have fewer unnecessary C-sections and more prompt C-sections for babies beginning to suffer brain injury; unfortunately, at present we often can't know which C-sections were or were not necessary until after birth because fetal heartrate monitoring cannot tell us how much oxygen a baby is getting during his descent. This recent report of MRI usage to "evaluate fetal cerebral venous blood oxygenation" looks like a promising step towards measuring the baby's oxygenation rates during labor, although it's just a first step, for I can't imagine the adoption of a protocol to put laboring women into MRI machines anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Finally some good news in history!

We just finished learning about World War II and the creation of Pakistan and Israel in our history studies. So much fighting, hatred, death, and destruction! We covered the atom bombs in Japan, the Holocaust, and the mass displacements of people when Pakistan was created. After learning about the creation of Israel and the continued security issues in that region, dd9 said it should be called "Problem Land"; it's ironic how close that is to "Promised Land."

To my relief, I get to tell my children about something good today: our country helped rebuild Europe under the Marshall Plan. This was a very positive part of our national history. Yes, the US did it partly to counter Soviet influence, but at its core, it was a large humanitarian effort, and Germany and France would likely be very different today had they not received this assistance right after the devastation of WWII. It takes time to rebuild infrastructure and harvest crops, and immediate aid saves many lives after disasters.

We even found a pro-Marshall plan propaganda film called The Extraordinary Adventures of a Quart of Milk (1951), which showed how good French roads made it possible for milk to get from a dairy to a factory to be made into powdered milk. It can be viewed online for free thanks to the Deutsches Historisches Museum.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ship Captains

Remember that saying, "The captain always goes down with his ship"? He (or she) is entrusted with the welfare of everyone on board his vessel and is expected to use his ultimate efforts to save the lives of his crew and passengers. Yet as we saw with the Costa Concordia in 2012, ship captains sometimes choose personal survival instead.

Given the importance of honor in Asian cultures, I suspect that this South Korean ferry captain is going to spend the rest of his life wishing he had gone down with his ship. He allowed himself to be rescued before hundreds of his passengers, most of whom were just school-age students, and those left behind most likely are all dead. I can't imagine the shame of living with having saved my own skin while doing nothing to save hundreds of young people for whom I was responsible. A Korean school vice-principal, who was among those rescued, has already taken his own life.  In light of the current suicide rate in South Korea, I wouldn't be surprised if Captain Lee eventually goes that route, too. The Korean ferry sinking was a tragedy for everyone involved.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#432 Carnival of Homeschooling: Homeschooling & Farms

With spring finally here--although I fully expect some more snow before the month is out because that's just how weather is in Colorado--for this Carnival of Homeschooling, I thought I'd look at intersections of homeschooling and farming.

Many parents, homeschooling or not, have a strong desire to teach their children about nature in-depth. My father liked to take us hiking, and my parents had us children grow a garden and raise chickens. One year we even raised a steer in our backyard for a while. He was rather bad-tempered (I wonder if he understood our nickname for him, "Dinner") and got out sometimes, wandering up and down our residential street, which taught us the importance of locking up gates securely.

While this is by no means solely a homeschooler phenomenon, I've seen many of my friends and relatives who lean towards homeschooling raise chickens and/or other livestock, grow big gardens, and dream of the little farm they're going to have someday out in a rural setting. Here are several blogs I found of homeschoolers living (or at least pursuing part of) that dream:
For those like the Bruggietales in Australia, who have achieved the dream of country life, it's a field trip for the children to go to the city where the buildings and planes are so close together.

I love to encourage my children in their desire to grow a garden. Last week, we focused our Friday schoolwork on learning about seeds and Colorado agriculture.

Of course, there are several carnival submissions that don't really have to do with farm life:

O'DonnellWeb gives us an  informative post on college admissions and interviews. (I can't help but point out, though, that he gives partial credit for his daughter's scholarship-winning interview skills to the nine years experience she has in competitive horse judging, which is loosely connected to farming.)

Henry Cate of Why Homeschool posts about how in both software development and life, it is often not the first solution but the second, third, or even fourth that turns out to be the best one. It's a valuable lesson to teach one's children.

Down a Rabbit Trail: Interest-Led Learning with a Charlotte Mason Flair submits this insightful post on narration a la Charlotte Mason.

Tea Time with Annie Kate shares a summary of the books in the Camp X historical fiction series about WWII. It looks like a really fun series; we're not Canadian, but I might be handing it to my children to read in a few years, especially since it shows that not all the German officers were Nazis (I'm part German :) ).

Nerd Family announces the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which looks like an awesome contest. I wish my children were old enough to participate. The deadline to enter is April 22.

In closing, here are some free homeschooling resources I found on farming.
Thanks to all those who submitted blog posts!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Seeds at Springtime

Although we're getting a snowstorm tonight, it's still officially springtime, and my girls are trying to start their gardens by planting seeds in egg cartons and keeping the soil moist until the seeds sprout. Yesterday for our Friday schoolwork--usually light and consisting mainly of PE, Art, Science, and Colorado History--we learned about seeds.

For science we watched a YouTube videos on how seeds germinate. We were all surprised to learn that seeds need oxygen to sprout. It turns out that until sprouting plants can do photosynthesis to make oxygen, they need a little oxygen from outside sources. The children especially liked a time lapse recording of bean seeds sprouting.

For Colorado History, we watched YouTube videos on Colorado agriculture. Given a long local drought and my failures at gardening here during those years, I thought that agriculture in this state couldn't be very significant. Was I wrong. Besides Olathe sweet corn, Rocky Ford melons, and Palisade peaches, Colorado produces greenhouses of lettuce, lots of cattle and sheep, and even potatoes. Maybe I need a greenhouse....

For PE, I found a "farmer" inspired workout on YouTube that I had the kids watch and imitate. It was the least successful part of our formal studies on Friday.

For art, I told them about "seed art" (much like making mosaics with seeds) and showed them many examples of seed art from the internet. Dd9 was interested enough to pull out our bag of wild birdseed and make a little flower. Here's a photo of her work.

"just a flower"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Carnival of Homeschooling will be here next week!

Hi! I'll be hosting the next carnival of homeschooling here on Tuesday of next week. Please submit entries to be included in it by 6 p.m. on Monday. The instructions for how to do it are at this link. I look forward to seeing all your great posts!

Carnival of Homeschooling

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Homeschool Carnival

I will be so happy when this day is over. My girls keep yelling to try to surprise other family members or playing dumb pranks on each other (grated cheese in a sister's hair at dinner? really??). I need some ideas for harmless, genuinely amusing April Fool's Day jokes. There's a homeschool carnival up that makes it almost sound as though April Fool's Day could be fun. Maybe next year I'll try some of their ideas.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Third Trimester

I made it! Less than three months until this little girl joins our family.

In the past, I have gone past 40 weeks of pregnancy, but I refuse to do it this time. There is nothing to be gained by waiting to go into labor naturally once I'm past 39 weeks unless my body surprises me by not being ready for labor then, which would be extremely unusual given my past history. My Bishop score (a measure of how successful induction will likely be) is already halfway to where it needs to be because this will be my fifth baby. Also, I'm approaching 40 years old, and I know women near my age who have miscarried around 40 weeks. Recent research makes it clear that, given my circumstances, I can maximize my chances of my baby surviving and even minimize my chances of harm to myself by delivering her at 39 weeks. I'm already planning to take myself out for Indian food in 11 weeks...and then having a medical induction if that doesn't work. :)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Vitamin K shot for newborns

Today I came across this blog post by a mom who neglected to get a Vitamin K shot for her newborn little girl. The mom didn't intentionally opt out of the shot; she had a postpartum hemorrhage that made it so everyone at the birth center forgot about discussing whether to give the shot to the baby. Her one-month-old baby became lethargic and ended up having a very serious medical issue due to Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB):
Dr. Mellema explain that a clot had developed which was placing immense pressure on Olive’s brain. Not only that, but there was bleeding on the back of the right side of her brain as well. The water pockets that are within the brain were completely destroyed, and the tissue on the left side of the brain looked mostly damaged. He said that the lack of Vitamin K in Olive’s system resulted in her body’s inability to clot. Anything as small as putting her down in her bed could have caused this bleed. Since she couldn’t clot, the bleeding didn’t stop. There had been one other case of this that the doctor had seen – I asked what had happened then, and was told that the baby hadn’t lived. We were told that in the small chance that she did survive, Olive would most likely suffer from severe brain damage.

The mother is LDS, so it was easy to put myself in her shoes as she described her reactions and then her reliance on doctors, faith, and priesthood blessings. I'm happy to say that the baby is doing much better and doesn't show signs of severe brain damage now.

The mother recently posted that her baby's brain bleeding was nearly 100% preventable and encouraged everyone to get the Vitamin K shot for their newborns. I second her encouragement. Vitamin K is not a vaccine, and it's distressing to see the Vitamin K shot get lumped in with childhood immunizations and declined by those worried about vaccine risks.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Old stuff

On Friday, we were learning about Texas history and geography. I found a 10-minute video online from the 1950s about the Southwest states (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma) that was quite interesting for its historical value. For starters, it is all in black and white. That's unusual to my children. When talking about agricultural products, it shows a line of black men picking cotton--calling them "Negroes", incidentally, which is a term my children never hear--but nowadays cotton is mechanically picked in the USA. Cotton is only picked by hand in developing countries. It's sobering to realize that my mother and father grew up in a country that was similar in many ways to today's developing countries.

Among other fun parts of the video, all the people, male and female, walking down city streets wear hats, and the women are all in skirts. It talks about the large herds of Angora goats being raised in Texas to meet the demand for mohair; I'd bet those herds are quite a bit smaller now. The Northeast is described as being the source of manufactured goods for the Southwest; nowadays, it seems we get most everything manufactured from Asia, especially China.

Friday, February 21, 2014


My husband overheard someone talking yesterday about feminism and the fight against "patriarchy." It made me think: It's a truism in relationships that the person who cares less about the relationship has more power. And aren't men, for whatever reason, less committed on average to staying faithful to the women in their lives? The evidence seems to point that way. So doesn't that make it inevitable in the realm of western heterosexual relationships that men will tend to have a bit more power than women? Doesn't that cause a small degree of male dominance, i.e., patriarchy, to be inevitable? And are there other areas of life where the matriarchy, i.e., women, will inevitably end up more powerful on average? What would they be? My first thought is parenting, for biology makes it so that mothers are more likely to be physically proximate to their children than are fathers.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Venezuela and Communist Ideals

Venezuela has an enormous amount of wealth in oil reserves, but the people there don't even have enough toilet paper. I sincerely hope that they oust Maduro soon. They're never going to get a perfect president, but surely they can get one that doesn't destroy businesses like nationalizing Chavez (who enriched himself to the tune of a billion USD by the time he died) and Maduro have done.

If there is one thing that last century's history teaches us, communist systems do not work for long. Even voluntary communes (kibbutzim, United Order, Brook Farm, etc.) fall apart or move away from communist ideals over time. People are, on the whole, beings that look out for their own interest. People need to be able to profit from their labor and investment, or they will not labor or invest. People need free markets, or they will create black markets.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Too much choice? Ain't no such thing.

Both my family and that of one of my sisters live in Colorado, a veritable wonderland of school choice options. My sister lives in an affluent area with good schools, especially the multiple charter school options. She has homeschooled in the past and utilized a part-time enrollment option at a charter school, and her children now go to a Core Knowledge charter school full-time, and everyone in the family seems very pleased with it. But she was telling me that sometimes she worries that maybe she should be sending her children to a different charter school because that might be a better school. She complained that having "too many choices" made life harder because she didn't know for certain whether she was picking the best choice. I've heard the claim that "too much choice doesn't make people happier" from a local parent, too, after she had taken her child out of the charter school that my children attend part-time.

I energetically proclaim that there is no such thing as "too much choice" when it comes to school options! One might as well complain that life is "harder" because we have the option of shopping at stores besides Kmart or picking our own spouses. Yes, there are opportunity costs to worry about, but freedom to choose the stores and spouses we most prefer easily trumps those.

My husband is happy at his job, but as savvy workers do, he gets emails from professional organizations about job openings in his field. Today he forwarded me one from a smallish city in central Texas. Since we're snow-and-cold-bound (the kids are watching Wild Kratts and weaving today), I spent a couple of hours researching the city in Texas, and the educational options there are appalling for a family like ours (bookish, non-sporty, interested in different cultures and science, etc.).

The public schools there have drug and gang problems and don't seem very focused on academics (which I thought was kind of the point of schools, silly me), and the only charter school in town appears VERY focused on sports with just a teensy mention of academics on their website. There are no part-time enrollment options; unlike nearly half the country, Texas hasn't figured out how to let homeschooled kids attend choir, band, and track at the local public schools for which their parents are paying property taxes--opposition to such participation appears to be based on worries about multiple Tim Tebows "unfairly" competing against the public school jocks. Again, silly me for thinking that schools care about a little thing like actual education when there are sports to worry about. 

The university in town doesn't appear to accept part-time enrollment of high-school aged kids unless they are dual-enrolled full-time high school juniors or seniors. The local community college is geared towards very low level academics (cosmetology?). The private schools and one homeschool co-op are nearly all associated with specific non-inclusive religious views, and from an earlier post you can probably guess how unwilling I would be to put my children in educational environments that construe the Bible to require the rejection of modern scientific findings. There are online charter schools in Texas, but I don't need some bureaucrat's favorite curriculum jammed down my throat for the entire school day; I can choose my own textbooks, thank you. What I need is a moderate amount of classroom enrichment for my kids as a supplement to their personal and academic development, and there seems to be nothing of the kind available in central Texas.

Here in Colorado, we have school choice (i.e., one can "permit" into schools outside of the assigned ones, space allowing, and funds follow the student) and many different kinds of charter schools, including ones that fund college classes for students who are ready for them. The public school districts have to actually try (gasp!) to attract families, so they offer Montessori-style schools, part-time programs for homeschoolers, part-time enrollment at regular schools, etc. And yet somehow we haven't seen an explosion in homeschooled kids destroying the local athletics scene for everyone else. 

Viva la choice! To misquote Trace Adkins' country song, "I Ain't Never Had Too Much Fun,"
Too much choice, what's that mean? It's like too much money, there's no such thing. It's like a girl too pretty, with too much class, Being too lucky, a car too fast. No matter what they say I've done, well, I ain't never had too much choice.

My husband can just ignore that job posting in central Texas.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Dd9 learned to weave on a cardboard loom at her part-time school program today. She was so delighted with the product (a little 2x8 inch four-color weaving) that she taught dd4 and dd6 to do it this evening. They spent around 2 hours or more on it. Dd6 was very frustrated several times, but dd9 patiently helped her, as well as doing most of the work on dd4's weaving. 

I would have never attempted this craft with such young children, but dd9 can sometimes be quite dogged about things she is interested. Glad it worked out well tonight!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

So sad, so unnecessary

Two years ago, a friend lost her baby due to attempting to give birth at home. My youngest daughter is about the same age that my friend's baby would have been. Today my daughter is feeding herself Cheerios in milk (with only a little bit of spilling) and delighting in hearing the same few books read to her over and over. She says "yank-oo" ("Thank-you") and cries when one of her parents leaves the house without her. She is, to get to the point, a darling.

While I get to be happy with my little daughter, my friend is left mourning because she trusted that "natural childbirth" was superior. While I'm the first to say that relatively uncomplicated labors are terrific for those fortunate enough to have them, nature is often very unkind and, without modern medicine, would damage or destroy many more infants and mothers than it does in the developed world. I'd far rather have had four surgical births than lose one of my babies.

On a brighter note, I had my 20-week ultrasound this week. Baby #5 appears healthy and is also a girl! Five little girls. I never imagined I'd get a string of just one gender. I now call my husband Mr. Bennet (as in Pride and Prejudice) sometimes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Creation, Days, and Faith in God

One thing I watch with great sorrow is how some religious, usually Christian, homeschoolers and curriculum publishers consider it necessary to obsessively dwell on one of the many interpretations of Genesis 1, particularly the meaning of "day" as used therein. The Hebrew word for day, "yom", can be used to mean an indefinite period of time, just as our English "day" can. Why is it necessary to rigidly require that it mean exactly the period that it now takes our earth to rotate one time? And why is it necessary to tie that rigidity to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

First, the actual text of Genesis 1 makes it very questionable that a "day" of creation, as used therein, is a rotation of the earth taking 24 hours. It clearly states that the lights of the firmament (i.e., sun, moon, stars) weren't even in place and defining the days and years until the "fourth day" of the creation.

Second, the word "yom", as has already been set forth by others, is used to mean several different lengths of time in the Old Testament, including an age or even eternity. There is not just one possible interpretation of "day" in Genesis 1.

Third, faith in Jesus Christ rests on belief in his divinity and his power to redeem mankind. It doesn't rest on the Bible being a science text, which the Bible never claims to be. Faith certainly doesn't require that we dismiss as evil conspiracies the honestly inquiring minds of men and women with the objective, replicable results they have discovered just because those results fail to line up perfectly with our interpretation of the Bible. There's enough real evil in the world to deal with; we don't need to be turning scientists into bogeymen.

Fourth, the body of scientific knowledge grows as people pursue scientific knowledge, and so does the body of spiritual knowledge also grow, if we are willing to accept it. For example, when Jesus tried to tell his apostles--some of whom were apparently loathe to accept it--that his Messianic mission involved his imminent physical death, that went against their understanding and hope of what the Messiah was to be, yet with Jesus' resurrection his apostles came to understand that Jesus was accomplishing a far more important work than they had anticipated. We humans don't know all of God's ways.

Fifth, what are children to do who have grown up on a diet of math, spelling, reading, grammar, and sort-of science textbooks that dogmatically tie every good principle they're teaching to a literal 144-hour creation and young earth? When they grow up and find out that there are several ways of dating objects that show the world to be much older then they've been told, will they feel like they have to choose between Christian faith and the demonstrable marvels of modern science? Why make it so hard for them to embrace truth, be it revealed by God or man, for the sake of one interpretation of "day"?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Online M.Ed. from Western Governors University

My husband just finished all the requirements for an M.Ed. in Instructional Design from Western Governors University. He will be receiving his diploma through the mail in a week or two. He could go to an actual graduation ceremony, but it's in Georgia in less than a month, so he's going to pass on "walking." It's such a relief to have him finally done with the degree. This is his second time working towards a master's degree in this field; the first time he did all the coursework for an master's degree in Educational Technology at a brick-and-mortar university in the Philippines but was unable to finish the final project due to our having moved from Asia to South America. (That's a long, expensive trip.) Because he has both online and classroom experience in seeking very similar degrees, I thought it would be interesting to interview him about his studies.

Q: How long did you work on your master's degree from WGU?  A: About two years, but I took two breaks.

Q: How long did you work on your master's degree at the university in the Philippines?  A: About two years.

Q: Which program required more effort from you? Please elaborate.  A: I would say probably WGU did because the assignments, as far as I remember, were more difficult. Well, there was one assignment at the Philippine university that was difficult--it was the design and creation of educational software; all of the others were less memorable and not really challenging. Several of the WGU assignments, especially those leading up to the capstone, involved doing more work and things I'd never done before, such as task analysis and conducting a research study.

Q: Did you think the WGU graders were too easy or too hard or just right?  A: I think some of the graders may have been too light, or maybe I'm just too hard on myself. One of the graders did return an assignment saying it was missing a component, which was in the appendix where it was supposed to be per the instructions, so I just resubmitted it and it was approved then.

Q: How much time each week did you put into your master's degree studies and assignments during the periods when you were enrolled?  A: It varied from 0 hours some weeks to 3-5 hours a day, so 18-30 hours other weeks. [WGU students enroll for six months at a time, and students go at their own pace but must complete at least four classes per term.]

Q: How much did your WGU master's degree program cost in total?  A: A little over $12,000, most of which was paid for by my employer.

Q: Who are the people that you work with at WGU?  A: Each course has a course mentor, then there is a student mentor who stayed with me through the entire program. Previously, some of my colleagues who did degrees through WGU were allowed to change mentors. The student mentor's job was to communicate with me on a regular basis, weekly at the beginning, to ensure that I was making goals and making progress. The mentor has a set of questions to ask each week. The student mentor was supposed to answer questions that I have about processes and offer encouragement and assistance. There was also the capstone advisor, who was also the capstone content evaluator; that is like a thesis advisor. There were also the task evaluators, with whom I didn't really have contact except that they evaluated my assignments for correctness.

Q: Did you miss having physical classrooms, interaction with peers, and personal interaction with instructing professors?  A: No, not really. I didn't have a lot of friends in college [undergraduate]. I had people I knew, but not that I really hung out with, except for roommates, who I really didn't choose.

Q: Do you think more socially-inclined people would have difficulties with WGU's online nature?  A: Perhaps, but WGU does have online communities for each of the courses and each of the programs, so students can post in forums for a bit more social interaction. I did not use them; I found them to be less helpful initially, so I did not visit them again.

Q: What kind of students would not benefit from an online education program?  A: Slackers. People who need a teacher following up on them. People who need handholding or cannot work independently may not have as good of an experience.

Q: But you had a mentor....?  A: Sometimes I can be a bit of a procrastinator, and knowing that I had a phone call at the end of every week or two helped motivate me.

Q: As a person who sometimes makes hiring decisions yourself, would you consider a WGU degree a better qualification than one from a brick-and-mortar school?  A: Not necessarily. If the job called for skills that one could attain through social interaction at a brick-and-mortar school, I think that would be more beneficial than an online degree. But a WGU degree shows that a person is more likely to be able to work independently on projects and not need as much handholding.

I've told the kids to call their daddy "Master" once in a while now that he's got the degree. :)

ADDENDUM: My husband says I didn't ask him what he liked about not having to be in a brick-and-mortar school. He liked not having to deal with drama from classmates who thought assignments were too hard.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Homeschool Music - No Tiger Moms Here

I really want my children to have the ability to read music and be able to learn whatever instrument they are internally motivated to study. I would also like them to be able to appreciate the finest and/or funnest music out there. I have no desire to force them to practice long stretches each day and go through the tears and fights that so often happen when children are forced a la Amy Chua (The Tiger Mother).

What that looks like in practice for our family is this: each school age child is expected to do five minutes on two different instruments (a page of music theory from a workbook counts as an instrument) every normal school day with any needed instruction given by me, a book, or an internet video. That's basically it. I did run a small children's chorale for 2 months with other homeschoolers this past fall to give them a group singing experience, but that was quite temporary. My children progress slowly, yet steadily, in primarily piano and violin, with excursions into the recorder, bandurria (a Filipino mandolin-like instrument), and trumpet. If any of our children becomes desperate for lessons, she will get long as she is willing on her own to put in the practice time that professional teachers will require.

Ask me in a few years how this has worked out. For now, there are few tears associated with our music studies, and that is more important to me than creating virtuosos. Besides, I have just one sibling who majored in music performance, and she literally does nothing with it now. Encouraging my children to be music performers for any reason other than their own unstoppable, internal drive to do so just doesn't seem practical.


As a former Foreign Service Officer, I found this excerpt from Story of the World, vol. 4 thought-provoking:
"Remember those polite messages that one country sends to another by way of an ambassador? Diplomacy looks courteous and well mannered, but usually one country agrees to the polite messages of another country only because both countries know that a war will start if it doesn't."

While I think war might be overstating the negative consequences of non-cooperation in most cases--other measures such as lessening of foreign aid, visa difficulties, trade obstacles, embargoes, and generally un-accommodating behavior are more likely in today's world--Susan Wise Bauer exhibits an acceptance of the German version of Realpolitik, the idea that political actions must be realistic and accept the reality of power as a governing force in politics as opposed to unrealistic political actions based on ideology. In the wake of this past year's foreign policy debacles--of the top 10 international winners of 2013, none are are the USA or Americans--the State Department might need to re-evaluate whether its foreign policy moves are based on political reality or merely hopes that other countries will share our goals. It is interesting to note that Germany did make it on the list of 10 winners in 2013.